Category Archives: Stuff That Bugs Me

Series: The New Dirty Word in Publishing?

NerdTearingHairAnyone who read Scott Westerberg’s latest book, Leviathan, or James Dashner’s The Maze Runner may have noticed a curious omission in both books.  Look at the front covers, the back covers, scan the flap copy, the title page—you won’t find any hint anywhere that these books are the first in their series.  And yet, when you get to the last sentence, guess what?  The story ain’t over.

Did the publishers forget to put the words “Book 1” on the covers?  Did Westerberg or Dashner neglect to mention there will be other volumes coming?  Not likely.  But then, with so many wildly successful series on the market (Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Twilight, A Series of Unfortunate Events), why would anyone want to hide the fact that a book is part of a new series?

Hm—maybe because the word “series” has become a sales killer?

Sure—we can all name multi-volume sagas that have raked in the bucks.  That’s why there are so many out there.  But waiting a year, two years, even three for the next installment has gone from being an occasional annoyance to a constant state of hair-tearing frustration—like being stuck in the doctor’s waiting room forever.  So when readers pick up a new book and find the words “Book 1” or “Volume 1” or “The New Arthurio-Pelerandian-GnomeFighters Cycle” on the cover, they don’t think, “Oh good—something new to read!”  They think, “Oh crap—another eight year commitment.”

Maybe publishers have noticed this.  Maybe it even makes sense for them to be a little cagey about their new series, get the reader hooked first.  Right?

Wrong.  I loved both Leviathan and The Maze Runner.  But when I finished them and realized I’d been duped into reading two new series, I threw the books across the room and swore never to buy anything in those series again.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying I won’t read the next installments.  The books are great—exciting, entertaining, wildly inventive—and I fully intend to find out what happens next.  I just don’t intend to spend money on them.  And since there are over a dozen libraries in my area, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep that promise.

But this makes me worry about Simon & Schuster and Delacorte and anyone else playing the new “hide the series” game.  Yes, we’re all suffering from series burn-out, and it may be hard to sell us anything new.  But if you piss us off on Book 1, who’s going to buy Book 2?  And if no one buys Book 2, how are you going to publish Book 3, 4, 5, etc.?

Plus, you may not have noticed, but there are these cute little devices out now called Kindles and Nooks and Sony eReaders.  They’re very hot items for Christmas this year.  So before you stumble too far down the “What they don’t know will at least get them hooked” road, you might want to think about how many buyers you can afford to piss off.  Because those eBook readers?  They’re really easy to pass around.  Wicked easy.

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Bin Laden to Syracuse: I Will Store Books!

Osama bin Laden’s secret mountain hideaway is in one of the most inaccessible places on Earth: Tora Bora. So when Syracuse University announced it wanted to store all of its books in a remote location, Mr. bin Laden saw his opportunity.

“There is no place more remote than this,” Mr. bin Laden claims.  “Syracuse will be able to put as much distance between itself and its books as it wants, and I will have–how do you say?–more ambiance.  Because you know, you can only hang so many rugs on the walls, and all of our ‘Death to the Great Satan!’ posters are riddled with bullet holes. So it will be nice to have the books.”

It is not clear yet whether Syracuse University will accept Mr. bin Laden’s offer. However, one highly placed source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was very tempting:

“Miles and miles of clean, dry, premium storage space for next to nothing.  How can you beat that? Also, he’s willing to digitize the entire catalog and put it on-line, provided we don’t sell the rights to Google.”

Mr. bin Laden is not even asking for money.  What he wants instead is two Blu-Ray DVD players, five bags of popcorn, and twelve pints of Hagen Daas ice cream for every 500 books stored.  Plus a lifetime Tivo subscription.

“Of course I could charge much more,” Mr. bin Laden said. “But I need the books. The winters here are long, and you can only read Bomb Making for Dummies and The Anarchist’s Cookbook so many times.  Also, for eight years, I have been tearing my beard out waiting to find out what happens in Harry Potter, and #1 Lady’s Detective Club, and Uglies.  And Abdullah, my twentieth cousin thricely removed, tells me there is a new masterpiece that reflects all of current American thought.  I believe it is called Twilight. This I cannot wait to study.”

While Syracuse considers Mr. bin Laden’s offer, the State Department is trying to decide whether it should let the deal go through or not.

“On the one hand,” says Secretary Clinton, “we don’t negotiate with terrorists.  On the other hand, dropping books instead of bombs from our unmanned drones could solve a lot of strategic and diplomatic issues.  And it’s cheaper.  So we’re studying the offer carefully.”

Meanwhile, Mr. bin Laden has already begun turning his mountain lair into a library.  Every day a team of dedicated jihadist carpenters lays a thousand feet of brand new cinderblock shelves along the walls. And Mr. bin Laden himself has begun installing the coffee shop and Wi-Fi.  Soon, Tora Bora may be to Syracuse scholars what the library at Alexandria was to many ancient scholars–a nice place to find some books, if you can get there.

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