Monday Morning Stepback: Evening Edition

The Weekly Links, Opinion and Personal Updates post

Links of Interest

In general, I am not a great fan of DIK (Desert Island Keepers), but I liked the post from Renee about taking reading breaks.

Carolyn Jean of the Thrillionth Page has an interview with Steve Savage on Urban Fantasy Heroines’ Debt to Star Trek.

Super Wendy is making a list of librarians in romance novels. Not to be outdone, I am making my own list: of philosopher heroes and/or heroines in romance novels. It is currently an empty set, but give me time.

Harlequin has launched Try In this publisher’s typical ingenious fashion, they are encouraging readers to try new lines by giving away free books.

M/m author Ann Somerville is finding herself arguing that free and self-published doesn’t mean inferior at her blog.

It’s funny about free books. I download free Kindle books regularly, but rarely read them. Why is that? I spent some time noodling around, and it looks like there are two theories about “free” as a marketing strategy (I don’t think Ann’s choice was strategic, but I think a lot of the free books are). Theory 1 says you are shaping consumer behavior. First you offer a good for free, then you offer a discount, and finally, when the consumer is good and hooked (or convinced of its value) you offer it for full price.

The opposing theory says that if you offer a good for free, you may not be marketing to your best clients. Such “buyers” may not value the good. They have no intention of ever paying money for it. In the book realm, the corollary might be “they will stick this in the bottom of their TBR and never get to it.” A lower percentage who own the free book might actually read it, compared to those who paid and are thus more highly motivated.

On the other hand, if way more people own it, as a result of it being free, then the total number of readers who try this author or this book might be higher.

Which do you think prevails in romance?

From Galley Cat, a discussion of whether writers should pay for reviews in Publishers’ Weekly, Kirkus, and ForeWord. I’ve been thinking a lot about this particular argument:

This GalleyCat Reviews editor called Sutherland to confirm her comments, and she added these thoughts: “In the literary world, free (poverty) seems to have been the only criteria for integrity. Yet, people happily pay doctors and lawyers for a diagnosis–plenty of conflict there to enourage [sic] clients to come back for more. What critics of our pay for service miss is what they accept about lawyers and doctors – namely that reputation means a lot to a professional–and the path to your door will grow weeds fast when you prove to be a sellout.” (Via Self Publishing Review)

I am not sure whether I oppose the practice of paying for reviews. But my gut reaction is that this is a total fail as an argument, in part because the payment for services is how the economy of medicine works, whereas ad and subscription revenue is what keeps PW etc. afloat (although I do not deny her claim that there is a dangerous incentive in medicine to treat more when it earns more). Second, the relationship of physician to patient bears little resemblance to the relationship between book reviewer or book review publication and author, and the comparison suggests an attitude towards writers that is problematic.

From the Awl, Drink or Die. One study shows that “proficient” drinkers live longer than teetotalers, maybe because they are more social. I don’t know exactly what it takes to be a proficient drinker, but feel sure I make the cut.

In the world of poetry, there is a kerfuffle over the New England Review‘s and Ploughshares‘ decision to charge a nominal fee for e-submissions. Steve Fellner critiques the practice. An editor of the NER (and my former classmate) C. Dale Young, responds.

Beth Fish Reads is starting up an Audiobook Jukebox, a clearinghouse for audiobook reviews.

As promised, Sunita posted a terrific article on the Harlequin Mills and Boon line over at Dear Author. And with 75 comments, many including suggestions for great titles, it’s a terrific resource.

Did you see the news about Obama getting an early copy of the new Franzen to read on his summer break? If you have ever wondered what presidents read in their first summer in office, here’s some interesting info.

Kerfuffles that could have been:

Mrs. Giggles seemed to be doing her best last week to start up controversy, first with a post on Ravenous Romance, then with a post asking for secrets on Carina Press. Few takers.

Erstwhile blogger Candy Tan showed up to write a terrific post on Scott Pilgrim.I parsed the comments for clues as to her past whereabouts and future plans, and here is what I can say for sure: Candy took up the accordion, became the leader of a new musical movement to fuse the polka with glam rock*, fell off the stage wearing platform heels at a show in a cantina in Mexico and woke up in a beach front mansion in San Diego, as the special (platonic) guest of a certain millionaire whose reading tastes ran from Deepak Chopra to Tony Robbins. It took several months of deprogramming to get her to stop deconstructing phrases like, “If you can’t, you must, and if you must, you can” and “It’s not knowing what to do, it’s doing what you know.” Beyond that, I really can’t speculate.

*Now defunct. But you can still find her rendition of “All the Young Dudes (Stole the Keeshka)” with vigorous Googling.

Sarah of MonkeyBearReviews ranted a bit about the hypocrisy of folks who have embraced the Kindle 3 despite swearing off Amazon in the past. Personally, I couldn’t be happier to have more Amazonians on board.


I went to Vermont for a wedding this past weekend. Truly wonderful. My favorite line was from one of the toasts or readings (can’t remember which) to the effect that marriage isn’t just about choosing the right partner, but about being the right partner.

Lovely spot for a wedding, huh?

I started teaching today. Love being back in the classroom. (Just remind me I wrote that when it comes time to grade something.) This semester it’s Contemporary Moral Problems, Biomedical Ethics, and Feminist Theory. I am also coordinating the department’s colloquium series (The power!!) … on a very small budget (The stress!!).

On the blog this week:

I am obsessed with Kristan Higgins. Am working on a theory that she is not really a romance writer. Stay tuned.

Also look for a review of that Atwood, and of a romance novel in which art work that depicts a dragon nearly raping a maiden is featured prominently.


19 responses

  1. It looks like there are many questions regarding epubs. Elloras Cave still gets questions, Loose-Id for posting a specific genre, Ravenous Romance and now Carina.

    But then again, even the traditional pubs are in question. Look at Dorchester.

    And why would anyone pay to have their book review when there are a zillion and one places that are willing to review for free? They may not have the amount of readers like PW (which I heard is in dire straits) but at least there are other options out there then paying out of your own wallet.


  2. I’ll admit I have a bunch of free Harlequins downloaded last year on my hard drive and I haven’t bothered to get around to reading them. Something else always seems more urgent or interesting. But I’m one of those people that regularly passes up free ARCs on offer in my local independent literary bookstore just because they don’t look the least bit interesting to me while I gladly spend $15-20+ a piece on import paperbacks at the same store because they are by writers I know I admire or published by presses I’ve had good luck with in the past (Dalkey Archive, Eridanos, Green Integer, Twisted Spoon, Berg, etc.) If you can’t persuade me somehow that I *must read this now* even free is unlikely to get my eyeballs focused on your product.


  3. Re the Amazon thing: I’m not quite sure what Amazon kerfluffle the MonkeyBearReview is referencing (there have been so many lately, I can’t keep up!) but the one I was most disgusted by and which actually moved me to write a letter or two to Amazon was the one last year regarding the reranking and obfuscation of books dealing with feminism, LGBTQI issues and sexuality in general. That made a lot noise on various blogs and eventually in mainstream media and Amazon apologized and appeared to attempt to redress the issue. I thought that was resolved fairly satisfactorily (in other words, my Amazon searches seem as pervy as ever!), is the MBR post talking about the ebook pricing debacle? I honestly can’t tell just from reading the post.


  4. I agree about Kristing Higgins not writing romances. The ones I have read all have sister issues anad the story is really about the resolution of those with a serve of romance onthe side.


  5. @Marie-Thérèse: Yeah, I was talking about the deranking business last year. I didn’t boycott Amazon at the time as they were my cheapest source of books in English. I was using it as an example of why I ignore internet controversies these days. I’ve become disillusioned with people freaking out about something only to contradict themselves a few months down the road.

    I have no beef with Amazon, BTW. They’re still my cheapest option for DVDs and board games. If the cost of Kindle books weren’t more expensive than ebooks at other etailers (I don’t live in the US and the prices are higher for me to buy Kindle books), I’d consider getting a Kindle 3.


  6. Thanks for the link to my post, Jessica! I am so pleased by the response. Now I just have to go write my mini-reviews for the month. Thank goodness for travel time.

    Re: the Amazon kerfuffle, I was one of those people who was furious at Amazon but eventually got a Kindle (I don’t have a blog, but hey, behavior is behavior). I didn’t advocate a boycott, but I think that the backpedaling on the deranking wouldn’t have happened as fast had there not been a big flap about it. I have really mixed feelings about Amazon, and I stopped buying from them for a couple of years because of their political contributions. And I do boycott some local and national stores successfully (my longest boycott is 7 years and counting for the largest grocery store in my area). But Amazon does both good and bad things, in my view, so I lean toward yelling rather than boycotting as a response.

    Note that the Harlequin free books are the same ones as they had for the 60th anniversary, they just changed the name of the promotion. I also have a bunch of those on my hard drive which I’ve never read, but some freebies have worked to introduce me to new genres and led me to read and buy a lot more books (Samhain’s m/m free reads in particular). I expanded the range of category lines I read because of Harlequin’s free Christmas books a few years ago. So for me it does work.

    I agree that comparing paid reviews to paid medical diagnoses is dumb on so many levels I can’t count them all. As for paying PW, Kirkus, etc., since the reviewers themselves don’t see more money for the review, it probably doesn’t change review content, only whether the book gets sent for review at all. But it would change the way I thought about the reviewing process at the publications. If I actually used their reviews and thought they were good. Which I mostly don’t. So, never mind …


  7. Note that the Harlequin free books are the same ones as they had for the 60th anniversary, they just changed the name of the promotion.

    They’re not exactly the same. Some of the ones that were there before have now been removed and there are at least 3 new ones: Abby Gaines’ Married by Mistake, Lynne Graham’s The Italian’s Inexperienced Mistress and Marilyn Pappano’s Passion to Die For. According to Harlequin’s blog there should also be

    # Harlequin Bianca – Deudas de Deseo by Emma Darcy
    # Harlequin Deseo – Entre El Odio Y El Deseo by Tessa Radley
    # Harlequin Azur – Troublant Tete-A-Tete by Lucy Monroe

    I couldn’t see those on the TryHarlequin site, though.


  8. @Laura Vivanco: Good catch, Laura. They substituted two of those books a while ago, while it was still the 60th anniversary promotion, so I wasn’t paying attention. They also gave us Sarah Morgan’s The Rebel Doctor’s Bride for about a minute, and then removed it. Notice there are no medicals on that list, which is kind of annoying. Also only one of the two Kimani lines (but NASCAR gets status as a line). And like you, I wonder where the Spanish lines’ free books are?


  9. Well, you are inspiring me to read my free Kristin Higgins book that I got! But, I think that’s a good point on the free – some people don’t read the freebies. I think a freebie works if you were already slightly inclined to purchase it, or have some slight interest in it. I haven’t touched my Harlequin Freebies, but I just read my Kresley Cole freebie. I think sometimes giving something away for free can communication low value.

    Also, thanks for the post shout!!


  10. In my historical, Indiscreet, the heroine’s uncle (the man who raised her) is a philosopher and he has trained her to follow in his intellectual footsteps. Her gender prevents her from actually being a philosopher, but as with many women of the period, she worked behind the scenes, as it were. I don’t know if that qualifies the book for your list, though, since the story doesn’t hinge, specifically, on her intellectual/philosophical training. But maybe you could apply partial credit. Or something.


  11. My surfer hero from Crash Into Me majored in philosophy. It was very relevant to the story and many deep critical theories were explored! Just kidding. But he did have philosophy books on the shelves.


  12. I’ve found a number of new authors by reading free short stories available on their websites or through blog links – once I’ve tried (and liked) the author, I’m much more likely to spend my $$ and buy their books. As to entire books for free – it’s a bit hit and miss. Sometimes I’m really motivated and read them quickly, but if not, they tend to languish at the bottom of the TBR. (But then similar can be said of most books I buy actually…)


  13. Thanks for the clarification, Sarah. Because I don’t pay much attention to general industry or ebook news (bores me to tears, frankly) and I know I’ve seen Amazon mentioned often when skimming both, I thought maybe I’d missed something more recent.

    My position with regard to this particular issue and Amazon in general is so similar to Sunita’s that I’ll just let her excellent comment stand in for me.


  14. @katiebabs: Good points, Kate. Perhaps good reviews on a large number of popular blogs that cater to the kind of readers an author hopes to entice will one day match the impact of a PW review.


    If you can’t persuade me somehow that I *must read this now* even free is unlikely to get my eyeballs focused on your product.

    A great way to put it. “Free” alone will not do it.

    @Merrian: Oooh. Good. SO maybe not everyone will flame me when I post it.

    @SarahT: Thanks for coming by and explaining, Sarah. I agree that as someone who has pretty much always bought books from Amazon (over other online retailers), and since the Kindle, almost exclusively, I remember how it felt in those days (not so long ago!). DRM was another huge sticking point. But all seems to have been forgiven.

    @Sunita: It was a great post, and I had no idea you planned to do more, so am thrilled with that as well.

    I think that the backpedaling on the deranking wouldn’t have happened as fast had there not been a big flap about it.

    I agree. I wrote a letter, blogged about it., as so many of us did. It is getting so hard to put my money in the hands of a retailer who shares my political views. To take a recent example, I always chose Target over Walmart because of the former’s better labor practices and support of certain social causes, such as equal rights for the LGBTQ community. But then Taregt started funding a conservative political candidate who opposes same sex marriage. It’s gets frustrating, so I tend to (a) write a lot of letters, and (b) do as much as I can to support nonprofits.

    @Carolyn Crane: Read the Higgans — it is a fast read. And let me know what you think.

    @Carolyn Jewel: Wow. I was totally joking. I was so sure there wasn’t a single philosopher in all of romance.

    And then @VaVeros started listing all of these books on twitter:

    Affair of Honour (Silhouette Jan 83) Jayne Ann Krentz writing as Stephanie James. Philosophy teacher.

    Amanda Quick’s Mystique has Lady Alice who is a scholar of natural philosophy. Joan Wolf’s Royal Bride has “philosopher-princess”.

    A book with a philosopher princess? I am so reading it!

    @Jill Sorenson: You sent me into a panic for a minute. I was like “Hey I read that book, and I don;t remember that…”

    @Kaetrin: That is a great point about stories. I wonder if the free first chapters that Amazon gives have the same effect?


  15. After posting librarians’ in romances to SuperWendy’s site I couldn’t help but need to find philosophers in romances. There are a few:

    Amanda Quick’s Mystique has Lady Alice who is a scholar of natural philosophy.

    Joan Wolf’s Royal Bride has “philosopher-princess”.

    and Affair of Honour (Silhouette Jan 83) Jayne Ann Krentz writing as Stephanie James has a philosophy teacher.

    But from here on I will not only look out for librarian romances but philosopher romances too.


  16. Aw, the Abby Gaines book isn’t available for Kindle in the US at all. It’s cranky-making. Why have ebooks if they aren’t available everywhere? I have read a few of the free Harlequins over the last year or so, but like you I have a ton of free books just sitting there that I haven’t gotten around to yet.

    I love, love, love Kristan Higgins but it’s my contention that she writes women’s fiction. First person and her heroes don’t ever have as big of a character arc than her heroines. Which is totally fine with me, of course, but I’m continually surprised she’s marketed as romance.


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