February 28, 2011

Hello, world...

So it's been radio silence the last few weeks. I can make the usual excuses -- work, life, stuff, gunk, aliens -- but the pertinent details of what I've been up to boil down to this: I've been thinking about what I want out of life. And what I want out of life is to be a writer. This is one of those things I've dreamed of doing for forever, it seems. And I think I've been spending too much of my time not being a writer. This is not to say that taking time off is worthwhile, or having different pursuits, or any of those things, isn't great. They're all great. But at the end of the day, there's one thing that goes through my head as I lie down to sleep: This will not happen if you don't make it happen.

This will not happen if I don't make it happen. It's easy for me to kick back and watch a few episodes of a favorite television show after coming home from work. It's comforting, fun, and doesn't require much effort. But it's my dream to be a writer, and it always has been. And change is not going to happen unless I make it happen. To that end, I will be implementing a few changes here and across the internet, concerning how I present myself to the world.

1. I will no longer be accepting books for review, or reviewing on a regular basis. I will certainly talk about books, and I will definitely do my fair share of gushing over books I adore (just hand-sold a copy of Stephanie Perkins' Anna and the French Kiss the other day at a bookstore -- by (happy) accident!). But there's a line I've been straddling for a while on the blogosphere, between "prospective author" and "reviewer/blogger". I think it's time I landed firmly on the side on which I want to be.

2. I will resume my previous posting schedule -- something readerly on Mondays, something writerly on Wednesdays, and something random on Fridays.

3. This last one isn't really internety, but concerns me as an author, so here goes: I'm starting revisions tomorrow. Yipes! (Even though I haven't managed a complete outline. Even though there are still some major characters who don't exist. Even though, even though, even though there will always be more even thoughs. Or perhaps in spite of that fact.)

Sigh. I miss my internet friends. I haven't poked my head out from the burrow in weeks, either to read or write. It's good to be back with you all.

PS: The blog's getting a revamp too. Although that might take a while.

February 14, 2011

Still on Anne

To be perfectly honest I haven't been reading as much as I'd hoped this year. There's certainly still time for it to change, but for the moment (and the last few weeks) it seems I've been figuring out how to work in one of my new year's resolutions (working out) only by trading in time I would otherwise have used for reading (and/or writing).

Anyway, all that goes to show that I'm still on Anne of Green Gables, although I've blown through a few other books here and there. Anne of Green Gables is one of those books that always prompts me to start a "books I'm buying for my child, in the event that I have one" list. I certainly can't pass down this copy -- the spine is shot, and the front cover is gone, a result of an unfortunate overnight encounter with a rainstorm many years ago.

There are a lot of books I would put on my "to-buy" list for my child. Harry Potter, definitely. Anne of Green Gables, Little Women (and Little Men, etc.), Cloudy With a Change of Meatballs, Hop on Pop!, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, The Chronicles of Narnia... The list goes on. And on. And on. I should actually write that list down someday... Although I'm sure it can wait a few years, at least, before needing to serve a practical purpose.

What books would you put on your list? (And do you have a better name for that list than I do? Because "books I'm buying for my child, in the event that I have one" list is just too darn long.)

February 7, 2011

An anecdote. Some of you may be familiar with it

I went home to visit my family this past weekend.

I thought I would be safe with three books.

No. Not at all. I'd zoomed through all three (BART helps) by Saturday morning. The only thing left to do was go to the library and get more...

I managed to limit myself to five... But that means that on the way back, I was carrying eight books. Erm.

This is the part where having a Kindle would come in handy. Oh, wait! I do have a Kindle. It's just that I'm adverse to actually purchasing books to put on there, when you can get books for free from the library!

Anyway, to make a short story shorter, my shoulder is now aching slightly. Looks like I still haven't gotten over book hauler syndrome...

PS: Across the Universe, by Beth Revis. Pretty good read.

February 4, 2011

Don't demonize the textbook companies, children

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, if only for the simple reasons that a: less than 12 months ago, I was a student myself, and b: I now interact on a daily basis with textbook companies (as part of my job). This will be a glossy, windswept post just because I don't have the time to treat it in depth, but I consider myself sufficiently knowledgeable to be able to cover the gist of it, at least.

College textbooks are expensive. Take it from someone who knows -- in my short-lived career as a mathematics major, I was purchasing books that were easily $150 new. (If I was lucky, I could get them for $90 used. Maybe.) And that's just one textbook, for one class. When you're a full time student, taking four courses a semester, you can easily spend over $500 (per semester) on textbooks alone. More if you're in one of the harder sciences -- physics, chemistry, etc.

It sucks. And I totally understand the need and desire for cheaper textbooks, the irate reactions upon finding out that yeah, used textbooks are cheaper...but in the way $70 is cheaper than $95. It's cheaper, but they both hurt. And I understand the impulse to blame the college textbook industry. Those soul-sucking mother-^&*%%*%! Why can't they suck it up and bypass a bonus this quarter?!?!?!??

Children, I'm here to educate you differently. Yes, college textbooks are ridiculously expensive. But to blame the textbook companies solely is just...misguided. Ignorant of the facts. And the facts are these:

Once upon a time, textbooks weren't "used" so much. Most people bought new. Which meant that a college textbook company could anticipate getting at least four or five years (eight or ten semesters) out of one edition of one textbook. Let's do a little math: Pretend with me that you could get a certain science textbook for $30. Say one class is 20 students, that's $600 per class, per semester. Times ten semesters, $6000 for one textbook. (Remember these are pretend numbers, for illustrative purposes only.)

And then, someone had the brilliant idea of introducing the concept of "used." The books aren't changing! they cried. You can buy the very same textbook that was used last semester (that will be used next semester, come to think of it), for half the price! College students aren't suckers in this department, for the most part. 50%? Yeah, I'll take that. So the used business was born. A student who bought that new $30 textbook could sell it to a used bookstore for $10, who could then turn around and sell it to another student (for another semester) for $20. And so on, and so forth. So the students are making a little cash, saving a little cash, and they're happy. But what about the publishers?

Suddenly, things don't look so pretty. I work in publishing, and let me tell you -- the margin between black and red is pretty darn thin. Once (see above) you could expect the return on one textbook to be $6000. Now what? If only one class buys the textbook (that very first semester), and then sells it to the next class, the total amount that a college textbook publisher will receive plummets from $6000 to $600. 90% loss. Now, some people will hang on to their textbooks, and some people will buy new. Let's assume for the moment that 10% of any given class will be purchasing new textbooks, after the first semester. So, the first semester will return $600 for the publisher. After that? $60. At the end of a ten semester cycle, you're left with $1140. Not even a fifth of what you started with.

So what can a publisher do against this? Obviously it's not sustainable -- starting with an expected return of $6000, and seeing that money drop 90%? Not a workable business model. What can a publisher do? Well...they can turn out new editions faster (which will bring back the "new" prices for at least a semester, as students are forced to get them to obtain new material), or they can raise prices. How do you get back up to $6000 from $960? You raise the price of a single textbook to $158, that's how.

And just like that, more students are driven to used textbooks (because $158? for a textbook? that's crazy!), and more textbook companies have to raise prices and put out new editions faster, and more students are driven to used textbooks, and more textbook companies have to raise prices, etc. etc. etc.

Obviously this is not the complete picture. I'm working with simple numbers, not taking into account royalties, what bookstores actually pay the publishers, etc. Just simple numbers. But I hope you've gotten the gist -- once upon a time, textbook publishers could rely on their textbooks being good for at least five years (sometimes more like ten), and so reaching a profit could be spread more evenly among those five to ten years. Now, they have to count on making almost no money after the first one or two semesters. Which means higher prices. Which means more demand for used textbooks. Which means... you get the picture.

Obviously, college textbooks are too expensive. I'm not arguing that everyone go out and purchase new books, rather than used. I'm just saying that things are more complicated than they seem, and that the next time you want to curse a textbook publisher for slapping a $180 price tag on a textbook, take a deep breath and consider that they're not the only ones to blame here. Sorry about that price tag, though. Really. I remember how that feels. But it's a vicious cycle, man. Just vicious.

February 2, 2011

Progress: It has been made

Hi all...

So, the Board. It has been made. I was putting it off because I was telling myself I absolutely had to go to the supply store and purchase a brand new cork board (along with brand new index cards and brand new push pins) -- but then I got my act together and pulled down the one I have been studiously not using for a while (had random inspirational poetry and such on it) and got out my 200 index cards and the matching set of push pins I have never opened. (Yes, that was procrastination. And love of new office supplies.)

Long story short, I've got a board with some masking tape across it (as prescribed by Save the Cat), and some index cards. I would take a picture and show it to you, but I had an unfortunate incident with our oven last night (I am currently typing without the use of my left middle finger) and negotiating a digital camera, etc., would be a lot right now. I promise, picture to come. Anyway, now that I've gotten this together, some things about the story are immediately apparent:

1. The main character doesn't have a name. Oops?

2. There are a lot of empty spaces where lots of intrigue and action should go.

3. I honestly don't know where the story "ends," according to the handy plot formula I've been working off of.

It's good. I've started. Next step? Outlining the sub plots from beginning to end. Theoretically this will provide fodder to fill the empty spaces I've got. I'll probably have to come up with my main character's name all by myself, though...