Felonious Jazz: a novel

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The Millions Top Ten: November 2009

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for November.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
2.

Zeitoun
5 months

2.
1.

Inherent Vice
4 months

3.
3.

Cloud Atlas
3 months

4.
4.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
5 months

5. (tie)


The Corrections
1 month

5. (tie)
7.

The Skating Rink
4 months

7. (tie)
5.

Asterios Polyp
3 months

7. (tie)
10.

Austerlitz
2 months

9.


The Year of the Flood
2 months

10.
6.

The Wild Things
2 months

Dave Eggers bookends our list as Zeitoun moves into the top spot and The Wild Things lands at number 10. Jonathan Franzen’s 2001 novel The Corrections hits our list two months after a panel of writers, editors and critics assembled by The Millions named it the Best of the Millennium (So Far). The book joins Cloud Atlas and Austerlitz, which both figured prominently in the series as well. Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood has re-entered the list after falling off last month. And dropping from the list are Felonious Jazz by Bryan Gilmer and Imperial by William T. Vollmann.
See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: October 2009

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for October.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

Inherent Vice
3 months

2.
2.

Zeitoun
4 months

3.
7.

Cloud Atlas
2 months

4.
3.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
4 months

5.
5. (tie)

Asterios Polyp
2 months

6.


The Wild Things
1 month

7.
4.

The Skating Rink
3 months

8.
10. (tie)

Imperial
2 months

9.
5. (tie)

Felonious Jazz
6 months

10.


Austerlitz
1 month

Dave Eggers lands a second book on our Top Ten with his novelization of the Spike Jonze movie The Wild Things. (Eggers is having similar success on some other distinguished lists.) Here at The Millions, Wild Things was a Most Anticipated book and Emily recent revisited the beloved children’s book that started it all. Also debuting is Austerlitz, the 2001 novel by W.G. Sebald. The book recently landed at #7 in our “Best of the Millennium” series.

We didn’t have any new Hall of Fame inductees this month, and falling off the Top Ten were The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, Future Missionaries of America by Matthew Vollmer, and Netherland by Joseph O’Neill.

And, finally, Inherent Vice and Zeitoun hold on to their top positions.

See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: September 2009

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for September.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

Inherent Vice
2 months

2.
2.

Zeitoun
3 months

3.
8.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
3 months

4.
6. (tie)

The Skating Rink
2 months

5. (tie)


Asterios Polyp
1 month

5. (tie)
10.

Felonious Jazz
5 months

7.


Cloud Atlas
1 month

8.


The Year of the Flood
1 month

9.


The White Tiger
1 month

10. (tie)


Future Missionaries of America
1 month

10. (tie)


Imperial
1 month

10. (tie)
9.

Netherland
4 months

Four inductees to The Millions Hall of Fame plus gridlock in the tenth spot on our list meant room for plenty of new titles on the list in September.

Graduating to our Hall of Fame were four illustrious titles, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, Matthew Diffee’s The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker, and Carl Wilson’s Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste. The former two titles are good examples of our readers’ taste in fiction (Wao in fact won our recent readers’ poll of the best fiction of the decade). The latter two are niche titles that sparked an enduring interest in readers despite relatively minor mentions at The Millions.

Newly appearing on the list are some recently published titles. Asterios Polyp, which we reviewed not long ago, Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood and William T. Vollmann’s Imperial, which were both on our most recent Most Anticipated list, and Future Missionaries of America by Matthew Vollmer, who was an interviewer and an interviewee for us in June.

Also debuting are Cloud Atlas, which emerged as a big favorite in our Best of the Millennium project, and The White Tiger. That one’s a bit of a mystery because we haven’t talked about it much, but it did, of course, win the Booker Prize a year ago.

Finally, Inherent Vice and Zeitoun hold on to their positions, but there are still several new releases on tap for the fall, so they may be challenged soon for the top spots.

See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: August 2009

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for August.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.


Inherent Vice
1 month

2.
5.

Zeitoun
2 months

3.
4.

The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker
6 months

4.
2.

Infinite Jest
6 months

5.
6.

Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste
6 months

6. (tie)
7.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
6 months

6. (tie)


The Skating Rink
1 month

8.
8.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
2 months

9.
10.

Netherland
2 months

10.
9.

Felonious Jazz
3 months

Thomas Pynchon staged an impressive debut in August, hitting number one in The Millions Top Ten as Inherent Vice hit shelves. Garth, our resident Pynchon expert, shared his thoughts on the post-modern detective story just this week. Also debuting on our list in August is yet another title from Roberto Bolaño. Out of the gate, The Skating Rink is looking less like a footnote in Bolaño’s prolific career and more like another Bolaño masterpiece, receiving impressive notices from the likes of Wyatt Mason in The New York Times (a “short, exquisite novel“) and Scott Esposito in The Quarterly Conversation (“well worth your time“). The book was also on our most recent “Most Anticipated Books” list.

Graduating to our Hall of Fame (after being on our list for 6+ months) are two books that have been surprise Millions favorites. Kitty Burns Florey’s Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences was the jumping off point for a grammar rodeo that Garth put on analyzing a snippet of a speech by President Obama. The upshot? A Venn diagram of Millions readers and grammar lovers would show quite a lot of overlap, I now suspect. Also newly honored in our Hall of Fame is prizewinner Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, which inspired Edan to pen her much discussed “Mom Book” essay.

Other notable action: Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun, recently reviewed around here and generally getting outstanding notices, shot to the number two spot in its second month on the list.

Next month should be quite interesting as we’re poised to have four titles join the Hall of Fame, freeing up room for lots of newcomers.

See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: July 2009 – And Introducing the Hall of Fame

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We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for July. This month we’re also introducing our Hall of Fame. Any book that’s been on our list for six months graduates to the Hall of Fame both to designate those books as all-time favorites of Millions readers and to make room for new books on our list. Our Hall of Fame begins with two inaugural inductees.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences
6 months

2.
5.

Infinite Jest
5 months

3.
3.

Olive Kitteridge
6 months

4.
6.

The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker
5 months

5.


Zeitoun
1 month

6.
4.

Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste
5 months

7.
7.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
5 months

8.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
1 month

9.
10. (tie)

Felonious Jazz
3 months

10.


Netherland
2 months

Graduating from our list to our Hall of Fame are Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 and Elaine Dundy’s Dud Avocado, two very worthy books to inaugurate this new feature. Also disappearing from the list are Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives and Donald Ray Pollock’s Knockemstiff.

Joining our list for the first time is Dave Eggers’ new book Zeitoun, an immigrant’s story in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. The book was recently featured on our “Most Anticipated” list. Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is our other debut. The Swedish writer’s series of posthumously published mysteries have gained quite a following in the States. The book’s only appearance on The Millions was to kick off a Book Question piece about “closed-room mysteries.” Millions readers, if you’ve read Larsson, let us know what you think.

Meanwhile, Joseph O’Neill returns to our list after appearing on our initial top-ten list at the beginning of the year and then getting bumped off. Maybe President Obama’s mention of the book a few months back is continuing to generate sales.

See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: June 2009

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We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for June, the list is also in our sidebar.ThisMonthLastMonth TitleOn List1.1.Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences5 months2.2.26666 months3.4.Olive Kitteridge5 months4.6.Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste4 months5.7.Infinite Jest4 months6.3.The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker4 months7.10.The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao4 months8.5.The Dud Avocado6 months9.8.Knockemstiff4 months10. (tie)9.Felonious Jazz2 months10. (tie)-The Savage Detectives2 monthsAs summer set in, the titles on our list stayed mostly static. Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives returns to the list. Meanwhile, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is seeing some interest, probably from folks wanting to participate in Infinite Summer, a TMN sponsored group read of the book. Junot Díaz’s Oscar Wao may be getting a boost from its inclusion in the higher reaches of our Prizewinners list last month. Finally, Olive Kitteridge continues to be a favorite among Millions readers, and Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog is still at the top thanks to the enduring interest in Garth’s essay on the grammatical proclivities of our current president. Look for some changes to the list in the coming months as an impressive slate of new titles hits bookstores.Have you been reading any of the books on our Top Ten list? Let us know what you think of them.See also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: May 2009

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for May, and we update the list in our sidebar each month.ThisMonthLastMonth TitleOn List1.1.Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences4 months2.2.26665 months3.3.The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker3 months4.5.Olive Kitteridge4 months5.6.The Dud Avocado5 months6.4.Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste3 months7.-Infinite Jest3 months8.7.Knockemstiff3 months9.-Felonious Jazz1 month10.-The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao3 monthsWe had one new arrival on our list for May and two titles that returned. Readers were curious enough to try out Bryan Gilmer’s Felonious Jazz after he wrote about his experiments with pricing the ebook version of the novel. Returning to our list after a one month hiatus are two classics of contemporary literature, Infinite Jest and The Brief Wondrous Live of Oscar Wao. Departing from our list are Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, The Lazarus Project, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and The Savage Detectives.Also notable is the continued strength of Olive Kitteridge, which appears to have many fans among Millions readers. If you’ve been reading any of the books mentioned above, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.See also: Last month’s list.

Follow the Money: The ebook Pricing Wars

Last week, self-published author Bryan Gilmer struck a chord with his guest post about using discount pricing to generate ebook sales. By dropping the price of his book to $1.99, Gilmer was able to tempt many new readers to buy his book, which, in the process, catapulted it up Amazon’s rankings, generating even more visibility. Gilmer’s experiment is compelling, but it’s also just the story of one book by one self-published author who happens to be creative about marketing. Even as smaller players make headway with creative pricing, the data indicate that major publishers still hold the upper hand.Gilmer’s post also threw into sharp relief how much ebook pricing is an issue for Kindle owners. You’ve likely heard about Kindle owners who have balked at the idea of spending more than $9.99 for an ebook. With the Kindle going for $359, many Kindle owners have decided that their willingness to pony up the big bucks for the device was their side of an implicit bargain. In return, there is an expectation that ebooks will come at a discount to their physical counterparts, allowing Kindle owners to recoup their investment in the device over time. Any sign that this bargain is falling apart has been met with resistance by Kindle owners (and likely helps account for their receptiveness to experiments like Gilmer’s)Beyond the Kindle, there is the notion that ebooks should cost less because they are intrinsically worth less. There are no materials, printing, and distribution costs to worry about, and furthermore, an ebook offers less utility than a real book. As an anonymous commenter on Gilmer’s post pointed out, and I’m paraphrasing here, If I have ten books, I and nine of my friends can read all them at the same time, passing them around (and I can give them away or sell them to a second-hand bookstore when I am tired of reading them). Buying ten ebooks acquires them for me to read. No one else can read them without having my device, which deprives me of its use for the other books stored on it, and I am unable to pass the copy onto anyone else. An ebook is therefore of much lesser utility as part of a library of books than printed editions of those books are, so being expected to pay the same (or, in some cases, a higher) price for the ebook is perceived as price gouging.Publishers appear to have gotten this message as nearly all ebooks cost less than their physical editions. Meanwhile, Gilmer’s experiment offered some insight into buying habits, but by looking at The Millions’ data we can see what a wider group of readers are paying for a diverse array of titles.As I pointed out recently, Millions readers have bought a surprising number of Kindle ebooks after visiting The Millions, and while the total number isn’t large enough to provide the basis for any iron-clad assumptions, we can observe some pricing trends.For starters, the single most expensive ebook purchased by a Millions reader during the 18-month existence of the Kindle was a technical book, Dojo: Using the Dojo JavaScript Library to Build Ajax Applications, coming in at $17.49. The cheapest, meanwhile, was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The mean price for all ebooks sold was just $7.45 and the median $9.33. By far the most common price point is $9.99. There has also clearly been some pricing experimentation going on, as many prices have changed and there have been ebooks sold for $1 that now go for $9.99.It also seemed useful to break the books down our list into some categories to see how pricing trends might be different. We looked at ebook pricing for major publishers, independent publishers, genre books, classic (public domain) books, and self-published books. The results reflect the unique economics facing each of these market segments:Major Publishers:Mean: $9.39Median: $9.99Most Expensive: $14.30 (Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean)Least Expensive: $1.75 (Revolutionary Road)Independent Publishers:Mean: $9.26Median: $9.40Most Expensive: $14.27 (My Father’s Paradise)Least Expensive: $8.76 (two titles)Genre Books:Mean: $7.51Median: $7.98Most Expensive: $9.99 (seven titles)Least Expensive: $1.00 (Use of Weapons)Self-Published:Mean: $2.56Median: $2.49Most Expensive: $4.99 (Felonious Jazz)Least Expensive: $0.80 (Chloe’s ABCs in B&W)Classics (public domain):Mean: $2.25Median: $1.29Most Expensive: $6.40 (Heart of Darkness and The Congo Diary)Least Expensive: $0.50 (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)For now, at least, it appears pricing power remains with the big players. The self-published, meanwhile, must offer big discounts to level the playing field. The question is whether the success of the latter will cause the prices demanded by the two groups to edge closer to one another over time.

Finding Indie Opportunity on The Kindle

Bryan Gilmer of Durham, N.C., teaches newswriting at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writes for institutional and corporate clients. Until 2003, he was a reporter at Florida’s largest newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times. He has just independently published a crime thriller novel, Felonious Jazz.Last week, I created a Kindle version of my indie crime thriller novel, Felonious Jazz, using the tools at Amazon’s Digital Text Platform. It took about nine minutes, a “why-not” side project alongside my trade paperback, which I published using Amazon’s print-on-demand company, CreateSpace.My Kindle edition went live last Monday at $7.99, so I announced it on a couple of Kindle message boards online. By Wednesday, I’d sold one copy. One! Message board replies said, “If you want us to try a new author, give us a really low price. It’ll generate sales and reviews.” So I marked it down to $1.99 Thursday morning and posted the price change on the same boards. What happened next was remarkable:As of 5 p.m. Friday – about 36 hours later – Felonious Jazz was the No. 1 selling hard-boiled mystery on the Amazon Kindle Store and the 17th best-selling title in Mysteries & Thrillers – the only title not by huge names like John Sandford, Michael Connelly, and Elmore Leonard in the top 25. Its overall Kindle sales rank was as high as 133rd out of all the 283,000+ fiction and non-fiction titles available in the Kindle Store.I thought, now that I’m in the rankings, I shouldn’t have to be so cheap. I bumped the price to $4.99. Sales continued, but at a slower pace, (and Felonious Jazz has slipped in the rankings. I probably should have stuck with $1.99 longer). I also drew in some people who just buy cheap Kindle offerings who don’t normally read the genre, though they may have been less likely to enjoy it than fans of similar books.But overall, what a no-budget way to gain visibility. A few big lessons here: Readers expect Kindle books to be much cheaper than dead-tree books (because they know it costs less to publish them and they can’t share them and worry they won’t have them forever). A cheap price is enough to buy your way up the rankings among national names with a zero-dollar PR campaign. Now that there’s a free Kindle app for iPhone, the potential audience for a Kindle title is not just the half million people who spent $359 for the device but many times that large. It’s surprisingly comfortable to read book text on the Kindle iPhone app. If you haven’t tried it yet, get the app and grab my free sample from Amazon, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s transformative to have a book you’re reading (or several) on your phone to pull out whenever you have to wait in line or for an appointment.More worrying for conventional publishers is that Kindle board posters don’t think big publishers are pricing their titles cheaply enough, and when prices get above $9.99 they get angry about it. I’m not sure whether the high prices are due to higher costs, more parties to share the revenue with, or the fear of cannibalization of paper-copy sales. (But the advantages! Near-zero production costs. No warehousing. No shipping. No returns. New edition at any moment. Never out of print. And the Kindle makes people read and buy more titles.) Could big publishers go from being at a tremendous advantage to competing for top-25 sales rankings – if not profits – with a guy in his home office? Will a Netflix-like company launch without the expensive legacy infrastructure of the big New York houses and take advantage of elasticity of demand at much lower price points? As I type this I realize – maybe that’s Amazon.A bad side effect is that without barriers to entry, a lot of non-professional-quality content creates clutter. But to some degree, crowd sorting (via online reviews and such) can cope with that.

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