Saturday, December 24, 2005

Nitpicking habits

Recently I've discovered that I have a huge pet peeve. It has been growing for some time without me even realizing it. Everyone has that one little thing that will completely throw them out of a story and may even stop them from finishing the book. I've always said that a good writer could get around some of that stuff, but now I'm not so sure....

I finished Samantha Saxon's latest book the other day, The Lady Killer. This book embodies my frustration with many authors who attempt to write in the Regency period. I know, it's not a new complaint, but lately it's been driving me nuts! Titles and forms of address. Now, I was willing to cut this author some slack with her first book. After all, everyone makes mistakes. But she didn't fix the errors with the second book and the excerpt from the third book shows even more. This author states that she is a member of RWA. Did none of her author friends read her book and pick up on this? This author shows talent and I really wanted to like her books, but every time Lady Purvill or Lady Appleton entered the scene, I lost it.

I started to wonder why this bothers me so much. After all, it's just a book. Why not just toss it and move on? The answer is: I feel cheated. I expect an author to do their research and I want to be able to trust that the historical pieces of a book are accurate. If an author isn't willing to research something as easy as titles and forms of address (the best titles site), how can I trust that they did their research on anything else? That's what irks me. I like to learn about history by reading fiction with a strong sense of place and time. There are some great romance novelists out there who make this look easy. Unfortunately too many of them aren't willing to do the legwork.

Hopefully, this trend doesn't continue and I can happily read and learn at the same time....

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

November Site Update Completed

We have just completed the November update.

So what's new this month? We've added reviews from several new sites including and Later this month, the book detail page will list all the reviews available for a particular book.

As usual, we've added around 500 new books to the database. In browsing through the upcoming books, I'm really looking forward to several. Visit our New Relaeases page and find some great books to read this winter!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Using Barcode Readers with FictionDB

I will do just about anything to speed up a process. In my corporate days I was the annoying person always coming up with new ways to do something better, faster, more efficient... I drove the change-averse people nuts! Well, you get the picture. A couple of days ago I bought OmniPage 15, the software that I use to convert covers to text. Scansoft, the software company, just loves me. Whenever they send me an e-mail that they have a new version, I'm the first person buying it. Here's why. I scan over 1000 covers a month. The new software will save me 15 seconds per cover. Not much for one cover but that's over 4 hours per month, 48 hours for the year. Well worth the $100 pricetag!

I have now scanned a significant percentage of the romance covers. Since I buy the books that I scan, I can't just buy a box of books knowing that I'll probably need to scan a large percentage of them. I needed a quick way to determine whether I should buy the book or not. Technology is great. Whenever I have an idea, there's usually a solution. I had received the new Treo 650 cell phone for Christmas last year (I created the FictionDB Mobile site just for my new phone). I learned I could buy a tiny barcode scanner that would plug into my phone. Awesome! I could now whip out my phone, scan a barcode and know whether I should buy the book.

Of course, this got me thinking about other ways I could use a barcode reader. I came up with lots of ways to increase my throughput using a scanner, but I didn't want to use the one on my phone. I wanted one attached to my computer, but I wanted something cheap. eBay to the rescue. I bought a CueCat barcode reader for $15. You may remember Radio Shack was giving these away for free several years ago. If you want to buy one make sure you get one that has been MODIFIED. Most eBay sellers put this in their description.

So what does this all mean for you? Well, if you're like me and want to catalog your 4000+ book collection, the thought of entering all those books into FictionDB seems like a nightmare. If you collect by author, this isn't so difficult. You can add an author's complete backlist with just one click. But what if you have lots of onesy-twosy books? Enter them with our new Barcode Scanner page. Just scan the barcode that starts with 978. For mass market paperbacks this is usually inside the front cover. For hardcovers and trade paperbacks, it is on the back cover. Not all barcodes are in our database, but a large percentage of mass market paperbacks are available. Books in hardcover that have not been released in paperback are also available.

Give it a try and let us know what you think!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The New Look

We hope you like the new look of FictionDB. We are always looking for ways to improve our visitors' experience with our site and we believe the new site offers significant improvements over the old design. The new design is also more simplistic. The old site incorporated many graphics that took quite a while to download. For our users without high speed access, you should notice a significant improvement in page speed.

Why was the redesign necessary?

I am probably FictionDB’s most active user. I have over 4000 books catalogued and use the site as a daily reference tool. Every time I have a “If only FictionDB could do this….” moment, I write it down. Many of these were not possible with the old site design. The biggest limiting factor was the left hand navigation bar. The bar took up almost 2 inches of prime data real estate. I would look at that bar and covet that space. FictionDB is a data driven site and the more data we can make available, the better. Unfortunately, under the old design, the data was getting smashed together and wrapping onto multiple lines making it really hard to read. So I wanted to consolidate all the navigation at the top of the page. A left nav bar is not any more accessible after you scroll down from the first page.

Give us your comments on the new design.

Like anything new, it always seems strange at first, but then you get used to it and can’t remember what the old way was like. I have been living with the new design for several weeks now and have found it easy to use. If you have a different experience, we’d love to hear from you. Obviously we can’t make every change that is requested, but when many people have the same suggestion, the item is often quickly implemented if possible. We are currently looking for ways to allow visitors to change the font size they see. The new font on the data pages is not any smaller than the old font, but there is a perception that it is.

New Features

So what are some of the new features? Well, the biggest addition is the sorting you’ll now find on many of the pages. You can sort by date published, title, and author. We’ve also added several new search items like a search for continuing characters. Other additions are on the book detail page: Paperback release date and mulitauthor series.

A big thanks to our redesign team!

The site was designed by Vivian Lund of and we think she did a fabulous job. My neighbor, Alix Morehouse, drew all the great characters you see sprinkled throughout the site. Without the creative expertise of these two women, FictionDB would be a purely text site!

As always, we are looking to make the site more useful, so if you have suggestions or comments, please let us know at

Monday, July 04, 2005

FictionDB and Literary Works

We are often asked if we include literary fiction on FictionDB. The answer is a somewhat emphatic "NO". You will find a few sprinkled throughout the database, but we have made no effort to include them.

I was at a book sale recently -- one of those where you wait in line for 3 hours before it opens. I stood next to a college English professor and eventually the subject came around to what we read. She, of course, was appalled by my choice of reading. I proudly read romance novels. She then went down the track of "well maybe you should read some really GOOD books, like ...." This always infuriates me and I am nothing if not opinionated and vocal about it. I am of the opinion that if you have to read a book about the book just to understand what the author is really trying to say, reading the "classic" work is a waste of time. Horrors!! Every high school English teacher's worst nightmare! To me reading is reading and any kind of reading is a good thing. I'm still thinking of going on Jeopardy and seeing how well I can do with my "romance novel" education.

My hairdresser is taking an English class right now. You know, the kind where you have to write a five paragraph paper on the book you just read. This always struck me as an odd idea. How am I to be graded? On the quality of my writing or on the content? I believe it always comes down to the quality of writing because how can someone else tell me what I got out of something I read? All the scholars in the world still can't tell you what someone who has been dead for 400 years really meant. Well, they think they can, but I still disagree.

When I was an undergrad business major, I took several upper-division history classes because I love history. What I learned in a hurry was that I wasn't being graded on my knowledge of history, I was being graded on the quality of my writing. Since I am not a great writer, my grades suffered and I stopped taking the classes. Unfortunately, GPA mattered to the companies I was looking at as potential employers.

This was so strange to me. In the English class, I was told I was being graded on the content of something that was fuzzy at best -- my interpretation of a novel. And in the history class, I wasn't being graded on history but my writing skills.

It was right about this time that my aversion to literary works crystallized. I rebelled against the academic community and their definition of quality literature. In general, if a book is released as a trade paperback -- the industry term for quality paperbacks -- I won't read it. I've found that I just don't enjoy those sorts of plots, characterizations, etc. There are plenty of websites out there who specialize in this sort of fiction, but we're not one of them.

I recently returned from Book Expo America where the publishers are promoting their upcoming releases. Genre fiction is not well-represented at BEA, but a few sneak through. Tess Gerritsen wrote a wonderful blog article on her experiences at BEA with the literary book-of-the-moment.

I am firmly of the opinion that everyone should read what they like. If you like to read literary fiction, great! If you like horror, great! Just don't tell me what I SHOULD be reading. I don't read to admire great prose. I read to be entertained.

And so I delcare my independence!

Happy 4th of July!

Friday, July 01, 2005

July Site Update Completed

The July update has just been completed and it's been a busy month for us here. We started June at Book Expo America in New York City. Check out all the new books we brought back for our subscribers. Free Books We met lots of authors and enjoyed ourselves immensely :)

We've also added over 2000 series romance covers within the last couple of months. If you've never clicked on Cover Gallery on the author detail page, you're in for a treat. If you're anything like me, the pictures of those old romances really bring back good memories of romance reading days gone by. I even found my favorite Harlequin Romance by looking through the covers -- Charlotte Lamb's Desert Barbarian.

We've just started on a new website design. Within the next couple of months, you will see the results. Don't worry, we aren't planning to drastically change the way the site works. We'll just be refreshing the look and adding additional data to some of the pages. It's going to be a big undertaking, so be patient if we don't respond to your e-mails as quickly as we should.

That's it for now, but I'm hoping to be better about blogging more often. How do those authors find the time to write??

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

RT BookClub Convention in St. Louis

We just returned from the RT BookClub convention in St. Louis. We had such a great time! Thanks to all of our subscribers who stopped out booth by to say hi. Your continued support means a lot to us.

The people we met are the best things about attending an event like this. When you can connect a name or product to a real live person, it opens up your mind to all sorts of new experiences.

First, the authors. While it's great to stop by the book fair and say hi to your faves, it's much more fun to get to know them as people. Our next door neighbors in the hotel were authors Holly Fuhrmann (Jacobs) and Erin McCarthy. We met on the first day outside the elevator which also just happened to be outside our rooms. We had a strategy session on how to sleep without the elevator bell driving us nuts. We ran into them for the rest of the weekend and even ended up giving Holly a ride to the airport. Here's what's so great about this: I don't read the small Silhouette Romance line, but after meeting Holly, who is hilarious, I read one of her books on the flight home and really enjoyed it. Of course, she's an award-winning author (scoring two awards at the convention ... go Holly!), but I can honestly say I would never have tried her books if I hadn't met her in person. For a list of Holly's books at FictionDB click here .

Next, the vendors. We were lucky enough to be set up between two great groups of people. On one side was Nancy who had the most beautiful shawls for sale. She had come in all the way from Oklahoma for the convention. It was fun to hear her talk about her on-the-road life as an exhibitor at trade shows. On our other side was Book Soundtracks. You may have seen their ad on the back cover of the April RT BookClub magazine. Again something I never would have considered if I hadn't seen it. Book Soundtracks are CD's you can play while reading. Sounds simple enough. Why not just turn on the radio? But after listening to their CD's for 4 days, I can tell you they did a magnificent job creating the music to set the mood while you read, just like a movie soundtrack. Trammell, Felicia and Ken are music professionals from Nashville who decided to turn their considerable talents to creating music for romance readers. You can hear clips of their music on their website We even have several Romance Soundtracks to give away to subscribers (more details on that in our June newsletter)

Last but certainly not least, readers and booksellers. Since I happen to be both, it was a chance to chat with some kindred spirits. I received all sorts of wonderful ideas for enhancements to FictionDB. I'll be putting all the suggestions to good use in the next couple of months. I was also able to meet people who I had "known" online but never met in person. Plus, I attended several sessions geared to readers and booksellers and really enjoyed the lively discussions.

I also had the chance to sneak away for an afternoon at the St. Louis Book Fair. I stood in line for 4 hours in the freezing cold to get first dibs on some treasures. Saint Art, my husband, manned the booth back at the convention. What a guy!

Overall, a really great trip!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

In the FictionDB really started

I am often asked why I created FictionDB. Why did I set out to create a database filled with all sorts of information about 150,000 books? Why would anyone in their right mind start on a project that could never be finished and would always need constant updating?

Well, the answer is this: I didn't decide to do any of this consciously.

I have always been a listmaker. I like lists of things. I have always kept track of every book I've read, movie I've seen. Well, you get the picture. If you work in a corporate environment, then you've taken the Myers-Briggs personality assessment in some form. This is a fascinating theory, one of which I happen to be obsessed with. But the most interesting thing about the test is that you really learn why you are the way you are. I am an ENTJ -- the final J makes me an incurable listmaker. So it's no wonder the database began to grow and grow.

When I got my first home computer in 1991, I immediately found a use for it. I could keep track of my reading. Wow, $2500 for a place to store my lists. Such a bargain! I am one of those people who must read an author's books in the order they were written. It doesn't matter whether the books are related or not, I must start at the first book. It's just a little habit of mine, one I am currently trying to break. So when I found a new author, I would always have to figure out what other books they had written. This could be a real pain in the pre-internet days. So I got an idea. If I kept track of all the new romances released each month, then when I needed to glom a new author I would already have all the information ready to go! Now to most people this would seem absurd. Keep track of over 150 new releases each month on the off-chance that I would need them in the future? But remember, I am an incurable listmaker. I already spent all my free time either reading or in book stores, so this was just another extension of my passion for books. A rather time-consuming hobby, but a hobby nonetheless.

So on it went for several years. By 1995 I had created the romance portion of FictionDB. I had diligently updated the database to include over 40,000 romance novels. The funny thing was I loved every second of it. Even though FictionDB would be my own personal database for almost 10 years, I never thought twice about the countless hours I spent on it. I would sit in my local used bookstores and write down every book I could find that wasn't in my database. Even though I knew I would never read most of the books I was entering, the creation itself gave me great satisfaction.

In 1999, FictionDB became available to the world. Earlier that year, I was approached by a college student looking to create a book website for a class she was taking. She had heard about my database from another person on one of the mailing lists. I gave her a copy of my data and I hope she got a good grade, because it gave me another idea. How hard could creating a website be? There were thousands of them! I had been a computer programmer many years before, albeit a mainframe one, so I felt up to the task. Once I figured out the basics, it was a breeze. I had a deadline of Thanksgiving to get it up and running as I was expecting my first son and wanted the site finished by his birth. So one week before he was born, was born too.

And that's the story of Kelly and her database.

Welcome to the Blog!

We thought we'd try out blogging as a way to keep users up to date on our site and our reference guides. Who knows how frequently we'll be publishing, but what a great way to keep us connected to our community!