Newest Kindle Ad – “She Buys a Kindle!”

Blonde woman in new $79 Kindle ad buys one for herself
She finally bought a Kindle! For five months, Amazon’s been running a series of ads where a patient young man talks to a blonde woman about his Kindle. But Wednesday Amazon released a new ad — the fourth in the series — where she finally admits she bought a Kindle for herself!

Within two days, it had already been viewed nearly 100,000 times on YouTube, as Amazon’s announcement about four new Kindles finally intersected the series of ads. “I’m very happy to be a part of them,” the actress posted Wednesday to her Twitter feed (adding “Can’t wait to hear what else they announce.”) And she also posted a funny story about her honeymoon last month in Greece. “Excited 2 find 1 Greek who owns a #kindle & will let me use his charger.

“Tried 2 tell him I kindle girl he said ‘I kindle boy!’ hmm.”

I’ve created a shorter URL where you can watch the ad online, at tinyurl.com/SheBuysAKindle . So what happens in the newest ad? Here’s a transcript. It opens when the young man sees the blonde woman smiling, with a red ribbon wrapped around a new, gray Kindle.

“What’s up, happy pants?”

“I just bought my dad the new Kindle. $79.”

“You?! A Kindle? Really?”

“No. Me, two Kindles. Really…”

“You’re going to give your dad two Kindles?”

“No, of course not.”

“Who could you have possibly have bought the second Kindle for.”

“Okay, it’s for me. It’s only $79.”

“And?”

“And it reads just like a paper book.”

“And…?”

“It’s better to receive than to give.”

“I don’t think that’s how it goes.”

“Close enough.” (She jiggles the two Kindles…)


“All-new Kindle only $79,” reads the final shot of the ad. And here’s an interesting piece of trivia. Though she seems a little ditzy, the book that the woman is reading on her Kindle’s screen is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. And in real-life, the actress started college at the age of 13, and at 15 became one of the youngest students ever admitted to UCLA. (Plus — judging from her Twitter feed — she already owns a Kindle.)

Part of me wonders if “What’s up, happy pants” will become a new catchphrase. (“I think that’s a seriously strong double entendre,” says my girlfriend.) But I really enjoyed the ad — and it looks like it’s already getting people excited about the new low cost of a Kindle. “That’s cheap enough for me to consider buying one,” reads a comment posted on YouTube.

“Thanks, Amazon!”

A New Million-Selling Author!

George R R Martin - Game of Thrones book cover

Time magazine put him on their list of the 100 most influential people in the world. But yesterday, author George R. R. Martin joined an even more exclusive club. He became one of just 11 authors who’ve sold more than one million ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle store!

“Groucho Marx once said, ‘I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member,'” Martin joked when he heard the news, “but even Groucho might have made an exception for the Kindle Million Club.” In a press release from Amazon, Martin acknowledged that “It’s a real thrill to be inducted into this one. There are no dues, no meetings, and I’ll be in some wonderful and exclusive company.” He thanked his editors, his publishers, and Amazon.com, “and most of all, my readers.

“I owe this to everyone who ever read one of my books and recommended it to a friend. Thanks… and keep reading.”

Like many of the Kindle’s other 10 best-selling authors, Martin has written a series of popular books — the “Song of Fire and Ice” series. And the sales for that series are still going strong. (Amazon reported that “A Dance with Dragons,” the series’ fifth book, debuted at #2 on the Kindle best-seller list when it was released in July — and counting its pre-order sales, it’s already racked up more than 100 days in the top 50!) “An elaborate series like this is great on Kindle,” announced Amazon’s vice president for Kindle content, “because you can turn the last page of book three at 10:30 at night, then buy book four, and be on its first page at 10:31!”

It’s a big milestone when an author sells their millionth ebook, but if it feels like happening more often — you’re right. 14 months, only one author had ever sold one million ebooks — Stieg Larssen — but since then Amazon’s presumably sold a lot more Kindles. My guess is that popular authors are finding that their ebook sales are increasing at a faster rate in Amazon’s Kindle store. Here’s a list of the other 10 authors — along with the month when they joined Amazon’s “Kindle Million” club.

10. Kathryn Stockett (August)
 9. Suzanne Collins (June)
 8. Janet Evanovich (August)
 7. John Locke (June)
 6. Michael Connelly (June)
 5. Lee Child (June)
 4. Charlaine Harris (May)
 3. Nora Roberts (January)
 2. James Patterson (October of 2010)
 1. Stieg Larsson (July of 2010)

I tried to dream up a good way to visualize the progression — and I came up with the two grids below. Imagine twelve squares on a calendar (where each square represents a year). Every time there’s a new million-selling author, I put their number in the middle of that month. (Steig Larssen, the first million-selling author, is represented by a big, black 1.) Following that pattern, here’s how the last six months of 2010 would look.


Just two authors joined the Kindle million-sellers club in the last six months of 2010. But then here’s the first nine months of 2011.

At this rate, there’ll be 20 million-selling authors by next spring!

But I have to admit that I have a special affection for this story – and for a strange reason. Just last month, I included a picture of George R. R. Martin in a blog post about the future of bookstores. Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show had done a mock interview on the subject with their correspondent John Hodgman. (You may know Hodgman as the balding man who plays the PC in Apple’s “I’m a Mac” commercials…) In the segment, the correspondent was suggesting ways to help bookstores survive in an ebook-dominated future — and right in the middle of the skit, Martin himself had turned up in a very funny fake picture!

“…instead of hosting readings, why not host exciting live writings? Bring the author in, tie him to a desk, and make him write a novel to order. Customers can shout out their own ideas while pelting the writer with $4.00 scones. It’ll be fun!

George R. R. Martin not finishing that new “Game of Thrones” book fast enough for you? Well maybe some hot chai latte down his neck will speed him up.

Coffee dumped on George R R Martin at a bookstore (Daily Show)

But while researching this story, I discovered that the Daily Show comic is actually a big real-life fan of the author. In fact, when Time magazine selected Martin for their “100 most influential” list, it was Daily Show correspondent Hodgman who wrote Martin’s blurb. In a poignant finish, Hodgman wrote honestly that Martin didn’t need any endorsement from him, but “I’ll still feel compelled, like all those fans of The Wire, to pull you aside and tell you that Tyrion Lannister is the best character in fiction since Stringer Bell and that if you have not read these books, you should be ashamed of yourself.”

It’s always nice to see an author who really connects with his audience, and draws an intense loyalty and a passionate following. And sometimes it feels like the author himself is very aware of the special trust
he’s been given — like he’s trying to live up to it. At the end of Martin’s statement about his millionth-ebook sale, he made a point of telling his loyal audience that “The best is yet to come.”

Big Kindle Discount for 18 Kurt Vonnegut eBooks

Kurt Vonnegut

Amazon is advertising a big sale in the Kindle store for 18 novels by Kurt Vonnegut! For the next four weeks, you can buy each one as an ebook for just $3.99. For Slaughterhouse Five, that represents a 50% discount from the regular price of $7.99. “You guys really know how to empty out our pockets,” joked one Kindle owner, posting their reaction on Facebook.

In fact, within 15 hours of the announcement, 288 people had clicked its “like” icon on the Kindle’s page on Facebook. “Quite possibly my favorite author,” posted another user, adding excitedly that it was the “DEAL OF THE CENTURY”. Three different women posted an identical reaction: “love my Kindle.” And another Vonnegut fan joked that they wouldn’t need to buy any of the ebooks, because “I already have them all memorized!”

Here’s a list of the Kurt Vonnegut novels which are now available as $3.99 ebooks.

Slaughterhouse Five
Cat’s Cradle
Breakfast of Champions
The Sirens of Titan
Player Piano
Welcome to the Monkey House
Mother Night
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Galapagos
Fates Worse Than Death
Slapstick
Bagombo Snuff Box
Timequake
Jailbird
Bluebeard
Deadeye Dick
Hocus Pocus
Palm Sunday

I know a lot of my friends will be excited too, because Kurt Vonnegut has always been one of their favorite novelists. But I feel a special connection to the author, because of a precious experience I enjoyed during a visit to Los Angeles. The Paley Center for Media preserves recordings of old and rare programs in a museum in Beverly Hills. In 2006, I paid them a visit to watch the only television broadcast whose script was actually co-authored by Kurt Vonnegut himself.

Paley Center for Media - Museum of Television and Radio - Beverly Hills

It was an adaptation of a story which Vonnegut would later publish in “Welcome to the Monkey House,” though in 1953 the only place it published was the Ladies Home Journal. Five years later, Vonnegut’s sister died, within a few days of her husband, and as he adopted their children, Vonnegut wondered — at the age of 36 — whether he should give up writing altogether. But somehow in that same dark year, his name ended up on the teleplay of a very dramatic episode of G.E. Theatre.

It was hosted by Ronald Reagan, and starred a young Sammy Davis Jr. in the story of a black soldier whose troop passes by a German orphanage shortly after World War II. (One online review calls it “one of the great moments in television history,” since it was one of the first starring roles ever for a black actor on TV.) A black boy in the orphanage mistakes the lonely soldier for his father, and “Private Spider Johnson” soon has to make a very difficult choice. Reportedly even the production crew cried during the broadcast’s final scene, when the solider collapsed to his knees, sobbing.

It’s never been released as a DVD, but I watched on a viewing station at the museum. It’s impossible not to be deeply moved by the story of the orphans left behind by the war. (“Had the children not been kept there…they might have wandered off the edges of the earth,” Vonnegut wrote, “searching for parents who had long ago stopped searching for them.”) The story’s title is D.P., which stands for “Displaced Persons” — the technical military term for the desperate children.

And it’s because of this story that my favorite Kurt Vonnegut book has always been “Welcome to the Monkey House”.

Another Free Agatha Christie Mystery!

Agatha Christie mystery book covers

HarperCollins is giving away a great mystery ebook for free. It’s a 380-page novel by Agatha Christie — the first mystery novel that she ever wrote with her famous detective character, Miss Marple. And it’s one of three other Agatha Christie mysteries which have turned up for free in Amazon’s Kindle Store.

But this one is different. The Murder at the Vicarage isn’t an old, early effort that’s inadvertently slipped into the public domain. Harper Collins just published a new paperback edition of the novel in April, and normally its ebook edition would sell for $6.99. The publishing house even commissioned a fun new cover illustration, displaying the book’s title on a tombstone, with Christie’s name appearing as a handwritten signature (under the words “The Queen of Mystery.”) “[A] dead body in a clergyman’s study proves to Miss Marple that no place, holy or otherwise, is a sanctuary from homicide,” they tease in the book’s description.

It’s being sold at a temporary discount, presumably to publicize the new edition, so if you’re interested in reading the book, download it now before the price goes up! I like how Amazon’s page automatically performs the math on the discount, helpfully explaining to anyone confused that “You save: $6.99 (100%).” And if you need more information about the book’s plot, here’s how they described it on the Harper Collins web site.

“Anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe,” declared the parson, brandishing a carving knife above a joint of roast beef, “would be doing the world at large a favor!”

It was a careless remark for a man of the cloth. And one which was to come back and haunt the clergyman just a few hours later – when the Colonel is found shot dead in the clergyman’s study. But as Miss Marple soon discovers, the whole village seems to have had a motive to kill Colonel Protheroe…

There are two other Christie novels which have fallen into the public domain (at least, in the United States). One of them is Christie’s first published novel ever — The Mysterious Affair at Styles — which is also her first story about detective Hercule Poirot. (At a mysterious estate, a wealthy woman is poisoned shortly after drawing up a new will, and Poirot is asked to investigate.) And I’ve actually started reading the other free Agatha Christie novel. Secret Adversary opens on the Lusitania — a British mail ship that was sunk during World War I. “The Lusitania had been struck by two torpedoes in succession,” Christie writes in an exciting prologue that opens the book, “and was sinking rapidly, while the boats were being launched with all possible speed…”

This feels like a big event, because Agatha Christie is acknowledged as the best-selling novelist of all time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. (In fact, according to Wikipedia, even outside the novel-writing genre, Christie’s tied for the title of best-selling author of all time with one other author…William Shakespeare.) In fact, there’s now over two billion copies of Christie novels scattered around the world — and she’s also earned another very important distinction. She’s one of a handful of authors who you’ll see in a screensaver image on the Kindle!

And Agatha Christie also had a cameo appearance in one of my all-time favorite articles about the Kindle. “Before I first acquired a Kindle, exactly one year ago, I didn’t usually buy books while under the influence of alcohol…” confessed author Elif Batuman. But a couple of glasses of wine lowers her inhibitions, opening up a whole new world. (“Until technology empowered me to order books while drunk, I didn’t realise the scope and diversity of literature that I wasn’t reading purely out of embarrassment.”)

A few months ago, my drunk reading tendencies converged upon a single author. The Kindle actually made the suggestion itself, in the form of one of its standard issue author screensavers: a portrait of Agatha Christie that I found staring up at me, half-obscured by a pile of bills. She was represented, as always, as elderly, wearing a scarf with a brooch, her gray perm etched in meticulous detail. Beneath remarkably heavy brows, her eyes were shrewd and weary, as with the knowledge of countless unravelled mysteries.

The last time I had read Christie novels with any regularity was between the ages of 10 and 13, when I used to borrow them from my mother’s little sister, the most beautiful and lively person in my family, then in her 20s. I read them obsessively, one after another, either despite or because of how much they frightened me. Although the style was simple and readable, not unlike that of the Baby-sitter’s Club books, and although the detectives, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, were twinkly, grandparental types, nevertheless, everywhere these gentle souls went, someone was killed in hatred.

Suddenly I was seized by a desire to revisit Poirot, the charming Belgian with his weird moustaches. Thirty seconds later, I had clicked on “Buy now”…and there would be no physical book to reproach me the morning after.

The Worst Kindle eBooks Ever Written

Amazon's worst Kindle ebooks

I was stunned when I read it. The ebook was only a few pages long — and nearly all of its text had been cut-and-pasted from somewhere else. Specifically, it came from Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia with a page about nearly everything — and everyone. Someone had looked up a popular celebrity, then transformed their Wikipedia page into a biography that they were selling as a digital ebook. For $18.95…

In my case, the celebrity was Charlie Sheen — but he’s not the only celebrity to be “honored” with a skimpy ebook biography. Amazon’s Kindle Store is filled with millions of wonderful books, but mixed into the virtual bookshelves are also hundreds of “quickies” which barely match the definition of a book. It’s a real shock when you first realize just how bad an ebook can get — and how far an author will go to earn a fast buck. In July, one blogger even discovered an author named George Andersen who’s produced nearly 900 different “derivative” ebooks in a quickie series that’s called “WikiFocus”.

Apparently this author cranked out 887 tiny tomes that were cut-and-pasted from Wikipedia about random topics that they’d hoped would be popular — including celebrities, TV shows, and even comic book characters. There’s small “WikiFocus” ebooks about Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and Green Lantern — but also separate ebooks about lesser superheros like Supergirl, Catwoman, Aquaman, and the Archie comic strip! (Is the series a strange glimpse into the author’s psyche, or just an intense burst of pop culture paparazzi-ism?) Celebrities also got their own quickie ebooks, including Justin Bieber, Hulk Hogan, Eminem, and Hello Kitty. The author even tried writing a quickie ebook about the Flintstones cartoon series — but spelled “Flintstone” wrong in the ebook’s title!

Of the 887 ebooks, all but 10 earned terrible reviews, averaging one star or less — or received no reviews at all.


“This ‘book’ is just a word for word copy of the wikipedia page…”

“Total waste of money. Much shorter than any WIKI article.”

“It ends after 31/32 percent. The rest is just references.”

“worthless…a half cup of coffee would have been more worthwhile…I cannot prove it, but I seriously believe this is a 5th grader’s book report being peddled as ‘a commentary.'”

And there was even something suspicious about the 10 ebooks which earned positive reviews. Seven of the reviews were written by the same person — who had only written seven reviews, all of them about the WikiFocus series. And most of them were just a few sentences long — all of them enthusiastic, and all of them sounding generic.


“Highly recommended for anyone with an interest…”

“this is absolutley [sic] the book for you. Highly recommended…”

Most of these reviews received very negative ratings from other Amazon users. (“2 of 18 people found the following review helpful,” Amazon warns about one, which gushed that “all of the WikiFocus books I have read have been awesome material…”) That review even drew some nasty follow-up comments from other Amazon reviewers. (“You’re obviously just part of the SPAM machine, pimping out these shoddy publications that are just scrapes of free sources and sold to unsuspecting people. What a sad life you must lead…”) But undaunted, the WikiFocus fan continued leaving more positive reviews for other books in the series. (“I am not sure what the other reviewer was looking at, but this is a GREAT eBook…”)

Almost all of the “ebooks” sell for $1.99, and I was sad when I saw one reviewer who’d written “I wish i could get my money back.” You can get your money back! Amazon’s Kindle Store always let you return any ebook within seven days of purchasing it, according to Amazon’s official “Kindle Return Policies” page.


“Content you purchase from the Kindle Store is eligible for return and refund if we receive your request within 7 days of the date of purchase… To request a refund and return, click the Customer Service button in the Contact Us box in the right-hand column of this page to reach us via phone or e-mail.”

To help dissatisfied readers to reach that page, I’ve created a shorter URL — tinyurl.com/ReturnAnEbook — which should be easier to remember. I remember the reviewer who wrote “This book is a total waste of money.” If you really feel that way — go and get your money back!

If everyone did that, these authors wouldn’t have any reason to keep cranking out these quickie ebooks!

Self-Published Kindle Author Wins Simon & Schuster Deal!

John Locke ebooks get Simon and Schuster print book deal

I’m always inspired by the success of crime novelist John Locke. He’d already made millions of dollars in insurance and estate businesses. But he decided that next he’d like to become a best-selling ebook author — and then he did!

And last week, Locke notched another victory, when he signed a deal with Simon and Schuster to distribute print editions of his ebooks. “There are many paths from author to reader,” Locke said in a statement, “and any path that puts the reader first will be successful.” It’s a special moment when a traditional print publisher can join together with an ebook author, and Simon & Schuster’s vice president of client publisher services issued a statement showing the’d recognized that they shared a common goal. “We are very excited that we can now help to expand John’s readership to include those millions of readers who still savor the joys of sitting down for a few hours of entertainment with a traditional paperback book.”

Locke got their attention by becoming only the eighth author to sell one million ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle store in June, and the first one to do it as a self-published author! (“It’s so exciting that self-publishing has allowed John Locke to achieve a milestone like this,” Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content announced at the time, adding that they were “proud to welcome him to the Kindle Million Club.”) But I admire Locke just as much for the clever business decisions he’s made both before and after his success. Interestingly, Simon and Schuster is distributing the print editions of the books. But their publisher is going to be…John Locke. Print editions of his books will be be available by February “wherever physical books are sold,” according to last week’s announcement, but the publisher of all those printed editions will all be “John Locke books”!

And that wasn’t his only clever decision. John already had another book ready to go in June when he finally sold his millionth ebook in the Kindle store. It was called “How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!”, and it’s still one of Amazon’s top 40 best-selling how-to books in the “Health, Mind, and Body” category (and the Self Help/Success category). In fact, it’s currently the #2,636 best-selling item in Amazon’s entire Kindle Store. And since he’s priced it at $4.99 a copy, Locke is earning a lot more than he did on his 99-cent crime novels.

But John also found another way to extend his success: he hired himself an agent. According to last week’s announcement, Locke was represented in the agreement by Jane Dystel of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, a firm whose client list boasts five different Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters, including B. D. Colen, Thomas Finch, and three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Walt Bogdanich. And they also represent actors Richard Dreyfuss and Valerie Harper, plus Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa on The Simpsons, TV personality “Judge Judy” — and U.S. President Barack Obama. Now they’ve added John Locke to their list of clients, and lined up an impressive Simon & Schuster distribution deal.

I liked how they described John’s own career on their “clients page. “John Locke attended Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, went into insurance sales, and broke every company sales record, becoming an Area Vice President of the company by age 21. He moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he built his own insurance company. At age 35, he purchased Consolidated American Live, changed the name to Freedom Life Insurance Company, and appointed more than 6,700 insurance agents in 34 states. He owns two insurance marketing firms and owns and operates 13 million-dollar-plus real estate entities.” And of course — he also sold one million ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle store.

But as impressive as it seems, remember that other authors have found big success in the world of ebooks. “It’s not the first time a self-published author has entered into a deal with a major publisher,” notes one technology site, citing reports of a $2 million deal for 26-year-old “paranormal romance” novelist Amanda Hocking. I think the real significance of both the Hocking deal and Locke’s own success is that they’ll inspire other authors to enter the world of self-publishing.

And who knows what original ideas we’ll see in the next round of self-published ebooks!

Two More Million-Selling Kindle Authors!

Stephanie Plum book author Janet Evanovich

The Help author Kathryn Stockett

Amazon announced today that two more authors had crossed the “one million mark” for their ebooks sales in the Kindle Store. But this time it’s different — for a couple of reasons — and there’s also two fascinating stories about the authors who earned the honor.

Amazon’s newest million-selling author is 68-year-old Janet Evanovich — who’s been writing the popular “Stephanie Plum” series of novels for more than 17 years. The world of digital information had barely existed when Evanovich published her first “Plum” book back in 1994 (when she was 51), but it already represented a big change in her career. She’d started her career seven years earlier, publishing her first novel — a romance — back in 1987. But according to Wikipedia, “After finishing her twelfth romance, however, Evanovich realized that she was more interested in writing the action sequences in her novels rather than the sex scenes.”

Looking around for inspiration, Evanovich ultimately based Stephanie Plum on the bounty hunter played by Robert De Niro in the 1988 comedy Midnight Run, and even followed some real-life bounty hunters to learn about their jobs. (Interestingly, Robert De Niro had also followed real-life bounty hunters to prepare for his role — and 22 years later, was preparing a sequel!) And Hollywood is also finally working on a film adaptation of Evanovich’s own Stephanie Plum novels, staring actress Katherine Heigl (from Grey’s Anatomy) in the title role.

“My books have pizza and cussing and sexy guys,” Evanovich later joked about her formula — and it’s earned her a huge audience of loyal followers. Each of the last 11 books in her series debuted at the #1 spot on the New York Times best-seller list, according to Wikipedia. In fact, according to Amazon’s press release, Evanovich’s latest Plum novel, Smokin’ Seventeen, spent over 100 days on the Kindle Best Seller list — even though it was released just 56 days ago! Before the book was even available, Evanovich’s loyal readers had pre-ordered so many copies, the she obtained “best-seller” status for a full 44 days before the book was even released!

When she heard the news about the million-ebook club, Evanovich made sure to thank her readers, saying she was grateful “and looking forward to reaching more milestones with them and with Amazon in the years to come.” And she added that it was a very exciting distinction, saying “I’m thrilled to join such a talented group of writers who’ve also reached this million-copy milestone.” But when Amazon tracked her down for their press release her first reaction was a simple one-word interjection. “Wow!”

Of course, it’s easier to join the million-sellers club when you’ve written a lot of books — but author Kathryn Stockett did it the hard way. She published her first and only book, The Help, just two years ago — and 30 months later, she’d already sold over a million copies in the Kindle Store. “Kathryn Stockett is the first debut novelist to join the Million Club,” announced Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content, saying Kindle customers “were highly engaged with her book right from its publication.”

There’s also another interesting statistic about Stockett’s novel: it’s sold around 5 million copies (according to an article published Thursday in an Atlanta newsweekly). That means that Kindle ebooks accounted for almost 20% of her sales! “It’s as exciting to see Kindle readers propel a new author’s career as it is to see them add to the success of a long-time Amazon best-selling author like Janet Evanovich,” noted Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content. And it’s an even more inspiring story, since her book’s manuscript was originally rejected more than 50 times.

“After graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in English and Creative Writing, she moved to New York City where she worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years,” Amazon explained in their press release. But there’s another story behind her novel about the maids in a household in Jackson, Mississippi. “I was born in Jackson, Mississippi,” Stockett remembered in an autobiographical article in the Daily Mail, “in 1969, in a time and place where no one was saying, ‘Look how far we’ve come,’ because we hadn’t come very far.” It was just days before her novel was finally published, and she acknowledged her fond memories of the housekeeper who’d looked after her as a child, then writes “I am ashamed to admit that it took me 20 years to realise the irony of that relationship. I’m sure that’s why I wrote my novel, The Help – to find answers to my questions, to soothe my own mind about Demetrie…”

Her story instantly touched the hearts of millions of readers around the world — and her life has been a whirlwind ever since. Last week a movie adaptation of book (starring Emma Stone) appeared in theaters all across America.

And it’s currently the #1 best-selling book in Amazon’s Kindle store.

Amazon Announces Big Fall eBook Releases

Amazon Fall Book and eBook Preview

Amazon just released a special “Fall Books Preview” page, highlighting the best upcoming books “In anticipation of a season of blockbuster authors and dazzling new voices…” You can pre-order all of them now, and it looks like a pretty impressive list! I don’t normally get excited about new releases, these are authors that I’ve actually heard of — including Stephen King, Michael Lewis, and Neal Stephenson! And there’s also some tantalizing new mystery/thriller books coming out from authors like John Grisham, Janet Evanovich, and Sue Grafton…

“We hope our customers are as excited about our Fall Books Preview list as we are…” said Chris Schluep, one of the senior book editors at Amazon — and I couldn’t help noticing their “upcoming” highlights include some of the best-selling authors on the Kindle. This fall will see new books by Nora Roberts, Michael Connelly, and Lee Child, which is significant. They’re three of only eight authors who have already sold more than one million ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle Store!

Michael Connelly is releasing a new “Harry Bosch” mystery on November 28 called The Drop — and thanks to pre-order sales, it’s already become one of the top-400 best-selling books on Amazon! (The Kindle edition will cost the same as the hardcover edition — $14.98 — and the audiobook version will cost nearly $20!) And Lee Child will also release a new novel about her own detective, Jack Reacher, this one called “The Affair” (available September 27). At this moment, it’s the #71 best-selling book on Amazon — again, due entirely to pre-orders.

But Nora Robert is actually releasing two new books this fall — under two different names! She’ll release The Next Always (the first book in her “Inn BoonsBoro” trilogy) on November 1, and its own pre-order sales have already pushed it to the #214 spot on Amazon’s list of the best-selling books. If you just can’t wait, she’s also publishing a thriller under her pseudoynum, J.D. Robb. It’s called New York to Dallas (In Death), and it’ll be released on September 13th. (Right now it’s ranked at #280 on Amazon’s list of the best-selling books, thanks again to pre-orders!)

Stephen King’s new book is called “11/22/1963,” and I like the way Amazon described it. “King has killed a lot of people in his novels. In this one, he sends a man back in time to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy…” (It will be released, fittingly, in November…) And the new book by Neal Stephenson is called Reamde: A Novel, which Amazon describes as “a high-stakes espionage thriller about a wealthy tech entrepreneur caught in the very real crossfire of his own online fantasy war game!” (It’s available on September 20th.)

I’m really impressed with the way these books have stormed Amazon’s best-seller list — several months before they’ve even been released! On November 22nd, Janet Evanovich is publishing a new Stephanie Plum mystery called Explosive Eighteen, but it’s already one of the top 80 books on Amazon’s best-seller list. John Grisham’s also released a new legal thriller called The Litigator, and it’s currently in the #113 spot. Even Sue Grafton has a new Kinsey Millhone mystery coming out in November, called V is for Vengeance. There’s a lot to choose from!

“We love connecting readers with books we hope they’ll love,” Amazon said in a statement, “whether it’s a masterly literary debut, the perfect holiday cookbook, or the latest page-turner for those first chilly autumn nights.” The selections were made by the book editors at Amazon.com, who claim they’ve identified “the best fall titles for readers of all tastes across literature, mysteries, science fiction, nonfiction, children’s books and more.”

To visit Amazon’s special “Fall Books Preview” page, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/FallBookPreview.

My Favorite Kindle EBook Highlights

Mark Twain writes a play with Bret Harte

I really enjoyed reading Amazon’s lists of the most highlighted passages from e-books. It got me thinking about what passages I’ve highlighted
     — and it turns out it’s a pretty strange mix!

Today I couldn’t stop myself from reading through them all again — everything I’d ever identified as one of my favorite passages in a Kindle ebook. Each one had been carefully flagged on my Kindle as a special passage — something worth saving for later — but the day had finally come when I’d review the entire collection! It was like a secret history of the world — random moments of joy and precious memories, some preserved for over a century. Some were funny, some were wise, but each one offered yet-another glimpse into the whole “human experience”.

I had a lot of fun reading them — and I decided I wanted to share them.


“It was a golden afternoon. The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying; out of thick orchards on either side the road, birds called and whistled to them cheerily; good-natured wayfarers, passing them, gave them ‘Good-day,’ or stopped to say nice things about their beautiful cart; and rabbits, sitting at their front doors in the hedgerows, held up their fore-paws, and said, ‘O my! O my! O my!'”

     — from The Wind in the Willows

“It was on the first of May, in the year 1769, that I resigned my domestic happiness for a time, and left my family and peaceable habitation on the Yadkin River, in North-Carolina, to wander through the wilderness of America, in quest of the country of Kentucke

     — from Life and Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boone

“The history of civilisation is a history of wandering, sword in hand, in search of food.”

     — from A Collection of Stories by Jack London

“Red Lake must be his Rubicon. Either he must enter the unknown to seek, to strive, to find, or turn back and fail and never know and be always haunted.

“Once in his life he had answered a wild call to the kingdom of adventure within him, and once in his life he had been happy.”

“…in the lonely days and silent nights of the desert he had experienced a strange birth of hope.”

     — from The Rainbow Trail by Zane Grey

“De Soto merely glimpsed the river, then died and was buried in it by his priests and soldiers. One would expect the priests and the soldiers to multiply the river’s dimensions by ten — the Spanish custom of the day — and thus move other adventurers to go at once and explore it.”

“Apparently nobody happened to want such a river, nobody needed it, nobody was curious about it; so, for a century and a half the Mississippi remained out of the market and undisturbed.”

     — from Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain

“The early colonists of Virginia were not very well fitted for such a work. Some of them were gentlemen who had never labored with their hands; others were poor, idle fellows whose only wish was to do nothing whatever… Of the first thousand colonists not one hundred lived to tell the tale of those early days.”

     — from A Short History of the United States by Edward Channing

“one of them shot a deer, great numbers of which overrun the islands and hills of San Francisco Bay… If California ever becomes a prosperous country, this bay will be the centre of its prosperity.”

     — from Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana

“Last spring, 1846, was a busy season in the City of St. Louis. Not only were emigrants from every part of the country preparing for the journey to Oregon and California, but an unusual number of traders were making ready their wagons and outfits for Santa Fe.”

     — from The Oregon Trail: sketches of prairie and Rocky-Mountain life

“Passports are only good for annoying honest folks, and aiding in the flight of rogues.”

     — from Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days

“At the period when these events took place, I had just returned from a scientific research in the disagreeable territory of Nebraska, in the United States.”

     — from Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne


“My brother had, in 1720 or 1721, begun to print a newspaper. It was the second that appeared in America, and was called the New England Courant. The only one before it was the Boston News-Letter. I remember his being dissuaded by some of his friends from the undertaking, as not likely to succeed, one newspaper being, in their judgment, enough for America.”

“By the same wife [my father] had four children more born there, and by a second wife ten more, in all seventeen; of which I remember thirteen sitting at one time at his table, who all grew up to be men and women, and married”

“In the mean time, that hard-to-be-governed passion of youth hurried me frequently into intrigues with low women that fell in my way, which were attended with some expense and great inconvenience…”

     — from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin



“Take my word for it, the silliest woman can manage a clever man; but it needs a very clever woman to manage a fool.”

“she, after a while, fell in love with him because she could not understand him.”

     — from Rudyard Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills


“And over this, no longer bright,
Though glimmering with a latent light,
Was hung the sword his grandsire bore,
In the rebellious days of yore,
Down there at Concord in the fight.”


     — from Tales of a Wayside Inn by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



“But whatever he wrote, and in whatever fashion, Presley was determined that his poem should be of the West, that world’s frontier of Romance, where a new race, a new people—hardy, brave, and passionate—were building an empire…”

“He searched for the True Romance, and, in the end, found grain rates and unjust freight tariffs.”

     — from The Octopus : A story of California by Frank Norris



“I have observed that as a man advances in life, he is subject to a kind of plethora of the mind, doubtless occasioned by the vast accumulation of wisdom and experience upon the brain. Hence he is apt to become narrative and admonitory, that is to say, fond of telling long stories, and of doling out advice, to the small profit and great annoyance of his friends.”

     — from Wolfert’s Roost and Miscellanies by Washington Irving


“Do not forget me! Tell them in the jungle never to forget me!”

“They boast and chatter and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the jungle, but the falling of a nut turns their minds to laughter and all is forgotten.”

     — from The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

“Such a fire will keep all night, with very little replenishing; and it makes a very sociable camp-fire, and one around which the most impossible reminiscences sound plausible, instructive, and profoundly entertaining.”

“it only added to our comfort to think of those people out there at work in the murky night, and we snug in our nest with the curtains drawn.”

     — from Mark Twain’s Roughing It

Who is the Most Highlighted Author of All Time?

Suzanne Collins

Do people highlight passages on their Kindle? According to Amazon, the most-frequently highlighted passage of all time has been highlighted just 4,743 times. It’s this sentence from Jane Austen’s 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”


In fact, the same novel also contains the fourth most-highlighted passage (highlighted by 3,965 Kindle owners).

“Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”


Amazon’s made a complete list available showing hundreds and hundreds of the most-highlighted passages of all time. But it turns out that Jane Austen isn’t the most-highlighted author in the top 10. That distinction belongs to Suzanne Collins — the contemporary novelist who recently became only the sixth author to sell million e-books in Amazon’s Kindle store. Three of 10 most-highlighted passages all come from her “Hunger Games” trilogy, with two from its final book — including the second- and third-most highlighted passages of all time!


“It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.”


     — from Mockingjay
        (Highlighted by 4,390 Kindle users)

“Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.”

     — from Catching Fire
        (Highlighted by 4,001 Kindle users)

“We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.”

     — from Mockingjay
        (Highlighted by 3,206 Kindle users)


Collins also has three more passages in the top 50, and another 7 in the top 100, for a grand total of 13 different passages which all made it into the top 100. And Amazon has also created a second list of the passages which were most-highlighted in the recent past — where Collins holds six of the top 10 spots!

what I need to survive is not Gale’s fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that. So after, when he whispers, “You love me. Real or not real?” I tell him, “Real.”

     — from Mockingjay

“District Twelve. Where you can starve to death in safety.”

     — from The Hunger Games

“The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.

     — from The Hunger Games


It’s fun reading the highlights, getting quick glimpses of new books I might want to read, and discovering which surprising sentences other Kindle owners picked out as their most-favorite sentences. Reading all the highlights can give a tiny peek into what the actual books are like. And I have to admit, after reading those highlighted passages from Suzanne Collins’ books, it made me curious to read the whole thing! But it’s also made me want to spend more time visiting kindle.amazon.com — just so I can see more highlighted passages.

Amazon’s also identified which books are the most-highlighted of all time — and it’s an entirely different set of books. Four of the top 10 are different versions of the bible, and one holds the #1 spot on the list. In fact, surprisingly, there’s just one work of fiction in the top 10 — The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The other five books are self-help titles, including two by science writer Timothy Ferris. The second most-highlighted book is “The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman,” and the fifth most-highlighted book is “The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated: Expanded and Updated, With Over 100 New Pages of Cutting-Edge Content.”

So now I have a dilemma. Should I read about rapid fat-loss — or The Hunger Games?

The Secrets of Amazon’s First Self-Published Million-Seller

Donovan Creed e-book author John Locke

It’s hard not to find this inspiring. Amazon’s only had seven authors who have ever sold one million e-books in their Kindle store. But last week Amazon announced an eighth author had also achieved that milestone — and this time, it’s a little different. Instead of working through a major publishing house, Amazon’s latest million-seller is a self-published author!

As of last week, John Locke has sold 1,010,370 Kindle books, Amazon announced — and he did it using Amazon’s own Kindle Direct Publishing platform. Locke said (in Amazon’s press release) that the platform “has provided an opportunity for independent authors to compete on a level playing field with the giants of the book selling industry. Calling it “the greatest friend an author can have,” he said “Not only did Kindle Digital Publishing give me a chance, they helped at every turn.”

It’s always exciting to see someone strike it rich, seeing all of their dreams coming true. Last week the Associated Press asked Locke if he’d want to sign a deal with a major publisher, but Locke casually
insisted that no, “It just wouldn’t be fun for me.” Instead he said breezily that he liked the idea “of being able to walk away from writing if it stops being fun.” And he’s just published another e-book offering the secrets to his success — called “How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!”

Yes, five months — if the book’s title is to be believed. “John Locke has sold more than 1,000,000 eBooks by word of mouth!” reads an announcement on the author’s web site. “All this was achieved PART TIME, without an agent, publicist, and at virtually no marketing expense!” he adds in the description for a new book. And in its introduction, Locke lists out some equally impressive accomplishments.

For example, he’s the first self-published author to reach the #1 spot on Amazon’s best-seller’s list — and the first to hold both #1 and #2 at the same time! In fact, at one point he had four books in the top 10 — and he’s also had seven books in the top 34 simultaneously, and eight books in the top 50. “These numbers are not positions within a category,” John writes in his new book. “They are positions that include all Kindle sales including fiction, non-fiction, magazine subscriptions, and game apps!” Locke writes that by the middle of March, “it had been calculated that ‘every 7 seconds, 24 hours a day, a John Locke novel is downloaded somewhere in the world.'”

Ironically, his book opens with a boilerplate disclaimer. (“Names, characters, places and incidnets are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.”) But it’s an exciting story for anyone who’s ever considered writing an e-book. Between September of 2010 and March of 2011, Locke’s monthly Kindle sales went from 63 e-books…to 369,115. And when he released “Vegas Moon,” it jumped to the #3 spot on Amazon’s best-seller list within just two weeks.

But the numbers aren’t the real story, and it’s even more inspiring to read Locke’s perspective about how the world of book publishing is changing. He describes the publishing industry as “high school on steroids” — where beautiful people hold the upper hand over everyone else. (In this case, through expensive newspaper ads promoting their books, along with in-store book displays and carefully-arranged promotional reviews.) “As a self-published author, I’m boxed out of these marketing opportunities,” he notes. “Worse, I can’t afford to offer my my print books as cheaply as they can…! I’d like to complete, but it’s hard to beat the home team on a playing field that’s hopelessly slanted against you!”

“eBooks allow a guy like me an opportunity to level the playing field.”

Maybe it’s more proof that the world really is changing — already — due to the popularity of the digital readers like the Kindle. It seems like more and more authors are now starting to cross that magic line: one million e-books sold. Three more authors joined the “Kindle Million Club” in just the first week of June, and within two weeks Amazon was announcing that this fourth author had joined them. Maybe there’s just more people this year who are finally able to buy e-books.

Last week, the signs seemed pretty clear. Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle content even issued a statement, saying “It’s so exciting that self-publishing has allowed John Locke to achieve a milestone like this. We’re happy to see Kindle Direct Publishing succeeding for both authors and customers and are proud to welcome him to the Kindle Million Club.” But meanwhile, Locke himself continues writing away on his personal blog on the internet, sharing a peek into the mind of one of the eight most-successful Kindle authors of all time. His latest slogan?

“You only notice the ones who are breaking the rules!”

Three Different Authors Sell One Million E-books

Three authors sell one million Kindle e-books - Michael Connelly, Lee Child and Suzanne Collins

It’s been a big week. Monday Amazon announced two more authors passed the one-million mark for sales of their e-books in the Kindle Store. And then Thursday, another author passed the same milestone!

“As a storyteller it brings me particular fulfillment to know so many readers are receiving my work through the Kindle,” said mystery author Michael Connelly. “Added to that, my name is now on a list of an amazing group of writers. I am very proud of this moment.”

Until this week, only four authors had ever sold more than 1 million e-books in the Kindle Store. The first was the late Stieg Larsson (author of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), and he didn’t reach his one millionth sale until July of last year. At the time, Amazon announced three more authors had crossed the 500,000-sales line — mystery authors James Patterson and Charlaine Harris, plus romance novelist Nora Roberts. Each of those authors then reached one million sales over the next 10 months.

              Stieg Larsson (July)
              James Patterson (October)
              Nora Roberts (January of 2011)
              Charlaine Harris (May of 2011)

But now there’s three more names to add to the list.

              Lee Child (June)
              Suzanne Collins (June)
              Michael Connelly (June)

Maybe it’s a sign that there’s more people now who own Kindles, so more e-books are getting purchased (meaning more authors join Amazon’s “Kindle Million Club.”) But there’s also a pattern here — something that some of these authors have in common. This April, Stieg Larsson became the only author to ever sell one million copies of a single e- book. (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”) But his famous mystery was just the first book in a complicated (and inter-linked) trilogy. So Larsson could’ve cracked the one-million-sales threshhold with just 333,333 dedicated fans who’d read each of his three books.

The same is also true for the Kindle’s newest million-selling authors. Suzanne Collins is the author of the “Underland Chronicles” — a five-part series of fantasy novels — plus “The Hunger Games,” a three-part series of “young adult” novels set in a pessimistic future. The first book in that series has already sold 1.5 million print copies (according to Wikipedia), and it stayed on the best-seller list of the New York Times for more than 60 weeks in a row. It’s very possible that some fans are purchasing every book in each series — eight different e-books — which would help push her faster towards the one million mark.

Amazon acknowledged this in a press release Monday. “Our Kindle customers are avid readers of series, and we’re excited to welcome Lee Child and Suzanne Collins to the Kindle Million Club,” said Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content. “With Kindle, readers can finish one book and start reading the next one within 60 seconds – a particularly valuable feature when reading a riveting series…”

But there’s another way to enter the “Kindle Million Club”: write a lot of books! James Patterson wrote 56 different books which were best-sellers (according to Wikipedia), and Nora Roberts has written over 200 romance novels (including a series of 40 books written under her pen name, J.D. Robb). In fact, Nora Roberts wrote four of the best-selling e-books in the Kindle store last year, according to Amazon, and in the first month of 2011 they announced that yes, she’d passed the one million mark with 1,170,53 in sales in the Kindle Store. Mystery author Lee Child has written at least 16 different novels, and Michael Connelly has actually written 17 mysteries just about his fictitious detective, Harry Bosch.

Connelly published yet another new mystery in April — and in March finally saw the release of a movie based on one of his novels. Amazon announced today that “With the recent movie adaptation of Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer and the publication of The Fifth Witness, it’s no surprise to see him join the ranks of other writers of popular series in the Million Club.” The statement came from Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content, who welcomed Connelly into the Kindle Million Club. And it’s been a lot of fun watching the other authors as they issue thankful quotes to Amazon.

“What a lovely and unexpected honor to be in such wonderful company,” announced Suzanne Collins, “and see my books reaching readers in this exciting new format.” And Lee Child had an even more personal story to tell. “I started writing at the same time Amazon first went live, back in 1995,” he remembers in Amazon’s press release, “and it has been a thrill to move forward together through the years and through the generations of new technology.”

“I’m really delighted to have hit this current milestone, and I look forward to many more together.”

A New Kindle Single by Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean

She wrote the best-seller The Orchid Thief (which was made into a wonderfully strange movie called Adaptation starring Nicolas Cage). And her next full-length book will finally be released in October — though you can pre-order it on Amazon now. But just a few days ago, Susan Orlean came to Amazon’s Kindle Store with a brand new piece of writing that’s available right now. It’s apparently a Kindle exclusive — an essay about animals that she’s releasing as a short “Kindle Single” e-book, as a kind of a preview for her upcoming book!

She’s one of five best-selling authors who’ve released a new Single in the Kindle store, Amazon proudly announced this week. But there’s also more Kindle news. The Orchid Thief will finally be released as a Kindle e-book for the first time in August. (Amazon will automatically deliver the e-book edition to your Kindle as soon as it becomes available.)

And believe it or not, I’ve also got my own strange personal connection to the Susan Orlean story…

It’s not just that we both love dogs — but I did know as far back as 2006 that Orlean’s next book would be about Rin Tin Tin. (It was World War I when an American soldier in an abandoned French village had first found that shell-shocked puppy cowering in the rubble.) He’d scooped the dog up, and brought it back to the United States with him — and eventually Rin Tin Tin was discovered by several movie producers. It’s a wonderful story, so I wasn’t surprised that Orleans wanted to re-visit that Hollywood legend, as a way of discussing people who love animals — and their role in our culture.

But in both the Kindle Single and the upcoming book, Orleans seems to be applying the same combination that she used in The Orchid Thief: lots of exotic research and some carefully-crafted literary writing. “Susan Orlean has produced a hugely entertaining and unforgettable reading experience,” wrote one reviewer about an advance copy of the book. (And he added, “I was astonished to learn from this delightful book that he has existed for eleven generations over a century!”) In fact according to Wikipedia, early in his career Rin Tin Tin appeared in one movie that may have saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy in 1924. But Orleans weaves her historical trivia with some great personal animal stories of her own.

Her new Kindle Single looks like it’s both funny and fascinating. One reviewer on Amazon remembers one particular story from Orlean, “[W]hen a boyfriend named John surprised her on Valentine’s Day by having someone named Rick drop by her Manhattan apartment with his pet lion in tow…” As an lifelong animal lover, Orlean “fed the beast a bowl of two raw chickens and then proceeded to stroke its back. Presumably the feline purred in gratitude…”

But it’s not just lions. She’s had every kind of pet from the usual dogs and cats to more unusual animals like chickens, cattle, turkeys, and guinea fowl. (“With guest appearances by horses, lions, and canaries,” notes the product description at Amazon.com of her Kindle Single.) Orleans has written for some of the top magazines in America, including The New Yorker, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and even Vogue — so she’s having a brilliant literary career. So I’m really impressed that Amazon.com was able to negotiate the opportunity to sell an original piece of her writing.

What’s my personal connection to Susan Orlean? It’s a story that I’ve never told before, but I once got an e-mail from the Orchid Thief. Orleans’ book included the profile of a wily rascal in Florida who poached rare (and valuable) orchids from a Florida swampland. As I read Orleans’ book, I followed the story of John LaRoche from one scheme to the next — and towards the end of the book, Orleans reveals that he’d moved on to a new online business. That’s when I remembered that I’d met a John LaRoche online back in 1995 — and that he’d been using the same nickname that Orleans mentioned in the book!

Back then we’d all wondered if he was crazy. He’d stormed into an online newsgroup in 1995, posting wisecracks (and making fun of newbies), and acting like he owned the place already. (“Cattle are so easy to please….” he posted derisively when someone praised their ISP’s customer service.) If I remember correctly, he was starting his own internet business — tonight I found an old e-mail from 1995 where I wished him luck. And eventually he’d written back to me that instead he’d sold the rights to his life story, and they were going to make a movie about it in Hollywood.

I still have the e-mail he sent me about it, 16 years ago this month. I didn’t believe a word of it, and I instantly forgot all about him — until I started reading The Orchid Thief!

And that same weekend they held the Oscar ceremonies — and the actor who’d played him won an Oscar.

The Secrets of Stieg Larsson

Photo of Stieg Larsson author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Last month, Random House made a startling announcement. One of their authors had made e-book history, becoming the first author ever to sell one million digital copies of a single book. But of course, their announcement was haunted by a dark irony. It was six years after that author’s death, and a life of mysterious secrets.

The book is “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” by Stieg Larsson (who died of a heart attack in 2004 at the age of 50). And there’s an even darker secret behind the origins of the book. Larsson was haunted by an assault on a young woman that he’d witnessed in his own teenaged years. That’s according to a new biography about his life which was just released in September.

“For Larsson geeks such as myself, the unearthed details of his past and the fond recollections of his ceaseless pursuit of justice are gripping,” wrote one reviewer. 12 years before his death, Larsson had started an intense friendship with another Swedish journalist named Kurdo Baksi. In fact, Baksi actually appears as himself in Larsson’s final book, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” Its hero, Mikael Blomkvist, visits the offices of Black/White Publishing, and then later reads about his own visit in a surveillance report.


It was 2:30 in the afternoon. He didn’t have an appointment, but the editor, Kurdo Baksi, was in and delighted to see him.

“Hello there,” he said heartily. “Why don’t you ever come and visit me anymore?”

“I’m here to see you right now,” Blomkvist said.

“Sure, but it’s been three years since the last time.”

They shook hands…

In the novel, the two are old friends, since Baksi had begun his career publishing that magazine secretly at night, later hiring Mikael as a proofreader. (“Blomkvist sat on a sofa while Baksi got coffee
from a machine in the hallway. They chatted for a while, the way you do when you haven’t seen someone for some time, but they were constantly by Baksi’s mobile…People called from all over the world to talk to Baksi.”) Then Mikael requests an introduction to Baksi’s Kurdish uncle, because of his expertise in getting immigration-related residency permits.


Baksi knew that Blomkvist was busy planning some sort of mischief, which he was famous for doing. They might not have been best friends, but they never argued either, and Blomkvist had never hesitated if Baksi asked him a favour.

“Am I going to get mixed up in something I ought to know about?”

“You’re not going to get involved… And I repeat, I won’t ask him to do anything illegal.”

This assurance was enough for Baksi. Blomkvist stood up. “I owe you one.”

“We always owe each other one.”


The real-life Baksi tells a story that seems so intertwined with the novels, at first I had to wonder if it was a hoax. But “Baksi walks the line between grieving friend and impartial investigator reasonably well…” a reviewer noted, and another article by ABC News confirms that the real-life Baksi does publish a magazine about race relations that’s called Black/White. And they also report that Baksi’s book — titled “Stieg Larsson, My Friend” — ultimately clarifies a surprising connection between what Larsson wrote and his own childhood. This part of the story is a little graphic, but it ends with a teenaged girl shouting “I will never forgive you.”

In 1969, 15-year-old Stieg Larsson had watched, terrified, and did nothing as three friends had raped a 15-year-old girl. Larsson later phoned her to apologize (though she shouted “I will never forgive you”),
and according to Baksi, the author was haunted by the incident for the rest of his life. “It was inevitable that he would realize afterwards that he could have acted and possibly prevented the rape.” The girl’s name was Lisbeth — and in his book, Stieg gave her name to his own empowered heroine.

Each section of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” opens with a statistic about the number of assaults on women. Baksi believes the novels were “his way of apologizing”, according to one article, and Baksi himself remains committed to avenging that 1969 assault. (“I don’t even know if Lisbeth is alive,” he tells the reporter, “But it’s very important to me.”) The book’s original title was “Men Who Hate Women,” and there were two other news events which moved the author to write it. A fashion model was killed in 2001 when she’d tried to end a relationship with a boyfriend, and the same year a Swedish-Kurdish woman was killed when she tried to break away from her father.

Possibly because of the author’s real-life commitment, his books ultimately shattered several records in the publishing industry. The combined e-book sales for all three books in the trilogy is more than three million, Larsson’s publishers told the New York Times. And in both print and non-print editions, it sells another half a million copies each month. In the United States, hardcover sales alone were 300,000 copies for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” — which was only released in the U.S. in September of 2008 — and the trilogy has sold nearly 17 million copies.

There’s a rumor that a manuscript exists for a fourth, “nearly finished” book. (Before his death, Larsson had claimed to have ideas for at least 10 more books in the series.) Ironically, his widow has earned a single penny from the sales of the book. (Playing off of Larsson’s title, one article described her as “The Girl Who Didn’t Inherit a Fortune.”)

I’ve read “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and it really is quite a story. And I also remember last year, when all three of Larsson’s e-books simultaneously occupied the #1, #2, and #3 spots on Amazon’s best-seller list. There’s another biography about Larsson’s life, written by an expert on crime fiction, who notes that Stieg Larsson’s life “would be remembered as truly extraordinary even had his trilogy never been published. Larsson was a workaholic: a political activist, photographer, graphic designer, a respected journalist, and the editor of numerous science fiction magazines.” (Adding “At night, to relax, he wrote crime novels…”)

But in one of the great ironies, that biography of the best-selling e-book author has never actually been released in an e-book format. When the book was released last year, I looked on the positive side, noting that “it’s nice to see that in the middle of the book-publishing feeding frenzy, the author himself is receiving some genuine appreciation from the people who knew and remembered him.”

And with the release of “Stieg Larsson, My Friend,” that’s even more true.

Amazon Employees Write Books about Amazon!

Dilbert and Dogbert

It seems like a rare treat. One Amazon insider has finally released a book called “Inside the Giant Machine,” about what it’s like to work at Amazon.com. Yesterday a press release appeared about its second edition, which promises new details about “the inner workings of Amazon.com and the company’s competition with eBay…”

But it turns out it’s just one of several books by former employees about life at Amazon’s corporate headquarters. And as a Kindle owner, I found that they’re all surprisingly fun to read.


Book cover of Amazonia by Amazon employee James Marcus

Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut

James Marcus remembers interviewing for a job in “a low, inauspicious building south of the downtown, next to a barbecue joint whose vinegar-scented fumes I could smell the moment I hit the sidewalk.” Marcus was Amazon employee #55, back when Amazon’s yearly sales were just $16 million a year, and he provides “a captivating, witty account of how the fledgling e-retailer transformed itself,” according to Publisher’s Weekly. At the age of 37, he was the oldest person in the room when he arrived at what he describes as a book warehouse with offices, and the book opens with a fascinating description of how ambitious Jeff Bezos had likeably interviewed him. (“He had none of Bill Gates’s pasty paranoia…”) Marcus even tours the warehouse — snooping on individual customer orders. “Forget heterosexual, plain-vanilla porn (of which there was a great deal)… In cyberspace, I could see, there was no love that dare not speak its name…”

It’s an inspiring read, because even back then he could see that Amazon was intent on changing the world, and “Their sense of having grabbed history by the horns was almost palpable.” Publisher’s Weekly even noted a kind of nostalgia in his book for the early days of Amazon, as Marcus writes about their warehouse across from the world headquarters of Starbucks and the exhiliaration they seemed to feel. “It made them slightly giddy and enormously tired.”

And as he walks his future co-workers back to their offices, “The breeze had shifted and the barbecue fumes were again in evidence.”


Book cover - man with dog bone in mouth - 21 Dog Years - Doing Time at Amazon by employee Mike Daisey

21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com

In 2002, Mike Daisey released a 240-page memoir about his own time at Amazon. In fact, he’d already created a one-man theatrical show in Seattle about his experiences, according to a review by Library Journal, which jokes that Amazon may be haunted by their decision to hire Daisey back in 1998. (Daisey writes that “Amazon and I started in Seattle at about the same time,” and addds that “To give you an idea of how clueless I was, I had originally assumed that Amazon was a lesbian Internet bookstore, owing to the historical origins of the word Amazon along with the company’s reputation for being ‘progressive.'”) Daisey appears to have been one of the first few hundred employees at Amazon, and his book is a fast-paced and funny read, with lots of very entertaining gossip. Here’s how he remembers a presentation for potential new Amazon employees.

“The four Amazonians who came to speak with us had the clearest, cleanest skin that I’d ever seen… I would never see those people again in my entire time at Amazon. I assume they worked for a black-ops section that specialized in providing fake employees who are startlingly sharp, attractive, and painfully fit.

“We settled back and they began to talk about Linux tools and server uptime, and I suddenly realized that these people were geeks. Serious computer geeks who looked and smelled great…from the way the sexy tech workers talked about Amazon.com, it appeared I’d really missed the boat….

“These tech-savvy, attractive, and well-spoken workers appeared blissfully happy… The opportunity to be near them, surrounded by their coolness and learning from them while being paid, sounded like heaven in itself. If I couldn’t be a geek, at least I could be in their company. And what a company! Though I hadn’t known who they were until that day, I was convinced they were making history… I had a vague sense of riches, of future glory…”

But soon he’s talking about his inevitable disillusionment. (“Doing Time @ Amazon.com” was the book’s original subtitle, though it was later apparently changed to “A Cube-Dweller’s Tale.”) Library Journal calls his book “an eye-opening testament as to how truly dysfunctional a dot-com can get,” noting that Daisey describes his work environment as “gothic” and spills the beans on some unusual phone calls that came in to Amazon’s customer service. And they acknowledge that his insider stories about life at Amazon are all “quite funny.”

Interestingly, that book isn’t available as an e-book on Amazon’s Kindle — though you can buy it as an audiobook.


Inside the Giant Machine - Amazon insider e-book cover

Inside the Giant Machine

“Behind Amazon’s quirky smile logo lurks a cold and calculating giant machine,” claims the book’s description, promising an e-book filled with poetry that “makes us feel the vitality of the Hi-Tech worlds of California and Seattle.” The first section of “Inside the Giant Machine” is an e-mail the author had sent in 2002 to his friends, describing a late-night success at his own startup company. That company’s success leads to a merger, after which “we ended up with two VPs of Technology — which was one too many,” and soon he’s also looking for a new job in Seattle. It feels like this book was inspired (if not modeled) after some of the earlier books by Amazon employees.

In fact, one of his most interesting revelations is that when he was hired Amazon actually mailed him copies of Daisey’s book “21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com” and James Marcus’s
“Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot.Com Juggernaut” (along with three books about Seattle). This book was was written using a pseudonym (“Kalpanik S.”),so there’s no way of knowing for sure that it’s really by an Amazon employee. But he does sound like a true “Amazonian” when he writes that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos “sincerely believed that his cult was changing the world and I wanted to be part of this revolution, and change the world!”

It’s a short book — the print edition is just 128 pages, and at times it does feel a little bit skimpy. (The last 10% is just “back matter” — copyrights, “works cited,” a selection of “acclaim” for the book, and a list of the author’s other books (including an excerpt). There’s also a “color interior” paperback edition with “approximately 80 color photographs, including several panoramic shots of Seattle!” But at least one reviewer at Amazon.com noticed the same thing that I did: that the book itself has a higher-than-usual number of typos. (Example?” Amazon’s young, sharp minds still want you prove to yourself to them.”)

I was intrigued by the chapter titles (like “The hacker who loved me” and “things start to fall apart”), and some of his photographs (like the Seattle skyline) look very attractive on the Kindle’s black and white screen. But sometimes it it feels like the author just re-published some of his old e-mails to friends. I asked myself if I should ultimately see that as a bug or a feature. You could argue that it makes the book feel more like one man’s personal story — and it’s genuinely fun to read the moment when the former Amazon employee has a revelation, that “suddenly publishing a book was easily within my reach.

“All I needed to do was combine those various pieces, fill in the gaps, polish the material, and hire an editor!”

There were a few lines that made me laugh out loud, but the author’s first chapter about his startup also rises to a poignant conclusion. “We want to change the world, though, and that is never easy. The world is usually very reluctant to change, especially at the pace startups want it do so.”

And then another future book-author heads off for his fateful two-day job interview at Amazon.com.

The Perfect Free E-Book for Spring

Wind in the Willows - Rat and Mole on the River

Today I started reading The Wind in the Willows, a wonderful classic tale about the society of animals that lives along the riverbank — including a mole, a badger, a rat, and a toad. It’s available as a free e-book in Amazon’s Kindle store. But it turns out the book has a fascinating history almost as good a story as the book itself.

Author Kenneth Grahame was the secretary of the Bank of England until the age of 49, according to Wikipedia. He hadn’t written a work of fiction in 10 years, but based the book’s most memorable character, Mr. Toad, on his enthusiastic eight-year-old son, Alastair. The book would become a fondly-remembered classic, mixing its funny story with adult allegories celebrating the joy of springtime and the beauty of the great outdoors. “When I was very young…” remembered one reviewer on Amazon, “our school master used to read to us from Wind in the Willows. The stories had a magical quality and a few weeks ago, as a somewhat older person, I got to wondering whether they would still have that sense of enchantment that held us so captivated all those years ago.

“I was NOT disappointed….”

Later A. A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh, joked that “Reading these delicately lovely visions of childhood, you might have wondered that he could be mixed up with anything so unlovely as a bank; and it may be presumed that at the bank an equal surprise was felt that such a responsible official could be mixed up with beauty.” Grahame was in his mid-60s by the time Milne first published his first Pooh story, though Milne once wrote that “I feel sometimes that it was I who wrote it and recommended it to Kenneth Grahame.” Later, when Grahame was 70 years old, A. A. Milne adapted Grahame’s book into a stage play (called “Toad of Toad Hall”), and one night the two men even shared a theatre box together.


He sat there, an old man now, as eager as any child in the audience, and on the occasions (fortunately not too rare) when he could recognise his own words, his eyes caught his wife’s, and they smiled at each other, and seemed to be saying: ‘I wrote that’ — ‘Yes, dear, you wrote that,’ and they nodded happily at each other, and turned their eyes again to the stage.


Milne later wrote an introduction for the book, remembering that it “was not immediately the success which is should have been.” But he also remembers that almost instantly Grahame had attracted some impressive admirers. In 1909, in one of his last month’s in office, Theodore Roosevelt, the president of the United States, took time to write a personal letter in 1909 thanking Kenneth Grahame for his book. (“I felt I must give myself the pleasure of telling you how much we had all enjoyed your book…”) He’d been a bigger fan of Grahame’s earlier books at first, but wrote that “Mrs. Roosevelt and two of the boys, Kermit and Ted, all quite independently, got hold of The Wind in the Willows and took such a delight in it that I began to feel that I might have to revise my judgment.


“Then Mrs. Roosevelt read it aloud to the younger children, and I listened now and then. Now I have read it and reread it, and have come to accept the characters as old friends… Indeed, I feel about going to Africa very much as the seafaring rat did when he almost made the water rat wish to forsake everything and start wandering.”


Six weeks later, Roosevelt left office — and embarked on a safari of Africa.

Theodore Roosevelt and elephant on African safari

Americans may remember that when Disneyland opened in the 1950s, one of its first rides (“Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”) was inspired by Disney’s cartoon version of Grahame’s book. But what’s less-known is the trouble that Walt Disney had in filming the story. It was intended to be one of his studios first animated movies, just four years after Snow White (their first feature-length cartoon), according to Wikipedia. Unfortunately, the story’s plot violated the Hays Code, the notorious film-production guidelines which covered all American movies.

In the book, Mr. Toad ultimately steals (and crashes) a motor car. And while he goes to jail, he escapes, and remains a misguided but sympathetic character throughout the story. “The sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin,” the Hays Code insisted. Disney’s version ultimately had to be re-written so that Mr. Toad was instead wrongfully framed of stealing the motor car.

Unfortunately, World War II then interrupted the film’s production (as many of Disney’s animators were drafted into the military), while also putting a strain on the studio’s finances. In the end, it took eight years until a shorter version of the cartoon was released instead, with Mr. Toad’s adventures bundled with the animated version of another classic story — The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Mr Toad from cartoon

The seventh chapter of Grahame’s book — “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” — proved to be especially popular. It describes the mole and rat searching for a lost animal, and instead having an almost religious experience when, off in the woods, they hear the distant music of Pan. It was the favorite chapter of A. A. Milne’s wife, remembers his son Christopher, who wrote that she “read to me again and again with always, towards the end, the catch in the voice and the long pause to find her handkerchief and blow her nose…” And 60 years later, in 1967, the rock band Pink Floyd used its title as the name of their debut album.

But here’s the most lovely piece of trivia about the book. Apparently because of his books’ popularity, Grahame was eventually able to retire to the countryside by the River Thames.

And he was finally able to enjoy the idyllic county life that he’d described so lovingly for his own characters.

Wind and the Willows - Ratty and Mole on the river


Visit http://tinyurl.com/MrToadEbook for
the free e-book version
or click here

Teacher Earns $20,000 in Kindle E-Book Sales

Elisa Lorello author of the e-book Faking It
Image of “Faking It” author Elisa Lorello at work
from The Charlotte Observer


It’s a story that makes you feel good. “Teacher Hits It Big with E-Book,” writes her local newspaper.

“Elisa Lorello of Raleigh had no literary agent, no publisher and nothing to lose when she decided to self-publish her first novel, Faking It, as an e-book for Amazon’s Kindle… Early last year, Faking It hit No. 6 on Kindle’s bestseller list, beating out big-name authors and giant publishing houses.” They report that she’s sold over 52,000 copies of the book and it’s sequel Ordinary World. And last week her amazing success took an even bigger turn, leading Elisa to a unique publishing deal with Amazon.com!

Until today, I’d never even heard of Elisa Lorello. But it turns out the different pieces of her amazing life story are scattered around the web — including a feature on the web site for North Carolina State University.


“Lorello brought along a draft of her first novel, “Faking It,” when she moved from Massachusetts to Raleigh in 2006 to take a job as a full-time lecturer teaching first-year writing in the English department. She spent several years revising the book – a romantic comedy she describes as “When Harry Met Sally crossed with “Sex and the City”… Ultimately, she self-published it in 2008 through Raleigh-based Lulu.com, but sales were slow. “I sold less than 100 copies,” Lorello says. So, in June 2009, she published the book on Kindle through Amazon.com…

There it still sold just 70 copies in its first month, and 10 copies the next. (“Of course, I was ecstatic,” Lorello remembers, since that was more than she’d sold in the self-published print edition.) She lowered the book’s price to just 99 cents, and that’s when the miracle began to happen. Judging from the article, it looks like more than 15% of the author’s sales occurred in a single week. Seven months later, in the last week of January, 2010, Lorello’s e-book suddenly sold 8,000 copies, according to the college’s profile, which reports Faking It finally peaked at the #6 spot on the best-seller list in Amazon’s Kindle store (behind five e-books which were all available for free). By mid-February, total sales had reached 15,000, and in March the book remained one of Amazon’s top 50 best-sellers.

A picture in the newspaper shows Elisa hard at work on her laptop at the “It’s A Grind” coffee shop in Cary, North Carolina. And she seems very committed to the craft of writing good fiction. Even when she was considering a bittersweet sequel, “I was resistant at first because by then I had gotten so close to these characters and didn’t want them to be hurt,” she acknowledged in an interview at Amazon.com. “But when a story or a truth needs to be told, as a writer you have to honor that and get out of its way.”

She’d already published the book’s sequel — Ordinary World — in November of 2009 — and by March of 2010 it had already sold 9,000 copies. The sequel later peaked in the Top 40, according to a profile on the college’s Department of English site, and “Both novels stayed in the Top 100 for about six weeks.” Assuming the sales were split evenly between her two books, Elisa ultimately sold about 26,000 copies of each one. Yet by the end of the year, she’d earned more than $20,000, according to the newspaper profile — a figure that’s much higher than the book advances enjoyed by most print authors. Lorello “counts herself part of a self-publishing revolution that’s upending the book business…” according to the newspaper’s profile. “At stake? The future of the $24 billion publishing industry.”

They note that e-books now represent a much larger percentage of the new e-books — 9 percent in 2010, versus just 3 percent in the previous year — and that Amazon is now selling more e-books than they are paperbacks. “Today, if you can use a computer, you can publish your book,” the article concludes, noting that besides the downside of more bad self-published ficition, it’s also unmistakeably creating “a booming self-publishing industry.” But Elia’s story took an even bigger turn, when Amazon itself took notice of her exceptional success.

“Even great books can be overlooked,” Amazon had announced in a 2009 press release when they founded their own e-book publishing company, AmazonEncore “to help readers discover exceptional books from emerging authors.” Amazon studies customer reviews (and other information) to “identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors that show potential for greater sales,” and then “partners with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers.” Eventually Elisa Lorello turned up on their radar. (In a September press release, Amazon describes Lorello’s books as “exceptional” and “compelling”.) And looking back, it seems ironic that Elisa had added her e-book to Amazon’s Kindle store within a few weeks of when Amazon first started their publishing company.

Last week Lorello shared her gratitude in a personal message on her blog. “Tomorrow’s the big day. Faking It launches as an AmazonEncore title with a brand new cover (which I love, by the way) and editing, will be available in select bookstores, and will be available in print and Kindle editions. Who would’ve thought that, back in June 2009 (when I self-pubbed on Kindle–it had already been a Lulu title for six months), I’d be making such an announcement? Seriously, it’s way cool.

“But I’m able to make this announcement thanks to you, my readers…Thank you to every single person who made the 99-cent investment and were kind enough to say that they’d have gladly paid more. Thank you to everyone who told a friend or family member. Thank you to every male reader who wasn’t ashamed to say that they loved what was essentially marketed as a chick book…

“If there’s anyone I left out, please know that in my heart, I am profoundly grateful.”

New Albert Einstein eBooks – a Kindle Exclusive

Albert Einstein writes an equation on a chalkboard

Monday Amazon announced they’d obtained the exclusive e-book rights to seven books by Albert Einstein. “Albert Einstein is one of our most important thinkers,” Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content announced, adding “These books cover everything from the Theory of Relativity to Einstein’s own letters chronicling his thoughts on life.

“We’re excited to make these books available for Kindle device owners and app users, and think readers will enjoy them.”

They’re the officially authorized e-book editions of “a selection of Albert Einstein’s most important writings,” according to the CEO of Open Road Integrated Media LLC (the book’s publisher) — though the rights aren’t entirely exclusive. Amazon’s press release refers to seven e-books, “a portion of which have been available digitally in the public domain.” But while print editions may have already been released, “Open Road has added new photographs and biographical information from experts at the Hebrew University Einstein Archives, introductions written by Neil Berger and new covers to previously published print editions…to create new Albert Einstein Archives Authorized Editions of the works.”

Probably the most touching book is “Letters to Solovine,” which opens with an introduction by Maurice Solovine himself (who became a lifelong friend of the physicist). In 1902, when Einstein was just 23, he’d placed an ad offering to teach physics for three francs an hour, and 27-year-old Solovine responded to the ad (thinking “Perhaps this man could explain theoretical physics to me.”) The two men remained friends for the next 50 years, and Solovine’s introduction is exciting, because it really gives the feeling of what it was like to actually meet Albert Einstein for the very first time. “The hallway was dark and I was struck by the extraordinary radiance of his large eyes… For two hours we talked on about all sorts of questions and felt that we shared the same ideas…we continued the discussion in the street for about half an hour and agreed to meet the following day.”

Albert Einstein was born 132 years ago on this day — March 14 — so it’s nice to see that he’s still remembered, not just for his work but for the good man that he tried to be. Search the Kindle store today for Albert Einstein, and Amazon precedes your search results with their special announcement. (“Exclusive Enhanced Editions of Einstein’s Books on Kindle! Browse seven of Albert Einstein’s books with new photographs, biographical information, and never-before-seen documents, only on Kindle.” ) Here’s their official list of the new Einstein e-books, along with a description of what’s inside.

Essays in Science – Einstein’s tribute to other men and women of science, along with Einstein’s thoughts on his own place in scientific history.

Essays in Humanism – An inspiring collection of Einstein’s view on how quickly the world was changing.

Letters to Solovine 1906-1955 – Einstein’s long-time friend and translator compiled this “provocative” collection of letters revealing “the inner thoughts and daily life of a transformative genius”.

Letters on Wave Mechanics – Amazon describes these as “lively” and “groundbreaking” letters that Einstein sent to other physicists, including Max Planck, and Erwin Schrödinger.

Out of My Later Years – Einstein looks at the world again through the wise eyes of age.

The Theory of Relativity and Other Essays – Einstein’s most famous equation was E=mc2 — and here he actually explains it in his own words.

The World As I See It – Einstein addresses the modern world, including topics like nationalism, life, and religion.


To celebrate Einstein’s birthday, I tracked down a list of some of his most famous quotes. Einstein was an intelligent and thoughtful man, and during his life he said many wonderful things. But if I had to choose one favorite Albert Einstein quote, it would probably be this one. “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent.

“It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”

Kindle-Ad Book Author Describes Short Stories



Amy Bloom was the first author to discover that her book was appearing in a Kindle ad. But I was actually a little disappointed when I’d interviewed her last summer. I’d thought she’d be more excited about it!

Q: Did you get any other reactions from people you know?

AMY: Another friend of mine said, “Hey, guess what?”

You know? “I fleetingly saw your page in a Kindle ad!” And that was nice. You know, I’m the dullest person in the world. I say, “Oh, that’s so nice.” And they go, “Yep.”

Q: I guess I was expecting you’d have a bigger reaction to the ads.

AMY: I am notorious for this in my family. I’m pleased by them. I’m flattered by them, but I don’t – they’re not – they’re great. I’m really appreciative and I think its very kind of the Kindle people. I feel very grateful for whoever it was who said, “Hey, how about a page from an Amy Bloom story.” I feel very grateful for whoever that person is.

Q: Will this increase sales of your book?

AMY: You never know. It probably won’t do me any harm.

On the other hand, the other way to look at it is, who cares? I’ve done my job as a writer. I’ve written the best work I know how. And I’m appreciative of the people who read it and care about the work — and that’s pretty much the end of that. Anything else that happens is sometimes nice, and sometimes not so nice, but not really directly relevant…. I think it’s — I am really appreciative, and it’s also sort of in the category of ephemera.

Q:But is there a larger significance?

AMY: If there is a larger significance, it’s going to be someone else who figures out what it is, not me.


Even though she doesn’t own a Kindle herself, she said she was glad that people were reading, saying “it doesn’t matter to me whether people read wax tablets or printed books or handmade books or ebooks. I’m happy that they read!” (And she added, graciously, that “I’m sure when I’m a little old lady, I’m going to be very grateful to have some lightweight thing that contains a lot of books and has big fonts…”) But it was exciting to see her commitment to the craft of writing, and I realized that we both had something in common: a deep love of fiction.

That’s why I was especially delighted when I discovered Amazon had just published a personal “Letter from Amy Bloom” on the web page for one of her books. In it, she describes her philosophy about fiction — offers an insider’s perspective on why it’s so challenging!


The great pleasure for me in writing short stories is the fierce, elegant challenge. Writing short stories requires Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, and some help from Gregory Hines. We are the cat burglars of the business: in and out in a relatively short time, quietly dressed (not for us the grand gaudiness of 600 pages and a riff on our favorite kind of breakfast cereal) to accomplish something shocking — and lasting — without throwing around the furniture.

Flannery O’Connor (a reliable source when appreciating the short story) wrote that short stories deliver “the experience of surprise.” The surprise, I think, is that so few pages can contain so much, that what is taken to be a prism turns out to be not only a window but a door as well.

If you’re an American reader, you can love short stories the way other Americans love baseball; this is our game, people! We have more than two hundred years of know-how and knack, of creativity. Of the folksy and the hip, of traditional yarn-spinning and innovative flourishes. Of men and women, of war and loss and love, with a few ghosts and many roads not taken. And in all of that, you will find some of the funniest and most heartbreaking fiction, ever.

Famous Authors Discuss the Ebook

The Dark Tower book cover by Stephen King

Newsweek just performed a fascinating experiment. They contacted America’s best-known authors, and asked them how the Kindle and digital readers are affecting the future of reading! (“The transformation of the book industry has reached a tipping point,” they wrote in their introduction. “Electronic books now outsell paperbacks on Amazon, the retailer recently announced. And Borders, the second-largest bookstore chain in the United States, is reportedly considering a bankruptcy filing…”)

I’ve also got my own collection of favorite authors, and the things that they’ve said about ebooks and Kindles. For example, Stephen King actually owns a Kindle, and in an October interview said he uses it now for about half the books that he’s reading.


I think it changes the reading experience, that it’s a little more ephemeral. And it’s tougher if you misplace a character. But I downloaded one 700-page book onto my Kindle that I was using for research. It didn’t have an index, but I was able to search by key words. And that’s something no physical book can do.


The interview was conducted by the Wall Street Journal, who had asked some tough questions about the business of books.


Q: Is the future of publishing all digital?

It’s a hard subject to get a handle on. People like myself who grew up with books have a prejudice towards them. I think a lot of critics would argue that the Kindle is the right place for a lot of books that are disposable, books that are read on the plane. That might include my own books, if not all, then some.

Any drawbacks?

I wonder if one or two atom bombs went off, would electromagnetic pulses erase the world’s reading material from the servers where they are stored?


But Newsweek tracked some even bigger names, including Dave Eggers, the author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Even though he’s 23 years younger than Stephen King, Eggers is more committed to the physical book, perhaps because he’s also the founder of the McSweeney’s publishing house.


EGGERS: I don’t own an e-reader, and I’ve never read a page on an e-reader. I do everything I can to avoid more screen time.

I don’t think e-books have topped 10 percent of the market. My guess is that it will be about 15 to 20 percent of the market, because e-readers are expensive, and they’ll continue to be expensive.

Not to diminish the value of a paperback, when it comes to somebody investing in a hardcover, it’s something you want to keep. Everything from a cloth-case wrap to a leatherette to a foil-stamped cover, heavier paper, better binding, innovative cover design. You have to give readers a choice, between a richer experience with paper and board and cloth, and a more sterile experience through an electronic reader. We just try to make every aspect of the physical book as good as it can possibly be, because that’s our greatest hedge against the dominance of e-books.


My favorite reaction came when Newsweek spoke to 72-year-old Joyce Carol Oates, who has written three different novels which were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize (including Blonde, a recreation of the life of Marilyn Monroe written in 2000). Her response?


My husband, Charlie, is a neuroscientist, and of course he immediately ordered both the Kindle and iPad. When we travel, we read books and The New York Times on the iPad.

I’d much rather have a book.


I thought Newsweek did a really classy thing, by taking their question all the way to the head librarian at America’s Library of Congress. 81-year-old James H. Billington is only the 13th person to hold that position, and he obviously grew up reading books, as a student at both Princeton and Oxford. So what did he have to say about ebooks?


BILLINGTON: The new immigrants don’t shoot the old inhabitants when they come in. One technology tends to supplement rather than supplant. How you read is not as important as: will you read?

And will you read something that’s a book – the sustained train of thought of one person speaking to another?

Will Kindle Sales Triple in 2011?

My jaw dropped open. The world’s 10th-largest banking and finance company studied the popularity of Amazon’s Kindle. And then their analyst (Doug Anmuth of Barclays) predicted that the number of new Kindles sold will be nearly triple by the end of 2011!

“Our numbers may be conservative,” he reported, calculating that Amazon has already sold 7.1 million more Kindles in just 2010. Yet for 2011, he predicts they’ll sell another 12.3 million, earning Amazon another $7 billion, and forming a whopping 11% of Amazon’s total earnings for the year! Meanwhile, other researchers are also predicting that demand for digital readers will explode. IDC expects 14.7 million readers will be sold in 2011, up 36% from last year’s sales of just 10.8 million.

And it won’t end there! IDC expects that there’ll be even more Kindles sold in 2012. Though there’ll be at least 25 million digital readers in the world by that point, they’re predicting that another 16.6 million more will be sold in 2012. By that point the prices should be even cheaper, due to competition among the different vendors — and there should be a lot more content that’s available on the Kindle and other devices! (And that’s even before you consider the possibility of new color-screen devices, finally available at a price that makes people want to purchase them…)

I’ve asked myself if the “ebook revolution” is real, but apparently many business professionals are already convinced. An analyst at The Motley Fool wrote Tuesday that “The Kindle could be to books what the Gutenberg press was to printing,” predicting that Amazon will continue to gain market share, as the people who buy books start to gravitate towards the world of ebooks. And that’s got to be good for Amazon’s business model, because “There are no inventory, warehousing, or shipping costs.” Their profit margins should increase because they’re selling a virtual ebook — rather than paying to warehouse and then eventually transport an actual physical book.

But perhaps my favorite analysis came from my friend Richard, who took his new digital reader with him on a trip to Seattle. Yes, he walked into a Borders bookstore, and browsed around until he’d found a book that he wanted. But then he immediately downloaded a digital copy to his reader, and just read it as an ebook during his flight. My conclusion? Bookstores may be in trouble. His conclusion?

“We live in interesting times!”

One million ebooks! Congratulations, Nora Roberts

Best-selling romance ebook author Nora Roberts

Amazon just announced that author Nora Roberts has sold her one millionth ebook from Amazon’s Kindle store. “As of yesterday, Nora Roberts has sold 1,170,539 Kindle books…” Amazon wrote in their press release. But I’d already seen the signs. Last week Amazon had revealed the best-selling ebooks of 2010 — and four of them were written by Nora Roberts! “Nora Roberts has been a bestseller at Amazon for 15 years,” Amazon’s vice president of Kindle Content announced, “so this accomplishment is no surprise.”

The New Yorker calls her “America’s favorite novelist,” according to Amazon’s press release, and she’ll now join what Amazon calls the “Kindle Million Club.” She’s only the third author to ever sell this many ebooks from the Kindle store, since it was only July when Amazon announced that their Kindle store had its first million-selling author. (Ironically, the author was already dead, since the late Stieg Larsson’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy had unexpectedly turned into three posthumous best-sellers). And it wasn’t until October that a second author achieved the same success — James Patterson — though that was probably inevitable. Wikipedia noted that he’d written 56 different books which were all best-sellers (which got him listed in the Guinness Book of World Records).

At the time I wondered if Patterson reached his million-book milestone simply by selling 20,000 copies of 50 different books — and now I’m wondering if Roberts had a similar advantage. To get to the one-million figure, Amazon included books which Roberts wrote under her pseudonym, J.D. Robb — which include a sprawling, 40-book series in which every title ends with the words “in Death.” (Naked in Death, Glory in Death…) In fact, Roberts has written more than 200 novels, according to Amazon’s press release. Even if she sold just 5,000 copies of each one, she’d still be able to pass the one-million sales milestone.

I’d also wondered if they included any free ebook downloads in their figures, but Amazon insists they’re only counting copies which were actually purchased. So this announcement may be just what it seems: still more proof of the tremendous popularity of ebooks. In November Amazon said that ebooks always outsell the printed books for the top 1,000 best-selling titles on the site. And earlier this month, USA Today announced that ebooks were also outselling the print editions for 19 of the top 50 books on their own best-seller list. (“It’s the first time the top-50 list has had more than two titles in which the e-version outsold print,” they reported last week.)

Of course, Roberts had already sold more than 280 million print editions of her books already, according to Wikipedia, spending a combined total of more than 660 weeks on the New York Times best-seller lists. And Roberts’ ebooks may have gotten a special boost from the Kindle, according to another new article in USA Today. They reported that romance novels accounted for 12% of all the best-selling books of 2010, theorizing that “Readers who wouldn’t be caught dead with risque covers in public enjoyed the privacy of reading romantic e-books!”

And what were Nora Roberts most popular ebooks of 2010?

The Search (her most popular ebook of the year)
Savor the Moment
Fantasy in Death (as J.D. Robb)
Happy Ever After

The Presidents and the Kindle

President Abraham Lincoln reading a book
I remember the day when I almost met President Clinton. He was helping a school in my town install the cables for internet access in 1996 — along with Al Gore — and I was covering the event for a local alternative newsweekly. Some of the volunteers that day wore t-shirts that said “I connected our kids to the future.” And in the teacher’s lounge, I’d found the left-behind remains of sandwich from a local deli, with the word “president” written on a plastic cover. (It was left behind under a sign which read “Your mother doesn’t work here, so clean up after yourself!”)

It was a weird moment, when I realized that when there’s a new technology, we’re all “pioneering” our way towards it together. And 14 years later, when that future finally arrived, I feel like we’d ended up doing it again, moving together as an invisible group, this time towards a new reading technology. Shortly after the inauguration of President Obama, CNN reported that former President Bush had returned to Texas, where he was “meeting the neighbors, making trips to the hardware store, and catching up on some reading via a Kindle.” That same month, former vice president Dick Cheney revealed he also had a Kindle, and a few weeks ago, even Laura Bush told an interviewer that she has one too.

But it’s not just that the Kindle is being used by a handful of White House occupants. After receiving a $7 million advance, former president Bush released his new autobiography on Tuesday. By the end of its first day — counting pre-orders — he’d sold 220,000 copies and delivered nearly $4 million in book sales. But the former president also discovered that nearly 23% of his readers were buying it as an ebook!

A new world may be emerging — an accidental community of early adopters — since the publisher’s spokesman said the figures demonstrate the “rapid growth” of the ebook market. (I calculate that that’s over half a million dollars worth of ebooks sold in a single day!) The publisher also revealed that it was their highest one-day sales in six years — since they’d published the autobiography of former president Bill Clinton. But there’s also something significant about the fact that even Clinton’s biography is now available as a Kindle ebook, along with several by Ronald Reagan, and seven books by Jimmy Carter…

And tomorrow even president Obama is releasing a new book — and has also decided to make it available on the Kindle. It’s a children’s book called Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters, and it’s got its own perspective on the way America has changed. It looks back to past presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but also ordinary citizens who made a difference, likeMartin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller, Georgia O’Keefe, and Jackie Robinson. It’s fun to think that this will be the first generation of children who may be reading these classic stories of American history on a Kindle!

The world keeps on changing, both in big ways and in small. (One political blog reported that President Bush now seems more interested in his iPad than his Kindle, and according to his wife Laura, he’s “constantly” playing the Scrabble app.) But 10 years ago, The Washington Post once reported, there was an even bigger challenge confronting ebook author Barack Obama: obscurity! “In the summer of 2000 when he flew from Chicago to Los Angeles for the Democratic convention and no one knew him, his credit card bounced, and he left after a forlorn day hanging out as an unimportant face lost in the power-lusting crowd.”

It all goes to show that a lot can change in 10 years — both for politicians, as well as the rest of us!

Stephen King Gives New Interview About the Kindle

The Dark Tower book cover by Stephen King

Today the Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating interview with Stephen King, asking him how he feels about the Kindle. “I think it changes the reading experience,” the best-selling author told the Journal, saying that reading on the Kindle is “a little more ephemeral.” But of course, there’s also advantages to a technologically-enhanced reader, as King discovered when he’d downloaded a 700-page book onto his Kindle for research. “It didn’t have an index, but I was able to search by key words. And that’s something no physical book can do…”

He also sees other advantages in reading ebooks. 63-year-old King recently purchased a printed edition of Faceless Killers — a 1997 mystery by Henning Mankell — only to discover that its type was too small for him to read! But he’s still one of those people who loves a physical book, and even after buying an ebook of a new historical fiction novel, he also bought a hard copy just to display it on his shelf. “I want books as objects,” he admits. “It’s crazy, but there are people who collect stamps, too.”

His love of books is understandable, since he’s sold more than 500 million books himself, according to Wikipedia, writing more than 49 different novels. And a week from Tuesday, King will publish a new collection of four stories called “Full Dark, No Stars” (where at least one story is based on a real-life murder case — the story of a woman who discovers she’s married to a serial killer!) It will be available on the Kindle for just $14.99, but King also holds the distinction of having released the first mass-market ebook, over 10 years ago. And recently, he wrote a short story with its own strange twist which was actually about a Kindle-like reading device. “It took three days, and I’ve made about $80,000.”

Click here to download that short story — UR — to your Kindle.

Stephen King is the same age as James Patterson — who just sold his one millionth ebook in Amazon’s Kindle store on Tuesday — but apparently, King’s not a fan. In December of 2008 he’d called Patterson a “terrible writer,” and once described Patterson’s work as “dopey thrillers,” according to Wikipedia — though his remarks had a larger context. King heard J. K. Rowling read his books when she was young, and asked whether that had an influence. He names two authors he’d read himself as a young man — one whose writing had a much bigger impact on his style. But then he gets detoured into discussing which successful authors he would consider to be good authors — comparing J.K. Rowling to Stephenie Meyer, and eventually weighing in on Jodi Picoult, Dean Koontz, and even Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner.

So when King finally got to James Patterson, he was basically talking in bullet points, saying Patterson “is a terrible writer but he’s very very successful. People are attracted by the stories, by the pace…” And this July, Time magazine got to ask Patterson for his response to “critics like author Stephen King, who say you’re not a great prose stylist.” His answer? “I am not a great prose stylist. I’m a storyteller. There are thousands of people who don’t like what I do. Fortunately, there are millions who do…”

But the literary world continues to evolve and in Friday’s interview, King reveals that now almost half of his reading time is spent on ebooks. But he still adds that it’s hard to predict the future. “People like myself who grew up with books have a prejudice towards them,” he says, suggesting that maybe there’s room for both formats. “I think a lot of critics would argue that the Kindle is the right place for a lot of books that are disposable, books that are read on the plane.

“That might include my own books, if not all, then some.”

How James Patterson Sold 1,000,000 eBooks

Author James Patterson

Wednesday Amazon announced that a second author had finally sold more than one million ebooks in Amazon’s Kindle store. (By Tuesday, 63-year-old James Patterson had racked up exactly 1,005,803 in ebook sales.) “[W]e look forward to celebrating the 2 million mark in the future,” Amazon announced in a statement, noting that Amazon’s customers “have been James Patterson fans far longer than ‘Kindle’ was a word in our vernacular.” But it’s not surprising that Patterson became the second author to reach this ebook milestone…

According to Wikipedia, Patterson has already written 56 different books which were best-sellers — which got him listed in the Guinness Book of World Records — so he could conceivably reach the million-book milestone simply by selling 20,000 copies of 50 different books. Sure enough, none of his books are on Amazon’s list of the top 20 best-selling ebooks right now, and in fact, there’s only one in the top 30 — “Don’t Blink” — even though it was released less than a month ago. Looking further, only one other Patterson book made the top 100 — “The Postcard Killers,” which he co-authored with Liza Marklund — even though it was released in mid-August. It’s safe to say that there’s still no single ebook that’s ever sold more than 1,000,000 copies.

But this only confirms the fact that Patterson is one of the most successful writers alive today. Last year Forbes magazine reported he’d sold the rights to his next 17 novels for an estimated $150 million. In less than three years, he’d then write (“or co-write”) eleven books for adults and six for young adults. Although there’s a minor controversy around that statistic — and a very funny story.

The author’s lawyer once told an audience that as soon as that figure was reported, he’d received a phone call from James Patterson, demanding “Where’s my $150 million?” USA Today reported the anecdote, then contacted Patterson themselves to get the real truth. The author replied that the $150 million number “isn’t close” to his actual deal. So was that figure too high, or was it too low? “I’m not saying,” Patterson replied!

It’s important to remember that Patterson’s obviously sold more than one million ebooks, since Amazon is only counting the sales in their own Kindle store. Presumably Barnes and Noble also sold a few Patterson ebooks to their Nook customers. (And in addition, Amazon probably sold some ebooks which were read on the iPad or the Blackberry — instead of on a Kindle.) The one million figure also doesn’t count any additional free editions that may have been given away as a promotion. Amazon specified in their press release that the sales figure “refers to paid Kindle book sales.”

What’s his secret? Exciting stories. The best way to celebrate an author is probably to take a look at their work. So here’s Amazon’s product description for his newest thriller, “Don’t Blink”.

“New York’s Lombardo’s Steak House is famous for three reasons — the menu, the clientele, and now, the gruesome murder of an infamous mob lawyer. Effortlessly, the assassin slips through the police’s fingers, and his absence sparks a blaze of accusations about who ordered the hit… Seated at a nearby table, reporter Nick Daniels is conducting a once-in-a-lifetime interview with a legendary baseball bad-boy. In the chaos, he accidentally captures a key piece of evidence that lands him in the middle of an all-out war between Italian and Russian mafia forces. NYPD captains, district attorneys, mayoral candidates, media kingpins, and one shockingly beautiful magazine editor are all pushing their own agendas — on both sides of the law…”