Short Saturday: Evaluating Self-Published Authors

There’a always something interesting going on at Writer Unboxed. I read this article, “Ten Things I’ve Learned from Evaluating Self-Published Books for a Year,” when it was published last winter. The evaluating (and endorsing) was done by two publishing professionals, Jessica Bennett and Leslie Ramey, who’d formed a company—Compulsion Reads*—to “shine the spotlight on quality indie books by endorsing those books that meet CR’s strict quality standards.”

Since I’ve read very few self-published novels unless I was paid to do so, I was intrigued. Bennett tells us she averaged two self-pubbed books a week for more than a year, which I’d say is a pretty good market sample. What did she learn? Look past the amazings to the good stuff:

1. There are many amazing self-published books on the market.
2. Many self-publishers publish too early.
3. Self-published authors need to care more about grammar.
4. Self-published authors are amazingly kind and generous.
5. Writing a great novel does not mean it will be successful.
6. Too much telling!
7. Indie authors are incredibly creative.
8. Self-published authors struggle with making big edits to their books.
9. Things are going to get harder for self-published authors before they get easier.
10. Self-published authors need more love.

Read the entire article—there’s some valuable and encouraging information here for those who plan to self-publish, and, as I say, from someone who’s read nothing but indie authors for eighteen months or so. Listen to her!

There were no real suprises for me. Yes, grammar, syntax, and general skill of writing are often lacking. Yes, show-don’t-tell is a pretty big issue. Yes, inexperienced authors are often in a very big hurry, and yes, they often find it very difficult to trust an editor. :) But admitting the problem is the first step to a cure, right?

* Sadly, Compulsion Reads has closed, as the principals found they had no time for their own writing. However, you’ll still be able to see the list of their endorsed books, so have a look! I will too.

 

Tweet: Information and encouragement for authors who self-publish.
Tweet: Yes, new authors often find it difficult to trust an editor. Admitting the problem is the 1st step.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Your Editor Says … | Tagged as: , , ,

Walk On By: That Book I Haven’t Read

If you’ve been around here long, you know I tend to resist reading best sellers. Sure I’ve read some (like this one), but generally speaking, unless I’ve found it before its 277th week on the NYT Best Sellers list—well before—I probably won’t.

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, therefore, is not on my list of books to read. Oh, I saw the reviews when it was new. I know myself (particularly my taste in reading material) pretty well, though, and when I didn’t get that anticipatory anxiety like a gambler on a flight to Vegas, well, I just went on. There are a zillion books I want to read before I die, so if I don’t get the butterflies, I know that book’s not for me.

And really, now … does it sound like me? Strayed (not her real name) had an emotional meltdown at age twenty-six and set out on A Very Long and Potentially Dangerous Hike for which she was completely unprepared. On, you know, a whim. Those of you who know me know I am not that girl. I’m a planner. And I don’t do tents. My idea of roughing it is staying in the Best Western because the Hilton is full up. Elizabeth Gilbert had a meltdown, too, you know, but she went to Italy, which sounds infinitely more fun.

Then a good friend whose reading habits I admire mentioned she wasn’t enjoying Wild. She kept reading, she said, because it had gotten rave reviews and she thought surely she was missing something special. (I don’t know if she persevered.) I also had heard and read the rave reviews … but I felt affirmed in my decision to walk on by.

I’m starting to wonder if the appeal of Wild is in the idea—the notion of just allowing yourself to walk away from everything, to “go crazy” for a moment. From the outside a move like that looks a little like temporary insanity. Or … like a thing we wish we’d had the courage to do.

This was the topic of an online roundtable discussion of the book by three friends of mine (all older than Strayed by at least a decade). One was ready to put the book down: “I don’t see her as bravely struggling against adversity, I see her as just plain stupid—totally unprepared and placing herself at considerable risk.” It was painful to read, she said. Another said, “I didn’t like her much at first, either,” but noted that she wholeheartedly identified with Strayed, having in her own life thrown over all the rules and expectations of her family and forged a new way—because she had no choice, ill-prepared or not. The third found Strayed “foolish and masochistic” and the book monotonous—yet by the end she felt encouraged by Strayed’s experiences. “Something came over me,” she said, almost surprised.

And yet no one with whom I’ve discussed Wild has said, unequivocally, “I loved this book.” I’ve asked a lot of people and can’t find much enthusiasm, in spite of those raves we’d all heard. Women closer to Strayed’s age wince when I ask the question. “No,” they sigh. They wanted to like it. But they just didn’t.

I don’t mean this as an indictment of Wild, honestly. Remember: I haven’t read it. But the reactions of my friends—all eager readers at first—have been interesting. We all bring our life experiences with us when we read any book, don’t we? Mary Oliver says,*

… Truly
I try to be good but sometimes
a person just has to break out and
act like the wild and springy thing
one used to be. It’s impossible not
to remember wild and want it back.

It’s true. I remember that wild. And all this discussion of it makes me wonder how Strayed’s Wild would move me. Or not.

* From “Green, Green Is My Sister’s House,” by Mary Oliver, from A Thousand Mornings (2012).

 

Tweet: Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, is not on my TBR list.
Tweet: When I don’t get that anticipatory anxiety like a gambler on a flight to Vegas, I just go on.
Tweet: Elizabeth Gilbert had a meltdown, too, but she went to Italy, which sounds a lot more fun.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Books You Might Like | Tagged as: , ,

The Power of L … er, Words. What Comes Next Will Amaze You.

The power of [a word] is a curious thing
Make a one man weep, make another man sing …*

You’re a writer, a reader, an emailer, a talker, a texter, a singer in the shower … so you probably also understand the power of words to make someone weep or sing.

I was weeping over some words myself a few weeks ago. Specifically, these words:

You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.

You see, I’d titled a blog post with these [special, funny] words, and was getting spammed many, many times a day. Yes, I have a spam filter. But the filters look for links in the comments, and spammers have begun putting the [pertinent, damnable] link into the authorization information (a lot of folks, it seems, are named Ray-Bans), so a lot of spam gets by. That is, it posts.

This flood of spam started as a trickle, but it seemed like for every spam comment I deleted, two more were posted. Several dozen comments slipped through in just a few hours. I was spending ’way too much time monitoring my blog until I figured out how to close comments for a single post.

After I did that I moaned about it on Facebook—more powerful words!—and within minutes had an explanation. My friend Josh (aka my digital and social media advisor) said,

I think it’s because you quoted The Princes Bride. Imagine how bad it would be if you’d quoted something truly popular, like Twilight!

Oooooh. So here’s three more words for you:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

And believe me, we’re not even going to get into that, except to say that SEO is, according to Wikipedia, “the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s ‘natural’ or un-paid (‘organic’) search results.” That is, by putting into your title, headline, or text words or phrases that seekers might use to find your website, you can affect how close to the top of the list your site lands when someone thus googles.

It’s a bit more complicated than that and there are other factors (links) involved (here’s a page that landed very near the top when I googled SEO), but … that’s the gist. So if you use a very familiar set of words—like “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”—you’re liable to get some attention on the interwebs, kids.

Not that this was attention I wanted. I would love it if more people read [and shared, tweeted, commented upon] my posts. And I know one way I could improve my chances: change my titles. I’ve read all about it. These were the top six posts, in order, when I googled this subject:

How to Craft Post Titles That Draw Readers Into Your Blog
A Simple Formula for Writing Kick-Ass Titles
How to Write an Attention-Grabbing Blog Post Title
5 Ways to Create a Deliciously Irresistible Blog Post Title
Content Strategy: 9 Secrets for Awesome Blog Post Titles
5 Tips for Writing Brilliant Blog Titles

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

No, seriously. Those titles bore me to tears. I get it. I just don’t wanna do it. My post “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green” [most certainly] could become “10 Tips for Self-Editing Your Novel” … but I’d rather not blog at all if I have to do that.

On the other hand, I despise those [stupid, stupid, stupid] click-bait headlines too:

• “This Homeless Dog Was Rescued From Near Certain Death … But What Happened After Is Truly a Miracle.” (Near certain death? Who writes these things?)

• “This Couple’s Adorable Time-Lapse Pregnancy Video Is the Cutest Thing I’ve Ever Seen. Wait ’Til You See Why!” (Oh, stop it.)

• “We Don’t Hear Enough From Native American Voices. Here’s An Inspiring Message From One.” (Rolling my eyes.)

(Although I love them when xkcd parodies them.) Still, you’ve clicked on those headlines, haven’t you? It’s OK. No judgment here: I have too.

Words are powerful. You and I use them, though, to create something greater than the sum of its constituent parts. That goes for my post titles too. I like to employ a little bit of creativity in my work. (And yes, I often take inspiration from song titles.) I think y’all are [smart, fun, quirky] enough to get them.

Am I right? Let me know what you think in the comments. You won’t believe what’s going to happen next. :)

* With apologies to Huey Lewis, Chris Hayes, and Johnny Cole. From the song “The Power of Love,” recorded 30 May 1985 by Huey Lewis and the News.

 

Tweet: The Power of L … er, Words. What Comes Next Will Amaze You.
Tweet: I know one way I could improve the chances for my blog: change my titles. Bo-ring!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in The Arts & Media | Tagged as: , , , , , ,

Short Saturday: How to Be Popular

In keeping with my belief that you should learn more than just #writetips, I’m bringing you a longish article about … well, about agenting, the publishing industry, and how writing a best seller takes equal parts of lucky timing and good writing.

I came across it a couple months ago, probably on Twitter. (The things I do for you!) Published in the online version of n+1 (a magazine of politics, literature, and culture founded in 2004), “How to Be Popular” is an essay by agent Melissa Flashman.

And, as I say, it’s long, but it’s interesting and you should stick with it. There are things to be learned here. Flashman goes over her academic background, including this bit:

I chose [my English lit PhD] program with the hope of becoming an expert on popularity: the popularity of books, mostly novels, though genre hardly mattered. I had the somewhat half-baked idea that I might uncover the secret of why certain books and certain formal concerns are in vogue at a particular moment, from anxieties about signification and point of view in early twentieth-century modernist fiction to vampires in early twenty-first-century popular novels.

If you’re a student of publishing, you’re already hooked, right? (This caught my eye: “Literary fiction is a commercial designation, not an academic one. I’d never heard any of my professors use this term …”)

Almost by accident, Flashman found herself working in publishing.

As an agent’s assistant, much of the fiction I read for work — mostly in the evening and on weekends — was written by graduates of MFA programs, and many of these short stories and novels, with their heightened attention to the details of cultural identity, would have been at home on my syllabi …

And that’s a whole new world, friends.

Then there was fiction that didn’t come from MFA-land but shared its themes. The Kite Runner, as I was quick to point out when it came in on submission …, featured quite a lot of wrestling with identity. I thought I was particularly clever to notice that the story also bore the markings of a classic gothic novel … I may not have completely shed my graduate-student sensibility at this point, but I was turning the pages. Rapidly. The audience for this novel would also be college-educated and identity-savvy, like that of the MFA novels, but it would be different, and bigger: book clubs. This novel was going to be popular in book clubs. I was not alone in my thinking.

Flashman continues to dissect “popular” books, as The Kite Runner surely was (it has sold seven million copies in the United States). And that’s the meat of this article. She concludes, “Ideas, it turns out, can be made popular. And books remain one of the best vehicles for doing so.”

There is much, much more. It’s a fascinating article on how certain ideas seem to reach critical mass and how publishing responds to that. If you’re a writer, there are a lot of interesting ideas here for you to chew on. Dig in.

Tweet: A literary agent discusses what it takes for a book to be popular.
Tweet: How to be popular … in the book world. Maybe.
Tweet: Here’s an article about agenting, publishing, & best sellers.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in The Book Biz | Tagged as: ,

Mistakes Were Made: The First Draft vs. Your Best Effort

You’ve seen it in dozens of movies, so many it’s practically a cliché: on a desperate deadline, the writer frantically types the last words of the manuscript—closeup of the words The End—then rrrrips the paper out of the typewriter carriage, and immediately sends a pile of pages off to his publisher. Finished! (I realize I’m showing my age with this illustration.)

I wish those scenes came with a Don’t try this at home, kids caption. Don’t send me (or your publisher) that first draft. It’s not ready. No, really. Don’t ever submit anything to anyone that isn’t your very best effort. And a first draft isn’t. Hence the name.

I’m not sure how my high school English teacher conveyed this, but everything I turned in—every short story, every essay, every how-I-spent-my-summer-vacation—was written and rewritten and written again. I still write and rewrite and tweak and read aloud. (Yes. Every blog post—read aloud. The cats think I’m nuts.) Occasionally I think some of y’all and I must have had a different English teacher.

I recently had a writer contact me about reserving editorial time. “What’s the word count?” I asked. “I don’t know yet,” she said. “I still have a few chapters to write.” Oh, sugar. If you can’t give me a word count because the manuscript’s not finished yet, you’re still on the first draft and we don’t need to be having this conversation. You’ve still got work to do. Holler at me when you’ve got your Best Effort ready.

But how do you get to that? What do you do once you’ve finished the first draft? Here are some things to factor in to your timeline:

• If you’re under contract and in danger of missing your deadline, call your publisher and ask for an extension (and then be sure you hit that one). There is nothing more unprofessional than someone who should know better handing in what Anne Lamotte calls “the shitty first draft.” If you’re not under contract but working on a self-imposed deadline, be gentle with yourself. Don’t stress. Keep working.

• Now that you’ve finished, set the manuscript aside and take a much-needed break from the computer. You need a cooling-off period. Go shopping. Read a book. Schedule a massage. Get reacquainted with your friends and fam. And sure, you can write—something else.

• Check your contract. Have your written as many words as you said you would? Have you written too many? Too few? If you’ve written on spec, know what word count publishers expect to see in your genre; it will be easier to sell this manuscript if you’re within the norms. More than likely it’s too long, so be prepared to cut.

• After an appropriate interval (at the very least a couple weeks, longer would be fine), take up the manuscript again and begin to read and revise.

• You could start with cleaning up typos, punctuation, and misspellings—these are annoyances that will distract you from more important things.

• Have you lined up beta readers? Have you let a critique partner see the work in progress? Have you addressed that feedback?

• Try reading aloud; you’ll be surprised at what jumps out. Keep an eye on the big picture story; make notes. At the end of this first read, you might ask yourself the four questions about plot. Fix any story problems you’ve discovered, then start on the next pass.

• Some writers take revision in pieces, reading once just to look for telling phrases, say, or just for the beginnings and endings of chapters, making sure the intros and outros lead where you want them to lead (ideally to turn the page). Make a pass for dialogue tags, another for info dumps, and one for duplicate words and phrases.

• Read your dialogue aloud again.

• Tighten up everything. Watch for sentence structure; many less experienced writers tend to use the same three or four constructions over and over.

Do this as many times as you need to until you think it is perfect. (Mind you, this shouldn’t take months or years. We’ve all heard the story about the writer who’s been working on the same novel for a decade but if you’re looking for a career as a writer, you need to finish this book so you can move on to the next one. And the next one.)

So there’s some tension here, between getting the project done … and getting it done right. Between making forward progress without rushing. Between sending your editor a first draft and sending her something editable.

Some time ago, a young writer was directed to me; she had a good story, but it was still a first novel from a first-time writer. And, because she didn’t really know* about the editorial process, it was a first draft. We sent a couple passes back and forth, and toward the end of this process, she sent me a note that made my heart swell: “I feel I’m finally sending you the manuscript that should have been our first pass.” And that, friends, was the manuscript that was ready to be shopped around.

* Want to know what you should look at before we talk? Read this.

 

Tweet: There’s a big difference between sending your editor a first draft & sending her something editable.
Tweet: Don’t send me (or your publisher) that first draft. It’s not ready.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in The Writing Craft, Your Editor Says … | Tagged as: , , , , , ,

The Editor’s Alphabet

A = advance the plot. (Editor’s sentence: Does this scene advance the plot?)

B = butt in the chair. (Editor’s sentence: That novel won’t get written until you quit procrastinating and put your butt in the chair.)

C = Chekhov’s Gun, Principle of. (Editor’s sentence: You never told us what happened to the giraffe. That’s a violation of the Principle of Chekhov’s Gun.)

D = double spacing after a period. (Editor’s sentence: Will you stop double spacing after a period, already?)

E = editor. (Editor’s sentence: Anyone who writes anything needs an editor. No buts about it.)

F = first draft. (Editor’s sentence: Don’t send me your first draft. Ever. Have a nice day!)

G = gatekeepers. (Editor’s sentence: I’ve heard enough rants about gatekeepers. If you want to get published, write me a good story in an interesting voice using nice prose. That is all.)

H = haiku. (Editor’s sentence: Dear author know this— / all that hyperbole makes / cranky editor.)

I = imagery. (Editor’s sentence: Be careful that your search for nice imagery doesn’t turn up purple prose instead.)

J = just keep writing. (Editor’s sentence: The best way to improve is practice. Just keep writing—it’ll come.)

K = kill your darlings. (Editor’s sentence: You will have matured as a writer when you are finally able to kill your darlings for the sake of the work.)

L = little details count. (Editor’s sentence: When crafting your characters, little details count.)

M = marketing copy. (Editor’s sentence: That blurb with the teaser sentence at the end is marketing copy, not a synopsis. Please try again.)

N = novel. (Editor’s sentence: Writing a novel is harder than you think, kids. If you thought it was going to be easy, perhaps you should find another hobby.)

O = overwriting. (Editor’s sentence: Overwriting generally means too much/many: adverbs, adjectives, unusual words, intensity. Tone it down.)

P = purple prose. (Editor’s sentence: All this flowery, fancy, elaborate, overly sentimental purple prose is drawing attention to itself. Relax, you’re trying too hard.)

Q = quote. (Editor’s sentence: No, Abraham Lincoln did not utter that clever quote.)

R = research. (Editor’s sentence: Do your research. No, 1400s-era peasants didn’t own books. They didn’t read, for heaven’s sake!)

S = show, don’t tell. (Editor’s sentence: Don’t interpret everything for the reader. Show, don’t tell.)

T = too many words. (Editor’s sentence: Probably the number one mistake of beginning authors is writing too many words.)

U = use all your senses. (Editor’s sentence: Use all your senses when you’re writing that scene.)

V = voice. (Editor’s sentence: Voice can be chatty, lyrical, brusque … Keep writing. Your voice will probably reveal itself to you.)

W = Word, Microsoft. (Editor’s sentence: Microsoft Word is the publishing industry standard. Please learn how to use it.)

X = X marks the spot. (Editor’s sentence: Need some help with your writing? Here are some useful links.)

Y = YA. (Editor’s sentence: A recent trend in publishing is authors previously noted for their adult fiction crossing over to YA, like Jodi Picoult, Nick Hornby, Meg Wolitzer, Harlan Coben, John Grisham, and Candace Bushnell. Candace Bushnell? Whoa.)

Z = zero. (Editor’s sentence: How many words have you written today?)

Tweet: A is for Advance the Plot. E … is for Editor.
Tweet: You never told us what happened to the giraffe. An Editor’s Alphabet.
Tweet: H is for Haiku. Dear author know this / all that hyperbole makes / cranky editor.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Your Editor Says … | Tagged as: , ,

Short Saturday: The Excitement (and Commitment) of Novel Research

A friend of mine has been working on a historical novel for months and months. I’ve watched her do this before (different novel), and I know she’s accomplished but—at last—she’s written a post to tell us all how to do it.

“Researching and writing [a complex] historical novel takes a great deal of personal commitment,” she says. Here are the ten steps she works through:

1. Write the synopsis first.
2. Read everything remotely connected to your subject.
3. Google like crazy.
4. Join Internet groups related to the subject.
5. Set up an email folder to save all associated email.
6. Use Pinterest.
7. Watch movies.
8. Travel to your location.
9. Talk about what you’re writing.
10. Create a timeline.

These are the bare bones. Hop on over to the Books & Such blog for more detail, because there’s lots of it.

We’ve talked here about the importance of research (here too) and getting the details right (here too), but this is the information you need to pull it all together. Read it!

Tweet: An accomplished writer of historical fiction reveals her method for research.
Tweet: Researching your novel is important—here are 10 points to remember.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in The Writing Craft | Tagged as: , ,

Sleep, Walk, Read: My Highly Unscientific Notes About My E-Reading Habits

The battery in my (second generation!) Kindle is growing old; it doesn’t last as long as it used to. I can foresee a time when I will have to decide …

No, no. No decision. I’ll get a new Kindle, no doubt about it. I love my Kindle.

This wasn’t always the case. That is, before I owned one, I used to say I’d never own one. Feel of the book in my hands, yada yada. But then the Irishman bought me one in anticipation of a long vacation, and I learned to like it. Love it.

I’ve been using it in earnest now for almost four years—for traveling, certainly; to read books I just couldn’t wait for or that were offered at rock-bottom prices (see: Kindle Daily Deals); to carry with me so I always have reading material; and on my treadmill. It’s great for the treadmill, actually, because I’ve learned flipping physical pages is awkward.

It’s good for more than that, though. I’ve already got a book-storage problem, and I intend to live a lot longer, so if I’m trying out a new author or a book I’m otherwise unsure of, I usually buy it for the Kindle. Sometimes Kindle books are on deep discount the first week of the title’s release, so I definitely take advantage of sales.

But I’ve also learned the limitations of my Kindle. I no longer buy electronic nonfiction, for example, because I am not a linear learner. I want to mark pages, underline, come back and look at something again, compare it, read the footnotes in place, and so on. But you just can’t do that easily on the Kindle I own. Lack of page numbers is only the beginning. It’s all so linear. And with a physical book I can remember the passage I am looking for was on a left-hand page at the top, say—but all that is lost with an e-book.

I read a book the other day that was so nicely crafted in terms of character development that I wanted to go back and reread and mark passages and really study how the author’d done it. But I’m going to have to buy the book in a paper version for that, because e-books weren’t really made for studying, in my opinion (and others’). So I’ve quit purchasing nonfiction in e-book format.

Again, I’ve learned how to highlight passages on the Kindle, and I’m aware that I have the capability to annotate, too, though I haven’t bothered to learn because the keyboard is not really user friendly. (This may be improved in newer versions. In fact, I’m certain it is.) Nor have I learned how to access the passages I’ve been highlighting; and if I do, the passages will be plucked out of the surrounding text, which is a far cry from flipping quickly through paper pages to search for passages I’ve marked in situ.

Here’s a recap:

Love my Kindle
• lots of books in a small package; cuts down on book-storage problems
• small, lightweight, great for travel; easy to read in bed too
• no backlit screen; easy on my eyes at the end of the day
• fabulous for the treadmill: easy to turn pages
• good sales on some titles
• instant gratification
• great for fiction, which we read in a linear manner

Not so much
• highlighting, annotating are not the same as writing in the margins
• footnotes—fuggedaboudit
• going back to look for something is unwieldy; no page numbers
• nonfiction is a no-go for me
• you don’t actually own the book; you’ve licensed it
• you can’t loan your books to friends
you learn better with paper (see here too)
• can’t read it in the tub :)

So, much as I love my Kindle, there are limits to my love—it’s fine for some but not all reading activities. I feel the same way about my iPad—it’s a fine tool for some digital activities, but all things considered, I prefer my laptop. Except for size and weight. How about you? Do you love an e-reader—or not? Why?

Tweet: I’ll get a new Kindle, no doubt about it. I love my Kindle. But …
Tweet: Much as I love my Kindle, there are limits—it’s fine for some but not all my reading.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Miscellany | Tagged as: , , , , ,

That Peaceful, Easy Feeling

Fiction? Or nonfiction? Do you have a preference?

I’ll be frank: I adore fiction, always have. And I love talking about books I’ve read. But I’ve noticed something recently: even though I read way more fiction (in 2013 my fiction/nonfiction ratio was 46/8), I talk about the nonfiction books I’ve read a lot longer than I talk about novels. Like Cat Sense. Or Albion’s Seed. The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

What’s up with that? Usually it’s because I’ve learned something specific and concrete, and have begun applying it in my daily life. Sometimes it’s something else: I read Reynolds Price’s memoir about his catastrophic illness, A Whole New Life, in the mid-1990s and was shocked to learn he’d written one of my favorite novels (Kate Vaiden) during the height of his suffering.

I learn things from fiction, of course (like this), and I’m sometimes shocked by what I learn, but for the most part the things I take from fiction are personal and internal. I read fiction to escape the here and now. And when I lose myself in make-believe, it relaxes me. It allows me time with myself. I’m up in my own head all the time, but it’s not quality time.* So I think I turn to fiction because it allows me to “turn on, tune in, drop out.”

Put another way, it enables me to unplug.

This need to turn myself off is why I recently read Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers (it’s nonfiction, natch). Subtitled Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, it really struck a nerve. I’m frazzled, ya’ll.

Powers says, “Our computers and mobile devices do wonderful things for us. But they also impose a burden, making it harder for us to focus, do our best work, build strong relationships, and find the depth and fulfillment we crave.” He says we’re distracted, pulled in too many directions … by our connected devices. I’ve certainly sat in lobbies and waiting rooms and watched nearly every person there pull out a smart phone and start thumbing away. Powers tells of standing at a crosswalk in Manhattan with several other people, all of whom were staring intently at digital devices.

We’re all connected, all the time. Some of this is wonderful—parents are connected to children in ways that distinctly improve the family operation, for example, and breaks-downs on driving trips are much less frightening when a simple call on the cell phone will bring a tow truck. (But let’s get serious here: movie times and locations online all the time? Oh yeah. Anyone my age can remember scrambling for a newspaper—often inaccurate—or dialing that wretched MovieFone and listening to the marketing hype before getting to the next showing of Dances With Wolves. Obviously the safety and reassurance of having a phone at all times is a boon … but don’t take Fandango for granted, friends. Just sayin’.)

William Powers says the “conundrum of connectedness” is this: we are constantly inundated with more and more information. It never stops. And thus we don’t have time to process what we’ve just learned before something new arrives to demand our attention.

Hamlet’s Blackberry not a long book, just three sections. The first has two illustrations about how daily life is devolving (if we’re not careful) and why we should be concerned about it. The second section is composed of seven historic examples that will make you feel a lot better: humanity has been in this place—faced with new technology and a sharp turn that will change everything—before. The third section is about the author’s family experiment with unplugging.

You heard me: unplugging. Powers and his wife are both freelance writers, their kids are teens, and they’ve turned off the wi-fi every weekend—a family rule—for several years now. It’s designed to keep them from drifting into isolation with their connected digital devices. Interestingly, they’ve grown to love their unplugged weekends.

True story: on the way home from running errands, I stopped at our local Pei Wei to order takeout. The young man who took my order handed me the receipt. “While you wait you can go here”—he pointed to a URL on the receipt—“and fill out the survey. It’ll give you a coupon for a free cookie.” Why he assumed this middle-aged gal had a smart phone and was proficient enough to use it, I’ll never know. Although he was right; I did and was.

However, I sat quietly with my Kindle, immersed in Hamlet’s Blackberry.

“Did you take the survey?” he asked as he handed me my meal. “No,” I said. I told him I could have, but I’d chosen to read instead, and I’d made that choice because I was reading this very interesting book called Hamlet’s Blackberry. I told him why I was trying to be less plugged in; I told him that the irony of my having read Hamlet’s Blackberry on my Kindle did not escape me.

“What’s the name of that book?” he said. He wrote it down. And then he gave me a cookie anyway. :)

*And a lot of it is worry, mostly about getting work done, meeting deadlines. It’s fruitless, I know. I’ve written about this before.

 

Tweet: We’re all connected, all the time. What can we do about it? Should we?
Tweet: The irony of my having read Hamlet’s Blackberry on my Kindle does not escape me.
Tweet: Plugged or unplugged? I need some quality time in my head!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Books You Might Like, Miscellany | Tagged as: , , ,

Short Saturday: More on Being a Beginner

We’ve been talking a lot, recently, about being a beginner writer. From the general mistakes that agents and editors see to the very specific things you can identify for a self-edit, there are things you can do to move through the Beginner Phase.

Interestingly, things have a way of appearing just when they’re most needed, and so it is with this little piece from Ira Glass, producer and host of the radio and television show This American Life. From a larger interview Glass did for Public Radio International on storytelling, this is exactly what beginners need to hear.

Nobody tells people who are beginners … the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. … Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and … the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

“It’s normal to take a while,” Glass says. Yes. Hang in there, kids.

Tweet: This is exactly what beginners need to hear. It’s normal to take a while!
Tweet: Ira Glass has some great advice for beginners.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Miscellany, The Writing Craft | Tagged as: ,