Monday musings: The bookstore as tourist attraction

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By Scott Bury

In days of yore, I used to love hanging around in bookstores. Whether they sold new or used books, I could while away hours ambling down the aisles, perusing the obscure titles, poring over the pages, admiring cover typography and wondering about the authors. Sadly, it’s a pastime I haven’t enjoyed for a very long time.

Until last September, when I visited Portugal with my lovely wife. From the time we started planning the trip, one of the must-see spots was the Lello & Irmão bookstore in Porto. This is the bookstore that’s famous as the place that inspired J.K. Rowling’s setting of Hogwarts for her Harry Potter series.

The evocative double curving staircase is not the only reason it’s an inspiring bookstore. The inlay ceiling, the baroque woodwork, the antique lanterns—and the incredible range of books! There are books in many languages, bestselling books, books of great age and prestige, beautiful editions and even comic books.

But what is the most immediately striking thing about this bookstore is the crowd inside. Because of the Harry Potter-inspired fame, hordes of tourists cram into it daily. Lello & Irmão bookstore actually charge admission and limits the number of people they let inside at once. If you buy a book, they’ll refund the price of admittance.

Lello & Irmão was not the only bookstore I visited on that trip. Roxanne and I also popped into Livraria Bertrand in the Chiado section of Lisbon, known as the world’s oldest still-operating bookstore. It was first opened in 1732 by Pedro Faure, who took on the Bertrand brothers as partners some time later. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 destroyed the bookstore and the Betrands moved to a different part of the city. In 1773, the Bertrands returned to the rebuilt Chiado section of Lisbon, its current location on Rua Garret.

Bertrand today is a chain of 53 bookstores across Portugal, and is owned by the Porto Editora publishing company. a

Livraria Bertrand in Lisbon, the oldest still-operating bookstore in the world. Photo: Wikipedia

I rediscovered the joy of spending time in a bookstore in Portugal. And on coming back to North America, I understood one reason that I don’t enjoy that activity as much at home anymore. It’s because bookstores here aren’t much in the way of bookstores anymore.

Every time I enter one in Canada or the U.S., there seems to be more space turned over to knick-knacks, coffee and food at the expense of books.

I have no problem with coffee in a bookstore. Books and coffee are a natural combination. But seeing more space for things that are far less important than books taking away space for them—that’s disheartening.

What about you? What are your favorite book places in the world?

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Monday musings: Amazon cancels the Kindle World program

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Kindle Worlds cancelled Many readers have heard that Amazon has canceled the Kindle Worlds program. Since May, Amazon has not been accepting new Kindle World titles, and all the books in all Kindle Worlds will no longer be available for sale after July 15. And then, all rights revert back to the authors of the books—except for some.

Wait—what’s a Kindle World again?

Kindle Worlds are—or were—managed, policed fan fiction. Amazon selected successful series where readers wanted more titles than the author could write in a timely way. The program allowed other authors to write short works based on the situations, settings and characters of those bestselling series. For instance, I wrote four books based on the characters and setting of Toby Neal’s Lei Crime series.

This program benefitted everyone involved. Readers got more stories in the series they loved. The original authors of those series got more connections to their audiences, and a shared of the sales of the new books. And the authors who wrote in other writers’ series got exposure to new audiences, as well as established audiences for the books they wrote in the Kindle Worlds.

It was a win-win-win-win situation. The fourth win is for Amazon, which got 15% of every sale.

Goodbye, new audiences

Half Moon Girls: A Lei Crime Kindle World novellaThis affects a number of BestSelling Reads authors. Both Toby Neal and former member Emily Kimelman have prominent Kindle Worlds based on their bestselling series, Lei Crime and Sydney Rye respectively. And several members have published Kindle Worlds titles:

  • Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman themselves both published books in each other’s Kindle World. Toby published Rough Road, bringing her Lei Texeira into Emily’s Sydney Rye world, and Emily published Warrior Dog about Toby’s Keiki the Rottweiler. Toby also wrote a book in Russell Blake’s JET Kindle World.
  • DelSheree Gladden wrote The Catalyst, bringing her Eliza Carlisle from The Instigator into the Sydney Rye Kindle World
  • J.L. Oakley has published four books in the Lei Crime Kindle World: Saddle Road, Coconut Island, Volcano House and Hilina Pali.
  • Corinne O’Flynn wrote a trilogy in the Lei Crime Kindle World: Half Moon Girls, Tell the Truth and Pay the Price.
  • Caleb Pirtle III puVolcano House: A Lei Crime Kindle World novellablished Lovely Night to Die in the Special Forces: Operation Alpha Kindle World.
  • Scott Bury published in three Kindle World he was invited to: Jet: Stealth in Russell Blake’s JET Kindle World; The Wife Line and The Three-Way in the Sydney Rye Kindle World; and four books in the Lei Crime Kindle World: Torn Roots, Palm Trees & Snowflakes, Dead Man Lying and Echoes.

But wait! There’s more!

With the cancellation of the Kindle Worlds program, the rights for all the content of the books revert back to the authors of the individual titles. But there’s a complication. The works in the Kindle Worlds were based on the books published by bestselling authors. Which means the rights to their characters, situations, stories, and other elements revert to them.Lovely Night to Die: : A Special Forces: Operation Alpha Kindle World novella

This causes some issues between the original authors and those who wrote Kindle World novellas. While the authors of the individual Kindle World books now have the rights to what they created, the original authors of the series at the core of the Kindle Worlds retain the rights to their characters and other elements.

Which raises a conflict: where exactly is the line between the respective authors’ rights in a (former) Kindle Word novella?

Why they dunnit

The concept of Kindle Worlds appeared to be a sure thing. Take existing, successful series and release new books for proven audiences. Minimal risk, more sales.

So apparently the sales were not good enough to sustain the program. The complications around copyright were probably also discouraging. Maybe that’s why Amazon never let Kindle World books be purchased beyond its U.S.-based .com site. And never allowed any formats other than .mobi-format for Kindles.

Dead Man Lying: A Lei Crime Kindle World novellaThat’s right: no paperbacks, no audiobooks. Readers in Canada, the U.K. or anywhere outside the U.S.—or, more precisely, anyone who had an Amazon account that did not end in .com—could not buy any of my Kindle World books.

The literary world evolves

With the cancellation of the Kindle Worlds, some authors actually have new opportunities. Those who republish their books, meeting the requirements of copyright, can bring these words to global audiences in any format they wish. For many, it’s an opportunity to open up new worlds to new audiences.

What it means overall is that the world of the written word continues to evolve. And for readers, that’s all good.

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Six ways to choose your next read: Monday musings

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By Raine Thomas

Woman hoping her next read is worth the effort

Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

I’ve seen a common complaint on social media lately, one I’ve experienced myself as an avid reader. The complaint is about finding a book to next read. It’s getting more and more difficult to find affordable, well-written e-books. I know you’ve been there: you download a book that has a great cover and blurb and hundreds of reviews, you dig into it, and you promptly realize it’s got a flimsy plot and tons of proofreading errors.

Frustrating, right?

With the market getting more saturated by uploaded e-books every day and some unscrupulous authors buying or farming reviews, how can we as readers choose books that we’re most likely to enjoy? Here are a six tips to choose your next read:

Ask your friends to help you choose your next read

There’s usually at least one person in your life with a reading passion similar to yours. Exchange feedback with him or her about books you’ve each read and take their advice on the best ones to add to your Must-Read list.

Join groups on social media

You’ve likely found that people tend to be quite opinionated and frank on social media, which makes it a potentially solid place to get honest feedback about books. Find groups with similar interests to yours and see which books get the best buzz. Don’t be shy about asking whether people in the group have read a book you’re considering downloading. Most people would be happy to answer!

Read the free excerpt

Most e-book retailers offer the option to take a peek inside the book before you buy it. Take a few minutes to read the free excerpt to get a gauge of the author’s writing style as well as how well edited it is.

Revisit authors you’ve enjoyed in the past

Most authors produce at least a book or two a year. Go back through your reading history and find authors whose books you enjoyed. Find them on book retailers or social media to see if they’ve released anything new. Better yet, sign up for their fan page and/or newsletter to make them tell you about your next read.

Follow reputable book bloggers

Book bloggers are wonderful sources of information about books. Seek out bloggers with an established reputation who point out elements in their reviews about things like storyline and grammar issues to help guide you on your purchasing decisions.

Check out the reviews

Before purchasing a book, read the reviews … both positive and negative. Be sure to read the reviews objectively to avoid being swayed by “trolls” who try and reduce an author’s sales by leaving unjustified negative remarks. You want to look for consistency in the content of multiple reviews to best judge the book’s content.

Do you have a method for choosing your next read? Let us know about it in the comments here or on social media!

Raine Thomas

Bestselling author Raine Thomas is careful about choosing her next readThe multiple award-winning author of bestselling Young Adult and New Adult fiction, Raine is known for character-driven stories that inspire the imagination. She has signed with multiple award-winning producer Chase Chenowith of Back Fence Productions to bring her popular Daughters of Saraqael trilogy to the big screen.

She’s a proud indie author who is living the dream. When she isn’t writing or glued to e-mail or social networking sites to find her next read, Raine can usually be found vacationing with her husband and daughter on one of Florida’s beautiful beaches or crossing the border to visit with her Canadian friends and relatives.

Where to find her

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Monday Musings: Readers and writers together

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Yesterday, I took part in an event called Art in the Park, a sort of market in the town next to the one I live in. I set up a table to display and sell some of my books, alongside painters, jewelry-makers, knitters, potters and a couple of other writers. In the middle was a covered area, where children were playing music. Across the aisle from me, the Ottawa Art Gallery set up a tent where small children could make crafts.

I did not have great expectations for the event, but am I ever glad I was wrong. For the first two hours, I barely had a break between people who asked me questions about my books. It was ego-boosting, fun and informative, as well. My favourite part was people saying “Wait—are you the author? Wow.”

As it turned out, I should have brought more books.

I sold several sets of the Eastern Front trilogy, and completely sold out of volume 1, Army of Worn Soles.

Scott Bury at his display at Art in the Park, Stittsville, ON, June 4, 2017

But more important than that was the opportunity to talk with readers. Many people stopped at my table, curious about the poster I put up: “A Canadian drafted into the Soviet Red Army in the Second World War.” That led to questions and conversations about history, their personal interests and preferences, and their stories.

A preponderance of people who bought the war-based trilogy had some kind of connection to a military, or experiences in conflict. More than one was a veteran of the Canadian or British armed forces.

And all but two were older than me. One lady told me she was an avid reader but never read war stories, because she had lived through the London Blitz and had had enough of war, directly. She also never read romances.

Another man was interested in the eastern-European angle of the story, because his mother was born in Germany, and his grandfather had disappeared after being captured by the Soviets.

Younger people were more interested in my first novel, the historical fantasy, The Bones of the Earth. But being young, they did not buy any copies. Still, it was fun to talk with them about fantasy, reading, writing and what subjects or ideas caught their interest.

Reader engagement

All the writing coaches and advisors tell us writers how important it is to “engage” with your audience, to exchange ideas and to learn why they read, or don’t. While it’s relatively easy for musicians and other performing artists to do, for writers, engaging directly with an audience is more of a challenge.

Social media is supposed to be a way to engage with readers, but there’s nothing like meeting face-to-face.

What about you, readers? What would you like to ask writers? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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Monday musings: peering through the fog

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Misty Foggy Road Mystery Fog

As I drove through an extremely foggy morning last week, I thought of all the people who try to make predictions about the future at the beginning of every year. It struck me that it’s like trying to tell which way an unfamiliar road will curve when you can only see 30 metres ahead.

If there’s one thing that 2016 taught me, it’s to keep my predictions to myself. But I have read a number of others’ forecasts for the directions and the curves the writing game will take in the next year.

These predictions may seem pretty safe, but what’s interesting is the way they fit together to have an impact on readers as well as writers.

Amazon’s dominance will grow

Amazon has been the number one retailer of books (and a whole lot of other stuff, too) for years, and this market dominance is only going to increase.

Retail sales are also suffering, and “brick and mortar” retailers are losing market share to online retailers—like Amazon, but also to others, even their own online operations. Barnes & Noble reported its 2016 holiday sales were 9.1 percent lower than in 2015. The company attributed that to lower traffic in its stores. In contrast, online sales rose 2 percent.

Other bookstore chains are struggling, and are devoting more and more floor space to things that are not books: music and movie disks, decorations, novelties, even food.

The only way for independent bookstores to survive is by specializing.

Amazon has opened some brick-and-mortar stores of its own, and while it has enabled authors to publish their own books for years, it has started a number of publishing imprints of its own, such as Thomas & Mercer (the publisher of one of BestSelling Reads’ members, Alan McDermott).

More market share will go to e-books

While paper will never go away, e-books are taking up more market share. As of 2016, the estimates in the U.S. were that print books represent 39% of book units sold, and e-books 61%.

The ease and economy of publishing e-books is one of the factors behind the staggering growth in the numbers of self-publishing authors.

More writers will self-publish

Some writers call this “increased competition,” but that term doesn’t quite capture the reality of writers. Books are not like cars or washing machines—we read them in a matter of days, usually, and move on to the next book.

Restaurant cluster in Paris

The situation is more comparable to restaurants. Restaurant owners are smart to cluster together, because more options bring more customers. Diners love to come to a street crowded with restaurants, and will come back many times to try all the choices available.

Readers are the same. After all, a traditional bookstore brings together thousands of different authors, and readers prefer bigger bookstores with more choice.

Writers will band together

Another prediction I read was that authors will work together to increase their audiences. That’s interesting, because working with other authors is how I began self-publishing fiction. I find my experience with BestSelling Reads, and another group I belong to called Independent Authors International, to be hugely rewarding—in terms finding other great writers, learning how to improve my writing, as well as finding new readers.

The big challenge for writers is not to out-compete other writers, not to sell books (although that’s a nice thing to accomplish), but to learn how to engage with audiences. That’s what a story is: a connection, an experience shared by reader and writer.

For readers

When I was young, I cannot begin to estimate the time I spent hanging around in bookstores, looking at all the titles I had to choose from. Readers today can spend hours just perusing books, trying to decide which one to open next. That’s why sites like Goodreads and Library Thing are so popular—they help readers decide which book to read next, to find good books in the e-mountains of words available.

I promised I would not make any predictions for 2017, but I will tell you about one other trend I noticed over 2016: the increasing number of services and systems for sale to help authors sell more books by learning how to tag their titles on Amazon, set up mailing lists to readers, send enquiries to book reviewers, build platforms and more. “This is the secret that bestselling authors use.”

As I said, no predictions. Just a warning: some of these services and subscriptions are very expensive, and none of them guarantees a writer will sell more books.

No predictions, but a question to the readers out there: how do you want to engage with writers? Answer in the Comments.

 

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Monday Musings: To Go Free or Not To Go Free

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by Kathleen Valentine

freebooksA few years ago I was in my car parked along the street waiting for a friend who was running an errand. It was trash day in Gloucester and the sidewalks were loaded with trash bags and recycling bins. Someone had put out a cardboard box full of books with the sign Free Books on it. While I sat there I saw several people come along and have a look. A few snagged a book or two but I was surprised by the number of people who picked up a book or two, examined them, even read a little bit, then put them back. They were free—why not give them a chance?

Recently I was made aware of a Facebook group called VAC, Valued Authors Coalition. It is a group of authors who have decided they will no longer offer their books for free through major venues like Amazon and iTunes, etc. This is their Statement:

As part of VAC (Valued Authors Coalition), I vow to no longer offer my books through ALL sales venues for free. This does not include subscription services such as Kindle Unlimited where authors receive compensation. This also does not include offering book giveaways, at my discretion, whether as contest prizes, or directly through my website, for signing up for newsletters, blog comments, ARCs for reviews, etc.

Free books are something I have been thinking about for a long time and have mixed feelings about. I understand the thinking behind offering one’s books for free.

  1. It is a good way to get people to read your work in the hopes that they will like it enough to buy more.
  2. If you write series books it is a good way to get readers to want to read the rest of the books in the series.
  3. It is a good way to get more exposure for yourself as an author.
  4. It is a good way to bring your books some attention when you have a new one coming out.

I also understand the argument for refusing to give your work away.

  1. You have worked long hard hours on your book and take pride in your craft. If you don’t value your work who will?
  2. There are so many free books available, why would most readers ever buy a book?
  3. Free books do nothing to boost your sales ranking.
  4. Free books brand you as an amateur or an indie. Recognized authors don’t have to give their work away.

I admit, I am conflicted about this. Usually when I want to promote a book I offer it for 99¢. A few of my books—shorter works—are permanently 99¢. I’ve experimented with giving books away versus charging 99¢ and I’m still not sure how I feel about that. Once, when I made my memoir/cookbook Fry Bacon. Add Onions free, I had over 20,000 downlaods. If there was a bump in sales when it returned to its regular price, it wasn’t enough for me to notice it.

On the other hand, the first volume in my Beacon Hill Chronicles, The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic, has always been 99¢ (it’s a novelette) and has sold thousands of copies. So much so that in 2013 I paid cash for a new car totally from that one little book. Since then I’ve published 3 additional books in that series that are full-length novels that sell for $2.99 and, while sales are decent, they have never sold even close to the first one.

I am very curious to see what other writers have to say about this. I know writers who have paid a lot of money on sites like BookBub to advertise their free books and have told me the boost it gave their sales of other books was well worth it. Others have told me that paying to advertise free books has not amounted to much.

So, tell me, what are your experiences with offering your books for free? Have they been worth it? Do you have a way to measure your success when you go free? How do you feel about what the VAC authors think? Do free books devalue your product? I’d love to hear opinions. Thanks for reading.

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