26 August 2012

How do you decide what to read?

This has not been my best year on finding amazing books to read. To be sure I've read some good ones this year, but feel like I've been disappointed more than normal.

As I've ventured out into the world of independent publishing, I've of course explored many marketing sites. This has led to me downloading a lot of book that are on sale or being publicized for a free day.

I can honestly say I've been disappointed this year by as many "big six publisher" books as I have by independents. So this is not a trash the independent book blog. I think I've come to the realization that the way we find books is changing just like the industry is changing.

I used to go into book stores or the library, go to my favorite area of mysteries, and browse. I stopped to pull books off the shelf by interesting titles or authors I'd knew. Once the book was off the shelf, I read the cover copy or "book blurb" and looked at the cover. If I was intrigued but not sold, I'd start reading the first page. If I was at the library, I'd of course take something I was less certain of than I might at the store. I also found books by word of mouth from my friends and family. My grandmother, aunt, and mother have all had a pass around the books thing going since I was a teenager.

In the last two years, I have started buying digitally. That has meant less sharing though that is beginning to be remedied too. I also have, excuse the cliche, started to judge a book by it's cover.

Since I used to work in design, I can often sense a self made cover. I don't mean to be a cover snob, but there's a je ne sais quoi about a well done cover that's hard to put your finger on but it's real and it's there. (I can use that phrase because I did study and tried to speak French for four years.) That's not necessarily a fair way to judge the book content. Could be very well written with no money for a cover.

I live in a foreign country and so my word of mouth way of finding a book doesn't work like it used to. I've joined a few reader's pages on Facebook and found some nice recommendations from that but so far they've been pricier options so I'm waiting for something more in my range or a sale.

I'm on Good Reads and have used some of their reviews to make decisions about buying a book. If someone says they needed hankies, well that book is out. I don't need tears while I'm relaxing. If it says literary masterpiece, I'm probably out too. I like light or action to keep my mind off the realities of life while I read and literary is usually code for trying to turn tragic bits of life into thoughtful novels. Call me shallow but that's not my reading taste - at least at the moment. So sometimes a review says something wonderful, but I know by the description it's not for me.

Now, I'm looking for a book set in Switzerland. I love to read something from the region while I travel and since I'm headed there in a couple weeks I'm shopping. Price I'm discovering is key for me. Nothing I've seen recommended is under $8 and one I liked the sound of was $12. A price point for me is the paperback novel price. I never buy hardbacks unless they're gifts for others, so when a digital book is more than a paperback I start flinching.

So any recommendations anyone? Switzerland settings or otherwise? How do you find books?

13 August 2012

How will I know?

Sorry for all of you who automatically get a Whitney Houston song in your head with that title, me included. I tweeted an article about letting your writing ripen and since I just finished the rough draft of my Work In Progress about a month ago this is on my mind a lot.

I eschew an unripe book. I've been delving into the world of cheap ebooks this year and while there have been some gems I've had several that I was underwhelmed with and with all of my soul I do not want to release a half baked book.

In thinking about the idea of finishing in general though, many fields have a hard time knowing when something is "done." A lot of things have a certain art or a level of taste that makes it hard to know what done will look like. Something the creator hopes they will feel. If it was a cake a timer would go off to tell you it's ready for the world at large.

Another example: corporate reports -- not necessarily the height of creativity but then they are likely finished by deadline not by a boss who has finessed it to his or her heart's content. Seems like the deadline comes and you give it in as good as you can get it. Working in newspaper was a lot like that. My articles were not fine art, but they were as good as I could get in the time allowed.

What else is hard to know when it's done? Wine? I'm not a connoisseur, but I know if it goes the wrong way you get something more akin to vinegar. Timing is appropriate. Obviously paintings -- it's in the eye of the creator, right? Who has ever been to a modern art gallery and thought: wonder if that was all they meant to put up there? Home decor - a favorite of mine, but have you ever been in someone's house who seemed to go a little too far with say baby photos or ducks or (fill in the blank)? For them it seemed just right. For the visitor, a bit much.

An infamous George Lucas quote goes: A movie is never finished only abandoned. It's hard for a producer, a director, or an editor to find something done and beyond one more tweak. Never mind getting all three to agree it's 100 percent perfect. At some point you gotta stick a fork in it and call it done.

So how will I know my book Nosy Neighbors is ready for the world? I did a lot of prep work that was new for me, plotting my book before I wrote it as well as modifying this structure while I wrote during the last year. I will follow all the good advice I know and have test readers, editors etc and hope someone stops me if I'm not there yet. But I will stick a fork in it and let it come to the world.

I am related to computer programmers. I know they hate, hate having to fix or find code problems, but what I do envy them is that they know when they run the test - either the program works or it doesn't -- but then there's the "bugs." Maybe no one is safe.

07 August 2012

The Country Game - where are they from?

So when I'm in a tourist destination city or even somewhere rather common but I hear accents, I play a game. It's the guess-where-people-are-from game. I look at their clothing and shoes. I look at the way they are communicating with the people around them and the game is afoot.

When we were in San Sebastian, the northern beach town in Spain, we ran into so many U.S. Americans it was uncanny. I rarely hear that many in Madrid and I never did figure out what could be such a draw to a city that isn't famous. The famous Pamplona running of the bulls was going on, so possibly that brought more people to a nearby place too. It seemed a more, uh, middle aged crowd which I don't think of as the bull run people, but maybe it's on a lot of people's bucket list.

In Madrid last week, the tourist crowds were in evidence in a big way. It's August after all and that seems to be a big time they come in waves, while all the Spanish leave the city. I love when I have someone pegged and then I sidle up close to them to hear what language they are speaking. I saw a man that made me think South America or Central America but then I noticed the clothes -- sure enough good ole USA accent. Or sometimes I totally have a person pegged as and fellow Estado Unidense and turns out they are German or Dutch.

I'm not judging people. It's just fun to try to spot the country from external clues and what I've found is there is little rhyme or reason. It seems like I spot the U.S. A. residents easier likely because they are my fellow Americans. I can't put my finger on it. Sometimes it's a little too sporty, or sometimes just too well put together, or shoes. Chunky birkenstock type sandals are a sure sign of what the Spanish call guiris (foreign white folks). Those from the US often talk loud so obviously I spot the accent, but Spanish people speak loud too. Weight isn't always a good indicator of the "fat American." I've run into some larger Spanish folks lately and some of our Eastern European neighbors can get to a substantial size. Taller people I tend to guess as being from the Netherlands (the tallest in Europe) or possibly German or American. It's an interesting accumulation of clues that make me guess and I'd say half the time I'm wrong! Am I the only one who does this?