Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Free Twilight Book: Generous Giveaway or Masterful Marketing?

Yesterday it was announced that Stephenie Meyer is going to release a fifth Twilight book, but it's not what you'd expect. Let's get the facts first: this is not Midnight Sun, it is a completely different book, a novella actually*, about Bree Tanner. Don't know who Bree is? You're not alone, I didn't remember her at first either**. Cut for spoilers: She is one of the (spoilers!) newborn vampires created by Victoria in the 4th book, the only one to escape the Cullens, and was later killed by the Volturi.

What I find particularly interesting about this book, though, is the way it's being marketed & distributed. First, starting on June 7th, the entire book will be available free online. Sounds generous, right? Well, it is—but only for a month. After that it will be printed in book form, $1 of which is going to be donated to the Red Cross. Still pretty generous, but it's also very clever.

The first clever marketing tactic here is offering the book free online, for a limited time only. Putting a book online gains readers you might not get otherwise, makes the book easily accessible, and the more people who read it, the more people who like it, the more people who are likely to purchase it later. The New York Times recently printed an article on this, about how offering an ebook for free can not only gain readers, but put your book on the bestseller's list, something that attracts even more attention.

So you tell all your friends to hurry up and read it online, creating a sense of immediate need, but what if you don't get it on time? What if you don't finish reading before it goes offline? How will you keep up with your fellow Twilight obsessed friends? No worries, you can buy the book in print! And a true fan will likely buy the book anyway, regardless of reading it online, so they can own it and reread it whenever they want***. The added bonus here is that you're doing a good thing, because $1 of your purchase goes to helping people through the Red Cross! Why is this important? It has to do with embedded giving, which I won't pretend to be the expert on, but here's the bottom line: By tacking on that donation, you are more likely to buy the book. You feel good about yourself, because you helped people, but you don't need to go out of your way to do it. You get to support change by doing something you were going to do already! When I think about this (thanks to one of my professors), I think about Product RED. You were going to buy that shirt or that laptop or that book anyway, but now you get the added bonus of feeling good about the purchase. It takes away some of the hesitation we might have for spending the money. What I'm saying here is that by putting that sticker on there that proceeds will go to the Red Cross, readers are more likely to pick it up. It's not as deceptive as this argument may first suggest, but it is clever.

An argument that's been raised over the past two days regarding this (largely by anti-Twilight people) is that Meyer is only printing a fifth book as a way to milk more money out of her fans. I don't think that's true. Surely she'll be making more money, but she's not making any thing off the free copies and honestly, I think she's sincere in saying that she wants to do something for her fans. True Twilight fans have been begging for a 5th book since the 4th one come out. If JK Rowling put out an 8th book, wouldn't you want to read it? Didn't you want to check out The Tales of Beedle the Bard when it came out? It's the same thing. There is a demand by the fans for more to read in the Twilight world, and Meyer's fulfilling those wishes. If she only wanted to milk the fans, she would have released Midnight Sun despite the leak.

Will I be reading the book? Probably not, but I'm not the biggest fan of the books. For the people who are, I can understand their excitement at having something more to read, I would feel the same way. And I really do think that Little, Brown is being rather clever here with the way they're marketing it.

*Although 197 pgs hardly sounds like a novella.
**actually, still don't, but I am trusting some of my friends who are die hard fans.
***This reminds me very much of another post I need to make, on the ethics & arguments behind downloading ebooks. I will get to that soon, I hope.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid Dog Days by Jeff Kinney

It occurs to me that I have not done a very good job at keeping up my promise to review all of the books I read this year. I can blame this on the way I've been devouring books the last few weeks, the lack of internet last week, or the severe amount of schoolwork I've had, but instead I will just say that I am sorry, readers. I hope to make this up to you with FIVE reviews in the near future, starting with this one.

Dog Days by Jeff Kinney is the fourth book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. If you've been around here before, you'll know that I rather like this series and the clever way in which it weaves together prose and picture. This is not entirely like a graphic novel and not entirely like an illustrated book, either, but rather somewhere between. This book is no exception and continues that wonderful tradition that Kinney has throughout his books, something that (ideally) keeps the reader interested.

While I do love the series and I did enjoy the book, I found myself wishing there was something a little more to this installment. It has a solid plot, earning money to pay off a debt to Rowley's dad, and the same characters, but it didn't make me laugh in quite the way the first and third*. This isn't, of course, to say that I didn't laugh at all, because I certainly did. The best thing about this series, and Kinney's writing style, is the pure humour behind it.

I honestly don't have much to say about this book, but I did enjoy it and if you like the series, it's worth the read. If you haven't read the series, I highly recommend the first book, which was absolutely fantastic.

*I didn't hate the second, but I did find it to be the least intriguing book in the series.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Novel: Good Days & Bad Days

My good friend Jordyn is also an aspiring novelist and together we press through all the hardships and celebrations that come with writing. Mostly hardships. And we listen to each other as we bang our heads on the table repetitively, hoping the words will leak out our ears and onto the page. We talk each other up and through things, and we realize that writing makes us bipolar. We will love it and we will hate it and none of that will stay consistent.

There are good days and there are bad days, and basically, this is what I sound like when I am writing.

On a bad day:
Aaaauuuugggghhhh. Just aaaauuuugggghhhh.

On a good day: (like today)
Jordyn: Yeah. I've planned a lot for this though, so I don't know. I feel like I'm kind of diving in through and it's like I don't quite know how to swim. You know?
Jez: I think that's kind of what writing a novel is like, honestly. It's undiscovered territory and we are without a clear map, so we have to experiment and take chances and hope the next step we take doesn't land us in a nest of scorpions or take us over the edge of a cliff.
Jordyn: Well that's terrifying.
Jez: But it's exciting, because we're the first humans ever to walk that path, ever to see that flower, ever to drink from that pure spring, untainted by chemical run-off. It's an adventure and we are explorers.

Also, if you're interested, you can follow Jordyn's journey through her recent novel (about spies!) here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Amazon Release Dates & the Battle Against New Mediums

First, yes, I finished my first draft and met my deadline a day ahead of schedule, and that is why I am posting again. Sorry to not have told you sooner! Edits are pushed off just a bit, but I am reworking an old idea now, so no worries, I am writing still!

About a year ago, Garth Nix released the sixth book in his Keys to the Kingdom series, which ended in a dreaded cliffhanger, the lives of most characters hanging over the edge, their fates as unknown as the void of nothing. And that was the end of the book, with no conclusions and no certainty. It has driven me crazy for a year, let me tell you. But now, in March of 2010, the seventh and final book in the series, Lord Sunday is out, or coming out, depending on who you ask.

I, like most online consumers, consult amazon.com first when looking for quick facts, like publishing dates. Amazon lists Lord Sunday to come out next Tuesday, but borders.com shows it as having come out on the 1st of March, not the 16th. This means that Borders released the book more than two weeks before the shopping giant Amazon. What's more, Amazon shows the audio book being released a week before the book, which brings about another issue. Not only are sellers releasing items on different dates, making book birthdays hazy and confusing anxious buyers, but the audio books are available, adding to the shift we've already begun to see where consumers are favouring audio books and ebooks to hard copies.

Audio & ebooks already have advantages over real books, in that they are more compact, easier to carry and store, and easily distributed. They also tend to be cheaper, by and large. But with these new medias, you lose a part of what is so wonderful about books. You lose that sense of holding something real in your hands, the ability to imagine a character's voice for yourself, the eternal battery power of a book, and that new book smell. Books capture memories between their pages, little pieces of you, and other forms blend in with the rest of the medias we absorb every day. A page in an ebook has less effect, read between the hundreds of internet pages viewed every day; a chapter in an audiobook drowned out by mp3s and radio broadcasts. Still, the market is shifting, and if a reader is desperate enough for the book, they may be moved to buy an ebook or audiobook simply because it releases a week before the corporeal copy. This also loses publishers money, so I'm forced to wonder why sites like amazon would set up the dates as such.

I am reminded, of course, of the recent troubles with amazon and publishers such as MacMillian, where it becomes apparent that Amazon simply doesn't care about the publisher's rights, but even so, wouldn't they make more on an item with a higher price?

All of this said, I am buying my book from Borders, like I originally intended, and I will be buying a physical copy. I'm a little miffed that I was misled by Amazon's dates, as I could have been reading the climactic conclusion already, and all this anxious waiting over the past week could have been avoided. Unfortunately, I cannot wait for shipping, but I am forced to wait for a new in-store coupon to arrive in my email. We'll see if I'm able to hold out until then.

Coming Soon: reviews of Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson & Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney, a post on biographies prefacing novels, & the writer's journey as seen in Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Just a Note on Donating to a Good Cause

For the last few years, I've been learning. I've been learning from life, from all the hard lessons it has to teach me. The majority of those lessons come from being below the poverty line, and always just a few short stumbles away from being a charity case, literally. So, when I get the chance to give back to those like me and those worse off than me, I take it. Tonight I went through my closet, cleared out the clutter, and now I am donating two full trash bags of clothes. And chances are, the dresses that I got as hand-me-downs are also going to be donated, to a separate cause, that helps out girls in tight situations who can't afford prom dresses. And I don't need those dresses, I will never have a chance to wear them. I have one, that's enough.

If you have clothes you're not going to wear, or toys you don't play with, or things you need to get rid of to make space as you grow up, please consider donating them. My favourite charity is Juvenile Diabetes, but there is also Goodwill (which, for the record, is a great place to shop as well), and numerous other places that take donations. Just look into it. You're going to throw them out anyway, so why not? You don't have to do anything but drop them off--and even Salvation Army will come to your house for bigger things! Think about charity.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Truth in Writing

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—this is the immortal advice that Emily Dickinson has left us with. The end lines of the poem tell us that "With explanation kind, The Truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind—" This poem's brilliance cannot be ignored, so neither should its advice. Yes, this poem is generally interpreted as being about God, but why should that make it any less meaningful when applied to other areas? Why not apply it to journalistic and novelistic ethics? As writers we may come to a situation where we are put between a rock and a hard place, where we must decide if we should tell the whole story, or if we should hedge, omit, or even outright lie to cover for someone else. It's a decision we all must make for ourselves, and should be taken on a case by case basis, but perhaps, like myself, you can find help in Dickinson's words.

Lately I have written a series of personal narratives that have primarily been to work out issues in my life. Cathartic though they are in nature, I still wonder if I could do something with them, perhaps get these pieces published somewhere. I know that it may not work out, but I could at least try, though one thing stands in my way. These narratives are extremely personal, and although I have no qualms with telling the world these things about myself, many of them focus on my family and the current struggles we have found ourselves in. So while I am okay with having my story out there, my family probably doesn't feel the same way. I come from a very long line of proud people, the kind of people who brush issues under the carpet and will do anything to keep the image that everything is okay. To publish these narratives would be to destroy that fa├žade, but should I not publish, or not write, something because of how it will affect them? I want to say I shouldn't, but I know that's a promise I wouldn't be able to keep. For me, writing is all about catharsis, getting the emotions on the page, no matter who reads it.

So do we write things as they are, the truth, bare for the world to see in its natural state, or do we maybe fudge a little, to protect others? Perhaps we tell all the Truth, but we tell it slant. We present things as they are, but we present it in such a light that it may not be as harsh when the judgement time comes. We will let it dazzle gradually, and try our hardest not to blind anyone.

Things I Love About The Princess and the Frog

Spoilers ahead!

First, this movie is a great twist on the old fairy tale of the Frog Prince. Instead of a kiss from a princess turning a frog into a prince, the princess is turned into a frog. I love it. More than that, it sets up the story with a bigger adventure, of turning both Prince Naveen and Tiana back into humans.

The art style and the storyline (even the scary bits) are just like old school Disney. The voodoo man, Doctor Facillier, and his dark magic reminds me of the Queen in Snow White and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. The shadow creatures, too, remind me of these. Without his magic, Facillier could be a human version of Scar, almost. Possessed by his greed for power, eventually brought down by the people he thought to be on his side, and is not afraid to kill to get what he wants. And when he does it will absolutely break. your. heart.

I love Tiana, she's a breath of fresh air after years of princesses wanting nothing more than a prince. This is a smart, responsible girl who works towards her dreams. This girl is not satisfied to sit around and wait for the "someday" when her prince will come. She's got bigger plans. And the family angle, just wanting to live up to the goal that she and her dad set for themselves, is also really interesting. Of course, there's the obvious point of her race, which I think is fantastic. It's about time we got some diversity, Disney! (Although that's not to say we haven't before, remember Jasmine & Mulan!) Now this is a princess that little girls can aspire to be: reasonable, intelligent, determined, talented (I wish I could cook like her!), and still get the prince.

Prince Naveen is fantastic as well. Something I love about this movie that we don't see very often is that the guy falls in love first, and I think that is best done in this movie than in previous Disney ones. Yes, it has happened before, think of Aladdin or Sleeping Beauty. The difference between them, though, is that in The Princess and the Frog, Naveen & Tiana don't have a "love at first sight" situation. Nope, they don't like each other like that at the beginning, and then slowly Naveen starts to realize that money and women are great, but that he really loves Tiana, and that just warms my heart. Even better, Tiana doesn't immediately realize that she loves him back, because she's too distracted by her dreams. She has to "dig a little deeper" to find out what she needs. Eventually, they both realize that what they once wanted--money, success, to be human--isn't what they need, that love is more important. Now that's true Disney.

Continuing with the fantastic cast of characters here, let's not forget the secondary ones, for they really steal the show at some point! First we are introduced to Charlotte "Lottie" Lebouff, who is that little girl fed fairytales and spoiled all her life. Like a great foil should be, she is the dreamer to Tiana's hard worker. What I love about Lottie is her constant excitement, and that she could be the stereotypical spoiled rich girl, but instead she gives up her chance at marrying a prince, for her friend Tiana. She could have been a secondary villain, but instead she's a caring friend, and that's wonderful. Also, her interactions with her dad crack me up. The "What just happened?" line makes me laugh every time.

Next up we have Louis, the alligator who wants to be a jazz star. This movie is filled with dreamers, and Louis is no exception. He's also good for comic relief, paired up with the ever-amusing Ray, a firefly from the bayou. I like Louis, but I think Ray is the more important character in this plot, as he leads Naveen & Tiana to Mama Odee, but also he shows them true love, by speaking of his Evangeline, the night star. And even when he's killed, trying to save his friends, he still gets what he deserves, by being united in the night sky with Evangeline. That's also very Disney, and cheesy, but in a good way.

While the characters are the best part of this film, it would be horrible of me not to mention the music. The great Randy Newman lives up to his legacy by providing us with a great soundtrack that mirrors the Jazz Age in which this movie is set. The lyrics are also fantastic and the music will make you want to get up out of your chair and dance along. It's fantastic. Also, setting the story in the Jazz Age was really interesting, and works with the "dream" theme we see throughout the rest of the film, and also brings some beautiful designs for the clothing. I simply love Tiana's yellow uniform for work, with her cute little hat.

So, yeah, I am in love with this movie, if you couldn't tell. And upon watching it again, I felt the need to write up a post about it. That is how much I liked it. My cousin teases me about it, because when we saw it for the first time on Christmas and the lights came up in the theatre, I was sitting there with a grin plastered across my face, giggling and swinging my feet like the five-year-old I really am. This movie was one I could really relate to, and I highly recommend seeing it.

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