Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

Rating: WARTY!

Subtitled Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks, this audiobook sounded like fun, and I love librarians, so I felt I owed the profession a review of this or something like it, but in the end, I didn't love this book for several reasons. I had hoped for something much better.

The first and foremost of the problems I had with it was that despite being published only a year or so ago (as of this review) the book seemed obsessed with antiques and classics rather than addressing any of the newer material that's out there. I don't have a lot of reverence for the classics - certainly no more than for modern works and certainly not simply because they're so-called classics! Yes, it did cover some more recent material but very, very, little.

Another issue I had with it was that, for having been written by a librarian, it wasn't very good. There were some interesting 'letters' and some outright laugh-out-loud moments in it, but those were few and far between and the more I listened to this, the more I found myself skipping sections either because they were boring or because I had zero interest in the book being addressed. It felt like anyone could have written this, no librarianship required.

Worse than this was the vulgar language. I have no problem with that in a novel. People use foul language in real life so there's no reason at all it should not be depicted in a novel, but it felt completely out of place in this work, and it really grated when she used it.

For these reasons I cannot commend this as a worthy read. My apologies to librarians everywhere; I can;t speak for them, but I doubt this author speaks for very many of them!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine

Title: The Fine Print of Self-Publishing
Author/Illustrator: Mark Levine
Publisher: Bascom Hill
Rating: WORTHY!

I had some really mixed feelings about this book. In the end I decided to rate it positively, because it does what it promises in that it offers, in general, what appears to my amateur eye to be solid advice about self-publishing. Overall I believe it's of benefit to anyone who wants to get some inside information about the publishing business. Frankly, one of the tipping factors for me was the reference to Sarah Kolb-Williams in the acknowledgments. I happen to respect Sarah, and I reviewed her book on editing positively back in May so this gave the book some street cred for me!

The book goes into extensive detail about all aspects of the publishing industry, and there are multiple appendices and URLs to allow for follow-up for yourself if you wish. There is a really useful grade card on self-publishing companies towards the back of the book where someone actually contacted two-dozen of those businesses with valid questions about self-publishing. The companies were rated on how (or even if!) they responded. There are some 'A's and some 'F's in there, so this book is worth it just for that information!

Here's the list of contents:

The Basics of Self-Publishing
Self-Publishing Essentials
From Manuscript to Publication
The Profile of a great Self-publishing Company
The Fine Print of Publishing Contracts
E-Book Publishing
Marketing Your Book
Apples to Apples Comparison of major Self-publishing Companies
(Appendices A through I)

That doesn’t mean I didn’t have some issues with the book, however, some of which were mild or matters of opinion, and others more serious. One section where the information seemed incomplete was in purchasing an ISBN for your book. I have dealt only with Create Space so far, and they offer a multi-tier approach. You can get their ISBN for free, which obviously costs nothing but limits your right to use the ISBN, or you can buy one for only $10, which you own. The caveat here is that Create Space will not make available some of their services if you buy your own ISBN! Strange but true, I know, but those of us who are not best-selling authors (which is pretty much all of us!) are very much at the whim of the tides and currents, aren't we?

In a newly revised section on ebook publishing, the author says that he "...can't imagine a scenario where it would be beneficial to not publish an ebook version of you book." I have seen, however, some really poor ebook versions of novels and books. Typically these have been ARC (Advance Review Copy) books, but in this day and age of electronic publishing, and spell-checkers, I can’t imagine even an ARC looking as bad as some I've seen. Plus there is another issue. My Kindle shows only grey-scale, not color, and the screen is very small. It’s great for reading your usual chapter book, which is what I typically read, but it would be useless for a coffee-table book!

If your book has color images of significant size, then it’s not going to look good on my Kindle. Even smaller images with little contrast will look muddy. Indeed, a lot of ARCs I've seen are simply not available for review on the Kindle at all. The only way to read them is to download them and use Adobe Digital Editions on my computer, which tends to render them very well, but which isn't available for Linux, only for Mac and Windows, sad to say. Plus, as the author himself makes clear, ebooks are not yet in the majority in terms of sales. Obviously this will change, but the print book isn't dead yet, and I personally suspect that its death, if it ever comes, will be a long, drawn-out, lingering process!

When I published my own book, Poem y Granite (which has only simple, grey-scale images), I was so disappointed in the ebook version that I ended-up stripping-out all the images, and reformatting it as text-only for the e-version. I was not about to let it get published like it was initially. It looks great like that in print (IMO!), but it was horrible in the ebook version. Poem y Granite was designed from the off as a print-book and it didn’t translate well at all, so yes, Virginia, there are scenarios where the ebook version isn’t going to work - at least not as is!

There's another issue touching on this which makes me feel rather hypocritical to mention because I really don’t care for book covers in general. I don’t 'review the cover' as many reviewers do since the author has little to do with the book's cover (unless they self-publish!). In this case it’s worth a mention because the author himself mentions book covers (not in any detail, but often), and the disconnect between the author's comments about the need for a professional-looking cover, and this book with the cover it has, struck me as amusing to say the least. In addition, on my Adobe Digital Editions reader, the bottom edge of the cover was cut off (see my cover image above). Yes, this is an ARC, so there can be unresolved problems at that stage, but this seemed to me to be one which could have been avoided.

So what else didn’t I like? Well, while I appreciate someone in a book like this who doesn’t sugar-coat advice, there's a difference between straight-talking and outright insulting the reader, and in my opinion this author crossed the line in Chapter two. Evidently, in his opinion, I'm a fool for designing my own book interior and cover, and so is everyone else who does this. While I do take his point about the need for professionalism, I thought this was unnecessary to say the least. It carries the unwarranted underlying assumptions that everyone who would like to self-publish is a). Really stupid and incompetent, and b). So well-off that they can afford to spend several thousand dollars on what might well be, at the bottom line and despite the best intentions, a purely vanity pursuit.

Well, guess what, you can’t generically label everyone like that. I want to publish books, but if I have a couple of thousand dollars, it goes on buying food and clothes for my kids, and on making house and car payments! It doesn't go on satisfying a potentially self-obsessed or maybe arrogant compulsion to underwrite publishing my work, and I'd be willing to bet that I'm far from the only person in this category. It’s just not nice to insult people who, while perhaps not acting in the most professional manner conceivable, at least have their priorities straight about how to expend their limited budget.

While I felt that was bad, it wasn't anywhere bear as bad as the section where the author gives an example of a book cover which he experienced and has the gall to say, "No straight man would be caught reading a book with that cover". I don't know what culture he comes from, but I found that comment to be condescending at best, and verging on homophobic at worst. Do not tell me what kind of a 'man' I am, or what kind of book I should be reading judged by its cover.

I've seen far too many professionally published books and novels with atrocious covers and which were really poorly written and/or badly edited, so this is far from a hard and fast rule, because when all is said and done at the end of the day, the bottom line with professional publishing is the bottom line: Big Publishing™ wants to make money, and all-too-often is not-too-particular about the quality of their product. Self publishers, while perhaps na├»ve and certainly experience-challenged, are (and admittedly with some exceptions) highly motivated to try and do the best they can within their personal means. I do not see any fruit in packing all of them in with the precious few who truly are basket cases.

I know that a lot of readers, particularly it seems amongst the young-adult crowd, do coo like doves over book covers, The authors themselves sadly enable this habit by having 'dramatic' cover reveals on their website, like it's some Earth-shattering event, but to me a cover isn’t anything more than the call of a Siren, trying to lure you in!

Yes, some are beautiful, some are trashy, but to me they're unimportant and all-too-often misleading. I’d rather have a really good novel in a lousy cover than a beautiful cover with nothing inside that's worth reading. What's important to me, and what my blog is about, is the writing, because in the end it’s all that matters. I think it's our job as authors to seduce them with the writing, not try to mesmerize them with a cheap bauble of the cover which typically has no more intrinsic value than costume jewelry (as publishers themselves demonstrate by changing covers so frequently on the same book!).

OTOH, marketing is everything, and Big Publishing™ does have that market cornered, so my advice to you would be to do the best job you can with cover and interior design, write the best book you can, and spend any cash you honestly do have to spare on the marketing. People will forgive you far more readily for giving them a slightly sloppy book cover and interior, but that offers a really good story than ever they will for giving them all sparkles and glitter with a lousy story inside! So there's your idea for a next-big-thing website: start one with nothing but books from self-publishers. No buying and selling, no glitter covers, just a blurb and a sample to give the self-published a shot at a market!

So how to rate this book? Well, for the sake of this review, I decided that I'm going to ignore the parts I found objectionable since they were few and minor (in terms of the amount of text they ate up), and which were outweighed in a practical sense, by the wealth of information, tips, links, and advice this book offers. So I'm going to rate this positively and have faith and hope that there will be some judicious re-writing before the sixth edition comes out!

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffeneggar

Title: The Night Bookmobile
Author: Audrey Nifeneggar
Publisher: Abrams
Rating: WORTHY!

This is the second of two posts today reviewing books by Audrey Niffeneggar. This one is really an excerpt from a longer work The library, so I understand, but I found it intriguing and interesting, but not stunning or brilliant. It was serialised in the British newspaper The Guardian. It's about a mature woman, Alexandra, who leads a very quiet life (some would argue: too quiet!) and adores books.

She's out quite late one night walking the streets in her neighborhood in Chicago, lost in thought after an exchange of words with her rather less than ideal boyfriend, when she comes across a Winnebago camper truck and discovers that it's the night bookmobile.

Like the TARDIS, it's bigger on the inside, but that's not even the most fascinating thing about it. On inspecting the books along the shelves, she discovers that it's really a record of everything she's ever read: all the books she has read - and only ones she has read - plus aassorted signs, cereal boxes, and so on, that she's read, too.

She eventually leaves, but when she returns later, the night bookmobile has gone. She doesn't see it again for a long time and when she does, she asks to be employed there, but she's turned down. The driver/owner/manager/librarian suggests that she find a job as a librarian in her own life, which she does, and becomes very successful in her chosen profession.

Later, she discovers that there is a way to work at the bookmobile, but it's not quite what she had expected. I liked this book. It's not the kind of book that has a beginning, a middle, and an end; it's more like a conversation with an old friend or a partner about a topic (in this case your reading experiences) which doesn't really start anywhere or go anywhere, but leaves you feeling a bit better about life afterwards anyway.