“Why are so many of your reviews so positive?”

You’ve probably noticed that I rate every book I’ve reviewed on a five-@ system, and that I usually rate books @@@@@, @@@@, or at least @@@. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever rated a book at less than @@@.

This is no accident, and it’s not because I’ve never met a book I didn’t like. There are hundreds of thousands of books published in English every year, and, not to put a fine edge on it, most of them are crap.

My ratings run very high because:

  • I choose only books I really want to read — because I follow the author or am interested in the theme or setting.
  • If I find when I’ve read some of the book that I don’t think it’s worth reading after all, I simply stop reading and turn to another book.. And I only review books I’ve finished.
  • Though authors now sometimes send me their books to read, I rarely accept one for review. It has to meet my standard criteria, or I won’t read it.

So, there you have it.

OK, so nobody asked. But I’ll bet you were thinking that, right? I’m going to answer, anyway.

“Do you really read all those books?”

Yes, Virginia, I do. I review only books I’ve read. I may sometime be tempted to review some awful book I’ve thrown down in disgust after reading only a chapter or two, but that hasn’t happened yet. (Well, it did once, but my review was so intemperate that I deleted it.)

“So, how can you post a review almost every day? Don’t you work, too?”

Well, the question of whether I work is a matter of opinion. There are those who aren’t so sure, and I’m sometimes among their number. However, it is true that I read a lot — not a book every day, for sure, but an average of two or so per week.

“So, if you only read two books per week, how can you review one a day?”

There are mysteries in the universe, but this isn’t one of them. When I bought my first Kindle a couple of years ago, I found myself reading more and more, because for me reading on the Kindle is faster and easier than reading hardcopy (believe it or not). So, in about two years, I’ve accumulated nearly 200 books in e-book format and read nearly all of them. When I haven’t just finished a book, I review another one I recently read.

“Why are your  book choices all over the map? Why isn’t there any pattern?”

Didn’t someone say once upon a time something disparaging about consistency? I think so. In any case, a disregard for consistency has been one of the guiding principles of my life. However, once I’ve reviewed a whole lot more books, you may detect a pattern after all. I read both fiction and nonfiction, with a slight preference for fiction. The nonfiction is largely of recent origin and pertains to politics, history, world affairs, or, occasionally, science. The fiction tends to be recent popular but respectable fiction, historical novels, murder mysteries and other crime stories, and sometimes science fiction.

“Are you one of those self-righteous people who failed as a writer and turned to reviewing books to get even?”

Well, my success or failure is in the eye of the beholder (me), but I have written — and, yes, published — a slew of books. If you don’t believe me, go to http://bit.ly/15bfTb. Just don’t expect to find the Great American Novel there.

“So, what gives you the right to review all these books?”

Hey, it’s a free country, isn’t it?

“OK, so what don’t you read?”

Hold your breath. Here goes. I don’t read books on cooking, diet, health, fitness, or sports — anything that reminds me of my deplorable physical condition. I don’t read self-help books of any description, convinced as I am that I’m beyond help. I won’t touch literary memoirs, criticism, collections of essays, or biographies of obscure literary figures. In fact, I won’t read biographies about anybody except people who are historically significant, unless I happen to know them. I avoid romance novels, chick-lit, or just about anything by women with three names. And I won’t even think about reading any book written (or more likely “authored”) by one of those Right-Wing imbeciles who is polluting the airwaves and distorting political debate in this country. Don’t get me started.

“But I thought you read just about everything!”

Guess again. In fact, guess how many books were published last year. Give up? The best number I can find is 550,000, about 290,000 of them in the United States. And even those huge numbers don’t include the fast-growing output of short-run and on-demand books, often self-published, now numbering in the hundreds of thousands. (Check it out here: http://bit.ly/bqTRMM.)

“How much should books cost?”

If you have a Kindle, as I do, you’ve come across complaints in the pages of Amazon.com about the “outrageous Kindle price.” Most of the time, as you know, that price used to be $9.99. Lately, new books, especially best-sellers, have been on sale there for significantly more. Doesn’t this seem unfair, when, after all, what you’re buying is really just a bunch of electrons?

Somehow, in my naivete, I had failed to consider the possibility that book-buyers would think $9.99, or even $14.99,  was too much to pay for a book priced at $25-30 retail. Although the logic of this position escapes me, it appears to be common among Amazon’s customers. Somehow, the argument seems to go, a book whose physical manifestation consists exclusively of electrons should cost . . . well, how much, really? $8? $5? Less? After all, the publisher doesn’t have to pay for paper, printing, and binding. Nor does it face the costs of storage, distribution, and returns, right?

It’s hard to imagine that any of these kvetsches has ever tried to run a business of any sort, much less a publishing company. The reality is, as anyone in publishing will tell you, a new book — admittedly, not an out-of-copyright title — involves . . . guess what? . . . a lot of work, and somebody’s got to pay for that. Start with the writer. Then consider the editor (sometimes more than one), the proof-reader, the typographer, the designer, the marketing staff, and don’t forget the people who supervise all these often-temperamental individuals. It turns out that the cost of paper, printing, and binding (called “PPB”) in the argot of the publishing industry, is relatively minor. Perhaps $3-4 for a fat hardcover book. Storage, distribution, and returns collectively may amount to more than PPB, but they vary greatly with volume and thus with the popularity of a title. If the book in question is a best-seller, and the author has an established name, the royalty may amount to all the printing and distribution costs combined. And publishing jobs don’t command high salaries, to say the least, but I haven’t heard of any starving editors lately. All these real costs up, even factoring out the costs of manufacturing and shipping a physical product, and you’re likely to find that they amount to more than the $9.99 that Amazon used to charge for just about every book they sold. (In fact, they lost about $3 on every sale. And, not to put too fine an edge on it, you can’t make up losses like that by selling big volumes.)

It turns out, though, that some of these folks think $9.99 is an outrageous price because . . . books should be free! Now, perhaps I misunderstood something along the way, but I distinctly recall reading a comment by one customer who bragged that she had acquired more than 200 books on her Kindle that were absolutely free! It’s true, of course, that I’ve come across free book offers in the Kindle section, and I’ve picked up a few myself — generally, classic titles that have long been out of copyright. But I find myself pondering what my reading experience would be like if I limited myself to free books. Something like wandering the streets of a college town and picking out books from the boxes of stuff left behind by students at the end of a semester. Interesting concept, eh? I wonder what that would be like.

But I’m not wasting a lot of time and energy on that thought. I’ll pay for my books, and as long as Amazon is able to sell most titles at substantially below list prices, I’ll be grateful.

6 responses to “FAQs

  1. Hello! Let me know if you might be interested in the following book about social entrepreneurship and I would be happy to send a copy to you. The author, Darell Hammond, was named Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Schwab Foundation in 2011 and has written a NYT bestselling book: KaBOOM! A Movement to Save Play. Thanks!

  2. Hi! I wonder whether you might consider reviewing THE OLIGARCH: A THRILLER. You can find some details about it on the website: http://www.theoligarchthriller.com .If you feel that it might be the sort of book you enjoy reading, let me know and I could send you the mobi flle for your kindle.

  3. Quite understood, thanks. Any chance of a guest post on something Russian or an excerpt of the book, or even showing the new trailer video – sometime in first 2-3 weeks of October. Mo problem if this doesn’t work, but great if it does. All the best, George

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