Unintended Christmas Vacation Hiatus

Sorry, I didn’t really mean to take an extended vacation from the site.  But preparing for, and then driving to Florida for vacation ended up meaning no posts for well over a week. I didn’t read a lot over the break (to much time on the beach and with family) but I still have plenty of books to review (November as theology month ended with a whimper not a bang).  Hopefully we can enter 2014 strong and build some momentum.

I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas and wish you a joyous and safe New Year.

Unintended Christmas Vacation Hiatus

Sorry, I didn’t really mean to take an extended vacation from the site.  But preparing for, and then driving to Florida for vacation ended up meaning no posts for well over a week. I didn’t read a lot over the break (to much time on the beach and with family) but I still have plenty of books to review (November as theology month ended with a whimper not a bang).  Hopefully we can enter 2014 strong and build some momentum.

I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas and wish you a joyous and safe New Year.

Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams

Speaking of middle grade fiction, I recently picked up Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom (Heroes in Training) by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams at a library sale. Regular readers are aware of my fascination with mythology, and I figured my son and daughter would be interested, plus it is the first in a series which is always fun.

Ten-year-old Zeus is mystified (and super-annoyed) by the fact that he keeps getting hit by lightning. Every. Single. Year. He also longs for adventure, as he has never been far from the cave where he grew up.

Zeus gets his wish—and a lot more than he bargained for—when he is kidnapped by dangerous, giant Titans! In self-defense, Zeus grabs the first thing he sees—an actual thunderbolt he pulls from a stone that is covered in mysterious markings. Zeus is the only one who can decipher the markings, and sets off on a quest to rescue his fellow Olympians from the evil Cronus. Armed with his trusty thunderbolt (named Bolt, of course), Zeus is on an adventure of a lifetime—and a journey to fulfill his destiny as King of the Gods.

It is an interesting take on the Greek legends of the Titans and Olympians; a humorous and mostly lighthearted one.  This is the first volume and focuses on introducing Zeus and connecting him to the rest of the Olympians (spoiler alert: they are in Cronus’s belly) while setting the foundation for the ongoing battle between the two sides.

The authors do a nice job of  balancing the elements of classic mythology with current language and perspectives.  It is a quick read obviously and seems aimed at younger readers not quite ready for the longer and more complex books like Percy Jackson, etc. and might be a good place to start with young boys interested in mythology and adventure.

This was an example of a middle grade book that was quite different from the more detailed and complex young adult books I have read.  This is more like a chapter book for young readers.  But as I said, a quick easy read with a nice blend of adventure, mythology and humor. Not a series I would want to read myself but something for my kids (my son in particular).

Is Middle-Grade Fiction Really an Adult Reading Trend?

I stumbled upon this interesting article over at PW’s Shelftalker: Is Middle-Grade Fiction Really an Adult Reading Trend? Which is itself a rumination on a Wall Street Journal Article See Grown-Ups Read.

The WSJ article posits the trend that PW is responding to:

Middle-grade books have become a booming publishing category, fueled in part by adult fans who read “Harry Potter” and fell in love with the genre. J.K. Rowling’s books, which sold more than 450 million copies, reintroduced millions of adults to the addictive pleasures of children’s literature and created a new class of genre-agnostic reader who will pick up anything that’s buzzy and compelling, even if it’s written for 8 year olds. Far from being an anomaly, “Harry Potter” paved the way for a new crop of blockbuster children’s books that are appealing to readers of all ages. Recent hits include Rick Riordan’s mythology-tinged fantasy books, which have sold have sold some 35 million copies; Rachel Renee Russell’s “Dork Diaries,” which has 13 million copies in print; and Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” which has sold more than 115 million copies. The eighth and latest book in Mr. Kinney’s series, “Hard Luck,” which came out last month, sold more than a million copies in its first week, and had a massive first printing of 5.5 million copies. It’s currently No. 1 on Amazon and tops The Wall Street Journal’s fiction best-seller lists.

Elizabeth Bluemle isn’t so sure this is right

I think what’s happening with middle grade books is a little bit different. At the Flying Pig, we don’t see adults coming in to buy Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries books for themselves, at least not yet. And while many adults are reading and loving middle grade books like Wonder, those adults are still, by and large, teachers and librarians and parents. In other words, as has long been the case for middle-grade books, our observation has been that adults who read middle-grade titles are still reading them primarily because they are sharing them with children. I don’t think our bookstore is alone in not seeing a marked recent shift in the middle-grade-book reading habits of the average adult reader. So what is this trend, really?

I think what is happening is that these books are finally on the radar of the general adult population, both because of bestseller lists and because many adults’ own favorite authors are venturing into the children’s realm. These forays by adult authors perhaps spark interest in and lend credibility to a genre previously overlooked by adults not in the know about children’s books. It’s sort of similar to the spikes we see with many celebrity titles. Those books get enormous amounts of publicity, and so reach into the nooks and crannies of the normally distracted adult brain. Unlike celebrity books, which all too often are preachy and not very well-written, many of the adult authors writing for young people today know how to spin a great story.

I will confess up front I have no hard data other than my own experience.  And the plural of anecdote is not data, etc.

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On Publishers And Platforms

Hunter Baker offers his thoughts in an open letter to publishers:

Your best route to survival will be to identify big talent early and get their first couple of books. Editorial discernment should be your stock in trade, not shooting fish in a barrel. The value of an editor is not really in judging such things as whether a prospective author has 100,000 twitter followers or can post to a high traffic website. Rather, the value of a good acquisitions editor should be in picking good books.

If publishers want to avoid the fate of almost all middlemen in a world which ruthlessly destroys them, they will find a way to make their imprint mean something such as excellence in fiction, religion, history, etc. Nobody needs them for printing. No one needs them for distribution. And the established authors don’t need them for advertising.

Makes sense to me but there seems to be a growing feeling that this ship has sailed.  Publishers seem less concerned with finding great books and more concerned with finding big markets and books that connect with them. Quality copy editing and editors with strong personalities and opinions on literature seem to be a thing of the past.  We live in the world of buzz and vibe; at least on the surface.

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Who do you write for when your audience disappears?

***Welcome Instapundit readers. Funny, I should mention avalanches of readers only to receive an Instalanche.***

This is the question I find my self asking these days. This blog has long been visited mostly by those searching the internet for books and authors. Something like 90% of the traffic is new visitors with the vast majority of that coming from Google. As my life grew busy with work and children I spent less and less time reading and interacting with blogs; particularly lit and book blogs. And in a world dominated by social media, my reading comes less from specific places I visit on the web as links I click on. Add in the mass proliferation of blogs, including book review blogs, and I have lost any sense of community or connection with a particular group of people or readers. And as noted, the traffic dwindled down to just what Google delivered (and a few dedicated and loyal readers).

And then Google took even that away. I am not sure what was the trigger but something changed in late November and the vast majority of organic search referrals from Google disappeared. The one thing the blog used to have going for it was decent search engine juice. I used the book title and author in the heading for each post and so those seeking information on a book and/or author often found this site. And then suddenly they didn’t. Looking at Google analytics and other sources it seems pretty clear to me that the largest chunk of this site’s traffic has disappeared. The site has dropped off search engine results and is getting 97% less impressions and thus no traffic.

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