Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Cut Costs And Censor The News In One Easy Step

Just one of Steinmetz's famous alums
No less than Hugh Hefner got his start in publishing as a high school student at Steinmetz, toiling away on the school paper while dreaming of soft pornographic grandeur.

Finances being what they are these days, the Chicago Public School system that operates Steinmetz is strapped for cash and must look for ways to cut costs. There has been talk of larger classes, teacher lay-offs, and various other scare tactics meant to terrify the taxpayers into begging their representatives for an increase in the tax levy. The taxpayers realize that no one can squeeze blood from a turnip, however, and they've collectively shrugged their over-burdened shoulders.

What constitutes a removable offering at the high school level? Sports? Impossible. A school's pride and spirit rests in the exploits of its teams.

Music? Maybe. It's nice and all, but a student can get into college without ever once playing an instrument.

How about getting rid of the newspaper? If not for Hugh Hefner sending a generous grant to keep the Steinmetz Star in print, the rag would have folded long ago. That windfall is gone, and what better way to kill a story about the finagling going on with school start times that fly in the face of research showing high school students are worthless in the early hours when it comes to learning.

The budding journalists were all set to produce an investigative piece on the early start times that were being sold to the public as money saving. Some higher ups didn't like the questions being posed, feeling that they were being put on the spot by smart-ass kids who should have been more deferential to their elders who know ever so much more.

School Principal Stephen Ngo took action on behalf of bureacrats everywhere. He wielded his power and axed the article. It would not run.

And then he sent out an e-mail declaring that journalism was getting the axe as well. Not only would there be no school newspaper, but students with an interest in journalism could take that interest and choke on it. They wouldn't sit in another class to learn about reporting or investigating.

Censorship does not go down well at any level, particularly at the secondary school portion of education where college interests are formed. Just when the kiddies start to spread their little wings, no one wants to see their feathers clipped so they cannot fly.

Thus, Mr. Ngo was countermanded by CPS authorities above him, who hemmed and hawed and spluttered things about misunderstandings. No indeed, there was no plan to eliminate journalism. What Mr. Ngo meant to say was that the newspaper would become an online only publication because it costs so darn much to print it. Have to save money where we can! But we're not censoring. No, indeed, what gave you that idea?

English teacher Sharon Schmidt, the paper's advisor, claims that the school has the money to print the paper. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't. You wouldn't expect a teacher to have complete knowledge of budgets district-wide, let alone be aware of all the machinations going on behind the scenes to pay bills and pensions with limited funds.

But that doesn't really matter. The fact that the school principal killed an article critical of the system he serves so loyally is enough to demonstrate an attempt to censor and then silence a group of students who have also learned that a free press is critical to a free people, even when that free press is a school newspaper.

Sunday, December 20, 2015


Back when Lena Dunham's HBO series was a hot commodity, an acquisitions editor at Random House thought that WRECK AND ORDER would resonate with all those young women who never missed an episode. A twenty-something female exploring her sexuality, in an endless pursuit of the perfect orgasm? The makings of a blockbuster, right?

The television programme died a slow death while WRECK AND ORDER worked its way through the publishing process. Sadly, it has arrived when readers no longer wish to inhabit the world of a complete wagon.

Elsie, the protagonist, is a narcissist who is obsessed with sex. She should be a sympathetic character, what with a backstory of familial dysfunction and a history of abusive relationships. And she's a lost lamb, funded by her father's generous checks so that she does not have to actually work and support herself like an adult. Should a reader not feel sympathy for a character trapped in perpetual childhood?

She goes off to find herself and ends up wallowing in self-pity, too busy studying her own navel to notice that she's lodged her head firmly up her arse. She treats those around her with selfish disregard, and if you manage to stick around to read through to the end of this plate of shite and onions, you'll find that her experience among the downtrodden does nothing to improve her because that's what all the other ordinary novels do and this is literary fiction.

Don't waste your time on this one. The author can write, but there's more to creating a novel than an ability to string words together into coherent sentences.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for providing the review copy.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Poor Investment By A Savvy Investor

You might ask why Sheldon Adelson would want to own a newspaper. He's made a tidy sum with his casino interests, and now he's said to have gone and purchased a local Las Vegas newspaper at a time when print is dying. Not exactly looking for much of a return on investment, is he?

Free copies of the Las Vegas Review-Journal in every hotel room
Could it be a vanity purchase? Some billionaires might buy an expensive sports car, or even a sports team. They are well-heeled adults buying toys, essentially, and who considers amusements as investments? A billionaire spending $140 million? Not breaking the bank on that transaction.

So we come to the next puzzler. Why would Sheldon Adelson want to play with a newspaper. Look at what it did to Charles Foster Kane. Who wants to end up alone, dreaming of a sled and no one around you knowing what it is that you're talking about with your last breath.
Speaking of Citizen Kane---

The average pundit is going to assume that Mr. Adelson bought the journal so that he could direct its editorial slant and promote the conservative causes that he is known to support with his financial might. So concerned are local, though liberal, politicians that they are demanding the new investors reveal themselves. That way, when the newspaper criticizes them or fails to support them when it's election time, they can blame media bias.

According to the research done by the newspaper in question, it is Mr. Adelson's step-son-in-law who put the deal together, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal isn't the only paper in the mix. There are indications that the Adelson group is putting together an entire portfolio, taking a page from Rupert Murdoch whose FoxNews arm is highly influential in the American political scene.

As was pointed out by James DeHaven, Howard Stutz, and Jennifer Robison of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Mr. Adelson is also a fervent backer of Israel, as is his wife. They are both donors to Republican campaigns, offering their financial might to help get conservative politicians elected. Are they going to use the newspaper as yet another weapon in their arsenal?

The pen is mightier than the sword.

No wonder so many are worried about a shift in the influence that a dying medium can exert on the older voter who is most likely to still take the daily paper and actually read it. Enough words extolling the virtues of one candidate and a billionaire could turn a voter's head. But don't all the other newspapers do the same? Is it only an issue when it's not your side that's gaining an ally?

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Stargazer's Sister: A Book Review

Caroline Herschel was the sister of a noted astronomer, and how appropriate is the prose in THE STARGAZER'S SISTER, floating just above the page, almost lighter than air. The story of the woman behind the William Heschel is told with a delicate touch that fits the Georgian era in which the main character lived.

You'll find no end of descriptions of stars, sky, meadow, tree, etc. etc., but it feels right. A woman who did a bit of stargazing herself should be shown to be aware of what is around her, exhibiting powers of perception.

Author Carrie Brown imagines a life and creates a believable world inhabited by poverty, stress and abuse. Caroline, or Lina as she is called, has little to look forward to in her miserable life, with a face scarred by smallpox scars. If not for her brilliant brother acting as her tutor, her future would be bleak indeed.

Thanks to her brother, however, she has a chance to shine like the stars (couldn't resist, sorry) when he moves to England to make his way. In need of a housekeeper he takes in Lina, who shapes her life around William's needs, and in the end she sacrifices the best years of her life to help him become a famed scientist. Then he gets married and she's cast aside like an old rag.

The story hints at feminism in its earlier form, with an unattached female gaining a little acclaim, but getting there requires slogging through the middle of the book which drags a bit. The ending tails off, as did Caroline Herschel's life, but overall the character is presented well and the book is entertaining. If you are looking for the more obscure sort of historical figure, you will find this novel an enjoyable read.

And thanks to Penguin for providing a copy through First To Read.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Get A Gift, Give A Review

In the past, giving away free ARCs of books has helped get some attention for our books. As a very small publisher, Newcastlewest Books does not have the financial power to run big marketing campaigns, so putting a few books in the hands of readers is an affordable way to market our offerings.

Here it is, we go, read it and tell your friends how much you enjoyed it. Maybe they'll buy a paperback or an e-book, and tell their friends. That's how word of mouth buzz is generated.

With SAINTS OF THE NEW IRISH KITCHEN ready to be born, we offered the copies well in advance, using the free book giveaway function provided by Goodreads. Goodreads, in return, selected the winners from the long list of entrants and our office manager made sure that the copies were sent off to the winners.

So how does Goodreads select those lucky recipients?

Of the five readers who entered, most have never given either a rating or a review.

For a publisher, it's a waste of time, effort and money. The book was given away in the expectation that the person getting it would read it, add it to their list of books, and then give, at the least, a rating.

If the person getting the gift does not give a review, what is the point?

Goodreads is owned by Amazon, of course, and you'd have to wonder if their so-called 'algorithm' is skewed. The more ratings a book receives, the higher it climbs on Amazon's site, and when you're trying to get the attention of readers overwhelmed with choices, you want to get up there in higher echelons of the search results.

Sean Gleason's debut novel may not have been something that the entrants wanted to read. Maybe some people just want free books that they can turn around and sell to a second-hand shop. Once the book leaves the office, the recipient is free to do what they like with it, of course, but can a person not at least offer up a polite thanks for the gift?

And that has been the rant du jour. Five more copies are going out to another batch of readers, the majority of whom are in Canada or Great Britain. Maybe we'll get a review or two there. At least that's what we are hoping for as we try to get our novels in front of a few eyeballs and provide a little entertainment for those who like their prose.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Like "The Voice" But With Books

The gatekeepers have the publishing castle locked up tight, so authors find a different route to enter the kingdom. Chris Twyman of BoomWriter Media recognizes this fact in a recent article in which he extols the virtues of digital publishing for the masses. If you can't get in through the front door, create an opening yourself, but bring along a little help.

Mr. Twyman is all about the group thing. He equates the surge in digital self-publishing to the rise of the Airbnb rental that outflanks the hotel industry. People find a way to manage their needs by bonding with others seeking to fulfill the same need, and the next thing you know you're driving for Uber.

So why not do the same with publishing?

It costs nothing to publish electronically. As a writer, you don't get paid unless you first write something and sell it, so authors are in the same place financially.

But how can the self-publishing craze be incorporated into the old school model? After all, the marketing power of the Big Five is an asset highly coveted by those with a story to tell. You might be able to publish that story on your own, but you can't reach the audience that the major houses reach with their sales staff and promotions and such.

What the publishers want is a sure thing. What business wouldn't want to reduce risk on an unknown commodity like a debut author? So what if that author could prove that his or her opus was truly magnum?

That's where BoomWriter comes in. Except it's more like one of those reality contest programmes where a singer performs and the audience votes to choose the best singer who then goes on to obscurity because the people who vote aren't usually the ones buying up recordings. Sure they like the voice, but to pay money for the download? The voting was all for fun, but the purchasing involves real money, right?

Would we really end up with some great books if writers had focus groups to analyze and assess each chapter as it was born as a Word document?  

How about a group of writers collaborating on a single book? Would that result in the creation of a blockbuster or an over-edited bit of drivel that ultimately pleases no one?

This so-called 'sharing model' would eliminate writers whose words did not find favor with the community doing the reading, but all you have to do is scan the reviews of any book and you'll find a wide range of comments. Some books appeal to some people, some to others, and a reader doesn't know if they like something until they read it.

In the end, after the sharing model sliced and diced, a publisher would be left with something that a portion of the reading community likes. What the publisher wants is a community that buys. Thus far, it hasn't been the best predictor of the next major musical talent. It doesn't seem any more likely to shape the next big literary talent.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why You Need A Business Plan First

Opening a bookstore is a dream for many. To spend your days surrounded by books, to make reading a part of your job, what could be better for those who love prose?

Dreams are fine while they exist in your head, partially formed, nebulous. When you act on that dream, you had better get that head firmly wedged into reality because literature may be art but a store of any kind is a business and there's no room for reveries when expenses exceed income.

Kimberley and Rebeccah George wanted to open a bookstore in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, a very trendy area that has gentrified itself into sky-high rents. People with money live there, educated people with money and an interest in books as entertainment. The sisters believed that there was room for another book seller in the area, and did not foresee a negative consequence to potential competition from the other four stores already doing business.

Their bookstore would set itself apart by providing comfy seating for book browsers, who could sip on coffee, nibble on pastries, or chug down a cold brew while selecting a few books.

Sounds like the sort of shop you'd like to patronize, doesn't it?

Except that the food end of the business required more infrastructure than the book selling end, and the would-be book vendors found themselves burning through their start-up funds. City inspectors brought the bad news about needing a second bathroom to meet food service requirements, and there the ladies were with their fancy signage all ready to go but not enough money to pay for the extra water line and plumbing.

They have started a funding campaign online, the sort of option that many residents of Wicker Park would understand. Those hipsters are aware of GoFundMe and Indigogo, aren't they? Surely they'll ride to the rescue and help a neighbor through a rough patch.

To date, there isn't much of a show of support for the bookstore.

Volumes Bookcafe needs $20,000 to meet requirements and get their shop opened. They've raised a little over $1800.00.

Where are the Wicker Park hipster book lovers?

Questioning the business acumen of the George sisters, possibly.

A sound business plan is the first step in launching a new venture. The budding entrepreneur has to estimate every single expense that is likely to crop up before the customers start patronizing the establishment. For the ladies George, that would include things like rent for the first few months, the cost to rehab the space, and a study of Chicago zoning ordinances that tell them what that rehab must entail.

If a business magnate doesn't perform due diligence in advance, can an investor trust that the business owner has enough of a clue about business to actually run the place and turn a profit? Investors want a return on their investment, even if they are contributing to a crowdsourced campaign. Maybe they'll get a free latte with every purchase, or a cookie to go with their tea. Maybe it's a discount on book purchases. But those discounts cost money and you'd want to have faith in the acumen of the person you're investing in.

Then again, book stores aren't exactly cranking out big profits. The hipsters are surely aware of online shopping and the discounts to be had by buying at Amazon after using the brick and mortar store as a free showcase.

Owning a bookstore is a dream. It takes some deep pockets to make that dream come true.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Book Selling And The Sales Force

Publishers employ a small army of sales people who spend their days making contact with book shop owners. They may call in to say hello, to tout the upcoming catalogue, or to commiserate about the poor economy and the competition from other types of entertainment. What they do is add the personal touch that builds relationships so that books that are not heavily marketed can get into a shop and get a chance to reach the eyeballs of the reading public.

It is an expensive venture, and not something that the average small press can afford. Sales people need back office support, to say nothing of their commissions and overhead costs. When a publisher sells but a few books, or has a rather small selection, the costs can be prohibitive.
From Plus To Minus

For a long time, Faber provided cover for the little guys who published important works of literary fiction or niche titles that were popular enough for the publisher but would not have drawn the interest of the Big Five. Through their Faber Factory Plus division, they acted as a clearinghouse for a number of small houses that could not afford their own sales team, but could manage the cost of sharing a team with their colleagues.

Little places like The Liffey Press or  Liberties Press, a couple of independent Irish publishers, partnered with Faber to get their titles into bookshops beyond their small reach. It meant that authors who were not about writing blockbusters could sign with a publisher who could market their works effectively. Authors might be about the art of literature, but they like to get a royalty check every now and again.

The concept worked for the likes of Daunt Books, who signed on and noticed that sales rose because they had someone pushing their product to the places where readers still go to find new books. They had a small reach with their own string of shops, but books published by Daunt have a greater audience than London, England. It required a sales force to get them there, and Faber's solution worked.

Just when things were looking up, Faber announced the end of the Factory.

At Faber's end, the outlook was not so grand. The publisher was losing money on the deal. Book sales are down overall, and having more different titles to sell did not result in more titles selling. Book vendors saw no point in stocking their shelves with items likely to sit, gathering dust, for extended periods of time because the money to buy books is not there anymore.

Faber could have increased prices, but there is a limit to what a small publisher can pay for sales representation. At some point, the cost of paying Faber Factory to push paper would be more than the profit from the sales, and what's the point of selling at a loss? You don't stay in business long unless you have a backer looking for a tax credit and a money-losing venture.

The publishers represented by the Faber sales force will lose that representation in the coming year, and their only option is to try to find a similar scheme elsewhere. Can they find a partner with a large enough reach into the book selling world? Can they afford it?

Without books in shops, it is much more difficult to be discovered by readers. No one browses an online listing like they do the stacks of a shop, examining spines or asking the employees for recommendations. Without Faber Factory Plus, the small publishers know that their days could be numbered if they cannot find someone else to get their titles into the brick and mortar shops.

There is nothing easy about selling art to a sceptical public, especially when the public doesn't have the spare change available to gamble on an unknown, un-hyped author. Small publishing is very much a labor of love, but you can't pay the rent with love. Authors may be losing yet another avenue to get their stories out there, and that is a sad day indeed.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Where Do You For A Good Spanking?

The urge strikes and you crave a spanking, or some bondage. You have a sweet leather outfit in the closet that you just have to wear but where can you go dressed like a dominatrix?

If you and your fetish are in Chicago, Galleria Domain 2 is the place you're looking for.

And if all goes as planned, there will soon be not one, but two, locations to serve your brand of sexual expression.
When you think of River North, you don't think BDSM---not yet, but maybe soon

All may not be going as planned, however. The neighbors are voicing their complaints. And the neighbors are the high-end sorts
who get really, really loud when sex clubs try to open up on their street.

Chicago's River North area swarms with suburbanites and tourists on the weekend, but the area is also home to the trendy and well-to-do who can afford the high rents and astronomical home prices. It isn't exactly a run-down, sleazy kind of neighborhood where you'd expect sex shops and street walkers waving at potential clients.

The people who invested big bucks to live in River North don't want to live near sex clubs. If they did, they would have moved elsewhere and made some other part of Chicago a fancy location. If you paid somewhere in the $2 million range for your pile, you'd squawk too if someone decided to plant a bondage parlor up the street from your home. A wine emporium is one thing, but kinky sex? Not In My Back Yard, thank you.

The owners of Galleria Domain 2 insist that their club is absolutely discreet in every way. It's going to be on the second floor so there's no window shopping that might alarm small children passing by. No alcohol is served so it's not like there's going to be drunken revelers spilling out of the doors half naked, dangling fur-lined handcuffs or waving leather whips overhead.

The club members have a safe word as well, so things never go too far and there's no need for the police to be showing up every weekend to rescue someone who's dominant partner got a bit over-exuberant.

But the people who live around the proposed location don't want to share their sidewalks with the sort of people who sit around and watch other people have sex. It's all too sordid and perverted for the average homeowner, and those average homeowners are howling to their alderman to put a stop to the club. Find something in the laws to prevent them from getting a permit, the voters are shouting, and if the alderman wants to be re-elected, he'll do all he can.

There's always naming and shaming if the alderman fails. The residents are free to set up bright lights and cameras on the street and record the faces of each and every person who enters and leaves the sex club. You want discretion, they could say. Here's your discretion right here. Posted online for anyone to see.

Before it comes to that, it's highly likely that someone in Chicago's zoning department could declare the club not compatible with surrounding land uses, and be done with it. No politician wants to upset voters who can afford to buy, and pay property taxes, on multi-million dollar homes. Money talks in Chicago. It's talking rather loudly on West Superior Street.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Free Books Make Excellent Holiday Gifts

Enter and you'll have a chance. Enter and you might get a message from Newcastlewest Books asking if you'd like a copy of the book even though you didn't win the contest.

Anything could happen. Nothing will happen if you don't take a chance.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Saints of the New Irish Kitchen by Sean Gleason

Saints of the New Irish Kitchen

by Sean Gleason

Giveaway ends December 01, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

No Literary Agent Is Better Than A Bad Literary Agent

Somewhere out there is Robert G., a writer who probably thought he hit the big time when he landed literary agent Faye Swetky to represent him. At last, he got his foot in the door of publishing. A champion was on his side, promoting his works to publishers who would read the agent's cover letter and be intrigued enough to read the synopsis and then, yes, and then, ask for the manuscript.

Somewhere out there are those who do their research on literary agents, to determine if the agent they are querying is really going to be able to get a manuscript inside a publishing house, large or small. These writers monitor forums at places where other writers like to loiter, sites like AbsoluteWrite.com where literary agents are vetted.

It's pretty apparent that Robert G., aspiring writer, did not perform this wearying task. If he had, he would not have accepted Ms. Swetky's offer of representation. And Ms. Swetky would not have shot off a query, with synopsis, to Newcastlewest Books to consider Mr. G.'s work of mainstream contemporary erotica.

No sex, please. We're a bunch of Irish Catholics here and the last thing we'd be interested in would be a piece of fiction that falls into the erotica category.

A perusal of our website would give anyone a very good idea of what sorts of books we do publish. You won't find a single bit of erotica there, not at all, at all.

Our new imprint, CITY THAT WORKS, does publish contemporary fiction, but again there's no smut. And, by the way, the fiction is still within our niche of Irish influenced writing. Sorry, Mr. G., but not one of the characters in your synopsis seem to be particularly Hibernian.

Robert G. sits in his writing place, eagerly anticipating news from his agent Faye Swetky. He will wait in vain, unless she finds some small publisher of erotica who doesn't require a literary agent to submit manuscripts. In that case, he will pay for something he could just as easily have done himself.

In the meantime, his erotic fiction goes nowhere when he could have spent his time finding an agent with a track record of sales. The manuscript will languish because he has opted to go with a bad agent when he would have been better off without one.

Not everyone who calls themself a literary agent is one.

I could respond to Ms. Swetky's missive and explain to her that we don't publish what she is selling, and by the way we don't look at manuscripts unless they come to us from a referral or a recommendation. But I have too many other things to do and not enough time to do them all, without adding another pointless task.

So, Robert G., know that your agent is submitting your manuscript. She isn't targeting specific publishers or calling around to contacts she has developed among the editors. A blanket e-mailing isn't agenting. Long ago in the dark ages before the Internet was filled with information, plenty of writers got snagged by those who thought it was easy to sell fiction. There's no excuse these days, when Google is your friend and Yahoo or Bing are there for your safety.

Use the force, Robert G.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

A Matter Of Life And Coffee

You know how much coffee you need to shake the cobwebs out of your head in the morning. You know the quantity of caffeine that is required to set your heart back to beating in mid-afternoon when sleep tugs at your eyes.

When you buy a particular amount of coffee, then, you expect to get that much coffee. You are meeting your body's need, and a lesser amount isn't going to work.
32 oz may not be 32 oz

It turns out that Peet's Coffee in Winnetka, Illinois, the one that's cozying up to The Bookstall at Chestnut Court, has been misleading their caffeine-dependent clientele. Proving that a lack of the stimulant can make a person cranky, a client who was shorted on his order is taking the company to court.

Robert Garrett could just feel that smaller jolt after he consumed the contents of a French press carafe. He thought he was getting 32 oz, but when he took the time to measure the volume, it not only varied but it came in below 32 oz. He sampled the smaller size carafe and found the same results. He was ordering one thing and getting less. 25% less, according to his lawsuit

The coffee shop in question is somewhat new to the area, replacing a Caribou Coffee site following the recent buy-out. People tend to be loyal to their coffee purveyors and would naturally be skeptical of the newcomer. As it turned out, Mr. Garrett had good reason to be skeptical. The menu board he ordered from said one thing but what he got was less, which sounds like a dishonest way to do business.

And there's the question of getting enough coffee as well. Mr. Garrett's needs were not being met, unless he bought two carafes, in which case he'd have too much coffee which isn't what he was going after either.

Peet's is on top of it, as Chief Marketing Officer Tyler Ricks learns how people in the Midwest view upstart companies out of the West Coast. Mr. Ricks has explained that the carafe size is what is meant on the menu, not the volume of coffee the consumer will get to consume. You need room for the plunger in the French press, and the grounds take up volume but you're not drinking those either.

Mr. Garrett will probably get some kind of cash settlement for being misled by Peet's marketing style. If it says 32 oz,. you should get that much in your cup. If it's the pot that's 32 oz., then state specifically that the customer is buying the contents of a 32 oz pot and it isn't going to be 32 oz. after the brewing and straining is done.

Peet's may try to play clever with the sizes, and that may fly in Berkeley, California, but in a tony North Shore suburb, you may fool some of the people some of the time, but sooner or later you'll run up against an attorney who looks for loopholes and isn't about to be taken in by marketing spiel.

Welcome to the Chicago area, Peet's. Don't try to get cute.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Anticipating A Very Negative Review

Newcastlewest Books has given away advance review copies of books so that the books get reviews before publication. Marketing is very much word of mouth in publishing, and it isn't easy for small publishers to get the chatter going.

So we give away books at places like Goodreads, to reach a wide market. Members can read the book blurb, and if they like what they read, they can easily click themselves into the giveaway.

After that, we publishers sit and wait for the reviews to roll in. Often, the winners don't review the books. Maybe they don't even read them. But a few will take the time to prepare a review and post it so that others who might be considering a book can decide if it might be something they would like as well.

The upcoming release of Sean Gleason's debut novel, SAINTS OF THE NEW IRISH KITCHEN, is getting the giveaway treatment. The first installment of the giveaway, with books going to the States and Canada, garnered a nice response. Our office manager dutifully sent off the copies, and then I got curious.

What sort of reader wanted to win a copy? Are they readers of contemporary fiction, or are they just the sort who like to read whatever is at hand, whether it's the back of the cereal box or the list of ingredients in their morning yogurt.

As it turns out, one winner may have entered the contest because the title says "Saints" so it must be some sort of Christian inspirational thing?

You really can't judge a book by its cover, now, can you.

While the protagonist of the novel, Martie Smurfit, is a religious woman whose loyalty to her patron saint comes through in the story, she is also not exactly straight when it comes to sexual orientation. The plot device that puts the narrative into motion revolves around a reunion with the boy she gave up for adoption as a teen mom, which again isn't what I think of when I think of conservative material.

The saints in this instance refer to both St. Martha, to whom Martie bears a certain level of devotion, and her aunt who allowed her to discover her true nature despite the family's antipathy.

Is that sort of forgiveness considered acceptable? Will this ARC winner be offended by what the story is actually about? Can a fan of Christian fiction be inspired by the 'live and let live' philosophy of those around Martie, or are we about to get a zero star review because Martie doesn't go straight at the end and marry some nice young man who has shown her the error of her sinning ways?

There are always those who don't like a book while others love the same set of paragraphs. Tastes vary, and that is why there are so many genres and so many writers out there.

SAINTS OF THE NEW IRISH KITCHEN isn't Christian fiction in the strictest sense, but there are themes of forgiveness and a strong undercurrent of love for one's fellow human. In a way it is sort of Christian-y. The question is, will it be Christian-y enough to not offend a person who entered a contest and won a copy.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding: A Book Review

The premise has been used before, with a person thought killed in a war turning up on a relative's doorstep. In A DICTIONARY OF MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING, the arrival of a disfigured man claiming to be Amaterasu Takahashi's grandson opens the novel, but you just have to know if he is or isn't who he claims to be.

The potential grandson brings letters from a man whose significance in Mrs. Takahashi's life is slowly revealed, chapter by chapter. Coupled with snippets from a daughter's diary, the story builds as the novel's narrator revisits the months prior to the bombing as she blames herself for her daughter's death and wonders how she could not have found her grandson if he had lived through the bombing. As she comes closer to rejecting, or maybe accepting, the mystery man, she turns back time even further to expose her relationship with the novel's antagonist, and a complex relationship it is.

At times, the epistolary technique made it difficult to determine which character was telling the story as the narrator shifted from Mrs. Takahashi to her daughter to her nemesis. This is not a book to be read with distractions in the room.

The headings for each chapter are quotes from the reference work with the same name as the novel, a dictionary that does not just translate words but explains nuance and meaning. Sometimes the headings fit the theme of the chapter, sometimes you forget about them as the narrator reveals another secret. They do help immerse the reader in Japanese culture, however, and shape the way you perceive the characters.

Maybe the ending is a bit too contrived or too neat, but in general the novel is an entertaining, engaging read.

My copy was provided by Penguin Random House. In case you wondered how I managed to read a book before it is officially released. Oh, and Random House? The author's name is mis-spelled on the title page. Might want to correct that before releasing the book.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The End Is Near! Enter Now

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Saints of the New Irish Kitchen by Sean Gleason

Saints of the New Irish Kitchen

by Sean Gleason

Giveaway ends October 27, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Friday, October 23, 2015

When You Can't Trust The Reviews

Product reviews guide purchases in the online marketplace. After all, you're buying something you cannot actually see, so how else can you make a determination unless you put some faith in those who have gone before you?

As it turns out, many of those who seem to be extolling the virtues of that e-book you're considering do not actually exist. They never bought the book about losing weight in ten days or learning Spanish in a week. It's all made up, figments in the ether, and you, the fool, will soon be parted from your money.

The paid reviews that dot Amazon are hurting small publishers and self-publishers, who are doing things the old-fashioned way. Free books are given away in the hopes that the recipients will take the time to post a real review and generate sales through the little buzz that can be created. It costs money, but you can't get the reading public's attention without investing in promotion.

Like any other money-making venture, there are those who find a way to game the system and skirt the rules. Those who cheat hurt the honest majority. Just ask anyone who has seen their legitimate positive reviews pulled from Amazon because the Amazon review metric determined the review was not legitimate.

It comes as no surprise that Jeff Bezos sent one of his investigative reporting teams to probe deeper into the swamp. A man buys the Washington Post to get something back out of it, after all, so why not examine the seamy underside of Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing.

The reporters found that the faux reviews are used extensively by a few entrepreneurs who are slapping shite together and calling it a book, publishing it through Amazon, and then buying enough good reviews to move the drivel up the charts so it shows up at the beginning of a search for the topic of interest. A reader looking for such a book reads the glowing reports, and makes a purchase they will later discover was not at all what they thought they were getting.

Pseudonyms are used and false identities created to lend an air of authority, the entire scheme devised to trick readers into buying an unknown quantity, trusting the seller to be honest. When the book turns out to be worthless, the reader fires off a scathing review of their own, but for small sums of money they aren't likely to go to all the trouble of demanding their money back. And what becomes of the real reviews? The scam artist complains to Amazon about abuse and Amazon takes those reviews down.

Amazon makes money off the transaction, of course, and would not have a strong incentive to stop the practice. What drives Amazon to block the paid review resides in long-term strategy. If, over time, readers come to see Amazon's Kindle publishing arm as a vast carnival game skewed against them, they won't consider Amazon-published e-books. The model will fall apart as the leeches suck the life out of it with the lie of the false review and the fake author, and the money machine shuts down.

When it comes to e-books, you're safest with fiction because it's all made up. There are no experts to be trusted, just authors with a talent for telling stories. They'll let you sample the opening of the book, the digital equivalent of thumbing the pages in a bookstore. It's about the closest you can come to actually seeing what it is you're buying before buying.

Readers can help by leaving reviews for books they've read and enjoyed, to out-review the so-called catfish who are, indeed, keeping the rest of us on our toes and swimming for our lives.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Spin, or, What Ever Became Of Jay Carney

Where do spokes-folk go after they've had their fill of the Washington DC press corps?

In Jay Carney's case, they join Amazon and spin for Jeff Bezos. The perks are probably better and he doesn't have to stand before the clamoring masses flinging questions intended to trip him up.

Last August, the New York Times published a scathing expose of workplace conditions for Amazon's white collar workers. There had already been other reports about the slave-driving of the warehouse class, so why not give the office denizens their turn to vent. The story garnered attention, to be sure, with claims that anonymous employee reviews were used to stab fellow toilers in a battle to win promotions. Others sobbed at their desks, so pressurized to workworkworkwork for Almighty Amazon that they broke.

All in all, it was a nightmare scenario that was painted by journalists Jodi Kantor and David Streitfield.

Now, months later, former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has come forward with the rebuttal, and he is equally scathing.

A spin doctor who came under steady fire for his entire tenure knows how to dodge verbal bullets and lob a few literary grenades of his own, and so his reply to the NYT is filled with accusations of lies, lies, more lies, damn lies, and possibly statistics.

Spin it, Jay, spin it like your job depends on the spin. And stop crying at your desk
Who did the journalists rely on for their inside knowledge, one should wonder, and Mr. Carney tells us that the person who called out Amazon's wretched culture was actually a disgruntled former employee who was caught stealing and admitted his crime.

That's quite the accusation, to name names and cast aspersions on Bo Olson. Defrauded vendors, tried to cover it up, and when caught he quit his job.

But did Ms. Kantor or Mr. Streitfield mention that little bit of back story? No, indeed, those pathetic excuses for journalists who soiled the Old Grey Lady's reputation for probing investigative reporting. Didn't do the proper fact checking, those two, and didn't Jay guide them through the Amazon headquarters out in Seattle and treat them well? Probably kept them supplied with plenty of coffee and witty anecdotes of his Obama years, but where was the gratitude?

Gratitude aside, where was the spin that Mr. Carney put on his presentation, and where was the puff piece he thought they would create? Why, he was tricked, he claims. What he thought would be written was the opposite of what did get published, and all because the journalists relied on a would-be thief instead of former White House official Jay Carney.

What does the New York Times think of his screed? Well, as you'd expect, a lot of words are getting tossed across the ether in a digital exchange. Dean Baquet has parried the thrust, informing Mr. Carney (and everyone else) that the reporters spoke to a great many people and a great many people expressed similar comments about grueling work conditions so it wasn't just the one disgruntled employee it was many employees and the reporters found a pattern. Not a one-off, Mr. Carney, so there, take that and spin it.

Where will the next assault come from? Will Amazon return fire? Jeff Bezos does, after all, own the Washington Post and there's no telling how he might use his arsenal of ink.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

How Not To Say Hi To The Cop

You would think a lawyer would know a little something about law enforcement, as well as the law, but those attorneys who toil behind the scenes managing contracts and human resource issues probably are totally unfamiliar with those who serve and protect. Maybe they've seen a bailiff or two, but chances are, they've never been in a real courtroom at 26th and Cal.

So you would have to excuse James Liu for not knowing how to properly say Hi! to a police officer.

The Logan Square hipster was cycling to work, as Logan Square hipsters are known to do, and he was using the bike lane thinking that it was for his use alone. No car dare enter. He is a lawyer. He knows his rights.

Wouldn't you know it but some car dared to veer into his lane, ignoring the painted lines that were designed to protect the likes of James Liu from attack by large vehicles. It's on the books, isn't it, that cars can't travel in the bike lanes? He has his rights!

Cars do sometimes creep into bike lanes, either because the motorist is trying to avoid something like a pothole in the car lanes, or because he's trying to get around slow moving traffic. There are any number of reasons. Sometimes you just don't see the paint job on the asphalt, especially if you're focused on the other vehicles around you.

Let us digress for a moment, to insert a comment from Chicago's mayor that may appear unrelated to lawyers from Logan Square riding bikes, but it actually fits in. Rahm Emanuel said his cops had gone fetal, so afraid of being accused of police brutality that they hesitate to make an arrest. They feel like they're in the crosshairs these days as well, handy targets for those who think they have been disrespected by the cops and believe that they are entitled to shoot them.
Help, help, I'm being repressed

Take one hipster Logan Square lawyer and put him in the same space as a Chicago cop who is under stress like the lawyer can never imagine, and you get a very toxic mix. So poisonous, in fact, that James Liu got himself arrested for not saying Hi! to a cop in the best way.

The cop was driving an SUV, maybe on the way home after a long night shift. Logan Square might be hipsterland, but it's not far from some very mean West Side streets. The policeman was tired. He wanted to get home and decompress from the stress of watching his back for eight hours, of filling out paperwork on drug sellers he'd arrested. Of wondering if he'd survive his shift.

Driving along North Desplaines, the driver swerved into the bike lane that was James Liu's territory. Mr. Liu, knowing his rights, pounded on the car, to alert the driver that he was not allowed in the space sacred to hipster bike riders.

Not the right way to bid a pleasant good morning to a policeman who sees such things as a potential attack.

Chances are good that Mr. Liu used his verbal skills to criticize the policeman's driving skills. Maybe he threatened to make a citizen's arrest. After all, one cannot permit such egregious violations of bike lane law to go unremarked. Mr. Liu has his rights, and those rights must be defended.

In the end, Mr. Liu pissed off the cop to such an extent that the cop pulled over, told Mr. Liu to assume the position, and cuffed the lawyer. He then sent for a marked car to drive Mr. Liu to the nearest jail for processing as a criminal. Clearly, the police officer had had enough for one day, and the last thing he needed was some smart-ass hipster busting his chops.

The officer will no doubt be reprimanded by higher-ups, while his colleagues on the force will applaud him. As will plenty of ordinary motorists who go to work every day and have to deal with the arrogant hipsters who feel ever so superior to the hoi polloi.