Sunday, April 29, 2007

NBC's Today Launches Al's Book Club For Kids

Summer is all about fun for kids, but it is also an important time to keep kids' reading skills sharp. To avoid what some call the "Summer Slide"- a common loss of skills attributed to being out of school for a period of time -- "Today" is launching "Al's Book Club For Kids," a series to keep kids engaged in reading all summer long. This new "Today" series coincides with the Scholastic Summer Reading BUZZ!(TM) Campaign to help get kids reading "Four or More" books to combat the summer slide.

On Friday, April 27, "Al's Book Club For Kids" will kick-off and the first of four books that kids can read and discuss over the summer on "Today" will be announced. At the same time, the Scholastic Summer Reading BUZZ! gets underway - a campaign that gets kids reading and champions the important role parents, educators and librarians - and even Al Roker - can play in helping kids find books they will love to read. According to The Kids and Family Reading Report(TM), kids' reading frequency dramatically declines at the age of eight and one of the main factors for this is because they can't find books they like to read.

Each month during the summer, Al and a group of young book club members, ages 9-11, will meet in Rockefeller Plaza for their monthly book club meeting to talk about the selected book and ask questions of the author. "Al's Book Club For Kids" plans to meet four times, and kids everywhere are encouraged to visit "Today" on the Plaza when the club convenes and bring a copy of Al's monthly pick to be signed by the author. Stay tuned for date announcements.

"Al's Book Club For Kids" will have extensive online components at and Parents and kids alike from across the country can be part of the club by e-mailing questions for the authors, who will answer a select few live on "Today." will continue the discussions with the author online after each book club segment airs. In addition, at (launching May 15) kids can access fun book-themed activities, join a book community and create their own reading log. Parents, teachers and librarians can also find expert advice on reading and age-appropriate summer book lists for kids in English and Spanish, as well as downloadable materials that will help engage kids in reading.

Authors Too Need Code of Conduct

Prominent tech publisher and blogger Tim O'Reilly made recent news with his proposal of a code of conduct for bloggers. But bloggers aren't the only ones who misbehave online. So do authors on

So says Aaron Shepard, author of the book "Aiming at Amazon: The NEW Business of Self Publishing." In January, Shepard posted an article on his Web site called "Amazon Etiquette: Minding Your Manners on," with suggested guidelines for Amazon book promotion. (Shepard's Publishing Page is at

"It's getting to be a real jungle on there," says Shepard. "Authors are spamming Amazon in a desperate effort to get their books noticed. Many don't even realize their behavior is inappropriate, because they have no experience in business. Others know but do it anyway, just because they can get away with it."

Popular author spamming techniques include

-- Writing positive customer reviews of their own books under false names.

-- Soliciting positive reviews from friends and relatives who have no real interest in the book's subject and pretend to be objective.

-- Writing positive reviews of competitors' books but mentioning the reviewer's book to draw off sales.

-- Creating dozens of Listmania lists so that Amazon will display a book's cover whether or not it's relevant.

According to Shepard, it's harder now than it used to be for authors to write fake reviews. In the past, all you needed was an email address with which to start a new Amazon account.

"I spotted one author who had written literally dozens of phony five-star reviews for his quack sex manual. You can usually tell when a book's reviews are fake by the way they'll all sound alike and say similar things." That author, says Shepard, apparently still makes tens of thousands of dollars a year from Amazon sales of his book.

Now, though, Amazon accepts new reviews only from accounts that have been used for at least one purchase. "That has improved things a lot," says Shepard. "But you still get phony reviews. Basically, authors can write as many reviews as they have credit cards."

Once the province of the cagey few, spamming on Amazon is becoming more and more common, says Shepard, as some of these methods are promoted on discussion lists, in workshops, in newsletters, and in new books on marketing, publicity, and promotion. Though no one publicly urges authors to write fake reviews, other techniques are openly endorsed.

"For instance, the owner of one self publishing company actively teaches some of these methods to his customers," says Shepard. "Recently he published his own book about Amazon marketing, so this approach will be getting a big boost. He even has a clever euphemism for it. He calls it 'competitive networking.'"

Amazon's own ambiguous policies, says Shepard, are part of what allows such methods to spread. "In most cases, Amazon doesn't clearly prohibit them. Yes, the spirit of Amazon's guidelines does oppose these practices -- which is why Amazon can deal with them when reported. But Amazon could discourage such things much more effectively by just saying, 'Don't do this.'"

Instead, says Shepard, Amazon sometimes seems to actually encourage spam. Recently, for instance, it started allowing customer reviewers to link to other products from inside the reviews. "I don't know what they could be thinking," says Shepard. "You know just how this will be used. Authors will not only mention their own books, they'll link to them!"

Ironically, says Shepard, no spamming techniques are necessary to succeed on Amazon. His own book "Aiming at Amazon" decries such methods and shows how books can sell well without them. "I'm the proof of the pudding," says Shepard. "I've been living mostly off Amazon sales for years without any resort to spamming."

Shepard's article "Amazon Etiquette" proposes four simple guidelines that he says would clean up the scene on Amazon. "But with the spammers entrenched and spreading their message," he says, "there's not much hope."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Happy Medium Between Art and Text

There's a lot of talk these days about the lack of interest many people have when it comes to reading, particularly if they're forced to do so. However, newly acquired publisher Open Book Press has addressed this dilemma with striking clarity.

"Reading is somewhat of a lost skill in today's society," states author and co-president of Open Book Press, Doug Crill. "Kids in particular would rather be visually assaulted by a video game than to pick up a book and seek adventure," he continues. "Our goal is a simple one, to make reading a pleasurable experience for everyone."

He and his business partner, illustrator Daniel J. Frey, formed the company of Dark Dance Productions back in 2004. Together the two men have set out to produce a happy medium between art and text, combining the two forms to create an exciting experience for those individuals who find reading too time consuming and tedious, hence -- the reluctant reader.

Their first success was the graphic novel series, Cry Wolf; the winner of numerous awards and notable achievements, which include being selected as a teaching tool at the University of New Mexico in 2005.

From that point, the two men have expanded their resumes to encompass the world of publishing with an emphasis on the reading needs of children and early teens. Frey, a long time illustrator of children's books, has brought his extraordinary expertise to the table and combined it with Crill's gift of the written word. The result has been a winning combination in the field of -- illustrated learning. In fact, Cry Wolf can be found on the shelves of several libraries across the country.

Currently, Open Book Press has launched a re-release of books one and two of Cry Wolf, as well as a book of poetry, a murder mystery, another graphic novel, and a book on punk rock, most of which can easily be absorbed by the reluctant reader. All of these books are available to retailers through the international distributor, BookWorld. Most of the company's lineup can be found in major bookstores across the country and Canada.

But it only gets better. In 2008 they plan on releasing several children's books with wide-ranging topics -- topics that will engage the minds of younger, reluctant readers.

"We are very sensitive to the needs of all readers," says Crill. "And we will do our best to meet those needs."

For more information about Open Book Press, Dark Dance Productions, LLC, and Cry Wolf go to,, and, respectively.

Wizards of the Coast Launches New Line of Novels

Wizards of the Coast, Inc., a premier publisher of fantasy fiction and a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc., announced today that beginning in 2008 the company will bring its legendary ability to discover new talent to bear on a line of novels independent of any of its established shared world lines.

The new imprint – WIZARDS OF THE COAST DISCOVERIES – is a fantasy-tinged speculative fiction imprint that discovers new worlds, new talent, and new voices for adult fiction readers. The books will be loosely tied to a fantasy theme and will have a wide range of genres – from the mainstream to urban horror to literary fantasy. This imprint is all about discovering new worlds and new voices outside our traditional Wizards of the Coast imprint shared world boundaries. To that end, the authors of the first five books range from experienced novelists to exciting young authors making their literary debuts.

“We have a more than 20-year history of discovering and nurturing talented new authors and we’re thrilled with the opportunity to continue that with the Wizards of the Coast Discoveries line,” said Liz Schuh, Director of Book Publishing with Wizards of the Coast. “Long-time fans of our books and newcomers alike will find something new to love among our varied and dynamic line-up.”

This brilliant portfolio of original works comes from a range of genres, from the southern gothic ghost story “Firefly Rain”; a unique take on superhero mythology in “Devil’s Cape”; the fanciful, spooky, and enlightening memoir “The Man on the Ceiling”; the challenging literary fantasy of “Last Dragon”; to the contemporary urban horror of “The Angel of Death in Chicago.”

Distributed by Random House, Wizards’ books are available in most major bookstores, online booksellers, and in local libraries.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

100 Days until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

With 100 days to go before the July 21st publication date, pre-orders for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows have broken all records with the largest numbers of pre-orders for any book in its history. Barnes & Noble has received more than 500,000 pre-orders and expects this number to surpass one million. The book has been ranked number one on Barnes & ( since it became available for pre-order on February 1, 2007.

Thousands of Harry Potter fans are currently participating in Barnes &’s “Waiting for Harry” book club ( The lively conversations share fans’ forecasts, predictions, and questions about what’s in store. Throughout April, George Beahm, author of Muggles and Magic and Fact, Fiction, and Folklore in Harry Potter’s World, will also join in the discussions. The “Harry by the Month” book club discusses a different Harry Potter book each month leading up to the July release of the final book in the series.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will sell for $20.99, 40 percent off the list price of $34.99. Barnes & Noble Members can buy the book for $18.89, a savings of 46 percent. The deluxe edition and compact disc and audiocassettes for the unabridged book will also be available. Customers can order the book at any Barnes & Noble store or at Barnes & at

As with previous Harry Potter releases, Barnes & Noble stores nationwide will host events celebrating the new book’s publication on Friday, July 20th, remaining open past 12:01AM Saturday when the book goes officially on sale.