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Finally, a Book About You!

May 22, 2009

customizable romance novelDo you want to be on a book page facing Obama without having to make history?  Or perhaps politics aren’t your thing and you’d rather have the lead role in a steamy romance novel.  Good news!  Customizable, one-off books, the product of POD technology, are available and fanning out into all different genres.  For all of those of us who have a hard time relating to books about other people, there are now all types of ways to insert yourself into the story.

Hewlett Packard has recently employed POD technology for the customizable book The Obama Time Capsule about the presidential inauguration. You can upload pictures of yourself and add your name to the inauguration invite or to the front cover of the book.  Your pictures will appear on various pages like the “celebrity supporters” page, and your children’s artwork can be added to the “Kids for Obama” page.  You get your very own album of the historic inauguration, even though you weren’t really there!

Politics not your thing? Voted for the other guy? You can still put yourself in print!  I know when I read romance novels, I have a hard time relating to Scarlett, Isabella, and Veronica.  But what if I could put my own name in the book?  With companies like Romance By You and Torrid Romance, you can customize the character’s names and other parts of the story online.  They print one copy for you, and voila! You’re experiencing the steamy romance you’ve only dreamed of.

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It's a Big, Bad Book World: This Week in Publishing

May 15, 2009
  • Remember Sarah Palin? She got a book deal with HarperCollins. Her memoir, which will cover both the personal and the political, will be co-published for the Christian market by HC-owned publisher Zondervan.
  • Amazon made a couple of moves, optimizing its Kindle store for viewing on the iPhone's Safari browser and unveiling its AmazonEncore program, which will put marketing and distribution muscle behind self-published books that they believe have sales potential.
  • We lost Google for a few terrifying hours.
  • Bloggasm looked at the effect of the free digital release of five Random House books—do free e-copies help or hinder print sales?
  • The UK's Richard & Judy got cancelled, but their popular book club (it's sort of like Oprah's is in the US) may stick around.
  • Smart Bitches covered the International Digital Publishing Forum's Digital Book conference that took place in New York this week. Also, lots of Twitter coverage (naturally) and a PW piece highlighting the importance of women and the romance genre in ereading.

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A Novel Idea: Escapism, Book Sales, and Novels in Contemporary Society

May 15, 2009

netherlandIt seems everyone needs a little break. Even President Obama, the man with one of the world’s most stressful jobs admits to reading Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland in between briefings. And while few can imagine the strains of life in the White House, all can appreciate wanting a little escape from these harsher times. And despite the rumors, Americans are reading more than just text messages. According to the National Endowment for the Arts study released in earlier this year, literary reading has actually increased 3.5 percent since 2002, the first jump in almost thirty years.

This presents a new and exciting opportunity for novels, a somewhat marginalized art form, that has seen a decline in a fast paced world of Blackberry, iPod and video games. Novels can provide escapism of the mind without an actual vacation. With a skilled writer, a novel can give the reader the promise of rich characters, exotic locale, intense plotline, and, possibly, the happy ending that eludes some in reality. Unlike the movies (many of which are based on great novels), an actual novel has the potential to develop a relationship with reader in their home, with much of the enjoyment resting in the anticipation of the ending. The novel becomes a destination for the reader, a place of escape and relaxation; like a beach house on your bedside.

Looking at some of the top novels of all time, it is very hard to pin down a common theme between them; however, I believe that why titles like The Great Gatsby, Are You There God? It's Me Margaret, Gone with the Wind, and The Grapes of Wrath are on the list because they are literary portraits of specific time and place in history and in the human experience that can only be told in the form of a novel. They made the list because those novels allow modern-day readers to go to a place outside of our experience.

And while the news of bookstores struggling is nothing new, one genre has proved that people still buy books—and buy big. Romance novels, the good, the bad and the Fabio-covered, are up 7 percent in sales after a plateau over the past four years. While it might be a guilty pleasure for some, the romance reader is considered to be one of the most loyal of fans (think Yankees fanatic but in Barnes & Noble) and it also helps that they tend to buy higher volume. The escapism that comes with the romance novels is also translated in other genres like science fiction and fantasy (yes, that Harry Potter kid is still around). And while it is interesting to see forty-year-olds cry over Edward Cullen and dress up like a wizard to go see a movie, this all translates into big money.

Of course, you have to get someone to read the book before anything. And the reality is, novels are a hard sell. There have been attempts at changing the game though. The paperback originals model allows literary novels the possibility of a longer shelf life and some publishers have been offering them to lesser known authors in an attempt to gradually build up a following instead of placing them in hard covers and directly against well known writers. Another way to build a gradual following is through social media. Facebook and Twitter are very mainstream sites, but even within them are small, niche communities. With the right content and subject matter the possibility of being a viral, underground sensation is the best online.

While the world has changed, the makeup of a good novel hasn’t: great characters, vivid description and evocative prose. One good thing about the current state of affairs is that our society has now been nudged into a place where we can start to find and appreciate those elements again.

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Children's Book Week: Some Lesser-Known Classics We Love

May 12, 2009

Children’s classics, like the works of Beatrix Potter and Dr. Seuss, enjoy the privilege of never having to fight for shelf space at bookstores.  After the classics, the rest of a book buyer’s budget is usually allocated for the newest, most publicized children’s releases from big names and celebrities.  But what about all of those other kids' books we grew up reading?  Great books that just didn’t earn the celebrity status of the beloved classics?

May 11–17 is Children’s Book Week, and with all the hubbub over the newest, cutest, most sought-after children’s books, we decided we’d give a few recommendations of great kids' books that are off the beaten path, and close to our hearts. Some of these books are older, some are popular reads from childhood, and some we just couldn’t resist reminding you of.

We Were Tired of Living in a HouseWe Were Tired of Living in A House by Liesel Moak Skorpen

It's about the adventure of running away and the joy of coming home, and has beautiful phrases like "A frog who was a particular friend."
Lari, Editor

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Tales and Fables for Children by Leo Tolstoy

Tales and Fables for Children

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I just loved Tolstoy’s Fables as a kid. My copy was oversized with lots of illustrations. I used to carry it everywhere. The fables are rather surreal and a bit didactic with plenty of talking animals, magic, trickery, and adventures.
Lisa, Senior Designer

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Frederick
Frederick by Leo Lionni

I couldn’t take my eyes off the illustrations and the story was very calming for me as a kid. It’s similar to the fable of the ant and the grasshopper but with a twist. Frederick promotes the importance of creativity, art, and poetry in the face of conformity and drudgery.
Katie, Associate Consultant

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The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

The Little House
It's a story of a house that likes living out of the city, until the city comes to it. It's a charming tale of home, family, and putting back what's right.
Sheila, Senior Designer

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Miss Nelson Is Missing
Miss Nelson Is Missing by Harry Allard

It was the first children’s book I read that I actually felt I could relate to.  Given that the book is about naughty kids running off their teacher and learning the Golden Rule the hard way, this is probably not saying great things about my personal character.
Tanya, Business Development Manager

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The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop

The Five Chinese Brothers
The Far East was an exotic place for a pipsqueak smack dab in the middle of North Carolina to consider.
Linda, Editor

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Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton

It's a classic story about the little guys (Mike, and his steam shovel, Mary Anne) struggling to stay relevant in a changing world. It has a happy, quiet ending, which I dug (get it? steam shovel? dug? digging?).
Matt, Consultant

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Other Greenleaf favorites:

Sheep in a Jeep

The Jolly Postman and Other People’s Letters

Caps for Sale

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

Strega Nona

Morris's Disappearing Bag

The Ox-cart Man

There's a Nightmare in my Closet

Angelina Ballerina

Cars and Trucks and Things That Go

Pippa Mouse

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It’s a Big, Bad Book World: This Week In Publishing

May 8, 2009
  • bookpileAmazon.com doesn’t believe in trends. The newest version of the Kindle, known as the DX, is actually larger than the one preceding it. Is technology flowing backwards? Think again. The new, larger screen is customized for newspapers and magazines.
  • The Times Online asks its readers a penetrating question in the wake of popular children's and young adult fiction: should these books be more multicultural?
  • Sci-fi geeks and design nerds, rejoice! Check out Penguin’s fantastic display of its classic and modern science-fiction book covers.
  • Opinions are mixed on the casting decision for a(nother) big-screen adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The actor chosen for the iconic role(s)? None other than Keanu Reeves. Stop sniggering, you.
  • Life isn’t all bleak, doom and gloom for the big name publishers. The top five American trade publishers (including Penguin, Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Hachette) had a revenue stream of over four and a half billion last year. The written word is not dead yet, folks.
  • Even after death, a writer can speak. In this case, David Foster Wallace, who wrote Infinite Jest (given the honor of the All-Time 100 Greatest Novels according to TIME Magazine), has one last hurrah: his unfinished novel The Pale King is being published by UK house Hamish Hamilton. Check out an impassioned blog post about the subject at the Penguin Blog.
  • Cormac McCarthy, author of All the Pretty Horses and The Road, has won the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for lifetime achievement in American fiction, while Steve Coll, author of The Bin Ladens, received an award for nonfiction.
  • Nothing better to do during a hot summer day then stay inside with the air conditioning and read a book. (It’s nothing less than sweltering here in Austin and we’re not even in mid-May). Check out USA Today’s list of summer books to beat the heat.
  • Marilyn French, feminist author and writer of The Women’s Room (and often cited for her misinterpreted famous quote, “my goal in life is to change the entire social and economic structure of Western civilization, to make it a feminist world”) passed away at age 79.
  • How best to entice kids to read? Easy. Give them bucketloads of Greek mythology. (As a kid, I would have been thrilled to Hades by this). Read here about Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series, who is defying a bleak economy with a print run of 1.2 million copies of the fifth and final book in his series.
  • Check out this brilliant piece from Publetariat on authors, publishers and publicity in the modern era. What are the differences between self-published, independently published and works from a major house?
  • Celebrity writer deathmatch: Jodi Picoult vs. Dan Brown. Is the pot calling the kettle black, or is this a legitimate, err, attack on fame? Vote or die.

Have a great weekend!

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