Personal Literary Events

A few minor things about what I’ve done with myself over the last couple of days:

* First off, despite overloading myself by skimming through some 425,000 words worth of previous Whatevers, I’ve got some good and solid work done on Hate Mail over this weekend. I’d been wrestling over how to organize the book, and what I’ve decided to do is to make chapters that focus on specific events or themes, since there are several that I come around to over and over. The five chapters I’ve collected up so far are: Birth (a collection of entries about Krissy’s pregnancy and Athena’s birth), Clinton, Election 2000, 9/11 and Fictional Characters.

These chapters lean heavily on Whatevers that were written before 2002, which are no longer on the site and which (consequently) many people who read the Whatever have not seen, since most of the expansion of the Whatever’s audience has happened since March 2003 (which is when I switched over to Moveable Type. Comments and RSS feeds matter, people). I think it’ll be very interesting for people who’ve only seen me bash on Bush to read my take on Clinton and the impeachment process; I call Clinton a pig at one point, which made me laugh out loud when I read it. It was one of those “it’s funny because it’s true” moments.

These chapters currently clock in between 5k and 10k words, which means some will have to be trimmed down because I’m currently planning 12 to 15 chapters, and I have 100,000 words to work with. I’m going to wait until I have all the chapters ready before that happens. But regardless, it’s a good start, not in the least because now that I have the chapter structure locked down, filling in the rest of the gaps should be quick.

* After a year of apparently refusing to stock Old Man’s War on moral and ethical grounds, my local bookstore finally gave in and shelved a couple copies of the trade paperback. Naturally I was quite pleased — they’ve stocked all my other books so far and their not having OMW just always puzzled me. I didn’t want to suggest to them that they should, because I didn’t want to be the local author who whined to the bookstore about not carrying his book (especially when they were carrying the others). However, I did tell them that since they have it now, I’d be happy to sign the copies they had. Which I did. Go me!

* Speaking of OMW, a nice review of it on Bookgasm: “I’d recommend it even to people who normally shy away from the genre … like me,” wrote the reviewer. Welcome to the gateway, my friend. Now that you’re through the door we have many other authors for you to try.

* And speaking of other authors, as I was wandering around the local bookstore (because I actually went there to buy books, not to check up on whether they had OMW or not, honest). I noticed that the most recent trade paperbacks by Cherie Priest and Nick Sagan were shelved in the regular fiction area as opposed to the science fiction/fantasy area. Why might that be? My personal suspicion is: Cover art. Both Nick and Cherie’s cover art lacks many of the visual tropes of their genres; Cherie’s could work equally well with a mystery or general southern literary fiction book, while Nick’s could be a contemporary tech thriller. I suspect the person shelving the books didn’t see either swords or spaceships and assumed they should be placed in general fiction.

Is this good for Nick and Cherie? Got me: I guess people who only go to look at SF/F would miss them, but those for whom the SF/F section of the store has the weird cooties vibe will get a crack at them they might not otherwise have gotten. I suppose it’s a toss-up. Both books certainly benefit from striking cover art and design, however; they both cry out to be picked up and looked at.

* Books I bought: The Battle 100: The Stories Behind History’s Most Influential Battles; The Complete Peanuts 1957-1958; The Substance of Style. The first of these is for research for The Last Colony (which will be a tip-off for you that there will be at least one big battle scene there), the second because I am collecting the entire set as the books come out (it will be a twelve year process, as they are releasing two books a year, and each book features two years worth of strips), and the third because I kept meaning to buy it when it came out, and now I have (its author, Virginia Postrel, keeps a pretty interesting blog).

* Toward the last of these, I had an interesting thought I will share with you now, which is that as I picked up the book and resolved to purchase it, part of my brain was saying maybe you should buy it on Amazon, so her ranking will go up and she’ll know someone bought the book. Because an Amazon ranking is really the only feedback authors have in terms of having any idea how well their book is selling. Being an author myself, it seems almost cruel not to give the author that feedback.

I fought back the desire because as much as I like feeding other authors’ egos, I like supporting my local independently owned and operated bookstore more, even if it did take them a year to stock my science fiction book, harumph, harumph. But the fact I had that thought at all has to mean something.

25 thoughts on “Personal Literary Events

  1. Speaking as an independent bookseller (and a specialty SF bookseller at that), I thank you.

    As pertains to selling rates, Canada is shortly going to make the move to a consolidated industry-wide inventory control system (BookScan). The idea is that the service will receive anonymous downloads from every participant, and anyone who participates can access the aggregated data. Publishers will have to pay for the data, but booksellers are to get it for free, and my (imperfect) understanding is that authors will also have the option of participating.

    Not every bookstore has signed on, of course, but a sizeable number have, and no doubt more will as time goes on.

  2. I’m not sure either. I’ve gotten the very distinct impression – from the sorts of blurbs and reviews that have been solicited for 4&20bb – that the marketing people want to sort of ride the line between genre and mainstream for me. On the one hand, that’s cool — there seems to be more money/commercial success to be had from the mainstream side (maybe?); and on the other, it costs me a bit of indie/geek cred to be shelved so far away from the graphic novels.

    That having been said, it’s just a ghost story, anyway — no monsters or the like. It’s not the hardest of all hardcore horror novels out there by any stretch of the imagination. The sequel is going to be more monster-driven, and book #3 has zombies. So maybe the next couple will find their way to the hip little section with all the black book jackets.

    Or not. You know.

  3. Never fear. The Confederacy gets a chapter of its own, not only for the writing but because it’s an example of how people finding you on the Internet (in this case, Confederate apologists finding me), keeps bringing you back to a topic whether you necessarily want to or not.

  4. I’m sure I’ll be sorry I asked but exactly what are the apologists snarking about? I’m assuming it’s some form of ‘it wasn’t really about slavery, it was about …’.

  5. Yeah, that and “You know, Abe Lincoln wasn’t really planning to free the slaves” and so on.

  6. Ok, makes sense. You know, I’ve read enough of Turtledove’s stuff that I really know more about his versions of the Civil War than about the real thing. I should do something about that some day…

  7. I sometimes feel bad for the local bookstores, since I do almost all of my book buying on Amazon.com these days. Looking back through my Amazon orders, my wife and I bought about $1000 worth of books last year. The reason we shop on Amazon is that buying those same books at cover price would have cost us an extra $250 or so, by the time you add up the discounts from cover price (usually around 20%) and the sales tax (7%) we didn’t have to pay.

    So, I think I will continue to feel bad for the local bookstores, and continue to buy on Amazon.

  8. Damn, I’ve been reading your page for a long time — certainly pre-Y2K, because Athena was a baby when I started. Hey — pre-Y2K — that means your site is truly from “the good old days” — the Internet version of when we had to walk ten miles to school through raging blizzards, up hill both ways.

  9. Tacoma, WA has very few independant booksellers anymore. Borders and internet shopping have certainly taken their hold here in the Northwest. What I have found interesting are the increased number of independant (said only because there are franchise ones) used bookshops which have opened in the last few years. They’re located in funky parts of town, but when I am looking for something specific that’s been around a while I’ll make special trips to get to them.

  10. Two things:

    1) On its own, The Complete Peanuts 1957-1958 is a pretty funny title for a book (kind of like The Unabridged Dictionary, A-L, or The Never-Ending Story, Part 2).

    2) It’s interesting that you thought about buying it on Amazon because it helps the author’s ego, not because it costs less money for you.

  11. Brian Greenberg:

    “It’s interesting that you thought about buying it on Amazon because it helps the author’s ego, not because it costs less money for you.”

    Yeah, after shipping, etc., the cost differential is less; Amazon is still cheaper but not so much so that it’s a compelling argument not to shop locally and to support a local business. I am fortunate to be in an economic space where “what’s cheapest” isn’t the first consideration.

    Which is not to say I don’t buy any books off Amazon; I bought the last two Mark Helprin books off Amazon just last week, in fact.

  12. Re: Books on battles. I just finished reading and would definitely recommend The Face of Battle by John Keegan. He spends a good balance of time on what was it like, more than how did it happen. Which might be useful for your purposes.

  13. I imagine Cherie’s book is in the general fiction section for the same reason Stephen King, Dean Koontz, et al, are there. I’m sure if they had a specific section just for horror (the way Borders does, for example) her book would be there instead.

    I also have to say that as I was looking all around for the second installment in Scott Westerfeld’s Midnighters series, I saw multiple copies of Old Man’s War on the shelves of each store I visited – a marked improvement over the hardback edition which seemed to only be in one or two stores, and only one copy at a time.

  14. Cisko:

    Already have that and several other Keegan books. He is indeed an excellent resource. Thanks for the suggestion, however.

    John H:

    Yup. There are several reasons for that, including a larger initial print run for the trade paperback vs. the hardcover. I am of course naturally very pleased to see OMW out in the real world.

  15. Damn, I’ve been reading your page for a long time — certainly pre-Y2K, because Athena was a baby when I started. Hey — pre-Y2K — that means your site is truly from “the good old days” — the Internet version of when we had to walk ten miles to school through raging blizzards, up hill both ways.
    Funny that you’d describe those times as difficult… what with the snow walking… since back then the internet was on fire with free money and poorly designed websites that were going to magic up money from nowhere in particular.

    Wait… I take it back, it makes perfect sense, life was horrible then, and nobody could read anything anybody else posted.

  16. You will be including your “Holden Turns 50″ essay, right? That’s what got me reading you…

  17. Word on the Confederacy inclusion. I’ve now decided to purchase multiple copies.

    Though no Whatever book could really be complete without I Hate Your Politics.

  18. Not that I feel that Amazon needs defending but….

    Most of the time you can get free shipping on Amazon products. Also, Amazon Prime is actually really cheap when you order lots and lots of books….it doesn’t take much time before my overall costs to be far cheaper on Amazon, and stuff appears on your door very quickly.

    The only reason for me to go into a brick and mortar store is if I’m uncertain of what I’m looking for…like if I want to browse the shelf of new SF books.

    In short, if I know exactly what I’m looking for, Amazon is a big win. If I’m looking for something that an online search is good for, Amazon is still a big win. If I just want to browse the shelves and look for something that catches my eye, I’m happy to support the stores local to where I live/work.

  19. “John Scalzi’s Mostly Useless Writing Advice” is what got me reading the Whatever. Plus it turned out to be not-so-useless, since I sold my first book and first non-fiction article by following it.

    So “Mostly Useless Writing Advice” *darn* well better be in “Hate Mail”.

  20. Oh yeah, a loud second on the writing advice bits and pieces. Beyond a doubt some of your best stuff (although I must admit the Confederacy category does battle it out for second place with the Miscellaneous Pure Snark category, into which I place any otherwise unassigned rant that includes the words “asshat” or “Cleti”).

  21. I actually try and stay out of brick and mortar bookstores because my willpower goes all to hell in them. Not that I don’t like supporting them, but I end up coming out with $50 of books that end up on my “to read” shelves. On Amazon I can put them on my wishlist and pretend that I bought them. Think of it as an alcoholic avoiding the bar because the rent needs to be paid.
    Thanks, Cisko, for mentioning the Keegan book. I have that and The Mask of Command (both bought during a weak moment at a Borders) and I read the latter first. I’ll put Face of Battle next on my list of non-fiction to read.
    I’d second (or third) the hope that Hate Mail includes lots of writing and publication posts. While I agree that if anyone can make politics a little less tedious, it’s JS, I’m not really as interested in those entries.

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