Mystery, Thriller, or Suspense: Does the Label Matter?

14 April 2017

from dyiMFA:

When you search for a book to read, do genre labels drive your choices? They certainly affect mine. If I want a fast paced, edge-of-your-seat-experience I look for a thriller. If I’m in a puzzle-solving mood, it’s off to the mystery section. And I expect them all to have elements of suspense.

And yet, on my quest to find the perfect book, I’ve seen the terms suspense and thriller used interchangeably, and instances when mysteries were labeled thrillers.

. . . .

New York Times bestselling author David Morrell says, “One crucial distinction is that traditional mysteries appeal primarily to the mind and emphasize the logical solution to a puzzle.”

Most of the books I read are mysteries, so this made sense to me. But I wanted more detail so I decided to dig a little deeper.

In her article, The Curious Case of the Appeal of Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense, librarian Becky Spratford writes, “A mystery is a story in which a crime is committed and the “whodunit” and why is unknown until the very end.”

Bestselling crime author Joel Goldman defines it in a slightly different way, “A mystery is built around a secret and usually asks the question “Who?” Something has already happened – a jewel has been stolen, a person has been murdered ­– and both the reader and hero know about it. The whole novel is dedicated to uncovering who is responsible for that event.”

. . . .

The definition of a mystery seemed pretty clear, so I wondered if the ambiguity was between thriller and suspense. David Morrell says, “Thrillers strive for heightened emotions and emphasize the sensations of what might be called an obstacle race and a scavenger hunt.”

. . . .

“In a thriller, a reader usually asks the question ‘How?’ and is propelled through the story by action.” Joel Goldman contends. “Both the reader and the hero of a thriller novel already know who’s responsible for the crime, and both are waiting to see how that criminal will be brought to justice.”

Becky Spratford writes, “A thriller centers on a particular profession such as espionage, law, or medicine. Solving the crime and the puzzle it presents takes a back seat to the jargon of the profession, the potential dangers faced by those involved in it, and the fast-paced, cinematic action of these stories. Thrillers often feature a loner hero who operates under his or her own moral code and the storylines are marked by the cat-and-mouse chase between the hero and villain.”

Link to the rest at dyiMFA

The future is digital book discovery, not distracting gimmicks

21 December 2016

From The Bookseller:

Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired Magazine, published a book this year titled The Inevitable. In it he describes a number of ways that future mortals might experience their best-loved products and services. I recommend it. Especially if you’re struggling to align your digital karma with concepts like ‘filtering,’  ‘becoming,’ and ‘cognifying,’ (and if you’re reading this on an iPhone whilst listening to Spotify on the 7.45 to London Bridge, then I’d wager you are).

One chapter is devoted to ‘flowing,’ which talks about how content finds its way around the interwebs and how, a few years from now, consumers of content (‘readers’) might interact with the stuff that publishers like to create.  Another chapter is called ‘screening,’ which talks about how we interpret that content and share it. Many of the concepts are familiar: Kelly paints a future where access to content is free and immediate, discovery of it is personalised and social, consumption of it is fragmented, and everything is interlinked.

Kelly imagines an exciting time when a book is more than a book – it’s a fluid artifact. Something like those wonderful moving newspapers from the world of Harry Potter: available on a new kind of paper that isn’t really paper, or via a near field projection from your holographic contact lens. But as someone who spends a lot of time working with publishers like Hachette in the US, Elsevier in Europe and Oxford University Press in Australia, I wonder if his ideas are missing a point.

When it comes to reading, today’s technology can certainly be extrapolated to create an endlessly seamless and scalable future, but I can’t help but feel that it does so at the expense of the reading experience.

. . . .

eBook sales are down 13%, audiobooks are up 38%, colouring books are up 1,100% (!), and – according to most analysts – sales of regular books are back in the black.

This wasn’t the world we expected. Your stuff may be easier to acquire (thanks to the cloud and Amazon Prime) and consume (thanks to smartphones, a reading category that’s grown by 7% this year), but the core product – the book – is no more shareable or fluid than it was when Wired Magazine first hit the shelves in 1993.

Reading a book is best done in solitude without a zillion bits and bytes of digital distraction nibbling in from the sidelines – be it from friends, advertisers, or other forms of ‘native’ content. Therefore it’s far more productive for publishers to focus their digital innovation efforts on activities that support the core act of reading.

Recent Squiz research into what today’s readers want – told us three things: firstly they wish to feel closer to their authors; secondly they want access to more content that’s related to their books; and thirdly they need more books.

. . . .

It’s simple: readers want access to more content and authors want to connect to readers. Publishers can be the matchmakers.

Think about it. Content is something that Amazon can’t do so well. Publishers can. You own the stuff.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Google Books will now make better suggestions on what to read next

22 September 2016

From TechCrunch:

Google today is launching a new feature for Google Books which aims to offer a better challenge to Amazon’s Kindle app when it comes to helping you find new things to read. Called “Discover,” this new section in the Google Books application will help point users to new content, including both personalized suggestions as well as other recommendations based on what’s currently popular with the wider community.

Amazon, of course, has historically offered personalized recommendations in Kindle’s software as well as across its website. In its Kindle app, Amazon highlights books you may want to read based on your prior shopping history.

Google Books’ recommendations will work much in the same way. The company says it will offer up new stories based on what you read on Google Books. However, it will also automatically suggest books that are mentioned in an article or mentioned in a video you watch, elsewhere in the app – like in the new “Weekly Highlights” section.

. . . .

For comparison’s sake, Amazon’s “Book Browser” is the primary way Kindle mobile app users would find new content, but it’s more of a categorical listing of books. For example, beyond the suggestions powered by your shopping history, the app may showcase things like “Books with Narration,” or “Trending Now” selections, but not much more. Other book categories are found at the bottom of the screen, but only as standard navigation.

Meanwhile, Amazon has largely failed to capitalize on its Goodreads acquisition as a means of adding a more social experience when it comes to discovery and recommendations. In fact, the Kindle app’s latest update just oddly crammed a tiny “Goodreads” button on top of the “All Items” screen, so you can tap to see updates from that network.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Bailey for the tip.

The End of the Human Publisher? Introducing the First Novel to Be Chosen by an Algorithm

3 May 2016

From Flavorwire:

[Y]esterday, the Berlin-based company Inkitt announced a partnership with Tor Books that will bring about the first ever book chosen by predictive data.

The novel chosen by Inkitt’s “artificially intelligent” algorithm is Erin Swan’s Bright Star, a young adult fiction submitted to the publisher through a writing contest called “Hidden Gems.” Part of a multi-book “Sky Rider” series, it tells the story of the “fantasyland” Paerolia, “where war and conflict has created strong divides,” and where a a rebel leader named Kael helps a slave named Andra “discover the strength that has always been within her” and “fight to win back what Fate kept beyond her reach” — namely a dragon “that should have been her own.” Bright Star is expected to be released in 2017.

Inkitt, the company responsible for discovering the novel, is an online writing platform where “budding authors” share their work with “inquisitive readers.” It relies on an “artificially intelligent” algorithm to bring the two together with the purpose of uncovering “blockbuster books.” This description calls up a number of questions. Did Inkitt invent artificial intelligence? Should we be surprised that the first artificially intelligent being prefers genre fiction? If you put aside Inkitt’s overheated claims about artificial intelligence, you’ll find a publisher that just wants to do the write thing: “Inkitt’s goal is to remove the middle person so that a blockbuster book is never rejected by a publishing house again.”

. . . .

“This book deal sends a clear signal to the publishing industry that predictive data analysis is the way of the future,” says Albazaz. “Inkitt is at the forefront of the movement to use predictive data in publishing, and this deal shows that our business model works.”

. . . .

Still, it’s hard to say whether Inkitt’s first major deal is a function of its algorithm or its status as a thriving online world, which “stretches from the US to Australia.” By its own account, Inkitt has a community of half a million loyal readers. And its business plan – now seeing its first moments of success — is to bring the “future bestsellers” validated by this community to publishers, like Tor. It also plans to independently publish ebooks of selected novels from its own platform, “with supporting in-house marketing campaigns.”

Link to the rest at Flavorwire and thanks to Dave for the tip.

“Inkitt’s goal is to remove the middle person so that a blockbuster book is never rejected by a publishing house again.”

For PG, Tor is a classic example of a “middle person” which stands between a book and its readers. Is a literary agent a middle person? Or an acquiring editor employed by Tor? If Inkitt is going to “independently publish ebooks,” it’s a middle person as well.

Suspecting that the awkward “middle person” terminology might be a poor translation, PG did some brief Google research on the German term for middleman (he knows it’s politically incorrect, but nothing came up for middleperson) and found Vermittler,  Mittelsmann and  Zwischenhändler. Similar terms appear to be used for the English word, intermediary.

PG also discovered that a person who would be called a real estate agent in the US is a  Grundstücksmakler.

In preparing this comment, PG has approximately tripled his knowledge of the German language.

Why publishing needs tagging

21 November 2015

From boingboing:

Walk into a bookstore, and chances are you’ll see books divided into sections by genre. Romance, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Mystery, and so on. It’s the most common system of categorizing books, conversationally and from the data-management perspective of the book world. Genre is also incredibly limiting at times.

There are dozens upon dozens of subgenres across the genres of popular fiction (Romance, Crime, and Science Fiction/Fantasy, plus some others). Science Fiction gets sliced up into Space Opera, Mundane SF, Hard SF, Cyberpunk, Dieselpunk, etc. These subgenres can get hard to keep track of, especially since their boundaries are often porous, and even life-long fans often disagree on the borders between sub-genres, policing them inefficiently but with gusto. At times it’s fun to argue classifications, try to find exactly the right place to frame a piece so that its cultural and narrative context is most clear. And narrow sub-genres can be useful for putting works into clusters for conversation, but it’s also really easy to slice so thin that the discussion becomes obscure or self-serving rather than practical.

Ultimately, a hardline This-or-That, pigeonholing system of defining genre and works is far more trouble than it’s worth, and can do a great disservice to works that defy easy categorization. Most traditional systems in the publishing industry fit into the pigeonholing system. BISAC Codes (basically trade publishing’s official genre system) are fairly granular, but totally fail to keep up with the proliferation of sub-genres, and the genre categorization systems of all of the major ebook retailers fall victim to the same This-or-That approach.

But there is hope. And unsurprisingly, it comes from the internet.

The Tag. You know, this little thing: #

Whether it’s hashtags on Tumblr, metadata tagging in LibraryThing, or conversational hashtags on Twitter, readers conversant in internet discourse are more and more familiar with the concept of tagging works – using a Yes-And approach for categorization instead of This-or-That.

Tagging is incredibly liberating. A work can be tagged #urban fantasy, #YA, #LGBTQ, #domestic violence #Cleveland #1970s, meaning that if a reader has access to those tags as part of the information given to them about a work, they can very quickly identify its major facets.

. . . .

Let’s take some well-known titles and re-present them with a set of tags.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (aka Harry Potter and the the Philosopher’s Stone) #Fantasy #Middle Grade, #Magical School, #Friendship #Prophecy #Rags to Riches #England #Hidden Magical World #Series

Or The Martian, by Andy Weir #Science Fiction #Adult #Mars #Survival #MacGyver #Epistolary #Space Exploration #Thriller #Disco #Man Vs Nature #Stand-alone #Voice-Driven #Try-Fail Cycles

And looking back at a classic, how about Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen: #Romance #Adult #Regency #Hate At First Sight #Suitors #Order of Marriage #Sisters #England #Gentry #Banter #Drawing Room Politics #Gender

Link to the rest at boingboing and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Taste-Test Your Books: The Secret Sauce to Boost Sales

16 September 2015

From Rob Eagar  at Digital Book World

The publishing business is one of the few industries with the audacity to create a lot of new products without testing them on consumers first. Imagine running a restaurant and never taste-testing new recipes before serving them to customers. Or imagine automobile companies trying to sell cars without test-driving the vehicle first. What if Hollywood never pre-screened their movies before opening night? You get my point. Failing to test new products on consumers before launching them is a risky business move.


You don’t have to try to guess what readers will like. Instead, test books on them, and let them convey what works and what areas need improvement. Gathering this kind of specific information will help improve sales, as it’s easier to incite word of mouth when you use the consumers’ own language to communicate a book’s value.


The digital age of reading now enables publishers to take advantage of the same approach better than ever. So taste-test your books on readers just like great chefs taste-test their new menus. Why leave money on the table? These days, you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Read the rest here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

Discovery Challenges Mount in a Reader-Driven World

28 May 2015

From Digital Book World:

Editors and imprints are steadily losing the ability to dictate how their content is curated and discovered, says Canelo co-founder Michael Bhaskar, speaking at the International Digital Publishing Forum’s Digital Book 2015 conference at BookExpo America in New York City this morning.

That power, as Bhasksar sees it, has devolved to readers.

Or, at least, that’s the impression that many within the publishing industry seem increasingly keen to convey. “That the customer holds all of the power is clearer than ever today,” Tom Chalmers of IPR License wrote yesterday, “thanks to the Internet and the various forms of social media. No longer does our or any industry control the main filters through which information about what to buy reaches customers.”

. . . .

Get used to swapping “or” with “and.” Far from being mutually exclusive, print and digital are now increasingly complementary formats, and more readers are comfortable switching back and forth between them. 60% of Goodreads users read in both formats, Chandler says, while 48% read on their mobile devices and about a third of those use mobile as “a backup device” to fill in on-the-go for a primary one that stays more at home. No discovery effort, in other words, can afford not to pay heed to those many, interconnected use cases.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

A Defense of Curation

12 January 2015

From author and TPV regular Andrew Updegrove:

It is fashionable for content producers to rail against the concept of “curation” in the Age of the Internet. Why? Because the guidelines of those  terrible people, the “traditional publishers,” are supposedly keeping authors from the global audience that certainly must be their birthright. True, the balance can (and in the recent past certainly has) swung too far in the direction of permitting far too few good books to gain access to traditional distribution channels.

But it’s worth remembering that the situation can look very different to a content consumer than it does to a content producer.

Why is that so?   Because in the modern world, we are awash – indeed drowning – in a flood of content and data. More than we could ever possibly consume, even if we had a lifetime to read even a single day’s output of the global Internet production machine. And what drives that machine to expose most content is too often purely commercial, or ideological, or just damn silliness rather than good editorial judgment (take a look at your Twitter feed, if you think I’m wrong).

This is not, of course, entirely bad, although it is undisciplined. Content producers that previously had no way to reach an audience now can, and thousands of eminently worthwhile creators have taken advantage of the level playing field that the Internet provides to reach a readership that they could never have accessed a generation ago. And that audience has benefited equally.

But the Internet is non-judgmental: everyone’s bytes are just as worthy as everyone else’s when it comes to transmissibility. That leaves readers with a serious problem. How do you find the time to winnow the wheat from the chaff? Or even the occasional wheat from the usual chaff of a single source?

That’s where the process of curation comes in. I’m a lifelong reader of The New York Times, and even at its current high price, I still find enormous value in the fact that a staff of demonstrably educated, talented, discerning individuals are consumed with the goal of distilling all of the news that the world creates in 24 hours into a digestible summary of articles that they believe are worth the notice of someone that has only so much time to dedicate in any given day to keeping up with the news.

. . . .

If that sounds like agents and publishers, well, guess what, it should. The combination of filters and curation is a timeless, fractal approach that has demonstrable benefits. Just as a start-up company is only likely to get the attention of a venture capitalist if they are recommended  by a start-up attorney (like me), accountant or other entrepreneur, publishers rely on agents to filter the great mass of submission, and so it is across many other disciplines as well. The reading public benefits accordingly.

Is the process perfect? Of course not. There are endless numbers of worthwhile books you’ll never be exposed to if you only shop at brick and mortar stores. But how much reading time do you have in one lifetime, anyway? And at least you’re not likely to find dreck when you pull a book off a shelf at Barnes & Noble.

So here’s the moral to the story: we shouldn’t want to go back to the days where the publishers (and particularly today’s Big 5, corporate owned publishers) have near-total control over what content can reach an audience. But we also do not (yet) benefit from an ecosystem on the self-publishing side where readers can easily find the best self-published new books among the hundreds of thousands of new offerings that reach the market every year.

Link to the rest at Andrew Updegrove

Here’s a link to Andrew Updegrove’s books

The Shazam Effect

21 November 2014

Not directly related to books, but an interesting discoverability story.

From The Atlantic:

In 2000, a Stanford Ph.D. named Avery Wang co-founded, with a couple of business-school graduates, a tech start-up called Shazam. Their idea was to develop a service that could identify any song within a few seconds, using only a cellphone, even in a crowded bar or coffee shop.

At first, Wang, who had studied audio analysis and was responsible for building the software, feared it might be an impossible task. No technology existed that could distinguish music from background noise, and cataloging songs note for note would require authorization from the labels. But then he made a breakthrough: rather than trying to capture whole songs, he built an algorithm that would create a unique acoustic fingerprint for each track. The trick, he discovered, was to turn a song into a piece of data.

. . . .

While most users think of Shazam as a handy tool for identifying unfamiliar songs, it offers music executives something far more valuable: an early-detection system for hits.

By studying 20 million searches every day, Shazam can identify which songs are catching on, and where, before just about anybody else. “Sometimes we can see when a song is going to break out months before most people have even heard of it,” Jason Titus, Shazam’s former chief technologist, told me. (Titus is now a senior director at Google.) Last year, Shazam released an interactive map overlaid with its search data, allowing users to zoom in on cities around the world and look up the most Shazam’d songs in São Paulo, Mumbai, or New York. The map amounts to a real-time seismograph of the world’s most popular new music, helping scouts discover unsigned artists just as they’re starting to set off tremors. (The company has a team of people who update its vast music library with the newest recorded music—including self-produced songs—from all over the world, and artists can submit their work to Shazam.)

“We know where a song’s popularity starts, and we can watch it spread,” Titus told me. Take, for example, Lorde, the out-of-nowhere sensation of 2013. Shazam’s engineers can rewind time to trace the international contagion of her first single, “Royals,” watching the pings of Shazam searches spread from New Zealand, her home country, to Nashville (a major music hub, even for noncountry songs), to the American coasts, pinpointing the exact day it peaked in each of nearly 3,000 U.S. cities.

Shazam has become a favorite app of music agents around the country, and in February, the company announced that it would get into the music-making business itself, launching a new imprint under Warner Music Group for artists discovered through the app.

. . . .

What do people want to hear next?

It’s a question that label executives once answered largely by trusting their gut. But data about our preferences have shifted the balance of power, replacing experts’ instincts with the wisdom of the crowd. As a result, labels have gotten much better at understanding what we want to listen to. This is the one silver lining the music industry has found in the digital revolution, which has steadily cut into profits. So it’s clearly good for business—but whether it’s good for music is a lot less certain.

. . . .

Pop music is a sentimental business, and predicting the next big thing has often meant being inside that crowded bar, watching a young band connect with the besotted, swaying throng. But now that new artists are more likely to make a name for themselves on Twitter than in a Nashville club, Culbertson is finding that the chair in front of his computer might be the best seat in the house.

New tools may soon further diminish the importance of actually hearing artists perform. Next Big Sound, a five-year-old music-analytics company based in New York, scours the Web for Spotify listens, Instagram mentions, and other traces of digital fandom to forecast breakouts. It funnels half a million new acts through an algorithm to create a list of 100 stars likely to break out within the next year. “If you signed our top 100 artists, 20 of them would make the Billboard 200,” Victor Hu, a data scientist with Next Big Sound, told me. A 20 percent success rate might sound low, until you gaze out at the vast universe of new music and try to pick the next Beyoncé.

Last year, the company unveiled a customizable search tool called Find, which, for a six-figure annual subscription, helps scouts mine social media to spot artists who show signs of nascent stardom. If, for example, you wanted to search for obscure bands with the fastest-growing followings on Twitter, Find could produce a list within seconds.

The company has discovered that some metrics, such as Facebook likes, are unreliable indicators of a band’s trajectory, while others have uncanny forecasting power. “Radio exposure, unsurprisingly, is the most important thing,” Hu says. It remains the best way to introduce listeners to a new song; once they’ve heard it a few times on the radio, they tend to like it more. “But we discovered that hits to a band’s Wikipedia page are the second-best predictor.” Wikipedia searches are revealing for the same reason Shazam searches are. While getting a song on the radio ensures that people have heard it, Culbertson says, “Shazam tells you that people wanted to know more.”

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Can pop-up bookshops change the way we buy books?

8 October 2014


What’s a distinguished, old publishing house like Faber doing hosting gigs in its own pop-up shop?

From John Walsh at The Independent.

You’re familiar with pop-up restaurants? And pop-up fashion outlets from Comme des Garçons, and pop-up Marmite emporia and pop-up Halloween shops? Well, here’s a new one: pop-up publishing. From tomorrow for three months, Londoners passing through Cecil Court, in the heart of Soho’s second-hand book trade, will find a new arrival: a temporary “pop-up shop” devoted to the productions of just one publisher, Faber & Faber.


Is the shop a branding exercise? “It’s an attempt by a publisher to engage directly with its readers,” said Brackstone, cautiously, “an opportunity to express ourselves in the high street. We want people to walk into a shop in the heart of traditional bookselling London, and go, ‘Wow, these 80 music books, stretching from The Beastie Boys to Beck, are all published by one company.’ It’s a way to say we don’t just make books, we also create experiences.”

Brackstone concedes that publishing is in a trough. “It’s no secret that the last three-to-five years have been a bit of a bloodbath. Simply judging print runs has become difficult. Where, five years ago, we could expect bookshops to buy in 5,000 copies of a book, today it might be 500 copies. E-book sales are approaching 40 per cent of total book sales. In the US it’s over 50 per cent. So if we can identify the likely audience for our music list, and build a community who follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and get to know them, we can judge much better what kind of experience we can offer.”

If the pop-up initiative seems a gamble, Faber Social have chosen the right partner. The Cecil Court shop is owned by Natalie Galustian, a rare-book dealer with a fondness for risk. After 10 years in the book trade, she opened her shop in 2010 offering just one large item: a collection of vintage poker and other gambling books. “There were 400 of them,” she says. “I’d been putting the collection together for years, and I was determined to sell them as a single entity. After three months, they were all bought by [Hollywood actress and poker ace] Jennifer Tilly, who spotted them in the window on her way to the Empire Casino in Leicester Square, to play in the world series of Poker Europe.”

Galustian’s shop has often featured themed collections – Caribbean literature, Prohibition-era cocktail books, French erotica – and has a downstairs gallery for art and photography exhibitions. The idea for the pop-up started, she says, “at the London Book Fair, when I was complaining to some friends about business being a bit slow, and Lee said why didn’t the Independent Alliance [a loose confederacy of independent publishers that includes Granta, Faber and Canongate] use it to sell their new titles. A few months later, he reminded me of the conversation, and it took off from there.”
Will Faber’s little shop start a trend? “I don’t think we’re seeing the start of a seismic shift in how the publishing ecosystem works,” says Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association. “The basic model of how publishers work, through wholesalers and retailers, isn’t going to change dramatically anytime soon. It’s true that, in the Netherlands and Germany and Japan, there have been publishers who own every bit of the supply chain, including bookshops – but they invariably offer shelf space to other publishers and stock their rivals’ books. You can’t read too much into this pop-up idea. It’s a really great tactical way of drawing attention to the brand… but no more than that.”

Read the rest here.

From Guest blogger Randall, who’s had nothing in the last twenty-four hours but some scotch and a bag of Funyons while he finishes his next book.

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