Monthly Archives: February 2011

Some Random Thoughts and Links

Well, it’s Sunday morning and I’m find myself in a quandary.  I didn’t write the blog early yesterday because, well, I was hoping to find something that wasn’t related to Borders or publishers-doing-stupid-things.  So, here I am on Sunday morning trying to get enough coffee into me to function and figure out what to blog about at the same time.

Let’s start with the obligatory Borders report.  Mark Evans has an interesting list of six reasons why Borders went bankrupt.  While I don’t necessarily agree with what he has to say, he makes some interesting points.  Author Melanie Benjamin talks about where she was and how it affected her when she first learned about the Borders filing.  The bankruptcy trustee has named the unsecured creditors committee.  Included on the committee are publishers and landlords.  This article points out that one of the issues Borders will have to deal with is making sure it is closing the right number of stores AND the right stores under the circumstances.  Also, this committee will have something to say about it.  Add that to this article that seems to confirm my suspicions that there will be more closures in the very near future.

In other news around the publishing world, Random House announced it is offering early retirement to employees over 50 who have been with the company at least 5 years.  This offer expires April 15th.  Of course, they are also quick to say that this is NOT an indication that RH is going to downsize.  I really wished I believed them.  But, in my experience, when companies start offering this sort of a deal, particularly with employees who have not been there for long, it is a sure sign of downsizing in the future.

Barnes & Noble released its third quarter figures for 2010.  It doesn’t surprise me to see that their sales were pushed by digital downloads and tech.  Barnes & Noble has done a lot of things wrong, in my opinion — most importantly having played a large role in driving out the independent booksellers.  But they did two things very right, things Borders should have done.  They embraced the internet and have had a strong online presence for years and they have a branded e-reader that is associated with their name.

On the ongoing front of will we ever get an industry standard in e-book formats,  Japan has made a step in that direction.  It was announced last week that their publishers and electronics companies had adopted EPUB 3.0 as their standard.  Unless I am completely wrong — very possible, of course — it isn’t going to be long before we see two main formats:  EPUB and MOBI.  The other formats will drop by the wayside.  Whether we will see EPUB become the industry standard or if it remains split between the two will be something to be seen over the next 5 years or so.

In other EPUB news, and this does fall under the heading of publishers-doing-stupid-things, comes this.  Harper Collins once again proves, at least to me, that it doesn’t support e-books nor does it support public libraries.  To start, there aren’t that many e-titles available for download from libraries.  Now there will be even fewer.  Why, because of this idiotic decision by HC.  A decision that flies in the face of mainstream publishers’ very frequent cry that e-books aren’t real books.  It is this argument that publishers use to justify DRM, saying that when we pay for an e-book we are only buying a license for it.  But, with the decision to limit the number of times an e-book can be checked out, they are saying it should be treated as if it has the same lifespan as a “real” book.  Can you say, have your cake and eat it too?

Finally there’s this article about the increase in piracy of e-books, specific to this article Kindle e-books.  I think what frustrates me the most about articles like this is the fact that it completely ignores the fact that piracy happens to ALL books, not just those released in digital format.  How quickly they forget about how the last Harry Potter book hit the internet in PDF before it was released in stores.  When’s the last time they brought up the brouhaha that surrounded Stephenie Myer when one of her manuscripts was leaked on the internet AND SHE THREW IT AWAY.  But what really bothers me is how so many of the publishers who rant about e-piracy use the argument about how it is stealing from their authors and yet these same publishers do not give accurate accountings of e-book sales, nor do they give authors a reasonable royalty on e-book sales.

Finally, on a personal note, I want to thank everyone who has supported Naked Reader Press and our authors.  It dawned on me today that we put our first books up for sale just about 6 months ago.  It’s been 6 months of hard work but it has been worth it.  So thanks to everyone who made it possible.

(Cross-posted to Mad Genius Club)


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Friday Morning Round-Up

First, for those who missed the announcement last night, Death of a Musketeer — the first volume of Sarah D’Almeida’s Musketeers Mystery Series — is now available in digital format.  This is the first time DoaM has been available as an e-book and NRP is proud to be able to offer it.  Click here for more information.

And what would Friday be without more news from the Borders front?  In what appears to confirm my earlier predictions, Andy Graiser, of DJM Realty — DJM is handling the disposition of the 200 stores already announced as closing — had the following to say There could be at least another 70 to 75 stores to liquidate over the next 30 days. We are currently working with a number of landlords to renegotiate the leases; during the next 30 days we will save some stores and others will go into the next round of closings. Note that he said “at least” 70 – 75 stores.  That doesn’t appear to bode well for the company, in my opinion.

But what really gets me is the final comment in the interview.  Graiser says that because Borders is “being quick with their decisions”, they have won half the battle to emerging from bankruptcy.  I have to wonder then why they didn’t make these decisions long ago.  Why did it take going into bankruptcy for them to make the “right” decisions?  And who is to say that these are the right decisions?  The fact that they are being made so quickly could be indicative of simple knee-jerk reactions that have little to do with sound business decisions and more with simply trying to maintain the status quo as much as possible.

Other news on the Borders front includes the naming of the committee of unsecured creditors.  The committee includes “representatives from Penguin, HarperCollins, Random House and Perseus Books Group ,” as well as “representatives from Sony Music, GGP Limited Partnership and the Simon Property Group.”  This same article notes that some publishers have resumed shipments to Borders, albeit on a cash with order basis.  Ingrams has also resumed shipments.  What isn’t clear is just how many publishers have resumed doing business with the troubled bookseller nor how long Borders can operate under a cash-with-order basis.

Finally, there’s an interesting article up at Publishers Weekly on truth in publishing.  Most of us remember the dust-up that followed the revelation a few years ago about James Frey’s supposed memoir, A Million Little Pieces.  That’s one of a number of examples of supposed non-fiction books that have come back to bite publishers after the fact when it’s been discovered that the books are not factual and, in some cases, are nothing but fiction.

What makes this article interesting are some of the comments by the panelists.  Jonathan Burnham, from Harper, had this to say:  “Everyone has a responsibility to articulate the truth, but artists and writers have a responsibility to find truth in their own particular ways.”

Nicholas Trautwein, from The New Yorker, notes the difficulty in fact-checking a non-fiction book the way you would a non-fiction article.  Part of the problem — a very large part, if you ask my opinion — is that publishers want to get the book out as quickly as possible.  That keeps the time available for fact-checking to a minimum.  Still, Trautwein notes that a fact checker can be brought in for a week or two in order to vet the most “contentious” sections.  He goes on to say that it is “the agent’s responsibility to represent an author and work where they vouch for both entirely.”

The final comment comes from Marie Brenner.  Brenner writes for Vanity Fair and has published a number of books.  Before sending out her own work, Brenner hires a fact checker.  According to her, she looks at it as an “absolute necessity”.  Not only does it protect her, but it protects her publisher as well.  This is, in my opinion, the best approach of the three.  What do you think?

Now it’s time to get back to work.  And don’t forget to check out Death of a Musketeer.

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Death of a Musketeer

Death of a Musketeer, the first book in Sarah D’Almeida’s Musketeers Mysteries series, is now available in digital format.  This is the first time DoaM has been released as an e-book.  As with all our titles, it is offered DRM-free.

For more information, check here.

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Animanga Viewpoint by Darwin Garrison

Black Lagoon:  Blood, Bullets, Beauties, and Crime on the South Asia Seas

For this week’s installment of Animanga Viewpoint, I’m going to discuss the franchise that causes me a great deal of personal internal conflict: Black Lagoon.

Straight up warnings for the squeamish: Black Lagoon is definitely adults only fare.  The content includes graphic violence, nudity, prostitution, rape, gangland crime, along with an absolute and complete disregard for human life and human decency.  This is primarily because Black Lagoon is a noir story about criminals being, well, criminal.

Thus the beginnings of my internal conflict come into focus.  I am, at heart, a person given very much to trying to take the high road and lead an upright life.  I don’t romanticize crime or criminals and I believe that taking a life is something that should be done when you have no other choice and then only with great regret.  Pretty much every character in Black Lagoon is my figurative nemesis.

And yet, I still read and enjoy each issue.

Okay, allow me to perform my quick, trademark overview.  The story of Black Lagoon centers on the semi-piratical crew of the Black Lagoon, a World War II PT-boat whose primary utilization is for various kinds of smuggling based out of the fictional outlaw city of Roanapur, Thailand.  The captain of this ship is a hugely muscled black man named Dutch who claims to be an American veteran of the Vietnam War. (As an aside, authors like Rei Hiroe need to let go of Vietnam for characters.  The youngest US grunt who actually pulled a trigger in ‘Nam is now pushing 60.  Give it up and let the archetype go.)  Also aboard the boat are two other original crew members: Benny, a super geek on the lam from both the FBI and the Mob, and our main female protagonist, Revvy also known as “Two Hand”, who is the gunslinger/troubleshooter for the team and about one hair short of shooting anything that moves.

The kickoff of the narrative begins with the arrival of Rokuro Okajima to the wonderful confines of the seas of Southeast Asia on a delivery mission for his Corporation.  Unbeknownst to him, he’s been set up as a sacrificial lamb in a double-blind game with nuclear weapons technology up for grabs.  When the crew of the Black Lagoon jump Rokuro’s ship looking for the data discs they’ve been told to “acquire”, then end up taking our hapless salary man along as a spur of the moment hostage.

Things go from bad to worse when it comes to light that not only has Rokuro been set up as a patsy from the word go, but that everyone aboard the Black Lagoon has been lined up for a trip down the same express elevator to Hell.  The end result of this is that Rokuro teams up with the crew of the Lagoon to turn the tables on the corporations and thugs that are out to use them and come out ahead of the game in the end.

And Rokuro becomes “Rock” and the newest member of the crew.

So, this first mission introduces us not only to Rock and Revvy, about whom most of the stories eventually turn, but also to Balalaika, the burn-scarred yet still alluring commander of a battalion of expatriate former Spetznatz troops known as “Hotel Moscow” who are now an extended arm of the Russian mafia.  There’s also Mr. Chang, the Chinese Triad’s local rep in Roanapur.  Oh, and don’t forget the “Church of Violence” with their collection of rather extreme gun-toting nuns like the well-endowed and completely conscience-free Eda – who is a lot more than just that.

In fact, every volume of Black Lagoon just explodes with extreme lawless characters and their matching acts of over-the-top larceny.  Lesser-presence characters like Sawyer the “cleaner” and Shenhu the assassin liven things up every step of the way.

Black Lagoon is technically a “girls with guns” manga because the preponderance of main or significant characters involved with each story tends to be female.  Revvy, Shenhu, Balalaika, Sawyer, the terminator-maid Roberta, etc., they all are way too heavily armed and ready to spatter blood at the drop of a beer bottle.  That having been said, there’s also strong male characters throughout.  Dutch is unflappably calm and yet you can sense the man’s looming presence in both his dialogue and the art.  Rock starts out beyond his depth, but he quickly adapts and changes in order to survive. (Especially at first, when Revvy is about one click short of killing him herself when they first team up.)  There’s a faint tinge of romance here and there in the telling between Rock and Revvy, but it’s as hard to get hold of as the smell of cigarettes in a strong wind.  Frankly, given the background and fundamental danger involved with establishing any kind of relationship with any of the women in Black Lagoon, Rock’s better off keeping it that way.

See, the thing is, Black Lagoon won’t give you a hero to cheer for.  Even Rock, who starts out trying to do the right thing, eventually does stuff that you can’t really endorse.  Revvy’s a murdering psychopath, in all honesty.  Balalaika has a wish to die in combat that could well take all of Roanapur with it someday.  Dutch is enigmatic and without conscience.  Lenny’s out for himself above all and doing his best to keep his head down otherwise.  See?

And yet, the characters have “grab”.  You end up, well, not directly empathizing but more along the lines of being interested in what happens to each character and where they came from.  The stories are well told if not very savory.  Each character has a past and a destiny.  Now, most of the destinies are probably related to ending up being rendered by Sawyer in her little backroom abattoir, but that still counts.

Rei Hiroe’s art is definitely not lacking either.  There’s depth in his detail and rendering of everything from characterization to backgrounds.  The action sequences flow in a way that conveys the impact of what’s happening while not leaving the reader too overloaded to follow along.  He manages to convey both the allure of the women along with their more dangerous aspects simultaneously.  Revvy is a classic case in point.  Physically, she appears at first to be overwhelmingly sexy and curvaceous if you can ignore the guns she sticks in the faces of her victims.  However, it doesn’t take long for you to notice the wear and tear her life has placed on her, which usually shows up in the details of how her eyes are drawn.  That’s the mastery of Hiroe’s art, the subtle details that create an impression that you only become aware of over time.

I consider Black Lagoon to be a worthy read because of the mastery of character development, involved and intriguing story lines, and awesome art.  I hate the activities and twisted criminality that is depicted in the setting, but I still can’t help enjoying this action series.

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As Promised . . .

If you sent us anything during our January submission period, you should hear from us Monday or Tuesday of next week.  Thanks again to everyone who sent in something.  We received some really great stories/novels and it’s been difficult to choose what to accept.

We also have a schedule adjustment to announce.  Lawyers of Mars, by Pam Uphoff, and Hunter’s Moon, by Ellie Ferguson, have been reslotted to May.

We have also added several more titles to the list of books we’ll be bringing out in both digital and print formats.  Included in this list are Death of a Musketeer (Sarah D’Almeida), Nocturnal Origins (Amanda S. Green), ConVent (Kate Paulk), The Calvanni (Book 1 of Chris McMahon’s Jakirian series), and Without a Trace (Dave Freer).  Two of these are books where the rights have reverted back to the authors and they (D’Almeida and McMahon) have re-edited them, etc.  The others are new works.  NRP is excited to have all of these joining our first print books.

This is an exciting — and busy — time for NRP and we thank each of you for helping make it so.


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Wednesday Morning

This is going to be a quick post.  I have a meeting in less than and hour I have to finish getting ready for.  But I promise to be back this afternoon with another post and an announcement or two.

First, for those of you who love DC Comics and haven’t seen this yet, they have dropped the price of the standard 32-page comic book from $3.99 to $2.99.  This is for the ongoing titles.  Jim Lee, the co-publisher, explained it this way:  “For the long term health of the industry, we are willing to take a financial risk so that readers who love our medium do not abandon the art form.”  I applaud Lee and the others at DC because they’ve done what so many mainstream publishers haven’t done — they’ve listened to their fans who said $3.99 was too high of a price point for what DC was offering.  Good on you, DC.  Let’s hope others in the industry follow your example.

Barnes & Noble has released its third-quarter numbers and it makes for interesting reading.  Digital sales led the way during the quarter, outselling print books.  Even so, no dividend will be issued.  Check out the full details here.

Finally, there are two more links about Borders that might be of interest.  The first is Borders’s Fall from Grace. This is a nice summation of what happened to force Borders into bankruptcy.

This second link is interesting, but I’ll admit I have issues with some of what that author has to say.  However, instead of discussing my take on the article just yet, I’ll leave it to you to read.  Leave any comments you have and we’ll discuss them.

Until later!

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Taking my tired body to bed

I know I promised another update today, but I had to spend most of the afternoon trying to keep my temper with the tech from my internet provider.  So I fell behind.  The update will come tomorrow, I promise.  Until then, ‘night all.

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