From amplified e-books to coupons, sometimes it seems that there is no limit to the "extras" publishers will create to entice you to buy a book. I will admit that typically the extras don't do a whole lot for me (although I appreciate a good reading group guide in the back of a paperback).
Today, however, I read about some additional content that I am genuinely excited about. When David Foster Wallace's posthumous novel, The Pale King, is released in April of next year, the University of Texas's Harry Ransom Center's website will "showcase the draft manuscript, journal entries, and other aspects about the making of this posthumous novel" (from Little Brown's spring/summer catalog).
The New Yorker's book blog has already posted a couple manuscript pages from The Pale King, and it is fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look at Wallace's process. Although most of the materials associated with The Pale King won't be available at the Harry Ransom Center until April, the website is well worth a browse now. See the words Wallace circled in his dictionary, annotated personal novels and more.
Are you going to read The Pale King? Here's a description from Little Brown:
The agents at the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, IL, appear ordinary enough to newly arrived trainee David Foster Wallace. But as he immerses himself in a routine so tedious and repetitive that new employees receive boredom-survival training, he learns of the extraordinary variety of personalities drawn to this strange calling. And he has arrived at a moment when forces within the IRS are plotting to eliminate even what little humanity and dignity the work still has.
#Whyiread is trending right now on Twitter*, and I've enjoyed reading the varied responses (not surprisingly, many have to do with escape—from a bad day, where you live, ignorance).
A big reason I was excited to see this hashtag is that I've had a "why I read" quote dog-eared for months, just waiting for a rainy day when I think someone needs reminding about, well, why we all read.
From Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife, first published in 2008:
Oh, how different my life would have been had I not grown up in the same house with my grandmother, how much narrower and blander! She was the reason I was a reader, and being a reader was what made me most myself; it had given me the gifts of curiosity and and sympathy, an awareness of the world as an odd and vibrant and contradictory place, and it had made me unafraid of its oddness and vibrancy and contradictions.
Why do you read? Tell Twitter—then come back and tell us if you can't explain it in 140 characters or less.
*If you don't have a Twitter page, you can still read people's #whyiread answers here.
This is not an exaggeration: I'm pretty sure that every one of my girlfriends has at some point read Jezebel.com, the Gawker Media-owned blog with a tagline of "Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women." The website reports on everything from airbrushing to reality TV to election news to teen novels (the Jezebel column "Fine Lines" inspired Lizzie Skurnick's book Shelf Discovery). The tone of the site ranges from snarky to hilarious to crude (and sometimes trivial)—but never boring.
So, I couldn't help but smile when I saw that Anna Holmes, Jezebel's creator and founding editor, has signed a deal with Grand Central to write Jezebel.com: The Book of Jezebel. The listing in Publishers Marketplace explains that Holmes will lay out the "ethos of 'the Jezebel' from her take on sex, power and ambition to the people who inspire her from Harriet the Spy to Michelle Obama."
[The Book of Jezebel] will explore the mindset and ethos of the modern "Jezebel" using essays, illustrations and other contributions from a whole host of formidable women, some of whom work for this very site. It will also be a reader-friendly affair: We'll be workshopping the project with you throughout the writing and production process, and want to highlight the best and brightest Jezebel readers within the book. You can learn more by following the book's brand-new Twitter account and a dedicated website to be launched soon after the New Year.
Do you read Jezebel? Will you read The Book of Jezebel?
Since writing about my search for the perfect audiobook on Monday, I have discovered my new favorite toy at the Nashville Public Library: Playaway. I'd heard about the device, but I finally decided to give it a try.
Playaway is an audio player pre-loaded with an audiobook. You check out the entire player (mine even had a AAA battery included), plug in your earbuds and listen away. In other words, you don't have to check out the player and check out individual books—if you want five books, you check out five pre-loaded players.
It's convenient because you can move from the car (I listened with a tape adapter) to the gym to walking around town with ease. Whenever you press "Pause," the player remembers your spot and will start back up right where you left off. Plus, the thing can't weigh more than a few ounces—less than a book!—and fits easily in my purse. (I know this sounds like an infomercial, but folks, this thing is handy.)
According to the company's website, there are more than 10,000 book titles available in this format. So now I am obsessively checking to see which books on my TBR list are available on Playaway at my library branch . . .
My very unscientific research has caused me to wonder how many people know about this technology: Mockingjay in print has 60 holds at my library system (to be expected), and Mockingjay on CD has 13 holds. But Mockingjay on Playaway is available.
Do any readers of The Book Case check out Playaway audiobooks from the library?
Tomorrow morning we're sending out a Fantastic Fall Fiction-themed edition of BookPageXTRA. The e-newsletter is filled with book recommendations that are not in our print edition.
Remember that blog post from a couple weeks ago on Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter? Many of you expressed interest in this literary thriller set in Mississippi... and if you're signed up for XTRA, tomorrow just might be your lucky day!
We're giving away autographed copies of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter and The Best American Noir of the Century edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler, which includes stories by Harlan Ellison, Dennis Lehane, Elmore Leonard . . . and Tom Franklin, who signed the book. (In all there are 39 stories published between 1923 and 2007.)
You can't really tell from the photo, but besides being packed with dark tales, this is one beautiful-looking book. It's got a translucent dust jacket that just barely shows the vintage illustration underneath. (In fact, I'm tempted to rig the contest so I win it myself. Just kidding!)
Today we have a guest post from Freddie O'Connell, web guru extraordinaire who is hard at work on a bigger, better BookPage.com version 2.0, coming to your browser in 2011. We asked Freddie to share a little bit about his experience working on literary sites with our readers.
I am an unabashed lover of books. My shelves at home are literally overflowing. I have, on occasion, sought professional safe haven among books, working for a time at Davis-Kidd when on temporary furlough in the aftermath of the dotcom collapse. Shortly thereafter, I went to work for NetCentral, the e-commerce subsidiary of Books-A-Million. And now, I'm excited that we're working closely with BookPage on a variety of projects. Just as exciting has been our completely unrelated relationship with some exciting debut authors.
So, as an agency, we've been immersed in thinking about how readers discover books online but also how writers think about communicating about their writing to audiences online. And as an agency that focuses on our customers getting found, we must think about the way the ecosystem of sites around authors and books and book recommendation services like BookPage are engaging with their content.
In our extended collaboration with Adam Ross, author of the remarkable Mr. Peanut, we encouraged him to think about his website as a place to include a book equivalent of DVD extras, which he did naturally. So the site includes a beautiful elaboration of the Sam Sheppard case for curious readers, as well as a gallery of unused and international covers of the book. And he also took naturally to blogging and Twitter.
After launching Adam's site, we watched in awe the rise of a writer who had written the book that everyone wanted to write about. Not all critics unconditionally loved Mr. Peanut, but they unconditionally wanted to express their thoughts. So we had a few Google Alerts configured to help us track the buzz about the book on the Web, and we quickly realized how haphazard the modern editorial process is for content sites the world over, some of whom link to Amazon as affiliates, some of whom link to the publisher page for the book, a few of whom were enterprising enough to link to Adam's site directly, and some of whom link to nothing at all. As an agency that wants our customers to be easily discovered (whether by link or by search engine, many of the latter of which rely on the former), we think about these issues all the time. In this case, we've achieved good success, ensuring that Adam's site is reliably on the first page of Google search results for people searching for [adam ross].
We were thrilled when, not long after the release of Mr. Peanut and the launch of Adam's website, we were approached by Natasha Vargas-Cooper who loved Adam's site (and his book) and wanted us to create a site for her book Mad Men Unbuttoned, which is a series of essays drawn from moments in the show that elaborate on the cultural indicators to which they're clearly or likely attached in some way. Natasha reaffirmed that what was true for a fiction writer like Adam is true for nonfiction writers as well: good writers are a pleasure to work with because they're constantly thinking about the process of communicating. It didn't hurt that Helen Stevens, our Chief Semantic Stylist who gives visual life to our ideas, was already enamored of the show. She quickly captured a style that suited Natasha and her book delightfully.
One of our ongoing challenges with Natasha, though, is that she already had a blog, The Footnotes of Mad Men, that inspired the book. So when people are linking to referential material, should they link to the blog or the book site? This gets at one of the overall challenges of link building for multiple points of relevant content. Rich content sites, including news and reviews sites, aren't often structured to facilitate easily managed and usable related content. We'll be covering the topic of how there is no standard or protocol for linking readers to related information on our own blog soon.
And now we're deeply immersed in making the BookPage experience a more rewarding experience for those who love to read. We need to ensure that our friends at BookPage can deliver a fresh and meaningful experience to those arriving at the front page while still ensuring that longtime readers can discover gems from among the deep and extensive archives of reviews and recommendations compiled over more than a decade of being online. Beyond that, we need to include ways for you to interact with this rich repository of material.
So we have a ceaseless and ceaselessly interesting flow of ideas coming from the writers we work with, those who recommend the best elements of their writing, and those who love to read the written word. This is made perpetually challenging, too, by the march of technology, which gave us first the Kindle and then the iPad, possibly upending Steve Jobs's observation that "people don't read anymore." We expect that the concept of the book will evolve, and we'll need to evolve our strategies for usable, discoverable access to books along with it.
We want you to discover the book recommendation service that will help you discover your next great book, no matter how you'll be reading it. So by all means, keep reading!
Many of you are already subscribers to BookPageXTRA, the most popular of our three e-newsletters—today, we're inviting you to be contributors as well. For those not in the know, XTRA comes out twice a month and includes previews of the print edition of BookPage, exclusive reviews and interviews, editors' picks and lots and lots of book recommendations. We also give away books in each issue. Here's a sample of the most recent edition.
Next week's XTRA is all about social media—and how BookPage communicates with booklovers and spreads the word about new books through this blog, Facebook, Twitter and more. Of course, we have our own ideas about how all this works, but we'd love to share yours as well. To contribute, just answer any or all of the questions below in the comments.
Why do you like reading book blogs?
What books or authors have you discovered from book blogs, Facebook fan pages, etc.?
Have you connected with other readers thanks to book blogs? Why are these relationships important to you?
We will choose several comments for inclusion in the newsletter (and we'll only include your first name).
Can't wait to read your comments!
Sometimes it seems like every time I turn around I hear about interactive books, like The Amanda Project, which got a lot of press in the fall.
Now Penguin has launched a new interactive project that fantasy lovers will enjoy:
In the six weeks leading up to the publication of Nightshade (Oct. 19, Philomel), a teen novel by debut author Andrea Cremer, readers can watch one of the main characters come to life in 12 webisodes. The character's name is Shay Doran, and he has jumped off the page to communicate with fans via Facebook posts, blog entries, personalized phone texts and webisodes. The first webisode is now live:
By interacting with Shay, fans have a chance at being written into an official prequel to Nightshade, which will be available for free download the week before the novel is published. Pretty cool, huh?
This may sound like a lot of effort on behalf of a debut author, but online buzz shows that readers are excited about Nightshade; just read its page on Goodreads.
Nightshade is the first in a planned series about a young teenage werewolf girl. Will you check it out? Or interact with Shay?
An article in today's Wall Street Journal has been making the rounds on Twitter and in blogs—the piece is about the habits of e-reader owners, and as Penguin imprint Dutton tweeted this morning, the conclusions are "maybe not what you'd think."
The major conclusion? Studies show that e-reader users read more often than they did before they owned the device, but they read slower. (This does not surprise me. I read the first 100 pages of Mockingjay on a Kindle and the second 100 in a hardback; I made the switch because the lag time between pages was starting to get on my nerves.)
Marketing and Research Resources reports that e-reader owners read 2.6 books per month, whereas old-fashioned (i.e. print) readers read 1.9 books per month. (A comparison: according to our 2010 Reader Survey, 65% of BookPage readers read at least 4 books per month. 20% of you read at least 8!)
An e-reader study found that 40% of e-reader users read more than they did with print books. 55% of the group said they'd use the device to read even more books in the future.
E-reader users: How have your reading habits changed since you got your Kindle, iPad, Nook, Sony Reader, etc.?
For more on this subject, read Lynn's iPad vs. Kindle blog post.
The first music video that appeared on the brand new cable channel MTV in 1981 was "Video Killed the Radio Star," the story of a singer whose career tanked with the arrival of television. "Pictures came and broke your heart," sang the Buggles, "Oh-a-a-a oh."
Some contemporary authors might be feeling the pain now that videos are being incorporated into books, or least into ebooks. Where will this new technology leave the reclusive author? The camera-shy? The non-photogenic? Authors are, after all, people who write, and some of them are presumably introspective types who won't shine on camera. Though this visual trend in publishing has been in the works for a while -- book tours and book trailers give the edge to attractive authors with a flair for public speaking -- things have reached a whole new level now that author videos are beginning to appear inside books.
Case in point: Crown's announcement yesterday of an "enhanced" ebook edition of Chris Bohjalian's novel Secrets of Eden. I decided to check it out by downloading the enhanced version on my iPad. The video "enhancement," it turns out, is a nicely done nine-minute film of Bohjalian discussing the book, offering readers a brief look at the Vermont house where he lives and works, and a view of a pond that inspired a setting in the novel. Bohjalian is an articulate and appealing narrator and his comments provide an interesting perspective on the novel (particularly for book clubs).
Watching Bohjalian on camera, I tried to picture an author like William Faulkner making a video for an enhanced ebook. Or Harper Lee. Or J. D. Salinger. But time spent on such old-fashioned fretting is time wasted, because this train has left the station. Ebooks and all the bells and whistles that come with them are sweeping into the market at warp speed.
Bohjalian's video is enjoyable but modest in scale. Can you IMAGINE what kind of audio and video enhancements publishers will begin to produce for mega-commercial novels, the Da Vinci Code-type releases? Will we have soundtracks? Mini-movies? With noted actors? And famous directors? The mind bogles.
Now to the question and answer part of our report:
Where can I can view ebooks with video enhancements?
Only on an iPad, iPod Touch and some smartphones.
But what about my spiffy new Kindle?
Sorry, no video capability.
Ok, I'll use an iPad. Can I purchase the ebook version of Secrets of Eden through Apple's iBooks store?
Certainly not. That would be too easy. The Random House Publishing Group has not reached a pricing agreement with Apple and will not sell any of its books through the Apple store.
So what do I now?
Download the Kindle app for your iPad and purchase the ebook from Amazon. It will automatically download onto your iPad, where you can view the video AND read the book. (You are still interested in reading, aren't you?)
But wait, Amazon's Kindle bookstore shows only a regular, unenhanced ebook version of Secrets of Eden. Why is that?
You forgot to use the secret passageway! To purchase an "enhanced" ebook edition, you must bypass the main page of the Kindle store and search for a hard-to-spot link for "Kindle Editions with Audio/Video." There you'll find a list of all ebooks with enhanced features. There are currently 116 books listed, but you can expect that number to increase exponentially in short order.