Category Archives: e-books

5

71% of people make an odd decision

I think I’m a bit of an anomaly in the book world, and I don’t even mean publishing, but the larger group of people known as “readers.” I was surprised to read that 71% of travelers at Heathrow said they’d prefer to bring a physical book on vacation. Which leads me to confess: I almost never buy print books. That isn’t to say my apartment isn’t overflowing with them. In fact, I have more than I know what to do with, but this may stem from my compulsive need to have each of my authors’ books in my home. And then there are my favorite books, which take up another bookshelf. And I do have a bit of an addiction to coffee table books; if I see a museum show and like it, I must have the accompanying book (which I do look at, despite what my partner thinks). But for novels and general nonfiction, I turn to my tablet, where I buy books from all the major retailers. I prefer the convenience of reduced weight and the fact that I can carry several titles with me at all times. I guess I’m more tied to reading than I am to books.

But, I don’t want this to turn into an argument about the merits of physical books over e-books or vice-versa. I think they both have their place, and people each have their preferences. If nothing else, it shows that both can co-exist somewhat peacefully. In fact, I must admit: I’m curious how many of the 71% actually read e-books in non-vacation settings. How many of you out there are hybrid readers? Are physical books saved for special occasions?

2

Game, Set, MatchBook

Last week Amazon announced a new program, Kindle MatchBook. It’s  not, as some hoped  wondered, a dating site for book enthusiasts, nor is it something out of Fahrenheit 451, as the funny folks at Book Riot suggested. But it’s still something to get fired up about: MatchBook essentially bundles paper and digital together by offering you the e-book at a discount when you buy the print edition.

There’s a lot to love about this. Many avid readers still care about the look, feel, smell of a book as an object, but also love the ease and affordability of e-books, and have been eager for an affordable way to enjoy both formats at once. Do you like to buy books for gifts? Now you can delight your friends and family with brand new hardcovers, and snatch up the e-book for yourself for just a couple bucks more. Did you lend your favorite Neil Gaiman book to a friend who then moved to Australia? No worries, mate – replace it with the e-book for pocket change. That’s right! MatchBook applies to books you’ve purchased on Amazon.com going all the way back to 1995 when the bookstore launched. That’s quite a few lifetimes in internet years.

The titles available with MatchBook depend on publisher participation. So far HarperCollins has signed on, as well as all of Amazon Publishing’s imprint, and titles self-published through Amazon KDP. It remains to be seen which other publishers will jump on board as well. But it’s an exciting first step towards having your book and e-reading it too.

What do you think? Have you been wishing for bundling to become a thing?

Is reading changing?

I’m on vacation next week (Yay!) and for reasons I’ve never really understood (perhaps therapy would help), I’m in that clear-my-desk-of-everything-I’ve-been-meaning-to-take-care-of-since-January mode while being suddenly bombarded with contracts, manuscripts, and proposals that I’ve been waiting for roughly since, well, January and which have chosen this week to make an appearance with an “urgent” flag attached to them.  Of course, it’s my blog week as well so, in full pre-vacation madness, I shamelessly stole Jim McCarthy’s idea to ask his Twitter followers to suggest a topic for him when he returned from his travels. Several people helpfully responded to my plea and I very much appreciate their input.

The one idea that jumped out at me was submitted by our client Kevin Grange: “People are increasingly reading in shorter bursts on various e-devices. Should we construct stories differently? Thoughts?”

Partly, I sparked to this one because I’ve been fantasizing about which of my books I’m going to lug a physical copy of and which ones I’m going to add to my Kindle Fire.  (My grasp, as always, exceeds my reach here, folks.  I’m packing books like I’ve been sentenced to solitary confinement in Siberia instead of a week at the beach with my family.)

Despite my initial impulse to deny that my reading habits have changed at all and that, therefore, there’s any need to change the essential structure of storytelling,  Kevin’s question made me realize that I do, indeed, read in shorter bursts when using my Kindle (or any other electronic device).  In part, this is because, I don’t care what anyone says, my eyes get tired more quickly reading a screen.  Mostly, though, it has to do with the fact that Words With Friends, Ruzzle, Facebook, and the whole of the internet is also on my Kindle along with the 300 other titles and manuscripts residing therein.  So, if I hit a dull patch in my book, there’s always something else to take its place.

But does this mean that authors need to write shorter?  Shorter sentences?  Shorter paragraphs?  Shorter chapters?  Shorter books?  And is it already happening?

Thriller writers have known for years that trim chapters ending in cliffhangers build that all-important momentum, leading inexorably to the climactic scene involving a sinister villain, a put-upon hero(ine), and lots of weaponry.   But, does the fact that increasingly we’re ingesting our literature on e-readers mean that even literary fiction and nonfiction are conforming to the dictates of our ever shorter attention spans?

Instinctively, I want to say they are, but I’ve no solid data on the subject.  Basically,  I’m going to keep this in mind as I read and edit and consider new projects.  Meanwhile, I’ll just restate Kevin’s very good question here and ask what you all think.  For the writers out there, are you consciously shortening your stride when writing?  And for the readers, do you find, as I do, that you have less stickwithitness?

0

Getting to Know You

As Jane told you last week, I’m the new kid on the block, and I’m excited to be working with DGLM’s clients on their digital projects.

If you read my bio, you know that I was born a bookworm, and probably not long after that started obnoxiously correcting other people’s grammar. So it’s no surprise that I got myself an English degree, had a bookstore gig for a few years, and then came to NYC to work in publishing in 2009. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about the challenges and the opportunities of the digital publishing revolution, and am eager to put that knowledge at the disposal of DGLM’s authors.

Since I’m new here, I bet you’re curious about what I read! In general, I am obsessed with literary fiction, especially if it’s witty; well-written thrillers with smart twists; and pretty much anything with an unreliable narrator. (That admission might lead you to question this blog post – don’t worry, it’s entirely legit…or is it.) After all, whether you love e-books, paper books, or a little bit of both, it’s all about the storytelling.

4

Revising Literature

In T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, he writes:

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

I always associate these lines with any sort of creative process, none so more than writing. Although not a writer myself, aside from some university dissertations which I dare not revisit, I become intrigued when I read this article about a collection of first edition books that have been annotated by their author and will be sold off at a charity auction. Some of the authors are rather scathing of their own work such as Yann Martel, who concedes he never completely liked the opening line of The Life of Pi. Other annotations include small details like Lynne Truss fixing a hyphen that appears on the title page of Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Despite the success that all these authors have continued to have, I did wonder if they slightly gnashed their teeth in frustration as they penned their annotations, being unable to permanently improve or alter their books.

The annotations made by these authors on their own works does speak to Eliot’s words, in that they must have pored over each page of their manuscript, made corrections, scrubbed out words only to later add them back in but at some point had to take their toast and tea and draw the line somewhere. In turn, as books now appear in digital as well as print, is there the possibility that an author could endlessly tinker with their work? This piece in the Christian Science Monitor a number of years ago pondered the very question with its author concluding that this could very well be a ‘doomsday scenario’. In journalism, it is not infrequent to have articles amended, so can the same opportunity be afforded to authors who may wish to use the malleability of an e-book to tinker with their own work as time goes by? Or once published, should they be left untouched? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Creatures of Habit

Over the weekend my roommate was showing me an app on his smartphone, one that analyses your sleeping pattern. You place your smartphone in bed and by charting your movements the app is able to determine whether you are in a deep sleep state or a light sleep state. The app then programs your alarm to wake you up in the light sleep phase closest to the time you wish to wake up, thus ensuring that you will start off your day bright eyed and bushy tailed.

What interested me about this device however is that its output consists of graphs, numbers and statistics, data which does not visually reflect the more subjective and emotional side of sleep, which is dreams. Does the empirical complement or explain the ethereal? Can raw data explain why I always miss the last minute winning goal for my boyhood soccer team? (It’s a recurring dream, so I’ll always get another chance).

With this swirling around my head, I was drawn to this article on the Guardian. The article posits that e-books are a different genre from print books because, “With the book, the reader’s relationship to the text is private, and the book is continuous over space, time and reader. Neither of these propositions is necessarily the case with the e-book. The e-book gathers a great deal of information about our reading habits: when we start to read, when we stop, how quickly or slowly we read, when we skip pages, when we re-read, what we choose to highlight, what we choose to read next.”

To link my personal anecdote with the article – will the e-book and its possibility to trace and digest our preferences change the role of our relationship with books? Much like the alarm being set to suit the sleeper, will the e-book become malleable to the reader’s preferences?

I am still chewing this over and over. I see the journalist’s point, that by being able to extrapolate a reader’s reading habits through an e-book we would be able to see what kind of reader we are through a set of data, that can then be used to adapt the text, “If 50% of readers stopped reading you postmodernist thriller at page 98, the publisher might recommend that for Version 2.0, the plot twist on page 110 be brought forward.”

It is indeed an interesting perspective to the future , but is not yet the reality, which is why I am still mulling over the possibilities over private vs. public reading habits. In the meantime, let me know what you think of this article. Is this the way you view e-books? I’ll get back to you in a future blog post with more thoughts on this debate and I’ll let you know if I ever score that winning goal!

5

Golden Age?

A few days back, NPR did an interesting interview with Little Brown publisher Michael Pietsch, best known for being the editor of authors like David Foster Wallace and James Patterson, who is just about to take over the helm of the Hachette Book group, one of Publishing’s “big six” conglomerates.  His declaration that we are now in “the golden age of publishing” might strike you as Panglossian delusion, or—if you are me—maybe, just possibly, a little bit true.

I suppose, as Zhou en Lai said about the impact of the French Revolution, it’s too early to say.  Pietsch is a persuasive spokesman for what the new indie publishing movement might regard as the ancient regime.   It’s true that he’s not all that likely to rail about the benefits of creative destruction—but he made some good points.

“What has changed in a really exciting way is the ways you can get people’s attention. It used to be one book review at a time, a daily review, maybe you get into Time magazine. Now there’s, with the Internet, this giant echo chamber. Anything good that happens, any genuine excitement that a book elicits can be amplified and repeated and streamed and forwarded and linked in a way that excitement spreads more quickly and universally than ever before. And what I’m seeing is that really wonderful books — the books that people get genuinely excited about because they change their lives, they give them new ideas — those books can travel faster, go further, sell more copies sooner than ever before. It’s just energized the whole business in a thrilling way.”

I do agree with Pietsch. But it’s also true that the internet is so vast, fractured and compartmentalized, that lighting this wildfire word of mouth—getting something to go viral—is harder than a status update and a clever tweet.  Once upon a time, back in the (possibly mythical) days of the “monoculture,” when most Americans had some shared sense of big books, popular musicians, and hit TV, Time magazine had a huge subscription base—a review there, or a spot on a leading morning show could launch a book into best-sellerdom.  This is still true to a certain extent, but I have heard plenty of publicity directors note (and sometimes mourn) the demise of the old certitudes.  It seems to me that publishers see the potential of our new paradigm, where newspaper book reviews are few but book bloggers proliferate and readers can rave about their favorite authors to a potentially unlimited audience, but are still figuring out just how to leverage it. Publicity and marketing plans includes online marketing and social media, but publishing houses are a long way from mastering these new tools.

As you all doubtless have heard, cultivating an on-line presence is regarded as much the author’s duty as the ability to write.  This can feel a bit burdensome, but it’s also true that authors have greater influence over the fates of their books then once they did.  Most authors were never in a position to call up a Today Show producer and pitch their stories, but they can, with diligence and work and a pinch of luck, try to connect their book with its readers.

What do you think?

Golden Age?  France in 1788?

The best of all possible worlds

Last night I walked a couple of blocks down Fifth Avenue to the brownstone home of the Salmagundi Art Club for a panel discussion of “Publishing in the Digital Age” hosted by the Deadline Club.  It was a miserable evening, weather-wise (as soon as I walked out the door of 1 Union Square West, the heavens opened, cabs splashed water as I waited for the lights to change, and my hair took on the proportions of Diana Ross’ favorite wig), but the panel discussion was lively and informative.

The question on everyone’s mind seemed to be “Should we panic about the state of the book business in the wake of the digital revolution or do we dare be optimistic.”  Our job on the panel was to illuminate the big issues preoccupying publishers and authors while attempting not to freak anyone out.  Overall, my fellow panelists and I were quite optimistic about the opportunities digital publishing affords while still admitting to twinges of regret over the passing of the traditional, wood paneled, musty smelling industry we all came of age in.

The optimism on our end came down to “choice.”  Authors have more choices now than they ever did.  They can self-publish easily and relatively economically if they choose or they can go through the traditional channels and, if that doesn’t pan out, go back to the idea of self-publishing.  Before e-books, if an author was rejected by enough agents and publishers, the idea of printing and distributing his or her own work was a daunting one.  Now, it’s a relatively painless process.

So, how is this good news to us inside the industry?  Well, what empowers authors usually empowers agents and, perhaps to a lesser degree, publishers.  Publishers and agents still provide an invaluable service in terms of curating literary material.  We still bring experience, love of craft, and critical acumen to bear on the process of book making and we’re pretty good at it.  And, authors and readers know this.  While self-publishing is now a thriving business, traditional publishing continues to publish more (digital and print) books every year.   And readers continue to buy these curated products.   Despite the perception of the business as the Titanic wildly trying to skirt the iceberg, publishers are making real efforts to keep up with the changing times so that they can bring their traditional talents to bear on the work authors are producing today.

Not to get all Panglossian about it, but isn’t this the best of all possible worlds?

3

Changes in Reading

My last blog entry of 2012 focused on a community who refilled the shelves of their recently shut down local library. This heart-warming story illustrated the importance that underscores the presence of a library or a bookstore in a community. Books can be found in and contribute to creating some of the most elegant stores in the world. These are buildings that house a wealth of entertainment, intellect, and emotion that are to be found in books.

Now let me swing to the opposite side for my first post of 2013 and tell you about a building that houses a wealth of entertainment, intellect, and emotion but does not possess a single printed book. Bexar County, TX is set to open the first book-less library this summer. The library will allow its residents to have access to electronic titles and let them check out e-readers. One of the architects behind the BiblioTech has reasoned that “The ever-changing landscape of technology means that literacy is no longer about picking up a physical book and being able to comprehend the words…Technology is changing the way we read, learn and thrive as citizens of the 21st Century.”

I agree with the sentiments behind this reasoning but I wouldn’t put it so didactically. The development of technology gives us options for how we read. It caters to a whole spectrum of taste, lifestyle, and needs. I don’t think we have to negate one to have the other or have to stand on a particular side of the fence and declare our allegiance. While I am grateful to be able to slip out my slinky e-reader whilst being crushed on the morning subway, I am just as thrilled to be able to ease back in a comfy chair, put my feet up and thumb my way through a hefty print book.

This is why I was intrigued to read this article that highlighted the presence of e-readers in traditional book stores in the UK. Essentially, e-readers sold at the bookstore would see the bookstore take a cut of future e-book sales, giving them an added revenue stream. Not confined to the UK, a number of US indie bookstores are also getting in on the act and through your reading device you are able to purchase e-book titles through independent bookstores.

For me, the development of technology has given us more options in the way we read. I have not been forced to choose one or the other and am excited to see if the conversation about print and electronic versions of books will begin to embrace one another rather than remain diametrically opposed. After all when you mix technology and books together and get this, it’s worth staying optimistic.

Are you embracing the best of both worlds? Or are you set in your reading ways. I’d love to know!

6

The Times it is a-changing

For the first time since 2004, the New York Times has made changes to their children’s bestseller lists. Up to this change, there were picture book, chapter book, paperback and series lists, with ten titles on each list (see here, though you’ll have to scroll down and click on the link for each list individually). There were complaints about the list (there are always complaints about the list), and publishers had been pushing for more space, especially as children’s sales increased dramatically. For comparison, the adult hardcover fiction list has fifteen slots, plus twenty on the extended list, for thirty-five slots total. In addition, many of us in the industry have complained about non-fiction titles dominating the chapter book list, particularly some licensed, toy-based books. The bestseller list is an important sales tool, not just an indicator of sales, and we know that the “New York Times Bestseller” designation for a book and author mean more attention from stores, libraries and consumers. Those of us bothered by the inclusion of those books felt that there were other titles that would benefit more from the attention that making the list brings, whereas these branded books would sell the same number of copies, with or without the designation. It’s not that they don’t deserve to be on a list; the chapter book list just seemed an odd fit.

So, when I heard from a source that the lists would be changing, I was hopeful. Sadly, this is definitely a case of “be careful what you wish for.” In their statement that proceeds the new list, the Times says they’ve made these changes in the list to reflect the changes in the book world, i.e. e-books. So now they have a picture book, middle grade, young adult, and series lists. The lists are format agnostic, so all hardcover, paperback and e-book sales on a title are included in the count. In addition, the MG and YA lists now include a short, five-slot extended list.

This all seems like it should be positive. I’ve been arguing that e-book sales should count towards the list, and there are ten new slots. But looking at the results for the first week, it’s disappointing. In splitting the books onto MG and YA (I can’t wait for when the Times puts a book on the “wrong” list), all of the children’s non-fiction, including those licensed books that drive me nuts, moved to the MG list. As such, eight of the top ten are nonfiction, and only two of those are narrative. The YA list is free of non-fiction, which is great. And it’s nice to see the quality, depth and breadth of the books on the list. But digging into the sales numbers a bit, it’s clear just how disadvantaged MG books are. Without the non-fiction to compete with, the YA list features titles on the main list that aren’t selling as well as some of the titles on the MG extended list. I’m basing this on one list, but from what I can see, it’s going to be much more difficult to have a MG bestseller than a YA one.

Though we know the times is now tracking hardcover, paperback and e-book sales for each title, it’s also unclear how the sales are weighted (and the Times guards their formula closely). The biggest question in this regard are about e-books. Are they tracking self-published books that are categorized as YA or MG? Does the price of the book effect the weighting? Could a publisher put an e-book on sale and watch their book jump onto the list? Making the list has always had an element of gamesmanship (colleagues and I like to joke about which book will magically land in the #10 spot, oftentimes despite dismal sales), but I think we’re in for an intense period of experimentation to see how e-book sales impact recognition.

And, I have one last complaint. With the start of the new MG and YA lists, the Times has reset each title’s “weeks on the list” count to 1. That means that Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF went from 272 weeks on the list back down to 1. It’s going to make it awfully tough for the next few months to easily see which books have been successful in the long run. Over time, this would cease to be an issue, but I hope the Times figures out a way to restore those “weeks on” counts.

End of rant. Any thoughts about the new lists and their impact?