Here’s my second set of five. Make of them what you will, but in no particular order:
Spartacus by Howard Fast is a great book and a great piece of literature. I read this about fifteen years ago and was blown away by how evocative it was and how many layers it carried on it’s scarred shoulders. I loved the movie Spartacus (I’m Spartacus! The watches on the Roman soldier’s wrists in the big battle. The crucifiction after the horrific fight between Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis who still sounds like he’s in Brooklyn) and only saw the novel while digging for gold at a used bookstore on 19th street near 5th avenue. I couldn’t put this down. As a piece of historical and political fiction (yes and swords and sandals action – though less than you’d think) it blew me away. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing historical fiction. Note I’ve also seen the first season of the TV show and had a hard time watching it as the violence was incredibly intense and the story so upsetting. But then when was slavery ever anything but? This is the only novel I’ve read by Fast and it’s a keeper.
The Stand by Stephen King is wonderful. I’ve read it twice, once when I was a teenager when it struck me as the ultimate teenage angsty end of the world story. I loved the characters, was terrified and caught up in the story, and completely satisfied with the ending. This is King at his best. Then I read it again some twenty years later when he reissued it with an additional 400 pages in the “uncut” version and I loved it even more. This had one of the most gripping opening 50 pages ever. I can still picture the guys at the gas station watching the car with the… and the guy waking up at the hospital…
Captail Blood by Rafael Sabatini surprised me when I read it. I had seen the Errol Flynn film of the book when I was a kid about a dozen times and knew it by heart. When I wrote my novel Open Wounds I used the movie and the book as key plot points. The first half of the book Captain Blood, is almost word for word the screenplay of the movie. But, and here’s the good part, the second half of the book takes Captain Peter Blood to the edge of madness and home again. You’ve missed out on a terrific read if you haven’t taken this step past what is already a great movie story. I’m a sucker for a good pirate story.
Make Room, Make Room by Harry Harrison is absolutely brutal. The movie Soylent Green (Soylent Green is people food! says Chuck Heston from his stretcher) was made from a small piece of this massive, thought-provoking, and yes, depressing and dark science fiction novel. I picked the book up because it said, “Movie based on…” and because I’d read and liked Harry Harrison (Bill the Galactic Hero is a favorite). This is a gritty and powerful and cautionary tale all wrapped up into a crowded, unable to breathe in, novel.
I know. I know. But tell me if you saw a book like this in the bookstore, that you wouldn’t pick it up to at least, you know, look.
I’ve been reading a book called, Ass-holes, A theory, by Aaron James and thoroughly enjoying it. James is a Harvard educated philosophy doc and takes a philosophical approach to looking at assholes and you either go with it or you don’t. I did. It reminded me of an extended, funny Monty Python sketch. He’s not going to tell you how to deal with assholes. He’s just going to examine them and identify them, and try to figure out why they appear in our world in such large numbers.
I can honestly say I have never seen the work asshole used in combination with so many other words so many different ways, all in one place, before. For example there is asshole management, are assholes shaped by enabling cultures, self-aggrandizing assholes, reckless assholes, delusional assholes, an asshole population, asshole CEOs, assholes within, corporate assholes, royal assholes, royal royal assholes, presidential assholes, asshole bosses, smug assholes, boorish assholes, borderline or half-assed assholes, the supreme court of assholedom, kingdoms of assholes, small assholes, full-sized assholes, individuals who have an inner asshole, moral assholes, have a proliferation of assholes, be a mere asshole, or be a part of asshole capitalism. And that’s just stuff from the first half of the book that caught my eye.
James sets up a hypothesis for what makes up an asshole as opposed to a psycho, tyrant, scumbag, or jerk. He likes to work from the middle of the spectrum of assholedom.
Why am I writing about assholes? It occurred to me while I was contemplating reading Ass-holes, that I should buy the iBook version and read it on my iPad – one less book to carry around while traveling. Then I realized once again – for I go back and forth on this over and over again – that if I continued this pattern I would not longer buy books from independent bookstores – which, if they no longer exist, would be the end of civilization as we know it.
Besides, I bought Ass-holes because I saw it in the window of Kramer Books on Dupont Circle in DC – a great bookstore, coffee shop and diner. They earned the purchase by their display, their wonderful sales help, allowing me to wander through their aisles for an hour, and their all around awesomeness.
So in a way, if I didn’t buy the hardcover I would have been an asshole without a cover.
It’s my rationalization and I’m sticking to it.
I’ve been away in my mind for the last two weeks. That’s what bloggers say when they’ve been away from their blog – at least that’s what this blogger says. Yes, I am a blogger. I’m surprised to see myself write this but it’s true.
So, I’ve been busy with my day job and putting words on paper for my new book – more day job than new book but I have clocked in my first 100 pages so I’m pleased.
I’m in Nashville right now, at a Starbucks Coffee mixing with the mall rats from across the street’s giant Greenhills Mall and just visited Parnassus Books (in a small mall on my side of the street) – an awesome indie with a saleswoman who was nice enough to take two copies of Open Wounds and put them on the shelf and consider stocking them – consider, I can ask no more.
It helped that my book has just been announced (no megaphone or loudspeaker, just a quiet facebook mention from my beloved publicist Julie Schoerke at JKSCommunications) as a finalist in the historical fiction category of the 2012 National Indie Excellence Book Awards. I’m very excited, especially since I’d completely forgotten that I’d entered my book in the contest. Julie had recommended that I do so and I’m glad I did.
So I was at Parnassus looking for Michael Grant’s Bzrk and they had the book (many indies have not, I’ve asked at five so far) but only at the warehouse. I couldn’t buy it because after the conference I’m presenting at is over tomorrow I’m heading home and the store is out of the way (two bus rides for this writer and an hours travel). But you can bet they’ll have it stocked on the floor tomorrow. My search for a non-Barnes and Noble purchase of Bzrk goes on…
Oh, but I did buy a book while there (I have to support the indies!). I bought the new Stephen King book in the Dark Tower Series – my favorite books from Mr. King.
Now it’s off to the bus stop and back to the Opryland convention center where workshops on LGBT Issues, Teambuilding, and Cultural Competence await me.
I was away last week at the Virginia Festival of the Book. I did no blog entries. I’ve been in Charlottesville Virginia, moving between the Omni, downtown, Emmit Road B&N, Allied Road Charlottesville Fencing Alliance and Allied Yoga. Oh, and the AMTRAK station.
I took a seven hour AMTRAK ride down and wrote some while my butt rode the rail. That made me smile.
Here’s the other thing that made me smile besides the beautiful town, the nice and friendly people, and the warm weather and flowers.
Barnes & Noble in Charlottesville carried my book there. There’s no other B&N in the country that carries my book. But in Charlottesville VA, they carry it. That’s cool.
It’s in two different places, the New Teen Fiction section and the table with all the books from the book festival authors – at least that’s where it will be until the end of today when the festival closes. This was the best series of events I’ve ever done. Seriously. If you ever get the chance to do this as an author, don’t hesitate, do it.
Panel I, Fiction: Conspiracies and Obsessions – I did with three very cool authors – Alma Katsu (The Taker), Amelia Gray (Threats), Virginia Moran (The Algebra of Snow) – and an even cooler moderator named Meredith Cole. Meredith knows how to moderate (not as easy as it would sound). She gave us a series of questions she would ask ahead of time, met us 30 minutes before the event to get to know us and help us settle in, and read all four of our books so that when she introduced us and asked us questions she knew what she was talking about. Meredith rocks. And, she’s a heck of a good mystery writer herself.
There were over 60 people at the even at the Barnes and Noble in town. They were standing in the aisles and sitting on the floor. That was a very cool thing to see. I don’t know who they were there to see and I don’t care. We all had a good audience to talk to and the panel kicked butt. Seriously. These women were funny and interesting and I added a touch or two myself, but watching the ladies work, I wanted to be in the audience myself. I had fun and… sold ten books, at least as far as I can remember. j
The Festival volunteers were helpful. The B&N staff were helpful. I probably had too much coffee because my hands shook. Or it could have been the influence of the Christianity section behind us. Or that might have been my nervousness showing. In any case it couldn’t have gone better.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the fencing. Oh yeah, and Panel II with Elizabeth Nunez.
The Circle Book Store – the only independent book store in the area.
I stopped in with Max and Karen, looked at the YA section – searched for Michael Grant’s Gone (it’s next on my list) and finally, when the register was clear, wandered over to say hello to the bookseller in charge.
I had brought a copy of my book and surreptitiously signed it. I was ready.
I chatted a bit about the book, gave her my pitch and all the usual accompanying information about availability at Ingrams and Baker & Taylor. She smiled at me and seemed interested then said, “It sounds good. I think I’ll read it first myself.”
My job was done.
I walked over to where Karen was looking at a book and gave her the thumbs up. She stopped for a second and looked at me. She stared at my face.
“What?” I said, leaning in close.
“What’s that big pen mark down the middle of your nose?”
“What pen mark?”
“You had that on when you talked to her, didn’t you?” she asked.
I nodded and wiped the mark off. “It’s off now?”
And so it goes…
My first book festival in which I’ll be on a panel discussing a subject that has to do with my book.
I’m very excited about this. So far I’ve been to a few (3) conferences (ALA, BEA, and a NYC Dept. of Ed Librarians Conference) and each of them I’ve signed and done some author speed dating but no presenting on panels.
It seems like a cool thing that an author would do. I’m excited about it.
The Virginia Festival of the Book invited me (thanks to my great publicist JKSCommunications!) and as a Yankee, it’s a real honor to have been picked. Maybe the road trip last summer down south paid off. Whatever Goddesses were looking out for me I’m one happy camper.
I’ll be on two panels.
Panel 1: Conspiracies and Obsessions – novels of unravelling lives – with Alma Katsu, Virginia Moran, and Amelia Gray (and me). It’s an adult author line-up, not YA. I’ll have to think about the context but it sounds like a good fit for Cid Wymann and Open Wounds.
Panel 2: Crossing Boundaries – novels about family drama, love, and loss beyond borders – with N.M.Kelby, Jacqueline E. Luckett, and Elizabeth Nunez (and me). I can’t forget me. Also adult novels but I think I’ll fit in with Open Wounds just fine.
The festival is on March 21-25 and I’ll be on panel 1 on Thursday the 23 and panel 2 Friday the 24. If you’re in Charlottesille VA around then… come say hello. I’ll be the author with the big smile on his phiz.
And here’s the real kicker. The panels will be at a Barnes and Noble. They won’t carry my book normally in store (although they do sell it online) but I’m betting they carry it for the festival. Oh yeah. Uh huh. Oh yeah. I’m still stopping at indi New Dominion Bookstore – oldest in VA. That’s going to be even cooler. Maybe I can convince them to carry my book…
Here’s the link: Virginia Festival of Books
Okay. This is a long entry but stay with me. I want to hear what you think.
So I checked out the fuss about Amazon and their predatory price app.
Let me see if I get this straight.
You go into a store and scan the bar code of a product using your cell-phone and get a comparison price from Amazon. And, you get an additional 5% (about $15 off a $300 dollar order) discount on your order. And you send the location of the store to Amazon.
Do I like the way it sounds? Not really. Is there anything anybody can do about this? Not really. Is it legally predatory pricing and therefore able to be stopped by a court of law? For example is Amazon purposely going to sell their products at below cost in order to steal customers? No. Not, as far as all I have read.
So what is going on around here? Is this capitalism at its best? Am I a socialist? Do I want the best product to win at the lowest price?
I’ve been trying to figure out what this could mean to independent booksellers. You know, how pissed off should they be over this for it seems many are pretty pissed off.
Let me take apart the two sentences above.
You go into a store and scan the bar code of a product using your cell-phone and get a comparison price from Amazon. And, you get an additional 5% (about $15 off a $300 dollar order). And you send the location of the store to Amazon.
1. Amazon is telling people to go into stores to compare prices. Now that doesn’t sound too bad to me. Go into a bookstore and scan a book price in to get a comparison price. Go walk or drive or take mass transit, journey to a book store – a bricks and mortar store, in person – walk in the front door and search for a book you want to buy, passing impulse purchases along the way, maybe talking to a bookseller on your way to finding the book, maybe having a latte if there’s a café attached to the bookstore, look at the price, scan it and comparison shop. I don’t know about you but so far I’m good with this operation. Anything that gets a customer into a bookstore is a good thing. Come in out of the rain. Rest tired feet while paging through a current bestseller by a window seat. Comparison shop. If they’re in the store they can buy from you. If they’re sitting at home on their sofa surfing the internet they can’t. So chalk one up for Amazon for pushing people into stores where they can breathe in the aroma of books and be confronted by your your flotilla of warm, friendly, and knowledgable booksellers.
2. If you want the lower priced product then order it from Amazon and they’ll send it to you in a few days, maybe longer depending on delivery method. Okay. So again. I’m not sure Amazon has a winner here. It’s a week before christmas and I’m in a store with a product I want to buy as a gift in my hands and I can either take that product home with me right now – have instant gratification – and cross off another gift on my list of gifts to get for the holidays or I can order it from Amazon for a reduced price, maybe a few dollars, but it may not make it here by christmas and I won’t know for sure until it’s in my hands delivered to me by UPS or the postal service. I can’t help but think most people will pay the few extra bucks and leave the store with the product. I’ve probably spent the extra bucks anyway on either gas or mass transit getting to the store in the first place. If I’m an independent bookstore I’m still liking this deal.
3. So let’s say that you go the Amazon way and buy the book online from them at a reduced price. Forget about the gas you spent money on to get there, or the transit fare, or the travel time. You want your discount so you get it. You still have to get out of the store, the wonderfully friendly, beautifully designed, warm with coffee smell permeating the air independent bookstore, with staff who know book lists backwards and forwards and who can recommend and sell the book socks off your feet. Go ahead. Try to leave the store without picking up a stocking stuffer. A game maybe? A bookmark? Reading glasses? Book light? Mr. Potato Head?
Go ahead. Make my independent booksellers’ day.
Am I looking at this the wrong way or what?
Three things I learned this year about publishing (please remember I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. These are based on my experiences this year).
- It’s better to be published by a legitimate press than to be self-published. Even if it’s a small press – if you want your book to be carried in a store it has to be available from Ingrams, Baker and Taylor, and or Folio. These are the big distributors in the business. I found in every instance in approaching booksellers and managers in over twenty bookstores across the country that as soon as I told them I was not self-published and that the books were available from Ingram or one of the others I was treated instantly differently (ie: better).
- Marketing is like a second job all by itself. I now work a full time day job, teach yoga twice a week, write, and do marketing for my book. I spend at least 1-2 hours a day marketing (twitter, facebook, blogging, emailing, interviewing, reviewing books, etc…). And that’s probably low. Finding a balance between marketing and writing is key to surviving your first publication.
- The publishing business is crazy. Agents leave the business without telling you, publishers are put up for sale seemingly out of the blue, subsidiary rights can be sat on, writers are just as competitive as world class athletes when it comes to snagging a seat at a full table of librarians during author speed dating, books don’t show up at readings, managers who’ve been called ahead of time about your store visit can’t remember talking to your publicist even though it was only 24 hours ago, Goodreads is like crack (or craic) for writers, it seems no two writers have the same writing process though most would agree it’s incredibly hard work to do (find a writing process and to write), and finally once your book is published writers you’ve never met before will help you to sell it through blurbs (which are key to getting your book looked at by just about everybody in the business and many readers looking for a new author to read.
After Christmas I”ll have to come up with some writing resolutions. That will take some thought. Here’s something though. For the last twenty years I wondered if the coming year would be the year I finally published my first novel. This year I don’t have to wonder anymore.
And that’s a very cool thing.
Usually a little walking does not daunt me. I walk at least an hour every day just to the subway and back and taking out the dogs. But the hill you climb from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill and the Elliot Bay Bookstore is brutal. I got a ride downtown this time and skipped the light-rail then figured I’d just walk the thirty minutes to the bookstore.
How tough could it be? I walk fast. I figured I’d make it in 15 or 20 minutes max.
It was cool and misty but I was sweating heavily by the time I got to the top of Capital Hill and over onto 10th Avenue. Capital Hill shouldn’t be called a hill. The word just doesn’t suit it. Hill of death. Hill of humongosity. Ankle-break hill. Mountain called hill. Really.
Elliot Bay Bookstore is a big indi and I wanted to make an impression. I’m sure my disheveled look and the beads of perspiration rolling down my forehead did the trick. Bookseller Mathew was kind enough to take my book.
“Can I give you my pitch?” I asked.
“Not necessary,” he said.
He checked to make sure he could get it from Ingrams and to make sure it was not self-published (yes, these things do, in my experience over the last six months marketing my book, matter). Satisfied with both, he assured me he’d get it into the hands of their YA specialist. Then he kindly got me directions to the Club Auriol, Fencing Salle – just 30 minutes … down hill … north of where I started.
“Downhill?” I asked.
He nodded sagely.
“Well,” I said, “it’s better than up hill.” And off I went. Back to sweating.
I had planned to go to two fencing salles in two different parts of town but at 7:15pm I knew I would never make it to both. So I went for the closer of the two – Salle Auriol. And I figured I’d work the opposing muscles in my legs on the downward haul – always searching for balance.
I love Seattle. It’s not New York, but I love it just the same.
I’ve been to Seattle three times now. The first time was after I finished the Peace Corps and I traveled up the west coast to Alaska then across the country to New York (a 6-month trip). I stayed in Seattle for 11 days, a few on Bainbridge Island at the home of a family friend, the rest at a Hostel.Elliot Bay Bookstore was in Pioneer Square – far from it’s present 10th avenue location. I travelled up to Juno by ferry from there and stayed north for a month afterwards. It was sunny six out of eleven days in Seattle, even though everyone swears to me it’s never sunny there.
The second time I was in Seattle it was for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals national conference and I stayed four days – mostly at the conference center but one afternoon we got a tour of some parks on the outskirts of the City by the sister of a colleague. It was sunny every day. A Seattle resident told me, “Yeah we love the summer but we all hate the winter. It rains every day and we don’t get much daylight as the days so much shorter up here. Everyone goes on antidepressants to get through to the spring.”
This third time in Seattle was for only three days, but I definitely made the most of them. I rained every day and I didn’t see the sun.
Four things I noticed this time about what I consider to be a unique and beautiful city include:
- This time I walked, bussed, and light-railed a good part of the city and it is oxygen-debt-in-the-thighs hilly. It is also hard to figure out the bus lines but the men in yellow make it all easier than it should be. “Just ask the men in yellow if you get lost,” the hotel manager told me. “They’ll help you find your way.”
- In the neighborhoods outside downtown there are a lot of runners – I mean a lot. They run alone, in pairs, and in packs. They run in the rain and mist.
- The city overall is pretty clean – now remember I’m from New York City which is not.
- There are a lot of yoga studios, massage and wellness centers. This could have been the neighborhood I was in but I don’t think so. This is a city relaxed with the concept of new age.
- Booksellers are friendly at the indies. This should go without saying but… it doesn’t. But I had three for three good experiences at indies and that was cool.
The next four entries are from last week in Seattle.
Facilitation Skills training in Seattle, teaching court practitioners how to facilitate training sessions around an online curriculum.
One day of travel.
One day of work.
One day of travel home.
I stayed at a hotel in the South Center, near the airport so I had to really work to get downtown. Shuttle to the airport. Light rail to the last stop. A bus and some walking took me to Mockingbird Books.
Sue Nevins was prepared for me, having looked up information about Open Wounds on my website. This has never happened before. I don’t have to pitch. She has questions already ready for me about where to place the book shelf-wise based on language and content. Sue is incredible.
The store is a beautiful bookstore thriving selling children’s books, with a small café and children’s play area. If we lived in Seattle we’d be hanging out at Mockingbird. And Sue knows her books. For almost half an hour she gave me a tour of books that my son might like. I left with four. He got Amulet: Stonekeeper Book 1 (a beautiful graphic novel of mystery, spookiness, and adventure), Sticky Burr: The Prickly Peril (graphic novel about burrs – work with me on this it’s very funny and cute and good for budding artists with graphic novel potential), Merlin (Merlin’s story at the age of 12) and Virus on Orbis One (science fiction to give my son something a little different for him to chew on).
I should do a better job of planning these things out. My publicist (JKS in the hands of Sami Lien who does all the finding of bookstores I should hit and contacts them to see if they’ll take a visit with a smile and calls the fencing salles too) draws a big net. I’m ambitious but come up against the constraints of time and transportation every trip.
Sue told me I should go to Third Place Books also because it was in walking distance – only about twenty minutes – and they had a good pub underneath them. I was thirsty and I needed to eat dinner. The three-hour time difference was knocking me out.
At Third Place I talked to the owner, Michael Ravena, and he seemed pleased both at Sue’s referral and to listen to me talk briefly about Open Wounds. He read a few pages of different parts of the book while I watched, and smiled at a description of Nicolai Varvarinski. “That’s great,” he said. With a handshake and a thank you, I asked for directions to the pub.
The beer (Seattle has a lot of home local brews) was good and the food was even better. The World Series was on the television – no world cup rugby but that can wait until early Sunday morning when France and New Zealand will remake the clash of the titans.
Here’s an email from a young man, 15, who read Open Wounds.
Not sure if you remember me, but I met you at the Voracious Reader in Larchmont, New York. You told me to write to you how I enjoyed the book, so here it goes…
Open Wounds was an unbelievable, easy read that I couldn’t put down. The path of Cid’s fencing kind of reminded me of mine which is why I think I enjoyed it so much. I really enjoyed how Siggy and Tomic re-entered the book. I was really upset when they both left Cid in the beginning of the book. I thought the whole plot was really interesting and I really liked the characters in the book. I thought Cid’s fencing coach was a really interesting character because of his style of teaching. I also loved reading about how Cid and Lefty’s relationship grew in the book. Plus, Lefty’s relationship with Cid’s mom was a good twist. Overall, this book made me want to keep fencing and a good read during the summer.
Collin, I did remember you and Dude, you made my day. Thanks for the kinds words about my book and let’s keep in touch.
I spent a few hours yesterday writing follow-up emails to all the store owners and booksellers I met on the road trip. There were about a dozen from that many indi bookstores. So here’s what I’ve figured out about this whole marketing thing. If I’m going to sell my books I have to reach four different groups.
The first group is readers. I have to let potential readers know about my book, that it exists. The internet is a wonderful tool for this as are bookstores. You would think reaching all the people who are potential readers would be easy but… it’s not. You have to get their attention and give them a reason to look at and buy your book as opposed to the hundreds of others staring at them in the bookstore or on the online page. Which brings us to group number two.
The second group is booksellers. They can be in bookstores or they can be on the internet. But the internet acts as a bookseller all by itself only it’s harder to figure out. On Amazon there are sections like, “People who bought this book also bought the following…” This is cool because I can see that people who bought my book also bought Forever by Maggie Stiefvater, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, and once but only once, Rick Riordan’s Lightning Thief. But how does this play out for new people finding my book? Hopefully I’m showing up on other book’s lists. Still, it’s not like you’re in a store and ask a bookseller what they read lately and like or if they can recommend a book for boys, or a new historical novel, or a book with sword fights and suspense with a touch, just a touch of family drama. Which is why as cool and helpful as the internet is, reaching bricks and mortar stores and developing relationships with bookstore owners and sellers is so important. It’s slower, but it builds over time. So far I’ve been to 23 stores (seventeen of which are independent bookstores), in nine states, and I’m just getting to my hometown, NYC this month.
As they say, people can’t buy your book if they can’t find it. It’s available over the internet, yes. But in bookstores… I’m working on that one store at a time.
Discussion of the third group, the business (agents, publishers, film, audio, and all the possible buyers of subsidiary rights) people, and fourth group, reviewers, tomorrow.
My son hates to write about small moments. They are part of his school work on writing non-fiction. He hates to come up with them and thinks they are a torture made up just for him.
As a writer I appreciate the technique the teacher is trying to teach him. I’m still working on the concept of small moments too in my writing.
Here are small details for small moments from my road trip:
- speed limits in some states on the interstate are 70 mph which means most people are travelling between 75 and 90 mph.
- if the Waffle House sign is broken and only says “Waf Hou” you should probably not eat there.
- a coffee cup is a good thing to throw up in if you have nothing else available though it’s better to stop the car and avoid throwing up instead if you can.
- passengers can do a lot of things on road trips but drivers can do only one – drive.
- an iPad is an excellent travel aid but you do need to get the 3g service or you will be stuck hopping from wifi station to wifi station on the interstate and no matter how fast the iPad drive is it just can’t keep up.
- engine lights will go on only while you are taking short cuts to avoid traffic while you are in the middle of nowhere, travelling in darkness, with your iPad on the 2% battery indicator.
- engine lights will go off while you are not watching and while things are going well.
- you can only drink so many cups of coffee before your hands start to shake.
- when visiting bookstores in the south, smile, show them your book, mention Kelly Justice’s name (thank you Kelly!) and see what happens.
Yesterday we hit traffic on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and finally had to reduce speed down below 65. It’s amazing how little traffic the rest of the world has. Ahhh… New York City. It’s good to be home. 45 minutes going what would normally be 15 to get from the Verrazano to Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights. We travelled half of New Jersey in the same amount of time on the Jersey Turnpike, and twice that in North Caroline on I-95. Did you know the speed limit is 70mph down there?
We’re unpacked and have slept a full night in our own beds and yes, that does feel good. I even have six full days of vacation left so although the day job worries me (looming like a nuclear missile would be the appropriate metaphor I think) I can ease back into life at a slower pace. It was interesting to see the effects of Irene on the land we passed through. I-95 is like a tunnel, trees to both sides for so long, and it’s basically straight, so we only saw downed trees in North Caroline and Virginia. But the sense of being in a sort of time machine was visceral. Overall, the trip back was quick and uneventful – hard on the butt of course, but that goes with sitting for 6-8 hours a day in a car. We didn’t stop at bookstores on the way back because we were all pretty much done in by Universal and the driving. And… we wanted to get home. That’s the sign of a good vacation. It was time to be home. That and my family might have mutinied if I asked them to detour one more time – just an hour to visit one more store… no (imagine the flurry of debris thrown at me from the back seat from my son) … we headed home.
I have a list of stores to follow-up on in Baltimore, Richmond, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Gainesville. I’ll see who has had a chance to read Open Wounds, and who may now order it to have it in-store. I’m going to make list of stores that carry it and direct folks there (people are banging down the doors to get a copy, really). Well, as they say in Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. In the case of bookselling, if they’ve read it, they will sell it. For those of you who’ve been following along with me on the trip to Universal and back, I’m going to take off tomorrow from blogging – I have a guest blog to do for a friend to put together which I’ll let you know about over the next few days – and I’ll be back on Friday.
I hope you enjoyed the trip.
I sure did.
I just love that spell. This is our third day of no driving and my bum is very happy about that.
We waited on line for wands at Olivanders in Harry Potter land and it was well worth the hour wait in the light rain. Seriously. It gave me the chills when the wand misfires. Each of us got a wand. How could we not?
No bookstore activities at all. I’m on vacation for the next two days. Then I have to plan out a trip to Vera Beach (possibly if we can make the time to visit friends of a friend who happen to own a bookstore on the coast!). Perhaps one or two Barnes & Nobles in Orlando? No indi’s to speak of as far as I know…
Did I mention that we stayed in the pool the whole day today? Now that’s a vacation.
For those who are interested I’m researching my next book. I will only say it has something to do with WWI. At least that’s what I know so far.
Okay. Harry Potter was cool for what we did but the lines were crazy. It’s 90 degrees and wall to wall people at each of the stores (oh what a merchandising heaven) and a 90 minute wait to get into Hogwartz, the ride – which wasn’t that bad – we were told. We made it 30 minutes and hit the stretch of line that was in the sun and gave up. We’ll do it another day. The butter beer was indeed excellent as was the breakfast at the 3 Broomsticks. We’ll be back again tomorrow.
Wingardium leviosa! Sorry. I just had to say that.
Now onto the discussion of indi’s, B&N, Borders, and survival of the fittest.
So Jeff of Bound to Read Books in Atlanta gave me some insight into the real plight of indi bookstores in this age of ebooks. Now the age of ebooks seems like it’s an age that’s been here forever but it’s really only a couple of serious years old. But a lot has happened in two years. The Kindle took out the Sony Reader, and the Nook took on the Kindle and has established itself on the shelf next to it and the iPad is right behind trying to throw its apple muscle around to create some space for it. The Kobo – backed by Borders and we all know what happened to them – is far behind as are the Sony Readers and a few others.
What do the indi’s have? Nothing.
I mean bookstores are traditionally selling points for books. But that doesn’t mean they have to be hard copy books only, though, does it? Will bookstores change the way they look? How can they compete with electronic sales over the internet? Do they want to or even need to?
Amazon owns the Kindle and indi’s could sell the Kindle but what about the books that people read on the Kindle? Everybody goes to Amazon. Barnes & Noble has their own platform so they sell both the Nook and their own books, because they can too. But what about the indi’s? How do they get into the e-book market? Can they? I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of this before.
Now I’m not saying ebooks are going to take over the book reading market. But they are and will take up market share and It’s a market share that’s growing and that indi’s can’t touch.
Jeff just shook his head when I asked him what he was going to do.
When I talked to Andy at the B&N in Gainesville store I asked him how B&N was doing now that Borders has kicked the bucket. He said they were good, then added. “We invested in the Nook. And it’s paid off.”
Indeed it has. Consumers Report rated it higher than the Kindle recently which was rated pretty high all by itself. Each product is different in it’s platform but gives a segment of the population something that it wants – a way to read books electronically.
But what about the indi’s? Does anybody know?
We made it to Universal. We did nothing but check out the grounds, hit the pool and game room, eat and go to sleep. We all agreed we were very happy to be out of the car.
Some interesting things we saw on the way down were a giant confederate flag a little north of Valdosta – and I mean giant, definitely a statement being made with that – and an incredible number of billboards for right-to-lifers and medieval times. You can take that for what it’s worth.
I 75 is long and straight and endless.
We stopped in Gainesville, Florida, to hit a Barnes & Noble there. Now don’t go all indi on me – there were no indi’s in the area and B&N was the closest to the interstate and we needed to find a book that two indi’s prior did not have. So we went and I pitched my book to the merchandise manager while I was there – a nice guy named Andy who indeed had heard of Captain Blood and Errol Flynn – always a good sign – who took Open Wounds and said I could follow-up with him to see if he read it in a couple of weeks. It’s something new I’m doing – asking if they mind if I follow-up. Anything that might make a difference is worth trying. Remember, it’s all about the relationships (yeah, yeah, I heard that before – okay… I’m just saying…).
The B&N in Gainesville has been there 18 years and seems pretty entrenched in the community. Andy said it’s one of only three small B&Ns left in the country. It doesn’t have a Starbucks café. It’s only books and although it’s a pretty good size – still bigger than any indi I’ve been too so far, it was smaller than the super stores. I had an interesting conversation with him about how B&N is doing compared to Borders – who clearly has lost the race to survive. More on that tomorrow because it links well to the conversation I had with Jeff from Bound to Read Books in Atlanta.
So I went to three bookstores in Atlanta yesterday that I wanted to post about also.
A Cappella is not a YA bookstore and I missed Frank, the owner, but I talked to Chantal and pitched her the book. I think she may read the first chapter, at least, and if she reads the first chapter… It’s a funky indi in a funky part of town called East Atlanta. I’ll write to them both in two weeks to see if either one took a peek.
Eagle Eye Books was not too far down the road so I stopped there next. This is a good sized store with both used and new books. The owners, Doug and Charles were not in (I keep missing folks but that’s the nature of a drive-by – you got to visit when you have the time) so I pitched the book to Bob who smiled the whole way through and said he’d give it a read. I’ll be following up with him in two weeks also.
Bound to Read Books is a great small indi that had a great kids section in addition to a good size graphic novel section and just a beautiful interior. I got there just after a big event so the owner was in. Jeff was kind enough to listen to my pitch and we talked about while about how publishing and bookstores have changed. He said, now that Borders has been taken out Barnes and Noble and Amazon are next on the indi hit list. Hah! But what do Indi’s do about getting a piece of the ebook market? I’d never thought of that before. It’s a good question for another blog post. I’ll be following up with Jeff too, and my guess is he may well have copies of Open Wounds in his store some time soon. Just guessing.
Autozone said there were five different problems with the engine. We checked the oil, the transmission fluid, the gas cap, and the water. All four were good. Our mechanic in Queens, Steve, who takes phone calls from South Carolina, said get back on the road and don’t worry about it. Just keep driving. He’ll check it out when we get back but he’s not worried. Okay.
Green iced tea from Starbucks.
Karen’s driving. We’re off to Atlanta. I’ve got plans for three stores to visit. Karen and Max are going to hit the pool. I’m going to try and meet Amy from Lady Reader and Matt from the QQQE – two bloggers I”ve corresponded with and whose blogs I follow. It’ll be cool putting faces to words. It’s all about the relationships.
But before I forget here’s my report from yesterday on the two bookstores I hit in North Carolina.
Fly Leaf bookstore in Chapel Hill is the absolute most beautiful bookstore I’ve seen in a while. Some independent stores are quirky, some small, some big and overfilled, some sparse on the shelves and heavy on the muffins, but Fly Leaf, oh this is a beautifully laid out store. There’s a great kids space. The shelves have staff picks marked and easily read all over the place – very colorful and eye appealing. The color of the store just says come in, sit down, gaze at books, read, read, read, ahhhhhh. Seriously this is a good-looking store. The owner Jamie was very nice considering I had no appointment and she was on her own while the others were on break. Still I threw Kelly Justice’s name in the mix (thanks again Kelly) and yes, Jamie took a moment from the register to bring my book back to her store partner and kid’s buyer for review. Max bought two books there and I wanted to buy one also but I’m banned from hardcovers for a while as we’re out of space back home. Behemoth is calling to me though.
Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh was also a great looking bookstore, filled with books and music. They were busy but Sally, a very helpful and busy bookseller, did see if the kids buyer was in to speak to me. She was in the middle of an order. I asked Sally if she’d listen to my pitch. She looked at me and then at the register. I could see the “no” without it even being said.
“You’ve got a lot to do right now, don’t you?” I said.
“And you get a lot of people coming in pitching books and products?”
She nodded again and glanced a second time at the register where her colleague was busy.
“But I bet you don’t get many people coming all the way from New York City, do you?” I gave her my biggest shit-eating grin.
This made her smile and she nodded at me. “You have three minutes,” she said. After doing the pitch under three minutes a dozen times at ALA last month I could do this in my sleep.
“Get back to us in two weeks,” she said when I was done. “I’d like to read it myself.” Then she gave me the buyer’s name and email, her email, ideas for where to go in Atlanta, and another smile to take me out the front door.
Charlotte’s was harder to hit yesterday. Bookmark is downtown and parking is terrible. Karen dropped me off. I rolled out of the car and went to the back of the mall where they were situated, pitched one of the owners while a customer came in and ordered other books. I waited oh so patiently. Karen called me on the phone. “There’s no parking.”
The owner said, ‘You got to go?”
I nodded. “I’ll make this quick.”
He took the book and said he’d take a look. Kelly Justice’s name got some attention again. (Thanks’ Kelly.)
It’s 2pm on day four and the engine light went off. Steve, the mechanic, was right again. The stress level has eased out of the car in one big exhale.
Atlanta here we come.
We did a bit too much today.
Two bookstores in Chapel Hill and Raleigh, two in Charlotte, horrible traffic on I-85 heading out of Charlotte, and a warning engine light in the wilds of Kings Mountain Park Road – in the dark – just outside of Blacksburg. Tensions were high. Tears were shed.
Atlanta, our target for the evening, was taken off the agenda and we’re in Greenville.
We’ll call our mechanic tomorrow morning – get some advice. One thing I know little about is cars. I just drive ’em. My wife will handle the call – she at least knows her way around an engine.
There may be some changes to the travel plans. We’ll have to see. More tomorrow morning.
Two stops today. In the morning we hit the Red Canoe Bookstore and Café in Baltimore. It’s a beautiful store with a great YA selection and incredible muffins (really, I tried three different types, the apple/mango, the peach cobbler, and the mixed berry) and good coffee. It was a wonderful way to start the day. Max picked up a graphic novel and I we each got a t-shirt. The owner, Nicole, said these days they make more money from the café than the books and that she’d be specializing in YA and kids books to hone in on that market. It’s the kind of place you park yourself with a good book (purchased of course) or your computer, and read – only getting up every half hour or so to get another muffin or a refill on your coffee. Ahhhh.
I-95 was a mess. We lost an hour at least alternately sitting and creeping south to Richmond. We finally got to Richmond near 5pm and found Fountain Bookstore, where Kelly Justice and Doc filled me in on the doings of SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Association) and the city of Richmond’s authors. Kelly gave me some tips on which bookstores to go along the way south and told me she would carry Open Wounds – any author who stopped by in person was on her good side. Like I said. It’s all about relationships.
Made it to Raleigh/Durham about 9:30pm – exhausted. The La Quinta hotel near the Research Triangle in Chapel Hill is nice – the wood floor section especially good for yoga. Hey… after two days in the car I need some extra pigeon/eka pada raja ka potasana.