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Cynthia MacGregor

Cold Spell? Warm Book!

Cold Spell? Warm Book!

Much of the nation suffered through a cold spell last week, with blizzard conditions in the Northeast, snow in northern Florida, where such an occurrence is rare, and misery widespread. It was good weather for staying home and curling up with a good book.

With many places of business closed due to life-hazardous conditions and impassable roads, if you aren’t a police officer or firefighter, doctor or nurse, or other crucial worker, you probably stayed home from work. As you hunkered down in the relative warmth of a weather-chilled house, what use did you make of your free time?

I hope you read a book. Or several.

As you know by now if you follow these weekly blogposts, I encourage reading. (And no surprise there, given that I’m a writer.) I encourage reading by people of all ages, from young ones just learning to sound out “C – A – T…cat!” to seniors with time on their hands and perhaps limitations on their physical abilities, and all ages in between. It’s those “in-betweens” who often need the most encouragement to read.

In the hurry-scurry of life’s everyday demand, most adults who are not retired, especially if they’re raising kids, have little discretionary time. If they do have a free hour, claimed by neither household tasks nor work obligations, they’re likely to spend it on the internet, having a drink with a friend, or vegging out in front of the TV.

And that’s a darned shame. They could be reading.

Books can enrich our lives in so many ways. To begin with, reading is relaxing. But it’s also informative. Nonfiction especially, from history to how-tos, biography to self-help—not  to slight the categories I’ve omitted—can be downright educational and helpful. But even fiction has its informative moments. Fiction set in real places can take you on a revealing journey, carrying you to the Scottish highlands, the Midwest of the American pioneers, or the trenches of the First World War. Fiction can also give you an insight into how other people feel, act and react, and cope with problems either common or extraordinary. Even fiction set in the distant future, in a far-away galaxy, or in a dystopian parallel universe can often instruct and inform—or at least open our eyes and make us think.

There’s so much to be gained from books. What’s not to like about reading?

So the next time the weather—or the flu, or a layoff at work, or some other circumstance—has you shut in, make sure you have a good book as a companion.

Not So Grim(m)… And No Fairy Tale

Not So Grim(m)… And No Fairy Tale

The publishing world recently celebrated—or for the most part failed to celebrate—a milestone: the 205th anniversary of the publication of CHILDREN’S AND HOUSEHOLD TALES, first published on December 20, 1812, still in print, but better known today as GRIMM’S FAIRY TALES.

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Best-Seller Lists

Best-Seller Lists

Time was when making it to the “Best-Seller List” was quite an accomplishment, but when it comes to the list, or more properly “lists,” plural, these days, the bloom is off the rose.

Why? For two reasons. One I alluded to above: a proliferation of lists. And the other is recent alleged manipulations of lists to land a book on one of the best-seller lists through devious means.

There was a time when “the Best-Seller List” referred to the list in the New York TIMES. That was it. Other media might also have their own best-seller lists, but the TIMES was king of the hill.

Arguably second to the TIMES in importance was PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY’s best-seller list. But the TIMES reigned supreme.

With the rise of the internet, and particularly the advent of Amazon, the landscape changed. More and more people bought books—e-books and paper books alike—from Amazon, and Amazon developed its own best-seller lists. Lists—plural. There were general best sellers, Kindle best sellers, romance best sellers, and so on. And people paid attention. The TIMES was still king of the hill, but other lists, and especially Amazon’s lists, were quickly advancing up that hill and getting closer.

And of course, the lists didn’t always agree. The book that held the top spot on one list might not be in that position—might not even appear anywhere at all—on another list. All this non-accord degraded the importance of being on the best-seller Llist.

But what about the manipulation? That played a big part too. A recent book landed suspiciously high on the TIMES list even though hardly anyone had heard of it. Skullduggery was suspected and an investigation begun. It appeared that someone had uncovered the closely guarded secret of which bookstores the TIMES sourced for sales figures and had placed bulk orders with those stores for the book in question to drive the reportable sales figures up and land the book on the TIMES’s Best-Seller List.

Now, bulk orders are not in and of themselves suspicious. In advance of a book-reading and –signing, the author or the hosting venue, if it’s not a bookstore itself, will often order in bulk. But a little checking around failed to match up some of these bulk orders with any upcoming events.

It appeared that someone—the author, the publisher, or the publicist—was gaming the system.

The TIMES removed the book from its list.

The Amazon system can be gamed, too, and much more easily. How? In a number of ways. One is to do something like the example above. Rather than place one order of 100 copies, an author might give a large number of friends the cost of the book and have them each order a copy. However it’s done, though, the result can be the book at least landing on one of Amazon’s best-seller lists—possibly even in the #1 spot.

Then the author advertises, “#1 Best Seller,” and because it was true, however briefly and however much manipulated, nobody can accuse the author of lying. And, because of the “Best-Seller” claim, the book’s sales increase.

Another dodge peculiar to Amazon is this: An author writes a book that either is in a genre that isn’t very popular or can be listed in several genres—say, gay historical romance. On a list with little competition, the book can rise to the top of one of the genre lists, at least for one day, with just a few sales. Maybe the author sold only three copies, but if he or she can get the book eligible for a category-specific best-seller list on which there is little competition, the book can easily make the top spot with just those three sales.

And once again, the author advertises “#1 Best Seller,” thus making the book seem more popular—and better—than it really is.

As a result of all this, the reality is that while it’s great to be able to say, “My book made the best-seller list,” the statement just doesn’t carry the weight or cachet it did before.

And that’s a shame!

WHAT IF….

WHAT IF….

If you were around in the late ’60s/early ’70s, you may remember the bumper stickers and pins and posters that read, WHAT IF THEY GAVE A WAR AND NOBODY CAME? I was reminded of that saying last Saturday. Only it wasn’t a war. It was something that should’ve been much more fun.

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A Charmer Named Elliot

A Charmer Named Elliot

I did a booksigning this past Saturday, reading two picturebooks at an area bookstore. I alerted everyone on my local mailing list as well as posting notices on both Facebook and CraigsList, and the bookstore had told me they would do promo as well.

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Fabulous Finds And Hidden Treasures

Fabulous Finds And Hidden Treasures

Do you have hidden treasure in your home? No, don’t go digging up the floorboards or searching the attic or basement. The “treasure” I’m talking about isn’t stacks of old coins or paper money, squirreled away by a curmudgeon who didn’t trust banks after 1929.

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Those Pernicious Pirates

Those Pernicious Pirates

Would you go into your neighborhood supermarket and purloin a bunch of bananas? Would you head to the clothing store and swipe a pair of pants? Unless you’re like a certain fellow I once knew—okay, lived with, but when I learned his true colors I kicked him out—you’re no shoplifter. You may not like or be comfortable with parting with your money, but you recognize that the grower of a comestible or the manufacturer of a wearable, as well as the retailer who sells it to the end customer, is entitled to compensation for his or her labor.

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The Allure Of Booksales

The Allure Of Booksales

I have a friend who’s a “booksale hound.” Whenever there’s a booksale within reasonable driving distance of her home—and she considers well over an hour “reasonable driving distance”—she’s there.

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Too Sick To Read?

Too Sick To Read?

When I was a kid and got sick—chicken pox, measles, or what my doctor termed “Virus X”—I took the opportunity to read as much as I could. “Real” books, comic books—I devoured them all.

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