Tour’s Books Blog

July 5, 2017

On Leaving PBS

Filed under: Editorial,Observations and Comments — toursbooks @ 6:50 pm
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After nearly a year of long of difficult self-debate, I finally decided to drop membership in PBS (PaperBack Swap).  This past year I found my myself more absent than there thanks to the eye surgeries, at the same time others things began happening.  I left the games early letting players know I’d be back after I could see with both eyes again.  It took almost 3 months.  But over those 3 months, I’d stop in a do a short hello or something ……… and found fewer and fewer games.

Life is taking a toll on the older members as they cope with personal and family illness.  Many leave for the ease of ebooks and the fact getting to the post office, especially in winter can be tough on the elderly.  The ranks of hostesses have thinned a lot, so there are fewer games.  So I went back and looked at my game log.  I’d played in well over 1,000 games.   I had been blaming my blurred sight on the slowdown before the surgery, but no such problem existed after Jan this year.  Aside from a brief explosion of fun games in March, I was playing in maybe one or two kind of boring games at a time.  Five years ago I averaged 10-15 games.  Two years ago 4-6 games.  Now it was 0-3.

I loved spinning my stories of my groundhogs and their insanity that were just fun and entertaining episodes.  I liked the players – with one exception – but rarely ‘won’ a book I wanted, sending the books to family or other gamers who did want one of the books I won with my compliments.  My membership was expiring in August, but with games taking longer to complete despite fewer players, I looked at the cycle time and realized I had to stop playing with the game I was in.  I no longer had time for another.

At the end of the game, I announced my departure.  I received multiple offers of free membership, but at $20 a year, the cost was not what was driving my decision, the lack of books was.  PBS book listings fell from 4 million+ to under 2 million in 2 years.  Many of my friends and PBS members had gone digital.  There was a drought of books that were new releases, my wish list was getting no offers, even mass-market paperbacks were scarce.  Finally, there was the mass cancellation of series and author contracts by publishers as they ruthlessly downsized.  The market for printed books was getting smaller and hardcovers insanely expensive.  I’d troll through Amazon listings and come away empty handed.  The games had few new book titles and even fewer authors.  I found myself reading more and more ebooks as they were cheap, good, and simply not in print at any reasonable price.  In short, I’d hit the perfect storm.  In the end, to stop the angst among game players, and my second guessing myself, and I simply closed my account a left a short “Goodbye”.

Authors had discovered that daunting as self-publishing is, they are no longer at the mercy of layers of people from agents to editors to printing schedules and distributors.  They could cut out all that overhead, write a good book and make more money per book than they did using traditional publishers.  They have to shoulder more of the promotional aspects, find editors, proofreaders, and copy editors, but all those people were laid off by publishing houses and now working freelance themselves.  I know one of my good friends will be leaving when her paid membership expires in December and she was a hostess.  She wisely transferred her virtual box to another hostess a few months back.  She will simply fade away as she has been doing and others did before her.  I didn’t have that option as my characters had become such ‘real’ personalities and were wanted in the games as much for their stories as for the fact I was one of the few with new release books.  It was just more drama than I expected.

I check on them as I had to open an account for my SIL and I’m slowly teaching her the basics of listing, the whole acceptance and order processing procedure, making lists, and looking for books.  So I can ‘ghost’ the site and make sure all is well.  Unfortunately, Games is just getting quieter and quieter with fewer and fewer players and fewer hostesses.  Summer is always slump-time, but so many of our players are MIA and more seem to just slip away.  PBS is dying slowly, but games, which attracted 70+ players 5 years ago, now can’t get 20.  Life has changed that much.

I have not gone happily or willingly into ebooks.  I swear there are claw marks on the door as I cling to print books, my preferred format.  But just looking at my Amazon account I realized so much of what I buy there, and I but a lot of different things, have nothing to do with books.  Of the books I buy, maybe 60-70% are hardcover.  The rest is a mix of mostly trade paperbacks and a small handful on mmpb’s.  But overall the number has diminished to a trickle while ebooks have surged thanks to promotions by authors, sales at Amazon, and Book Bub, and new release special pricing when you’re on an author’s mailing list.

So now I am free of PBS – with mixed feelings as I really miss the game players and telling my stories.  But – it was time.  Where will my 1,000+ books go?  Those I don’t keep – and I already have hundreds of ‘keepers’ – ok over 1,000 – so making the cut to ‘keeper’ status is hard, will go to FOL sales and the food pantry.  The action thrillers to my brother and his wife can take care of their new account, so in a way, I will still be feeding PBS books.  My SIL has zero interest in games and hates looking at LCD screens for long, so she’ll just exchange books and that’s it.

So the blog will go on with more ebooks showing up and fewer print.  I read as much or more than ever, it’s just different.

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January 5, 2016

PaperBack Swap – Update 2016 – Does ‘The End’ Draw Nigh?

Come February 15 it will be the first anniversary of the annual membership fee and bizarre ‘caste system’ that PBS so ham-handedly introduced last year.  To say the change from free to paid membership was handled poorly is not giving the still seething outrage among many members its full due.  There must be a thousand faceless voodoo dolls with ‘PBS Librarian’ getting pins stuck in it every day.  Others have composed dance routines to celebrate its almost inevitable demise.  How can a simple book swapping site elicit such strong and long lasting emotion?   Let me explain.

Once upon a time, there was an idea to start book swapping site where people could join for free and list books available for trade so they could then get books in return.  The initial programming and server maintenance and updating were handled well and the forums where members could chat about books, current affairs, make offers on large lots of books like a flea market booth, sell their excess credits ……. it was all there.  The Founders were proud of their creation and called their members a ‘Community’.  Much of the data input and maintenance was done by volunteers who keep everything from pictures of book covers to ISBN’s updated.  The funding came to PBS by members buying postage and credits that had small fees attached, members donating credits and money, or buying special ‘elite’ level programs that gave them larger wish lists, or even buying books through PBS or PBS links to Amazon, which returned promotional fees to PBS.

As ebooks gradually began eating into the print book business, the volume of books traded per year began dropping.  Naturally, the fees that PBS had been collecting on postage and other sales dropped as well.  On Super Bowl Sunday 2015 PBS members got a nasty shock.  If they actually planned to USE all those credits they had accumulated in good faith, they had to buy a membership.  Now the annual fee was not high, but along with the fee came a weird caste system that allowed only PAID members to use forums and the private messaging system and trade books freely as before.  Now the middle-class member paid less per yer, got a finite number of ‘free trades’ after which PBS assessed their standard $0.50/trade fee.  Unless you bought PBS postage, then you earned another ‘free’ trade – except you paid the $0.50 fee when you bought the postage.  Now the lowest caste could not communicate with members unless they were actively involved in a trade with that member.  AND every trade they made to get a book with all those credits now had a FEE assessed/trade and the ‘fee’ had to be paid in PBS money.  To get PBS money you ……. well had to pay ANOTHER FEE.  So credits were essentially devalued like Frequent Flyer points where that first class seat to Hawaii suddenly went from 120,000 miles to 180,000 just as you hit 110,000 and would get them in 2 months.

For those who recall their Greek mythology, this might be likened to the ‘Sisyphus effect’ – standing in water with constant thirst yet never reaching it, and having food to feed your starving body just out of reach.  It’s hardly unique to PBS, but given the tight-knit community they fostered – and even bragged about – it was seen not just as a badly managed business decision, but as a personal betrayal.  Here, the very sense of community they built ended up turning on them because they committed the one unforgivable sin – betrayal.  And what was worse – they effectively retroactively DEVALUED the credits of members.

Unlike airlines and hotels, PBS does not provide a necessary function in life.  They don’t take from the east coast to the west in hours.  They don’t give you a room with clean sheets and a nice bath and room service.  You don’t even have much in the way of competition other than Bookmooch.  The other sites are the equivalent of mom-and-pop motels.  PBS is the ‘big dog, but they are middlemen, facilitators.  Had they taken a more businesslike approach and treated members as customers, not a community of co-equals, the relationship would have withstood the change far better.  Certainly, the ebook effect would still be eroding member numbers and books traded as more and more go digital, but their demise and the lingering hard feelings would not have spun so totally out of control.

When a frequent flyer.stayer plan gets changed, we get annoyed and members do take to social media to strike back at loyalty programs that suddenly change terms because thousands and thousands of frequent flyer/stayer plans get disrupted, miles get lost, points are dropped and the ‘cost’ of those rewards get higher and harder to obtain.  But the nice things about airlines and hotels is the fact we have CHOICES.  And while we are ‘loyal customers’ giving them nice profits, we don’t actually feel like we are partners in the business who had their senior partners stab them in the back.  There never was that sense of ‘community’, just rewards for being loyal.  And if we get annoyed enough, we change to a different provider.

Airlines and hotels usually handle the backlash – something they KNOW they will get – like a business.  That is, professionally.  They realize there will be outrage at the changes and a small number of customers will be lost, but their most important customers, the business ‘road warriors, are the ones they want to keep.  Not the occasional flyer/stayer.  The hotels and airlines even had ‘elite’ levels that automatic perks that the occasional traveler envied, but didn’t begrudge.  They always had the ‘status’ based on usage, or because the paid all that extra money for First Class.  (You could buy membership lounge privileges for a fee.)

PBS had some ‘road warriors’, people who shipped hundreds of books a year and sat with high credit balances.  PBS assumed, wrongly, they would just suck up the fees to keep the service – except they forgot something.  Their choices were divisive and members saw clearly that what had been equals were no longer.  That ‘community’ was betrayed and divided into classes.  It certainly did not help their case to publish a newsletter that had a cover story that sounded like it was written by some high school drama student who thought all those ‘mean members’ has no idea how much they HURT with their complaints and acrimonious emails.  If ever a company needed to hire someone to show them how to manage a customer crisis, this was it, but no, they carried on like a ‘Dear Diary’ entry – missing only the little heart shaped dots above the ‘i’ – but including of ‘!!!!!!!!!!!’ so we couldn’t miss their terrible suffering.  I had to just stop taking the whole thing seriously as a business and just say, ‘Fine, I’ll deal with the games because I enjoy them and to hell with the rest of the teen angst revisited.’  (I was afraid of getting pimples!!!!!!!  <——– See, lots of ‘!!!!!!’ so you know it’s IMPORTANT!)

Well, Armageddon nears.  Since mid-Summer, the rate of books shipped per week has slowly but surely dropped as people like me who were rolled from Gold Key to automatic Standard membership decided not to renew, or members grew weary of the lack of offers and stopped even going to the website.  It’s called abandoned accounts.  But the big hit will happen those first two weeks in February.  That’s when the bulk of paid members first joined.  It sits there like a big, black cloud on the horizon.  PBS tried getting members to lure friends into joining by offering ‘PBS money’ or some equivalent of pocket change in cash that would cover the cost of a coffee a Starbucks.  The offer was loudly and humorously mocked off the PBS forums.

I have already been told several game moderators will not be renewing their membership using the ‘ebook excuse’, which may, or may not, be true.  We’ve lost a number of game hostesses that way too.  I also know publishers are reducing the number and depth of discounts on mass market books, and I see that every month as the number of books I pre-order drops, so the number of print books is dropping too.

Another hit is the lack of discounts for online shoppers for mass market books.  Now Amazon does offer ‘best price’ guarantee, so should you pre-order a book and the price drops between the pre-order and the release date, you get the lowest price.  Books-a-million does NOT.  Also, their discount offers are less frequent, aimed more at in-store shoppers (which means selling existing stock on hand) rather than online shoppers (many using pre-order).  Plus they avoid all the cost associated with shipping.  Not ONCE this holiday season did I get a ‘big deal’ offer of 30% off as I have in the past.  20% was the highest any offer went.  Hardcover and trade size paperbacks still have good deals associated with them Amazon, better than BAM even with their discounts.  Hardcovers are often being sold for less than the ebook price.  All of this means there are simply now fewer books to trade on sites like PBS.

Now let’s look at one last nail in the coffin that is online book swapping – the cost of an ereader.  Amazon Fire has a $50 ereader with very limited storage capacity (so if you buy that extra storage disk, you find YOU CAN’T STORE BOOKS THERE) which means using the Cloud to read your books, but it’s cheap and even has a web browser built-in.  Mine is getting returned, it just wasn’t right for me, but they do offer good value if you get free – RELIABLE – wi-fi.  SO now you have a $20 fee to exchange used books with HOPE of maybe getting a book you want back, the cost of wrapping and mailing that book, and the time all this takes running headlong into a $50 ereader with a colored hi-def screen and web browsing capability. hummmmmmmmmmmmmmm

The final sad sign of the death of PBS is the School Donations program.  Since 2012 PBS has run an annual drive to get new children’s books into the hands of schools with a large portion of under-privileged students and tiny book budgets.  They are located everywhere from Indian reservations to the inner city.  I’d donate a hundred or more credits every year, plus additional cash to defray costs, none of which was tax deductible.  I never cared as getting books to kids is important to me.  PBS supplied anywhere from 16 to 24 schools a year.  Ths year they managed to complete 6 and they have 5 more active in need of cash.  Those 5 extra all have the credits, because people don’t care about them if they plan to leave.  Cash?  That’s different and even though the total cash needed is small, just a few hundred per school, they can’t seem to get it.  Over 100,000 members and not ever 1,000 are giving a dollar each.  In 2014 they completed 18 schools.  The signs are clear.  The good will toward PBS has scraped rock bottom.  The resentment lingers and even programs like this suffer.  There is no ebook phenomenon here, just members saying a very loud, “SCREW YOU!” to PBS.  I’m pretty sure the PBS powers that be are doing a sad little ‘Dear Diary’ entry about this too, complete with a frowny face and tear splatters.

It is sad.  Sad that a company was managed so badly that its own generous customer base turned Scrooge to others.  Unfortunately, that includes me.  The credits and money I normally donate – nope.  Nothing.  I do NOT trust PBS.  And there is the bottom line.  It’s the one that is rearing its ugly head as renewal dates approach.  Members no longer trust PBS to be honest about ANYTHING.  Not providing those books they promised the schools, or even being in business 6 months from now.  They broke that fragile bond last year and have done nothing to repair it.  There is no evidence of ‘We hear you’, just childish nonsense or self-righteous condescension.  They have wrapped themselves in the cloak of martyrdom – of the classic teen response of ‘You just don’t understand!’ – followed by sullen sulking and misplaced anger.  Not the way to win trust and loyalty.  And certainly NOT how you run a business that understands its customer base.  The utter lack of professionalism is just mind-boggeling.

So, is THE END nigh?  Personally, I think in 6 months, maybe sooner, maybe later, PBS will be no more.  If you’re thinking of joining or renewing, do so with the understanding that one day that ‘page inaccessible’ message will be permanent.  The membership price isn’t high, but don’t go spending a lot in mailing out books that you’ll likely get empty credits for – credits that will be lost when the site folds, because the permanent ‘page inaccessible’  day is not far off.  RIP

 

November 29, 2015

Making Cents – Thanks to Dear Author

Filed under: ebooks,Editorial,Observations and Comments,opinion — toursbooks @ 6:28 pm
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No, that’s not a mistake on my part. When it comes to print and ebooks, most readers have definite price limits.  I often comment of the value of both print and ebooks vs their purchase price.  I have also said numerous times that I have decidedly mixed feelings about Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited as I feel authors should receive some payment for their work – and I have no idea what, if any, royalty they get from Kindle Unlimited downloads.  While a part of me still feels that authors are shortchanged by a behemoth like Amazon, I also had to revise my opinion after reading an editorial in Dear Author.

Dear Author is primarily a romance book blog written by a team of very knowledgeable and educated women.  Anyone who knows anything about books knows the largest selling genre – by a WIDE margin – is romance.  The buyers are almost exclusively women.  Dear Author is a very popular blog with heavy traffic that is widely recognized as one of the ‘movers and shakers’ in the industry.  They have branched out some into mystery and espionage and fantasy, but the vast majority of their reviews are romance of all types.  But they also offer insights on publishing trends and industry issues.  One of their columns this month concerned Amazon Kindle Unlimited and the controversy around it – naturally much of it coming from authors themselves.

Read the column by Jane here.

Jane makes several excellent points – some I hadn’t considered and a few I did.  I had a dear friend who was a dedicated and voracious romance reader.  I used to joke that when we went into a bookstore she went looking for the steamy bodies in romance and I went looking for the dead ones in mystery.  But I read a much wider range of genres than she did as she rarely strayed from romance while I went for fantasy, non-fiction, urban fantasy, action thrillers and we’d cross at romantic suspense.  She did get me into some romance, but I could not budge her beyond romantic suspense except with a few ‘crafty cozies’ with knitting and other crafts as the unifying theme.  While I had a bigger budget thanks to the fact I held a higher position in the company, we were BOTH price conscious.  I was just more willing – and financially able – to buy something if I really wanted it.  Now on a more fixed income, I look more closely at value than I did then.  And yes, value has driven me to buy and read more ebooks.

While my friend died several years ago, no doubt leaving her sons hundreds of books to clear out, her health kept us from visiting bookstores and used bookstores for years before that.  The explosive growth of Amazon put paid to my store shopping, except by accident.  While my friend did live long enough to see the beginning of the evolution of ebooks as a major player, we were still mostly reading the books in PDF format, not as NOOK or Kindle – and nearly all were small press ebooks bought online from the publisher.  What we were BOTH pleased with was exactly the point Jane made in her editorial, the books were relative bargains.  While mass market paperbacks were rapidly climbing in price, there sat the early versions of ebooks at half or less than the cost of print.

In the last 6 years or so, the growth of ebooks has opened places like the Brooklyn Public Library to people who live in California or North Dakota or just down the street from the actual library.  For $50 a year, you have a vast library of ebooks at your command.  No doubt your local library has a similar plan, but maybe fewer titles.  Many local libraries are more willing to buy ebooks patrons request too.  And there is the beauty of ebooks.  Value and convenience rolled into one.  At 2AM the library might be closed, but you can borrow an ebook.  Or I can shop Amazon and grab something and start reading it minutes later.

And that brings us back to Kindle Unlimited and the arguments authors use against it.  Namely that their work is ‘devalued’ by making it free.  Once I read Jane’s editorial, I began rethinking my attitude about Kindle Unlimited (and I am NOT a member of that service) and how it was or was not different from the far most cost effective Brooklyn Public Library, other than you can keep the download?  Do libraries and used bookstores ‘devalue’ books?  Used bookstores have been around as long as there have been printed books.  That doesn’t stop people from buying the umpteenth reprint of Jane Eyre or King Solomon’s Mines or Tarzan.  Now the heirs of Agatha Christie might retain rights, but who has rights to Voltaire or Thoreau?  So, I must revisit my own thoughts of services like Kindle Unlimited.

As time passes, I find a larger percentage of my reading is now ebook, around 40-50%, well up from the 10% of just a few years ago.  I read mostly on my laptop, but I did buy myself a small Kindle Fire as a Christmas gift this year.  I was unwilling to pay for an iPad or similar tablet as I wished to use it mostly to read books in bed.  In the great ebook debate, I find I am smack in the middle.  On one side are two good friends, one in California and my doctor in NJ who read almost exclusively ebooks.  On the other side sit people like my brother and sister-in-law who want ONLY print books.   All are voracious readers and all like different genres.  And there I stand squarely in the middle.  My old eyes get tired reading LCD screens, yet my friend in CA loves the fact she can scale the fonts to accommodate her vision, not exactly an option with print.  My brother and SIL like the ease of print and dislike dealing with expensive technology that breaks easily and takes time and effort to learn.  (Yes, they are rather proud Luddites.)  I read on a laptop for a totally different reason – I multitask too much for a tablet.  At the moment, I have 5 tabs open in my browser, a word processing program with 3 documents open, and an e-reader program all open at once, and that’s pretty typical.  I can’t do that on a tablet.

I did find Jane’s comments both enlightening and balanced.  Thinking of Kindle Unlimited as a ‘value based’ option, something that has a strong appeal to any voracious reader, and looking at the arguments against it by authors ………. well, Jane made very valid points.  Kudos.  I like it when someone presents an argument that makes me reassess my opinions and I was glad to revisit my evaluation of Kindle Unlimited with a different perspective.  I might not be a great romance fan, but I am certainly a voracious reader and like everyone, I want value for my money.  Kindle Unlimited might not work for me right now, but I am now willing to keep checking to see if that value pendulum swings my way.   Thank-you, Jane.

November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Filed under: Observations and Comments — toursbooks @ 7:17 pm
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Whatever your plans are for Thanksgiving Day, may you have a safe and happy one – and not beat any of your annoying relatives senseless.  (It might be satisfying, but the food in jail is no match for home cooking!)  If you’ll be traveling, get there and back safely and with minimal hassle.

I will be binge watching football while reading Feel the Burn by G.A. Aiken.  My brother must decide if he can deal with another screaming match between his in-laws or will find a way to stay home and abandon his wife to her fate.  It’s times like these when he’s glad to be deaf in one ear.

And on Black Friday, shop online.  It will save wear and tear on your nerves!

 

 

November 15, 2015

And the World Mourns Again

Filed under: Editorial,Observations and Comments — toursbooks @ 4:00 pm
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When the Russian plane crash happened in the Sinai a few weeks back I was concerned that it signaled a new round of terrorist attacks.  I said as much to my brother after the muted, but believable ISIS claim of responsibility.  We decided maybe we both read too many spy thrillers and expected the worst.   Sometimes I hate being right.

The events in Egypt seem more removed despite the victims being tourists and the death toll being higher.  But France, especially Pais, is a place where many of us have visited.  For all our often strained relations with France, we remain allies.  There is a sense of familiarity, shared history, one we don’t share with Egypt and the Russians.  Paris is a city famous for its style and food, – called the City of Lights.  Paris is a place where many of us have strolled city center and had a cup of coffee or glass of wine at a sidewalk table.  There is a sense of kinship, of common ground in shared history and core cultural values.  The feeling, ‘It could have been us.’ is stronger.

France has the misfortune to have the largest number of citizens that have left the country to train with extremists in the Mideast, and then returned to France.  It’s a problem of growing concern throughout Europe, but France has born the brunt.  Now it has suffered a reminder that no one is ever safe from those prepared to die for a cause.

Is this the last attack?  I doubt it.  These small groups of radicalized young men (and sometimes women) exist everywhere – and the risks increase as more refugees flee the war in Syria and other countries these radicals hide within their ranks.  The group responsible for the Paris attack were not recent refugees, but largely French citizens returned from the Mideast where they trained with ISIS.  Who was responsible Egypt might never be learned.

So once again the world sits mourning, counting the dead and wounded, over 350 dead between the two countries and as many wounded – a large number critically.  I have no answers.  No brilliant insights or solutions.  I can only hope we learn that you cannot reason with the irrational and say once again ………….

November 1, 2014

Amazon Raises Prices on MMPB

Filed under: Editorial,General,Observations and Comments — toursbooks @ 11:48 pm
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Since eliminating their 4-for-3 deal, Amazon used an across the board 10% discount on all Trade and mass market paperbacks.  Well, no more.  Books-A-Million still has the 10% off, but not Amazon.  Add in the sales tax and suddenly books that were $7.69 with tax are now a whopping $8.55.  (Actual totals would differ depending on sales tax.  I used 7%.)  So, from just early 2013 to now, the price per mass market paperback has gone from the 4-for-3 with no tax, per book cost of $5.99 to current per book cost of $8.55.  An astonishing $2.56 MORE per book!!!!!!!!!!!  No wonder sales are falling.

Yes, they are still offering some books with good discounts, but now not even to-be-released are getting a break.  When did this happen?  This week.  Apparently those big losses on their Firephone are to be paid by us.

And we’re back to Books-a-Million looking like the paperback source of choice.  As much as I like Amazon, I think raising Prime and playing with mmpb prices has just about reached its limit.  With $20 more for prime and nearly a dollar more per book since just last year, $2.56 more if you go back 2 years, that’s nearly $200/year for since 2012.  That’s insane.  Amazon is making itself non-competitive in that market segment, but maybe that’s what they want.  High volume, low profit books out the door in favor of higher profit books, media and internet services.  This war on mmpb readers is getting old fast.

July 3, 2014

The Evil Aunt – Coda

Filed under: Observations and Comments,opinion — toursbooks @ 7:38 pm
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Yes, it seems the death of the last Evil Aunt, the one I considered staking in her coffin (just to be sure), had one final, unexpected scene – and it was a gem.

I get my mail Tuesday (expecting 3 books that arrived) and there’s this orange slip saying I had to go get a certified return receipt letter at the PO. Well by the time I see it, the PO is closed, so all Tuesday nite I’m wondering, “Am I getting sued?”  “Am I getting audited by the IRS?” (blind panic ensues)

Yesterday, I ran up just before the t-storms hit and the damn thing is from a lawyer a few towns over and I’m mentally going, “Oh s%$t, what kind of trouble am I in.” As I reach the car, I get pelted with giant rain drops and even the letter gets slightly damp before I can climb in. With some trepidation, I open it and ………………. it’s about this aunt’s will.  I’m thinking, “She didn’t leave me anything.  As far as she was concerned, I didn’t exist.”

Nope, she did NOT leave ANYTHING to either my brother or me, BUT state law requires we be notified in case we wish to challenge the will, because she left whatever remained of her estate (not much since the house had a reverse mortgage) to every niece and nephew EXCEPT US.

Sitting in the car, I became hysterical with laughter and thought, “Perfect, this is such a perfect example of what a petty, bitter b*&#%h she was.”  I call my brother, ready to yell at him for not warning me about a certified letter so I wouldn’t freak out thinking I was being sued, only to learn his had not arrived.  So he told him what it was and read the will.  He said, “Good! I wouldn’t have accepted a damn thing from her.”  Which was exactly MY reaction.  I would have refused.  The woman was toxic.  I do NOT need bad karma from her.

Now I have one cousin who is a real softie and a truly GOOD person, and I knew this would bother her, so I called her last night and said, “I got this letter from the lawyers ………” I’m laughing while I say this and she starts crying!!!!!!!!!!!!! She feels so bad about what our aunt did and I kept saying, “Don’t be upset. If she’d gone completely out of character and included my brother and me, we would simply have surrendered our share back to the estate.” She just kept saying, “It’s so wrong!” Finally I said, “That woman was a hateful, nasty, spiteful person. Why would I want anything from her? It would be tainted!”

Turns out, even her daughter refused to take something from the house because, “Grandma said they were mean to her.”  Mean is polite.  The two sisters were just vile people.  Hell, they didn’t even like each other!  It’s why I wouldn’t go to the funerals. (Well that, and my brother was afraid of what I’d say or do, but honestly, I did NOT have a wooden stake with me!  OK, yeah, I was humming, but SOFTLY!)  The other aunt died years ago, so this was the last bitter sister.

As I said to my brother, “Well damn, there goes my dream of finally owning the family candy dish I always wanted.”

So now you know that I had good reason to carry garlic cloves that day.  Yes, she really was that bad and obviously damn proud of it.  I’m just sorry my cousin is so upset by it.  She shouldn’t be.  We have no control over how our relatives behave.  We can only control how we react to it.  She meant the fact she mentioned every “beloved’ niece and nephew except the two of us to hurt.  Instead, we found it funny, sort of sad and pathetic, and kind of the ultimate  example of just what kind of petty person she always was.

Unfortunately, I may have to stop my cousin from trying to split her share with me.  I hope I made it really clear how much neither my brother nor I wanted ANYTHING from that woman.  I’d know she means well, but no.  I have zero interest in her money – what little is left, her belongings, or anything else, except maybe photos.  If my cousin can find photos of dad, that would be great.

Some people are just ………… well let’s just say, the my world is a decent place and I’ll manage my life is just fine without any of her very bad karma around – even in the form of a candy dish.

June 12, 2014

Finis – The Problem of the Endless Series – Part 3 THE END?

I find I can only do so many series before my head explodes.  Honestly, authors resurrect characters and series, like soap operas, recycle characters.  There are so many epic fantasy series out there, some starting life as a stand alone – or as an outgrowth of early works where and author developed ideas.  Dune was such as book.  I recall how blown away I was by it when I read back when it first came out.  I never did make it to the end of the series, just book 1 and 2, because book 3 was published nearly 7 years after book 2 and I’d moved on.  It would take 5 more years for book 4 and 3 more for book 5 and then book 6 followed and was the last.  Sort of.  Now his son, Brian, along with Kevin Anderson, have continued Dune stories as prequels and sequels to the original series.

The unique universal appeal of Dune is surprising.  It’s themes and characters carry well into other cultures making it one of the best selling science fiction novels of all time at 20 million copies.  But to put that in context, the Harry Potter series sold over 400 million copies and (Lord help us) Fifty Shades of Gray eclipsed that number at over 450 million.  Of course Dune, Harry Potter, and many other books will still be popular long after Fifty Shades is lost in time.  But it does prove one thing, SEX SELLS! Trust me, Fifty Shades isn’t selling based on it’s unforgettable characters, original plot, and brilliant writing.  It’s selling for the same reason Peyton Place sold in the 1950’s, SEX and the lure of the forbidden, in this case, BDSM.  (Quick, who wrote Peyton Place and what was the lead character’s name?)  Yeah, I remembered the author’s name, but in all fairness, I couldn’t get past page 50 in that book either, though it was decades after publication when I actually tried, and I can’t even recall a plot.  Was there one?

Will most of the series so beloved of readers stand the test of time?  Unlikely.  Anyone over 40 would be hard put to find titles popular in their teens and 20’s still on the shelves in print.  Dune?  Yup, that’s there.  So is everything by Tolkien.  But those ARE classics.  I’ll bet in 20 years you’ll still find Harry Potter for the simple reason that his story is one we can all identify with – and the reason adults read so much YA fiction.  Like The Hobbit, Harry will age well.  Some experiences just continue to resonate over time, long after the cheap, voyeuristic thrills of Fifty Shades has been supplanted by the next hot item.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of good, cheap voyeuristic thrills, just not a fan of BDSM.  Which segues nicely into another niche market, erotic paranormal romance and futuristic paranormal romance.  Kaitlyn O’Connor writes a lot of futuristic si-fi/paranormal erotic romance, spiced with humor.  She writes modern shifter romance as Madeline Montague.  I’ve kind of been avoiding this stuff because it is a small market, but I’ll include a few here, with fair warning, it’s for adults only.  Like most romance, alpha males abound, there is often some BDSM or at least D/s going on, but not the level of kink you get with true BDSM.

Si-fi and fantasy are no strangers to sex.  No less an icon than Robert A Heinlein got his book, Stranger in a Strange Land, pulled from school library shelves for a host of reasons including ‘cheap eroticism’.  Hey, if you can slog thru 160,000+ words and find a bit of ‘cheap eroticism’ along the way, more power to you!  Boy, did you earn it!

(Suggestion – if you actually enjoy reading BDSM, try Maya Banks (also writes mainstream), Shayla Black (also rites as Shelly Bradley), Sylvia Day, and Lorelei James among others.  All are light-years better than E.L. James.)

Joey W. Hill (living) – Vampire Queen series now up to book 13, future status unknown, paranormal vampire erotic romance.  Hill writes mostly in the BDSM vein, but does some more mainstream series, and stand alones in paranormal, historical, and contemporary genres; Arcane Shot series centers on witches (2 books so far), and she has a paranormal romance series based on mermaids.

Kaitlyn O’Connor (Madeline Montague) (living) – small press author that has gained a loyal following for her humorous ménage Cyberolution series futuristic si-fi romances, 6 books and complete, but as they were written out of chronological order, they can be read as stand alones; as Madeline Montague she writes Wolfen series, a loosely related group of werewolf shifter books, with some, but less humor. 3 books – status unknown.  Hard to find author.  Short books.  Buy the e-books.

Lara Santiago (living) – small press author; two futuristic stand alones – one intended as a possible series that never happened, Menagerie -is a clever apparently poly-amorous story that begins and ends in present day.  Rogue’s Run is an intersteller m/f/m ménage.  Reads like the start of a series, but she went from futuristic to Western.

Suzanne Collins (living) – Hunger Games – best-selling YA trilogy set in Dystopian future.  Complete.  Before writing Hunger Games, she authored a series of children’s fantasy books about Gregor the Overlander in her Underland series, 5 books, complete.

Veronica Roth (living) – Divergent trilogy – 3 books plus numbers short stories, novellas, complete, YA si-fi Dystopian; kind of a Hunger Games knock-off with shades of Twilight Zone

Pittacus Lore (living) – Lorien Legacies (5 books but on-going to 9?) and Lost Files (12 books complete); YA futuristic alien invasion; Another variation on Hunger Games type tropes

Jaye Wells (living) – Sabina Kane, 5 books, complete, UF, vampire, mage, assassin – worthwhile read; Prospero’s War – 2 books complete another under contract.  Status of additional books – unknown, UF/magic

Kelly Meding (living) – Dreg City – 5 books, complete, Dark UF, si-fi, horror; about a bounty hunter who is killed, loses her memory, is resurrected, and has 3 days to live, but sometimes, you get to die more than once; Meta Wars – futuristic UF/superhero, 4 books, complete, each book focuses on a specific ‘talent’ of a group/

Linda Robertson (living) – Persephone Alcmedi – 6 books so far and 1 more due this year.  Completion status unknown.  UF, witches, vamps, weres, Fey.  Young witch finds she might be one that was in a prophesy, making her a target for her coven and the only one that change the outcome of a potential war.

Harry Connolly(Living) – Twenty Places, 3 books – series cancelled by publisher; UF/Paranormal/fantasy mystery; well liked by those who read it, but not enough readers.

Rachel Caine (living) – Morganville Vampires – 15 books, complete, YA/UF/vampires; Weather Warden – 9 books, complete; UF/paranormal/magic/romance – weather warden (magic worker) is unjustly accused of crimes and goes on the run to look for the one that can offer proof of her innocence. Outcast Season – spin off of Weather Warden, 4 books, status complete.

M. J. Scott (living) – Half-Light City, 4 books, complete, Fantasy/UF/Fae/Vampires – a new author who seemed to be improving with each book.  Watch for more from her.

Marjorie M. Liu (living) – Hunter’s Kiss, 5 books and several short stories/novellas, complete, Paranormal Romance/shifters/magic;  Dirk & Steele, 13 books – status unknown, paranormal romance, can be read as stand alone books.

Lisa Shearin (living) – Raine Benares, 6 books, complete 2012, fantasy/magic/high fantasy/some romance; kind of a classic fantasy adventure series featuring a female thief; SPI Files – 1 book released this year, one on order, UF/modern paranormal; author has engaging humorous writing style that makes for quick easy reading.

Jeanne C. Stein (living) – Anna Strong, 9 books, novellas, shorts stories, Plus 1 to complete?, paranormal/UF/shapeahifter/vamp/ romance …. If anyone has any comments on this series. let me know

Richelle Mead (living) – Dark Swan, 4 books complete, UF/paranormal/magic/romance; Vampire Academy, 6 books, complete, YA paranormal/supernatural/magic;  popular with adult paranormal fans; Bloodlines – spin-off of Vampire Academy, 6 books, ongoing, YA/paranormal/fantasy

Rachel Vincent (living) – Shifters, 6 books, complete; UF/paranormal/paranormal romance, power plays and life among shifters; Soul Screamers, 7 books, plus novellas and short stories, complete, YA/paranormal/fantasy – school taken over by Hellions and the fight to take it back OK, that is a wrap.

 

And I know a missed a WHOLE LOT OF SERIES, but I’ll try and update Finis every so often.  But seriously, too many hours on Goodreads, Amazon, hunting for author websites and I’m DONE.  So for those who hate waiting, you now have a place to start.  Anyone wants me to add a series they really liked, just post a comment.  I review them all.

Finis – The Problem of the Endless Series – Part 2

We left our series reading enthusiasts with Sandman Slim watching over them and now we switch to a fan favorite – VAMPIRES!.  You can’t throw a stick in the paranormal romance or UF aisles of a bookstore – live or online – without hitting a dozen vampire books.  There is a massive vampire infestation.  SOMEBODY GET THE HOLY WATER!

Now it is true, each author has his or her own take on vampire mythology.  To paranormal romance author Lynsay Sands, Argeneau Vampires are really Atlanteans, people who escaped the fall of Atlantis with nanos in their blood to cure disease.  They need more blood than they can produce, so the fangs were a natural adaptation to allow them to get food for the nanos (human blood) as needed.  As for the whole ‘no sunlight’ that was just to reduce the need for blood as sunlight destroys skins cells and the nanos then need to to work harder to repair the damage and more blood is needed.

For Chloe Neill in her Chicagoland Vampires series and many other authors, vamps are variations on the traditional Dracula model.  In fact, the Night Prince books by Jeaniene Frost that I mentioned in Part 1 is ABOUT Dracula and he has a part in Karen Chance’s Cassie Palmer series, where vamps are major characters.

Almost all authors, other than horror writers, make vamps sexy.  After Navy SEAL’s and Spec Ops guys in general, they’re hottest selling stars in romance today.  (We’ve had shifter SEAL’s from several authors, but no vamp SEAL’s. (And bare-chested guys in kilts!!!!!!!  How did I forget them?)  There is, however, a sort of vamp James Bond and several vamp assassins.).  But given the overwhelming number of vamp romances, I’m only going to mention a few series, because frankly, it would take days to get them all down.  What can I say, sex sells.  Just ask E.L. James.

Many UF series have paranormal romance as an integral element in the plot line, but it is not the sole purpose of the series.  I’ll illustrate this with two very well known and hugely popualr series as my first two examples.

Chloe Neill (living) – Chicagoland Vampires, has many other species including Fae, elves and werewolves.  Best classified as UF with some romantic suspense, it is both character and plot driven in equal parts; contracted to book 13, so no end in sight; Also wrote the Dark Elite series, 3 books apparently complete

J.  R. Ward (Jessica Bird) (living) – Black Dagger Brotherhood – Paranormal romance centered on a group of vamps that act as protectors.  Each book features a specific romance, 12 books to date since 2005; Fallen Angel series, 6 books since 2009 to present; also writes stand alone historical and contemporary romance

Simon R. Green (living) – prolific author; Hawk & Fisher – complete, fantasy, UF 6 books that tie in loosely with- The Forest Kingdom Series 5 books, complete plus a ‘follow-up’ sixth book, fantasy.  Deathstalker series, complete at 8 books, creates a universe where his current Secret Histories series, 8 books to date, also takes place and the completed Nightside series, 12 books, also took place and also loosely ties ties with Hawk & Fisher in a fantasy future London.  Also Ghost Finder, a related series not as well received as the Nightside and the others, 4 books so far.

Kelly Gay (living) – Charlie Madigan series, 4 books, complete 2012, UF with some romance elements; might have more installments as certain plot elements not resolved, but none scheduled

Amber Benson (living) – Caliope Reaper Jones (Death’s Daughter) series, 5 books, complete 2013, UF/fantasy/magic; co-author Ghosts of Albion, YA, historical fantasy/magic/horror

C. E. Murphy (living)- Walker Papers series, completes this year with book 9, UF/paranormal/magic/time travel; Negotiator Trilogy, 3 books complete 2008, UF/Fantasy/vamps/dragons

Keri Arthur (living) – prolific author; Riley Jensen series, 9 books complete 2010, UF, paranormal, paranormal romance lead character is half vamp/half werewolf; Dark Angles series, 7 books, last book due 2014, UF, paranormal, fantasy; Spook Squad, 3 books complete, out of print and being re-issued; UF/paranormal/paranormal mystery; Nikki and Michael, 4 books, complete 2008 and re-issued 2013, UF/paranormal romance/vampires.

Jennifer Estep (living) – Elemental Assassin series, Gin Blanco barbecue restaurant owner, freelance assassin, and killer of underworld leader, Mab Malone.  A really good UF series with some romance, but mostly action and mystery, mostly character driver with one plot driver element, 13 books in print or scheduled and no end in sight, but as a more character driven series, you can skip around after 8 or so; Mythos Academy – YA; mythology, fantasy, UF – series complete with 6 books, a prequel and a novella, coming of age with gifted/special young adults to new adult.; Bigtime Superhero series – tongue in cheek paranormal romance/paranormal chick-lit – status, not known, 4 books so far.

Kevin Hearne (living) – The Iron Druid series – UF, fantasy, mythology, paranormal – multiple mythologies come together around a 2,000 year old druid, Atticus O’Sullivan, who looks like a 20-something hippie, up to book 7, the first HC, this month and a contract for at least 2 more, plot and character driven similar to Dresden, there are multiple short stories and novellas that come before book 1 or between books in anthologies or e-book only; no other series or stand alone novels; contributes to Carniepunk anthology.

Benedict Jacka (living) – Alex Verus, UF/magic kind of a poor man’s Harry Dresden a mage who never finished training but is useful to full mages, 5 books so far and no word on additional books, but likely.  Very character driven.

Douglas Hulick (living) – Tales of the Kin, fantasy/epic fantasy/dark fantasy, only 2 books so far with a contract for 1 more.  At least 2 years between books.  Interesting underworld anti-hero.  Character driven.

Rachel Bach (living) – Paradox series, 3 books, status unknown; si-fi/space opera/space paranormal, talented new author with a fresh, original voice.  Took some effort to get into book one after so many fantasy/paranormals, but she wrote a fine series with a strong female lead.  All published 2014; Additional books or more books set in same universe, unknown.

Meljean Brook (living) – Guardians series, 8 books complete 2014, paranormal romance/paranormal fantasy/demons, serial romance with some overarching elements.; Iron Seas – Steampunk, steampunk romance, 4 novels and multiple ebooks and serial releases.  Continuation status, not known, but books can be read as stand alone novels

Mark Del Franco (living) – Connor Grey series, complete at 6 books in 2012; UF/Dark UF/Magic, A mostly plot driven series that seemed a bit choppy at times about the Light and Dark Fey and the uneasy truce with humans and each other that Connor helps maintain through the series; His first YA book was released in 2014 titled Whirlwind; Be wary of the Kindle ebook.  Apparently is has numerous errors.  Series status in this unknown.

You know, there’s nothing quite like being a smartass to get the attention of the universe and have it slap you upside the head and yell, “IDIOT!” in your ear.  I thought I was making a joke about needing multiple entries to list the main complete series.  And the universe laughed.  Yes, I have included a few major series that character driven that could be read without spraining the brain, like would with the Wheel of Time series, but even so, with the help of fellow readers and their own input of completed series, I have at least one more entry to do.  So I rather humbly apologize for my maniacal laugh at the end of part 1.  It seems the joke might just be on me!  But I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed that evil laughing.  SO much so, maybe the joke is on you!?????

 

MUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

 planktons-diary-evil-laugh-16x9

 

 

 

 

 

June 2, 2014

It’s All About the $$$$$$$$$$$

Filed under: Editorial,General,Observations and Comments — toursbooks @ 8:05 pm
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Don’t let anyone kid you, when it comes to books, or tires, or hot dogs, it’s all about MONEY.  The latest squabble is between Hatchette and Amazon is where Amazon wants what it wants and Hatchette knows their bottom line will hurt, but they refuse to go on bended knee to the internet giant.  Books-a-Million is emailing its customers to let it know it has the Hatchett books available for pre-order because Amazon has pulled purchase status.  Yeah, it’s hard to feel sorry for publishers who have had a stranglehold on the industry for nearly 200 years, but then again, Amazon is playing like a schoolyard bully.  They say the old publishing paradigm is dead.   Editors are passé and there are no filters between writers and readers – well, except Amazon.

Short term, readers win with low prices.  Long term …………….  that’s a different story.  Creative writing, hell, any writing, needs a good editor.  And for novelists to develop, they need someone to work with them, push them, make them better.  Agents have a place too, they get new writers in front of the right industry people.

Established writers were touting Amazon’s e-publishing platform as the greatest thing since sliced bread.  The got TWICE the royalty they did from publishing houses.  Well, that is, the USED to get that.  Now that Amazon has them, they’re cutting that so writers now earn less.  Amazon is a sword that cuts both ways.  Yes, they are right in saying people can buy online elsewhere, but Amazon is so much bigger and more diverse than any rivals, they can take these financial hits and not care.  Hits that would kill Book-a-Million or B&N.

The other thing is the elimination of editors.  You know why so many authors thank their editors?  Because they make them do better.  Drop sections, enlarge other, polish their writing.  Read The Detachment by Barry Eisler, then go read his Hard Rain.  Then tell me, which story is polished, crafted to a fine edge, and which is decent, but could have been so much better.

I have to lay part of the blame on readers.  Readers are no longer discerning or discriminating in their choices.  I’m not talking great literature and deathless prose, I mean well crafted, ORIGINAL fiction.  Half of what’s out there – IN PRINT – is tripe, devoid of plot, believable characters, or even well developed world building – and let’s not mention PROOFREADING.  Some of it is really badly written tripe – thank-you E.L. James.  Then there’s the ‘oh, that worked, so lets copy it’ mess.  And the worst part – people still buy it.  Charlaine Harris, Janet Evanovich, Jack Higgins, and so many other authors have either settled for lame or decided to recycle plots with variations ad nauseum.  Sales do fall, and some have dropped big time.  Not all the blame belongs to ebooks, either.  If I had $5 for every time the word ’eminent’ was replaced by ‘imminent’ (which is 100,000 fingernails down the blackboard at once for me), I could pay next months mortgage payment in advance.  Electronic proofreading, thank-you very much.  People, you have a glitch in you program!  An ‘Imminent scholar’?????  ARE YOU SERIOUS?

As consumers, we want a good price and when a hardcover book is selling for $20+ on Amazon, we decide to wait for the paperback.  Well some publishers are putting their most popular stuff into trade size paperback and demanding anything from $12-$16 for it!  Even with discounts, its $10-$13.  So we do what I do, and join Paperback Swap or Book Mooch, use the library, read one of their ebooks.  But you know what?  Reading an ebook seems to make the ‘experience’ less memorable.  Especially for younger readers.  Words on a paper have spatial value that words on a screen do not, and as a result, the ability to recall things is actually better with printed material.  That said, nothing will stop the gradual phasing out of print books, until they become a pricey, high end collector item rather than the format of choice.

Why?  Because it’s all about MONEY.  Want recipes for cream cheese?  Go to Kraft’s website.  Butter cookies?  Try Land ‘o ‘Lakes.   Something special?  Epicurious.  And food blogs are ubiquitous.  Reviews on hotels?  Forget AAA, Mobile Guide, even Michelin, go to Yelp or Trip Advisor or ask on Chowhound.  No printing required.

In all fairness, the vast majority of authors toil away earning a meager living writing well liked, but not famous books.   A few, like Harris, Evanovich, Patterson, Child and others make big big bucks, but the REALLY big bucks is selling the book for a movie!  Ask the estates of Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, or Agatha Christie.  Harris got rich with True Blood, but it took a piece of fan-fic turned bestseller to make E.L. James rich fast – a kind of rich authors of far better quality will likely never come close to.  Probably even faster than J.K. Rowling – who at least wrote a wonderful set of creative, memorable books turned into equally good movies.  Seriously, do you think Robert Crais or James Lee Burke have money like Rowling, despite their many awards?  I’m sure both have made excellent livings off their work, but aren’t billionaires.

But Jeff Bezos is a billionaire.  Not because he’s a brilliant writer, but because he had the foresight to build an electronic empire that all but annihilated competition.  Now that empire seeks greater control over publishers.  The real question is, long term, who will be the ultimate loser?  Unfortunately, in a battle like this, it will end up be the readers – and everyone else except Amazon.

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