Good morning, book people! After yesterday’s mini freakout and fiction-related writerly indecision, I’m feeling much calmer (in great part due to the excellent comment-love). For those who asked, yesterday’s interview went well, I think. It was definitely kind of fun, and I spent a lot of time in my writer’s garb, chatting about voice (one of my favorite topics).
And I have some most-excellent news this morning!
Back home, in the great (though often cold) state of Victoria, the library system has launched a YA type Goodreads, Inside A Dog. The name comes from a Groucho Marx quote, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” I’ll have more on Inside A Dog next week, but definitely head on over now–they have guest posts by some great YA authors coming up! (Brian Falkner, Gayle Forman…)
Field Trip Friday over at YA Highway has some excellent links around the writing webs this week, including this LA Times piece on Little Red Riding Hood getting a makeover. I love the cover, but it’s so Cinderella to me that I’m not sure I love it for Riding Hood. What do you think?
It’s been a big week for e-publishing in the blogosphere. Eric at Pimp My Novel has a nice, grounding list of 5 Things You Should Know About the eRevolution. Nathan Bransford has a few insights into pricing and ebooks vs. hardcovers (a nice follow up to Mike Shatzkin’s post on pricing models earlier this week). He also some really useful–again grounding–on Amanda Hocking and the 99c Kindle millionaires. (If you have to choose just one of these posts to read, go with the last on Hocking.)
An internet oldie but a goodie – my critique partner and friend, Livia, has a post on writing realistic male characters, and the jerkyness that is Guyhood. Love, love, love this!
Debbie Ridpath Ohi over at MiG writers has a follow up to her first post on writers and voice this week. The new post draws from Stephen Pressfield, and asks a couple of questions all writers should be thinking about. Both are well worth reading, and very quick!Read More
E-books have and e-rights have been hot topics this year, and with good reason. There’s been Google settlement news, iBooks and iPad news, distribution news, and now Borders is taking orders for a new e-reader. Although e-books are still far from the norm, they’re making a strong showing, and could soon be a proper marketing niche in their own right.
Where Do E-books Come From?
As it stands, anyone can publish an e-book. Write your text, save it as a PDF, upload it to a website, and you’re a self-pubbed e-book author. Though few fiction writers choose to go this route, it’s fairly routine for non fiction writers, with e-books about marketing, SEO, web 2.0, even how to write your novel and get it published popping up all over the interwebs.
Although not a large segment of the market, e-publishers also exist. These are the folk responsible for most e-pubbed fiction (find a list of e-publishers here and here). Because of their low overhead, there’s a lot of diversity in e-publishing–arguably more than in print–and you can find an e-house for pretty much anything, from picture books through serious non-fiction and memoir.
But e-books And e-books have a lot of growth potential. In a piece in The Telegraph, president of Sony’s digital reading division said, “Within five years there will be more digital content sold than physical content. Three years ago, I said within ten years but I realised that was wrong – it’s within five.”
Are E-Agents Necessary? Will They Be?
As it stands, I don’t think agents specializing in electronic rights and publishing are necessary. But things could change. More and more mainstream authors are experimenting with e-books, with science fiction and fantasy writers leading the charge. Catherynne M. Valente, an award-winning author, recently won the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy (a major award from the SFWA) for her electronically self published novel The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Cory Doctorow has offered several of his YA novels as free e-books (find his latest, For the Win, here), and the Baen Free Library has many free titles from authors including David Weber, Lois Bujold, Andre Norton, and Sarah Hoyt. (Learn more about the reasoning behind the library here.) Many, if not all of these books, are or will be available in print.
Why is this even a question if all these books are available in print? Because they weren’t all available in print–not from the get-go, anyway. Valente’s novel, Fairyland, began life as a self-published, donation-appreciated e-book (learn more here). An offer from a print publisher (Macmillan imprint Feiwel and Friends) didn’t come in until the serialized e-novel had neared completion.
Although Valente’s case is not the norm, it could be the harbinger of change in the publishing industry, particularly in the YA and science fiction/fantasy market. These are the readers most comfortable with technology, and willing to move with the times, the folk who made iPods so ubiquitous that while out running yesterday, I passed a 90 year old woman rocking out, iconic white earbuds plugged into her ears. Don’t get me wrong–I love print books. I love turning pages, and holding the weight of a hardcover between my palms. But e-books offer many opportunities, not the least of which is increased revenue for authors and publishers, especially if the much discussed agency model/iPad-iBooks talk grows into something real.
And then there’s Jack Konrath, the midlist author of the Jack Daniels police procedurals, made small waves when he cut ties with his print publisher, Hyperion, earlier this year.
As PW points out, Konrath isn’t an award-winning, top-level author, and his sales, showed neither decline nor uptick prior to the break. PW also notes that his most recent work–and first e-pubbed novel–was roundly rejected by publishing houses.
Still not convinced? Scott Waxman, at Waxman Literary, is also hopping on the e-book bandwagon. His new venture, Diversion Books (separate to the agency) offers authors another, middle-of-the-road option, “somewhere in between the big houses and the lonely road of self-publishing.” From PW:
Waxman said Diversion Books will take on authors who cannot sell books in numbers that make financial sense for the major houses. “If you have an author with a platform who can sell books, we’re happy selling 5,000 to 10,000 copies,” he said. While Diversion isn’t paying advances, it’s not taking everyone who comes in with a manuscript. “This isn’t self-publishing,” he went on. “[With us] you get real publishing support. I know you don’t get that with self-publishing. This lives in between.”
What Would An E-Agent Do?
To me, agents are a lot like lawyers. They’re a specialized position, rather than a one-reader-fits-all kind of job. E-agents would probably be much like regular agents in the same way divorce lawyers are similar to electronic rights lawyers–they’d have a particular interest in things relating to their clients, and maybe some (virutal?) on the job experience at an e-publisher. A few more things an e-agent might know about, or do:
- represent authors in negotiations with e-publishers, or the e-division of a primarily print house
- be familiar with contract law pertaining to electronic rights and web media, particularly grey areas such as distribution and foreign rights
- understand copyright law, and how it affects e-books that are partials of a later, larger print book
- understand the ins and outs of digital rights management (DRM), and actively advocate for the author
- be able to distinguish between electronic formats, browsers, and readers
- have contacts within the e-book industry
- be open-minded–technology moves as fast as dandelion seeds in a strong nor’easter, so being able to think on the spot and move with the groove is particularly important
Would you publish an e-book? Would the house–say an e-imprint of the big six vs. A small time e-only press–make a difference? Would you prefer to have an agent for electronic publications? Or would you be happy to handle them yourself?
Yesterday, I posted about reading kids’ books on the Kindle. Books for all ages are available, though, as you can see, picture books lose some of their warmth on the matte gray screen.
Would you read picture books on the Kindle? Would you let your kids read on the Kindle?Read More
In the era of the iPad, Amazon’s Kindle appears clunky and drab. The thumb tap keyboard is passe, the gray screen drab, and the lack of touchscreen so 2006. Yet, in some ways, the Kindle one-ups the iPad–lacking interactivity, the Kindle forces users to focus only on the text, provides a quick and easy way (via the OED and Wikipedia) to check a word meaning or make sense of a reference, offers a text to speech function, and has a battery life of around a week with wi-fi turned off. But while the Kindle will remain useful to adults–particularly adults uncomfortable with technology and touch screens–it’s likely the iPad will go where no e-reader has gone before and completely corner the kids’ market.
I know, I know, the Kindle isn’t the only e-reader out there. But B&N’s nook, Sony’s e-reader, and Spring Design’s Alex offer roughly the same set of features as the Kindle, give or take minor changes (the nook’s virtual keyboard, for instance). None of them offer the interactivity of an iPad, and none feature a color screen for text or illustration. And so far, Amazon offers the most access to kids’ e-books, with a quick search returning in excess of 27, 000 results.
iPad vs. Kindle
Should the iPad be allowed to corner the kids’ market? There are pros and cons, and in most cases, I’m all for e-books within reason. But in the case of kid lit–picture books, early readers, even middle grade novels, the iPad may be overkill.
Kid lit isn’t immune to the tech boom–Leap Frog, Fisher Price, and others have been marketing read-to-me versions of books for years. Almost all the toddlers I know have their own educational, brightly-styled laptops. Why? Because in kid-land, bright is a good thing–unless we’re talking e-readers.
The iPad, despite its app-books and pretty pictures, is a computer. It’s main function is consumerist, not educational–which is okay if you’re over, say, the age of 13/14/15/25 (and, as MacWorld points out, will not replace a Kindle in terms of comfort, anyway). Of course, this hasn’t stopped publishers from releasing kid-targeted book-apps and marketing to the under 5 set. The Kindle, in contrast, is all about the book–it’s a reading device with a little extra functionality, to make reading easier. But Kindle kids’ books have, for the most part, slipped through the cracks–despite the Kindle probably being the better device for reading to your kids.
Types of Kids’ Books on the Kindle
So far, Amazon’s offerings include pretty much every kind of kids’ book available. Classics such as Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Stevenson’s Treasure Island show up on the first page, alongside Twilight (Stephanie Meyer) and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Well-known picture books, such as The Potty Book (Alyssa Satin Capucilli and Dorothy Stott), Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes (Annie Kubler), and even H.A. Rey’s Curious George series are also available, despite the e-reader’s matte gray screen.
Wondering just what illustrations look like on the Kindle? Check back tomorrow to see the cover from Billy Goats Gruff.
Reading to Your Child on a Kindle
Can you read to a child on the Kindle? Yes–if you’re reading a primarily text book. Picture books show illustrations on one page, then text separately, if the publisher even includes pictures in the e-version. If I had a gazillion dollars, I’d buy an iPad. And a monkey, because I’ve always wanted a monkey. And a fur coat, but not a real fur coat, that’s cruel. But if I had to choose between the iPad and the Kindle as a reading device for my child–and solely a reading device–I’d pick the Kindle (or the nook, B&N, if you’d like to give me one). Why? The Kindle may be far from perfect, but it’s the more bookish reader. The lack of bells and whistles makes it easier for small, easily distracted minions to focus, the page buttons are easy to use, and it’s lightweight, much like an oversize board book.
Yet where the iPad is distracting in its detail, the Kindle is almost completely lacking in sensory details–the feel of pages against fingertips, the clean, ink scent of a book–reading on a Kindle is an almost sterile experience. For teens and adults, this can be a good thing, as it helps take a reader deeper inside a book. But for a child still learning about books and reading, and developing their senses, such a lack is a terrible thing.
Reading with your little one is a large part of fostering a love of reading. Curling up together in a comfy chair, reading before bedtime, peeking beneath flaps and scratching and sniffing small plastic dots together are all part of the bonding experience. If we strip away the social aspect–the bonding aspect–of reading together, it’s possible kids simply won’t learn to love books, and that video games and television will become the order of the day.
Will my kidlet ever have an e-reader? Probably–as he grows older and the technology becomes cheaper, an e-reader like Amazon’s DX could be useful for textbooks (and prevent the textbook stoop I suffered from as school-loving nerdlet) and school reading assignments. Right now, though, neither a Kindle nor an iPad are on the books–because Mir’s too busy reading real ones.
We love them, we hate them, we’re frightened of them. Some think they’ll kill the book. Others think they’ll save it. Team E-Book & Team Book-Book may regularly clash, but I think one thing is clear: e-books aren’t going away anytime soon.
Lately, I’ve been reading several books at once–Shades of Grey (Jasper Fforde; my latest review title) and Dreamsongs II (George R.R. Martin) in print, The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) and The Thief (Megan Whalen Turner) on my Kindle. Much as I love reading print novels, I’ve found that I finish e-novels sooner.
Team Book-Book: A Sensory Experience
For me, reading print books is about more than the written word. I love about the feel of the pages beneath my fingers and the slightly acidic new book smell that lingers long after I’ve cracked a title. For many books, especially those with enticing dust jackets, I’m constantly waiting for the a-ha! moment, the moment when I realize the significance of a cover illustration or untangle the clues in a book’s back cover copy.
I read quickly–pre-baby, I could finish up to three books in a day, particularly since I’m happy to lose sleep when there’s a good story to be had. Now, I read in short snatches of time–when the kidlet has dozed off for a while, when I’m stirring something on the stove (the book rests in a cookbook holder lest I drop it into a pot). When I read with the kidlet on my lap or snuggled onto my chest, I have to balance the book on the arm of a chair, or against propped up knees. (If I get my knees positioned just right, Mir’s feet hold the pages open for me.)
Each time I pick up my latest book, I scrutinize the cover for a moment, then riffle through to my spot. As I read, I’m very aware of the book itself, and I pay attention to grammar, spelling, sentence construction, plot reveals etc., making mental notes as I go, and summarizing them later, when I can reach my MacBook (no, I didn’t add the caps–Pages did it for me). Enjoying the story is still a big part of reading, but I have trouble letting go of work, particularly since most of the books I read inform my reviewing or writing in some way.
Team E-book: Words Alone
I resisted reading on the Kindle at first. I hate animated page turns, I hate the coolness of most metals (I love to be warm), and I hated the idea of losing my beloved new book smell. But when I did start reading on it (about 2 hours after Joe pressed it into my hot little hands), it was warm, light, and, best of all, easy. Within moments, I was lost in The Obernewtyn Chronicles.
At first, I missed all the sensory details paired with reading a print book. But the longer I read, the less I noticed the lack of pages and scent. In fact, the more I read on the Kindle, more absorbed I become–I can’t flick back to the cover or be distracted by drawing parallels between the synopsis and where I am in the story. Grammar, sentence construction &c. fall away in favor of the plot, and the plot alone–I make many fewer notes, even though it’s easier to do (the Kindle, like most e-readers, has an easy-access annotation function). All that remains are the words, the story, and the characters–my interpretation of the characters, that is. In the absence of cover art (some Kindle books have covers, but I haven’t seen any so far) I’m forced to imagine more, and I find I’m quite enjoying it.
It’s possible that Kindle reading is making me lazy and single-minded (insofar as a new mother can ever be single-minded). After all, it’s harder to rouse me from reading on my Kindle, and, while turning pages isn’t exactly a calorie-scorcher, it does force me to move more than the thumb clicks required by the Kindle. And, as a writer and reviewer, it’s important I continue note-taking and analyzing what I read. That said, it’s pleasant to relax into a book, and read for the sake of reading. So far, I compromise my reading “me” books on the Kindle, and everything else in print.
Of course, the immersion that comes with reading on the Kindle only works for simple, word-only e-readers. App-books like those Penguin recently demoed for the iPad are far too interactive for focused reading–the temptation of reading someone else’s margin comments or stopping to chat with a friend will be far too great for most readers (myself included). It’s likely that the iPad will also feature video content (along the lines of Barnes & Noble’s vook), providing ready-made-no-need-to-fire-up-the-imagination-muscles characters.
Few teens I know have access to a Kindle or other e-reader (though the Cushing Academy may be changing that). Many do read online, though, as easily as they read in print. Do they find e-books easier to read?
But will e-books help teens read deeper, the way the Kindle does for me? If e-ink and electronic paper remain the order of the day, probably. And to some extent, publishers are betting on it. More and more titles, particularly YA titles, are hitting the virtual shelves (though some houses continue to publish e-books with a delay). According to Jack Gantos, a professor of children’s literature and Farrar, Straus & Giroux’s first teen e-book author, “We’ve reached the tipping point—the technology is in the school, the kids know how to use it. It just makes sense.”
FSG’s VP and director of marketing Laurie Brown agrees.“We think kids have less resistance to reading on their computers.”
In an October 2009 report, PW notes that,
”When we asked about their affection for a digital reading device for fun reading (not schoolwork) if the price were affordable, 46% said they preferred printed books. Another 38% said they would like one, and 16% indicated they were not sure how they felt about this.
When asked if they’d like to read textbooks as e-books, they were evenly split, with 36% saying yes, 33% saying they were not sure, and 31% saying they would not be interested.
Nearly one-quarter (24%) have read an e-book, while 27% would like to read one. Almost half (49%) said they have no interest in reading e-books.
When asked how they have read an e-book, 26% have done so on a computer while 33% used a dedicated digital reading device and 5% used another method. Seven out of 10 (71%) say they have never read one.”
Although these findings may suggest YA readers are uninterested in e-books, I think it’s important to note that these statistics are higher than the adult adoption/interest in e-readers. Moreover, with the proliferation of iPhone apps and the like for younger children, it’s likely the number of teens reading e-books will increase fairly quickly over the next few years (my kidlet does not have any iPhone apps, but he does have his own toy iPhone).
Are you on Team Book-Book or Team E-book? Do you use an e-reader? How do you read on it? Are print books just words, or a full experience?
Read more of my thoughts on the Kindle & other e-readers:
- Penguin & the iPad: Taking Books to the Next Level, or Leaving them in the Dust?
- Amazon vs. Apple: the War on E-book Pricing and the YA Market
- Book Love & the Kindle: a Match Made in Purgatory?
Image via Amazon