Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Cooper Union
February, 27, 1860
The Shut Mouth Society is a contemporary thriller about a conspiracy that goes back to Abraham Lincoln. The novel was published in 2008, which happened to be the Lincoln Bicentennial. It opens with Lincoln's Copper Union address on February 27, 1860, prior to his nomination for president. On the same day, he had a photograph taken by Mathew Brady. (Lincoln claimed the Copper Union address and Brady photograph made him president.) A book cover that used this photograph would tie into both the novel's introduction and the Bicentennial. My designer came up with a unique close-up cropping that really showed Lincoln’s intelligence and determination. I thought it couldn’t miss.

Big miss. Sales were lackluster and customer reviews on Amazon and Goodreads were mediocre to scathing. Sales were hurt by an avalanche of nonfiction books released to take advantage of the bicentennial, and early buyers of The Shut Mouth Society assumed it was another book about Lincoln. A few even bought it because they assumed it was nonfiction. Although the story did include extensive Lincoln history, the novel was a modern-day chase thriller in which the protagonists desperately try to unravel a one hundred and fifty year old conspiracy.

I could have given up on the book, but The Shut Mouth Society was a finalist for Best Novel in the Glyph Awards, and it had received excellent reviews in the general press. We decided to try another cover design. You can see both of them side by side below. 

Abraham Lincoln
American Flag

The new cover worked miracles. Sales increased dramatically and customer reviews were effusive. At the time of this writing, the book has 161 Amazon reviews for 4.3 stars, and 491 ratings on Goodreads for 3.7 stars. I’m pleased with the Goodreads numbers because the newer rankings had to overcome dismal early returns. 

Nothing changed but the book cover.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because we’re in the final throe of designing a book cover for The Return, A Steve Dancy Tale. We had many concept mock-ups, but I rejected many of them because despite being nice graphically, they didn’t fit the story. I learned my lesson. Covers build reader expectations. This is why genre covers look alike. They’re designed to appeal to an audience that will appreciate the book. So don't believe the cliché that people should never judge a book by its cover. People do. 

Insist on a well-designed cover that fits your storyline.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Finished Draft ... an Oxymoron?

I was reading Writer Unboxed and I saw an article by Leanne Shirtliffe on oxymorons used by writers. One was finished draft. That caught my attention. I had just sent my finished draft of Crossing the Animas to my publisher. Is it truly finished? Not really. After proofreading, there will be yet another round of revisions. This time the changes will be few and minor, but there will be changes nonetheless.

Literary agents

Books need to be polished. There is a big caveat, however. Don’t let fear of imperfection get in the way of sending your book out into the world. 

Tempest at Dawn was my first novel. I spent over five years in research and writing it. I read dozens of books of the writing craft, employed a writing coach, attended writing workshops, and revised, revised, revised. Finally, an instructor at a writers' workshop sat me down and asked me what was I doing there. When I told her I was trying to figure out how to make my book better, she said it was fine. She pushed until I admitted I was afraid of rejection. 

As long as I was working on revisions, nobody was telling me, “we like your book, but it’s not quite right for us, so I’m afraid we’ll have to pass.” She metaphorically, kicked me in the butt, and I sent out the queries. In short order, I had a New York agent with a prestigious firm.

The moral is to polish your work, seek out help, get it right, but eventually, you need to let it go. 

Rejections hurt in the moment, but regret lingers for a lifetime.

The real story of our nation's founding.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Musings About Concord, Massachusetts

I don’t believe in muses. Writing is not a matter of inspiration. It's more of a compulsion. Think about all of the famous authors that wrote until the last shovel of dirt was thrown onto their grave. Most people retire when the get enough money. Not bestselling writers. They just keep going. They write because they loved writing. 

That said, I actually have a muse of sorts. It’s Concord, Massachusetts. Some of my fondest memories are of that historic village about twenty-five miles north/west of Boston.

American Revolution
Colonial Inn
I lived in Boston for three years and consulted there for many many more. When I was consulting, I frequently spent two weeks in the city. I discovered that I could catch a commuter train Friday night and spend the weekend in Concord. I must have done this dozens of times, sometimes with my wife, but often alone.

Concord was peaceful, pleasant, and friendly. I stayed at the Colonial Inn, where in 1775, rebels had hidden guns and ammunition. The shot heard ‘round the world was only a mile or so down the road. Tourists visit Concord because of its iconic place in the American Revolution. Many are surprised by the town’s grand literary heritage. Nathanial Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Robert B. Parker have all called Concord home. No wonder Henry James dubbed the village, "the biggest little place in America."

concord massachuttes
Barrow Book Store (Used)

Concord is seemingly dedicated to books. There were no chain bookstores, but there was a great independent book store on the main street, at least three distinctive used book stores, and a fantastic public library.

Concord Massachusetts
Concord Free Public Library
To a great extent, I research and wrote Tempest at Dawn in Concord. On Saturday mornings, I would eat breakfast with locals at a neighborhood coffee shop and then stroll down to the Concord Free Public Library. One day I found a book that was over one hundred and fifty years old that would help my research. Before closing time, I ask the librarian if there was any way I could borrow the book overnight. She told me I could apply for a library card and check out the book. I explained that I was only visiting and a resident of Arizona. She said that didn't matter; Concord issued library cards to anyone and everyone. The regional card was even valid for the Boston Public Library, which had previously declined to issue me a card. I couldn't believe my good fortune. I needed nothing more than a picture ID to take an antique book back to my room. I was careful to return it in the same condition I found it.

I no longer work in Boston, so I don’t catch the commuter train to Concord anymore. I miss the biggest little place in America.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Libraries That Are Architectural Wonders

Matador contributing editor Sarah Park has “curated” two galleries of fascinating libraries around the world. These links will take you to some interesting buildings dedicated to the written word.

tempest at dawn
Boston Public Library

I’ve used the Boston Public Library to illustrate this post because I spent untold hours in this room. Actually, I found my greatest treasure in the basement of this building. I was researching Tempest at Dawn and discovered Christopher Collier’s doctoral thesis on Roger Sherman. Collier is the coauthor of Decision in Philadelphia, among other books. I was able to speak to him on the phone, and he had no idea that his thesis had been preserved on microfiche or that it was retained by the Boston Public Library. Since information on Sherman was relatively rare, it was fortuitous to find this academic profile about the architect of the Great Compromise at the Constitutional Convention.

Since I’m writing about my time in Massachusetts, there were two other libraries that had an impact on my writing— the Concord Free Public Library and the Boston Athenæum. One is public and home to great literary traditions and the other is one of the oldest private libraries and cultural institutions in the country. I suggest Sarah Park do a third gallery of libraries dedicated to unique institutions in the United States.

Tempest at Dawn
Boston  Athenæum
Tempest at Dawn
Concord Free Public Library

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Shopkeeper—Featured Book

The Shopkeeper, A Steve Dancy Tale is a featured book today on “Kindle Books and Tips” and “Bargain Booksy.” For a short period, the Kindle version of The Shopkeeper is priced at $3.99, instead of $5.99.  The first in the Steve Dancy series now has 110 Amazon reviews for 4.4 stars and 215 Goodreads ratings for 3.7 stars.

If you haven't started the series, this is a great opportunity to see why the Steve Dancy Tales have developed such a strong following.

"I just finished reading this book and I have to say its one of the best western books I’ve read in a long time.  The characters, the plot, everything seem so real. You’ll find yourself lost in the book—the fast pace keeps it interesting." — Maritza Barone, Woman'sDay

"The James Best books...are about the best new Western series to come along since Larry McMurtry" Larry Winget, True West Magazine, March, 2012

ebook bestsellers

kindle best selling books

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Shark Killing Cowboy Meets Shakespeare

To me, soliloquies seem like cheating. They’re frequently a dull way of conveying a character’s thoughts to the audience. Besides, how can any author compete with Shakespeare at his own game?

Probably the most famous soliloquy occurs in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Take a gander at this. Musing has never been so much fun.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Fear and the Bleeding Manuscript

Once upon a time, I feared red ink … now I look forward to it. The red ink means another set of professional eyes are helping me write a better book. I tell stories; editors keep the reader’s head in the story. Errors, typos, and awkward sentences break the magic of storytelling, and since I spend about a year on each of my novels, I want uninterrupted magic.

There are bad editors, of course. I had one once. She was assigned to me by a major New York publisher and saw her job as bending my book in another direction. Bad editors can exasperate a writer and even destroy the commercial success of a book. Luckily, I now have a good editor, and she has worked with me on all six of the Steve Dancy Tales. It’s been a good partnership. She knows the characters, the storyline, and my foibles.

Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters.

Another way to jerk the reader out of the story is to use a modern word or phrase in a historical novel. In my last manuscript, my editor caught the following words that would be inappropriate for 1880.

nonstop, 1902
freewheeling, 1931
racketeers, 1924
dim-witted, 1934
sidestepped, 1900
lowlifes, 1911
dock-workers, 1913
shoot-out, 1948
best seller, 1889
S.O.B., 1918
run-of-the-mill, 1930
blabbermouth, 1936
gangland, 1912
scam, 1963
headlock, 1905
paddy wagon, 1930

Most readers wouldn't catch these, but I’m glad they've been scrubbed from the manuscript.

I'll go carefully through each edit and editorial comment. Then I'll print the book and read it once again for continuity, clarity, and crispness.

When I finish with this round, it will be off to the publisher for interior design and proofreading. I wish that would be the end, but in this modern world, I’ll also need the book professionally formatted for different brands of eReaders.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Western in Advertising

Chinese firecrackers

Westerns were hugely popular for over a hundred years. Not only were they popular in the United States, but the whole world devoured them. Recently, my brother bought a book about Chinese firecracker art. (He’s an art professor who likes quirky design.) He sent me a couple vintage images with cowboys. It started me thinking about advertising with a Western Theme. Once common, it’s a bit rarer today. There were some clever concepts … and some not so clever.

The Western used to be a staple of advertising ... and fiction, movies, television, and daydreams. It will be again.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Modern Gadgets Can’t Beat Kit Carson

lost on the highwayLast night we arrived back in Arizona safe and sound. It was a great road trip through Nevada and none of us played a single slot machine. We were far too busy. On Saturday, we visited the Reno Gun Show. Compared to Arizona shows, Reno had many more displays of 19th century revolvers and rifles. The vendors were highly knowledgeable about Old West guns and I picked up a few good reference books that will help with the Steve Dancy Tales.

On the drive back we discussed our favorite experiences. Visiting with old friends was at the top of everyone’s list and Fort Churchill at the bottom. As we cruised along the highway, we agreed that we’d probably never make a return visit to the old cavalry fort. I think we riled Kit Carson because at almost that exact moment we saw a turn-off sign for Fort Churchill. We had been chatting away and missed a turn fifty miles back and had driven in a circle back toward Carson City. Bummer. 

We would have made lousy scouts, especially since we had Garmons, iPhones, a digital compass, and web connected computers inside the car. Of course, we would have needed to stop talking long enough to actually glance at one of these devices, or perhaps look out the window at a highway sign. 

Oh well, when we reminisce about the trip years from now, our first recollection will be about getting lost with a car full of computers that would’ve made the Apollo moon-bound astronauts jealous.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Hills and Dales and Rin Tin Tin

There is nothing as invigorating as an early morning hike. Probably should have done one yesterday. Instead, we got off about mid-morning after long chats over several cups of coffee. The Sierras and other ranges were still beautiful as we climbed some minor foothills to get a panorama view of the Carson Valley.

tempest at dawn
We had a purpose for this particular hike. My brother-in-law built and positioned a bench dedicated to his father at the top of a hill. Recently, his mother also passed. She was a wonderful person, a great mother, and an ideal mother-in-law. He had a new brass plaque engraved and we hiked up to the top of the hill to add it to the bench. It was a quiet and perfect moment.

Steve Dancy
In the afternoon we drove out to Fort Churchill. The flies beat us to this historic site. After a few minutes of insects buzzing around my eyes, I was eager to get inside the small museum to escape the pesky pests. I can only imagine how crazy-making it must have been when there were hundreds of cavalry horses around. The life of a frontier soldier was not easy.

The fort is now a ruin, but still an interesting side trip. It was situated to protect the Carson Trail, which was used by the Pony Express and pioneers on their way to California. The fort looked nothing like the one in Rin Tin Tin, my favorite television show as a child. Instead of a log stockade, the white adobe buildings were not protected by a wall. The purpose of the fort was not to be an oasis of safety as much as a central point to send out patrols.

Next, the Reno gun show. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mountain Sanctuary

Yesterday, I visited a high school friend I had not seen for at least thirty years. Before diverting north, the trip started through the Carson Pass in the Sierras. It was a beautiful drive and I thought anyone should feel privileged to view these magnificent mountains. Then I remembered Genoa, a way station for 49ers. I was cruising at 60 MPH in climate controlled comfort, while the early pioneers were lucky to eke out 10 miles in a long, determined day. The view probably wasn't uppermost on their minds.

My friend owns an isolated forty acres next to national forest. Getting there required him to come down the mountain to lead me through trails that would challenge a city-bred sedan. Although he had owned the land since the early seventies, he didn't move there until semi-retirement in the nineties.  Now his wife descends the mountain every day to work, while he struggles to make his home self-sufficient. He may want to be independent, but he’s a distant cousin from the long-gone, mountain men who lived off the land. PG&E provides electricity to supplement his solar panels, propane is delivered to his door, a tractor can carve out roads and plow snow, and cell phones keep civilization a touch screen away. Technology is a wonderful way to make a rustic existence comfortable. I even noticed a Verizon Hot Spot winking away on a book shelf to bring the entire World Wide Web directly to his mountain top. The pioneers could only wish they were so lucky.

We had a great afternoon wallowing in nostalgia for our younger days. We have lived very different lives since high school, but reconnected easily. We had been neighbors in high school and had peddled bikes towing surfboards to the beach nearly every day. We learned to surf with a couple of other friends and spent untold hours lazing about the beach; sunning, talking, playing volleyball, and flirting with girls. Growing up at the beach in the sixties was a singular experience and a great way to meander our way to adulthood.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Carson City and the Landmark St. Charles Hotel

We started the day with a visit to Genoa, which is situated just below the Sierras at the edge of the Carson Valley. (Everything in this part of Nevada is named after Kit Carson: cities, streets, valleys, counties, rivers, mountain passes, recreation areas, pets, and children.) This is a historic town where 49ers took a breather before struggling over the mountains to the gold clogged streams of California. Genoa was also a significant stop for the Pony Express. Today it hosts a great antique gun store with experts who freely share their knowledge of 19th century weapons.

TheShopkeeper was the first of the Steve Dancy series and it took place in Nevada. The Carson City St. Charles Hotel was a prominent setting for much of the story. Seven years ago, the St. Charles was a dilapidated flophouse. On this visit, I was pleased to see a restored exterior with thriving businesses on the ground floor. The manager was hospitable enough to give us a tour of the upper floors where the rooms are still in the process of restoration. One room is preserved behind glass in 19th century condition. The room is a few inches wider than the single mattress on the floor and personal belongings are strewn at the bottom of the bed. I took liberties in my book, and housed Steve Dancy in a suite on the third floor. The St. Charles is across the street from the capitol and legislative building and provides elected officials with a fitting reminder of Nevada history.

After the St. Charles, we visited the Capitol, Nevada State Museum, shopped, and ate lunch at an oddly themed Polynesian restaurant. Carson City has a Basque heritage, so we had an excellent dinner at a friendly Basque restaurant. Tomorrow, everyone seems to be going off in different directions, so we’ll share stories at dinner.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"Thar's gold in them thar hills."

gold silver mining
After a healthy breakfast, we took a morning walk in a residential area of Gardnerville. The air was brisk, sky clear, and the surrounding mountains breathtaking. These acre-plus, rural lots lodged horses, dogs, poultry, restored antique trackers, friendly neighbors, and apple trees in full blossom.

Late morning, we took off for Virginia City. Not much had changed since my last visit … which was good. Except for the crowds. My last visit was during the height of summer tourism, with people crowding the streets, cafes, saloons, museums, and shops. This time we had this historic town all to ourselves. I was surprised that everyone could answer our most obscure questions. The people who work in Virginia City know town history and trivia.

mining, shopkeeping
In one store, a friendly old coot told us all about the guns, ore samples, and minerals on display. To prove his bona fides, he pulled out his wallet to show us his membership card in a gold miner association and photographs of nuggets he had found. Then he lifted a chain around his neck to display the Pièce de résistance, a one-ounce gold nugget. We were impressed and let him convince us to buy a 50 million year old insect embedded in a piece of amber. For $34, it would be a unique gift for our rock hound grandson. When I pulled out my wallet, he said I needed to go find someone who worked in the shop. That was a surprise. For all of his familiarity with the stock and his astute salesmanship, I had assumed he was connected with the store, but no, he was just an old miner eager to share his knowledge with tourists. We discovered our friendly miner was not exceptional. 

At lunch, we discovered our relentlessly cute server had lived and worked in Virginia City for eons. When asked a casual question about Mark Twain, she proved smarter than my wife's iPhone and more knowledgeable than most American Literature professors about Twain's stint in Virginia City

With limited crowds, the shopkeepers, barkeeps, and café employees were all eager to share information about their historic town. We had a great day, and I gathered up some material for the next Steve Dancy Tale.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

On The Road Again

wild west
We left Beatty, Nevada fairly early in the morning yesterday and stopped for breakfast in Tonopah, Nevada. This was a nostalgic stop. A few years ago, the four of us got caught driving in a white-out blizzard that had us nervous as hell. To say there was nothing in this part of Nevada would be an understatement. Then Tonopah came into blurred view through the windshield. The main casino in town was the most beautiful oasis of light and warmth on the planet. Checking in, we discovered $29 rooms that came with a roll of nickels and a five dollar discount certificate for the restaurant. We had landed in a toasty haven of congeniality.

This visit was different. In clear weather, the casino looked threadbare and dusty. Breakfast was of the mass quantities variety, with omelets the size of a football. The food was good and the people rural America friendly. Trouble didn't come until we asked the bill to be evenly split between two credit cards. Our server looked struck by pure terror. The bill was $38.43, and she laid chits on the table for $20.18 and $21.43. After laughing, we decided to not even attempt to get the bills straight. We just added a tip and skedaddled.

the shopkeeper

We arrived in Garnerville in the early afternoon. The views were terrific, wild and domestic animals plentiful, and the hospitality welcoming. Our friends had enough food laid out to feed an Old West cavalry troop. After touring their new home, we complimented their handiwork, caught up on the latest happenings, ate again, and imbibed a little. The only task we tackled was deciding what to do the next day. We would make our first foray a visit Virginia City. Can’t wait.

steve dancy

Monday, April 8, 2013

Beatty, Nevada

We spent the first night of our road trip in Beatty, Nevada, the Gateway to Death Valley. Pretty areain a desolate kind of way. When we asked for a AAA discount at our motel, the clerk told us other motels in town offered discounts, but not them because they were fancy. Fancy seemed hyperbole. Our room was comfortable, but basic. The room appeared to be designed by a left hander seeking revenge. The water faucets were reserved and the door handles worked in the opposite direction. It was fun sorting things out.

When we checked in, we also asked for a recommendation on a place to eat. She told us the finest restaurant in town was a Denny’s in the casino. When we asked for something with more local color, she suggested a bar that was famous for chili. We told her that was more our style, so she directed us to the second bar after making a turn at the first right. (There was no second right.) She said don’t go into the first bar, and then emphasized that we should avoid that particular establishment. She offered no explanation and we sought none, but we didn't wander over to the first bar after dinner for a nightcap. 

The second bar was great. The people were friendly and the ambiance was a mix of cowboy and Sons of Anarchy. Chili was indeed on the menu. You could have chili in a bowl, chili on a hot dog, chili on a hamburger, or chili on Fritos. That was it. Except for beer and wine. They had a good selection of beer and two varieties of wine; red and white. Thank goodness, the chili was excellent. When we complimented our server, she told us the awards on the wall were a smidgen of the prizes won by her grandmother’s chili. She claimed there was not enough wall space in Beatty to display all the awards.  Then she said something surprising: her grandmother had not yet trusted her with the recipe … or anyone else for that matter. I hope her grandmother remains healthy because she makes a hell of a good chili. We returned directly to our fancy motel after helping to roll up the sidewalks at nine o’clock.

Tomorrow we leave for Garnerville, just a hop, skip, and a jump from the once rowdy Virginia City. More fun in the offing just over the horizon.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Road Trip!

western state capitalcomstock lode errol flynn

We're about to drive to Garnerville, Nevada with friends. We'll stay with other friends who happen to be relatives. It looks like we might luck into some snow, so a day or two of skiing is not out of the question.

Beyond traveling and visiting with good people, I'll be starting the research for the next Steve Dancy Tale. I won't give away the plot, but a good portion of the story will take place in Carson City and Virginia City. Along with Steve, Joseph, and Jeff, there will a few characters from The Shopkeeper intent on making life difficult for Mr. Dancy and friends. Since The Return, A Steve Dancy Tale is not yet back from the editor, I'm still on recess and plan on having fun. This is a good life.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Sage Society Video of Dramatic Reading of Tempest at Dawn

This Youtube video is excerpts from a Sage Society reading of Tempest at Dawn. The Sage Society is a continuing education organization associated with California State University at Northridge. I was able to attend the first reading of this ten week project and was privileged to meet some great people. Tempest at Dawn is a historical novel about the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

james d. best

Link to Video

Friday, April 5, 2013

Fan Letters are cool

henry miller fan letter
Carson McCullers to Henry Miller

I always like to get fan letters. Some writers write for themselves, but I write to be read, so a fan letter is a bit of confirmation that someone out there enjoys reading my books. Flavorwire recently posted ten fan letters from famous writers to other writers. I’ve gotten a few of those and even a phone call from a New York Times bestselling author. That certainly made my day … or I should say week. Nothing on the caliber of these Flavorwire letters, of course. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

historical fiction
Patrick deWitt
One of the great things about submitting a book for editing is the sense of freedom to do something other than write. It’s like recess … a time for fun until the marked-up manuscript comes back to destroy my illusion that I’ve written a perfect book.

This break has been for family, surfing, and reading. My first fiction reading was The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. An odd Western, written in an engaging style. So engaging, the style drew me willingly all the way to the last page. The Sisters Brothers is a buddy story, which I normally like, but the protagonist is an antihero, which I normally don’t like. (I prefer flawed heroes that I can empathize with.) The main protagonist is one of the two brothers and he can be endearing in his quest for normalcy. For the most part, he is a dullard, but often shows hints of brilliance. This inconsistency was sometimes jarring.

New writers strive for a unique voice, which is creative writing codswallop. Writers who concentrate on telling a good story and then revise until every word moves the story forward will develop a voice. Those who go after voice first, usually end up boring the reader. deWitt has mastered an entertaining style and it makes the story much more enjoyable than a pedestrian account of oftentimes mundane events. The style is also critical to the story because the two brothers are less than appealing characters.

If you like your Westerns raw, violent, and with only a touch of redemption, you will like The Sisters Brothers.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Surf Vacation Over ... Wish April Was Over

My brother and sister and their spouses spent the week with us in San Diego. We talked, surfed, visited museums, dined out, cooked in, and drank a bit. We had a few days of good surf and a few mediocre days. It didn't matter ... I was almost always mediocre. It was a great time, but now we are back in Arizona facing a horrific April.

I’m usually early in tax filing, but this year I was so anxious to get The Return into editing that I have barely gathered up my records. We are also moving to Nebraska from Arizona, so there are real estate deals to close in both states, financing to get done, and twenty-two years of stuff to wade through to figure out what to move. Oh yeah, I’m also supposed to make a movie of our 2012 Christmas holidays with our families. If I don’t get it done before we move, I may see snow on the ground in Omaha before I get around to it.

The one bright spot is that I have a week scheduled in Nevada to research the next Steve Dancy Tale. That will give me a break from all the numbers and forms: taxes and financing and closings and bills. If I get too stressed out, I’ll start the next Dancy novel and escape to 1880.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Getting More People into the Library

miami ad school
Students at the Miami Ad School have come up with an innovative way to draw more people into libraries. Using smartphone standards that allow the transfer of data by bringing devices close to each other, the project proposes that subway riders could download book samples underground during a commute. An app would then tell them where they could check out the book at a library branch. Good idea. 

Yesterday, I asked if libraries would become museums. Not if they adopt innovative ways to encourage reading and membership.

Here’s an idea I had. Why not conduct a contest between two teams of NYU students. They will be given an assignment to research one specific subject. The first team would be restricted to the Internet, while the second team could only use the resources—including real, live, breathing librarians— of the New York Public Library. Someone rich (that would not be me) would put up a prize of a few thousand dollars. The research results would be judged by NYU professors and college librarians for thoroughness and accuracy. I believe the NYPL team would win today. But if we made this an annual contest, I'm not as sure about future results. 

John Allen Paulos once said, "The Internet is the world's largest library.  It's just that all the books are on the floor." Let's see if some bright college students can sort them out.