Posts Tagged ‘ebooks’

imgresYou see this meme repeatedly on Facebook—a Venn diagram showing the small intersection between what the author meant and what the English teacher thinks the author meant. Usually it’s posted by an author who’s convinced that English teachers are evil witches distorting an author’s true meaning. English teachers, say the authors, should just stick to grammar and leave literature alone.

I’ve got a sort of unique perspective here since I’m an author and a retired English teacher. I’ve taught literature and I’ve taught grammar, and I’ve enjoyed both. Moreover, I agree with the poet Donald Hall who once said that a lot of people go into teaching English because they love to read and want to talk about books (Hall thought that was a problem, but I’m not sure I agree). I’ve also encountered the same kind of hostility toward interpretation that you get in that meme.

But here’s the thing: the meme implies that there’s only one meaning in a book, and it’s the meaning put there by the author. On the other side of that idea is reading theory, which holds that the meaning of a book rests with the reader, and that it changes with each person who opens the book. As a teacher, author, and reader, I’d say the truth lies somewhere between those two poles. Reading isn’t anarchy—some readings clearly have more validity than others. But authors don’t always see what readers see, and a work that can only be understood one way can be tiresome to read.

But what about those totally weird interpretations English teachers come up with? That goes back to the whole multiple meanings idea. Like other readers, English teachers come to books with a particular point of view. Some English teachers like to look at history (e.g., what was going on in Shakespeare’s England when he wrote King Lear?). Some prefer cultural criticism (e.g., how does nineteenth century colonialism inform Joseph Conrad’s work?). Some are feminists or psychologists or close readers who delight in language. Their interpretations seem weird only if you assume that there’s only one way to read—a meaning the author built in originally.

I’ve occasionally had people claim that reading that arrives at an interpretation other than the author’s “ruins” a book. One of my husband’s relatives once accused me of spoiling Huck Finn by suggesting it was a lot more than a “simple children’s book.” A quick aside: Huck Finn includes child abuse and murder, along with some shocking violence. I wouldn’t suggest giving it to a child unless that child is beyond the age of nightmares.

As an English teacher, I felt honor bound to push my students into looking beyond their kneejerk reactions to a book. That doesn’t “ruin” the book. That makes it richer.

In reality, English teachers can be authors’ friends. They’re sort of “super-readers”: people who love books and language, and who want to pass that love on to others. When they press students to go beyond their initial impressions of a book, they’re pressing them to think about what they’re reading. To pay attention to features like characterization and language, along with plot. Students who come out of a good English teacher’s class are more likely to be people who love to read. They’re not our enemies, folks, they’re our allies.

Read Full Post »

Avast, Me Buckos

Normally, I don’t comment on pirates and piracy. Yeah, it’s wrong. Yeah, it’s a royal pain in the ass. Yeah, it’s probably siphoning off some of my royalties. On the other hand, people who regularly download books from piracy sites probably aren’t going to be buying my books anyway since they don’t pay for books in general.

However, a recent discussion of piracy on Reddit.com got my attention (via Twitter) and finally prodded my out of my reluctance to get involved in this discussion. Several of the commenters on the site had what they considered a righteous reason for pirating ebooks. Publishers, they argued, were pricing their ebooks at the same level they priced their print books. That wasn’t fair, since ebooks didn’t come with the same benefits that print books did (e.g., no way to share, no way to sell used copies, requires expensive ebook reader, etc.). Therefore, those who pirated books were striking a blow for intellectual freedom. Down with corporate publishers and their cluelessness regarding ebooks!

Now let me say right here that I think some publishers are dumb about their ebook pricing. There’s no excuse for pricing an ebook at the same level as a hardback given that ebook production costs are so much lower. Having said that, however, I find this particular argument to be horsecrap.

It might work if the only books being pirated were by Steig Larsson and Stephen King, but we all know that isn’t so. In digital form, my books sell for somewhere between $4.50 and $5.50, depending on where you buy them. In other words, my books sell for about as much as a Vente Starbucks Frappacino. And when somebody pirates my books, they aren’t striking a blow against corporate publishing, they’re striking a blow against a relatively small, independent publisher (owned and largely operated by women, by the way).

But the thing is, I don’t think the average pirate really believes she’s doing anything like undermining the publishing industry. She’s getting something for free that she’d otherwise have to pay for. That’s basically all this is about—getting something free. In doing so, she’s refusing to pay me for my work and she’s refusing to pay Samhain for their work, but my guess is that’s not a big concern for her. The people who download dozens—even hundreds—of books are mainly chortling at having avoided paying anybody for anything.

Okay, so now, the rest of this post is addressed to the pirates; everybody else can take five because I’m honestly not talking to you (not you good, book-buying souls. Honest—please don’t think I’m talking to you). You’re stealing, bubbeleh. Yes, you are. And this isn’t Robin Hood we’re talking about—believe me, stealing my book is definitely not taking from the rich. And it ain’t giving to the poor either, unless you’re referring to poor little you. So don’t pretend that you’re making some kind of political statement. You aren’t. You’re just stealing. You think books are too expensive? Fine. Search out your local library; they’d probably be glad of your patronage. You want to read ebooks? Fine. Some libraries have them available, but even if yours doesn’t, you can confine yourself to Amazon freebies or low-cost publications.

But if you go on stealing, don’t pretend you’re doing something else. If you can’t be honest about buying somebody else’s work, at least be honest about what you’re doing here. You’re a thief, toots. And that’s all there is to it.



Read Full Post »

A few weeks ago, Amazon announced an interesting statistic: their e-book sales, which had earlier eclipsed their hardback sales, had now exceeded their paperback sales. E-books were officially Amazon’s best-selling format.

The response from a certain segment of the romance-writing community was immediate, although not exactly what you might expect. Amazon, they said, was lying. E-books couldn’t be more popular than print. They never would be. It was all marketing—Amazon just wanted to sell Kindles. E-books were just a passing fad and e-book readers were selfish swine who were destroying independent booksellers and probably responsible for the bankruptcy of Borders. Lalalalalala—I can’t heeeeear you!

Those of us who write e-books may not have found this response all that surprising. For years some segments of this community have tried to marginalize us or pretend we don’t exist. We were told our books weren’t “real” books. We were told that the “stigma” of electronic publishing would prevent us from ever being published by a print publisher. For a few years, we were even kept out of the Professional Authors Network of RWA because membership required a publisher’s advance of twelve hundred dollars, and most e-publishers give higher royalty payments instead of advances (the membership rules have since changed). One former president of RWA wrote editorials in the organization’s magazine that were so patronizing to e-book authors (and so dismissive of their work) that several e-book authors I know dropped their membership in protest.

RWA has become somewhat more ebook friendly since then. The current leadership is much less inclined to dismiss us and changes have been made to contest rules and rules for discussion and special interest groups to make it easier for us to participate. But the old attitudes still lurk around the edges, especially when the topic of e-book sales comes up.

Now let me go on record here as saying I believe Amazon is telling the truth: their e-book sales probably have exceeded their other sales. But I also believe that e-book sales in general are still not as great as print sales in general. I own a Kindle myself, but I read more hardbacks and paperbacks for the most part (courtesy of my trusty local library).

Still, I also believe the growth in e-book sales isn’t going to slack off for a simple reason: my younger son reads his newspapers and magazines on line. I don’t, you see. I have a newspaper subscription, also subscriptions to several magazines. I have no particular interest in reading them on my phone or on an iPad. But my son has no interest in reading them in paper. My son’s generation will eventually be the major book buyers, and my son’s generation has no problem with reading electronically. In fact, they seem to prefer it.

So will print disappear? Of course not. Will it become less common? I think so, but perhaps not soon. Will the romance-writing community learn to suck it up?

Lordy, let’s hope so. I’m really tired of these discussions about how e-books are either a flash in the pan or the end of Western civilization as we know it.


Read Full Post »

RITA and Me

This is the second year I’ve entered books in the RITA contest, sponsored by the Romance Writers of American. The RITA is probably the most prestigious award for romance novelists, given that we’re not considered for things like the National Book Award. The number of entries is capped at 1,200, and every year some people don’t get in under the deadline.

This is the first year when I’ve also volunteered to judge the RITA. I had to think long and hard about doing it, since it meant reading and judging six to eight complete novels in a couple of months. However, I feel strongly that if you’re going to enter contests, you need to give back by agreeing to judge them too. So I entered my preferences and sat down to wait for my package.

While everyone was waiting for their books to show up, a spirited discussion started on the Professional Authors Network (PAN) list. Some of the authors wished that the RITA could become electronic. They lived in places that had had epic snowfalls, or they lived in countries other than the USA, and they knew it was going to take a while for their books to be delivered. They wanted them now.

The response from many PAN members was immediate and (sort of) predictable. Electronic files would never work. Not everybody had e-readers and even for the ones who did, what possible format could suffice for all the different readers out there? Lots of people didn’t like reading electronic files and preferred hard copy. Lots of people regarded the books themselves as a reward for judging the contest. It was already too complicated to get the printed volumes sent to the judges; electronic files would just make it worse. And wasn’t this just another of those ongoing arguments where the ebook authors bitched about being unappreciated?

Well, no, it wasn’t. I’ve been judging contests for a while now, like a lot of members of PAN. And what I’ve seen over the past three or four years has been the gradual transformation of most contests from printed pages to electronic files. Electronic files are easier to distribute and return, easier to comment upon, and in many ways easier to read, given the variable quality of photocopiers. Now granted, most contests are for unpublished authors and their entries run twenty to thirty pages rather than complete MSS. But what works for these contests should also work for contests like the RITA.

To take the objections in turn:

Not everybody has e-readers and even for the ones who do, what possible format could suffice for all the different readers out there? For a while many contests for unpubbed writers were both electronic and print. People who preferred electronic files could get them that way, while people who preferred print could get the entries in print. I’ve noticed that that option has pretty much disappeared as more and more judges have gotten used to electronic files. RITA could begin by offering the electronic option for those with ereaders and the hard copy option for those without. My guess is, the majority of judges would eventually go electronic. As for the format, Adobe has this cute little format called .pdf which can be read by virtually every ereader on the market, or failing that, on your computer. And there’s a free program called Calibre that will convert formats for ereaders. Format is sort of a red herring in this argument.

Lots of people don’t like reading electronic files. Lots of people regard the books themselves as a reward for judging the contest. Again, allowing people the option of choosing electronic files would take care of this, and the electronic files would serve as just as much a “reward” as the hard copy ones.

It’s already too complicated to get the printed volumes sent to the judges. This is actually another argument for electronic files. Transmitting printed books requires boxes, postage, correct addresses (and there’s no way to know whether the books were missent until someone complains) and a great deal of time and effort. Transmitting electronic files requires email addresses and a functioning computer. And if the files don’t go through, you find out immediately. It would also be an advantage for authors: sending five copies of a book to RWA for a RITA entry is an additional expense. The reduction in labor and cost for both the organization and the authors could be substantial.

There was one more objection that was made repeatedly to the idea of electronic files—allowing electronic entries might increase the number of authors who entered the RITA. Now some might see this as a plus, but RWA really doesn’t. They’re already having trouble getting enough judges for those 1,200 entries. But right now there’s a good chance that many electronic authors don’t bother to volunteer to judge the RITA because they’re not allowed to enter themselves. In fact, expecting authors to judge who can’t enter is sort of like expecting somebody to decorate for a party to which she’s not invited. If RWA would really like to increase the number of RITA judges, one way to do so would be to allow more people to qualify for the contest in the first place.

There’s some hope for the future here. Other contests for published authors, like the Holt Medallion and the Beanpot, have found ways to allow authors to submit ebooks. When RWA finally decides to take the plunge, there will be precedents for them to follow. I’m hoping eventually that will happen. Meanwhile, if y’all will excuse me now, I gotta go read.


Read Full Post »

I’m an e-book convert, and not just because I’m an e-book author (well, somewhat because of that, but not completely!). I’m a big reader (2-3 books a week) and a somewhat big book collector, although that’s sort of accidental, stemming from the previously mentioned fact that I’m a big reader with a lot of books on hand. When I enjoy a book, I want to hold onto it, maybe go back to it and read it again later. For a while, I even sought out hardback versions of books I really liked so that they’d be even more permanent.

Think for a moment about all that entails. Bookcases, to begin with. Lots of bookcases. I have them all over the house, mostly full. Every once in a while I’d go through them and send some books off to the used book store or to Goodwill or the Friends of the Library so I’d have room for more.  Otherwise, I would have had them stacked to the ceiling. Then think about vacations. I always take an array of books along—in fact, I plan which books to save for vacations because I know I’ll like them (nothing worse than dragging a book along and then discovering you’ve let it take up space in your suitcase when you really don’t want to finish it). When I took vacations where I was flying somewhere, I’d always be really torn about whether to bring the books back or leave them behind. If I liked a book I usually ended up tucking it away in my suitcase, crossing my fingers that it wouldn’t put me over the weight limit.

The real problem with all of this was brought home to me when I started packing up to move to a different state recently. I had all these books and they weighed a ton. I’m packing by myself since my husband has already gone ahead to our future home, which means I end up pushing the boxes of books around when I finish packing them. There’s nothing like pushing boxes of books around to make you wonder if you really need to keep all of them after all. In fact, I came up against a very concrete measurement—did I care enough about this particular book to pay to have it shipped a thousand miles?

Which, believe it or not, brings me to e-books. I bought my e-book reader last fall. I’d thought about it a long time, and I got one of the more expensive ones. I’m not going to tell you which one because, frankly, I don’t think it matters too much which one you get. Just pick up the one that appeals to you.

I started seeing the advantages immediately. I no longer had to pack multiple books for vacation—I just made sure I’d loaded a wide selection on my reader. They were (relatively) cheaper than the hard copy books I’d been reading (although not always; publishers need to work on that). In addition, I knew that even though they were around the price of a used book plus postage, the author was still getting a cut of my money. For a lot of readers that may not mean much, but it meant something to me. Best of all, my e-book reader weighed around a pound or so, even loaded with lots of books, and I was doing something to counter paper bloat.

So do I endorse switching to e-books? Absolutely. Do I endorse getting rid of hard copy altogether? Well, no. Let me tell you about my latest trip. I was going to a meeting in a distant city where I was also going to see my DH for the first time in a month. I had my e-book reader along with me, of course, and I was sitting on the plane reading it quite happily. Suddenly, I accidentally hit the page advance, skipping forward a couple of pages. No problem. I just hit the back button. Then I hit it again. And again. Nothing happened. My e-book reader sat there, frozen, and nothing worked to unfreeze it, not even turning it off.

I panicked. I hadn’t brought along anything to read besides my e-book reader because, well, I had all these books on the reader that I planned to read. I was facing four days with no books. When we landed, I immediately headed into the airport bookstore and found a book I had (sort of) wanted to read, then I headed into town, wondering if I’d just acquired a very expensive paperweight. I hadn’t, as it turned out. The nice guy at customer service told me where the reset button was hiding. “They’re computers,” he said helpfully. “They sometimes get hung up.” Which is sort of reassuring, but not entirely. My highly reliable home computer just blew its power supply and was down for a week. If my e-book reader went down for a week while I was depending on it entirely, I’d be in deep doo-doo, as they say.

So no, you can’t do away with hard copy books entirely. But you can certainly cut back. And ultimately, I think you’ll be glad you did, particularly if you have to move.

Read Full Post »