Industry

Top 10 Most #Read Books (via @GalleyCat)

Top 10 Most Read Books

I found this on GalleyCat’s page from December 27, 2012 and it is listed as “by far the most popular (and controversial)” infographics they had posted that year. Jared Fanning created it using a list compiled by freelance writer James Chapman–based on the number of copies each book sold over the last 50 years.

The ranking and numbers in millions of copies:
1. The Bible (3,900)
2. Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tsung (820)
3. Harry Potter (400)
4. The Lord of the Rings (103)
5. The Alchemist (65)
6. The Da Vinci Code (57)
7. The Twilight Saga (43)
8. Gone with the Wind (33)
9. Think and Grow Rich (30)
10. The Diary of Anne Frank (27)

There are several that for sheer sales I would think the list makes sense, with but I have to admit I have some serious skepticism. In part because this reads as a very Western-centric list and I have to wonder that there is not a Chinese or Indian author with significant popularity who would achieve significant sales numbers and yet be a relative unknown in Europe and the United States.

What comes to mind for me are some of the amazing actors and actresses, and singers with massive followings that I grew up with overseas that no one had ever heard of here.  That is what makes me question this list.

What do you think?  And if not these, what books would you have expected (or wanted) to see on the Top 10 Most Read Books in the World List?


Best Selling Book to Box Office Bomb

For a lot of writers, it’s a dream to sell a book. Then, if you can sell a book, maybe you get a series going. And from there, if you’re lucky, a movie (or, lately, tv shows ala True Blood or Game of Thrones). But sometimes things don’t go as well, or as smoothly, as you’d hope.

In the last few years, at least two book series that are regularly on the New York Times (and other) Bestsellers’ List got made into movies. While the books have a lot of fans and faithful followers, there’s an order of magnitude difference between a successful book and a successful movie. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher both jumped to the silver screen, and both did poorly as movies. I’m a fan of both series, and movies in general, so I got to thinking about why that might be.

Disclaimer time: I am not a movie expert, although I’m a big fan of them. Nor am I (yet) a best- selling author. But I have a lot of experience in some areas, one of which is examining movie adaptations of already extant work. I’m a devoted comic book geek, in addition to being a writer, and comic book movies have been coming out more and more often in the last decade or so. I believe there are some strong parallels between comics and novels being turned into movies.

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum is, arguably, the world’s worst bounty hunter. She’s a clutz with a heart of gold. She lives a life that’s part farce, part screwball comedy, and part action flick. Her cars tend to blow up. A lot. She has a crazy grandmother, withdrawn father, and long-suffering mother. Basically, although the word has been taken to mean something negative over time, Plum’s life is zany. And I think that’s both what endears her to readers and what was lacking from the movie.

One For The Money was the movie version of the first book in the series. It starred Katherine Heigl as Plum, and Jason O’Mara as Joe Morelli, who has been both an antagonist and a love interest for Stephanie. The story went from sort of zany action to a kind of romantic comedy. It wasn’t a horrible change, but it drifted pretty far from what the books are like. It ended up making something like half what it was budgeted for, losing about twenty million dollars. It got a 2% on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s painful.

The Jack Reacher series by Lee Child is one of the ones I consider to be a modern version of a knight errant (but that’s another article). When a lifelong Army man gets cashiered out as part of the “peace dividend,” he decides to see what life is like without having to answer to someone all the time. Reacher begins hitchhiking around the country, having adventures, fighting evil men. Reacher was a Military Police office, making him skilled at both investigating and fighting. After all, as he explains many times, his job is to handle people that are trained how to kill. Reacher also has another edge, he’s huge. Something like 6’6 and near 300 pounds of muscle, Reacher puts that mass to good use when he fights. He wanders with the clothes on his back, an ATM card, and a toothbrush. That’s it. When his clothes get dirty, he buys new ones and throws the old ones away. It’s a great action series of novels.

The movie was based on the novel “One Shot,” oddly the ninth book in the series. A strange place to start. The movie was budgeted at $60 million, and made $80. It didn’t lose money, but for an action movie starring Tom Cruise? That’s really not good. It got a 61% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is higher than I’d have thought. So, where did this go wrong?

Well, I gave a big hint above. Look at the description of Reacher, then look at who I said starred in it. Tom Cruise gave a decent performance, but he’s nothing at all like Reacher physically. Sometimes, that can just be nitpicking, but Reacher’s size is such a major part of the character. Cruise is a lot smaller than Reacher. Reacher’s philosophy behind his wandering ways is also absent from the movie.

Another interesting trait with Reacher is what his Army life has both prepared him for and left him lacking in. Reacher can drive, barely. He usually had a driver as he rose in rank, or rode Army transports. Because this is a modern action flick, they have to have car chases, and that’s just not something Reacher can pull off.

Amazingly, despite a not great performance at the box office, there’s apparently going to be a sequel. And, again, I can’t figure out how they chose what it was going to be. In 2016, Tom Cruise is supposedly returning as Jack Reacher in Never Go Back. The first movie was based on the ninth book, and this one is the eighteenth. Maybe the movie producers count in base nine?

There’s a big difference between a hit book and a hit movie. Sadly (in my opinion), a lot more people go to the movies than read. So, while both series I mentioned above are still best sellers well into the double digits, that doesn’t generate a massive audience in the theater. Add in that both movies drifted a good bit from the books themselves, potentially alienating the book fans, and you’re not looking at a recipe for success.

I personally am a fan of both book series, and I enjoyed both movies. But I understand why they didn’t become major hits. The characters aren’t hugely known outside the readers. Jack Reacher did better than Stephanie Plum, but realistically, Cruise is a bigger star than Hiegl.

I hope both authors made some good money from optioning their books. I’d like to see the series explored more, but One For The Money’s performance makes that one a bit unlikely. It’s something for writers to remember, though. Not every adaptation goes as well as True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse, or Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire.

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Remembering Aaron Allston

aaron

Aaron Allston was a guy I’d kind of like to be, in a lot of ways. Our lives intersected several times, at first indirectly, and later, much more directly. He left an impact on me, personally, several different ways, and judging from the responses I’m seeing about his death, I’m far from the only one.

I started gaming when I was in high school, and got a lot more serious about it when I got to college. My sophomore year, I was introduced to a game called Champions, which let you make your own superheroes. I loved this concept, and have played the game off and on ever since. I also met some friends playing that game who I’m still writing and gaming with all these years (decades, even) later. Some of the best supplements for that game were written by a guy named Aaron Allston. His Ninja Hero sourcebook is a great tool for not only Champions Game Masters, but it’s a decent quick reference for martial arts, their styles and weapons, for any writer. It’s not in depth on anything, but if you want to see real quick the difference between Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu, it will give you some basic differences.

In addition to being a gamer, I’m a huge fan of Star Wars. When Timothy Zahn wrote his Thrawn trilogy, the expanded universe, stuff that’s outside the movies, started up (aside from some comic books). As the Star Wars novels kept coming, one series was not about the main characters like Luke, Han, Leia and company. It starred a minor character from the movies, Wedge Antilles, and built a new group of characters. These books, the X-Wing novels, were Michael Stackpoole and, later, Aaron Allston, who created Wraith Squadron, a group of fighter pilots/espionage agents. I really enjoyed those novels a lot, partially because they weren’t about Luke and the others, and let us see other bits of the Star Wars Universe.

Many years later, I started writing myself. I was initially sort of pushed into it by a friend. In fact, one of those friends I met playing Champions (thanks, Harry). Gradually, I started taking it more seriously. I went back to DragonCon, which I hadn’t done in many years, in part due to my interest in writing. There was a whole series of hour long seminars taught by Mike Stackpoole and Aaron Allston. They were on the best sellers’ list, they wrote stuff I liked, so of course I signed up to go. And I learned a lot.

I also very slightly got to know both of them. In addition to being good writers and knowledgeable teachers, they were good guys. I enjoyed talking with them. I helped Mr. Allston at one point when he got a bit turned around in all the habitrails that connect the various DragonCon hotels. Mr. Allston had health problems which, among other things, effected his eye sight. We walked together for a bit, and I had a very enjoyable conversation with him.

Last year, I didn’t get to take any of their classes, because I’d signed up for a lot of other things. But, I found Mr. Allston. I brought along my old, battered, copy of Ninja Hero, and got him to sign it. He eyed the book, and smiled, remarking both that he hadn’t seen that in quite a while, and that it was clearly “well-used and well-loved.” He really seemed pleased I had brought that to him.

That ended up being the last time I saw him. Earlier today as I write this, I learned that Mr. Allston died. Apparently, his health problems caught up with him. He suffered a massive heart attack while he was attending VisonCon in Springfield, Missouri. While 53 is far too young to die, especially in this day and age, I’m betting a lot of fantasy/sci fi writers would count that a good way to go.

Mr. Allston helped shape a game I loved, and later, a universe of books. I get most of my books from the library, as I read so many, but I still buy Star Wars novels, and have an overfull book case of them. I always enjoyed seeing his name on the cover, because I knew it would it would be a good story, with great action and humor, and because, even if just slightly, I knew him.

If you’ll excuse me, I think I have a few books to reread.

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Are Our Heroes Being Dumbed Down?

I’m both a writer and a reader, and one of my preferred genres has always been superheroes.  That’s an area of interest for me, and considering the box office records set by the Avengers movie last summer, maybe it’s of interest to one or two other people out there.  With the perspective of decades of comic book reading, I’ve been noticing a trend in the writing overall.

As, I said, I’ve been a hero fan all my life, I’ve never pretended otherwise.  And, overall, I’ve been very lucky in that much of my lifetime has been a good period for that.  I’ve gotten to see some amazing work done in bringing comic book heroes to both the large and small screen.  I can remember being thrilled when I saw the Superman movie in the theater.  Yeah, with Christopher Reeve as the lead, I did just about believe a man can fly.  I had serious doubts about Michael Keaton as Batman when I heard the casting, and he did a damn fine job.  And while there have been some clunkers along the way (Catwoman, Elektra, the Spirit, Green Hornet), there have been some amazing movies (just about all the lead up to, and most definitely including, Avengers!).

On the small screen, again, some not so good ones, but some amazing ones as well.  I’d more or less argue the dawn of the modern, quality, hero cartoon started with Batman: The Animated Series.  This was an amazing show, with serious stories, character depth and development.  Dick Grayson quit being Robin and moved on to Nightwing.  Mr. Freeze got a tragic but amazingly well done origin.  There were many guest stars from around the DC Universe.

This was followed by Superman, Static Shock, and then the astounding Justice League Unlimited.  I can’t say enough good things about JLU.  The immense cast, juggled deftly, the plots and subplots, love interests, everything was handled with respect for the characters and the VIEWERS.  JLU was a show easily watchable by adults.  The Teen Titans cartoon was a bit of a let down, being a lot sillier, but was enjoyable and had some good moments.

Marvel had various shows of different quality, almost always built around either the X-Men or Spider-Man, with an occasional foray into adventures for the Hulk.  Some were great, some were erratic, and some just fizzled out.  I particularly recall enjoying the X-Men one in the 90’s, with both Gambit and Jubilee among the regular characters, and the Spider-Man that aired, oddly, on MTV of all places.

Then, in the recent past, we had hour long blocks from both Marvel and DC that seemed to be compromises between the two extremes.  DC began the “DC Nation” block of programming.  The two shows that made this up were Green Lantern and Young Justice.  Green Lantern was computer animated and more simplistic overall, one could argue largely “kid friendly.”  Young Justice was a very well executed, realistically drawn cartoon featuring many young heroes at the dawn of their careers, from the well known (Robin) to the obscure (Rocket, Aqualad II).  Many fans were relieved that characters banished from the DC Comic line after their reboot managed to make the line up of the show, like Wally West as Kid Flash, and even a cameo by persona MUY non grata Stephanie Brown.  The DC Nation shorts even featured an array of ideas and characters, including Amythest, Plastic Man, and Animal Man voiced by Weird Al Yankovic.

Over in the Marvel Universe block, they rolled out Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.  Spider-Man was back to being a teenager, working for Nick Fury (the version from Marvel’s hit movies, not the main comic line) and teamed with similarly age-regressed heroes Power Man, Iron Fist, White Tiger, and Nova.  This was definitely kid fare, with Spidey frequently stopping the show to narrate, make wise comments, and have odd, chibi-style images in his day dreams, a bit like one of the hallmarks of the sitcom Scrubs.  Avengers: EMH featured adult heroes in big adventures, with plots stretching over many episodes, great character development, and the gradual appearance of many Avengers’ favorites from the books, like Vision, Ms. Marvel, and Black Panther.

As an adult comic fan, I was ecstatic.  Two well written hero cartoons with some good plotting, and character development, and, a bonus for me, they were about teams I like with a lot of lesser known characters I was fond of.  Remember that old saying about “Only the good die young”?

Young Justice was plagued by mystifying, random, unannounced hiatuses, lasting months.  Even the people at DC Comics often said they had no idea what was going on, as the did the writers on the show.  Well, oddly enough, if you make a show vanish for many weeks at once, it suffers.  Thanks to the combination of the airing practices that seemed designed to kill it, as well as a toy line that didn’t exactly set sales records (the only point of cartoons is to sell toys, it seems), the show was cancelled.  Season two would finish, but then that was it.  It would be replaced by an anime style Teen Titans, partially based off the show that ran a few years ago, but written even more for kids.  Green Lantern, too, was axed.

Avengers: EMH also came to a sadly premature end, slated to be replaced by Avengers Assembled, with a line up and look set to reflect the recent hit movie, not the comics.  While the fate of Ultimate Spider-Man is unclear, they have announced a new show for Marvel: Hulk, Agents of SMASH.  Based both on the title and the stills I’ve seen so far, I’m betting this, too, will be aimed at kids.

All of which leaves me wondering: is the era of the smart hero cartoon over?  Hopefully, I’m overreacting and people will be able to mock me about this in the future.  But USM, Agents of Smash, and a Teen Titans based on a series of shorts that featured a burping contest just don’t sound like they lend themselves to complex story telling.

I’d love to be saying something to rival Batman: The Animated Series, or JLU, or Avengers EMH is coming soon.  But it doesn’t look like it.  Young Justice ends on Saturday the 16th after just two seasons, and I don’t see anything to match it on the horizon.

Pair all this with DC’s recent reboot, and I see a troubling trend.  Decades of history were thrown out, certain characters ignored, relationships overall were gotten rid of.  Female characters in particular fared badly, either vanishing or radically changed to be both simpler and sexier.  Overall, the stories feel to me, as an avid reader and long-term fan, dumbed down.  As is happening to the shows I was discussing.

A lot of people look down on popular entertainment like comics and cartoons, dismissing it as immature or silly.  Read anything by Gail Simone, Bryan Q Miller, John Ostrander, Peter David, Paul Dini, most of John Byrne or Chris Claremont, and you can see it’s not true.  These things don’t have to be dumb to work, or aimed solely at kids.  But that seems to be where they are heading.  I don’t know if they are succeeding at getting younger readers; my personal observations so far indicate no.  But I know that they’re driving away older readers, female readers, long term fans.

I don’t think I’m being unrealistic in hoping that at least some of this fare be suitable for adults who aren’t just there to stare at barely clad women, or characters punching/shooting each other.  Is that really where the market needs to go?  Is that where we WANT it to go?

Think about this the next time you’re deciding what to read or watch.

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Not Shooting Yourself in the Foot With Your Online Image

I have a confession: I’ve been going to science fiction conventions since 1976.  My goal for many of those cons were to see actors.  Some of them were nice people and others I wouldn’t want to know.  One I became friends with.  He was always a gentleman and very aware of his image he presented to the world.  At one con, he did an interview for a horror magazine.  So when it first came out at Borders, a friend and I snatched up copies right away.   I called my friend, a little worried because the interview was laced with f-bombs.  We’d both read all his interviews in the past, more than 20 years worth, and he’d always kept it very clean.  We debated about it and wondered if the writer had added the words for that magazine.

Nope.  The actor had gotten to drinking during the interview and said the words himself.  When he saw the interview, he was livid because he’d gotten the writer to promise not to use the profanity.  But the true problem was that he’d said them in the interview in the first place.

Concept image of a gun with the barrel tied in a knot against the backdrop of a grid.

There’s been a lot of that online lately from writers.  It’s like people have forgotten that they’re on public view.  Writer Unboxed just had a recent example of that.  It’s been taken down, but I saw before it was pulled (a discussion is on Absolute Write.  Scroll to the bottom post).  The writer in question took a fan letter from an eager fan that evidently offended her and explained how to “rewrite” it better.  The fan was guilty only of not being a skilled writer and probably being young.

Then there’s been the review meltdowns.  Writer gets a 1-star view or one that contains a reference to something not be good in the story (and sometimes it is very minor reference) or doesn’t give glowing praise.  The writer goes on the attack, ranging from telling the reviewer to take it down; getting the fans to attack the reviewer; or attacking the writer publicly.

I even got attacked in Twitter.  The writer asked me to do a review.  The book had been labeled as action-thriller/fantasy and looked like a detective novel in the sample chapters.  The pages didn’t give me action vibes, so I politely declined as being “not for me.”  The writer wanted to demanded to know why, saying things, “You say you’re an action-thriller writer.  Are you or aren’t you?”  Excuse me?!  I didn’t “owe” a review merely because I’m action writer.  I finally told him that it didn’t have enough action for me, and he had a meltdown in 140 words.

Maybe I would have read a future book from him, but now I’m never going to buy one because of his bad behavior.  No one remembers the good person before.  All they remember is the meltdown.

Our image is our words.  If we attack someone online for critique, a review, or because they don’t do what we want, that means we don’t have control of our words.

Getting angry and lashing out at someone online = bad writing

How have you been shaping your social media image?  Have you experienced a meltdown from another writer?

Writerly Adventuring

Cover from Darkness from Within showing an evil face glaring at youMy short story “A Soldier’s Magic” appears in the anthology The Darkness Within, available from Indigo Mosaic Publishing.  It features two women soldiers who have to make a tough decision to save a lot of people.

 


National Book Awards That You Don’t Know About

So, last week I talked about the National Book Awards that are coming up in the next few days.  Below are a few of the book awards you may NOT have heard of.  Grant Snider has put together some great comedy in this comic that I think touches on some of the “real” in writing.

National Book Awards Consolation Prizes

This comic is also seen in print the 11/4/12  NY Times Book Review!

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