One Small Detail Regarding The Big Idea
Posted on May 21, 2010 Posted by John Scalzi 45 Comments
In my wanderings out there on the great big electronic Web-like thingie we call, uh, the Web, yesterday I saw someone praising The Big Idea and saying that she could always rely on the book recommendations I make through it.
Naturally, I’m delighted she finds The Big Idea so useful — that’s the whole point, to introduce you the readers to works you might want to read — but I do want to add a small point of clarification, which is that when I select books for The Big Idea, what I’m mostly going by is release date, not by content or (importantly) by my own personal feelings about the book. If an author/publicist/editor asks if a particular date is available, and it is, and the book meets my inclusion criteria, I’m likely to offer them that slot. With a very few exceptions, that’s been my selection process.
What I think this reader is responding to is not my selection of books and authors to highlight, but how the authors themselves are writing about their books here. Which is I think one of the really excellent things about The Big Idea: it isn’t in fact about me, and what I like; it’s about the author telling you what makes his or her book worth your time to read. All I do is provide the space and an intro paragraph and then get out of the way.
So, if The Big Idea is doing a great job of helping you find books, I’ll take credit for the basic idea and offering up the space. You’re welcome. But the people who are doing the real heavy lifting here are the authors themselves. The credit for the success of the feature goes to them.
I figured the big idea books were books you either read or read parts of and liked. So your saying that isn’t always the case?
I do like what the authors say about their books. It is done well. Alot more detail than when I get off of a book cover in the bookstore.
Yup, the credit for its success — or the blame for its failure — resides in the authors.
What I like most about this presentation/technique, however, is that the authors’ descriptions of what they’re trying to do almost always give me a much better idea of whether or not I’ll like the book (or want to read it) than the Publishers’ jacket/review blurbs do.
It is a great opportunity for an author to connect to a larger audience and provide some insight. I really like that you do this.
I guess, I too was under the impression that you had some interest or approval of the book. Otherwise, it is very magnanimous of you to allow authors to promote books that you may not like…
I generally like the Big Idea books, my only complaint is that they are almost exclusively SF and Fantasy. I’m not saying that this shouldn’t be expected from a SF / Fantasy writer’s blog (and association president); but a little more variety would be an improvement.
It’s that way because I work in that field and I rely on people asking to be part of the feature rather than seeking people out. That said, the feature is getting more widely known in publishing so we’ll be having a larger range of books as time goes on, I suspect.
That’s precisely why I love the Big Idea; it gives authors a chance to elaborate on what the heart of their book is without (at least formally) making every word the beginning of a sales pitch.
You do have to give yourself more than a little credit for offering up the space and the type of dialogue created. It is an excellent way to get the news of these new titles out there, while providing more than the floof of generic book reviews. I follow a number of review blogs and sites, but this method has gotten me interested in the most books by far, complete with follow-through of buying and reading.
So yes, the authors are doing the actual post-to-post work of contacting you and writing up their submissions, but the Big Idea was your Big Idea and, well, gotta thank you for that one.
Sometimes you do give an opinion of one of the books even though it might not be a complete review. It was based on your praise of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker in the Big Idea that I chose to give it a try.
I have definitely picked up a number of books from The Big Idea recently – including I Am Not a Serial Killer, Toads and Diamonds, and Boneshaker. I’ve been impressed with them all, and part of what got me really interested – and in fact I think increased my enjoyment of the books themselves – was hearing what the authors were trying to do with each book. The first two in particular I’ve already recommended to several friends.
I love the feature! Thank you so much for providing such an excellent space for authors to communicate with an audience!
I also love the feature. Do you mind if I ask what the status of BigIdeaAuthors.com is? I haven’t seen anything mentioned since last year, unless I missed something.
Dude, the Big Idea rocks! \m/
It’s one of the best things you’ve ever done here.
Still in process, which is a way of saying, “we’ll totally get around to it some day, really, I SWEAR.”
Ha, I totally understand. About 90% of the projects I’ve ever started are still in process. Okay, I’m lying… it’s more like 95%.
So, are you still thinking of giving TBI it’s own website?
So does it _bother_ you that hosting these pieces on Whatever is seen as tacit endorsement for the work?
“Still in process, which is a way of saying, “we’ll totally get around to it some day, really, I SWEAR.””
get an unpaid intern. I know how you appreciate the value they bring to a business. Think of all that they will learn from you by doing your grunt work and making you lunch.
Guess @16: Either that was snark or you haven’t been paying attention…
(I’m guessing snark, btw…)
It doesn’t bother me, no. I’ve featured books here with which I’ve had philosophical disagreements and/or books that have annoyed others, but that will happen from time to time as a consequence of my general selection process. And in any event, people can have their say about the book in the comment threads.
I’ve taken two Big Ideas and bought then: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld and Feed by Mira Grant. Both have been excellent choices. I don’t know if it was that the concepts grabbed my attention more or if the fact that they knew about The Big Idea and fell into a certain category of author because of it, but I’m paying a lot more attention to the books in the feature these days since lightning struck twice for me.
The interesting thing about The Big Idea is the usual high quality of people who think that The Whatever is a good place to promote their books.
Not only do a significant amount of your fans have good taste, but also, those who know you in the writerly community happen to be good writers, and are frequently doing new and interesting things in the genre(s).
This is clearly because you are One Of The Cool Kids :-)
You really aren’t management material are you? No idea at all how to steal credit.
I’ve been visiting here for a while, and have myself discovered a few gems from the Big Idea. (Most recently, Acacia: The War with the Mein.) But that’s not why I’m writing this.
John, has the “watermark” of your leering visage always been there on your comments? I find it a little, well, creepifying… (and I REALLY hope I’m not just imagining it.)
I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.
(walks off, whistling)
Folks who see far still have to have giants’ shoulders to stand on. You’ve made this sandbox interesting enough that the cool kids ask to come and play here. No mean feat in the days when any schmoe can get a WordPress blog for the click of a mouse…
Thanks for being interesting.
John @23: Wow, I couldn’t see that at all. I had to inspect the page using Chrome’s developer tools to figure it out.
So, no: you’re not imagining things. And I’m pretty thankful I can’t see it in my browser (or maybe it’s my monitor settings or something): that would kinda creep me out.
As to The Big Idea… man, I love this feature. I’m in agreement with a bunch of other folks here: getting access to the authors’ takes on their own work is really compelling, and has sold me on some books which I wouldn’t have considered otherwise, or wouldn’t even have been on my radar. Boneshaker is one – I bought that outright, which I don’t do much of anymore, on the strength of Cherie’s Big Idea entry and subsequent investigation of her Clockwork Century site; The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is another, which would never have even crossed my mind to look at if it hadn’t popped up in the Big Idea. I have been pleasantly pleased with both (especially Kingdoms; I wasn’t surprised to like Boneshaker, since zombie steampunk seems right in my wheelhouse, but if I’d picked up Kingdoms in the bookstore or library and had nothing to go on but the back blurb, I feel pretty confident that I would have set it right back down again and kept on looking…)
And I’ve never considered any of the books featured in the Big Idea to be endorsed, tacitly or otherwise, by our gracious host. I think he’s been pretty up front about his requirements for entry into the Big Idea, and being a “Scalzi-approved tome” has never been one of them.
Though, come to think of it, an Oprah Book Club-like “Scalzi seal of approval” would probably get me to plunk down coin…
OMG (no BBQ sauce) John@23, as I was scrolling through the comments I noticed when Scalzi’s replies passed by that there was an odd clouding. I thought it was my monitor and I was set to go at it with a cleaning cloth. Nice catch.
I’ve been meaning to comment about The Big Idea posts in that for the past year or two I’ve been focusing on finding new authors to read. The Big Idea is awesome for that; if it’s an interesting sounding book, I’ll add it to my library pulls list. If I read it and like it, I’ll go pick up my own copy.
Dang you Scalzi for helping to contribute to my overburdened bookshelves problem!
I recently read a Big Idea about the book “Feed”. I purchased the book entriely based on having seen it here, and I quickly devoured it and am eagerly awaiting a sequel.
The Big Idea is a great way for an established author such as yourself to give a little something back to the author-community. Many books I read about here would never have crossed my path otherwise.
I really enjoy the Big Idea posts and have found several books to purchase from it. What I would really love is a page with links to each of the Big Idea entries so when I’m getting ready to go to the book store or filling out my wishlists at various online retailers I could skim back through and refresh my memory. You know, in all your free time.
I have really appreciated the Big Idea pieces – I have read lots of new authors and books and can generally get them through our local library network. Thank you!! (Am currently tearing through The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms).
#29 — there’s a Big Idea archive at http://whatever.scalzi.com/category/big-idea/
I love the enthusiasm expressed by the authors of these pieces — many times that’s what makes me want to read the books.
I picked up “Mistwood” because of Leah Cypess’s ‘big idea’ post and loved it. Same with “Hundred Thousand Kingdoms”. Some of the ‘big idea’ posts don’t appeal to me so (like #3 said) that gives me a good idea the book wouldn’t either. But either way, reading what the author has to say about their book on your blog is much more revealing than blurbs or press releases or interviews.
I think I did have the vague impression that you picked authors to write ‘big idea’ posts because you liked their books — misconception corrected now. I really appreciate it as a feature of your blog though.
I’ve had a lot of good hits from the Big Idea posts, but one huge miss. I guess I didn’t read it carefully enough, and I certainly didn’t look at a big enough picture of the cover so I missed the fact that there was a bare-chested dude hidden in there, indicating that the book in question was, in fact, a bodice-ripper with a veneer of sci-fi. I think at that time I was also under the impression that the featured books were picked to appeal to a specific audience. Now I read the reviews more carefully :)
I have noticed that a lot of YA authors seem to be using the Big Idea posts. Do you think that this space is becoming known as a venue to promote neat YA books, or is it just YA release season?
Speaking of which, I can’t wait for the next installment in the Leviathan universe.
I think a lot of YA folks know of the existence of Whatever, which accounts for that.
Interesting. I’ve been using the Big Idea to seek out new authors to read, and have bought at least a few. I read TA Pratt’s Blood Engines and found it to be interesting, but not really enough to keep up with the series. I just finished Jim Hines’ The Stepsister Scheme and had a lot of fun with it, so I’ll probably be checking out more of his stuff.
Plenty of the other posts have put books on my ‘to read’ list. And I’m sure I’ve got a couple more lying around here that I bought because of a post.
But the people who are doing the real heavy lifting here are the authors themselves. The credit for the success of the feature goes to them.
Which definitely wouldn’t have worked without the sizable, friendly, book-loving community you’ve built here. I say this as someone who has benefitted quite a bit from my own The Big Idea essay.
I’ve made four or five purchasesbecause of entries here. All but one of them was worth the time and money; that other one was worth five times the money.
Got a BIG list now to buy.
Just another voice here saying that I like the feature, and have bought several books as a result of their appearing here. It’s nice to hear the author telling us what they think the book is about and why we should read it.
Put me down as another person who thinks TBI is one of the best features of your blog. I’d gotten out of buying new sf/fantasy because I just didn’t have enough time or energy to search out new authors, but since the TBI started, I’ve bought and loved two books and wishlisted four others from it. Discovering a new author is always an unmitigated joy, so, thanks.
The Big Idea is a great way for us to get a hint of an author’s thought process, which in turn is a good way to preview whether or not we’ll love our writing. We have picked up several Big Idea writers (and not a few sequels, to boot) and enjoyed their writings— a not inconsiderable boon to me & Evil Rob, who keep running out of books.*
*Yes, we re-read. Still keep running out of books.
Yet another person here who’s run out and bought books solely because I saw them in The Big Idea feature — Feed (reading it now and LOVING it) and Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey (one of the best books I’ve ever read). And I’m actively recommending those books to others. However, my to-read pile is now 60+ books high and I need to Stop Buying Books for a while before my husband kills me. If you could pick more mediocre or less compelling books/authors for a while, that would be helpful.
Does it absolutely have to be the author’s latest book?
I’m another of the Big Idea lovers- Most of my ‘read-soon’ list is drawn from it. Another great source is Jo Walton’s columns on http://www.tor.com, where she discusses books that she’s read or re-read. The re-reads are great for my wallet, as they’re usually easily available through my library interloan. I find with TBI books that I either need to break down and buy them, or give it a month or so for them to get into the system.
I have a request for The Big Idea posts. Could you include the title of the book being discussed in the actual title of the post? It would make it easier to just copy the post title into my bookstore shopping list. Otherwise I have to look through the whole section of books by that author to find the one that was mentioned, and my bookshelves are starting to complain about that :) Thanks.