Front Page, Musings

It Costs How Much?

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A recent conversation with my spouse inspired this post. I came home with a new book and I mentioned how much it cost. He was surprised to discover a simple paperback, a 90-page novella at that, cost $10. When I informed him that many of the paperbacks in my library cost on average $15 he was shocked. Over the course of my lifetime books have become rather expensive, and not just hardcovers which have always been pricey. Why is this?

Like everything else in life, books cost money to produce. There’s the time spent not only writing and editing the book, but the cost of physically printing the book. The cover designer needs to be paid. The author’s agent cuts a cut. If one is lucky, the publisher will help with marketing the book. Also, the bookstores want to make money which factors into the price. People need to be paid and people want to make money. Nothing wrong with that.

Note: For the sake of discussion I’ll be keeping this post about print books. Ebooks are a different beast altogether when it comes to pricing.

In looking through my own library, which is a combination of older books and new releases, it is quite clear the prices have risen dramatically. For example, a paperback version of Ken Follett’s Triple from 1980 has a list price of $4.50. A bit high for that time, especially for a paperback, but Follett is a well-known author. Another book I own, Last Ditch by Ngaio Marsh, has a list price of $1.75 when published in 1978. Pretty reasonable for a known mystery writer.

Now, let’s fast forward to some newer releases. The paperback version of Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown costs $15. While the book is a good, Cho is not a household name, yet, and this book was her debut. Compare this was one of Ken Follett’s most recent books, Edge of Eternity, which is listed at $9.99 for an 1100-page paperback. Susan Crandall’s excellent Whistling Past the Graveyard is $16 for a 300-page book. Why such a disparity?

The answer is complex. There’s simple economics like supply and demand and inflation. Certainly, it costs more to print a book today. Pricing is also determined by how well-known the author is and their track record. I suspect awards won by the author factors in. There is also the delicate balance between pricing for physical copies of a book and ebooks. With more and more people with Kindles, Nooks, and reading on their phones and computers, pricing clearly has been affected.

With the cost of books so high, does this mean authors are rolling dough? Only if they are well-known and are prolific. From researching the matter, the best royalty rate an author can hope for is 15% of the list price. And that is a rate for well-known, best-selling author writing books with broad appeal. For example, a book has a list price of $10. If the author has a royalty rate of 15%, the most they could hope to make off that book is $1.50. That leaves the remaining $8.50 to cover costs and make a profit for both the publisher and the book seller. One would have to sell a lot of books to make money.

Does the increasing price of books mean publishers are rolling in dough? If it’s one of the big publishers then probably. Small to medium size publishers struggle to make it just like their authors.

Are book stores raking in the money? Look at how many large book stores have closed over the last couple of decades and you’ll get your answer.

As an avid book buyer it makes me anxious to see the price of books so high. My favorite places to buy books has always been used bookstores. Much of that stems from growing up poor so the library and used bookstores were great for someone like me. But even I remember buying books at places like Kmart and Wal-Mart and paying the full list price for it. When I was growing up, paying $5 for a paperback wasn’t too out of reach for a person like me. Today, though, I wouldn’t be able to afford as many books as I could as a kid. There are still plenty of used bookstores and the library for people, but it is a distressing to see how expensive books have gotten.

As an aspiring author, it gives me pause about the cost. Should I be fortunate enough to have novels published, I don’t know if I’ll feel comfortable seeing $10 to $15 or more being charged for a paperback. I understand it’s a business and yes, I do want to make money doing what I love, but I do not want to see books becoming a luxury good. There’s too many other basics of life that have become that. Books are meant to educate or inspire or entertain. Putting a high price tag on that signals only a select group is allowed to enjoy it.

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Front Page, Musings

The One Genre I Just Can’t Even

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While in both my writing and reading I gravitate toward historical fiction and sci-fi/fantasy, I firmly believe in reading and writing in other genres. Why limit yourself? You never know when you might discover a new author or genre. Or, as a writer, your words guide you to a genre you never considered.

Though I have certain preferences, I try to keep an open mind. Yet there is one genre, and it’s one that’s quite trendy, I absolutely cannot stand: dystopia. Every book I’ve ever read in this genre leaves me either depressed or angry or both. While having some kind of emotional reaction as a reader can be a sign the author has done their job, when I consistently feel angry or depressed it’s a sign this is a genre which doesn’t work for me.

My reasons for despising the dystopian genre go beyond the emotions it leaves me with. I have read highly regarded dystopian novels such as The Book of Joan and The Deadlands, amongst others, as well as upstart dystopian novels. None of them, absolutely none of them, have been interesting. From the characters to the setting to the message, none have ever resonated with me.

I find the dystopian genre utterly depressing, which is the point. Some BIG BAD EVENT happened to destroy the world. BAD PEOPLE are in charge and DOING BAD THINGS. There is NO HOPE. LIFE SUCKS AND NOTHING CAN BE DONE TO CHANGE IT. The overall message is always the same: IF MAN DOESN’T CHANGE ITS WAYS NOW, THIS IS HOW THE FUTURE WILL BE.

Note: I all capped everything to express how much this genre beats the reader over the head with these themes.

The reader goes into this genre knowing what they are about to read is going to be full of horrors. It’s not that I want to read about everything being a happy, clappy fairy land. But I get no joy, no insight, nothing but an urge to drink myself into oblivion after reading anything in the dystopian genre.

Which leads me to another reason why I hate this genre. I truly don’t understand why anyone enjoys this genre. Is it because no matter how dire and horrible the present is, reading a future where things are unimaginably terrible it’s a sigh of relief one won’t be around to see it? Do people like being depressed and disillusioned? As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, why the hell would I want to use my time, a time to lose myself in another world, to read about bad shit? Sorry, I don’t feel like being a masochist.

One of my biggest gripes is I’ve yet to read a dystopian novel where a main character is likeable or relatable. I also find very little character development. People who were bad at the beginning are usually worse by the end or perhaps only marginally better. I’m usually pretty good at empathizing with characters, both hero and villain, regardless of the genre. In the dystopian genre, I find this is not the case. It’s not that I can’t imagine the strain and stress of daily survival. I very much can. It’s just difficult to care about a cast of characters who all pretty much act the same regardless of what side of the fence they are on.

I also find the setting in dystopian novels to be the same. Either the world is a barren, radioactive wasteland, or a cramped, overpopulated city. Boring. It’s also annoying reading virtually the same descriptions. All the colors are muted or various tones of brown. The sun, sky, and moon don’t look the same. The air is heavy with oppression. Why can’t a shitty future be set in a lush jungle to provide a contrast? Or a future where there is more food than there are people and things look “normal”?

Real life is scary enough, so I don’t know what purpose a dystopian story serves. It would be one thing if out of the books I’ve read in this genre there were at least one or two where a glimmer of hope existed. But though some have had a hero character fighting against the evil oozing from every corner, they always lose. Again, it’s not necessarily bad if a hero loses. Hell, that’s something which I find refreshing as in real life the hero sometimes doesn’t win. Yet in this genre it’s a trope, an expectation. How is this enjoyable reading?

You may be wondering why I continue to read this genre when I clearly can’t stand it. The answer is a rather lame one. The book club I’m in focuses on sci-fi and fantasy books and dystopian falls under the sci-fi umbrella. Though I enjoy most of the books we read and the group, I am considering excusing myself from attending the months we read a dystopian novel. Part of me still thinks maybe, just maybe, I’ll find one book which breaks all the tropes and conventions of the genre and I’ll like it. That being said, to save myself an eye twitch, a headache, and a few hours of my life, I’m just going to skip these books.

 

 

 

Front Page, Musings

What I’ve Been Reading of Late

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Hard to believe it is April and a quarter of the year is finished. Flowers and trees are budding and blooming. People with allergies are sneezing and wheezing. Vampires like me squint and spit at the sun while sun lovers dance happily outside. Yes, the world is waking up from winter.

I did a fair bit of reading in the first three months. A lot of it was research for my WIP so I was learning about orchids and 19th century garden design. Big, heavy books filled with beautiful color pictures of places from all over the world that I am using to figure out how to create a fictional garden or two. Even with telling myself to only focus on only what is specifically relevant to the story, I still went overboard on the research.

When I wasn’t researching, I read for fun. My for fun reading consisted of a mixture of sci-fi/fantasy, historical fiction, and random genres.

My sci-fi/fantasy reads consisted of books from my book club. My favorite was The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. I won’t go into too much detail as I’m saving my full thoughts for the end of the year when it’ll appear on my favorite reads list. I just wanted to quickly say that I loved this book because the main character, Maia, is easy to root for. I also read for the first time Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and felt it was a book I might have enjoyed had I read it as a child. Reading as an adult I found it lacking a lot of what I look for in a book.

My historical fiction reading was light these first three months, although I am currently reading a charming early medieval times murder mystery. I did read Deanna Raybourn’s latest Veronica Speedwell book, A Treacherous Curse, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Definitely looking forward to Raybourn continuing the series since I love her style and her witty and smart main characters.

For the other bits of random reading, I turned to a list of books I wanted to read this year. I managed to check three of them off the list. The first was a re-read of 1984 by George Orwell. The first time I read it was back in high school and I understand it a lot better reading it as an adult. I also read Artemis by Andy Weir and enjoyed his sarcastic main character and reading about a set of colonies on the moon. My favorite out of the three was Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Not to be confused with the 1933 sci-fi movie called The Invisible Man nor the H.G. Wells novel of the same name. Ellison’s Invisible Man came out in 1952 and tells the story of the struggle of a nameless main character, a black man from the South who finds himself exiled to Harlem, as he tries to figure out his place in America. In reading a book that came out over sixty years ago, one sees how times have changed, but, unfortunately, how so many of the themes and expectations explored in the book are still the relevant today.

What have you read so far this year? What are you looking forward to reading? For me, I look forward to crossing more books off my ambitious to read list as well as the surprises awaiting me in book club.