Sunday, March 31, 2013

Go Forth and Read Ye of the Ways of Amazon

I don't write about Amazon nearly as much as I feel like here, but that's OK -- Matt Blind, aka "Rocket Bomber," is always there to pick up the slack.

For example, he recently rounded up a lot of recent articles on Amazon and then explained how they're only doing what Sears did a hundred years earlier. (Doing it very well, yes, but very much the same thing.)

This time out, he doesn't concentrate much on Amazon's biggest advantage: their business model is to make very little money while trying to keep other players in the market from making any (which was greatly facilitated by their getting a five-year multi-billion dollar grace period from investors, which is, I think, unprecedented in any capitalist country).

But go read it, particularly if you work in any business where Amazon is a major retailer -- and, these days, that's pretty much all of them.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 3/23

There's a decent pile this week, and I'm starting much later in the day than usual -- the result of a Thing 1-centric weekend, with his theatrical debut in his high school's production of The Music Man and several celebrations for his fifteenth birthday -- so I'll attempt to be quick and factual this time around.

All of the books below arrived in my mailbox over the last week. I don't think I specifically asked for any of them, though I could quite easily have forgotten. All of them are brand new or upcoming books, being published in the United States of America (and possibly other places as well), mostly in the speculative genres and/or with words and pictures cunningly juxtaposed. I have not read any of these books yet, but I'm about to tell you what I can about them, because you may absolutely love one or more of them, and facilitating such love is supposed to be what publishing is all about.

So, this week I've decided to go in rough order of physical size of these books, since that's the way they're already piled on my desk. And that means the latest "Kitty Norville" contemporary fantasy novel from Carrie Vaughn, Kitty Rocks the House, is on top. I've enjoyed this series a lot, though I have to admit that I've fallen behind on it in the past few years; I think I now have five novels and a short-story collection still to read. (So you could claim that I'm hoarding them, which is not untrue.) Rocks the House is a mass-market paperback from Tor, hitting stores on March 26th.

Also in mass-market from Tor, and on the very same day, is Virus Thirteen, a near-future bio-thriller from Joshua Alan Parry. It's a first novel, focusing on a married couple working at a top biotech firm -- she's locked down in an underground lab, racing for a cure to a superflu! he's left outside the secure facility, battling terrorists! -- and Parry can probably be trusted to get the medical stuff correct since he's a medical resident at the Mayo Clinic.

A week later, on April 2nd, Sharp will be released in mass-market by Roc. It's the third in the "Mindscape Investigations" series by Alex Hughes, focusing on a telepathic police investigator in what seems to be the near future (sixty years after the "Tech Wars" apparently made networks and computers objects of hatred and fear).

The fourth volume in Keiko Suenobu's survival-horror Limit manga series was published last week by Vertical, in which the small group of survivors of a bus crash continue to do horrible things to each other, far from civilization.

Also from Vertical is the fifth volume of Flowers of Evil, Shuzo Oshimi's creepy look at an unhealthy love triangle among Japanese teens -- it's also just been published by Vertical.

From Amazon's 47North imprint, publishing in May, is Mark T. Barnes's The Garden of Stones, an epic fantasy doorstop that the back cover compares equally to Homer, George R.R. Martin, and Steven Erikson. It's about all of that epic-fantasy stuff: overweening pride, huge empires, the sweep of history, and incredibly special people.

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong is a new graphic novel written by Prudence Shen (it's her first book) and drawn by Faith Erin Hicks (The Adventures of Superhero Girl, The War at Ellsmere, Friends With Boys, etc.). It's from First Second and is about the epic battle in one high school between the cheerleaders and the robotics squad over the funding that both of them desperately need.

Adam Baker's first novel, Juggernaut, appears to be a military thriller in which US soldiers in Iraq, enticed by rumors of fabulous wealth hidden away by Saddam, find their way to a hidden city in the desert populated by zombies. Don't roll your eyes: somebody is gobbling up all of these zombie stories, and I know it's not me. It's a hardcover from Thomas Dunne Books, coming April 2nd.

Speaking of vaguely skiffy thrillers from Thomas Dunne, I also have here Jeremy Robinson's Island 731, in which a scientific crew investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch find themselves on a mysterious uncharted island after a story -- an island where Imperial Japanese human experimentation went on during WWII, and where something is still active. (Really? We're still doing left-overs-from-WWII thrillers? The war's been over for almost seventy years at this point.)

E.E. Knight's Vampire Earth series continues with Appalachian Overthrow, but I can't get past that goat-dude on the cover. Is he our hero? (He might be: this looks to be a backstory novel about Ahn-Kha, whoever that is, and that's the kind of name I might give a goat-dude.) This is a Roc hardcover, coming April 2nd.

And last is Red Planet Blues, the new novel from Hugo and Nebula Award winner Robert J. Sawyer, which seems to have grown out of his novella "Identity Theft," originally written for an anthology published by my ten-employer. It's about a private detective on Mars -- which I won't make fun of, since I like PI novels, and Mars is as reasonable a setting as any other -- and Ace is publishing it in hardcover this week.    

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Incoming Books: March 22nd

I think I'm about to get serious about replacing at least some of the books I lost in the big flood, and, to start that, I had a big order from Midtown Comics this week. (They had a 30% off sale, with free shipping and no tax since they don't have nexus in my state, and I'll take that any day.)

So I got a couple of things that they boys can earn by telling me stories that they read, and. for myself, mostly books I used to have:

Famous Players by Rick Geary, his tenth graphic novel about a single historical murder, which I reviewed for ComicMix in 2009.

Speaking of Rick Geary, I also got the 2007 Gumby collection that he drew and Bob Burden wrote.

Good-Bye, the third collection of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's devastating and masterful gekiga stories from the early '70s, which I also reviewed for ComicMix.

The Grave Robber's Daughter, a short Richard Sala graphic novel from 2006.

Slow News Day and Dumped, two Andi Watson graphic novels.

Dork Vol. 2: Circling The Drain and Bill & Ted's Most Excellent Adventures, Vol. 1, two Evan Dorkin joints.

Scott Saavedra's Dr. Radium Battles Phill, King Of The Pill Bugs.

A bunch of Gilbert Hernandez, for my big planned Love and Rockets re-read and a couple of books that I actually don't think I ever read: Girl Crazy, The Adventures of Venus, and New Stories #1.

Almost Silent, a hardcover collection of four separate graphic novels by the Norwegian cartoonist Jason; I reviewed three of them here in separate posts and the fourth in a roundup.

The classic Violent Cases by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean.

Steve Moncuse's mostly-forgotten Fish Police Volume 1, which got a reprinting from IDW in 2011 for no obvious reason. I think I had the old, old album-size reprints (and all of the issues packed up in longboxes), but I haven't read this in twenty years.

Legend Of GrimJack Vol. 7 by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake.

And, last, the first volume of James Kochalka's American Elf, since it's now done, so I'll have to dig into the archives for my fix.

(It might be clear from this list that I began my comics-reading in the '80s, and I'll cheerfully admit that.)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Devil Is a Railroad Car

Every so often, I post things here mostly as a record, in case I wonder about them later. This is one of those occasions, so be warned.

Before Sandy, last year's major East Coast hurricane (not to be confused with Irene, the year before last's major East Coast hurricane), my train schedule looked like this:

depart Lincoln Park 7:03, arrive Hoboken 7:55 (52 minutes)
depart Hoboken 4:27, arrive Lincoln Park 5:20 (53 minutes)

And the world was bright and gay and happy.

After things settled down, more or less, after the storm, this is what I got:

depart Lincoln Park 6:56, arrive Hoboken 8:05 (69 minutes)
depart Hoboken 4:26, arrive Lincoln Park 5:25 (59 minutes)

There's finally a new official train schedule -- everything else since the storm has been PDFs printed off the website, not the usual printed booklet -- starting on Monday, with the following itinerary:

depart Lincoln Park 6:51, arrive Hoboken 7:55 (64 minutes)
depart Hoboken 4:30, arrive Lincoln Park 5:33 (63 minutes)

The time actually on the train is roughly a wash -- 127 minutes instead of 128 -- though that's still twenty minutes longer than it was six months ago. But the total length of day keeps growing, with a train now twelve minutes earlier in the morning and thirteen minutes later in the evening.

On the bright side, I do get an extra ten minutes a day to spend in the office, and three minutes more than I used to have back in the good 'ol days.

Update, Mid-March 2014:

The times have kept slipping, though the actual on-train time is shortening a bit. But the morning train moves a few minutes earlier each new schedule, and this is what it looks like now:

depart Lincoln Park 6:45, arrive Hoboken 7:40 (55 minutes)
depart Hoboken 4:30, arrive Lincoln Park 5:32 (62 minutes)

The next later train in the morning has not budged earlier, of course -- if it moved up as much as my train did, it would now be in pretty much exactly the same time as my pre-Sandy train -- nor has the afternoon train.

And so now I can get into the office about quarter of 8, most days, which is good for some things, he said brightly.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Amazon Sales

The Beat has just collected a number of recent scattered posts about Amazon sales and contextualized them for its comics-reading (and -making) audience, making it clear we're in the middle of another period of the Amazon style of Kremlin-watching.

So I thought I'd share something that may be vaguely useful.

A few years back, I did a quick cheat sheet to estimate Amazon sales for print titles, based on Amazon's overall sales rank. Now, before I give you the fruits of my inquisitive afternoon, a few disclaimers:
  • I did this about three years ago, and have not updated it -- and sales patterns may have shifted (though I believe they're still broadly correct).
  • This was only for print books; e-books may have a different pattern, and I've never investigated them.
  • This assumes steady sales, which is not always true. Some books spike because of a media hit, and then drop as swiftly as they rose.
  • Sales volume of books varies greatly on Amazon from week to week, with obvious peaks in early December and late August and other spikes driven by specific books, media events, or Alien Space Bats. So this is only a vague guide.
  • The top ranks of sales are spikier and more variable than the lower tiers, so those numbers will be less accurate overall. The top twenty, in particular, often sell substantial multiples of the books just beneath them.
With that in mind, here's what, more or less, an Amazon sales rank means:
500,000+ -- probably didn't sell a copy this week
250,000 -- 3-5 books a week
100,000 -- 5-7 books a week
25,000 -- 40-50 books a week
10,000 -- 50-75 books a week
5,000 -- 100-150 books a week
1000 -- 200-300 books a week
500 -- 400-500 books a week
100 -- 1000+ books a week

So if your best author friend burbles that her novel The Dark Mace of Aka'Fujjji has been in the Amazon Top 1000 for 6 weeks, you can now estimate that she's sold at least 1500-2000 books. And, if I know authors, hate her for it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Incoming Books: March 18

I placed an order recently from, which has some not-entirely-clear-to-me relationship with the great remainder seller "Edward R. Hamilton, Bookseller," a mail-order joint in Connecticut -- actually, it looks, from the website, that the two businesses are about to merge (or re-merge).

In any case, this Hamilton chap and his business associates, whoever they are, have been selling remainders (and some new books) for at least twenty years, since I've been giving them business that long. The prices are good, and the joys of poking through a large catalog chock-full of books in various categories is pretty nice all by itself. And here's what I got this time:

A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length by Roger Ebert -- the third collection of his reviews of absolutely rotten movies, following I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie and Your Movie Sucks. Ebert is a good writer and a dependable writer-about movies who is at his most entertaining when he's being vituperative, so this should be fun.

Two more P.G. Wodehouse books from the Overlook series I've been chattering about for ten years now -- one of them got me through the hospitalization at the beginning of my heart trouble -- The Adventures of Sally and Bachelors Anonymous. I did lose three shelves full of them back in the flood, but this is the one thing I've been seriously rebuilding since then, because Wodehouse, OK?

Nancy Likes Christmas by Ernie Bushmiller -- I had a few of the random Kitchen Sink Nancy collections (pre-flood), but I might be jumping on the bandwagon of this newish Fantagraphics reprint series anyway: they look more impressive and bigger. And Bushmiller is just plain funny: he knew how to set up and put over a joke.

The Life and Death of Fritz the Cat by R. Crumb -- I've never quite clicked with Crumb; I liked his recent Book of Genesis, but was snotty about Book of Mr. Natural and a little befuddled by both Sweeter Side and Odds & Ends. This is pretty much his defining work, and I've never read it, so I felt obliged to check it out.

X'ed Out is the first book in Charles Burns's current series -- I read it a few years back, and currently have the sequel, The Hive, sitting on my to-be-read pile -- and now I have a copy of it again. I still need to get a new Black Hole, though.

And last is a story -- I gave my sons each a funny mass-market paperback in their stockings at Christmas this year. Thing 1 got The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- which I don't think he's read yet, though he was oddly talking about it to himself the other night -- and Thing 2 got The Colour of Magic. Number 2 Son told me that story last week, said he enjoyed it, and expressed mild ire that the story ended so abruptly. And so I've just gotten him not just The Light Fantastic, but also Mort and Equal Rites, hoping to hook him hard. We'll see how that goes; he's already my fantasy fan, having read piles of Eoin Colfer, Susan Cooper, C.S. Lewis, and Brandon Mull over the past couple of years, among others.

(And, again, I used to have every single Discworld book, and pretty much everything else by PTerry, in mostly nice and rare hardcovers, but the waters rose and I'm starting over.)