Revising Leah

January 28, 2009

Which Ebook Formats Am I Missing?

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 1:29 pm
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I believe in giving away ebook versions of my books, and I’ve got a special page set up for free downloads at my website. Right now, I have three ebook formats to choose from: PDF, PRC, and PDB. So far, I only have those three because while it seems every ebook reader on the market has its own (sometimes proprietary) format, most ebooks are able to interpret at least one of those three formats.

But just because an ebook reader can display, for example, a PDF file, that doesn’t mean that the PDF file looks good or is easy to read when it’s displayed. Unfortunately, I have no way of testing these formats on ebook devices since I do not yet own any ebook reader (I’d like one, but they’re all still so expensive), and since there are so many different readers and devices (like cell phones) capable of displaying some of these formats, there’s no way I can test each device.

My questions are these: if anyone reading this has an ebook reader or a cell phone that can display formats, is there a particular format that I am missing that I absolutely should offer on my “free ebooks” page? Are there any devices that will not display a PDF, PRC, or PDB file at all?

It’s too bad that there isn’t one format (like the mp3 format for audio) that most devices can use. So many different formats will just make it harder for the ebook market to take off.

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December 14, 2008

AlphaInventions and Blogging Ethics

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 1:59 pm
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If you’re reading this post, you probably arrived through AlphaInventions.com, the website which is rocking bloggers’ worlds by bringing them more readers than they ever dreamed possible.

I think my first encounter with AI occurred a couple of weeks ago. I posted to this blog and came back a couple hours later to discover that almost 20 people had visited my blog since I last checked in, and all of them were directed my way via something called Alpha Inventions. I don’t know who submitted my blog to AI (if it was you, thanks!).

On Friday, I came upon someone else’s blog who had written about the AI phenomenon, so on Saturday, I decided to perform an experiment to see how it worked. I wrote a post (it’s the post immediately below this one) — a modest, almost humdrum post, something that under normal circumstances wouldn’t attract a lot of hits, but within an hour after submitting my blog to AI, I had 17 visitors.

thinker

It's a dilemma!

But I felt guilty — maybe even a little dirty — about what I had done. I didn’t do anything deceitful; I didn’t trick anybody. I used AI the way it is meant to be used, but somehow it felt wrong, and I wondered, is it ethical to take advantage of AlphaInventions to boost one’s hit stats?

It’s not human inventions that are evil, it’s how humans choose to use their inventions that makes them sources of evil — or good. I rather like the AI site. I find it a little addictive because you never know what interesting blog is going to pop up next. Considering it purely in terms of a web application, I have only two complaints: the user interface is still a little rough and I wish I could adjust the speed at which the blogs pass by. Too often, I want to visit a blog that I see, but by the time I get my mouse cursor up to the link, it’s gone (why can’t I just click on the image of the blog that I see before me and be taken to the blog?).

So it’s not the site itself that causes me problems, it’s how it might be [ab]used. Is it all right to submit your own blog to AI for purely selfish, if not narcissistic reasons (“Hey look! 10000 people visited my blog in December! People love me!”)? Even murkier: what if a blogger has advertising on his site and wants to use AI to draw visitors, hoping that they will click on the links? Murkiest of all: what if one litters a blog with pornographic images, hate speech, or links to malware and then submits that blog to AI just to stir up trouble?

I suppose I have a rather naive view of blogging. I’d rather have visitors who visit this blog because they are interested in what I am doing here (do those of you who were brought here by AI even know what the purpose of “Revising Leah” is?). I’d almost rather have visitors brought here the old-fashioned way: by clicking on tags or through WordPress’s Tag Surfer function. I’d rather have visitors who care about what I’m doing here, because they are more likely to leave comments and engage in a conversation. Those are the visitors who I value the most.

Perhaps the best use of AlphaInventions would be to submit the blogs of other people. If you come across a blog or a post that knocks your socks off, that makes you think, “Everybody should see this!” then submit it and give that blogger the attention that he or she deserves. I will definitely be using AI for this purpose.

So what do you think? Am I making a big deal out of nothing? Do you have any misgivings about using AlphaInventions?

December 13, 2008

The Little Book of Earthquakes and Volcanoes

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 1:45 pm
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ev0002Another one of the books that Leah Nells reads over the course of the novel arrived on my doorstep the other day. It’s The Little Book of Earthquakes and Volcanoes, and here’s how I described it in the novel:

Sitting on top of the notebook was one of the books Mrs. Nells had bought for her daughter at the garage sale the week before. It was titled The Little Book of Earthquakes and Volcanoes, and it was just that — a little book, not even 200 pages, that would be easy for her to carry on her first day of school, but it was still long enough that it would provide several days’ worth of reading. Leah didn’t know whether she would find time to read her book today since she didn’t know how busy her classes would be, but knowing that the book would be with her was a comfort. It represented a link to her home: a reminder of the security of her bedroom — something familiar in an unfamiliar place. For now, though, the book sat idle on top of her notebook.

The book is even shorter than I expected — barely 150 pages (Amazon’s website claims that it is 192 pages long, but I don’t know where that number is coming from. The last page of the book is page 156.). It’s just as small as I suggested in the novel, and it is also exactly the kind of book that Leah would read.

This book illustrates something about how I sometimes use Leah’s choice of reading of material to symbolize the mental/emotional states that she is in at different points in the novel. The earthquakes book is perfect for her to read on the first day of school because the first day of school is always a cataclysmic event and because Leah spends much of the day rocked by her own bodily earthquakes: the nervous trembling that grips her from time to time. Indeed, the first sentence of the book could be a metaphor for Leah herself:

However still the Earth’s surface may seem at times, it is actually seething with activity, much of it driven by the intense heat of the inner layers of the Earth.

Leah Nells may seem quiet and dull and uninteresting on the outside, but beneath the surface she’s just as complex and deep as anyone.

Of course, it’s dangerous to interpret too much into my choice of books for Leah to read. Some of them offer more commentary on her character than others, but they’re one of those little details that are easy to miss but which, I think, add a lot to the story.

December 12, 2008

Required Reading

I found an excellent blog post this morning by Rae Lori. It discusses self-publishing, the publishing industry, and the politics behind both.

Check it out.

December 10, 2008

What Do You Think About Ebooks?

pdaMe Against The [Publishing] World

One of my promotional strategies for my self-published novels is to make them available as ebooks at as many of the growing number of online vendors and distributors as possible. In short, if there is a place online where you can download or read contemporary fiction, I want my novels to be there.

Naturally, I face competition from the big publishing houses, which are also getting into the ebook game. The advantage that I have over them, I think, is that I can price my novels below their lowest prices. I’m even willing to give my novels away for FREE. How many commercial publishers are willing to do that? Not many, because for them, publishing is a business, first and foremost.

For example, let’s take Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, which is available at a number of commercial ebook websites, including Amazon’s Kindle Store (for $6.99) and Ebooks.com (for $10.99).  Those prices (especially the Ebooks price) are almost the same as the price of a physical copy of the novel. My question is, shouldn’t the cost of an ebook version of a novel be less than the physical copy? With ebooks, publishers can avoid many of the traditional costs of publishing — the costs associated with producing a physical book. With an ebook, you are simply making a digital copy of a file and sending that copy across the Internet to a computer. There are NO manufacturing or distribution costs associated with ebook production. Instead, the $6.99 and $10.99 costs are being split among the websites (Amazon and Ebooks), the author, and the publisher. When I decided to make The Spring available on the Kindle, I wanted to offer it for free, but Amazon required that I offer it for at least $0.99 — Amazon’s cut, so that’s the price I set it at.

It’s Not About The Moneymoney

Someone might argue that by pricing my book so low — even offering it for free, when I can — that perhaps I’m giving the impression to potential readers that my book isn’t really worth reading at all. Some might argue that Meyer’s novel in ebook form still costs a lot because it is a valuable commodity (especially at this point in time with a new movie out). My response to that is, What about Project Gutenberg? All of the ebooks available there are available for free. You can download the entire collected works of Shakespeare for nothing. Does that mean that Shakespeare’s plays are worthless? Of course not. We need to get away from this idea that the value of a work of art (whether it is literature or music or film) is tied directly to the amount of money that one must pay in order to possess a copy of that art. The music industry, in particular, has tried to tie the value of a song to its price tag. One of their [failed] arguments against file sharing is that if one acquires a song for free, then that degrades and demeans the artistic process that produced the song in the first place. They argue that without the economic incentive, artists will no longer create music. It’s an absurd argument. Art exists independently from the economic costs and gains that are required to produce it. Human art pre-dates any human economic system, and the desire to create art will exist long after every economic system has been laid to rest.

For me, creative writing has never been about making money. That’s one reason why I don’t feel it’s necessary to prostitute my work out to a publisher. What is most important to me is the act of creation and then sharing that creation with others. Making money is, at best, a secondary concern.

The Problems and Potential of Ebooks

It is economics, in fact, that is slowing the widespread adoption of ebooks and ebook readers. Reading a novel from one’s desktop computer is not an ideal experience, so there are a number of handheld devices (like the Kindle or Sony’s Reader Digital Book) that recreate the portability of the traditional book. I’d love to have one of those devices, but for now they are too expensive, and I don’t like the proprietary software and DRM that the devices force readers to use. An ebook reader ought to be able to open and display any PDF file, just as music players can now open and play any mp3 file.

Fortunately, other devices that weren’t originally intended to be used as ebook readers, can be used in that way. Two examples: Apple’s iPhone (and the iPod Touch) and the Nintendo DS.

Older readers pooh-pooh ebooks and ebook readers, saying that this technology will never catch on, that people will always prefer to read from a physical book. I’m not so sure about that. The “book” may be the “technology” that folks my age and older will always be more comfortable with, but the younger generation, and the generations not yet born, will be more likely to use electronic devices for most, if not all, of their reading. And if ebooks are how my intended audience (young people) are getting their reading material, then that’s where I want to be. And if young people are more willing to go for something that is free than something that costs $10.99, then I’ll offer my work for free. If that’s what the marketplace demands, then that’s what I’ll offer (how’s that for economics?).

Sorry this post is so long. But what about YOU? Do you have an ebook reader? Do you download ebooks? What do you think about the prices that publishers have set? How much longer will the traditional paper-based book exist? Is it on its way towards extinction?

December 7, 2008

5087 Trivia Questions & Answers

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 2:51 pm
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A big, big book

A big, big book

I recently ordered a copy of one of the books that Leah reads in the novel. It arrived yesterday, and it is called 5087 Trivia Questions & Answers. It only cost me a dollar from Amazon, but it’s in really nice condition.

I love the book for its title alone. It begs the question, Why 5087? Why not cut 87 questions for an even 5000 or add 13 more questions for 5100? I thought the book would offer some explanation for that number, but I can’t find one. It’s just that sort of weird, random thing that attracted me to the title when I was selecting books for Leah to read.

The book plays an important role in chapter 8. It’s the book that Kyle steals from Leah and makes fun of, which in turn causes David to intervene on Leah’s behalf — thus introducing David’s character to the story. In the novel, I made up a question about Socrates that Kyle reads from the book. Now that I have the book itself in my possession, I might browse through it and see if there isn’t a better question that I might have Kyle read, but I’m satisfied with the Socrates question and might leave it in, even if it doesn’t appear in the actual book.

It’s a big, bulky book. Hardbound and over 700 pages long. Inside, the questions are listed on the right, and the answers to the questions are printed on the back of each page. The size of the book worries me. It’s not as heavy as it looks, so Leah wouldn’t have any trouble carrying it, but it would take up a lot of space in her backpack. Still, the advantages of the book outweigh the disadvantages, and I don’t plan to change the title.

Someday, I’d like to complete my own collection of the books that Leah reads in my novel. I’ll pick them up when they’re cheap, but unfortunately, not all of them are. One book, titled The Interstate Commerce Commission and the Railroad Industry costs at least $60 for a used copy. (Leah hated that book.) That’s more money than I’m willing to spend.

Inserting the titles of real books into the novel is one of the best ideas I’ve had during this revising project. It just further adds to the sense of realism, and it further breaks down the barriers between the fictional universe that I’ve created and the real world in which I live.

December 1, 2008

Walking in a Winter Wasteland

So, December, we meet at last . . .

Today I finished my Thanksgiving week read-through of the final 9.5 chapters of my novel, and as that concludes, so too does the seventh revision cycle come to an end. Between now and the start of January, I might tinker with the book a little bit, but really, I don’t plan to do anything more with it until I start the publication process through Lulu. That means I have a month to kill.

I’ll try to continue posting (I have a couple of ideas for upcoming posts), but since if I’m not working on my project, there’s very little for me to write about. Since I started this blog, I’ve been good about posting something new every 2 or 3 days. In January, I intend to document the self-publication process through Lulu, for anyone who is curious, but until then, I’m going to have to really scavenge for post topics.

I also intend to catch up on some reading. This revising project has taken up most of my free time since May, and I’ve got a backlog of books to work through. Right now, I’ve been reading a self-published novel by Ray Holland called The Hermit. It’s a political satire/bawdy comedy sort of story. After working on my project for so long, it’s good to just read something for fun. I don’t have to edit the book, or look for plot inconsistencies, or ask myself, “How could I arrange this passage differently?” I can just read the story and enjoy it.

And that, I hope, is how readers will read Leah. One of the great tragedies of being a writer who is an irredeemable perfectionist like I am is that it is impossible for me to read my own work in the way that a typical reader would read it. When I open the file, I see hundreds of little things that I could change about the text, but that’s a very different mindset from the typical reader. A typical reader might notice something glaring, like a misspelled word, but he or she won’t be worried about whether I’ve chosen the best adjective for a sentence, which is the kind of thing that I obsess over. What I hope is that a reader will read my book as easily as I can read someone else’s book, but that’s the one thing that I can’t foresee and prepare for when I revise.

November 25, 2008

Joining Leah For Thanksgiving Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:24 am
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As I suggested in my last post, I’ve been spending these final days of November re-reading chapters 15-24 because those chapters are set during the last week of November. It’s a fun way to read the story (even though it does slow my reading down quite a bit).

On Sunday, I even managed to time my reading so that it corresponded (partly) with the time in the story. Chapter 16 begins at exactly one o’clock in the afternoon, and that was exactly when I started reading the chapter. That was pretty cool.

I can’t do that with every chapter, of course, but I am reading the chapters on the appropriate days. Today is Tuesday, so I’m reading chapters 18 and 19 which are set on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week.

I’m still not seeing any big problems with the story — nothing I need to revise. During my last read-through of these last 8 or 9 chapters, I did notice some possible instances of needless repetition, but I’ve been watching for that during this read-through and I haven’t seen a problem.

November 19, 2008

Is Leah Just Introverted, Or Is There Something More?

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 4:42 pm
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Yesterday’s short post reminded me of a concern that I have had ever since I wrote the very first draft of Leah. My concern is that I’ve created a character who is too introverted. While I’m willing to bet there are a few teenagers out there who are as extremely introverted as Leah Nells, most introverts and shy people don’t live in near total isolation as Leah does.

In the first chapter of the novel, I don’t offer any exposition for why Leah isn’t saying anything to anyone. I simply describe how she behaves when she’s in the presence of strangers, and how that behavior angers and disappoints her mother. In the second chapter, I do offer some necessary exposition of Leah’s past, including this passage:

Before she was even old enough to walk, she would enter fits of panic and tearful screams whenever a stranger came near. When she was older and her parents took her out in public, she would cling desperately to them, holding their hands and hiding behind her parents’ legs when she was introduced to another child . . . . Her parents believed that Leah would eventually grow out of her shyness, that she would make friends and lead a normal life just like any other healthy little girl. But she didn’t. By the time Leah started kindergarten, the fits of panic had stopped, but in their place came silence. Leah almost never spoke to anyone, whether children or adults, even when they spoke to her directly. . . . While other children played with one another, Leah seemed perfectly content to be by herself. When she played with dolls, she never spoke to them and never pretended that they were speaking to each other.

What I worry about is that readers will “misdiagnose” Leah’s problem at this point, that they’ll assume that she has a serious developmental condition or disease — like autism, perhaps. But that’s not what I want the reader to think. Hopefully, as the novel goes on, I make it sufficiently clear that Leah’s only “problems” are that she has an extremely introverted personality, and she is very shy (introversion and shyness are not the same thing — see my comment below). Otherwise, Leah is supposed to be a typical teenage girl. Indeed, it’s important, thematically, for the reader to believe that she is a normal girl other than those two personality quirks.

For example, despite what many of her classmates at school believe, Leah isn’t stupid. I’ve never seen her report card, but I would guess that she is a B or B-minus student — an average student academically. She does better in some classes than others (she prefers math over English), but she doesn’t warrant special attention from her teachers, and she isn’t enrolled in the special education program.

Part of Leah’s internal conflict comes from her belief that she is really, really weird, and that she is the only person in the world who is as uncomfortable and as at a loss in social situations as she is. The reader, I hope, knows the truth: that most of Leah’s fears and worries are experienced by other people, even extroverts. It is that secret knowledge that lets the reader empathize with Leah and all of her experiences in the novel.

Originally, Leah was a novel that allowed me to explore ideas about individualism (that remains a theme, but the novel has grown into something much more), and in order to create a character who was truly an individual, I needed to isolate her as much as possible. So I not only gave her an introverted personality, I gave her an extremely introverted personality — and I made her shy on top of that. Some readers may find Leah an unrealistic character, but, like I said, I’m willing to bet that there are a few people out there who are living Leah’s life.

October 29, 2008

Here Is My First Chapter

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 3:07 pm
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Here it is, in PDF format:

Photo by Edward Kotun

Photo by Edward Kotun

chapter-one

(For the best effect, set your PDF viewer to “full screen” view.)

I’ve probably worked on chapter one more than any other chapter, and right now I’d say that it’s about 99.5% finished. I’ll continue to tinker with it, changing a word here or there, but it’s essentially “finished”.

I still wish I could post an mp3 file of myself reading the chapter along with this PDF document, but I have no way of creating a high-quality (or even a decent-quality)  recording of myself reading.

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