What’s on my (mostly virtual) nightstand? 1-15-12

Martin Luther King Day is tomorrow. No mail. No school. It’s a day off for a lot of people. But I’ll be working, Galen will be working. There’s no rest for the wicked, as my mom usually says to me. (And I fully recognize the implication!)

Mid-January in this library household means one other thing–the impending doom of the American Library Association Midwinter Conference. January 20-24, this year in Dallas, Texas. At least it might be warm? (2010 was in Denver, 2013 will be in Philadelphia, this point is very much NOT moot.)

ALA Midwinter is a major household disruption. We bring out suitcases. The cats hate suitcases. The suitcases take their people away! They might have to train new staff. This is very bad.

But the conference represents major headaches all the way around. In June in New Orleans, our hotel did not have connectivity in the rooms, so I only posted once, using Galen’s iPhone as my net connection. Not fun. This conference, I admit I’m going to queue up as much as I can, just in case connectivity is a tad “iffy”.

On the one hand, plane rides are still a terrific opportunity for reading. Not to mention that lovely extra two-hour wait ahead of the flight for “security”. On the other hand, ALA conferences are a sea of Advance Reading Copies, unfortunately all print. What’s a girl to do?

I have four books to read on the airplane on my way to and from Dallas, because these are scheduled for release January 24. Except I really only have three.

Heiress Without a Cause by Sara Ramsey popped up on NetGalley as a historical romance debut that just sounded interesting. According to the blurb copy, it was selected by Barnes & Noble for an exclusive release on the NOOK beginning Jan. 23rd.

The Stubborn Dead by Natasha Hoar was featured in January 2012 print issue of RT Book Reviews as one of the five debut authors not to miss in 2012. So I couldn’t resist picking up first book, about a “rescue medium” when it appeared on NetGalley. Whether this is urban fantasy or paranormal romance or a combination, it looks like a terrific start for this new author.

Daughter of the Centaurs by Kate Klimo is the first book of the Centauriad. It’s YA and it’s something I pulled from NetGalley when I was researching YA genre lit for a table talk I did for the South Carolina Collection Development mini-conference. Since this is definitely fantasy, I’m going to give it a try.

Banshee Charmer by Tiffany Allee is the last book on my calendar for January 24. I had downloaded it from NetGalley because I liked the premise, an urban fantasy about a half-banshee detective solving a serial killer murder. Sounded cool. Then Book Lovers Inc asked me to review it for them. Cool beans, I already had it.  I’ve read it, loved it, and written both reviews already, one for my blog and one for BLI. Done and dusted. I just can’t queue anything up here until the BLI review is posted.

And now for putting the cap back on the old recap.

My review of Nick Marsh’s Soul Purpose is already scheduled to post on Tuesday. I’ll get to Past Tense after I come back from Dallas. BLI says I can have two months. I promise I won’t take anywhere near that long! Besides, Soul Purpose was too much fun for me to wait that long to read the sequel. I want to see what happens next.

And I received an unstained copy of Todd Grimson’s Stainless this week. Woo-hoo! I take one “dead-tree” book with me on the plane, so I have something to read for those horrible minutes when they make me turn off my iPad. Stainless might be it.

I also finished A Lady Awakened and Don’t Bite the Messenger from last week, so reviews for both those books will be part of this week’s postings.

Reaching back, to the Christmas Nightstand, I’m in the middle of J.L. Hilton’s Stellarnet Rebel. As a blogger, and a science fiction fan, I’m caught up in the story on multiple levels. I mean wow, living on a space habitat, kind of like Babylon 5 or Deep Space 9. And, earning your living by being a blogger, live, full-time pretty much, total life immersion blogging. 3,000 posts or 3 years until she can go back to Earth. And will she want to?

Going even further back, I took a look at the 12/17/11 Nightstand and read Forever Mine, the prequel novella to Delilah Marvelle’s Forever and a Day. Yes, I’m a completist. I have to read the whole series.

That’s all we have time for in this pre-conference madness issue of the Nightstand. We’ll see you next week, live from Dallas, hopefully not blogging from the hotel lobby. The bar, on the other hand…

Tomorrow will be the Carina Press December 2011 edition of Ebook Review Central. And it will seem like Christmas all over again.

Look at all the pretty covers…

Perhaps I should have said, look at all the pretty colors. But then it sounds like I’m talking about drugs.

I’m talking about books. Maybe I am talking about drugs. At least my version of drugs.

We’re moving again. This weekend. Our new house is within walking distance of a pretty big Barnes & Noble. We had some time to kill today before we met the rental agent to get the keys. So we decided to kill time at B&N. I haven’t been to an actual, live, books-on-the-shelves bookstore since Jim Butcher’s Ghost Story signing at the end of July. That’s five months. There was a time in my life when that was unimaginable.

It has been so long I forgot how pretty bookstores are. I love how bright and shiny all the new books are on the shelves. Just seeing the displays of all the new stuff is surprisingly awesome if you’ve been away from it for a while.

Browsing the shelves is way, way, way more fun than browsing online. The covers are bigger, brighter and shinier in person. And there is something about the serendipity factor that still isn’t duplicated.

But I wasn’t tempted to buy anything. We still have 2,300 books. Print books. Dead tree books. Call them what you will. They will get packed tomorrow. We will have to unpack them again.

As much as I love to read, and as pretty as those books are in the store, books are a pain in the gluteus to unpack.  Wrong location, it’s usually my back that ends up hurting the most, not my butt.

I did not commit the cardinal sin of shopping in the store and then buying online. I could have, my iPad was in my arms. But that just seemed rude.

And there was one book I might have bought if it had been in the store. The Dreamer, by Lora Innes, is a graphic novel and it’s not available as an ebook. Probably with good reason. Even my iPad is not the best display for a graphic novel, and yes, I’ve read a few on it. But the store didn’t have it. As soon as we get settled, I’ll order it online.

What was I saying again about the pretty colors?

98% chimpanzee, 100% crazy wizard writer

I can still hear Jim Butcher’s sing-song, “I’m not gonna tell you” ringing in my ears from his Q & A session at the Barnes & Noble in Buckhead. He chanted that refrain every time someone in the crowd tried to trip him up with a spoiler about Harry Dresden’s future adventures.

The fans only got him once. There was a minor reveal about a fallen angel hiding the shadows, whispering in Harry’s ear in Ghost Story, Harry’s latest outing. It isn’t totally obvious in the book that we’ve seen this character before, or that we might see her again in one of Harry’s later adventures, and Butcher told us her name. But that was the only time he slipped, in spite of an hour of pretty intense fan interrogation.

I bought a dead-tree book. It’s not as if I wasn’t going to read Ghost Story anyway…but the one thing that physical books have all over ebooks is the ability to get the author to sign them.  I read the first 160 pages while I waited for my turn. And then I read the ending to see if I had guessed right. My bad. And that’s what the inscription on the book reads. “To Marlene, a bad girl who already read the ending.”

I finished the book this morning. I couldn’t quite manage to stay up last night, but after all, I’d gotten kind of a late start.

Ghost Story is awesome. It also marks a departure in the Dresden Files universe. When I first started reading the series, somewhere around Dead Beat, Harry’s Chicago and Harry’s world was pretty recognizably the Chicago I knew. Since I had lived in Chicago for a lot of years, it was pretty cool that Harry’s Chicago was only about a half step away.

After Changes, when Harry dies, his world diverges pretty dramatically from the world we know. In a lot of urban fantasies, the mundanes (or muggles) are able to ignore the magic in the world.   But with Harry out of the picture, that seems less and less possible.  There’s just too much bad stuff going down.

It’s not just that Harry is dead. It’s that his death has sent the world spiraling downhill fast. For all his many faults, Harry was the biggest thing (sometimes literally) standing between the light and the darkness. And being large, he cast a huge shadow. A lot of bad things avoided Chicago because that was Harry’s turf. And a lot of bad things just plain hid in their holes because they didn’t want to attract Harry’s attention. But with Harry out of the picture…stuff happens. And big men leave big shoes to fill. Harry’s friends, and even his enemies, try to fill them, but it just isn’t quite enough.

Ghost Story story is not a happy book. In Changes, Harry decides he’s going to save his daughter, even if it kills him. It does. As a ghost, he has to clean up the mess he left behind. And if there is one thing Harry always, always does, it is make one hell of a mess. But this time, the battle is for his soul, and the lives of his friends. And his city. Because even as a ghost, Chicago is still Harry’s town. Last time out, he had to save his daughter, and he did. This time, he has to save everyone.

And Jim Butcher was wearing Harry’s shirt. “98% Chimpanzee.” Cool.

Amazoogle Affiliates

Not too long ago, a friend asked whether I was planning to include the “buy from Amazon” link in my blog posts. I had recommended several books that he wanted to buy, and he thought I should get some credit, or possibly blame, for it. This was a definitely not bad idea, but since I’m much more agnostic about where I purchase my own books, I needed to think on the whole thing for a bit.

I currently have a substantial credit from Powell’s for all the books we sold to them. It is good (it is excellent) at the Google ebookstore as long as I enter through the Powell’s site, since Powell’s is a Google Books affiliate. When I purchase print books, I tend to buy from Barnes and Noble, they ship faster without having to purchase an additional membership. So I understand completely why someone would want to buy their books or ebooks from someone other than Amazon.

BarnesandNoble.com Logo - 125x40

And my interest has always been in the story, not where the book gets purchased. But I still liked the idea of putting in the link, because the idea of making it easy for people to get the book (or especially ebook) while they were thinking about it seemed cool. So, I started the process with all the vendors.

It turns out that Amazon makes it really, really easy to become an affiliate and link back from the blog to Amazon. No wonder they have so many affiliates! The tools are a piece of cake. So yes, if you click on a link within a new post, it will link to Amazon and I will get credit. There is also a link on the right hand side.

Barnes and Noble made it easy to get the affiliate account, but the tools to build links are not quite as easy. So, if B&N is your flavor of choice, there is a link on the right. eHarlequin uses the same affiliate vetting service as B&N. It’s apparently a small world. And since I review a fair number of Carina Press books, and Carina is an imprint of Harlequin, it was easy to sign up for that at the same time.

eharelquin - romance and escape for less

Becoming a Google Books affiliate is a surprisingly long process. It’s a three-stage process, which makes it sound rather like a rocket launch. There’s the Google AdSense application, Then the Google Affiliate Network application, and then the Google Bookstore Affiliate application. I’m stuck at the Google Bookstore part.

Why I’m willing to pay for ebooks

Please don’t get me wrong, I like to get things for free as much as the next person.  But the word free has multiple meanings.  Free as in kittens, or free as in beer being two well-known examples.  Free kittens usually have long-term ancillary costs, such as food, vet bills, love, grief, scratched furniture, frayed electrical cords, aggravation, additional rent or security deposits, etc., etc., etc.  I am intimately familiar with this particular definition of “free”.  Free beer is free, unless you buy the next round.  But beer, well, someone gives you a beer, you drink it, it’s over.

Should ebooks be free because there are no costs to print, warehouse and transport them?  Ebooks don’t require a physical bookstore with rent and light bills and heating and A/C to sell them.  So they should be free, right?

What goes into the creation of a book?  Not the container, the content.  The book has to be written.  That’s a creative process on the part of the writer, or writers.  Whether the book is printed or electronic, the actual creation doesn’t change for the creator.  They have to invest time in that creation, whether it’s invention, research, or a combination of the two.  If the reading public desires more, the authors need to be compensated for their time, otherwise, they will have to find a different way to make a living.  There are people who write their first book, or first couple of books, in their spare time from a day job that pays the bills.  But they write a lot fewer books than folks whose full time job is writing.

There are other parts of the process that would still need to go on, even in an all ebook world.  Editing is important!  Editing doesn’t have anything to do with whether a book is print or electronic, it has to do with making a book better.  Everyone who reads a popular authors’ work over time can tell exactly when that author stopped being edited.  The books get longer, and they are less “tight” and not quite as good.  I call it “describing the wallpaper”.

Crystal Dragon coverDragon Variation coverBooks sell better with covers.  Library books circulate better with covers.  Ebooks will probably sell better with good cover art.  A quote from science fiction editor Lou Anders in the January issue of Locus Magazine probably said it best. “I won’t buy a book with a crappy cover, and I am finding I won’t buy an e-book with one either.  E-books need to have compelling cover art…”   A picture really is worth a thousand words.  While there is a print edition, the print cover is used to sell the ebook.  When there is no print edition, the publisher has to create cover art.  Good cover art sells books.  Cover art is produced by artists, who are also creators who need to get paid for their work.

One of the things that has turned into a brave new world for everyone is promoting books, especially works by new authors.  How does anyone decide to spend money on someone they’ve never heard of?  It turns out that people are browsing “bricks and mortar” bookstores but buying ebooks.  We look, we touch, we click.  It turns out that Barnes and Noble had a really great idea when they allowed Nook users to browse the entire bn.com while they were inside a B&N store, just like you can sit and read any book on the shelf, as long as you don’t leave the store.  Sampling is good.

Books sell a lot by word of mouth.  I like a book, I tell everyone I know.  Blogs and lists and Facebook multiply that effect.  But how to get that ball rolling?  Different channels of promotion have been created.  Publishers need people to work those channels.  It’s an investment in keeping the company in business, so that it can, in turn, discover new writers, and promote them, which feeds my addiction to reading.

But I expect to pay less for an ebook than a hardcover, and so do most people.  Instinctually, the fact that there is no thing that I can hold, no physical piece that has to be toted and shipped and stacked and stocked, means that it should cost less than a hardback.  Also, I can re-sell or give a hardback (or paperback) away when I’m done.  An ebook still feels slightly ephemeral.  And Amazon or B&N can take it away without my consent if things go awry, and Amazon has done this in one famous case. (1984 anyone?)  When Michael Connelly’s latest best seller, The Fifth Witness, initially cost more on the Kindle than it did as a hardcover, Amazon users revolted by giving the book one star reviews and vowing to either wait or purchase it in hardcover elsewhere.  The Kindle price has since dropped below the hardcover price.

I’m willing to pay for the creative process.  I want more books that I want to read, and I expect to pay for that privilege.  One way of voting for which books I want to read more of is with money.  But not an unreasonable amount of money.  If I buy an ebook, I’m not willing to pay for the storage costs of the print book, since I didn’t purchase that and I’m not getting the benefits that go with buying a physical item.

Free ebooks make great teasers.  The freebies exist as introductions to new authors, or series.  They are designed to get me hooked, so that I will then purchase more books by the same author.  It is supposed to be a win-win.  If I don’t like the book, I’ve lost nothing but a little time.  If I like it, I’ll buy more, and the author and publisher win.  But I am willing to pay.

The only way Amazon gets me in the Kindle Store

eReaderIQ iconI just received an update from eReaderIQ.  This is a service that lets you know when there are new free books added to the Kindle store.  It will also tell you about price drops, and recent Kindlization of previously non Kindle titles, as well as an advance search feature for the Kindle store.  I don’t have a Kindle, and I don’t even like Amazon all that much, but I love this service.

Barnes and Noble logoWhen I was purchasing “dead tree” books, I got them from Barnes & Noble.  Strictly speaking, I usually got them from www.bn.com, but that’s still not Amazon.  They had a real store I could visit when I wanted truly instant gratification, and, when I only needed moderately quick gratification, B&N shipped faster without my having to pay extra for Prime Membership.

When I bought an ebook reader, I bought a Nook.  One of the big selling points was that it had some built-in flexibility.  I could use it for ebooks from the library, if I was willing to jump through some hoops (that process was fairly teeth-grinding the first time).  I could also get free books from Baen and Project Gutenberg, while still having the advantage of being able to shop for books in bed at midnight if I really didn’t feel like reading anything I had on hand.  (The local Barnes and Noble currently hands out a cheat-sheet with every Nook they sell that gives new Nook owners the handy-dandy instructions on how to borrow ebooks from the library and read them on their new Nook.  This is a win-win that Amazon just can’t match.)

But now I have an iPad, and it changes things.  An iPad is essentially vendor agnostic.  As long as “there’s an app for that”, it can be anything I want it to be.  Or, everything I want it to be.  It’s a Nook and an Overdrive Media Console and a Bluefire Reader and, occasionally, a Kindle.

eReaderIQ tells me when there is a new ebook available for free in the Kindle store.  Even if I absolutely hate the title, I absolutely love getting the information.  And, unfortunately for the state of my various TBR lists and piles, sometimes I find the title interesting enough to download.  I know this is a loss-leader for Amazon.  They hope that people will get the freebie and then buy other books by the same author.  If I want something that’s not free, I’ll either check the library, or, purchase from B&N, so it’s not working on me, but the concept is excellent.  And, it absolutely proves the point made by librarians that letting people read the actual work is what turns people on to getting more books, including buying more books!  The freebie is a teaser, and I’d be willing to bet that both Amazon and the authors who put their books up think it works for them in the long run.

Baen Books LogoBaen Books has a terrific explanation of this from their perspective, written by Eric Flint, who has also put his money where his mouth is as an author.  The Baen Free Library makes the first couple/three books in many of their most popular authors’ series (including Flint’s) available for free download.  They know that if a reader likes the first two or three books, they will feel compelled to read the rest of the series.  Think of it as a gateway drug.

Project Gutenberg logoBut it’s the service aspect of this that I keep thinking about.  As a service, this is absolutely fantastic.  Barnes and Noble does not seem to have anything to match it, or if they do, they are hiding it quite thoroughly.  Project Gutenberg even manages to do this, and they won’t make a profit on it, but Barnes & Noble can’t seem to manage it (neither can Google).  What’s up with that?

Can libraries do the same thing?  Just think about it for a second.  Send out an email to patrons of what the library added, today.  Just today.  Every single day.  And/or what the library placed on order today.  And/or all the ebooks added to the library’s ebook site.  There really isn’t any need to get fancy about this, eReaderIQ certainly doesn’t.  It’s the books, and it’s all the books. There’s no added text, there’s no filtering, just the publisher blurb and the cover picture.  If I don’t like the books, I can delete the email or ignore the twitterfeed.  This could be automated, and it would provide a daily reminder of what the library does that’s good for readers.  And it would be an automatic update to the library’s twitterfeed and Facebook page every day.  Think of the possibilities!