I’mmmmm baaaaack

Before anyone gets on me because I promised the post on copyright and haven’t done it yet, I will. I promise. But it has exploded in the amount of research and issues posed. So I want to make sure I’m not shorting it any. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get to it by next week. In the meantime, I’ve been busy fighting the publishing battles on various fronts. I don’t know if it is the season or the knee-jerk reaction many of the outlets are still having over the “is it porn or not” issue, but some of NRP’s titles have been slowed to a near stop in the review process while others I’ve tried to take down off some sites so they can go exclusive for a limited period on others are slow to come down. I am really ready for this year to be over. Maybe 2014 will bring a return to normalcy.

Since this is a holiday week, and that means most publishers are closed so there isn’t much news going on in the industry, this will be sort of a scattered post. Let’s start with this article from Publishers Weekly about the espresso machines in bookstores. No, I don’t mean those nice coffee machines with their overpriced coffee. These are the print-on-demand machines that were supposed to help rejuvenate the indie bookstores and help publishers and authors alike. The machines are expensive and some publishers have been reluctant to release titles for use with these machines. That limits their worth to the bookstores. So does the fact that bookstores have to worry about maintaining the machines.

According to the article, it seems that only deep backlists have been released by publishers, on the whole, for use with the POD machines. I’d like to say this surprises me but it doesn’t. Look at how slow publishers were to embrace e-books — I know, they really haven’t embraced e-books yet. Instead, they view e-books as a necessary evil. The espresso machines represent a potential new step in technology and distribution and the bean counters and suits just don’t like change. Besides, if they did embrace the espresso machine method of getting books into the hands of readers, it would add another layer of accountability, one that didn’t fit into the current BookScan program. Then there is the contractual obligations the publishers have to their distributors who, believe me, do not want the POD program to succeed on a large scale.

So, instead of making it easier to put books into the hands of readers, a potential change in the way publishing and bookselling continues at a snail’s pace. Will it take off? Not until the machines become even cheaper than the $85,000 they currently cost and not until more titles are made available. In other words, I’m not holding my breath.

On the bookstore front, Barnes & Noble posted better earnings this past quarter. Now, before you jump on the bandwagon and start celebrating, the earnings came despite an 8% drop in sales. More telling is the fact that sales from the Nook side of the business dropped 32.2%. According to Publisher’s Weekly, this drop was caused by a decrease in digital sales as well as a decrease in prices for e-books. There was also a decrease in the number of Nook units sold.

So how did B&N post better earnings? That’s pretty simple. They’ve closed stores, cutting their overhead. Fewer stores means fewer sales. As for the decrease in digital sales, well, it is yet another indication that B&N entered the digital market too late. That’s especially true with getting an e-reader on the market. Amazon continues to dominate there and will, at least for the immediate future.

Finally, in the “what were they thinking” department — not to mention the “they’d never believe it if I put it in a book” department — here’s a story about some ghost hunters. Our intrepid characters — I can’t call them heroes — made their way from Texas to Louisiana to check out reports of supernatural activity at LeBeau Plantation in St. Bernard Parish. Like any good, self-respecting ghost hunter (yes, the sarcasm meter is running high here), these guys started their adventure by trespassing. Then they started looking for ghosts. To assist them in their endeavors, they are alleged to have smoked themselves some pot, had themselves some booze and still there was nary a ghost to be found. Upset because the ghosts wouldn’t come out to play, the ghost hunters allegedly torched the plantation and now find themselves facing charges for arson and more.

I have to admit, my first reaction when I read about what happened was to be surprised they hadn’t seen ghosts and more simply because of the pot and booze and who knows what else. Then I found myself laughing about how the fine and proper Louisiana ghosts would never have come out to party with these interlopers. And, yes, I have a story forming in the back of my mind based loosely on these events.

Which has me wondering if any of you have come across one of those stories that you know your readers would never buy and yet there it is in black and white in the paper or on the news? If you have, what’s it been and have you used it for inspiration?



  1. I remember a story that ran on the front page of the local newspaper about a decade ago-ish. It was about a group of teenagers that got into a car accident (IIRC it was actually a van, but it’s been awhile.) Only one of them survived and was apparently misidentified when the police officer put the wrong license with the wrong person.

    There were two families involved here: The family who’s daughter HAD survived and the family who THOUGHT their daughter had survived. The survivor (and no, I don’t remember her name) spent a couple of weeks in a hospital room with the wrong family around her. She tried to tell them that she wasn’t who they thought she was and they wouldn’t listen to her. I mean, seriously. She WAS NOT who they thought she was, she TOLD them she wasn’t who they thought she was and they REFUSED TO BELIEVE HER. It took weeks before the truth came out and then she was reunited with a family who thought she was dead…

    Strange. I mean, really strange. It stayed on the front page for a week. If I hadn’t read this in a newspaper I’d been reading for a couple of decades by then I’d’ve lost it. Who in the blue hell would believe that? It sounds like a Weekly World News story. And yet…

    What that girl and those families went through must have been horrible. What if it was done deliberately? What if the car wrecked because of a UFO and the survivor was an alien substituted for one of the girls? What if the _aliens_ put the wrong licenses in place and then slammed the van into a pole to make it _look_ like an accident? I haven’t written this yet. I just came up with the hook while writing this response. But I just might. If I do, and it gets published, I’ll list you in my acknowledgments. That might work. And if I can’t get a traditional publisher to buy it, maybe the Weekly World News will.

  2. David Weber had an article about a historical person that if he put into a story as a character, readers would say that he was unbelievable. IE the person was a smart guy but too many of his decisions were stupid. [Smile]

  3. How about the church where one day, everyone stayed home from choir practice one evening, and that evening, it exploded?

    I’m not particularly an author, and the inspiration for a story there is clearly obvious, but let’s see if I can think of an interesting alternative:

    An alien of Very Small Stature, bent on conquering the Earth, comes down, using his improbability generator to cause all the members of the church to delay their trip to choir practice. He doesn’t pick a time when the church would be empty because the psychic impressions of the members would not be strong enough for the generator to follow back and make sure no one would come. Once he arrives in his tiny spaceship, and looking for a place to hide, he sees a mouse on his monitors, and fires his disintegrator beam, exploding the mouse and igniting the methane. The vibrations cause the improbability generator to overload, resulting in the ship and alien popping back into space in a meteoric path over Siberia in 1908. The reactor overloads and creates a huge antimatter explosion, to be speculated about for the next several centuries.

  4. The week of weird wildlife. It started with a hawk on a 5′ tall signpost that let me get within feet of it (like – three feet) and ignored me. I continued on my walk and came back to find that it had moved to a different sign post and still ignored humans. Two days later I found a large fish (as in, five pounds), probably a trout, laying on the sidewalk. Yes, it was real. No, I have no idea how it got there and I didn’t take it home for supper – it was 75 degrees out and the fish had started getting that not-so-fresh look, although it did not smell. And the next day I saw a robin (North American version) standing in the sidewalk by the library. It did not move at all, and I had to walk around the dang thing to get to the library. The eye followed me, but the bird remained frozen. When I finished getting my books it was gone. I’m sure there’s a story in there, but *shrug*.

  5. This was just a month or so ago, and happened in the town I grew up in, but made international news and I heard it on the radio in both Idaho and Montana. The local funeral home (actually they claim it was the hospital, but anyways somebody screwed up) got two bodies confused, they cremated the guy who was supposed to be buried, and the one that was supposed to be cremated was dressed in the other persons clothes and put in the other persons casket. The casket remained closed until after the funeral service, when they opened it for anyone who would wish to view the body. A kid was the first to notice and exclaimed, “that ain’t my dad, who is that guy wearing dad’s clothes?”

  6. This was on the news here in Japan recently (Nov. 11, I think). I may not get this completely right, but even the news people had trouble with this one. It definitely wouldn’t pass the test as a fiction plot.

    Apparently, a 43-year-old man and two younger men about 23 years old, were caught attempting a kidnapping and ransom. It’s the way they were caught that is just unbelievable.

    Apparently the three men met on a website of some kind talking about ways to make money. The two young men were friends from Okinawa, while the older man simply had been convinced for a long time that there should be a better way for him to make a living than his job.

    So this particular morning, on the website, they talked about making money. And they set up a meeting.

    In the afternoon, the older man rented a van. This is where things got weird, although they didn’t know it yet.

    The three men met at about 4 PM for the very first time. Apparently they agreed with each other that the best way to get rich quick was to kidnap a rich kid and demand ransom from their parents. Which kid? Apparently the three of them agreed that anybody from this particular neighborhood was rich, so they grabbed a middle school girl.

    They put tape over the seventh grader’s eyes, taped her hands and her legs together, and put her in the back of the van. Then, as they drove around Tokyo, they called her family. Apparently they demanded ¥20 million, which is about $200,000.

    At 7:05, the mother called the police and reported the whole thing. Apparently at almost the same time, an automated system for detecting stolen license plates found a match! The rental van had license plates from a car theft in March! So the police were alerted to look for this van.

    At 7:50, the police pulled the van over to check the plates. In the course of this routine stop, the police saw a young girl with her hands and feet taped together in the back of the van, and proceeded to arrest the gang of three.

    The police are the first to admit that this extraordinarily fast ending to the kidnapping is purely coincidental. I mean, imagine renting a van to use for your crime that just happens to have stolen license plates. Talk about bad luck! What would you call that, deus ex coincidence? When a fantastic coincidence makes the climax?

    1. Hi All,
      ‘nother Mike, I can explain the whole chain of events quite succinctly–the 7th-grade girl had a guardian angel who made sure that the would-be kidnappers had rotten luck!

  7. Donald Hamilton stated in the introduction to one of his stories that the author has a handicap. He or she always has to make their story believable. Real life don’t.

    1. I used to support these things (or at least, their littler cousins) for Staples Copy Centers, which did DIY Desktop Publishing services. They aren’t particularly fast, so volume production is a problem. I mean, basically it’s a high-capacity color laser printer with a multi-purpose binding station. I don’t know if the ones we supported would do standard shelf books, but they did other types of binding. But still, it’s printer speed, even if it’s a fast printer, not offset printing speed.

    2. Given that your $4K business laser printer could do this, plus a comb binder for maybe an additional hundred dollars… no, this is a very expensive solution. Besides, why have a machine when it is so cheap and easy to use a POD source like createspace?

      1. For some reason, I can’t think how to phrase this that doesn’t sound snarky right now, but I mean this as simple questions and points, so please take them that way:

        Can that laser printer produce “library-quality paperback books,” as the Espresso printer does? Plus, it is a “hands off” process, where the binder you’re talking about, unless I’m mistaken, requires hands-on work for every copy.

        As far as POD printing goes, there’s the twin benefits of immediate POD, rather than “order and ship”, and overall cost. If there were enough offerings, I can see printing 100,000 books per year, and in 3 years or less, your overall cost is less than a solution like CreateSpace.

        1. Can that machine handle that kind of load? No, the laser printer won’t do library quality paperbacks, but I am willing to bet most indie bookstores couldn’t possibly afford an $85K machine. My response was meant to be snarky, not serious.

          By the way, turn around on ordering through CS is all dependent on how much shipping you want to pay.

    3. Mark, it may be “pretty cheap” from a printer’s perspective but not from a bookstore’s perspective. That’s especially true when publisher’s aren’t releasing anything but deep backlist titles for POD print in-store.

  8. The quote my writing mentor told me many years ago was this — “Life just is. Art has to convince.”

    I’ve seen so many weird things happen in my lifetime that I don’t even know where to begin to start. I do know that one of the oddest I’ve seen in the past few weeks is the young girl (around fourteen) who was reported missing after her bike was found on the way to school (all this happening in Northern Wisconsin in one of the smaller communities) and ended up in Chicago. No one knows what she was doing there, the police won’t discuss it (except to say “it’s an ongoing investigation”), her family isn’t talking and the girl herself isn’t talking, either.

    The reason this is so odd is because this story was picked up by Nancy Grace. (If you saw the Twitter hashtag “Pray4Kat” or the like, that’s what it was about.) She viewed it as a child abduction, and it may well have been — but since no information has come out other than this girl actually walking up to police in Chicago and telling them, “Hey, I need help here,” it’s impossible to know that.

    If I wrote a story with that sort of noncommittal ending, I’d be excoriated by readers — and rightly. Yet nothing is discussed publicly right now (all due to the “pending investigation”), even though this young girl’s disappearance was trumpeted all over both the state and national news . . . just goes to show the truth of my advisor’s saying, doesn’t it?

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