Revising Leah

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 4, 2008

Of Adverbs, Dialogue, and Vampires

I’m always loath to speak ill of another author because I know there is much in my own writing that might cause others to speak ill of me. In the case of YA author Stephenie Meyer, however, here is an author who has made so much money and has so many more readers than I will ever have that I think any negative criticism I might cast her way would be like spitting into the wind. Here in America, pop culture has been all abuzz over the movie based on her first novel, Twilight. Although I don’t plan to see the movie (it doesn’t look like anything I’d want to watch), it’s hard to avoid the media hype. Online and off, I’ve been exposed to news stories about Twilight, and I frequently encounter snippets of Meyer’s writing. I was bothered by something that I kept seeing in what I was reading, so out of curiosity, I acquired a copy of the novel’s text (umm, at the library — yeah, that’s it, I got the book at the “library”).

What I’ve noticed is the frequency of Meyer’s use of adverbs when the narrator describes characters’ dialogue. Here’s a sampling of what I’m seeing; I think the problem is clear:

“I’m not a good hiker,” I answered dully.

“If you don’t tell me, I’ll just assume it’s something much worse than it is,” he threatened darkly.

“Three,” she answered tersely.

“What are you going to do in Phoenix?” he asked her scathingly.

“Do you have room for a few more players?” Laurent asked sociably.

“Excuse me,” she said brusquely to Edward. [“Brusquely“?! Really?]

Now, Meyer doesn’t abuse adverbs in this way all the time, but she does it often enough that it’s noticeable. If you turned it into a game in which you ate a gummy bear after each time you saw an adverb following a line of dialogue, you’d be sick and puking before you finished a chapter.

One thing that I’ve learned over the last year and a half is that when it comes to describing a character’s dialogue, it’s the verb, not the adverb, that makes all the difference. In the second example above, “he threatened darkly”, “threatened” is a perfectly fine verb all by itself. Adding “darkly” seems unnecessary and redundant (when was the last time you were threatened cheerfully?). Less interesting verbs like “said,” “asked,” or “answered” might need some adverbial accompaniment, but I think writers ought to follow Stephen King’s famous advice on this subject and use adverbs sparingly:

I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s — GASP!! — too late.

I can be a good sport about adverbs, though. Yes I can. With one exception: dialogue attribution. I insist that you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of occasions . . . and not even then, if you can avoid it.

I prefer to try to use the verbs themselves to convey the feeling, tone, or mood behind a character’s utterance. Of course, sometimes simple, old “said” is the best word for the job, but if it’s not, it isn’t as if there’s a shortage of replacement words to use instead of “said.” Just Google “synonyms for said” and be amazed at the long lists of words that are available to a writer. In fact, I think it’s fun to try to find just the right word to describe how your character is speaking.

Here’s a couple of examples from my own work. The first is from The Spring:

“Wait a minute!” Rachel said, her voice desperate. “What are you going to do? What are we going to do?”

Trey growled, “I can tell you what we’re gonna do. You are gonna go to college, and I am gonna stay here.”

And here’s an example from my current project:

Anytime she spoke it was a big deal for her, so when the coach reached the names beginning with the letter M, Leah took a deep breath and held it until her name was called.

“Nells?”

“Here!” Leah chirped.

In these examples I used the verbs “growled” and “chirped”. “Growled” is the perfect word because that’s exactly what Trey does in this scene. He’s angry, he’s not in the mood to talk to Rachel, and he’s on the verge of losing control over his anger and becoming like an animal. I like “chirped” because I think it perfectly describes what Leah’s voice sounds like as she tries to answer the roll call in the big gymnasium. No adverbs were needed in these two instances because I chose the right verbs.

Of course, King and other writers also warn against using colorful verbs like “growled” and “chirped” too often in dialogue attribution. Indeed, a word like “chirped” is a word that I can get away with using only once in my entire novel. (“Growled”? Maybe twice.) Any more than that and evocative words like these will lose their force, as I’ve noted before.

To be fair, Meyer sometimes chooses the right verb too, but just as often she seems to rely on her adverbs to do the work for her. Perhaps she would have been better served by another round of revision?

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