Friday, August 31, 2007

Read or Die, Spec Fic, Anvil, and Manila International Book Fair on Radio

Just found out that last night, RX 93.1 had an interview with Kristine Mandigma of Read or Die, author Dean Alfar, Gwen Galvez of Anvil Publishing, and Blooey Singson of the Manila International Book Fair. Due to technical difficulties (no Internet, dead mp3 player), an edited transcript and recording won't be up until next week but here's some snippets I managed to jot down halfway through the interview (parenthesis are English translations of Filipino terms):
On Read or Die's current reading recommendations.

Kristine: This month is graphic novel month. So all the titles nominated are graphic novels. We have Dean Alfar’s Siglo there, which is one of the best graphic novel compilation. We have Alan Moore in the selection. We have Gerry Alanguilan’s Elmer. Just local talents, we have Dean Alfar’s Siglo, we have Gerry Alanguilan’s Elmer, and we have Craig Thompson’s Blankets. Which is a really, really nice graphic novel so that’s what we recommend. For this month, graphic novels. Next month I think we are on to historical novels for the selection.

On Read or Die's agenda.

Kristine: [We're] all embracing. But we also do have a special advocacy for Philippine lit as you mentioned. Even though we have very different tastes, I think one of our unifying threads, commonality namin (of ours) is that even if we don’t all read Filipino lit, we like to promote Filipino literature through this book club. We also have another website like, if you could visit it, that’s one of our efforts to promote Filipino literature.

Dean Alfar's take on speculative fiction.

Speculative fiction actually had its roots in science fiction because the question is what if. What if the world was like this or what if aliens had come. But it has since grown to encompass fantasy, sci-fi, horror, magic-realism, surrealism, and interstitial fiction. So actually a lot of the non-realist stories and types of books are covered by spec fic.

Dean's theory on why speculative fiction is popular lately in the country.

Dean: For the longest of times, a lot of the material that was available to the common public or general reading public was domestic realism or novels or stories about the plight of the poor and things like that which are important because that reflects social agenda and it’s important that we understand that. However we are also becoming more regional and global. We are influenced now by the Internet to look outside. Film comes in, there are no boundaries and literature comes in from other countries. And the literature of the imagination which is speculative fiction has no boundaries or citizenship so a lot of the younger generation, they look for the literature of wonder which is sci-fi, horror, fantasy and these are the things that matter to them and these are the things that they are reading and happily writing.

Redefining speculative fiction and escapism.

Dean: The older people would brand it [speculative fiction] as escapism and make it sound like a bad thing but to me escapism is just another term you use for hope. When people want to escape, like OFWs (Overseas Foreign Workers), they will read romances. It’s a happy ending, it allows them a fantasy, it gives them hope. Escapism is a term that needs to be shorn of its ugly thing. It’s not a bad thing. It permits the Filipino to hope and dream of a better tomorrow, that’s what utopian science fiction is about, what fantasy is about, and even horror that allows us to confront dark things and that’s not just about escapism, that’s about hope.

Anvil's take on the current best-sellers and what's selling.

Gwen: The same thing as what was selling ten years ago. Essentially self-help is still the best-seller. You’d have dictionaries, cookbooks, nonfiction, self-help. Books that will improve one’s self. In the arena of fiction, it’s still basically romance and suspense. So right now what is hot are the ghost stories. Yes, ghost stories. Because of what Dean said, we like something that will quicken the heartbeat, the what-if’s. We’re always interested, the Filipinos have an innate curiosity for the supernatural, it’s in our culture. We have a rich mythology so ghost stories will always sell. It’s pretty much the same. People all over the country the common reading material is romance and suspense, ghost stories.

New books that's out in the market.

Anvil: We have a new cookbook that’s out, it’s called Pulutan. It’s written by two soldiers who are the Oakwood Mutiny soldiers. They passed on their recipes... These are recipes that they compiled while they were, even before that [the Oakwood Mutiny], while they were assigned to different camps all over the country... They’ve been assigned to all over the country to different camps and they’ve been able to compile and test recipes that are usually indigenous to a particular area.

Dean: My latest work is my very first collection of short fiction, it’s called Kite of Stars and Other Stories published by Anvil. It’s available right now at the book fair and I’d like to invite everyone to the formal launch of The Kite of Stars and Other Stories. This will be on September 29, 4 o’clock in the afternoon, at Bestsellers in Robinsons Galleria.

The lead story is called Kite of Stars (ed note: was also published in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Seventeenth Annual Collection) and it’s about a woman who falls in love with a man and she goes on a 60-year quest to assemble the millions of components of a kite that she will use once assembled to attract his attention. For science fiction I have something called Hollow Girl which is about an android who looks for meaning in her life and love and finds it in the wrong places. For straight-out epic fantasy I have something called In the Dim Plane which is about a cast of villains trapped on a plane of darkness and one of them is a necromancer. So there is a lot that we can write about and this is the best time to be writing speculative fiction because now there are markets open, not just Anvil in terms of a publisher but you have magazines like Story Philippines, or even the Philippines Free Press which still is a bastion for excellent writing and they’re now open to spec fic. It’s incredible. There’s also the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories which publishes fantasy, horror, crime, western, romance, you name it.

On the book fair.

Blooey: Over at the book fair we have over 300 exhibitors in one venue. It showcases the largest and the most varied collection of printed materials like text books, educational supplements, literature, general references, religious and inspirational titles, self-help books, management books and many many more. And even multimedia and teaching aids and even interactive materials.

On the topic's question, do Filipinos still read?

Blooey: And to answer your question if Filipinos read, actually two years ago there was a survey conducted by an international surveying agency. It’s called the World Culture Score survey. It was conducted on 30,000 consumers in 30 countries and Filipinos ranked 3rd as the country’s most avid readers. We apparently we read for an average of 6.7 hours a week while India batted with 10.7 hours. India ranked no. 1.

More Moleskine

Just plugging for Jasper of Avalon:
Hi all,

Carry in your pocket the legendary Moleskine Pocket-sized Notebook. Size is
3.5"x5.5" (9x14cm). Market/Original Pocket-Sized format price - P850.00 to
P900.00, up to 50% savings if you buy from All items SEALED in
original plastic, not an imitation, 100% original. Online postings with
images will follow soon. Send e-mail to macs01@avalon. ph or moleskine@avalon. ph for your orders.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Jeffrey Ford Interview at Sci Fi Wire

The Slush God interviews author Jeffrey Ford at Sci Fi Wire:
Ford's third nomination is for his story "The Way He Does It," which was published in the zine Electric Velocipede. "It is a story that attempts to describe the manner in which [an unnamed] 'he' does it, the grace, the brutality, the flair, the force," Ford said. "After a while the reader might start to wonder what 'it' is."


Sarah Monette over at Storytellers Unplugged states the Five Things I Know About World-Building:
  1. The more fun you have, the more fun your audience will have.
  2. Never world-build through infodump.
  3. You can work it all out in advance or make it up as you go along. The end result will look the same.
  4. Never tell your audience everything you know.
  5. You have to let some details be throwaways.

Podcasts for 2007/08/30

Because of the fickle whims of fate (I just thought of this up last Thursday), every Thursday I'll be giving podcast updates on the world of fiction/writing and tabletop RPGs. (And no, there's too much of those that I haven't had the time to listen to all of them!)


Check out last week's podcasts.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Personal Plug

Tomorrow I'll be posting the past week's interesting (for me at least) podcasts when it comes to fiction/writing and tabletop RPGs. Who could have known the past week would be as busy? I have nearly two dozen links so be sure to visit tomorrow (barring technical difficulties).

Reading Preferences

While I’m a fan of both science fiction and fantasy, I consider myself more of the latter. Perhaps this distinction makes itself more pronounced when it comes to my reading preferences, especially when it comes to the “classics”. When it comes to fantasy, I honestly abhor J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, instead preferring George R. R. Martin and Philip Pullman respectively. In many ways, I’m more modern when it comes to fantasy and generally aware of the upcoming writers in the field (and the intrigues that surround them). Science fiction, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. I don’t think I can really name a modern science fiction author aside from those that were still writing back in the “golden era” of science fiction: Arthur C. Clarke, William Gibson, Greg Bear. When I speak of science fiction works that I read and enjoy, I instantly go for the well-known classics such as Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, and Alfred Bester.

I think this strange tug of war between “classical literature” and “modern literature” is becoming more and more essential in genre fiction. Because as much as the critics might dismiss genre fiction, those familiar with the field know that there’s growth and evolution in those specific genres. Modern horror for example has veered away (and sometimes revisits) the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and Ira Levin. More than one fantasy has veered away from Tolkienesque worlds or even the trilogy packaging, instead opting for shorter or even longer, more dramatic works. Science fiction I think has drifted from conceptual science fiction and political science fiction but has slowly moved into the field of hard science fiction (a fact made possible that the present is indeed the science fiction of three decades ago). I’m sure there are also other developments in genres I’m not quite familiar with but the fact is, there’s really much growth and evolution happening. I won’t even delve into interstitial fiction, speculative fiction, and other types of fiction that fuses, combines, and remixes various genres.

And at the end of the day, today’s modern genre will become tomorrow’s classics. Authors like Kelly Link and Jeffrey Ford and Jeff Vandermeer seem poised to take the spot when we talk of literary fantasy for example. George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan, and Steven Erikson have redefined epic fantasy. No one really knows what to make of China Mieville but he’ll certainly be nominated for a spot somewhere. And then there’s the fan-favorite Neil Gaiman, the same author who gave us the dark Coraline, the urban American Gods, and my latest bet, Interworld.

I can’t help how readers three generations from now will look at these authors. Will there be disdain or appreciation? What new writing styles will rise and dethrone these uncrowned kings of genre?

Online Book Shopping

Among bibliophiles, I think there’s a segment that are collectors at heart. It’s not so much the owning of books (whether brand-new or secondhand) that’s important but rather the act hounding books, scouring various bookstores and sales to find a particular novel or edition. I mean a part of me takes pride whenever I find a rare book or otherwise unavailable novel in the Philippines and there’s an even bigger part of me that wants to brag about it (unfortunately, only fellow fantasy bibliophiles can appreciate finding a copy of Stormbringer for example). The Internet I think has changed the way books are sold. I can’t imagine myself purchasing groceries online (because I value “freshness”) but I certainly have tried ordering books online. In certain ways, it’s simply more convenient for me to do so. I mean one problem with bookstores is that while you can place the order on a book, you’re not the person doing the ordering. It’s usually the salesclerk or the manager or the customer service rep who’s behind the computer, looking at his screen, eying the details of the book. With a site such as, I get to do that myself and even get a glimpse of the book cover (I once ordered a book called Shadow Game and instead of getting fantasy author Glen Cook, I get romance writer Christine Freehan). In other words, there’s the illusion that I have more control when I’m shopping online as opposed to an intermediary, such as a bookstore.

However, that’s obviously not the biggest advantage of online shopping. Perhaps the biggest draw of for me is the fact that it’s able to stock books that a brick-and-mortar bookstore couldn’t possibly have. It’s not even necessarily one particular book but the fact that it has an infinite selection. Gone is the excuse that this book is not available. What’s limiting me is my budget for books (and first-time online shoppers beware!) and how much I’m willing to shell out. Unfortunately, that fact might not seem like an asset to the collector. After all, book hunting seems easier and more convenient. Where’s the thrill of the hunt?

I don’t think that’s really the case though. As much as I’m pro-eBooks, most of the books I read and people read are still books printed on paper. And perhaps that’s one thing that’s limiting online bookstores: they’re still dealing with physical products. The Internet might have made shopping more convenient and to a certain extent, locating certain books but it doesn’t solve the problems of supply and demand, or that of a limited print run. Books that were hard to find before are perhaps a tad easier to locate these days but by no means is it a guarantee. Looking for a Jeff Noon novel? Guess what, it’s out of print! Sure, there are used copies that might be selling at online retailers but are you willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for one particular book? Better yet, there’s the online auctions where the scant few copies are on display, ready for fellow bibliophiles to purchase. Even in this modern age of online shops and widespread e-commerce, there’s still no guarantee that a rare book will accessible. We’ve merely traded the bargain bins for auction houses, street smarts for web surfing skills. You might be utilizing different hunting instincts but the Internet hasn’t put the book collector to rest. There’s still be books for bibliophiles to track down and eventually purchase (at an affordable price).

Philippine Genre Stories at the Book Fair

My spies tell me that volume 3 of the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories will be out today at the book fair, at the Anvil booth. Be sure to get your copies!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

P1447.25 ($30.00) at National Bookstore Bestsellers:
  • Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Leaf Storm
  • No One Writes to the Colonel
  • In Evil Hour
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • The Autumn of the Patriarch
  • Chronicle of a Death Foretold
  • The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor
  • Strange Pilgrims
  • Of Love and Other Demons

Uncivilized: The Goblin Game

Ever wanted to be a beta-tester for an online game? Well, Randy Beuhler has posted the sign-ups for Uncivilized: The Goblin Game, a turn-based Flash game from Wizards of the Coast.

Death of Bookstores

Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 has a blog entry on Bookstores Begin Slow Descent into Obsolescence:
So will fiction and children’s books be enough to keep bookstores alive? Yes, but the already large cafe space in most big box bookstores, where people read and sip coffee (there were as many people using laptops as there were reading physical books) will continue to grow as the shelf space shrinks. That will continue until print-on-demand technology eventually makes shelf space itself obsolete.

Background Music

I never considered myself to be a music person. In any activity, I prefer to listen to the ambient sounds (unfortunately in the city, ambient sound means listening to the humming of machines and auotmobile engines) rather than my favorite band or artist. Perhaps it’s the only thing that’s not geeky about me: neither rock nor pop nor classical.

That’s not the case with everyone else though. I’ve been at photo shoots and every single time, either the photographer or the model or the make-up artist wants some background music, even if it’s not their favorite genre. They feel that something is amiss when there’s no music playing.

In either writing or reading, I value silence. The lack of sound lets me hear my thoughts and focus them. Some people can read and concentrate with a racket—I’m not one of those people. But I’m not a music person either. So what music do you listen to when you’re reading? What music do you think the bookstore should be playing in the background? (Perhaps this is one of the failures of Powerbooks in Mega Mall—the fact that it’s beside Music One and there’s usually loud, pop musing playing.)

Quick Updates

In an attempt to cut down on posts, here's bullet points of what's happening:

Monday, August 27, 2007

Of Book Sales and Discounts

I'll admit that I'm a greedy person--but not too greedy that I'll skimp when it comes to book spending. However, there's a twinkle in my eye whenever I spot a book sale of some sort. Not only am I getting books, I'm getting them cheap! I've come to realize that unlike other consumer products, price isn't necessarily commensurate with quality (that's not always true but there's clearly some quality control when you're purchasing a Mac vs a PC, when you're buying branded products over derivatives or counterfeit wares). Some books that I'll never read in my life (by choice) might fetch a high price while favorite novels might be lying around in bargain bins for under P100.00.

One quick way to entice me to visit a bookstore is they put up their "on sale" sign. It had me wondering, why don't bookstores go on sale more often? Better yet, how is this different from the discounts they give to their regular customers?

Many businesses are familiar with the concept of a sale. On one hand, it can be a marketing tactic, a method in which you draw in more potential customers. This is typical of stores that are launching for the first time but that is not the only scenario. It could be a well-off store thinking that they need a marketing boost or even a textbook example of loss-leaders: one product that is sold at a huge discount so that customers might be enticed to visit but they are lulled to purchase other products available in the shop.

The other extreme example is when the business is closing down and they need to cut their losses. A printing business for example might need to sell their printer because the owner won't be needing it. Better to sell it at 50% off rather than not earn anything from it, and it removes the burden of storage. When it comes to bookstores, I think this is more appropriate. By no means is the bookstore closing down but they need to get rid of old stock. For every book that's been on the shelf for several months, that's one less newly-released book that won't be featured in the store. And if I were the manager of the bookstore, I'd probably be thinking that if this book wasn't selling six months ago, then it probably won't be selling today. Best to get rid of it and one of the more "profitable" ways would be to go on sale. It's either sell the books or dispose of them some other way (burning them is one extreme but another is selling them off to secondhand bookstores). Bibliophiles who "cull" their books should be familiar with this experience. Book aficionados might have only so much shelf space to store their books and so they give away old books or sell them cheaply. Space is something we might take for granted but it's easily a valuable commodity nonetheless.

Some businesses are quite seasonal. For example, many fashion stores at the end of a season declare that they're on sale because no one in their right mind will be purchasing summer wear at the beginning of winter (a more common example is a bakery selling their pastries at a discount in the evening). In such a scenario, it's best to get rid of old stock. In some ways, books behave like that. Newly released books are hot when they're just released but as the weeks and months pass by, chances are, if you haven't bought them initially, you're not going to buy them later on. This is even more pronounced if the book was initially released as a hardcover and the paperback version is coming out. The hardcovers must go!

Then there's the seasonal book fad. Whether you love 'em or hate 'em, you can't deny that there's a sudden surge of a particular book when it's been adapted into a movie (i.e. Lord of the Rings) or it's the latest craze in town (i.e. Harry Potter even before the movies, or even something like The Purpose-Driven Life and The Southbeach Diet).

Aside from those, everything else in the bookstore seems ho-hum. A variety of books are stocked and while the shop has some consistent best-sellers, there's that token stock of books that are just there, seemingly dormant. Now the thing with seasonal books is that some of these "dormant" books could possibly end up being the latest craze. The Golden Compass has been around the bookstore for years but lately, bookstores are slowly stocking up on the book in preparation for the movie. I expect it'll be at the bookstore's entrance by the time the movie makes its debut. But The Golden Compass is an example of a ho-hum book (as good as it is) that's in the dormant state, at least here in the Philippines (yes, it's probably controversial over there in Europe). You'll find the book in a bargain bin years ago but perhaps by next year, it's going to be on the best-seller list. Unfortunately, few people (if any) can predict this phenomenon. Bookstore managers aren't aware whether a particular stock of books will be a great hit in the future. What they need to be concerned with is the present and if the book isn't selling now, out it goes. And this is the advantage of the bibliophile--they're ahead of their time and they'll judge a book by its quality (subjective of course) rather than by popularity. By the time the masses get a whiff of it, the bibliophiles will have their own copies of the book or at least read it already.

Membership discounts, on the other hand, are a way to reward regular customers, or at least incentives to make them return to the shop and buy books from you. Membership discounts rarely match up to the big discounts when a bookstore goes on sale but they're handy to have irregardless of the season. When bookstores declare that they're on sale, they usually don't give additional discounts to their members although the smart ones give the members some sort of promo. Powerbooks for example might give away a free umbrella for every P2,500 purchase but they'll lower the rate down to P2,000 to their existing members. A Different Bookstore, on the other hand, actually gives you extra discount (an additional 5%) so members still have a financial edge even if the bookstore goes on sale. One thing to bear in mind though is that banks charge a small percentage with each transaction via credit card and so people who pay via cash usually gets bigger discounts. Still, some credit cards have various promos and so paying by card might still be the wise financial decision.

The Five Killers

A friend showed to me the trailer for The Five Killers over the weekend and it looks pretty impressive. Studio Gonzo, George Krstic, Mark Waid--what's there not to love?

August 2007 Updates

Still no Internet at home and that's really placed a big dent in my blogging habits. Blogging ain't fiction writing but it does exercise my writing muscles (and while there are some entries I can write without Internet access, online research and HTML isn't available when you're offline).

Anyway, here's some reminders: The Manila International Book Fair is this Wednesday while the Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 3 deadline is dune on Sept. 15, 2007.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Rolling Dice is Half the Fun

My bibliophile blog entries done (it's hard when you don't have Internet), I'll be indulgent now and talk about tabletop RPGs. Now Dungeons & Dragons draws its roots from war gaming. Thus it's no surprise that a lot of D&D elements revolve around combat. That's not to say all games should follow that method. Last week we had an L5R session and there was absolutely no combat at all and I've played D&D games where we spend five hours role-playing and one-hour finishing a six-round combat encounter.

Of course one element many MMORPGs lack is that it's usually more focused on combat and less on roleplaying. Does that mean MMMORPGs trumps out tabletop RPGs when it comes to combat?

My personal take on it is that it's not. Tabletop combat is different from video game combat, and it's not just the myriad of options you have in the former (i.e. jumping off a ledge, grabbing the chandelier, and landing behind the enemy to stab him with Sneak Attack +4d6). I'm a video game enthusiast by heart. But it's a different experience when you're pressing controller buttons or clicking on the mouse. It's almost expected what the character's response is. Rolling dice, on the other hand, isn't just about luck but it gives players the illusion that they determine their fate. It's why some D&D gamers are so paranoid when it comes to their dice: they label them (i.e. "my lucky dice"), store them in "magic" bags, and don't allow other people to use their die. It's also why given the chance, players would rather roll the dice themselves to determine their fate rather than let the GM make the roll (of course given the choice between no dice roll or letting the GM roll, they'd choose the latter).

Let me tell you now: part of the fun in D&D combat is rolling dice. There's more activity in players than a simple mouse click. Personally, the best experience would probably be swinging the sword yourself (because I'm a sword guy... you can insert your weapon of choice whether it's a hammer, a bow, or a gun). Falling short of that, swinging a substitute (LARP and the Nintendo Wii controller comes to mind). When that's not possible, we go to another substitute which simulates the fickleness of combat, and that's usually dice (but there are other substitutes such as a spinwheel, a game of rock-paper-scissors, etc.). Only when that's not available do people settle for something virtual such as MMORPGs.

I think the best example to show this is the difference in critical hits. In a tabletop game, critical hits (unless made on creatures immune to critical hits but even then, the joy of rolling a 20!) is cause for much celebration and excitement. There's shouting involved and even after say, ten years of gaming, it's still there. In World of Warcraft, the game still has critical hits. Perhaps you'll silently say a prayer of thanks when it happens. Eventually though, it becomes mundane. You're half expecting it whenever you make an attack. The opposite is also true. When you "miss" in World of Warcraft, you're thinking it's the miss chance or evasion. In D&D, gamers have a different experience when they roll a 1 compared to rolling a 5 on the d20, even if both would result in failure. The latter is tolerable while the former is just ghastly (so much so that many GMs have rules for critical failure).

Now in reality, the chances of critical hits or failures might be the same but it's all about the illusion of control. When you're playing tabletop games, players have a distinct feeling that they determine their fate. That's still the case when it comes to video games (and it is a matter of skill) but it's filtered through your keyboard/mouse/control pad. It's like the difference between experiencing an event yourself and hearing about it--both might relate the same story but it's definitely a different experience. Then again, it just might be the frequency. MMMORPGs are essentially gaming-on-demand while tabletop RPGs require more planning and scheduling and doesn't necessarily last as long.

On Unsolicited Manuscripts

Brian Knight over at Storytellers Unplugged has a short interview with three editors: Shane Staley (Delirium Books), Larry Roberts (Bloodletting Press), and Don D’Auria (Leisure Books). Knight asks the editors some questions with regards to unsolicited manuscripts and what makes them (or doesn't make them) accept a document for publication.
Q: What are your personal pet peeves when dealing with writers who have submitted work to you?

Shane: Simultaneous submissions. When I devote time to someone's work, that's an investment by me. So it's quite a loss of time and money when I go to accept a submission only to find out that the author has placed it elsewhere and is awaiting a response from another publisher. At which time, I generally withdraw my offer to publish the manuscript. Delirium's submission policy states clearly that we do not accept simultaneous submissions.

Larry: Receiving manuscripts without solicitation has become troublesome only because I feel a responsibility to the author. I know the writers have often put many months into the creation of the work and I feel a responsibility to that creative process by giving it a chance at success. As our press grows this is getting harder and harder to do.

Don: One thing that annoys me is when authors choose not to send me what I’ve asked for. I’ll often ask for the first three chapters and a synopsis. But I’ve had authors tell me the first three chapters aren’t very good, so they’re sending me three chapters selected from various places throughout the novel. Or they’ll tell me they don’t have a synopsis and don’t want to write one. I’m also not crazy about authors who send me four or five manuscripts at the same time and tell me to pick one.

Robinsons Galleria Sale Next Week

What gets me excited about mall-wide sales despite not being a shopper by nature is that all the shops are (perhaps unfairly) required to go on sale as well (of course there's usually more foot traffic in the mall during sales). So Robinsons Galleria will be on sale next weekend (Aug. 31 - Sept. 2) and that means shops like Neutral Grounds (hello RPG and CCG stuff!) and Comic Odyssey (comics and manga!) will be on sale as well. The only bad thing about all of this is that it's coinciding with the Manila International Book Fair. So do I buy books or do I buy manga?

CALL FOR ENTRIES TO 2008 Cinemalaya

Entries are now being accepted for the 2008 Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival and Competition. The deadline for entries for the full length feature category is August 31, 2007 while the deadline for entries for the short feature category is February 22, 2008.

In the full length feature category, applicants must submit a duly completed application form, a two page synopsis, consisting of not more than 500 words, a one page treatment of the story in Filipino or English in no more than 300 words, a brief resume/bio data with two recent 2 x 2 photos of the filmmaker, and samples of previous film/video work in CD/DVD or VHS format. Only entries by Filipino filmmakers who have not yet directed more than three full length commercial feature films will be accepted to the full length feature category.

A Selection Committee will select 25 semi-finalists for the full length feature category on October 6, 2007. A final group of ten finalists will be selected on December 15, 2007. Each of the ten finalists will receive a grant of P500,000 from the Cinemalaya Foundation, as investment for the production of their films.

In the short feature category, applicants must submit their final work in DVD format, a duly completed application form, synopsis in Filipino or English, a brief resume/biodata with two recent 2x2 photos of the filmmaker. Works already in production phase prior to July 17, 2007 and those exceeding 20 minutes will not be accepted. The ten finalists in the short feature category will be selected on April 26, 2008.

All works entered into the Cinemalaya competition must be narrative features that articulate Filipino identity and culture and in digital format. The competition is open to Filipino filmmakers. Interested participants may submit a maximum of three entries.

The 2008 Cinemalaya will be held on July 11-20, 2008 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). The twenty films selected as finalists in both categories will be screened during the Festival. Awards for all categories will be given on July 20, 2008 at the CCP. The Best Full Length Feature film will receive an additional grant of P200,000 and the Balanghai Trophy. The Best Short Feature film will receive a grant of P100,000 and a Balanghai Trophy.

Cinemalaya is a project of the Cinemalaya Foundation Inc, in partnership with the CCP, the University of the Philippines Film Institute and Econolink Investments Inc. It aims to discover, encourage and honor the cinematic works of Filipino filmmakers that boldly articulate and freely interpret the Filipino experience with fresh insight and artistic integrity.

Entries to 2008 Cinemalaya are being accepted at the CCP Media Arts Division, 4th Floor, Tanghalang Pambansa Building (CCP Main Building), CCP Complex, Pasay City. For more information, call the CCP Media Arts Division at tel. no. 832-1125 local 1704/05 or visit

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Podcasts Weekly 2007/08/23

In the strange way my mind works, Wade Rockett made a comment to my plug and it got me thinking: is there a site that compiles the various Podcasts? I'm not talking about iTunes in which you're subscribed to Podcasts but more like SF Signal or even Enworld in which they have a regular list of links and a brief description of them pertaining to their particular field... except it's podcasts.

For example, if I were to summarize this week's podcasts, it'd go something like this (of course in no way am I an expert in Podcasting):

RPG Gaming

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

George Orwell's 6 Rules for Effective Writing

From I Should Be Writing

John Wesley at Self Improvement breaks down George Orwell's 5 Rules for Effective Writing which is taken from Politics and the English Language:
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

If Only There Was an “Edit” Button

“Don’t worry, my work doesn’t need much editing!” is probably one of the worst lines I’ve heard from a writer. Whether a short story/novel/article/press release should be edited or isn’t the call of the writer but rather that of the editor. That’s why he or she is there in the first place. (Of course that’s not to say that everything that’s submitted should be edited—the best editors know when not to mess with a manuscript.)

In many ways, working in a magazine isn’t any different from working in the school paper. There’s writers to follow up on and the editing process is more or less the same. And yes, there will be typos! (And the presses will be late!) One thing I noticed though is that you shouldn’t edit your own work, especially if you just typed it a few minutes ago. Most likely, our brain is neatly hardwired into what we’ve written that we’ll fill in the blanks and won’t spot the missing participles or conjunctions. It’s usually best to pass on your work to someone else or better yet, switch editing duties with them as they’ll most likely have a similar failing when it comes to editing their own work.

Obviously, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. In the editing process, an extra “editor” is always good so the writer reviewing his work is fine but hopefully he’s not the only person editing it. Some writers also distance themselves from their work more quickly than others so their eyes are just as fresh when they finally undergo the editing process (and here’s a hint to would-be writers: write your manuscripts early so that when the deadline is looming, you can check up on it and proof it for errors!).

Lastly, I hate it when people use the excuse “there’ll be editors anyway to catch my errors” when they recklessly submit an unedited draft. Do you honestly think submitting an error-filled document will get you in the good graces of the editors? Editors should be the last line of defense, not the first.

More Podcasts

Here's one for the writers (although I haven't listened to it yet): I Should Be Writing. Go write!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Future of Reading?

From ABA Omnibus

After reading William Gibson's new novel, Spook Country, Dan Cullen over at the ABA Omnibus remembered a French short film entitled Possible Ou Probable (obviously it's in French) that features a possible path for reading in the future. Here's some concepts in the film:
  • touch-screen monitors when reading from a screen
  • books whose interior covers are screens that simulate pages of a book
  • actual books in the bookstore and if you're interested in purchasing them, you just scan their bar code and the book is downloaded into your peripheral
  • travel books that act as virtual maps and tour guide
  • virtual notebooks in which you can copy/paste photos from books or take notes/make corrections with a stylus

Special Features in Books

One of the oft-used description nowadays by people is “special features like DVDs” even if bonus or additional features aren’t a new idea. But the important point I think is that it gets the point across. When I say DVD special features that are included in another medium, people immediately understand that they’re getting something else aside from the product itself. Audio CDs for example might include a sticker and a music video included in the package. Books are another age-old commodity that has benefited from special features: leather-bound covers, superior binding, premium paper, the inclusion of bookmarks, etc. That, however, got me thinking: is there another way of giving additional value to books? If you were to package a “collector’s edition” of a particular novel, what would you include in it aside from what’s previously been done?

Comics, for example, is one product that I think has evolved and innovated itself in the past few years. More than just the concept of a “graphic novel” or hardcover collection, they’ve also come up with oversized hardcovers that not only sport larger-than-usual pages of comics but include comic scripts, writer/artist interviews, concept art, or even alternate covers. Manga nowadays will even be sporting a new look with omnibus editions and color treatment in what is normally a black-and-white medium (the latter actually isn’t anything new but it’s nice seeing them in the US market). Which begs the question, if it can be done for comics, can something similar be accomplished when it comes to books?

One problem I have with publishers is that many books out in the market right now are simple repackaging rather than true special editions: a different cover, a different book design, different paper, different size, or at most a different foreword or introduction. It’s only the form that changes but the content remains the same. The alternative treatment is what is done to classics: we get study guides, literary interpretations, or even guide questions at the end of the book. Not that those are a bad thing—I particularly appreciate the footnotes and annotations when reading Shakespeare (because his English is far from modern) for example—but it kind of limits the special features to what is educational as opposed to what is fun (not that the two can’t overlap). And isn’t that why we purchase DVDs? Because of the sheer excitement of discovering and playing with the bonus material that’s included?

A few years ago, Wizards of the Coast released The Annotated Dragonlance Chronicles and The Annotated Dragonlance Legends. Now it’s not the first time they re-released both trilogies nor will it be the last time. But aside from compiling the novels into one book, giving it a hardcover treatment and a new cover art, they also added comments from the authors (which I liked) and from the publishing department (which I didn’t like because it was simply plugging the other books published but I imagine some people who’ll find value in this). It’s a step in the right direction but I similarly think more could have been done: Larry Elmore sketches, Kender recipes, or perhaps even D&D game stats. Now these elements aren’t new but part of other publications or products (Leaves from the Last Inn for example has recipes) or even part of the regular releases (My The Second Generation book for example has an actual musical score of The Song of Huma). Why not gather all those extra material and combine them into a special edition book, giving readers the equivalent of the special features of a DVD?

While that’s the case with Dragonlance, it gets more trickier with more mundane novels or even the classics. Annotations can only take you so far for example in a classic like Alice in Wonderland. And despite our advancements in medicine, we can’t resurrect the dead simply to have them write comments about their book (if we’re just going to resurrect dead authors, we might as well have them complete unfinished works like Kafka). But what about a book like Harry Potter? Is there anything additional that can be included that’ll give it additional value to fans and make them buy the books again for this bonus material?

Perhaps if we move beyond the medium of print, we can provide consumers with some extra material beyond the actual text. Perhaps an audio CD is included that has the author or a skilled performer recite certain lines or scenes from the book. Another alternative especially when it comes to books that have been re-released several times is to have a CD full of images showing the various book covers over the years (or even the foreign covers). The product hasn’t been released yet but when it comes to D&D 4th Edition, it’s being touted that when you buy the book, there’s a code in it in which you can input at the website so you can download an electronic version of the book, which I find useful because eBooks usually allow you to search for certain words of phrases instead of poring through several pages just to find a specific quote.

I think a more important question however is whether there’s an actual demand for such books. Are bibliophiles willing to shell out cash for a premium edition book with special features? Or better yet, what special features will entice you to patronize such a product, especially if you already down a copy of the book at home?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Of Textbooks and Diminishing Book Sales

From Self Publishing

Still no Internet at home so updates will be sparse.

Anyway, Morris Rosenthal has an interesting entry on Why Obsolete How-To Books Sell. In many ways, it also explains why text books need to be updated, even if that means new fees for the student and the school:
Bookstores buyers can't be expected to be experts on every genre of how-to book they carry. All they know is whether or not the book sells and whether or not it gets returned. Most people aren't going to bring back a book that they've bent up, read, and thrown on the floor, not to mention the tear stains. The store buyers see the book is selling, and don't know why a book about technology X shouldn't have the same shelf life as a book about technology Y. Take the example of computers vs squirrel-proof bird feeders. Anybody familiar with the subjects could tell you that squirrels are constantly evolving. And it's not a matter of years in print or the copyright date, some books are obsolete when published. New books that are up-to-date can last six months or six years, but the borderline is usually sharper than non-technical people may expect.
He also has an entry on Falling Bookstore Sales and Amazon, and how the census bureau doesn't take into account online retailers:
But back to the Census Bureau. Their category for bookstores specifically excludes:

"Retailing books via electronic home shopping, mail-order, or direct sale--are classified in Subsector 454, Nonstore Retailers"

The Nonstore Retailers segment has sales nearly 20 times as high the bookstore segment, I should do some forensics to see how it's grown. In any case, Amazon's Media sales have been growing in the double digit percentages, in the mid-teens, for the past five years. It's entirely possible that what the census bureau numbers are really telling us is that brick-and-mortar bookstore sales, despite price inflation, have peaked and are falling, but the publishing industry is still growing, slowly, by the amount of growth shown by Amazon. I'm going to drop them (the Census) a line and make sure I'm interpreting their categories correctly.
And before I end, here's one more, this time on the nature of paying to be published and its commercial viability:
The primary difference between trade published books and subsidy published books is commercial viability. Trade publishers don't publish books unless they believe they have a very good chance of earning money, and while they are frequently wrong, it's the main consideration. Trade publishers, after all, are in businesses. Authors who pay to get their books published are often doing so precisely because their books aren't commercially viable.

Post Gen Con 4th Ed Musings

I wish I was at Gen Con last weeks but alas, I'm truly a third-world citizen. Anyway, the biggest news is that 4th Edition will be out next year and as can be expected, there have been mixed reactions. When I told my gaming group the news last weekend, I got everything from "you're kidding me?" to "I'm keeping 3.5!". One even told me that was quick but I rebutted that 3.0 was released in 2000 so it's much more of "we're old and time flies quickly" rather than something akin to a patch update of a MMORPG. But what does the future have in store for D&D?

Perhaps I qualify my musings with post-Gen Con because the actual product is not yet out and while there are promises of what features will be included and what won't be included, only time will tell if these promises meet expectations, and I expect there'll be some take-backs and modifications as we get closer to the release date.

For the most part, I see the new edition as a positive change. I'm not adverse to changing editions as long as there's a significant improvement. I don't think you can build the perfect game but I do think you can always improve on what's been done before.

I think the online interface is great. I think most people assume that D&D will now require online access but that's not really the case. As revolutionary as integrating D&D with online gaming (in general, rather than MMORPGs) is, it's happened before, everything from play-by-emails to to play-by-posts to a simple chat program. What it does right however is that it makes it easier to do so, providing all the tools in one place and even a virtual battle mat. Don't think of it as the game requiring computers but rather if you have a computer, you can play the game. Board games have had this model for quite some time, with some games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride or hell, Monopoly, having online incarnations. By no means does it spell the doom of the tabletop board game and even when playing online, it essentially remains the same game as if you'd play it on the tabletop. More importantly, I think the best part of all of this is that it brings in new blood (more so than retaining the old one which is a part many traditional RPG gamers are more concerned about) as well as giving an opportunity for old ones to reunite with old gaming groups (no more settling for play-by-emails!). I think Ryan Dancey said it best in his recent essays of redefining the genre:
(As always, I note that there will be a community of people who will play their favorite game exactly as they played it when they learned it, regardless of what happens to the rest of the world. As time progresses, those people tend to disconnect from the larger player network, becoming isolated islands. The ability of such groups to survive revolves around their ability to recruit new members as attrition causes older members to leave; so do, some do not. Those people and those groups won’t be much affected by anything that I’ve described in this series of posts, or anything that happens elsewhere in the hobby either. Please don’t take offense if you’re one of these people or play in one of these groups -- I think there’s nothing wrong with doing what you’re doing so long as you enjoy it.)
Personally, I think the Digital Initiative is great on the business side of things. It adds an financial element that wasn't pre-dominant in the old RPG model of business: consistent cashflow. Many games follow the formula of deriving income from products sold. MMORPGs have the advantage of aside from selling the actual product, they also receive income from subscriptions which in turn fuel future development and maintaining the servers. We also see that business paradigm in many modern commodities such as food (you're not going to buy food just once in your life after all), toiletries, and even printer inks. For quite some time, RPGs lacked that product vehicle which miniatures and Dungeon Tiles addressed (well, that and dice).

Of course many gamers tout that the biggest advantage of tabletop RPGs is that all you need to play the game are the books and your imagination. In many ways, that's still true. But the Digital Initiative, I think, gives you additional value in the event that you do want to spend more money on the game. And I think anything past 3rd Edition behaves quite differently from the previous editions simply because there was continuous support of the game beyond the conventions (which has its own money-generating mechanisms in play) or the magazines (which costs money too) such as the Wizards of the Coast website and forums (which honestly doesn't cost you anything and isn't asking you for contributions). So in many ways, I do think 4th Edition is a business solution as much as it is a gamer solution.

That's not to say everything in 4th Ed is perfect on the side of gamers. I think the character generator is a great idea, especially the ability to create your own personal avatars. However, I don't think it'll be as popular as say, the avatars generated from The Simpsons Movie website, mainly because they're quite generic and lack that distinctive art of someone like say, Kyle Hunter (now I'm not saying Wizards of the Coast should hire Kyle Hunter--as much as I love the guy's art, I don't think every gamer much less every person will want D&D to be synonymous with his artwork and there's just that lack of cultural acceptance that pervades something as huge as The Simpsons). I like the fact that you can input a specific code into the site so that when you buy the book, you have access to an online version of the book and more importantly, add the book's data into your set of online options. Unfortunately, it also means that if you're going to use the online tools of the Digital Initiative, you need to own the book. The "one guy in the gaming group owns the book" mentality is gone, at least if you're using the online tools. But then again, there's similarly no real remedy for that mainly because I think to maximize the Digital Initiative, that means playing with various gaming groups online and obviously, not everyone will have access to the books one gaming group has. So the best solution really is that if you want to use this option, you have to own the book (of course it similarly brings up problems that if the player owns the book but the GM doesn't but can easily be remedied by the GM not allowing that particular gaming option). There's also the price point of the DND Insider--$9.99 is actually great value for what it's providing but obviously, not everyone will be utilizing its services. Sure, players might love the online Dragon magazine but will they similarly be interested in Dungeon (or should they be reading it in the first place)? Are the other features such as online play be enough to part with $9.99 a month?

What I like about 4th Ed however is that it is definitely learning from its mistakes and building a better machine. The Player's Handbook for example looks interesting, not just because it's a new edition but it actually has the magic items in it. I mean I've seen many players purchase The Dungeon Master's Guide in addition to The Player's Handbook simply because all the loot they want to equip their characters with is in the former book. At least as far as 4th Ed is concerned, if you're the player, it looks like the only investment you'll really need is The Player's Handbook.

I also like how they're rebuilding spellcasting in general. The need to "rest and recharge" I think is a holdover from the previous editions and while more traditional gamers will eschew the new system that might be implemented, I think the newer system is superior in terms of sustaining the spirit of adventure and exploration. The same goes for giving non-spellcasters a different power source, giving Fighters more than just the option to attack. And that's just the tip of the iceberg: there's ditching the XP magic-item creation system, racial levels that coincide with regular levels, lack of dead levels, etc.

One definite concern I do have is how far along the development is the game. I mean if it's going to be released in May 2008, everything should be hammered down by the end of the year (you have to take into account the printing schedule). If everything isn't completed yet, I'd want a Blizzard more than any other game company. I mean I think a weakness of 3.0 Player's Handbook was that it was released before it was fully playtested or incorporated the two other books (Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster's Manual). Perhaps given a few more months, all three books might have been tighter (and some might theorize we wouldn't even have 3.5 but I think 3.5 would have arisen anyway, either as 4th Edition or its current mid-transition release). So hopefully when the 4th Ed books do get released, I hope it's cleaner than what was done in the previous edition.

At the very least, 4th Ed is an interesting phenomenon to me not only as a gamer, but as a bibliophile. The merging of print and online technology for example has yet to be fully realized and Wizards of the Coast is definitely taking one of the pioneering steps.

Politics and Religion in Fiction

They say that when you want to strike a conversation with a stranger, avoid topics concerning politics or religion: it’s unlikely you’ll both agree and what would have been a friendly chit-chat turns into a heated debate. However, I do think those two factors are quite integral to us as human beings, and they easily shape our psyche and paradigm of the world—which in turn influence what we read and how we interpret them.

Take for example George Orwell’s Animal Farm or even 1984. Why do we easily consider them classics but not the likes of Mein Kampf? I do think modern readers are biased towards texts that are more sympathetic to their political beliefs and in my case and in the case of the West, that usually means democratic ideals more than communist philosophies (of course to be fair to Communism, I think the flaw isn’t necessarily in the intent but rather in the execution in which it presupposes altruism in our leaders and our citizens, while Democracy pre-supposes self-interest).

As a SF&F fan, living in a conservative country and family can be trying, whether you’re Catholic or even Christian. Reading any book that incorporates magic is easily assumed to be evil, just as reading any text that has a pantheon of deities or even the lack of one. It also seems unfair that you can’t have evil antagonists in your fiction to be considered wholesome: you can’t have demons or devils as they are perceived as corrupting forces by zealots. Something as benign as Harry Potter is perceived as blasphemous for the sole reason that the main character uses magic. Don’t even get me started with playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. Just because there’s a demon or a devil in the Monster Manual, some fanatics think that the point of the game is to worship them when in fact it’s not—gamers are out to kill demons and devils (and hopefully loot their bodies and plunder their wealth). Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if people were consistent but we can be blind to our own prejudices. The same condemners who are defiant at something like Lord of the Rings praise books like Chronicles of Narnia despite the fact that Tolkien and Lewis were friends, or the fact that the latter work also has protagonists using magic. There’s even an author who was ostracized by his mother for the sake of religion because his latest novel has a protagonist who was a lesbian but she didn’t seem to have a qualm with the previous protagonists who were murderers (and even if being gay was a sin, I’d choose the former over the latter any day). I also remember seeing the Left Behind series in our church’s bookstore and for a good time, that series occupied a good chunk of shelf space in the fiction section of the local bookstore although why it was there and not in the SF&F section (in which it could have easily fit in) I can’t imagine why (actually I can: it’s marketing).

In many ways, it begs the question: is good writing nonetheless good writing irregardless of your political or religious beliefs? Is it even possible to judge writing solely on the basis of writing alone, stripped of any morality or political ideology? Better yet, should literature exist in a vacuum? As much as I’m tempted to stick with an objective truth, that’s simply not the case in the real world. We compare not just with what’s been written before and in the present but similarly how it affects us. If I were to write Neuromancer today for example, it wouldn’t be well received considering it was written two decades ago by William Gibson (or the fact that Philip K Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? before that). And in many ways, Pattern Recognition has more resonance with today’s readers than Neuromancer because of the ideas and concepts the former tackles that wasn’t necessarily evident to the public in the 80’s but a definite hallmark of the 21st century (similarly, if Neuromancer had been published a decade earlier, would it have been as well received?).

When it comes to politics and religion, I do think the two play an integral role in what we deem as good reading. Shakespeare for example wouldn’t resonate so strongly if he didn’t tackle the human condition (and isn’t that why critic Harold Bloom loves him so much?). The Bible is popular not necessarily because of its skillful writing (Psalms and Proverbs aside) but rather due to the hope and ideas it conveys (and if there’s any lyrical prose in the Bible, a lot of it has probably been lost in the translation which has taken a more functional form—just look at the Peter and “rock” pun which probably only scholars would understand). An example closer to home is science fiction. More so than any genre, a lot of readers come to science fiction for its ideas and concepts that typically revolve around politics, religion, or both. Just look at what we consider classics: Flowers for Algernon, Fahrenheit 451, or The Giver. They’re science fiction books not necessarily for the science but because they talk about the human condition, the political landscape of their times, the attempt at finding an utopia (and I think utopian societies are the nigh-unreachable goals of any political system or religious belief—the tragedy of the Knights of the Round Table was that it was a political system that espouses equality in a feudal society and isn’t heaven or Elysium or nirvana the perfect society we’re all looking for that religion conveniently provides?).

Even authors aren’t immune. The Wizard of Earthsea trilogy for example is a beautiful series on the literal level but Ursula K le Guin went about ret-conning the events that took place in the first three books in her sequels because she took offense at what she had written—the newer Earthsea books are definitely a reflection of her new political and religious outlook. Terry Goodkind, on the other hand, was fiercely political when he was writing the middle of the Sword of Truth series and was attempting the fantasy equivalent of Animal Farm (at that point, I dropped Goodkind because his propaganda came at the price of moving the story forward).

That’s not to say that books should be moralistic or worse, didactic, in order for them to be classics or good reads but rather I do think that society’s hierarchy of values certainly plays a significant role in how we read books and better yet, how we react to them. Gulliver’s Travels for example probably wouldn’t have been considered a classic if it wasn’t such a political allegory for its time. It’s the same reason why the church is reacting so strongly towards The Da Vinci Code (and why the masses got caught up in it the first place) even if at the end of the day, the story wasn’t originally intended as counter-propaganda more than a storytelling vehicle. Book banning and censorship is another example of society’s attempt to revise their political and religious belief, as if the political incorrectness of the authors that have gone before them are reflective of their current society: negroes instead of African Americans, Indians instead of Native Americans. And not surprisingly, some modern readers do react so strongly to such bodies of work that simply used the language of its time and reflective of its current society. That’s not to say that these complaints are justified but the heart of the argument can be traced to one’s ideologies and why these books were placed in the canon in the first place.

I think one fact that we readers can take comfort in is that fiction is so highly-prized that such issues can come about: we care enough about the books we read that we want to revise them or failing that, censor or outright ban them. Works of fiction is given the same treatment and focus as we would history books, even if the former claims to be lies while the latter truth. I think that on a subconscious level, people are aware that history is about as subjective as fiction, albeit with more research. And at the end of the day, what character in fiction is devoid of politics or religion, even if these political and religious beliefs are fictional (i.e. psychohistory in Foundation). Perhaps those facts make fiction resonate so strongly to the reader even if the story is something as simple as Humpty Dumpty (I was tempted to use Jack and Jill but I’m sure the feminists would find a way to condemn/praise the portrayal of Jill or simply the title itself—just goes to show that we can read politics/religion into anything).

Friday, August 17, 2007

D&D 4th Ed. Videos

More Book Fair Musings

Since the list of participants in the Manila International Book Fair is out, one question on people’s minds is why isn’t -insert favorite bookstore- participating? For me however, the question isn’t why they’re not participating but why should they in the first place. Allow me to explain.

Internationally, book fairs are usually for the industry people. They do sell books but they don’t sell them individually: they sell the rights to the book. Book fairs are usually where publishers get to meet other publishers, where they showcase the titles they have and entice you to license them for your country or order them in huge quantities. It’s also a great time to get a peek at the books that will be released in the future as well as see what publishers in other countries are doing. It’s not a consumer-friendly event but rather a convention for book publishers both big and small.

Now what we have in the Philippines is different. When you say book fair, it’s synonymous with book sale. The Manila International Book Fair, on the other hand, seems like the biggest book bazaar of them all. Now I don’t know what’s going in the minds of the organizers, at why they set it up in the first place and why it’s designed that way. But I have seen the results. A large open space is rented and various publishers and bookstores have booths to sell their goods. It’s also like a convention in which events are being held on the side and it’s also lately been where the awarding of the National Book Awards is held.

In the past three years or so however, there’s been some interesting developments when it comes to the Manila International Book Fair. The first of which is the re-branding. I don’t know why but it’s only recently that they added the “International” to their title. Before it was simply the Manila Book Fair. Likewise, the location wasn’t at the World Trade Center but rather at the more accessible Megatrade Hall of Mega Mall. For most people, the change might appear superficial: new name, new venue. How they conduct their business remains the same (selling books at a discount). Not being part of the organizers, I don’t know for sure if that’s true but for me, I’ve observed some significant changes thanks to the re-branding.

As a kid, there was really only one reason I went to the Manila Book Fair. It wasn’t to see all the various bookstores present there, it was just to visit one: Goodwill Bookstore. Now that might sound bizarre to all of you but the fact of the matter is, as a kid, the rest of the other stalls simply didn’t interest me. I didn’t care about the university presses or the local publishers. Honestly, a lot of the booths at the time seemed like losers to me. Aside from Goodwill Bookstore, the only other booths that might have interested me was Emerald Headway for their magazines and Warner (before it was Time-Warner) for their comics. And the reason why Goodwill Bookstore attracted me was because they had a big shelf of SF&F books, bigger than what most bookstores had at the time (as the years would pass however, this shelf would shrink and dwindle). So the book fair was easily the only time I’d get to see Goodwill Bookstore’s most complete stock of books at any one place.

How about the other bookstores you might ask. Well, National Bookstore wasn’t interested in participating in the book fair at the time. As for the independent bookstores that’s made their presence known today, they didn’t exist at the time. Certainly there were other independent bookstores back then but whether they could participate or want to, I’ll discuss later. So to sum it up, the Manila Book Fair was easily a book bazaar of virtually unknown bookstores and publishers with the exception of Goodwill Bookstore. And in retrospect, look where Goodwill Bookstore is today (not that it’s dead but it’s branches have dwindled).

And then the re-branding came. Coincidentally, this happened during what I call the bookstore boom, when Powerbooks was quite popular and still had their 3-floor flagship store in Makati, when Page One was about to debut, and when A Different Bookstore was surviving their first few years. Anyway, I’m sure the other bookstores were skeptical at first of new variation of the book fair but apparently, the re-branding was enough to entice them. National Bookstore was on board and when they showed up, their space easily rivaled that of Goodwill Bookstore (which previously dominated the book fair). What would now be known as Fully Booked made skirmishes, first as a small both under its other bookstore names and then finally, last year, a full-blown area (and not just one tiny booth). A Different Bookstore has been aggressively expanding in the past few years and they took the risk last year at the book fair.

Branding, I think, played a big part in the other bookstore’s participation. There’s the location for starters. I can’t imagine how someone can say that the World Trade Center is easier to get to than Mega Mall. It isn’t. But that fact can easily be a feature not a flaw. The World Trade Center is still accessible however, so it’s balancing itself between the line of accessible but not-too-accessible. That’s my polite way of saying the book fair is targeting a different market than those that frequent Mega Mall. And in many ways, the target market of the newer bookstores are the upper class. Look at where Powerbooks’s flagship store used to be located: in the urban comforts of Makati. Both A Different Bookstore and Fully Booked both have their flagship stores in the equally not-so-accessible area of Bonifacio City at The Fort. The only one who really caters to the masses is National Bookstore but everyone eventually visits National Bookstore, rich or poor, if only to buy notebooks and other school supplies. There might be less foot traffic in The World Trade Center but the various bookstores are probably thinking there’ll be more people walking out having bought something. But that’s just speculation on my part.

Of course my theory above is easily invalidated if Goodwill Bookstore managed to acquire an exclusive lock-out before the re-branding. The only way to know for sure is to have insider info from either Goodwill Bookstore or the organizers of the book fair but I have neither. Perhaps I’m a fictionist at heart so I hope you don’t mind if I stick to my more interesting and presumptuous theory.

Now let’s look at the other publishers present in the book fair. While the bigger bookstores might give a modest discount of 20%, it seems like the local publishers are more willing to lower their prices, going as high as 50% if not more. To me, participating in fairs, any fairs, seemed ludicrous. I mean not only are you paying the organizer for the booth, you’re selling your wares at lower-than-normal prices. But I do understand the concept of a sale and any business owner will know how important it is to get rid of old stock. Conventionally however, most local publishers sell their books via retailers such as National Bookstore. Unfortunately, these retailers do charge a high consignment fee. Since the publishers are selling direct and this is the book fair after all, the 50% discount doesn’t sound so big—the profits that would have gone to the coffers of the retailers instead translate to savings on the part of the consumer. But that doesn’t make it any less horrible to witness books by national artists like Nick Joaquin selling for half the price.

Now let’s move on to the bookstore’s who aren’t present in the book fair. Well, gist of it is that attending the book fair is an expense. You’re paying for the booth, you’re paying for the transportation of goods and an employee to man the booth, and you have to do it for five days. That’s not including the bureaucracy that plagues any similar event, and how everyone jocks for a good position in the location. (Again, I’m not the organizer so I’m not privy to bickering if any at all exist but I’m sure there are publishers and bookstores complaining why they’re set up in this location and will ask if they can be set up in a more optimal place. The organizers might even use this as leverage to “who pays first gets first choice”.) There’ll also be restrictions such as only having a few tables or electricity outlets. And then there’s keeping your goods secure when the day is over (either locking it up at the location or bringing it home). These factors might be minor inconveniences to bigger bookstores but if you’re an independent bookstore with a staff of less than half-a-dozen, it might become a problem. After all, do you have enough staff to optimally man your actual store and the booth in the book fair? Better yet, can they sustain this for five whole days, in addition to ingress and egress devoted to setting up the booth and dismantling it? The last time I visited Aeon Books for example, I think they have a staff of three. They may have made-do with a skeleton crew at the Read or Die Convention but the Read or Die Convention had a relatively cheap fee/ex-deal (and perhaps participated as a favor to the organizer which is a factor when dealing with smaller businesses) and was just two days long, a big difference compared to the mammoth book fair and the various hoopla that surrounds it.

At the end of the day, participating in the book fair is pretty much like any business decision. Where’s the profit in it and what’s in it for me? For the consumer, the book fair seems like a good deal but one man’s blessing might be another man’s bane. The book fair is easily a different world on the side of the bookstores and publishers, everything from loss-leader to logistical nightmare to a public relations stunt. I have no vested interest in any bookstore however which is why I’m encouraging every consumer to participate in the event.