Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How Books Work, part 2: Day 'o' YA

A little while back, INTERN posted about the usefulness of always keeping a question in the reader's mind. This weekend, INTERN grabbed a book off the "New YA" shelf at the library that pulls this off extremely well. Bad Apple by Laura Ruby is about a girl who *might* have had an affair with her highschool art teacher. The entire book is based around this one giant question, but several other, equally salient questions lurk under this question's umbrella. The result is a book that's coldly and mercilessly engineered to make readers' poor helpless hands reach out and turn the pages—because desire to know the answers to juicy questions is, like, scientifically proven to create a state of temporary insanity.

Anyhoo, let's have a look at how Ruby does it.

The book starts off with a narrative hook that establishes two things: people are saying that Girl's Art Teacher is a "predator" and Girl is a "liar."

Reader (aka INTERN's) slightly exaggerated reaction: OMG! What's the gossip? Did something untoward happen between Girl and Art Teacher? Spill, spill, spill!

The book chapters are interspersed with "comments" from school officials, classmates, neighbors, and family members,most of which cast suspicion on Girl's credibility.

INTERN reaction: Wait, who can INTERN trust in this cra-a-a-azy world? Did something happen or not? Aaaaah!

Early on in the book, Ruby introduces a Love Interest for Girl. Said Love Interest has a secret of his own: nobody knows his real name, or why he goes by the mysterious moniker "Seven."

INTERN reaction: Can't. Stand. Secrets.

About a quarter of the way through the book, someone starts an anonymous blog spreading outrageous rumors about Girl's
escapades with Art Teacher. Via the "comments" section, readers are made privy to the troll's identity—but Girl is not. Thus, readers have the satisfaction of knowing the Answer to a Question when the main character doesn't, not to mention that delicious tense feeling of knowing something crucial but being unable to warn the main character.

INTERN reaction: Oh, yeah! INTERN knows something Girl doesn't! Will Girl find out? What will Girl do about it?

About halfway through the book, there is a Big Scene in which Girl stands up in front of the school board and tells them that nothing happened between her and Art Teacher. It is abundantly clear at this point that there was no hanky-panky and all the kerfuffle at school is nothing but a witch hunt—but then the school board says they'll take Girl's statement "under advisement," as if they don't believe her at all.

INTERN reaction: (relieved at having a final answer to one of the book's big questions, but still tense because nobody believes Girl).

The school board finally resolves to re-instate Art Teacher and everything seems dandy. Then there's a reversal—Girl admits that something did happen with Art Teacher!

INTERN reaction: WHAT HAPPENED????????

In the next chapter, Girl FINALLY relates the story of what actually happened (which boils down to, Girl reached for Art Teacher's hand when they were eating lunch at the same table and he immediately said no and walked away). Next, Girl confronts the internet troll who was running the rumour blog.

INTERN reaction: Ah, truth at last! But now, how will Girl manage to tell the truth to all those classmates, friends, school officials, etc?

Long story short, Girl ends up painting a mural in the school hallway representing the true story. All the big questions have been stretched out for a satisfying amount of time, and there have been a satisfying number of obstacles and reversals standing in the way of their resolution.

Bad Apple is also funny and hip and voice-y in that way lots of contemporary YA writers strive for. But that sassy voice and those funny anecdotes are woven into a very solid framework that keeps the story tension high. And the story Questions, salient as they are, are not harped on constantly, but fit in seamlessly with the overall flow of Girl's tale.


INTERN has given herself carpal tunnel from typing too much over the past few days, so instead of going into a lengthier analysis she will now relent.

Merry Wednesday!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

42! dolphins! vogons!

In case any of you fine hoopy froods aren't aware, today (May 25th) is Towel Day, in honour of Douglas Adams. There are Towel Day events happening all over the world—really—find one near you at the Towel Day website.

To make things even more peculiar, the Guardian reports that Terry Pratchett fans wear lilac towels on May 25th in joint support of Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett's novel Night Watch, and Alzheimer's research. INTERN, for her part, is rocking an "under the sea" themed towel to demonstrate her support of Douglas Adams, Jacques Cousteau, the Gulf oil spill, the colour blue, and endangered starfish.

Friday, May 21, 2010

why lovers with high blood pressure should not be beta readers...

INTERN has been quietly working away on a novel for the past year, which she is trying very hard to complete before summer. INTERN and Techie Boyfriend are also in the process of paring down their stuff so they become nomads (i.e. shed pesky strictures like "rent" and "utilities" so they can continue to not have normal jobs and also possibly find ultimate reality). These two activities collided yesterday in a way that really gave INTERN some insight into her beloved Techie Boyfriend's mindset.

In the morning, INTERN was throwing giveaway clothes into a bag when Techie Boyfriend showed up and immediately became alarmed (OK, totally freaked out) by her heartless methods:

Techie Boyfriend: Wait, where's that wool sweater? The white one?
INTERN: You mean the nasty yellow one that used to be white with the half-unravelled sleeves? Gone to the Free Pile!
Techie Boyfriend: YOU PUT IT IN THE FREE PILE??? But-but-that's the sweater you wore all the time when I first met you! When you were hitchhiking and it was your only sweater! YOU HAVE TO GET IT BACK!!!
INTERN: Oooooh boy....

Later that afternoon, Techie Boyfriend convinced INTERN to let him see her latest manuscript revision. Against her better judgement, and perhaps to make up for the morning's trauma, INTERN acquiesced.

Techie Boyfriend's terrible trials were not over yet.

Techie Boyfriend: Wait—what happened to the first chapter?
INTERN: It wasn't the right place for the book to start anymore.
Techie Boyfriend: YOU CUT IT???? But that's how the book STARTED!!!
INTERN: (gleefully) Not anymore!
Techie Boyfriend: AAAAAAAUUUUUUUGH!!!!!!

Now, Techie Boyfriend is, in fact, quite a valuable beta reader, and his suggestions have often saved INTERN from veering in terrible directions with her long-suffering WIP. But he doesn't share INTERN's cold, cruel, and (to him) terrifying approach to editing, which (for this project) has mostly consisted of declaring everything utter garbage and starting again. When Techie Boyfriend looks at INTERN's manuscript, he sees INTERN. INTERN just sees a pile of words that aren't good enough yet, or a truly derelict wool sweater that looks like it was peed on by llamas.

INTERN wonders if she and Techie Boyfriend will ever sort out this difference. Maybe it doesn't need sorting out. In a weird way, having somebody else be sentimental about these things makes it much easier for INTERN not to be. As long as one person's mourning the darlings, the other person's hands are free to sharpen the editorial knife.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How Books Work, part 1

As a frequent manuscript critiquer, INTERN is used to reading manuscripts that don't quite work (yet!). This has given her the urge to take apart published novels that do work and look at all the springs and cogs and little metal bits that make them tick.

Some of the most common problems INTERN sees in novel manuscripts are not enough suspense, not enough conflict, dragging pace, too much focus on trivial scenes and not enough on important scenes, and main characters whose problems are too easy and who never get put to a satisfying test (which sounds like a laundry list from any writing-advice book, but it's true, those are the exact problems most novel drafts have!)

So what does a novel with salient suspense, carnivorous conflict, pertinacious problems, etc, etc, look like?

For this first experiment, INTERN is going to take apart a novel that was a quick read and had a very straightforward plot: Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen. What follows is INTERN's extremely rough summary of the book [riddled with spoilers—beware!] with key plot moments, foreshadowing, character turning points, and various other stuff INTERN thought worth pointing out flagged.

Ch. 1:

Mother and Son in train station waiting to escape to an unknown location. [book starts in tense situation: will they get away before Husband finds them? where are they going?]

Ch. 2

Secret Agency for battered women drops Mother and Son off in Florida to start their new life. [secret agencies are cool! everybody loves secret agencies! is the secret agency a force of good, or does it have a dark side?]

Ch. 3-5

Several secondary characters and relationships introduced and developed: Mother’s new best friend, Mother’s clients at her new job as an adult caregiver. [sounds boring, right? secondary characters, snooze! but Quindlen makes it not boring, because she intersperses it with lots of present fears and tense memories about Mother's past with her abusive Husband]

Ch. 6

Mother meets son’s Coach in the grocery store, panicked event where Son goes missing briefly. [here, Quindlen introduces the main character's romantic interest. This moderately tense scene also foreshadows the later “missing son” crisis. clever!]

Ch. 7-11

Mother and Coach’s attraction and conflict are developed, Mother and Best Friend’s relationship developed, Son makes friends, Mother makes forbidden phone call to her sister and is reprimanded by Secret Agency. [foreshadowing later “forbidden phone call” crisis] [more relationship development! snoozles! but again, there's always a feeling of forward motion and tension because of the lingering fear of the Husband, and because every relationship is multidimensional and ridden with conflicts. As always, there's lots of juicy backstory interspersed with the present scenes.]

Ch. 12

Mother, Coach, and Best Friend take kids to carnival. There is a Ferris Wheel accident and Mother goes into nurse mode, revealing an aspect of her former life. She is filmed giving first aid and it is aired on the news. Mother and Coach kiss. [romantic turning point, plot crisis] [oh no! Mother and Son's cover is blown by that pesky news station—and now Mother and Coach have KISSED!]

Ch. 13

Secret Agency reprimands Mother for appearing on the news and demands that Mother and Son move again so Husband can’t track them down. Mother refuses to move again, says she wants to direct her own life. [character turning point] Mother and Coach go on dates, but Mother refuses to open up to love [romantic crisis] [OK, notice how Mother's character has CHANGED? Even though the Secret Agency is trying to protect her, she realizes that it's just another example of somebody else controlling her life. So she decides to stay put, even though it means increased risk to herself and her son. Also notice how Mother and Coach's burgeoning romance is not all kisses and sunshine. Mother's inability to love Coach back is a major obstacle to their relationship. She's started to change, but needs to change more.]


Ch. 14

Mother sleeps w/crowbar under bed in case husband tracks them down. Son has sleepover w/friends, girls sneak up to throw water-balloons through window. Mother is relieved that it is only little girls outside the window and not Husband [foreshadowing later “unwanted visitor” crisis] [Notice how all the major plot crises in the book are preceded by mini versions of themselves? This makes the book a pretty tense read, and also gives it a satisfying structure, at least, satisfying for INTERN to analyse!].

Ch. 15

Son gets into fistfight at school, Mother and Son talk about the fact that Husband hit her. Later that night, Son calls Husband on the telephone and is caught by Mother. [plot crisis]. Husband convinces Son that Mother is lying to him. Mother goes to gym coach and reveals her story. [character turning point] [Ooh! Oh no! Ouch! Son just called the Husband they've been trying to escape for six months! Bad noozles! They're totally screwed! Also, Mother finally comes clean about her Secret Past to Coach!.

Ch. 16

Relationship tension between Mother and Coach. Mother throws baby shower for pregnant Best Friend [subplot resolution], Son goes off on a camping trip with friends. [OK, so there have been subplots going on with the minor characters, mostly involving Secrets or Wounds from each character's Past. These are all getting resolved about now. Also, notice how the Son is on a camping trip? That means Mother will be home alone! Home alone with her crowbar!]

Ch. 17

Mother wakes up in the middle of the night and Husband is waiting for her downstairs, having tracked her down. Husband beats Mother and leaves her unconscious. [ultimate crisis!!!!!!!!! the whole book has been leading up to this and now it's happening! aaaaaaagh!]

Ch. 18

Book fastforwards to four years later. Mother and Coach are married and have a daughter. Husband stole Son after beating Mother and they have not been able to find him ever again. Mother and Coach move on with their lives (sort of) but hire private detectives and never give up hope of finding Son. [plot resolution, romantic resolution, lingering crisis [the skip from the present to the future is a sly move, because it keeps you asking, "yes, but what happened to Son? WHAT HAPPENED TO SON?" until the very, very, very last minute. It was also brave of Quindlen to make it so that everything didn't turn out OK—something turned out horrible! Son is gone, possibly forever, but Mother can never know for sure and will always have this Wound in her new life.]


So there you have it. That's the whole book. INTERN has left out the details of subplots and backstory, but those are the broad strokes. Even though the plot isn't complicated and there isn't a Huge Crisis or Big-Ass Plot Twist in every single chapter, Quindlen always keeps the ball rolling through backstory, emotional upheavals (developing the "internal stakes" when she's not developing the external plot) and interesting secondary characters. She also happened to pick a situation was naturally tense (hiding from a super-scary cop husband) and emotionally wrenching (hiding from a super-scary cop husband who happens to be her ten-year old son's father, whom the son loves].

There are obviously a million other things that make a novel work or not work (like good writing at the sentence level!) but this is an example of how putting some very basic dramatic features in place can make you want to turn a novel's pages.

For INTERN's next experiment, INTERN is going to analyze a YA novel, because it feels like more YA novels are being written this summer than perhaps in the past hundred years put together.

Good day and godspeed!

Monday, May 17, 2010

in which shock jocks are sort of jerks

INTERN is a very bleary-eyed INTERN this morning because she had to get up for a radio interview at 5:30 AM. Not just any sleepy, genteel radio interview. We're talking "Bruiser and Big Dawg in the Morning" straight out Large Suburban Hellhole, New Jersey.

It was not the worst ten minutes of INTERN's life, but it was maybe fifth or sixth runner up.

Bruiser and Big Dawg took the concept of "bro" to a whole new level. They were rude, obnoxious, sexist, and deliberately insulting. And while INTERN tried her hardest to sass them right back, her pathologically nice Canadian upbringing reared its sunny head and she came off as a total wuss. Observe:

Bruiser: So your book's about, let's see here, senior citizens. OK, so if I'm having sex with a senior lady and she starts having a heart attack, can I [redacted—grotesque].

INTERN's internal monologue: Tell him he's an asshole! Tell him to go fuck himself!

INTERN: Well, sir, for one thing I don't think most senior ladies would find you very appealing. But to answer your question, you should stop and call an ambulance if someone's having a heart attack.

Big Dawg: Is there any point in seniors going on vacation anyway? Shouldn't we just let 'em die and then take their money?

INTERN's internal monologue: Feisty comeback! Come on! Knock him dead!

INTERN: Er, Big Dawg, well, no, you're wrong about that. As you can see from my book, seniors are capable of much more than sitting around waiting to die.

Big Dawg and Bruiser:: Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha, what if we asked a senior to show us her titties!!!!!!!!

INTERN: But—just—no!

(Bruiser and Big Dawg theme music comes on, drowning INTERN's protests)

INTERN wished she was The Rejectionist. The Rejectionist would have given Bruiser and Big Dawg a verbal smackdown so sassy they wouldn't have come back on the air for weeks. The Rejectionist would have told those jerks where they could stick their heads.

But alas. No amount of coaching from Techie Boyfriend or INTERN's publicist has cracked INTERN's compulsion towards excessive politeness. INTERN is starting to dread these interviews, and is quite sure they are not leading to any book sales. Maybe the solution would be to see if INTERN's publisher would spring for a ghost to do radio interviews on INTERN's behalf. But that wouldn't solve the underlying problem.

Oh, what to do!?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

of she-publishing and prisons...

INTERN happened upon the recent Huffpo/Salon/various blog kersnuffle over Why Men Don't Read (or Whether It's Actually True That Men Don't Read, or Whether Publishing Is A Female-Dominated Industry Running Roughshod Over The Literary Needs Of Men, or whatever) rather belatedly.

For those who missed the debate, here's a brief summary:

Pinter: "Men don't read because all the books being published right now are she-books picked by she-editors promoted with she-marketing campaigns that don't make men want to buy them!"

Salon: "This is possibly true! Also, maybe there are more women in publishing than men because more women are willing to put up with the crappy pay!"

Various Blogs (in chorus): "But then why are there more male authors on the NYT best-seller list than female authors?/I'm a man and I read!/But NPR said only 1 in 4 books is bought by a man!/What is this, the 1950's? Do we really need to make such a big distinction between she-marketing and he-marketing anyway?/etc etc etc."

All of this stuff was clattering around in INTERN's head last night when INTERN's friend who volunteers at a books-for-prisoners program invited INTERN to join her at a book-sending session.

Going to this books-for-prisoners program was one of the most interesting book-related experiences INTERN has had in recent memory. It was like dropping in on Santa's workshop—there were about a dozen very industrious people flitting about bookshelves and tables, putting together packages to send to prisoners whose letters were stacked in a basket. INTERN's friend explained that they got so many letters from prisoners requesting books that there was up to a six-month waiting period for responses.

It was a funny feeling to read all those articles about Why Men Don't Read and then spend three hours sorting through letters from men who are absolutely desperate to read. INTERN is not sure what her point is in bringing up prisons in response to the gender-in-publishing debate—perhaps, as is often the case, INTERN doesn't even have a point—suffice to say that she felt a touch of the absurd, wrapping up fantasy novels and cheesy self-improvements handbooks from the 1980's for men whose circumstances made them hungry to read something, anything, whether it was she-published or he-published or published by howler monkeys.

INTERN will definitely be going back to volunteer again, and in the meantime, she is going to give some more thought to the matter.

INTERN wants to know: Do you think publishers are putting out too many she-books and/or using she-marketing tactics? Or is there something else going on that explains the gender skew in book readership?

Monday, May 10, 2010

the lewd world of Big 6 anagrams...

INTERN was reading Publishers Weekly this morning and feeling mystical, and she started making anagrams of Big 6 publishers' names (full disclosure: the Internet Anagram Server stepped in to help). Her findings surprised even INTERN.

The Anagrams

Simon & Schuster came off rather fastidious—maybe a little too fastidious, as the third anagram indicates:

Cushiest Norms
Mensch Suitors
Scrotums Shine

Random House was a little more earthy, even barnyard-y.

Around Homes
Moaned Hours
Unheard Moos
Humane Odors

HarperCollins was simply rude:

Phallic Snorer

Penguin Group was muttering in a paranoid manner:

Pup, Ignore Gun!

Macmillan had only one thing to say about the best place to sell books:

Manic Mall

Hachette Book Group revealed its coping strategy for the recession:

Toke A Potherb, Cough

Happy Monday everyone!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Guest Post: The Secret Lives of Bookstore Clerks

Ahoy readers! This morning, INTERN was so groggy she reached into the fridge and accidentally poured Hippie Roommate's chicken broth into her coffee instead of soymilk (the Tetra Paks are the same size...) So she is clearly not at blogging level today and is instead turning things over to Fresh and Delightful Guest Poster Megan Burke.

Working is a bookstore is dying a long, slow, painful death. That's how all us weekend girls described it, anyway. At a sleepy chain bookstore in a shopping centre, we spent most of our time reading the books and dancing up and down the aisles to music.

We had our regular customers: the Italian woman with a surname so long and complicated no one could pronounce or spell it - she read romance. And a lot of it – I’m talking over $60 a week. Then there was the old man who read war history, who no one wanted to serve because he talked, and talked, and talked, and talked—talked so much, in fact, that you never got any work done. There were the two teenage girls who read anything young adult. The hippy man that we suspected had a lot of pregnant teenage brides, due to the fact that each time he came, he was dragging along a similarly dirty-feet and smelly pregnant teen girl.

And my personal faves: the couple in backpacks and bum bags who came in every Sunday morning and paid $5 off their lay-bys. We became such good friends that when I left to go inter-state they took me out to breakfast and gave me a present. We've kept in contact, and I've housesat for them heaps of times. I even invited them to my 21st birthday, and they came, bearing champagne and a Hannah Montana card (I love Hannah Montana!).

From my five years there, here are a few more things that stand out:

· The pre-pubescent teenage boy attempting to buy erotic fiction. My manager told him to get his parents to come back and buy it for him.

· The woman who was so friendly and chatty to both my co-worker and I one late night, neither of us noticed when she walked out without paying. I chased her half way across the shopping centre. She came back to pay with me, all bright-red and apologetic.

· All the customers who buy the Karma Sutra and tell us it's for a "friend". Yeah. Right.

· The mother who let her child piss on the floor, and then walked out without telling us. Thanks for that.

· The husband and wife who came in about one minute until close, and stayed twenty-five minutes after closing, looking at baby books. Every minute (as we stood at the front, sighing loudly and tapping our feet) they said, “We should really go, these girls want to go home” and yet for twenty five minutes, they didn’t. And then they didn’t buy anything!

· Recognising authors when they came in (and getting them to sign all their books, and pose for photos), and feeling horribly embarrassed when you didn’t recognise an author (“Do you have my books in stock?” “Ugh, maybe… What are the titles again?!”)

The books. Oh the books! At any one time I had about ten books on order, and another one hundred in the staff section. At one point my boss banned me from buying books, saying he felt I should spent my money on something else.

A nice perk was getting all the free ARC’s (advanced reader copies) and all the damaged books that didn’t go back to the publishers – gimme gimme gimme!

I think the bottom line is working in a bookstore is as awesome and fantastic as it looks. You should be jealous of us bookstore assistants!

After five years of working in a bookstore, Megan went back to school to study writing and editing. Now in her second year, she is looking forward to starting her Creative Writing degree next year. Megan reads and writes mainly Young Adult fiction, and although she misses working in a bookstore, she loves having the time to write during the day. Megan blogs daily at Literary Life and her website is

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Amazon—or Shamazon? inside customer reviews

A few days ago, INTERN was pleased to note that customer reviews of her just-released book were starting to appear on Amazon. And not just any customer reviews—reviews from bonafide strangers. Strangers in places like Florida. Strangers who had clearly read INTERN's book (or done a good job of flipping through it) and whose reviews were surprisingly thorough.

Suspiciously thorough.

Reading through them a second time, it struck INTERN as odd that all these disinterested Floridians were posting such voluble reviews so soon after the book had come out.

Then INTERN noticed something.

Two of the reviews came from Amazon Top Reviewers. Two other reviewers were members of something called the Amazon Vine Program. Only one of the customer reviewers was naked of such tags—and, interestingly enough, that review was the shortest and seemed the most genuine.

After some quick research, INTERN came across this article in Slate (titled "The Murky Demimonde of Amazon's Top Reviewers") in which another first-time author relates an identical experience. (so identical that there is hardly any point in INTERN writing this post—you should really go read that Mr. Hallberg's essay for the rest of the scoop!)

Long story short, it appears that INTERN's publisher—like lots of other publishers—solicited customer reviews through these Amazon programs.

On the one hand, it's sort of an OK thing to do—after all, the reviewers are strangers to INTERN and have no incentive to leave a positive review rather than a negative one (except maybe the incentive to review things positively so people send them more swag). Also, INTERN suspects that seeding a book's customer review section with a few starter reviews—positive or negative—has the effect of spurring other, "real" customers to write reviews in response. (it's easier to jump in on a dialogue than to start one yourself).

On the other hand, it totally undermines the concept of a customer—repeat, customer—review. These people didn't buy INTERN's book. They didn't make an agonized decision over whether to part with sixteen bucks in order to get a copy. As INTERN knows from a very brief stint reviewing CDs for her college newspaper, the mere fact of getting something for free can influence your feelings about it greatly (once, INTERN wrote a glowing review of Chingy's album "Hoodstar"—clearly unable to distinguish between the album's merit and her own feeling of elation at getting free swag. This is also the reason INTERN should never be allowed to be a Top Reviewer on Amazon.)

It only made things weirder when INTERN started clicking around other books on Amazon and reviews that were clearly solicited started jumping out at her like hedgehogs.

INTERN herself has never left a book review on Amazon. She is pretty sure her mom (who reads a ton of books) doesn't leave reviews, and neither do any of her bookish friends.

INTERN is therefore curious: who does write actual customer reviews of books on Amazon? Do any of you? Do you trust the "customer reviews" you read on Amazon? Is there good reason to feel squeamish about Top Reviewers and Amazon Vine, or is it perfectly above board? Have you ever published a book and gotten weird-tasting reviews from Floridians on Amazon?

Monday, May 3, 2010

do libraries help or hurt book sales?

Not too long ago, INTERN was delighted to receive a good review in a magazine read by many librarians. "Ah!" burbled a voluble INTERN to Techie Boyfriend. "Perhaps this means 99 Funky Getaways For Active Seniors In the Midwest will one day appear in our Locale Librarye. How charming!" A cloud passed over Techie Boyfriend's normally sunny visage. "Let's hope not," he muttered gravely, "or people won't have to buy it anymore."

"Techie Boyfriend," quoth INTERN, "you are but a simple, technically-minded man. What laughable frippery-froppery to suggest that putting a book in Libraries could ever harm its sales."

But the seed of doubt had been planted in INTERN's trusting mind, and she has been fretting over this point all weekend. INTERN is a lover of Libraries, and has been all her life—but now that it's down to a cold, hard handful of change in royalties for every copy sold, should INTERN fear and suspect the institution (the socialist institution! the red scare!) that threatens to put her book into thousands of grimy and not-so-grimy hands for free? Are loveable Libraries sabotaging the publishing industry and starving authors out of even their humblest wormskin jackets? Is a Modest Proposal in order that Libraries be burned to cinders and Librarians fed to said starving authors for dinner?

INTERN is thinking of all the times she declined to purchase a book because it was available at the library—but also thinking of all the times she bought a book only after seeing it at the library, or after checking it out ten times and loving it so much she couldn't live without a copy. She is thinking of all the authors whose websites she visited after seeing their book at the library or whose poetry readings she attended in one of those weirdly sterile library conference rooms.

And she can't figure it out. Other angles come to mind: perhaps libraries help book sales for some kinds of books (how-to, field guides, cookbooks, things you really need to own a copy of in order to be useful) and hurt others (certain kinds of novels? expensive books?). Perhaps libraries either help or hurt books sales depending on the economic climate of the region, the number of bookstores in the area, or similar factors. Perhaps libraries help or hurt book sales depending on how well the book itself is being promoted in bookstores and in the media. And so on.

INTERN wants to know, fragrant readers: How do you think libraries affect your book-buying habits? Have you ever bought a book after seeing it at the library or checking it out? Have you ever not bought a book specifically because you could get it at the library? Does anyone (librarians, authors, publishing folk, and civilians alike) have a more authoritative angle on this, cause INTERN wants some answers!