Front Page, Musings

And the Award Goes To…

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There are awards for every artistic endeavor. We have The Grammys for music. Oscars for movies. The Emmys for TV. Golden Globes for both TV and movies. The Tonys for Broadway.

Literature is no exception. There is the Hugo, Nebula, Man Booker, Pulitzer, Bram Stoker, Newbery, Pushcart, Edgar Allan Poe, along with many, many other well-known and no so well-known literary prizes. There’s a lot of awarding going around which isn’t a bad thing. People work countless hours and years on a project and it’s great to be recognized by your peers for your efforts.

But how much does the average person care about awards? I’m sure many of us have had discussions when nominations have come out about whether someone or something deserved it. Sure, some people are swayed by films, shows, books, and artists who have been nominated or won an award. Others shrug their shoulders in indifference. Financially, entities who have been nominated or win usually see some kind of bump in sales and interest.

When it comes to literature, do readers care about awards? I’m sure like artistic fields, it depends upon the person. Personally, when I see on a book cover wither the book or author has been nominated or won a famous award, I only marginally care. I’m happy for them as it is something to be proud of. However, when I read a book with an award splashed across the cover it doesn’t modify my expectations one way or the other. I’m just hoping the story and characters are interesting.

What I’ve discovered over the years is often books and authors with awards or nominations attached them are hit and miss. To be honest, I have found many of them to be misses. Often, I’ve been puzzled as to why the author or book was nominated or won. Nothing about the prose stood out as ground breaking or extra insightful. Nothing about the book itself from plot to character to setting was extraordinary or groundbreaking. Some are good books that I enjoyed reading. But some of them, many of them, were pretentious and overhyped. It made me wonder how they got nominated in the first place.

This got me thinking about if there is a correlation between awards and reader favorites. In looking at Goodreads.com’s Reader’s Choice of Best Book of 2017, I noticed many of the books on the list have not been nominated for major awards. Does this point to readers not caring about awards? Maybe. One website certainly doesn’t provide conclusive evidence in what is a subjective area. Other websites I poked around listing readers all time favorites resulted in a mixture of books which have won awards and books that have not.

If anything, being nominated or recipient of an award opens the author and work to more intense scrutiny. As much as I try to not have a bias when reading a book, if I’m reading a book or author who has won an award and the story simply isn’t doing it for me, I start to wonder. Why did this win and not something else? Sometimes I wonder if it is one of those situations where people knee deep in the industry see something I don’t. Maybe my literary palette isn’t sophisticated or knowledgeable enough.

In the end, do awards really matter to the average person? I don’t think so. For readers, what will always be most important is whether the story grabs them. Awards are great and as a writer, if I ever got nominated or won an award I would be thrilled. What would make me more thrilled, though, is to have readers enjoy my work and to be satisfied I had put out my best. I know that sounds cheesy and perhaps even trite, but honestly, on my list of dreams and goals for myself, an award isn’t on it. I think that’s why I wonder if awards even matter to readers.

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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.

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.