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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Educate More Readers, Sell More Books

In 1970 the United States had the globe’s highest rate of high school and college graduation.  Four decades later we have dipped to Number 21 in high school completion rate in the world, according to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  Three in 10 ninth-graders in 2012 will fail to get their high school diplomas. It sounds impossible, but it’s sadly true.  So what can be done to fix this?

Only 21 states require students to attend high school until they graduate or turn 18. Let’s start by mandating all states must force kids to graduate high school.

Another place to start is get more kids to attend pre-school, in small groups, by age three and four.  Introduce learning early on and we’ll build a lifetime of learning.

We must prevent the 1.3 million Americans that drop out of high school each year from essentially dropping out of society. What job prospects will they have?  What will they contribute to society?

More graduates not only means a more productive, brighter society, but it also means more book buyers, so we all win when we educate our youth properly.

To expand the reading public and contribute to stomping out illiteracy, consider supporting any and all of the following groups:

Literacy Assistance Center  www.lanyc.org
Literacy Partners www.literacypartners.org
National Center for Adult Literacy www.ncsall.net
National Center for Family Literacy www.famlit.org
Children's Book Council www.cbcbooks.org
Reading is Fundamental www.rif.org
Book Aid International www.bookaid.org
The National Right to Read Foundation www.nrrf.org
Behind the Book www.behindthebook.org
Book it Forward www.bookitforward.org
Reading Partners www.readingpartners.org
Kids Need to Read www.kidsneedtoread.org
Reading Tree www.readingtree.org
The Reading Tub www.thereadingtub.com
Milk and Bookies www.milkandbookies.org

Interview With New York Journal of Books Reviewer Vinton Rafe McCabe

1.                  Vinton, as a book critic for the New York Journal of Books, where do you see the book publishing industry heading? I see the publishing world as heading more or less where it has always been heading—anywhere it can to make a buck.  Publishers have always been explorers of sorts.  There never is a sure thing with books.  The book that seems the perfect product for a given season can fail.  And the book that no one believed in can be a huge success.  There are myriad challenges in the publishing world today.  We all know of the rise of the Kindle, the iPad and other devices that have brought about the creation of the e-book.  And some say that this is the end of the paper book that we now know.  Personally, I doubt it.  History has shown us that the creation of a new technology never brings about the demise to the old.  Television did not destroy the movies.  Nor did it end radio, although both were predicted.  Instead, each falls into a niche in our lives and in our culture, each still has a place.  In the same way, new explorations in publishing will not end the old ways, they will merely be added to them.

2.                  What do you find challenging about reviewing books? Just keeping up with the new publications is the biggest challenge.  I know this sounds facetious, but it’s true.  Without even counting self-published books, more books were published last year than ever before.  For the reviewer, it is a little like the old “I Love Lucy” episode in the candy factor, with the foreman coming in from time to time to shout, “Speed ‘er up, boys,” and the books come flying at me faster and faster.

I believe that every book deserves respect.  It represents a good four or five years of a writer’s life.  I represents endless hours of work, emotional highs and lows as the process of finding the agent through signing the contract nearly drives the poor writer crazy, and then, finally, the editorial process itself, in which the writer will be forced to defend his or her work with an editor, a publisher, a marketing “expert” and a lawyer or two.  I have too much respect for writers to ever do anything other than give them every break.  I read ever book, every page of every book, and mark it as I go.  Then I go back to my markers and re-read key sections—sometimes reread the whole book.  Then I like to take a day or two to think about what I read.  Then I write.

When you are reviewing two or even three books as well, as I sometimes do, it can be very hard to give every book the same attention. But it’s something I try very hard to do.

3.                  What type of books do you like to review? Which genres do you feel are trending upward? I have been cleared to write on many different genres of book.  And I appreciate that.  The NYJB editors will only clear reviewers to write about genres that they have proven in their previous work history to be able to handle.  Luckily, over the years, I have written, produced television about or discussed via electronic media a sufficient number of diverse topics to allow me to tackle many different books.

That said, I have found myself attracted to a smaller number of genres in recent days than I was back when I started reviewing for NYJB.  In the early weeks, I explored many different genres, now, however, I find myself reviewing literary fiction (with a particular zest for debut fiction), memoirs of people I find interesting, notable biographies and works related to the LGBT community. 

As I’ve come to feel a bit mired, look for me to begin exploring some other genres, perhaps mystery, perhaps science fiction, in the coming months.

In terms of trends, the big trend today is away from memoir and other nonfiction works
and back to fiction.  We have lived through a decade in which it was harder to get fiction
published than it was nonfiction.  Noticeably harder.  In the years ahead, I expect to see
fiction regain its place at the top of the publishing heap

4.                  Do you believe e-books will radically change the length/format/content of a book to the point it will be harder to define what a book is? No.  I believe that, when it all shakes out, the e-book will continue to be published a long side the paper book and will not have the huge impact that is now expected.  I think that e-books are great, because I love my Kindle and my iPad and love the freedom that e-books give me.

The downside of the e-book is that it allows every man to be his own publisher.  And this is a good thing.  I myself have a series of “McBooklets” that I have published as Amazon exclusives.  In that I had already published ten books in the traditional manner, it was a simple thing to add on to that list with self-published volumes on the same topics related to health and healing. 
So, especially for authors who already have a track-record and a following, e-books can be a wonderful adjunct to publishing the traditional way.

The problem with e-books is their number.  Last year nearly three quarters of a million titles were self-published in one form of e-book or another.  This muddies the marketplace, in that there is no method by which the quality works can be told from the work that was simply not worthy of publishing in any manner.  The advent of the e-book has allowed vanity publishing to go wild. And it will take some time for us to develop methods by which we can pick and choose among these e-books and find the products that best relate to our needs.
Until then, self-published e-books represent something of a white noise in the land of books.

5.                  What do you love most about being a part of the book world? What I love most is that moment in which I realize that a review of mine has done some good.  A few months back, I reviewed a collection of short stories by a brand new author.  And I really thought the stories were great and said so and tried to prove my case with some small samples of the writer’s work.

My editors liked the review and put if on the front page of at the NYJB site and I heard that the sales of the book picked up from that review.  I was told by a friend of mine that the author had mentioned my review on her web site and visited it, to find that she wrote that she owed me a kiss for the review.

I love having the opportunity to give some attention to a book that might otherwise be lost in the marketplace.  Especially now, with all the aforementioned “white noise.”  There’s nothing nicer than having a bit of a platform from which you can try to give attention where attention is due.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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