Rebuttal: In Defence of the Kindle, a Guest Post by Author, Ryan Casey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Image courtesy of alienratt.)

I’m going to put this out there right away: Amazon’s Kindle is one of the most important innovations in publishing history.

I’ll give you a moment to recover from that hyperbole.

Done? Good.

Many authors and writers are sceptical of Amazon, and its KDP program. Often, the argument is that there are far too many ‘bad books’ out there, and by opening the gates and letting a flood of wannabe writers storm through, quality control becomes irrelevant. After all, with no judge of quality, how to we distinguish a good book from a bad book?

Another argument is that the death of physicality is something to mourn. The days of flicking pages against your nose to get a waft of a fresh new book are passing. Soon, the spaces where our magazines and CDs once sat will be empty, nothing but dust taking up the void.

I want to dispel both notions in one post, whilst arguing for the Kindle and Amazon’s KDP program.

Ready? Let’s do this.

1.       Bad books always have, and always will, exist

The argument that KDP ‘undermines’ the work of the published author by clogging up the store with a load of second-rate indie first-drafts is one I’m uncomfortable with. After all, haven’t bad books always existed?

Without naming names, I started reading an absolutely awful book the other day. It told me how the protagonist felt. It was packed to the core with writing faux-pas, and the characterisation was poor. To my surprise, the book had been picked up by a major publisher, and appeared to be selling okay. I put it down, and moved onto another one that took my fancy.

The truth is, I didn’t really care whether either of the books were self-published or not. I cared whether the story was engaging, and the writing was to a suitable quality. The idea that we’d be more likely to purchase a bad traditionally published book than a good indie book is absurd, so why not the same quality treatment for self-published works in general?

Just because there are more books out there doesn’t necessarily mean quality is dipping. I like to think that the self-publishing revolution makes the reader the judge of quality, rather than some publishing house looking for unrealistic profits.

And, with more bad books come more good books. So why not focus on the positives for a change? This article from Rachel Thompson does a good job of doing exactly that.

2.       Physical books won’t die, and if they do, is it a big deal?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Image courtesy of Mr. T in DC.)

Stop the press: the rise of the Kindle does not mean the death of paperback books. PoD publishers like LuLu.com and CreateSpace offer quick, simple ways for authors to turn their digital books into physical ones.

However, if physical books were to ‘die’ – which I absolutely do not think they will – then is it really such a big loss? The only real benefits of the print book over the digital copy is 1.) gratifying those materialist impulses deep within us all, and 2.) showing off how literary we are by displaying our wonderful library of books. Is that Tolstoy, I see? How wonderful! Now, pass me a beer.

Sure, I will be print-publishing my debut novel, What We Saw, mainly because I am just a raving materialist loon who can’t wait to give my own book a good ol’ sniff. But I’m not sure if I’ll create print books forever. Perhaps one or two for vanity, and obviously to sell to those without an eReader. A few years down the line though… I’m not so sure.

3.       Amazon actually care about authors

In defence of KDP, I actually like Amazon. Sure, they have some scary looking terms and conditions, but don’t all publishers?

For me, the 70% royalties for books priced above $2.99 does it. Admittedly, this might not stay like this forever, as competition increases, but it shows that Amazon give a damn about authors and actually care about the fact that our breed have been underpaid for years.

It’s great for the readers too. Whilst I am against the 99p culture at present, it means that authors can provide their books at reasonable prices, thus reaching a wider potential audience.

I realise I am going on a little bit now. I’ve outlined my thoughts on self-publishing in the past (http://ryancaseybooks.com/why-ive-made-the-decision-to-independently-publish-what-we-saw-part-2/) so do feel free to have a gander.

Although, I still think that the digital revolution is still in its early stages. Everything could change in a matter of moments. The rise of ‘free’ culture is sure to have a knock-on effect on the book industry, so I guess we’ll see the results of that in years to come.

We live in exciting times. Let’s embrace the amazing tools at our disposal, because I truly do not believe there has ever been a better time to be a writer.

Ryan.

Author description:

Ryan Casey is a 20-year old author from England. He is set to launch his debut childhood mystery novel, What We Saw, in Autumn 2012. He offers writing advice, social media guidance, and documents his writing journey over at http://ryancaseybooks.com

Twitter: @RyanCaseyBooks

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/RyanCaseyBooks

Contact: contact@ryancaseybooks.com

From K.C. Mead:

Thank you for the terrific guest post, Ryan! You raise interesting points in debate with my former post, Why I Still Don’t Own a Kindle.

Why I Still Don’t Own a Kindle

There are many fabulous benefits and upsides to the invention, proliferation, and consumption of e-books and e-readers. However, I have not been able to bring myself to so much as buy a Kindle as a gift for someone else because I simply cannot convince myself to support Amazon’s e-book and e-reader. (That being said, most of my loved ones already own a Kindle :p.)

As a consumer in a capitalist country, I understand that there are always going to be winners, losers, and change but I simply cannot get behind the surge of (often unedited) materials that are now flooding the market for rock-bottom prices — forcing out many of the already rare jobs in professional writing and editing. After all, why hire an editor to improve a piece of literature when you can publish it as-is and “sell” a few hundred copies for free within a relatively short period of time? I’m not saying that I’m against those authors in the world who write only and only for the sake of having their writing read by someone, but what about the others who also dream of making a living off of it? Have we already forgotten the legacies of authors like Stephen King and Ray Bradbury who wrote not only because they loved writing but also because they needed the extra income? What will we say to these authors now who need the extra income that might come from landing a short story in a literary journal but now can’t manage to get a word in edgewise due to this freebie publishing giant?

I may be over-dramatizing things here, but I do not believe I am.

After all, consider section 5 of the Kindle Direct Publishing Terms & Conditions:

5 Your Commitment. Your commitment to these terms and conditions is important, and the benefits we provide to you as part of this option are conditioned on your following through on your commitments. If you un-publish your Digital Book, we will remove it from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, but you must continue to comply with these commitments, including exclusivity, through the remainder of the Digital Book’s then-current 90-day period of participation in KDP Select. If you don’t comply with these KDP Select terms and conditions, we will not owe you Royalties for that Digital Book earned through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library Program, and we may offset any of those Royalties that were previously paid against future Royalties, or require you to remit them to us. We may also withhold your Royalty payments on all your Digital Books for a period of up to 90 days while we investigate. This doesn’t limit other remedies we have, such as prohibiting your future participation in KDP Select or KDP generally.” (emphasis added)

I understand that Amazon wants to protect what’s its, but how do I protect what’s mine under this almost coercive anti-competition model? How do I know I’m reaching the best readership possible? How can my e-book possibly stand-out amid this overflow of KDP books? After all, part of a publisher and agent’s job is to help the author market their book, make the book the best it can be and then as noticeable as it can be. I’m not a marketer — I’m an author! Do I have time between my jobs, graduate school, and writing schedule to also work as my own marketer?

All this being said, I do know that there are people out there making money off of their KDP books and that there are many great indie KDP books out there as well. However, as someone who grew up loving her hard copies, seeing them on the shelf, writing notes in the margins, tearing out pages to send to loved ones, buying copies to give as gifts, coming to know which publishers had my back and my tastes as a reader in mind, coming to know which publishers were into fighting the good fight (tip o’ the hat to you, City Lights), I just cannot convince myself that an e-reader is worth my time or money. I love reading and I love books. And if I’m going to work for three years to write a book, I want to be able to hold the work in my hands the same way all craftsmen get to at the end of the journey…and create flip-book cartoons in the corners.

Raising My Glass of Dandelion Wine

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I don’t know how many of you have read Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing but if you haven’t, you absolutely must! It’s my favorite book on writing (I like it even more than I do Stephen King’s – and that’s saying something!) and I think, in rereading it lately, that I have finally discovered why: I love this book because it is not a book “on writing” so much as it is a love letter to writing, it is a romance between one man and his craft which he has elected to share in the most celebratory and intimate way possible.

However, what I’d like to focus on right now is not the wild romance or the zest and gusto with which he writes, but on the section that discusses his method.

In Zen, Bradbury explains that, in his heyday when he was writing in order to keep his family afloat, he wrote and submitted at least one story every week.

“On Monday morning I wrote the first draft of a new story. On Tuesday I did a second draft. On Wednesday a third. On Thursday a fourth. On Friday a fifth. And on Saturday at noon I mailed out the sixth and final draft to New York” (Bradbury 68).

This method not only terrifies me — to be able to just sit and pound everything out in a single sitting and have them ready-to-go before the week is up is astonishing! I’m generally proud of my ability to swallow my pride about a story after three to five edits and send it out to literary magazines knowing it will never be the masterpiece I dreamed of, but the first draft alone usually takes me three to five days to write. This got me thinking about the differences between a writer who wants to be able to work full-time (we’re all full-time at heart, no?) and a writer who has always worked full-time.

Is writing your full-time or your part-time “work”? Do you want writing to be your full-time or, if we’re honest, would that make it too much like work for you? What is your current method/writing schedule — when do you turn a draft over to the hands of a lit mag?

 

Of course, this also had me thinking more critically about the recent trend to self-publish online (especially via Amazon) and whether or not this might be impacting the future of writers who start out like Stephen King and Ray Bradbury — authors who need to publish in order to feed their families or pay for their rent. Has this type of author disappeared? Is it our own doing or is it due to the whims of the publishing industry? And, more importantly, I wonder, does this mean that we are witnessing a shift in how we as authors, readers, and publishers, regard the craft of writing itself — is it with zest, gusto, and an editorial eye or are we simply attempting to churn out as many words as possible for an invisible, identity-less eye?

 

Bradbury, Ray. Zen in the Art of Writing. Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 1990.

On Writing Short Stories

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According to the Short Story Group, there are five essentials to writing a short story:

“1. Have a clear theme. What is the story about? That doesn’t mean what is the plot line, the sequence of events or the character’s actions, it means what is the underlying message or statement behind the words. Get this right and your story will have more resonance in the minds of your readers.
2. An effective short story covers a very short time span. It may be one single event that proves pivotal in the life of the character, and that event will illustrate the theme.
3. Don’t have too many characters. Each new character will bring a new dimension to the story, and for an effective short story too many diverse dimensions (or directions) will dilute the theme. Have only enough characters to effectively illustrate the theme.
4. Make every word count. There is no room for unnecessary expansion in a short story. If each word is not working towards putting across the theme, delete it.
5. Focus. The best stories are the ones that follow a narrow subject line. What is the point of your story? Its point is its theme. It’s tempting to digress, but in a ‘short’ you have to follow the straight and narrow otherwise you end up with either a novel beginning or a hodgepodge of ideas that add up to nothing.”

As I was finalizing my short story “Episodes,” I realized that a contest I’d wanted to enter it in had a word limit that pegged my story a thousand words too long. At first I felt disheartened, certain that every word was surely pure gold. But, as I began sifting through the manuscript again, this time with an eye for the fat, I found myself cutting things left and right–similes upon similes, adverbs upon adverbs, entire sentences of useless exposition. In the end, a thousand words later, I found that my story not only fit the contest requirements but was a significantly better read!

After this experience and reviewing these tips from the Short Story Group, I’ve come to a conclusion that might sound a bit like heresy: novels are just too long.

I know how this must sound, especially coming from an author and reader of books fiction and nonfiction alike, but I think my new goal is not simply to tell a good, socially relevant (even socially useful story), but to tell one with as few words as possible. I don’t believe that this means I won’t still produce “novel length” works (+80,000 words), but simply that I might have to sift through 160,000 of them to get there.

What do you think? What is your editing process like? Have you ever had a similar experience with one of your stories?

Adaptation in Writing & Film

I don’t know how many of you have seen the new film, “Drive,” by Nicolas Winding Refn or not (but you absolutely should if not! It’s amazing!) but it has gotten me meditating on the art of adaptation.

“Drive”

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(movie poster source)

This film is an adaptation of a novella by James Sallis, “Drive.”

The film is a gorgeous fairy tale, a dreamlike depiction of Driver’s transformation into a “real human being.” Of course, I’ve only just begun reading the novella itself but what intrigues me most about this is not simply how a story may be adapted from one medium to another, but how it may be adapted from one story into an entirely new story.

After all, Refn’s “Drive” is inherently different and new from Sallis’ “Drive” (and vice versa). And we hear it said all the time that there is nothing new under the sun and that all stories are essentially built from a handful of foundational plots.

Do you at times find yourself frustrated by this — longing for something new as a viewer/receiver/reader or dreaming of the inspiration that might trigger something “new” as a creator? I know when I was younger, I found myself constantly frustrated by the fact that everything seemed borrowed — as if we were a room of potters all passing around the same clay to re-mold again and again. But now I find this incredibly exciting, a cool and constant challenge. I also find this is not something that is restricted to fiction works by any means — academia recycles plots and information as well (in fact, it might be even more blatant within academic writing). What do you think?

What do you think of adaptation between media? What do you think of it from story to story? Do you find yourself drawn toward a certain type of plot as an audience member? Do you find yourself drawn to a different plot type as a writer/creator?