Month: May 2011

A discussion of value

What is the value of a book?

No, really! Please tell me what you think it is. I’m curious to hear the different answers and reasons.

Specially I’m wondering, what price do you want to pay for a new hardcover? A new ebook? An independently published or self-published paperback? An indie or self-pubbed ebook?

I’m looking for insight because of my experiments with TWENTY-SOMEWHERE. For a while now I’ve been debating taking the plunge and offering 20SW for 99 cents. I finally did it as a May promotion, so if you’ve been curious and have $1 to spare, you can get your very own copy from Amazon, the iBooks store, or Smashwords (which offers many formats for your computer or mobile device). I’d also love some more reviews — honest ones, of course!

Now, I have very mixed feelings about the 99 cent price point. As a reader, of course it’s a great deal. But then it again, it also isn’t much of an investment. The problem with super cheap or free books is that there’s no incentive to read them. When I first decided to read ebooks on my iTouch, I loaded up on free stuff. Weeks later, overwhelmed by the clutter, I had to delete almost all of it.

I’ve heard that lots of people (who are apparently slightly less cheap than me, lol) do the same thing with ebooks that cost only $1 or $2. On the one hand, the author doesn’t care, right? Because whether you delete the book off your ereader or not, that’s money in their pocket. But on the other hand, what authors need more than money is an audience. Without fans, you can’t make a living. You can’t have a career.

Furthermore, is 99 cents really a fair trade for all the hard work an author put into a book? (Especially given that authors really only get 30 cents of that back.) What happens if readers become accustomed to that price point? What if they start thinking that’s what books — even the printed kind — are really worth?

As my business-minded boyfriend would surely tell me, at the end of the day books (like everything else) are worth whatever people are willing to pay for them. And a lot of factors go into that.

(For the record, I am willing to pay more for a good story, quality writing, and professional formatting. In printed or electronic form.)

The “digital revolution” is amazing, and I absolutely believe in it. I guess I’m just worried. Worried about books costing less than a pack of gum. Books, which teach us so much. Which take us to strange and exciting places. Which introduce us to new people. Which make us feel love and fear and hope.

Personally, I think my ebook 20SW is worth more than 99 cents. In terms of what I put into it, and what people have told me that they got out of it, I think its regular price of $2.99 is a good value. But I’m trying not to be stubborn, trying to learn all that I can about what readers want instead of what I think.

And I’m trying to remind myself that 99 cents hasn’t killed the music industry. It probably won’t kill me either.

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Book to movie x 3

These aren’t meant to be reviews, exactly, just a few of my thoughts on some recent film adaptations of books.

Jane EyreJANE EYRE

I was salivating over this movie for months. I seriously spent DAYS watching clips online, reading interviews, and googling images of Michael Fassbender. (Shh, no judging!)

It’s hard to live up to that sort of hype, so no one should be surprised that when I finally saw the movie, it didn’t blow me away.

The acting was superb and the filming was gorgeous. Where the movie fell short, in my opinion, is the editing. It was choppy and potentially confusing if you hadn’t read the book. I didn’t mind their choice to use flashbacks — it does give a modern audience more “action” right away — but I think an extra 30 min to 1 hr of runtime would have greatly improved the film.

And while they did a great job playing up the Gothic feel, they also reduced one of the main themes (of morality and staying true to one’s pure self) to just a couple of lines.

But let’s be honest: Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester makes up for pretty much any shortcomings. I still plan to re-watch this at some point.

Water for ElephantsWATER FOR ELEPHANTS

Now this is my ideal for an adaptation. The film completely brought the book’s world and characters to life. (Depression Era circus? Trains, animals, and romance? Heck yes!) Maybe it wasn’t 100% “true” to the book, but the changes were subtle. They provided simplicity/clarity for the viewers who hadn’t read the book, and they didn’t detract from the themes or alter anything important.

(Oh, wait. They did somewhat downplay the theme of the elderly being forgotten… but I think it was in there “enough.”)

Everything — the art direction, music, costumes, etc. — fit the tone of the original book. It was mesmerizing to watch.

(Warning #1: In both the book and the film, there are a couple scenes of animal abuse. I found it much harder to take in the movie — in fact, I nearly screamed and couldn’t watch — but they are brief. And avenged.)

(Warning #2: Robert Pattinson makes his pained-awkward-trying-to-smile face a lot. Has he trademarked that yet? It’s pretty distinctive.)

Something BorrowedSOMETHING BORROWED

In a word: fun. Hollywood took a nuanced chick lit story and turned it into a typical rom-com. No shock there. Was I disappointed in that? A bit. But I still laughed out loud (especially thanks to John Krasinski) and enjoyed the film.

The one thing that sort of bothered me, though, was that while they made some characters more shallow (Marcus, Claire) they added a subplot about Dexter’s parents in an attempt to give him more depth and make him more sympathic. (And to bolster the theme of going after what you want instead of putting others first all the time.) I get why they did it, but I found their particular solution/execution odd. Especially since his issues with his parents are never resolved. After Dexter makes his decision, how do they react? We’ll never know! (So what was the point in bringing them into the picture in the first place?)

In general, I’m a big fan of film adaptations. You get to relive the story in less time and greater vividity. (Is that a word? Vividness?) I love seeing book worlds come to life — Hogwarts, Middle Earth, feudal Japan, etc. My preference, of course, is for adaptations that simply translate the book to screen. But I’m also able to separate the book from the movie, and appreciate each on its own terms.

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In defense of "chick lit"

Whether you enjoy reading it or not, “chick lit” deserves respect. Just like scifi, mystery, romance, literary, fantasy, YA, or whatever. No, not every “chick lit” title is a thought-provoking look at the complex juggling act of modern-day womanhood — but not every title is about a thin twenty-something meeting Mr. Right on a shopping spree, either. As with any genre, there is a variety, a spectrum from serious to light content, from good to bad writing. And let it be said that those two spectrums are NOT related.

On Facebook, I saw an announcement about International Chick Lit Month, and some of the comments really frustrated me. After I took a deep breath and counted to three, this was my response:

The “chick lit” I know celebrates women who make choices about their lives — whether it’s who to love, what career to pursue, what dress to buy, or how to embrace their weaknesses along with their strengths. I don’t live in a world where those kinds of decisions are silly or shameful. I feel sorry for anyone who does.

And that’s pretty much all I have to say about that.

Except this one last thing: I once heard the phrase “smart chick lit,” and I thought, “What a great term!” Because I knew what it was trying to say, what it meant. But now I’m having second thoughts. Because the opposite of that is “stupid chick lit,” and I don’t like what that implies.

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History

Confusion. Disbelief. A flicker of excitement. Hope. Guilt. Waiting. Lots and lots of waiting. And watching. Wanting to know details. Wanting to be sure.

Last night’s news was unexpected, to say the least. Historical. I don’t want to get into politics here, but I can’t help feeling the weight of bin Laden’s death, it’s impact on America’s story. On the world.

9/11 was almost 10 years ago. As much as I’m a kid now, I was a kid then. And despite my awful memory, I don’t think I’ll ever forget Mrs. L running into our 1st period history class and whispering to Mrs. B, then Mrs. B’s face blanching, then Mr. B canceling our regular lessons and wheeling out the TV. We all sat rapt, watching and listening to the scramble of false reports. Small hobby plane — no, commercial jet. One plane — no, two. Pilot error — no, terrorist attack.

Between classes, we heard shocked, scared whispers in the hallway. Second tower. Fell. Pentagon. During 3rd period calculus, an office attendant came in and handed a note to Mr. M. After reading it, he told a girl sitting two rows ahead of me to pack her things and go see the principal. Her brother worked in the World Trade Center.

In 4th period, Mrs. G said, “Let’s not pretend there’s anything more important than this right now.” She let us use our cell phones. I had no one to call until the news flashed Pittsburgh. Then the panic felt more rightfully mine.

And so it began. The fear. The war. The changes in airport security. I wonder if we could compare ourselves now to ourselves then, if the contrast would be very striking. Like a photograph that shows you all the little things that have added up. You don’t notice your body changing shape or your hair growing from one day to the next — but after weeks, months, years, you might hardly recognize yourself.

I don’t mean to sound jaded or melodramatic. I don’t think we’re broken. But I think we were damaged, we were dealt a heavy blow, and we’ve been trying to heal ever since. Last night was — could be — hopefully is — a turning point in that recovery.

I’m sure the road ahead of us is still long, but today I can’t help looking back and marveling at how far we’ve come.

Also, I know it’s cliché — a writer’s worst enemy, normally — but I do sincerely want to thank our service men and women for all that they do. Andy’s younger brother is on his first tour as a Marine right now, and that has put a lot of things in sharp perspective for me. May he, and all our loved ones, be safe.

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