Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Anvil Fantasy

Aside from the fact that Dean Alfar's The Kite of Stars and Other Stories will be published soon, there's also the fact that it's going to be part of Anvil's new line, Anvil Fantasy. One step at a time, people!

On Lulu and Print on Demand

What I'm impressed with Lulu.com is that whenever someone talks about using a print on demand service, it's usually one of the options that's considered (maybe because it has a catchy name?). They're easily the Samuel Brannan and Levi Strauss in the print-on-demand industry.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Guild of America, Inc. interestingly enough has an article on Print on Demand while Books & Tales has a Print on Demand comparison.

Avatar Musings

September 21 was the day Martial Law was declared in the Philippines but this year, it's also the day the first episode of Avatar The Last Airbender, Season 3 will be airing. A trailer is also up at YouTube.

Monday, July 30, 2007

On Writing Advice

A few weeks ago, I wrote an essay on the pros and cons of having a specialized vs holistic education and how no one method is superior to the other but rather the best choice depends on our learning pattern. Rebecca Arcega has an essay on Creative Writing Courses and How They Probably Won't Help You Write Better and here's one reason why you should or should not follow (as the case may be) that advice.

Sarah Monette over at Storytellers Unplugged has an entry entitled (Thinking about) Thinking About Writing and here's an excerpt of what she has to say:
One of the first things I learned when I began reading books about creative writing (and even more so when I began hanging out with other writers) is that no two people understand their creativity in the same way. (This goes for other endeavors, too, not just writing; I'm sticking with what I know, but I'm not meaning to imply that writers have a corner on this particular market.) And the second thing I learned was that not all ways of thinking about creativity work for all people.

One person's muse, in other words, is another person's poison.

Blank Pages

I wish I could take credit for this realization but I can't--it goes to my teacher in History of the Book (actually, right now I can't remember the exactly title of that class, mainly because I was sitting in the entire time and wasn't officially enrolled in it: people should try that out some time).

Doing layout for any kind of publication is a difficult task. In magazines for example, you have to be precise. When was the last time you opened a magazine and saw a blank page? Books, on the other hand, have more leeway. Have you ever wondered why at the end of a book, there are some pages that are blank, or worse, publishers try to cover up these "blank pages" by labeling "notes" above those supposed blank pages.

The answer is simple. If you're familiar with the publishing process, the page count of most books is usually divisible by four. The best way to illustrate why it's usually divisible by four is to grab a piece of bond paper and fold it in the middle. You instantly have four pages! Publishing for the most part involves several layers of4-page signatures (sometimes it's eight, twelve, or even sixteen). Depending on the word count and the layout, you might not have enough space to fill up all those pages. Hence the blank pages yet you similarly can't do away with them because the physical integrity of the book will sometimes suffer without those pages.

Of course books aren't as ad intensive as magazines, so figuring out what to do with those extra pages can be tricky. If it's just a few pages, the publisher might run an in-house ad promoting their selection of books. Others might show a preview or excerpt of the sequel.

If you were the publisher, what would you put on those "blank" pages?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Dilemma with Book Buyers

Having previously talked about the book buying profession, here's one reason why brick-and-mortal bookstores won't stock a comprehensive and quality bookshelf: there's a limit to the familiarity and awareness of every book buyer. Or put it in another way, each book buyer only has enough time to familiarize himself or herself with a few genres. But a bookstore contains multiple genres so if there is only one book buyer, he or she won't always make the best choice for each and every genre shelf.

For example, I'm a science-fiction/fantasy fan--that genre is my so-called forte. Yet as a SF&F fan, I know my genre has various sub-genres that cater to different markets, so I already have my hands full catering to "my shelf". But what if I'm assigned to the philosophy section, a genre I know next to nothing about? Or the general fiction section? Or crime/suspense? I might have an inkling on what the children's book market and horror market is like but it's nowhere as comprehensive as SF&F. And unless you've spent your entire life doing nothing but reading all sorts of books (throw in speed-reading training in there), I think it's virtually impossible to cover all topics and genres.

The answer might seem simple: hire more book buyers, each of whom are specialized in a particular genre. The first problem there is looking for these so-called specialists. I mean I'm advertising my services for SF&F yet bookstores don't necessarily know that I exist, nor do they trust my judgment. Because there's a point where book buyer genre specialists (BBGS)--a term I'm coining now--have to ask, am I getting this book because I want it to be stocked, or am I getting this because it'll sell? If the latter isn't true, the bookstore shouldn't be hiring you. The second problem, of course, is the budget. I don't think bookstores have the budget to hire a lot of BBGS, especially if they're starting small. Yet the paradox there is most independent bookstores (which usually has one book buyer, namely the owner/manager) stock various genres of books. I have yet to see a successful independent bookstore that caters to one specific market, and then branch out to other genres as they expand. That, of course, is different from knowing your niche. Aeon Books, because it's situated opposite of two colleges, has had a boom in the philosophy genre. That doesn't mean they dumped all their other genres and start selling solely philosophy books. They know their niche and they're acquiring better selections of philosophy books, but that doesn't mean their other genres are withering either.

So how do individual book buyers determine what books their bookstore stocks? Well, if you're a veteran in the business, your records should show which books are selling and which aren't. Then sometimes, you acquire books that certain publishers are pushing, or the latest fad/popular book (i.e. The Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter). For me, what's a more interesting question is how do starting bookstores determine their book selection.

That's where the power of lists comes from. As much as readers benefit from best-seller lists, book buyers benefit from them more. Lists such as the New York Times Best Seller List may be imperfect, but they're the closest thing a book buyer has to a starting guide. Another list that is important might be a list of "classic books" in specific genres (i.e. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for mystery, Ray Bradbury for fantasy, etc.).

Or a book buyer can trust his or her tastes. Which is fine when it's territory they're familiar with but doubt starts to creep in when it's a genre they haven't read a single book about yet has an entire shelf to fill up.

Then there'll be the nagging idea of am I getting this book because I like it or am I getting this book because I know it'll sell? This I think becomes a bigger problem when you're the owner--because you do want your inventory to sell. Or worse, if you're the owner and you confuse the two. If you're just a hired gun on the other hand, you might think to hell with the profits, as long as the bookstore stocks "good" books that the public should read.

That's also not taking into consideration your fickle market which you have no control of. You might acquire the books that are guaranteed to sell but if the public doesn't buy them anyway then you can't help but wonder whether you should restructure your book buying techniques or hire a new book buyer altogether (even if the cause for lack of sales isn't their fault).

So right now, there's no feasible solution that I can see, at least for physical stores. Online shops like Amazon.com are like Do-It-Yourself bookstores in the sense that consumers determine their own "shelf" because there is no actual shelf so to speak: we only browse the books we want to buy or are considering buying. Amazon tries to sway our choices by giving recommended reads or bargains if you buy this book along with that book, but at the end of the day, it's a proactive choice on our part what books we browse and what books we don't. But then again, online shops have less chances for serendipity than actual bookstores.

Absolute Watchmen for Sale

A friend is auctioning his copy of Absolute Watchmen at the local eBay to help out Lea Hernandez whose house burned down. No bids so far!

Should You Publish?

From Ink & Stone (not to be confused with the local bookstore!)

Over at Crusiemayer.com, authors Jenny Crusie and Bob Mayer give their advice on publishing.
Personally, I like more what Jenny Crusie wrote. There's a lot of quotable quotes there but without resorting to in-jokes, here's two good paragraphs:

If God, the real God, the real thing, came down to day and said to you, “You will never be published,” would you quit writing? Remember, this is God, so there’s no escape clause; in this scenario you truly never will be published.

If you’d keep writing, then there’s no point in whining about it, you’re stuck. You’re a writer. If you’re smart, you’ll be Emily Dickinson and lead a happy, stress free life hiding in your dining room. But if you’re like most people, say Bob and me, you won’t be smart and you’ll go for it anyway. Which is what the next umpteen weeks is about, giving you the basics of how the industry works. But I’m telling you now, it won’t help you much. Once you’re published, you’re on the train and you are not driving.

Starship Troopers

Giyenah wrote on the Read or Die weblog her top ten Literary Cosplay Wishlist. Number one, Juan "Johnny" Rico, reminded me about my impressions of Starship Troopers.

I didn't watch the movie in the theater but I do remember seeing clips of it from TV (which means I didn't see it in its entirety and was watching a local broadcast of it). I was a big fan, however, of the animated series (and so far, a lot of friends loved it too).

It was only later on that I got to read the book. Now the differences between the novel and the movie are huge, they're worlds apart. As far as I'm concerned, they only have three things in common: the concept of super-powered armor for military use, the aliens (and not so much even then... the movie/cartoon showed a wider variety of alien scum), and the names of the characters.

In the novel, Johnny Rico is the only protagonist. The story is told from his point of view. The rest of the cast, really, are minor characters. Most of them either die or get transferred in a few chapters or so. Except for a few, their personalities don't even match. But coming from watching the animated series, it was nice seeing those names--I had mental images of the minor characters that helped me remember them (even if they weren't true) when I see their name pop up. And in many ways, I think that's what helped me enjoy the book more. But as I said, the two texts, the novel and the book, are entirely different animals that you could read/watch one and not get spoiled by what happens in the other.

Friday, July 27, 2007

What Do You Want to See from Independent Bookstores?

Large bookstore chains might seem like a no-brainer but I'm one of the people who believe that independent bookstores--especially local independent bookstores--do stand a chance against their bigger competition. They may not match the bookstore chains in terms of price but that's not to say they can't provide other services which make them appealing.

For example, not only do I get email updates from A Different Bookstore and Booktopia but I also get text message updates when new stocks arrive (especially the latter, whose text message includes specific books I might be interested in... of course I'm seemingly unpredictable in terms of book purchases so I've stopped getting text messages from them simply because they don't know what to text me!) or when my orders are in their stores. The simple service of a text message isn't viable when you're a bookstore chain simply because you have too large of a customer base (whether it's costing you time or money).

Another strength of independent bookstores are their book ordering systems. While you can order books from bookstore chains, because they're larger and employ more staff, there's also more red tape to wade through. Ordering from independent bookstores is as simple as entering the front door and going to the counter to place your order.

Then there's also the familiarity of the shopkeepers/managers. I mean when I enter A Different Bookstore or Booktopia or Aeon Books, the ones manning the counter who know me can easily point me to newly stocked titles that I might be interested in. Or it's something as simple as knowing my name.

So, what are other benefits an independent bookstore might provide that will interest you in patronizing their shop rather than the bigger bookstore chains?

Rebirth of the Serial Novel?

I was listening to a podcast and there was an ad for Murder at Avedon Hill, a fantasy/mystery novel that's being serialized as a podcast (warning: this isn't literary fiction but rather more D&D fantasy as it was originally planned as a tournament module for the Neverwinter Nights video game).

In many ways, I think the podcasts "piecemeal" mode sets it apart from say, audiobooks. Whereas you buy one whole package in the latter, podcasting lets you distribute your book chapter by chapter on a regular basis.

Lately, I haven't really read much of serial novels. The last popular serial novel I think was Stephen King's The Green Mile. Anyway, between online publishing, print-on-demand, and podcasts, we might be seeing the rebirth of the serial novel.

Prison Dance Makes Sense!

For the past week, inmates dancing to the tune of "Thriller" has been circulating around the Internet. Of course I've seen interesting replies to the phenomenon, like one suggested "it can't be true! They're all actors!"

GMANews.TV has an article on the phenomenon and you know, it's not as preposterous as it sounds. I mean the big problem with being locked up in jail is that it's booooring. If I were locked up, I'd take any activity I can, even if it's -gasp- dancing. It's also a sign of the better programs that's available in Cebu. For example, you can read more about Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation at Sun.Star Cebu.

You can view more of their videos here.

Taking Up Screenwriting?

From John August

Writer Craig Maizin (co-writer of Scary Movie 3) gives us an idea on how much screenwriters (should) get paid in Hollywood: The Economics of Screenwriting

There are a few basic ways to get paid as a screenwriter. You can option literary material, you can sell literary material, you can pitch an idea, or you can be hired on an assignment.

Options don’t technically fall under the WGA’s jurisdiction. Options are just rental agreements. The optioner pays the optionee a fee that grants the option the exclusive right to “set up” the project at a studio (typically as a producer). The writer will then sell the literary material to the studio.

If you sell a script, the studio has to pay you scale. “Scale” is just a term for the basic minimum amount. Right now, if you sell an original screenplay for a “big budget” film (a film that costs more than $5,000,000), scale is roughly $77,000 (including one additional rewrite step). You can learn about all of the various minimums here.

The Bibliophile Series of Essays

Anyway, here's the link list to my book industry-related essays (most of which of course are based on sheer speculation):

What is The Book Buying Profession?

One dream job I've been wishing lately is to be a book buyer. Unfortunately, when I mention the term, few people understand what I mean. Every person has a different definition of what it is to be a "book buyer" and Morris Rosenthal divides book buyers into four categories in his blog entry Why Book Buyers Buy Books. The first one he mentions are retailer customers and that's probably what most people associate with book buyers. I mean we say "hey, I'm a book buyer" when we buy a book from a bookstore but in that context, it's not a profession. He then describes three other book buyers: institutional customers (i.e. schools), large book business buyers (i.e. bookstores), and independent book business buyers (i.e. a souvenir shop selling books). While the last three are serving different entities, there's room for overlap in their respective duties. And that's what I want to talk about.

In the case of institutional customers, they dictate what books that gets into the curriculum. If you ever wondered who determines what books you should read in school (if it's on a campus-wide basis), the responsibility lies on the institutional book buyer. And in many ways, these people have a lot of clout. They're ordering books for the entire school after all and these are books that are guaranteed sells, especially since students will need to buy them. It's not necessarily the most glamorous profession, but it's a job that has far reaching consequences in the education sector.

The last two are the large book business buyers and independent book business buyers. For me, both entail the same duties and practices but what's important to distinguish them is the scope. A large book business buyer is buying books on the scale of thousands if not millions. An independent book business buyer merely needs to manage a handful of books. One example of the latter are souvenir shops with a small selection of books. It's usually just a rack or a shelf but at the end of the day, somebody needs to decide how to fill those racks and shelves. Another analogy I can think of are comic shops that stock a few books (but they're probably classified as comics inventory).

That distinction aside, what a book buyer does is decide what books to acquire to sell to the public, and, more importantly, in what quantities. If I was a book buyer with unlimited authority for example, I'd probably stock my bookstore with lots of fantasy and science fiction books. However, the problem there is that I'll have to take space into consideration. What if my shelf has only room for twenty books. Do I stock it with 10 Isaac Asimov novels and 10 Robert Heinlein? Or two books each from ten different authors? That might appear simple in the small scale but when you increase the scope, that's where it becomes more difficult. I mean managing one bookstore is hard enough but what if I'm the book buyer for two dozen branches?

Of course that example was assuming I have unlimited authority. If I'm a hired employee, I have to keep the bookstore's business in mind. And that means getting books that will sell. I may not like it but that usually means acquiring derivative books of best-sellers like Dan Brown, Stephen King, Anne Rice, or J.K. Rowling. In fact, that's a part of the job: doing research on books that sell well (or books that would sell well), read up on them, and order them for the bookstore to stock.

And at that point, it might truly become a job. Have you ever wondered why National Bookstore has tons of books yet little variety for its size (at least compared to something like Fully Booked)? You have to understand the book buyer's plight, choosing less books and buying them in huge quantities is easier than picking a wider variety of books and purchasing them in less quantities. For example, as a book buyer, it's probably easier for me to decide to order 1,000 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows instead of say, getting 100 copies of ten different, lesser-known books. In the case of the former, I just need to research one book. In the case of the latter, that's ten different case studies and I have to worry about distributing them.

Which brings me to my next point. Distributing the books. I'm not sure if this is the case with bookstores or if someone else is assigned this job but in comic stores, the book buyer also decides how to allocate the books. For example, if I have 50 copies of Book A, a typical distribution might be 30 copies of Book A goes to Shop A, the flagship store, then 10 copies goes to shop B, and 5 copies each to Shop C and Shop D. There's a lot of reasons why you distribute it in unequal quantities, everything from the market there to how much shelf space that particular bookstore has. And the wider your variety of books, the more distributing duties you have to do.

The ramifications can be seen in local bookstores. For example, the big bookstore chains like National Bookstore/Powerbooks and Goodwill Bookstore, you see a few titles imported in huge quantities (i.e. you see multiple copies of the same book on the shelf). And since they're operating on a huge level (i.e. dozens of branches, at least in the case of the former), this makes sense. Distributing a thousand different titles in varying quantities to several dozen shops can be a chore after all. The smaller, independent bookstores like Aeon Books and Booktopia, it's not that big of a problem as they only need to manage one or two shops, so they usually give you a wide variety of books for their size (i.e. usually only one or two copies of the same title on the shelf).

Presently, there are two exceptions to the rule. One is A Different Bookstore which has been slowly but steadily expanding. A Different Bookstore seems like an independent bookstore in terms of shop size (only one or two shelves at most is devoted to any particular genre) but they order books like a bookstore chain. That's why their stocks are more or less consistent across all their branches (i.e. if you see this book in Shop A, you'll probably see it in Shop B) and at the end of the day, give you little variety (that's why for a few years now, I've rarely bought a book from them... because I already own the books that they're displaying). But that business model works because their shelves are small compared to say, National Bookstore, and the "redundant books" (multiple copies of the same title) are more obvious in the latter rather than in the former. The second is Fully Booked, which is a big bookstore chain yet what ceases to amaze me is how they're acquiring a variety of books at small quantities (for example, I bought the book An Invisible Sign of My Own yet as far a I can tell, it's the only copy in all their branches) despite their scope (they have what, half a dozen branches by now?). It makes me wonder how many book buyers Fully Booked has or if they're really, really efficient and passionate about what they do.

Of course most bookstores will mix both practices of choosing variety over quantity and quantity over variety. For example, in the case of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I expect that most of the bookstores stocked that one title in huge quantities. As for the rest of their selections, they'll practice their standard business model, whether it's getting a diverse array of books but just having two or three copies of them or stocking a few titles with a huge volume.

One thing to bear in mind is that the book buyer isn't necessarily an official designation. In independent bookstores that are just starting up, this role is usually assumed by the owner or manager (they set up the bookstore in the first place after all). So the preference/taste of the owner will dictate the selection of books. Later, if their bookstore business expands, someone else must assume the role as managing the business side of things and managing the book buying side of things can be too much for any one person. In the case of Fully Booked, the owner's preference and hobbies also dictate the types of books his bookstore stocks, even if he's operating on a huge scale. Ever wondered why Fully Booked has a strong selection of comics? That's because Jaime Daez is a big fan of comics. It's even come to the point that certain do-not's of bookstores is being practiced by Fully Booked, such as the selling of comic singles (instead of trade paperbacks or graphic novels). And if there seems to be too many superhero busts or fantasy paraphernalia in that particular bookstore, it's a reflection of the owner's tastes and hobbies. That's not to say it's a bad business decision--it might actually pay off. I'm just using it as an example of how a book buyer with unlimited authority (i.e. you're the owner!) affects the inventory of the store.

So the book buyer position seems like such an influential job but at the end of the day it depends on how much authority you wield. In last year's book fair, I met a batchmate who's new job was to be Powerbooks's book buyer. I was asking her several questions about it and while it's evident she's been reading lots of books (for research), she was also similarly evading a couple of questions which I thought was relevant. In other words, I suspect she's not free to choose whatever books she wants but rather forced to look for Dan Brown derivatives and other books that would sell well to the same target market. And then there are times when I'm talking to the manager of a particular A Different Bookstore branch and I'll place a special order on a specific book, and I'm surprised that when my book finally arrives, they ordered a few additional copies to sell in their bookstore. For the most part, the book buying business isn't any different from other businesses. A lot of guessing is involved and even if you're good at it, it's not a guarantee that it'll make you a success. But to every bibliophile, isn't the next best thing to owning your own library/bookstore to be the person who gets to decide which books gets imported?

Dragonlance Movie

One of the fantasy movies I'm eagerly anticipating this year (that's not making a bleep in anyone's radar) is Dragonlance. Anyway, here's the official cast:

Tanis Half-Elven
Michael Rosenbaum

Raistlin Majere
Kiefer Sutherland

Lucy Lawless

Flint Fireforge / Fewmaster Toede
Fred Tatasciore

Tika Waylan
Michelle Trachtenberg

Caramon Majere
Rino Romano

Tasslehoff Burrfoot
Jason Marsden

Fizban The Fabulous
Neil Ross

Sturm Brightblade
Mark Worden

Riverwind & Gilthanas
Phil Lamarr

Jentle Phoenix

Caroline Gelabert

Nikka Futterman

The Forestmaster
Mari Weiss

Ben McCain

Dee Bradley Baker

Susan Silo

Juliette Cohen

Sleeping Pill

I just got Monster Manual V, fresh from the stocks of Comic Quest. It's beautiful and gorgeous but my one complaint with D&D books in general is that for some strange reason, I get sleepy reading them. More so when reading books like Spell Compedium and Magic Item Compedium. As much as I love crunch, those books have that text book feel. I don't know if I'm using my brain too much (too much cheesing!) or books without a story are simply dull, making me fall asleep.

The New Weird Genre

Jeffrey Ford has a blog entry on Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's new anthology, The New Weird. While he doesn't mention any specific stories in the book, he does talk about the included works, and how they're different from the norm:
I have to say, although I’ve been at times, in the perceptions of others, associated with this movement? concept? what would you call it? I really still have no idea exactly what it means or is. There are a few things I’m pretty sure about, but these could also be wrong, so please correct me if you know better. I believe the term was coined by China Mieville to describe his own fiction. And I know that one of its precepts is the refusal to “break the fourth wall.” What I’ve taken this to mean (and here I may already be in over my head) is that it refuses metafictional devices, self-referential devices, a certain inherent cynicism about the fictional world. In other words, Mieville’s writing is not hedging its bets, but forthrightly presenting a fictional world that the reader can, for at least the time it takes to read the work, put full stock in. I think the desired effect is that it would allow the fiction to retain its vitality and not have it mitigated by an authorial wink or smirk or misdirection that might allow reality to poke holes in it and let that energy seep out. If that’s the case, then I think Mieville was to a large degree successful, because Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council were marked for me as a reader by their vitality, their incredible energy of creation both in image and idea. To add to that, I recall M. John Harrisson making the case that The New Weird would be a useful marketing tool, a label that might distinguish this fiction from among all the other fantastical fiction out there – a way for readers to locate it in the book store and a kind of slogan that could guide publishers in the marketing of these works.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Ultimate SF&F Test?

From SF Signal

I just read this funny blog entry on Speculative Fiction Authors Considered as High School Students and I'm wondering, how well-read do you have to be to get all of the references? I got around, what, half, but then again, I don't read much SF.

Novel Writing Advice from Caro Clarke

It's not the only way to write a novel (but what do I know, I've never written a novel) but if you're looking for advice, it's a good start:

30 Articles from Caro Clarke

Invisible Ownership

Every culture has a tradition of naming, some simple, some complex. But one thing remains the same, people attach names to various creatures and objects: to themselves, to each other, to their gods, to their property, to the creatures they encounter, to the enemies they face, to concepts they’re aware of, to their greatest fear. Suffice to say, if you have a name for something, you acknowledge that that something exists.

Names are signs of power and they signify ownership. Why do people name their children? In a way, such practice reinforces the idea of the parent-child relationship, that we are the scions of our parents, that we are a part of them and to some extent, they have power over us. Who else has the right to name us? No one but our parents (they need not be our blood parents). And more often than not, we take a part of our parent’s names, such as their surname or family name or clan name.

But the power of naming isn’t restricted to our parents. We sometimes go by different names, different aliases. In some cases, we determine what we should be called. That’s one way we partition our “self”, where we set our ego boundaries. Similarly, we attach nicknames to our friends and colleagues and even acquaintances. By doing so, we acknowledge and establish a relationship with them, whether communal or antagonistic. When we call our friend Mike instead of Michael, we’re saying “I’m calling you Mike and you’re my friend.” In certain ways, we’re leaving our mark on them, a sort of possessive identifier. The said friend might go by different nicknames in his life but to you, it’s Mike, and when you call out to him, he also knows it’s you who’s calling. At best, this is your private language, your silent acknowledgement of each other’s relationship. A worst, this can be two forces clashing together, which is the case when bullies attach unkind nicknames to those under them. The bullied resents the nickname you attach to him and will try to discard that name. Every utterance of the disdained nickname however reminds you of the hold he or she has over you, whether powerful or weak. And so names can become silent power struggles.

Names, however, don’t always grow to become the way we expect them to be. Those who accept their names, from whoever gave it to them, can subvert it to their own uses. If you call me a murderer, I will become a murderer. If you call me successful, I will develop the courage and confidence to become successful. In many ways, names signify our different personas and our relationship with other people. When your father calls you son, he views you from the paradigm of a parent. You might call yourself Michael and that Michael is certainly different from the Michael that everyone perceives you to be. When your friend calls you Mike, he views you from the paradigm of a friend. Your girlfriend might call you Mikey and she views you from the perspective of a love interest. Taken to the extreme, this can be seen in people with different personalities—each persona has a different name (or psychiatrists attaches different names to them) and behave differently.

If there’s any doubt to the power of names, one merely needs to observe why people strive for titles and designations. There’s a certain respect when we call someone sir or ma’am (and various cultures will have various ways of deferring respect, whether po or opo in Filipino, -san and –sama in Japanese, etc.). Or simply in the work place, why we value being called a boss or supervisor instead of simply being a rank-and-file employee. Your duties might be the same but the designation makes all the differences, and people usually attribute a higher income the more important-sounding your company title is. Yet at the end of the day, it’s all names. A maintenance supervisor’s duty might not be any different from that of a janitor yet the former elicits a certain aura, a certain presence. Or you can call yourself the C.E.O. of the company even if you’re the only employee yet that makes all the difference in how people perceive you, especially when you hand out your business cards.

In at atmosphere like the work place, most people don’t realize that by allowing the company to give them designations, they’re giving a sense of power over to the company. You’re saying “This is the work I do, you have the power to demote or promote me according to your will.” And the same mentality extends to society, especially in the voting process. Your current president is just a regular man yet you give him power by naming him president. His authority is commensurate with his title, which is given to him by society rather than something he bestows upon himself. And while as the president, it might seem you wield such power, the truth of the matter is that the only reason you have power is because society owns you and gave you that title. By rejecting society, you are stripped of your powers. If society rejects you, you are similarly feeble and powerless.

A name might be such a simple thing yet it holds so much power. No acknowledged individual goes without a name and most likely, every person has lots of names, each one representing a different facet of their personality. It is through names that we establish relationships with people much like some animals pee on certain places and buildings to mark their territory. Without names, whether true or false, we would not view the world as we see it today. That’s why names are valued and why we are quick to label our enemies. With every word we utter, we not only hope they come true, but we define what kind of interaction we plan to have with that person. The entities we acknowledge but refuse to name belong to one of two categories: we either fear them the most (and why in Harry Potter, Voldemort is he-who-must-not-be-named), or are in awe of them (and why in Christianity, it is blasphemy to utter God’s real name).

Don't Use Air Vents!

Here's an old but funny post from John August: Air vents are for air
Thanks to continuous bombardment in television and movies, the idea of characters shimmying through air ducts has become not just a cliché, but almost a given. The moment a hero finds himself stuck someplace, we expect his eyes to drift north to that spot just below the ceiling, where an oversized grate is beckoning: “Just yank twice! I’m not screwed in or anything!”
Maybe they can support... zombies?

Top 10 Fictional Characters You Want to See Cosplayed

In line with the Literary Cosplay at the Manila International Book Fair, what's your top ten characters you want to see cosplayed? I have two qualifiers though, one is that they shouldn't have appeared on film or on TV (because if we did, the top lists would probably be filled with characters from yesteryear's blockbusters like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Chronicles of Narnia) and two, they should be visually distinctive. Here's my list (in no particular order):
  1. Elric of Melnibone ("Are you sure you're not a cloud giant with a sword?")
  2. Drizzt Do 'Urden ("So which dark elf are you?" "I am the dark elf, as my two scimitars will prove.")
  3. Raistlin Majere (your choice to pair him up with either the Caramon Majere action figure or Dalamar "What do magic-users wear beneath their clothes? Very little" the Dark)
  4. Polgara the Sorceress (complete with Harry Potter owl)
  5. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (yes, they're considered as one entity)
  6. Tyrion Lannister (Gregor Clegane might be an alternative)
  7. The Shrike (haven't read Dan Simmons though)
  8. Cthulhu (how can you not have Cthulhu? And Nyarlathotep is not a bishonen!)
  9. The Galactic Patrol (sorry, haven't read E. E. Doc Smith either)
  10. Harley Quin (a.k.a. Mr Quin)
P.S. I can just imagine the staff asking the cosplayers during registration: "Do you have a picture of your character?" "No, but I have this paragraph to describe him or her."

Living Books

When the literati talks about books, they talk about them as if they were alive, morphing and changing with each reader as they apply their own interpretations and experiences with the book. That's not what I want to talk about however. When people finally see print, there's a sense of finality, of tangibility, of permanence. Once you write down something, you can't take it back. Or can you?

Online publishing is easier to edit that printed books. There's no plates or inks or paper stock to worry about in the former. But that doesn't mean the latter isn't any more morphic. Just as George Lucas strove to edit and change his Star Wars series, I think such a feat is possible when it comes to books, and it's been done before.

One way is to slightly alter and change the text with each edition. Michael Moorcock is guilty of this (and that's why you'll read several slightly different versions of the Elric story) and one of today's more mainstream titles, Raymond E. Feist's Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master, certainly fits this revisionist mold (Magician used to be one book you know, not two).

Then there are the short stories or novellas that get blown up into whole novels. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. I mean Orson Scott Card outdid himself with the Ender's Game short story but the novel is equally as astounding. And he's not the only one who has succeeded in such a feat. We have the likes of Greg Bear for example or in mainstream fantasy, Robert Jordan.

A slightly different take would be the reissues of old publications. Like when H.P. Lovecraft's works were re-released by Del Rey, a variety of well-known authors wrote the introduction, such as Neil Gaiman. The actual text hasn't changed but there's some perceived "extra value" when you include features such as a new introduction, a new foreword, or even a study guide.

It's most evident, however, in nonfiction books. References books, text books, and history books are prime examples of publications that get continually revised and re-released on a regular basis to the point that you might not want to keep old copies of the books because they're outdated. In fiction, you'd treasure these "unmodified" manuscripts but in the case of nonfiction, the sooner they're replaced, the better.

Books have a feeling of permanence yet the text they contain are still susceptible to the winds of change. Writing changes, writing evolves, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

Space and Shipping

When buying books, there are two expenses that lurk in the background yet as buyers, we tend to be unaware of. When managing a bookstore, shelf space is at a premium, while as a publisher, shipping expenses take up a good chunk of your finances.

The beauty of the Internet is that there's the illusion of space although it's really several hard drives/servers linked together. That's not the case with physical bookstores where the books you're selling should be in the store itself, while excess stock might be in a small warehouse "at the back". However, when you have too much variety of books, you can only showcase so many of them on the shelves. Worse, some will even be competing for position--books that are in the front tend to get noticed than those on the back (that's why if you paid close attention to the launch of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows last week, the bookstore placed the Harry Potter books in front, to scream to passersby "buy me!"). And in several ways, that's also why the New Releases section is usually in front of the bookstore--they want to get rid of it as soon as possible and give it exposure while it's new. There'll eventually come a time though when a bookstore isn't selling enough books to make space for new ones. Of course chances are, the bookstore's management is thinking that hey, if these books weren't selling last year, they probably won't get bought this year, at least not at retail price. So one of three things happen: either the bookstore sells them at a discount (this is where book sales come in), returns them to the publisher, or sells them to another establishment at a discount, such as a secondhand bookstore (this is sometimes in conjunction with one of the other two options).

Selling books at a discount is a no-brainer. It's to recoup cost and to make space available for the newer books. However, at the end of the sale, not all of the books will be sold. It can either go to the bookstore's warehouse (taking up space), return them to the publisher (if still possible), or sell them somewhere else (i.e. secondhand bookstores).

Returning books to the publisher can be tricky. This is where shipping comes in. Shipping books costs time and money. It becomes even tricker when shipping is charging you by the weight or the volume. Take it from the point of view of the publisher: when I'm delivering books to a bookstore, it's costing me money. Of course I'll expect I'll earn some money from that endeavor. Now bookstore comes calling and they're telling me they can't sell these books. To maintain my publisher cred (or if I'm consigning), I have to take them back. Of course at the back of my mind, I'm thinking that these are books which don't give me profit--they're unsold after all. Worse, I have to pay the shipping costs again. So in many ways, that's a double whammy for publishers. Not only did I lose a possible revenue source, I have to spend more money just to have it "returned" to me. And shipping can be expensive. So what some big publishers do is that they ask the bookstore to "destroy" the book. This usually comes in one of two ways. One, they rip off the covers. The covers are then delivered to the publisher and marked as destroyed (it's cheaper to mail the covers instead of the whole book after all). At this point, technically, it becomes illegal to sell those books without covers. The second is to mark the books in some way, such as a black mark on the front or back page, a sign that it's a surplus stock or some thing. End of discussion, right?

These "destroyed" books however are some of the books that make its way to the secondhand book market. It's not necessarily revenue the publisher would have gotten, but it's a concealed income stream as the ones who profited from the endeavor are the bookstores (who sold it to the subsequent entity) and the secondhand bookstores (who re-sell them to consumers). So as far as publishers are concerned, the system is quite flawed. (Of course in order for this mechanism to work, the publisher must have shipped huge quantities of books to the bookstore. Unfortunately, the local publishing industry doesn't ship that many books or if they do, they're books that the bookstore is confident they can sell. So many local books get returned to the publisher as a whole and not you know, just hollow covers.)

Online bookstores seemed to have solved this problem. Amazon.com doesn't have an actual shelf to display the books that they can possibly order, but they do have a virtual one. Better yet, when they do stock books in their warehouse, it's a warehouse and doesn't need the ambiance most modern bookstores have, even if it's something as simple as a wooden shelf or couches. Second, on the side of the publishers, they only need to deliver books that Amazon.com orders, and that's usually an amount the latter is confident they can sell. Less returns means less redundant shipping expenses.

That's not to say an online model is perfect. Amazon.com is a success story, yet a few years ago, the reports were that their profits were only enough to break even. The imperfect model of buying from physical bookstores may be inefficient, but so far it's still the best way to sell books.

Why Buy Now

Ryan S. Dancey posted nearly about a month ago about the implications of the Leegin v. PSKS, 06-480 court ruling. Granted, his post was focused on gaming, but the implications apply to all the goods in the US. A follow up post weeks later links to how the new precedent is being used to file lawsuits against eBay sellers. So if you're shopping for discounts in an online store based in the US, you might want to do your Christmas shopping early as the market place today might be different by the end of the year.

Cosplay at the Manila International Book Fair

Tin has put up on the Read or Die website the mechanics for the cosplay competition at the Manila International Book Fair. What I want to comment is how visual cosplay is, yet literary characters aren't as quickly as recognizable unless they were adapted to another medium such as TV or movies. For example, we presently have an image of what Conan (the Barbarian) or Harry Potter or Aragorn or Sherlock Holmes or Baron Harkonnen should look like (even the cast of Noli me Tangere will be identified by their period costumes more than their physical characteristics). Not so much for Belgarath the Sorcerer (will be mistaken for generic white-bearded sorcerer or another sorcerer from the series), Rand 'Al Thor (or Richard Rahl, or King Arthur, or generic fantasy hero with a sword), or Hari Seldon (is that a Starfleet uniform?). Of course I think there will be some notable exceptions. How many wizard/fighter albinos bearing Stormbringer do you know of? Polgara might be recognizable although that's more of a hair thing rather than a whole costume make-over (owl rejects from Harry Potter help too). Then there's characters that are the products of repetitive descriptions (is that a mark of good writing or bad writing?) like Raistlin and his hourglass eyes (good luck with the rest of the cast of Dragonlance... Goldmoon can be mistaken for Galadriel with a staff, Sturm your generic knight without helmet, Riverwind a cross between a native American barbarian, and Flint for Gimli). Then there's some characters that can be pulled off if done correctly. Phedre I think is doable (yay, bondage!). The cast of A Song of Ice and Fire is possible if the costume matches the coat of arms of each House (although I imagine handless Jamie can be mistaken for Luke Skywalker--look, I have no right hand!). Ender and his jeesh, difficult to pull off but possible (and will win the "awww, they're cute children" award).

Or some group could dress up as Old Ones and drive everyone mad. Except they'll probably say "isn't that the dude from Pirates of the Carribean?" (Don't get me started with mysteries--I keep thinking of Nighthood for Arsene Lupin [not Richard Guitterez!] and Detective Hercule Poirot will be confused as Dr. Evil with a mustache.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fake Chinese Harry Potter

Allan has a blog entry (with pictures!) on a couple of Harry Potter books with titles such as "Harry Potter and the Leopard Dragon".

Teens Read, Too!

From Budj

Copied from the Adarna House News:
The success of the previous years’ Teens Read, Too! (TR2) showed that the interest of teenagers in the written word is far from dead. And, the proponents of this literature campaign for young adults are back, with more support from institutions who believe that reading should be promoted among teens, that young writers and readers deserve attention, and that the young adult genre could be where the great literature of the future begins.

This year, the campaign kicks off with live band performances for the official campaign launch at the Filipinas Heritage Library. Different high schools will take part in a number of events geared toward a better appreciation of literature and a more active participation in literature production.

The Barlaya Workshop for Young Adult Literature will provide a venue for promising writers to share their creative pieces with experienced authors of the genre.

Another component of TR2 is the 20-Book Challenge. This event, where teen readers will be pitted against one another, is more than just a quiz bee as it addresses the need to highlight the availability of youth-oriented reading materials by Filipino authors in the market.

Having been witness to the power of competitions in sparking spirited interest, TR2 re-launches the Interschool Best Reading Campaign Contest, where participating high schools compete in the search for the most effective and most original reading campaign.

The Make-Your-Own Barkada Zine Contest aims to encourage teens to explore their creative and literary limits through zines, which can tackle topics ranging from education, reading habits, family issues, social concerns, and even politics.

Interested teens will have the chance to share their thoughts on reading and literature with the Teen Website which aims to provide a virtual, communal spot for teens all over the country.

Teens Read, Too! is a joint effort of Adarna House, Filipinas Heritage Library, National Book Development Board, Fudge Magazine, Powerbooks, and Junior Bright. All six proponents believe that teenagers who don’t read simply haven’t discovered the refreshing world of insight that lies beyond the shelves of their school textbooks.

Multiple Readings

The topic recently brought up at SF Signal. What books have you re-read? I'm not a re-read guy. Once a book is done, I'm done. I don't like re-reading books as most of the charm is gone. So I think that's the question I really want to ask: what books stand up to multiple readings?

Honestly, I expect people will answer something like The Little Prince. But then again, The Little Prince isn't renowned for its thickness and density but rather the beauty of its simplicity and charm.

Nonfiction Reading

For a bibliophile, I'll be the first person to admit that there's an imbalance in what I read: there's more fiction than nonfiction.

So, what nonfiction titles (aside from text books) have you read lately? And why is it that when we try to promote reading, most of us have this idea that it's supposed to be works of fiction?

Personally, my nonfiction reading habits tend to lean towards business and self-help books. Any recommended readings?

Return of ReBoot!

From SF Signal

When it comes to 90's CGI shows, it's either you love 'em or hate 'em. I was more of the latter, although I made an exception to ReBoot. Anyway, Rainmaker Animation will be developing a trilogy of feature films on ReBoot. Hopefully, it won't suck.

Europe's Only Public Science Fiction Museum

From SF Signal

Time has this brief article on The House of Elsehwhere:
In 1976, French sci-fi buff Pierre Versin donated his collection of tens of thousands of science-fiction books to the Swiss spa town of Yverdon-les-Bains, just north of Lausanne, on the condition that it be made available for public viewing. The result was the launch of Europe's only public science-fiction museum. Since then, the House of Elsewhere has held two or three temporary exhibits a year that explore such staples of the genre as space travel, parallel worlds and alien life forms.
On a side note, bibliophiles should check out this web comic.

Flagship Stores

Currently, there are flagship stores of two bookstores are located in Serendra, Fort Bonifacio: Fully Booked and A Different Bookstore. The former is easily the most luxurious and largest (perhaps only second in size to National Bookstore's flagship store in Cubao) of all bookstores and sports not only an in-house coffee shop/cafe (Starbucks) but has an actual area where you could hold a conference. The latter, on the other hand, has several amenities such as a cafe and a lounge.

In certain ways, flagship stores are the capital of their respective bookstores. They should be the best of all their shops and stock the most books. In the case of Fully Booked and A Different Bookstore, their flagship store should be where their target market is, and it's evidently in out-of-the-way, metropolitan Serendra. Of courses not so long ago, Powerbooks's flagship store, with three floors and an in-house cafe, was located in PB Arnaiz, Makati (close to the Fort but not so out-of-the-way). Powerbook's flagship store is now gone though and I don't know which of its branches has taken the mantle. But the location of all three bookstores would seem to suggest that those who purchase brand-new books are the AB class.

Of course National Bookstore's flagship shop is all the way in Cubao and a sharp contrast to the other flagship bookstore branches with couches and lounges. Rather than luxurious, it's more utilitarian with endless shelves of books, some looking spanking new, others that could pass for secondhand books. Yet National Bookstore's flagship store has weathered through the decades and is perhaps the symbol of the bookstore chain's dominance. It might not look luxurious or brand-new but it's certainly serviceable and apparently thriving.

As a bibliophile, that's what I want to ask readers. What do you expect from a flagship bookstore? Does it need to have a cafe? Comfortable couches? Or will National Bookstore's utilitarian appeal be enough for you--it might not have the best ambiance but it certainly delivers in terms of goods and prices.

Returning to your Alma Matter

Philippine Genre Stories recently held a talk at Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA) and what's interesting is that Kenneth got two-time Palanca winner Yvette Tan as a speaker (photos at the PGS link). What's interesting for me is that ma'am Yvette graduated from ICA and so in many ways, her "return" to ICA was one way of giving something back, of going back to your roots (wasn't there though, so can't say for sure... I mean everyone has horror stories about their own school).

Comics Sell Better than Books!

omiI was listening to another interview with Brian Bendis, writer for several Marvel Comics titles like New Avengers and Ultimate Spider-Man. Anyway, one point I found interesting was that he mentioned that aside from best-selling authors like Stephen King, comics does sell, and sometimes more than most books (he was citing Hillary Clinton's book, which sold around 11,000 copies).

Of course I'd like to clarify that the mainstream comic companies distribute through Diamond, so most of what they release do sell-out whether the market buys all of them or not. Second-printings are the exception and I expect that Diamond must have exhausted their comic stocks for a specific title to warrant a second printing.

I think an important part of comic sales is the fact that they're reaching more audiences nowadays, especially since they're making appearances in bookstores. The one qualifier, however, is that the comics must be compiled, usually in the graphic novel format (and for similar reasons, manga titles sell quite well and popular in bookstores). Locally, the same is true. Independent comics find it difficult to land in bookstores but those that are compiled in trades (Zsa Zsa Zatturnah, After Eden, Andong Agimat) do manage to make it to comic book shelves, assuming the publisher makes the effort to distribute them there and willing to shoulder the (expensive) consignment fees. Fully Booked is an exception as they do stock comic singles but I see that as a reflection of the business owner (he's a comic fan) rather than standard bookstore business policies.

While some people in the comic community might shy away from the term "graphic novel" (it's still a comic anyway, no matter what term you use), I think this marketing tactic has paid off and graphic novels are slowly being more accepted as "books" in various industries. I even find it interesting when comics do make it into books, such as one of the stories in China Mieville's collection of short stories, Looking for Jake and Other Stories which is a full-blown comic.

Paper or Plastic?

For me, bookstore transactions is limited to cash, mainly because I don't have a credit card (this also prevents me from buying books online). Some people, however, find it easier to manage their book expenses with credit cards--after all, you're paying all your bills from one source (your credit card company). Still, have you ever wondered why when bookstores (or any other establishment for that matter) go on sale, you get less discounts for paying with a credit card?

The answer is simple. Consumers aren't necessarily aware of this but for each credit card transaction, the credit card company charges the retailer. This is called the Interchange Fee and ranges anywhere from 2% to 3% usually. That's why bookstores, when on sale, give varying discounts depending on whether you're paying cash or via credit card. A typical scenario is that they're giving you 10% discount when you're paying with the former and 5% discount for the latter.

Some consumers might complain that retailers should already factor that charging fee in their retail price and they do--that's why this extra expense only applies to sales and discounts. The store is already giving you discounts, they shouldn't lose more money. Better an option to pay via cash and get more discounts rather than make it a flat-out 5% discount fee irregardless of whether you're paying via cash or credit card. It might seem retailers are the villains when pricing such discounts but they're not.

On a side note, how do you pay for your book purchases?

iPhone Bugs

From Ars Technica

iPhone v1.0 bugs (that's not me bashing the iPhone, that's me working out how to go about using it in the event [if] the Philippines gets one)

Avatar Sneak Peaks

Avatar: The Last Airbender fans might want to drop by the San Diego Comic Con this week as Nickelodeon has the following event lined up (info courtesy of Steve Fritz at Newsarama):
- 10:30 -11:30AM -- Into the Fire Nation: Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 3 Sneak Peek – A first look at what's to come in the third season, including clips from new episodes. Creator Bryan Konietzko, director Joaquim Dos Santos, Head Writer Aaron Ehasz (Futurama) and a voice artist Dee Baker (The Fairly OddParents), who voices Appa and Momo. Moderated by Eric Coleman, Vice President/Executive Producer, Animation Production and Development. Room 6A

In-Print Online

I just discovered that some of the previous issues of In-Print magazine, Fully Booked's in-house publication, is available for download at their website.

Book Orders and Shipments

Are you the type of person who visits their bookstore every single day, hoping to find something new on the shelves? Similarly, are you tired of seeing the same old books on the shelves and tempted to order books via Amazon.com? I used to be that person but I'm not. I discovered a secret that comes in handy and addresses my bibliophile needs. And the two topics might seem separate but in truth, they're related.

To answer the first question, I stopped dropping by bookstores every single day. Why? Because the books on shelf won't change. In fact, the variety will decrease as people pick up books, misplace them, or simply outright buy them. The question you should be asking is when should you visit your favorite bookstore. And the answer is the day after they ship their new stocks. It makes sense, right? But the answer to that question isn't obvious as most bookstores don't advertise. A Different Bookstore, for example, states in their book ordering information that their shipments arrives twice a month, on the 15th and the 30th (the same day as payday!). For the other bookstores, you're left in the dark. Well, here's some facts I discovered after stalking the bookstores (of course I can't guarantee this is 100% true but this is what I've observed):

Bookstores that ship twice every month:
  • Fully Booked
  • A Different Bookstore
Bookstores that ship once a month:
  • Booktopia (transitioning from twice-a-month schedule, or so I heard from Banzai Cat)
  • Powerbooks
  • National Bookstore
Now what does that mean? In the case of bookstores that ship twice every month, you just have to visit your favorite bookstore twice every month--don't bother visiting every single day, the book selections won't change. And in the case of bookstores that get their stocks every month, it just pays to visit them once. Sounds so simple right? And unbibliophile-like? Well, the way I see it, the less trips you make to your favorite bookstore, the more trips you can make to other bookstores, or the more time you can spend to actually reading your books. So think of this as a time management device. (Or if you want, just visit a section of the bookstore every day rather than tour the entire place in one go.)

I'd also want to clarify that the day a bookstore's stocks arrive to their warehouse isn't the day that the books are stocked on shelf. If A Different Bookstore gets its new stocks on the 15th, you can expect it on their shelves on the 16th or 17th for example. From what I've observed at Fully Booked, back when the flagship store was in Rockwell (it's now the one in Serendra), new books would arrive on the weekend (a Saturday afternoon visit is good). Nonetheless, knowing when books ship is useful to know (so ask the bookstores when they expect their next shipment to arrive... the smaller bookstores are open about it while the bigger bookstore chains usually cryptically answer whether it's soon or not-so-soon.

Knowing the shipment of books helps you make an informed decision on the second part of the question. You don't need to order books via Amazon.com. Most bookstores accept book orders. So why funnel your income towards a big, online conglomerate when your money can instead go to local bookstores that provide you with the same services? Here's a quick summary Amazon's shipping rates to the Philippines, assuming we take the cheapest service:
  • Amazon is charging $6.99 for any book shipment. That means whether we're getting one book or a dozen, there's the flat $6.99 fee to pay. It's a good thing to do bulk orders in this case, because the cost is more spread out among the various titles. If you're just ordering one book, an initial fee of $6.99 is easily the cost of the paperback book itself.
  • Amazon is charging $4.99 for each item in the shipment. That means in addition to the $6.99 shipping charge, there's an additional $4.99 for each item. Buying in bulk doesn't help as this cost applies to each and every item. So the next time you think you're getting a book "cheap" at Amazon, remember to add $4.99 to the cost.
  • 11 to 40 business days. Keep in mind, they're counting by business days. That usually excludes holidays and weekends.
Now Amazon has other shipping rates but that's the cheapest. If you want to receive the book sooner, you might want to avail of those other shipping options but remember, the shipping rates will be higher. That's also not to say you should never order from Amazon if price is a concern (availability and rarity is one reason why you should consider ordering from Amazon). But as far as paperbacks go, the discounts (anywhere from none to 20%) isn't enough to offset the shipping costs. Hardcovers, on the other hand, are a different matter, mainly because Amazon gives huge discounts on them. Take for example Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Amazon is giving buyers a 49% discount, reducing the actual cost to $17.99. Factor in all the other shipping costs and you end up with $29.97. Multiply that with today's exchange rate and it's costing you P1343.26 to order the book. Not bad, considering the book is going for P1400+ in most local bookstores. But you have to bear in mind, that's because the book is quite expensive (at $34.99) and Amazon is giving a huge discount (49%). The per-book cost can go down if you order more books (spreading $6.99 among the number of books you ordered). But remember, think twice when buying paperbacks. Fahrenheit 451, with a retail price of $6.99, can end up costing you P850.24, even when you can get the same book for half the price locally.

I've talked enough about Amazon, let's talk about the local bookstores and why you should order from them. They may not be able to give you the huge discounts but at least shipping won't be such a huge burden on you as it's factored in to their daily shipment of books. I discussed in a previous blog entry about the various conversion rate of various bookstores. You can end up as cheaply as paying P40.00 against the dollar depending on which bookstore you shop. Those big discounts don't apply to ordered books. You'll most likely be paying more against the dollar, around P60.00 = $1.00 back when the local exchange rate was P55.00 = $1.00. And depending on which bookstore you shop, your discount card might not apply. Nonetheless, that's a great deal when you're ordering paperback books. Even assuming that it's costing you P60.00 = $1.00, Fahrenheit 451 will cost you roughly P420.00 (again, half the price it would have cost you to order from Amazon).

The second question when ordering from bookstores is how long it takes before they actually acquire the book. In Powerbooks, it took them anywhere from one to two months (personal experience, although their website has a new delivery date). A Different Bookstore gives me a better timetable, two weeks was the fastest (a fluke!) while four weeks is the norm. The key here is to place your order just after their shipment arrives. If you place your order in between shipments, the book order might only be processed once their next shipment arrives (or rather they might order it but it won't be in time for the next shipment). That means a longer wait for you.

The third question is availability. Thankfully, most bookstores can order whatever titles that Amazon can carry, barring used books. I'll give a summary of the various bookstores and their book ordering services:

National Bookstore/Powerbooks
Delivery Time: 3 - 5 weeks.
Selection: Books available at Amazon
50% of the cost of the book
Discount: No
More Info: Powerbooks and National Bookstore

A Different Bookstore
Delivery Time:
2 - 8 weeks
Selection: Books available at Amazon
full downpayment of the cost of the book, and refund/change/additional charges on the books when they finally arrive, depending on the current exchange rate.
Discount: Yes

Delivery Time:
2 - 8 weeks.
Selection: No limit, but no guarantees on hard-to-find books. Also searches secondhand bookstore market. (They buy used books so if you don't mind secondhand books, especially for rare titles, they can try to acquire it.)
Downpayment: 50% of the cost of the book
Discount: If you ask nicely
More Info: Booktopia

Aeon Books
Delivery Time:
Unknown (but I assume anywhere from 2 - 8 weeks)
Selection: Books available at Amazon
Downpayment: Just ask nicely and they'll try to get the book.
Discount: No

Fully Booked
Delivery Time:
Unknown (but I assume anywhere from 2 - 8 weeks) 2 - 6 weeks
Selection: Books available at Amazon (their stocks would suggest they can acquire European books and I tried ordering one but they never got back to me)
Downpayment: Fill out a form and they'll check if the book is available. Haven't progressed any further than that (they never got back to me, which I assume they weren't able to get the book) but I also assume there's a similar 50% downpayment once they can confirm they can get the book. 50% of the cost of the book.
Discount: Unknown Yes

This is all based on my experiences two years ago so any information presented may not be as accurate as I want it to be. If you want to add a bookstore or update any information, feel free to comment with the appropriate corrections and I'll edit the post.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Heaven Isn't a Utopia

According to Christianity, heaven is supposed to be this big utopia--a society that reality can never attain. And similarly, hell is supposed to be this dystopia that no one would ever want to live in. But if we take them too literally, we can end up with pretty funny scenarios.

For example, when we die and go to heaven, we're reborn as angels. And what exactly is it that angels do? Sing all day and praise God? Well, I have no plans of being a singer (I don't even enjoy karaoke!) so you know, eternity as a holy angel isn't for me (there's a reason why churches have choirs, and why cherubims singing is a symbol). It even gets more interesting when Jesus is asked by Sadducees who gets to be the wife of whom when the wife's husband dies and the deceased's siblings assume their duty of being the new husband of the wife (ad nauseam six more times). The reply? They're all angels? Does that mean no more sex in heaven? (I can hear the shrivel cry of males in the world.)

Similarly, hell isn't the dystopia it's cut out to be. Flaming hot? No problem, just send in the pyromaniac. Torture? Isn't that pleasure for the masochists?

Read-A-Book Meme

I so suck at memes. The last time I think I had what, three respondents? (I'm not viral!)

Anyway, over the years, there's been a couple of literacy ads. My only qualm with most of those ads is that they're a bit stale. You know, always having a child in the background or mentioning about reading helping our kids. These days, I think we need something more upbeat. And please, no more children! Reading isn't just for kids and besides, even adults benefit from getting brainwashed motivated by ads.

So what's the Read-A-Book Meme about? Develop a catchphrase and a description of the accompanying image for the would-be ad.

Here are a couple of examples:

Early for a meeting? Read a book.

There's a huge conference room and all but the final seat is vacant. A man in a power suit is seated there with his hands on the table and his fingers touching each other (think of it as Mr. Burns' evil gesture).

Still waiting in line? Read a book.

People are waiting in line, most likely a campus registrar. The line is oriented vertically and at the bottom is the model facing the reader with a bored expression.

Waiting for a download to finish? Read a book.

Female in a swivel chair staring sleepily at the monitor. See "Your mighty band of heroes..." link below and substitute the text.

If I had a peg for these ads, it'd be more like the following ads for Dungeons & Dragons, including the expressive faces of the models:

At least you'll know when the hot elf chick is a dude.

Your mighty band of heroes will never be defeated by a server crash.

So come up with your own ad ideas and tagline! And spread the word and hopefully you can comment here so I'll compile the results by next week. I'm counting on all three of you. =)

About Me

Taking a page from Problogger, now seems as good a time as any to write my About Me (beyond that I'm a bibliophile and a stalker).

Charles Tan's fiction has appeared in publications such as The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories and Philippine Speculative Fiction. He has contributed nonfiction to websites such as The Nebula Awards (http://nebulaawards.com/), The Shirley Jackson Awards (http://www.shirleyjacksonawards.org/), SF Crowsnest (http://www.sfcrowsnest.com/), SFScope (http://sfscope.com/), Fantasy Magazine (http://www.darkfantasy.org/fantasy/), Fantasy Literature (http://www.fantasyliterature.com/), BSC Review (http://www.bscreview.com/), The World SF News Blog (http://worldsf.wordpress.com/), and SF Signal (http://www.sfsignal.com). In 2009, he won the Last Drink Bird Head Award (http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2009/10/04/the-first-annual-last-drink-bird-head-award-finalists/) for International Activism which is described as "In recognition of those who work to bring writers from other literary traditions and countries to the attention of readers in North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia…" He is also a 2011 World Fantasy nominee for the Special Award, Non-Professional category.  You can visit his blog, Bibliophile Stalker (http://charles-tan.blogspot.com/), the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler (http://philippinespeculativefiction.com/), or Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009 (http://bestphilippinesf.com/).

For my bibliography, you can check here.

You can email me at charlesatan [at] gmail [dot] com.

Those interested in my metrics can look at my tracker, my livejournal profile page, and my feed subscribers (right-hand side of this blog).

The following people have interviewed me at their corresponding websites:
I've also appeared in the following podcasts:

Clarify the Word GM

As a gamer, GM for me means Game Master (or in D&D, the Dungeon Master). Of course more conventional business people mean for GM to mean General Manager. Unfortunately, I know people who are both gamers and businessmen.

Ideas vs Writing

A friend recently commented on my livejournal that she's envious of me because of my blog entries and my writing (of course she knew me even before I was blogging so there's something to compare: a total zero to something [whether you consider my blogging good or bad writing]). Personally, I'm baffled as I want her to be more specific (because I honestly cover a lot of topics in this blog) because to me, I think people fall in love with blogs and writing in general for one of two reasons: the writing and the ideas behind them.

Wait, isn't writing and ideas part of the same package? Yes, they are. And I think the best writers are those who excel in both. But I think there's also room to differentiate between the two, so to speak. I believe there are good writers out there who excel in one of the two and put up a "good enough" talent in the other.

For example, I associate good writing with eloquence and charisma. You might not be saying anything new but you write it in such a way that readers simply fall in love with you, that's good writing per se. People might describe you as "reading poetry from prose" or "flowery words" or something similar. In Philosophy, we say that everyone philosophizes, it's just that not everyone is able to elucidate their thoughts or describe what they think or feel clearly. This ability to translate and make it understandable to other people, I call this good writing.

Then there's ideas. Ideas aren't limited to sci-fi novels or short stories. They can be something as seemingly simple as "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" to "All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten". It's our epiphanies, our challenges to the status quo, our thoughts on some matter. What attracts people to your writing so to speak isn't necessarily your technical skill in writing but in your opinions and point of view. It's the idea.

Don't get me wrong--you need both to come up with something readable. An idea without good writing isn't a story, it's just an idea. Similarly, good writing without an idea is just a couple of beautiful phrases. It might pass for poetry but it lacks a central "core". So you need both.

Some people, however, aren't those great writers who gets A's in both fields. One might have an A+ in writing and just a B in ideas. Personally, I think I'm more of an idea guy rather than a writing guy (and some would say that's where most of my stories lead to--the central idea rather than the characters or the story). Which is what I'm wondering when my friend praised me: does she love me for my writing or for my ideas?

Reading More or Reading Less?

SF Signal has the results of a poll asking the question whether you were reading more or less than you did 10 years ago. Me being in my mid-20's, ten years ago was easily grade school. Two comments are also quoted in that blog entry, stating that they were reading more when they were still studying as work and new options (fan fiction, blogs) get in the way.

To me, I think that's the relevant question. Not necessarily where you reading more or reading less compared to x amount of years, but whether you were reading more or reading less compared to when you were still in school.

Personally, I was reading less books. Did I have more time back then? Subjectively, yes (reading is about setting time for it after all). But then again, I was less interested in them. As children, we might have more time to read books but for me, it's only as an adult did I begin to appreciate books. And while I could spend most of my life reading children's books, lacking certain life experiences (be it romance, war, politics, higher sciences/math, etc.) also limits my understanding of several topics that a book or novel might tackle.

I've also said it a lot of times before, I'm a late bloomer. While I was reading some books in grade school, I wasn't reading a lot of them. I started building my library in high school (1996) and look, it's eleven years later and I have hundreds of books at home! (Sadly, I haven't read all of them.)

So, what are your experiences?

Sneaking in Exercise

Me not being a gym guy, I always look for ways to slip in exercise anyway I can. For the past three years, there's the 30-minute walk between home and office as well as climbing 16 flights of stairs. Lately, I'm investigating how to put less stress on the back and the answer is less bending and more squatting.

I think people tend to bend a lot although it's not obvious until you pay close attention. I was brushing my teeth and that's me leaning forward too much. So the other day I try squatting while brushing my teeth. It's difficult but I'm getting some squats in. The same goes for taking a bath because the shower is broken and I bathe using a pail.

Magic Bullets

One old paradigm is that the brain works like a container. You only have enough space to fill it up so every piece of information that you remember counts towards your maximum capacity (think of your brain has a hard drive). Sherlock Holmes certainly subscribed to that theory which is why when Watson told him that the Earth revolved around the sun instead of vice versa, the former merely told him that he will try to forget it as it is unneeded information. Today, some people still subscribe to that belief but that's not really the case when it comes to the brain. Because of pattern recognition and the firing of neurons, the amount of information we can store seems infinite (and that is the real question--our brain might have a maximum capacity but no one really knows what that capacity is). That's not to say memorizing a lot of things doesn't cause us to "forget" others. In psychology class, I learned about interference and how one fact interferes with another fact. For example, we saw our Jill wear black on Monday and blue on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we forgot what Jill wore and expect it was either black or blue, based on our previous experiences with her (of course this assumes Jill has that much limited of a wardrobe). If we saw Jill wearing black on both Monday and Tuesday, we might have expected her to wear black on Wednesday too.

In line with that, there's what I first heard from Dean as "magic bullets". Every person has a finite number of magic bullets that enable them to come up with great ideas/concepts/stories/inventions/etc. (If you're fan of the Supernatural TV series, think of it as every person is armed with The Colt.) Once we exhaust those supply of magic bullets, everything we come up with is shit. The thing is, every person's supply of magic bullets is different from the other person (some are blessed more, others less) and more importantly, we don't know how many we've got. Assuming you subscribe to this theory, that means whenever you come up with a masterpiece, that masterpieces counts against the total masterpieces in your lifetime.

It's an interesting theory albeit one I personally consider as outdated as the brain-container model yet it resonates with a lot of people's fears. For example, when we come up with a great business idea or this one terrific story, we try our best to protect it and immediately cry fowl when someone tries to "steal" our ideas (i.e. "The Matrix was our idea"). I think in many ways, we cause such a furor because whenever we come up with such masterpieces, we feel that we've just won the Lotto and that the chances of producing another similar work is nil. (Of course the other reason why you should press charges is because of the principle, that somebody stole something from you, especially if you're confident you'll come up with more masterworks in the future... you can't just let everyone who passes by steal your ideas.) In college, it's much like coming up with a good topic for your thesis. There's certainly a lot of topics that can be covered with any given subject but we feel that there's only a few good topics that we can come up with and reasonably write about.

The theory also resonates with the idea of inequality. Following this theory, people like Da Vinci or Thomas Edison had lots of magic bullets. Other inventors, not so much. And while I think most people hope for a world where the playing field is equal (which is why people have a love-hate relationship with monopolies, love them if you're the one holding the monopoly, otherwise hate it the rest of the time), a part of them also recognizes that the world is unequal (and conclude that because of that, the world is unfair). This is where the hoarding mentality comes in and why some people buy ideas from other people as they would commodities. Personally, as a writer, it also strikes a chord in me. I wonder that with every story idea I come up with, that's one less concept I can use so I'd better make good use of it (of course the fact of the matter is, stories aren't just ideas--execution and actual writing makes the story a winner or not). And in many ways, that extends to blogging. Every blog entry I write today is one entry I won't be writing tomorrow. Thankfully I don't believe in the theory so I simply overwhelm you with entries (honestly, if the magic bullet theory was true for me, I'd have stopped blogging several weeks ago...two hundred entries in two months is too much for most people I think).

Third is that it resonates with our fear of death. With death, we don't know when it'll happen. Sometimes we have an inkling of the end but seldom a specific time and day (unless you hired the hit-man yourself). The same goes with magic bullets--not only do we not know how many we've got, we also don't know when it'll run out. We certainly don't want to wake up on the day that the well has finally dried, so to speak. It's also compounded by the death factor. One of people's so-called regret is not doing everything they could have done before they die. Assuming you're born with lots of magic bullets, isn't it a waste if your die prematurely before exhausting them? I expect on a subconscious level, some people fear that.

Of course at the end of the day, I don't believe in the magic bullet theory. In many ways, living such a life can limit us. Instead of giving 100% into your work every single day, you're tempted to hold back a little just so you don't exhaust your supply of magic bullets (or worse, spend your magic bullets for someone else's benefit). But I think what we should remember that as humans, we create, we invent--we make new magic bullets. That's why we're gifted with intelligence and creativity, so we can use them. Being a writer or an inventor isn't about any one product, it's about our ability to consistently create new material (whether it's a piece of fiction or an actual invention). We might never hit it big but that doesn't mean our contributions to society isn't any less meaningful. Go create your own new magic bullets. It's been my experience that the more you create, the more refined those future magic bullets become.