Books in recession

Reading this article in the NYT about the woes of the book publishing industry not being able to make as much money off of their product due to the rise of online used booksellers seems very similar to what happened in the music industry when Napster arrived and people started sharing music instead of buying it.  Of course, people still have to buy the used books from online booksellers, but they’re able to do it often for almost nothing, a cent plus shipping and handling.  Far cheaper than the bookstore, or buying new from an online bookstore.

It’s a situation that doesn’t seem like it’s going to change anytime soon.  As mentioned, the music industry still hasn’t fully figured out how to make money on product that people can easily move around for free online.  A similar thing has been occurring with DVD burning, of course.  I don’t see this as a problem so much as a change, one that indicates the idea of property is changing, too.  People want their music, movies, and books, but they don’t want to pay a lot of money for them.  

I wonder sometimes if these products are priced too high by their producers.  I’m a writer and not a business person, and I understand that the point of a business is to make profits, but if your product is overpriced (a thirty dollar hardback, for example) how do you expect to sell it in great quantities?  And let’s be honest.  Making books isn’t as expensive as it once was, either. Wouldn’t it make sense to lower prices in order to sell more, and by doing so probably make an even greater profit than raising the prices on the product to be purchased by a lot fewer people?  

While Black Wednesday has hit the publishing industry recently (you have been following that event, right?), and many people have lost their jobs because of it, from news and professional blog sources it seems that one sector of the publishing industry that remains safe and still profitable are YA novels.  They’re extremely popular, and that popularity is not waning in the face of recession.  I think this may be because books are seen as a “good thing” and parents can feel good about buying books for their children even if they themselves have stopped buying books for themselves.  But also there are a great number of adult readers reading almost nothing but YA novels.  I find it odd that so many adults are reading about almost nothing but teenagers, and am not sure of what it is an indication.  I read YA stories and novels myself (and often write about young adult characters) so my uncertainty about what it indicates when adults read YA books is not one that comes from some sort of snobbery toward the genre itself so much as it stems from encountering so many adults who read nothing but YA novels.  I don’t buy the theory that YA is where it’s at for no particular reason.  It just doesn’t seem rational that adults would stop reading adult novels altogether, especially when a lot of teens read “up” about older adults and levels of maturation.  It’s a way that we tend to figure out what’s going to come next for us, what to anticipate.

I think a few factors exist in the shakiness of the adult publishing world at the moment.  One of them is expense.  For example, recently I was in the YA section of a bookstore looking for books to buy for my nephews and nieces for Christmas (Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier, Valiant by Holly Black, and Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link, if you’re interested).  What I noticed (probably for the second or third time in the past year or two) is how cheap YA books are.  You can purchase a hardback YA novel for 15 or 16 dollars.  You’d pay the same amount for many adult trade paperbacks, and twice as much or more for an adult hardback.  You can purchase a trade paperback YA novel for anywhere from 5 to 10 dollars.  Because of this, I felt less restrained about buying more books, and ended up getting several more YA books for myself that day, and got a little annoyed that I couldn’t feel so unrestrained in regards to how I felt I could go about purchasing all of the adult books I want to buy.  

I’ve heard some people say that YA books are shorter than adult books, so they can be priced more cheaply.  But I see a great amount of YA books that have as many pages (and often even more pages these days) as adult books.  If they can be produced at lower cost than adult books, I’m not sure why, and as I said, I’m a writer not a business person, so if someone can explain this to me, I’ll be grateful.  Until then, I’ll continue to ponder over the large differences in pricing between adult and YA novels, and continue to buy unrestrainedly in the YA section of the bookstore while pinching pennies in the adult section.

On a potentially good end note, it seems there is a potential trend toward cheaply priced trade and quality paperbacks in motion, though perhaps not many of the larger publishing houses have caught on to it yet.  The books featured are a new line of paperbacks (Olive Editions) somewhere in between trade and mass market–trade quality cover leaning toward mass market size.  They look good, too.  I received the Olive Edition of Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh for Christmas.  I’d already read the book, but had exclaimed over the size, affordability, and style of its production when I saw it in a bookstore several weeks ago, and in response received it as a gift.

On Reading

I spent today on a date with my laptop that lasted hours and hours, ranging from the home writing room, living room, bedroom, to the coffee shop and a restaurant downtown, then back again.  Reading stories for Interfictions 2.0 is what I’ve been doing, really.  It’s a really pleasurable yet difficult task.  There are all these stories, so many of them, and so many good ones, great ones, brilliant ones, and so many charming ones, which isn’t always a descriptor for the good, great, brilliant ones–charming is a quality that stands alone.  It indicates magic above and beyond technical ability and sturdy wordcraft, a vision or spell that wipes out the world around you for the length of its enchantment, from sentence one to the last word…and then beyond that, even, into the white space outside the page that we return to after reading, the world sketching itself back in around us, determined to be the predominant dream in our lives, the master narrative, us its bedazzled slaves.  

This is what the sort of story I’m always looking for does–don’t think of it as an editor but as a reader, anytime, anywhere–the story or poem or play or film or song that creates its own reality for a period of time, establishes its own rules and regulations, yet somehow tells me things about the world it’s taken me away from for a while, then returns me to it, either roughed up a bit or gently.

The more you consistently read in such great quantities, though, the harder it is to be caught in a story’s spell.  You learn the tricks and see the hands moving…this is also one of the signs of a story that gets its spell off and holds its reader:  you never see what’s coming, the trick retains its secrecy and mystery, it remains magical despite your best explanations.

Another review

Missed this one while I was traveling last week.  Another review of The Love We Share Without Knowing, this time from Paul DiFilippo over at SciFiWeekly:

Fox maidens, mystical blindness and a host of other Asian supernatural oddities as seen through Western eyes.  This sophomore offering from the author of the well-received One for Sorrow (2007) is a mosaic narrative depicting life from a variety of angles in contemporary Japan—a place with more than its share of subtly bizarre and uncanny happenings and characters.

DiFilippo looks at the book in comparison to Murakami (whose work the book is compared to on the book dust jacket).

The thing I find most interesting about reviews is discovering what things different people see when they read the same object, the overlaps and the departures in interpretation, and the focal points for different eyes.  It’s all made me look at reviews a lot more carefully and with more interest than I perhaps had prior to being a reviewed author.  There’s an art to writing a good review, I’ve come to discover.  I think one of the best sorts of reviews are those that somehow present the feeling of the book to a reader without telling the whole story, and that provides a window of some kind of context for how to view the book (or film, album, etc).

You can read the whole thing, by clicking here.

Pics from KGB

Okay, so here’s a little break into the interlude I’d claimed would be the standard over the holidays.  Ellen Datlow put up photos from the evening I read with Alaya Dawn Johnson at the KGB bar last week.  It was a packed house, a fun night, a great audience.  Here are several of my favorite pics from the night, but you can see all of them by clicking here.

Me and Meghan McCarron, all smiles










Me and my editor, Juliet Ulman, listening intently










Me and Juliet, in living color










Me and my valiant agent, Chris Schelling


Home again


Farewell, NYC, for now!  The reading at KGB was lovely, the interview on Hour of the Wolf, always a pleasure, the karaoke a blast, the food always wonderful, the Daniel Radcliffe in Equus, interesting and riveting in an old-fashioned psychodrama sort of way (great set, for sure, and great horses).

And Happy Holidays to those of you reading this.  I’ll be away, most likely, till after the holidays are over.  Plans?  Why, yes.  I’ll not only be Christmas shopping, cleaning house, washing Mt Fuji-sized loads of laundry, preparing for classes next semester, enjoying holiday festivities with family and friends, but also reading the submissions for Interfictions 2.0 (as I’ve come to think of it).  We have an enormous amount of submissions, and from what I’ve already read, going through them all is going to be a pleasurable experience. 

Again, Happy Holidays.


I was supposed to fly out of Newark, New Jersey this morning.  If you haven’t been paying attention to weather reports, the northeast is having a blizzardy time of it.  I got to the airport via train from Penn Station in NYC and made it all the way up to the check-in counter, plugging in my name on the self-serve computer, before suddenly a light blinked on and stated the flight had just been canceled.  I kind of figured this would happen.  As I was trying to get to my counter, I had kept looking up at the departure boards and every few second other flights were being canceled.  

So I trained back to NYC, and called Amtrak on the way.  They had a train leaving for Cleveland at 4 Pm, they said.  Did I want a reservation?  They had eight seats left.  I said I’d call back, because I needed to call home and see if I had anyone back home in the Ytown area who could have picked me up in Cleveland at 3:30 in the morning.  Calls were made, yes, my mom said, she and my dad could come get me.  By then I’d arrived at Penn Station and hoofed it to the Amtrak counter, where the line was long and sad.  By the time I made it to the window, all eight of those seats to Cleveland had been sold.

Defeated, I took the subway back to Rick Bowes’ apartment.  He’d given me a key in case this happened, as he was going out to see a play with friends.  Thank goodness for foresight.  I hauled me and my way too heavy bags up to his apartment once I got off the subway and put myself to bed, as by then I was feeling way worn out by the backing and forthing of the previous six hours.  When Rick got home, we went to eat Japanese food at a nearby place, my favorite comfort food.  I had a Volcano roll and tonkatsu and miso soup and ginger ale.  On the way home, I stepped in what looked like slush but was really a gigantic puddle that swallowed me up to my ankle.  

Looking at the possible ways to get out of NY tomorrow, it seems my flight at 9:15 out of LaGuardia is still scheduled to go, but who knows?  It could be canceled at the last minute, too.  If that happens, I’ve already discovered that Amtrak is not my savior:  trains to Pittsburgh and Cleveland tomorrow are all sold out already.  My last bet is a Greyhound bus leaving at 11:15 PM tomorrow night that would take me into Youngstown at 9:40 in the morning on Sunday.  Please, please, LaGuardia, fly me home in the morning.

Now I am off to sleep a little longer before I begin my next trek into the sleet and snow in just several hours.  It would be nice to get home in time not just for Christmas, but to actually finish my Christmas shopping.  Yes, I’m one of those people, not normally, but I am this year.


New York City is often referred to as the city that never sleeps.

This is a radical misnomer. A more apt name for New York City, at least where I’m staying, on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal, a hot spot for young twenty-somethings out for a weekend of carousing, is the city that never lets you sleep.

Please, drunk girls, stop squealing and stop starting fights with your drunk boyfriends. Please, drunk guys, stop incessantly honking your horns as you pull the car around to pick your crew up. And when your drunk girlfriends pick fights with you, just walk away, really, until everyone is in their right mind again. It will make Everyone much, much happier. And will conserve energy expended on unnecessary drama.

Sleep. I will reach you…at some point.

NY Report

Am having a wonderful time in NYC. Just got back from an early morning radio show at WBAI and am going to crash for part of the morning. Later tonight, I’m going to see Daniel Radcliffe in Equus. Yes, that’s right, Harry Potter himself. The play is from the 70s, and I’ve never seen nor read it, but I hope it holds up or at least delivers something interesting if no longer the same thing it did when it first appeared.

Spent yesterday shopping in Union Square, signing copies of my book at St. Mark’s Bookshop, and eating wonderful Japanese at Kenka, also in St. Mark’s Place. I love Kenka because it’s a pretty traditional Japanese izakaya–the sort of place where a group of friends go in Japan to eat small dishes of many beautiful items and to drink lots of beer, or, in my case, chu-hai. It’s been a long time since I had a chu-hai, but they taste exactly how I remember them. Next Thursday, I’ll be going to a different izakaya with my editor, Juliet, and am looking forward to imbibing some lovely sake.

Also saw the movie “Milk” yesterday.  Sean Penn was amazing, as well James Franco.  It’s the sort of film that should be playing all over in America, in small town theaters as well as large.  It’s possibly Gus Van Sant’s best movie, though I’m sure others will disagree.  It’s a successful movie about civil and human rights, though, and coming on the heels of Prop 8 in California, it’s very timely, though it’s unfortunate that this issue really is still an issue these many years after the fight Harvey Milk waged for gay rights.

More later. For now, sleep.