Really Published

I find this really amusing – my Kindle is now dog-eared.

I don’t mind a bit. It seems right to me that my Kindle should look like my paper books – well-used and a bit tattered from being carted about hither and yon. I’ve had it for coming up on three years now and I still love it.

Last night we did drinks and dinner with another couple to celebrate David’s birthday and the gal was asking me about my experiences with e-publishing. She wanted to know if I *could* get paper copies of my books. I told her it varies with my contracts, but I vaguely recall that the Carina contract promises me some bound paper copies for promotional purposes, but I’d have to look at it again to be sure. And, if the book sells well or seems likely to do well in print, they have the right to do that. Which is why they call it “digital-first” publishing.

“But if you ever decided to have these books published, you could, right?” she asked.

“They are published,” I tell her.

“Right. But if you wanted to have them really published, so you could hand a copy to your mother or something – could you do that?”

I didn’t mention that my lovely mother has a Kindle of her own.

It will be interesting to see how long this notion of “really published” lasts. She seemed to think I’d be longing for the validation of a print book. And, to be fair, I know plenty of authors – especially ones looking to get their first book published – who really want that. They make what I think are dubious decisions between publishing houses, because they want print books, too.

This is not something I care about.

I have a print book. (Wyoming Trucks, True Love and the Weather Channel) It’s very pretty; it has many stars on Amazon. Book resellers will nearly pay you to take it. I’ve sold in the neighborhood of twice as many copies of Petals and Thorns, which apparently doesn’t really exist, as they ever printed of Wyoming Trucks.

If that sounds like I’m bitter, I’m really not. It’s all well and good to have a hardbound university press book and have people say lovely things to you about it. But having people actually read what I write is far more rewarding.

It doesn’t get any more real than that.

Package Deal

When we were house-shopping in Santa Fe last summer (which feels both forever ago and yesterday), our agent took us to a house on the other side of town.

It was a blatant attempt to upsell us. The asking price exceeded our upper limit by nearly $100K, though she assured us we could ask offer far less than that. Of course, she told us that same story on a couple of other houses, too, and when we did offer much less and they came back with indignant counters, our agent would sound all sad and act like we were crazy to think we could get it for that and the counter was actually an amazing deal.

I didn’t like her much.

Anyway, this house on the other side of town was fun to see. The selling agent met us there – which is also kind of a no-no – and really pushed us on the place. We had to have it, they said. A divorce sell, the house sat on a hillside facing the Sangre de Cristos. The view everyone in Santa Fe wants to have they told us. Never mind that the patio and hillside were so overgrown that you couldn’t actually see the mountains.

One room was a studio with 20-foot ceilings, which was neat, but not very useful if neither of us paints. With the odd shape, size and window-placement, it would have made a very unfriendly bedroom.

What with the stamped concrete, the high ceilings and open space, the house made for a dramatic showroom to entertain guests. It wasn’t much for living in. The real adobe walls (as opposed to the “Disney Adobe” of stucco frequently used) set off the massive and somewhat disturbing paintings that hung everywhere. Divorce paintings, perhaps.

The art, the selling agent told me, with a conspiratorial grin, could be negotiated into the purchase price.

And suddenly I realized who he thought I was.

Who buys the art with the house? Someone looking for their ready-made Santa Fe showplace. It’s like paying a designed to fill your bookshelves with attractive-looking spines, never mind the contents.

Art and books are usually personal things. You buy and keep them because you love them. You love them so much you want to have them right there within easy reach, or easy viewing, at every moment. Like all things, I suppose, at some point that becomes a business. How much will I pay someone to let me have it right nearby? The interesting thing is, it’s not the artist who wants to negotiate that price: it’s the middle man.

Right now, Penguin and Amazon are in a pissing match. As a result, Penguin’s new releases are not available on Kindle. Not just delayed, not for a different price. Just not at all. A couple of those releases are from authors I like to buy. I’d like to read those books. But the lion’s share of my reason for using the Kindle is to reduce the amount of space I devote to books. I want to have them, but I don’t want them on my already overtaxed shelves.

Which means, I won’t buy the hard copies.

The middle men want to make money from what we love. They will always offer us a deal, throw in a little something extra. The thing is, package deals always benefit the seller, rarely the buyer. Otherwise, the sellers wouldn’t love to do it so much.

All I can say is, I would never buy the art with the house.

Luscious Luddites

If the Harvest Moon rises like a big pumpkin, then the Worm Moon sets like a peach. The April moon is the Pink Moon. We’ll have to see if it’s any pinker than this.

I wasn’t on the internet much over the weekend. Not really on purpose. On Saturday I did my writing and booked out fairly early for a day of power-shopping for patio furniture with a friend, along with lunch at the Guadalupe Cafe. It involved a lot of back-and-forthing and comparisoning. By the time I got home, with an enormous box of pool lounger wedged into the back of the convertible, I was tired. We did cocktails and movie-watching.

Never did turn on the laptop again.

Then Sunday was for grocery-shopping and the purchase of the rest of the patio furniture that I hadn’t wanted to go back and buy on Saturday, because it would have meant leaving the aforementioned enormous box in my convertible in the parking lot. Then there was yet another trip back and forth, attempting to wedge more enormous boxes into too-small vehicles.

After that I spent the afternoon assembling patio furniture, hanging outdoor art and cleaning up the yard. It felt good to be outside in the sun. I learned how to drill through stucco. I did not do anything on my electronic To-Do list.

And it was good.

Someone mentioned on Twitter the other day that people had noted conversations were slow these days. Being my flip self, I asked if she meant the people or the medium. She said both. Then offered that perhaps, with the warming weather, people were spending more time outside.

That’s okay, I think. It’s good to walk away from the internet and spend some time in the sun.

I’ve received a lot of interesting feedback on Saturday’s post about Kindle vs. iPad. The comments on the post give good insight to the mind of the reader. On Twitter, one techie blogger said that I might be the first person to fault the iPad for allowing me to multitask, but also called my post an “intelligent article.” So I didn’t say that I can hardly be the first to think so, I just might be one of the first to publicly complain about it.

I was surprised though, how many people contacted me to say they agreed – that for them reading is the last refuge from multi-input activities. It’s a time to settle and concentrate on one thing.

It should be noted these are all readers. People who love to read and want to enjoy it.

RoseMarie sent me this really interesting study that she thought would shed some light on the real market for the iPad. She’s right: they want the universities. The study tested out what would become the Kindle DX in several college classes. This is an interesting finding:

During the time of the study, the retail price of the Kindle DX was $489. Other eReader pricing varied from $199 to $859.13 When students were asked if they would purchase a Kindle DX (or other dedicated eReader) for academic use, they indicated that the price would need to drop dramatically –– to less than $100 –– in order for them to seriously consider purchasing one. However, many students suggested that they would be willing to spend considerably more for a multi-function device, such as a tablet or netbook, if it eliminated the need to own a laptop (and if it were as comfortable as an eReader for prolonged reading).

Multi-function device, eh? And a very juicy market.

A couple of other things to note from the study are that students found they concentrated better with an eReader that removed the temptation to check email or surf the web and that some of the students noted that they didn’t experience eyestrain reading on the computer. That’s notable to me because Kev has argued with me that it’s a generational thing, that the younger people don’t mind reading on the computer. I think eye strain is eye strain and they’re just still too young to really feel the impact. But we shall see.

What’s becoming clear to me is that the recreational reader isn’t really on the marketing radar here.

I don’t want to become yet another person proclaiming the death of publishing, but I think this approaches the core of the issues with books and readers. The people who sell stuff, the black-magic marketers, want to simplify books into a commodity. That’s their job. Sell the product they want to sell for the price they want. But books don’t fall neatly into the commodity-niche. They are essentially immaterial – a story, a feeling, a time in a different head or a different world.

Reading is, in the end, solitary and intimate.

Maybe I’m naive, but I’m not sure I believe you can sell that.

Guerilla Marketing

This morning, when I signed onto my laptop, an incorrect password error message flashed — and I realized I’d typed in my main character’s name from the New Novel, instead of my password.

I’m taking this as a positive sign. Or at least, a sign of the right kind of writerly craziness.

It feels good, actually, once you reach that level of immersion in the novel. That’s the point where it starts to feel more like it’s writing itself instead of you eking out each word, begging it to move forward. Forcing things to happen. Once the momentum kicks in, it seems things begin to happen on their own and you’re just there explaining it to the reader.

Which is fun.

Not so fun is this phenomenon I’m witnessing about the iPad, which is supposed to be the new tech toy. I’ve being seeing lots of stuff like this. Note that the headline is “iPad Killed Kindelnomics.” Then remember that, oh wait, iPad hasn’t been released yet. And then note that this a guy’s blog. This “article” is no different than me proclaiming that no one is buying chocolate ice cream anymore because everyone likes this new flavor of pistachio better. Never mind that very few people have even tasted the new flavor.

A lot of these sorts of these have been circulating through Twitter and various publishing venues. Some even have these graphs that supposedly show how Kindle users are giving up their Kindles and buying iPads. The statistics behind them are indecipherable. I’m starting to wonder if they’re not completely fictional.

Maybe everyone knows this but me, but I think Apple has been encouraging an army of tech bloggers to push public opinion in favor of the iPad. It keeps hitting me wrong because I have a Kindle 2, which I love. I have absolutely no desire to acquire an iPad. Actually I have no interest in it at all. I have a laptop (two, actually, one for work and one for personal), a Blackberry, a Kindle and an iPod. Their overlapping functionality more than fulfill all of my tech needs.

What I love most about my Kindle is it feels more like reading a book instead of being forever on the computer. I love that the screen is not backlit, so I can read for hours without eye-strain. I love that using my Kindle is only about reading, not multitasking.

Wasn’t that the point?

I mean, a few years back, I remember answering surveys about an ebook reader and what would it take me to convert from paper to electronic. Those were the major points that it seemed all readers offered. And Amazon developed the Kindle exactly along those lines. Everyone I know with a Kindle loves it. One person, a prominent blogger, doesn’t like the lack of organization of the books on it – which is an issue I don’t get because I can always find what I want.

So, the always-evolving, always-competing tech world wants to convince me that what I wanted most in an ereader isn’t what I wanted at all, that I’m not satisfied. Despite their creative representation of the world, I don’t think the techies will convince most readers either. The editors and agents may want greater ability to annotate, but the mass of people out there who just READ, who love BOOKS and not computers, don’t think this way.

Of course, none of them read techie blogs, either.

It seems to me to be the one thing forever being left out of the equation: the reader. Which is ironic, since we all started out that way. Writers may love to use the saw “I wrote my first book when I was seven in purple crayon,” but they should really mention when they read their first book. Or when it was read to them.

My mom used to read to me, every night. She stopped when I started reading over her shoulder and correcting her when she missed words. She finally handed me the book – I remember it being Charlotte’s Web, but that seems awfully pat – and said I was ready to fly the reading nest.

That opened the world of books to me. Any book would fall before me. I could consume it at will, yanked away only for meals and school.

Isn’t that where we all started? Nose buried in a book.

Don’t offer me a better way to multitask. I just want to read.

The World Turns

It’s always difficult for me to picture things as different than as they are right at this moment.

I mean, while I know in my head that the seasons change, whatever is in front of me seems to be all that’s real. I look out my office window at the frozen rain chain and remember when it was rain, not icicles. But the rain is no longer real to me.

We’ve been talking about that, with our luck in choosing this particular house. With the recent heavy snow, David’s been pointing out how some houses sit low on the hill, with long driveways sloping down towards their garages. Those people have been shoveling snow like mad. At first David didn’t get it, since the snow melts so quickly here. Then he got it. Our driveway snow melts through the gravel into the ground; theirs runs down the hill, into the garage and the house.

We are grateful we didn’t pick one of those, though it was not due to any foresight of ours. Though we moved from a cold and snowy climate, in the dazzle of Santa Fe’s desert summer, it’s difficult to imagine deep snow.

We were lucky.

People laugh at me, when I mention I have this limitation. I try to stretch my imagination all the time this way. To picture what I see in a different light, a different season. The thing is, I’m not convinced that other people are much better at it.

The big news yesterday was Amazon’s announcement that select ebooks for Kindle will pay authors up to 70% in royalties. Everybody picked up the story, so there’s lots of versions of that news. I just picked that one for its detail. I find the blogger in it who rambles on about Amazon’s deep fear of Apple kind of irritating. It makes me wonder who’s paying for his supper, but that’s neither here nor there.

What is interesting to me, and is to most authors, I imagine, is that percentage. If an author is lucky enough to receive a royalty of 15%, which is the high end, that means that for a book that sells in the store for $23.95, the author gets $2.16. (Bookstores buy books typically for 40% off the jacket price.) If that same author sells that book for only $5 as an ebook on Kindle, at 70% royalty, she gets $3.50 per book. Most books available as hardbacks list at $9.99 on Kindle, which would give the author nearly $7 per book. For 100 books, this becomes a $500 difference.

There has been, of course, much wailing and gnashing of teeth over how the publishing industry is changing. Authors are worried about ebook piracy. A reader on Twitter yesterday was blasted for talking about buying new releases as ebooks. Authors “taught” her how only the paper sales matter in the first week and how, if she wanted to support them, she’d buy those.

That’s the thing about change. It takes a while to adjust your thinking. To accept that a change might be a positive thing.

All it takes is being willing to see that things aren’t always as they are at this moment.

So Many Snobs, So Little Sense

Okay, so here’s the latest from the world of literary snobbery on the Kindle: only lovers of literature have them, not lowly genre readers.

This is a direct quote from Sara Nelson, author of “So Many Books, So Little Time.” (Which I have on my bookshelf and mostly read, until I got really bored.) She says: “It’s really expensive. If you’re going to pay that, you’re giving a statement to the world that you like to read — and you’re probably not using it to read a mass market paperback.”

Okay then.

Clearly Sara lives under a rock, or perhaps just under a stack of books. The first person I knew to own a Kindle, and that was the original Kindle, is my long time friend and sorority sister, Karen Weesner. Who gobbles up lots of books every week, many of them trashy mass market paperbacks. Once of the first things she told me she loved about it was that no one knew what she was reading. No slutty covers to elicit questions from the kids. No raised eyebrows from her husband, wondering why she was reading that one yet again.

Not everyone wants the world to know what they’re reading and not everyone who loves to read invests only in highbrow stuff.

Apparently Sara doesn’t know the latest statistics. Romance fiction sold $1.375 billion in estimated revenue for 2007 compared to $466 million for classic literary fiction. Umm…something makes me think these readers might have money to invest in a Kindle.

This makes me think of those articles where they ask famous people what they’re reading right now. Even as a pre-teen, I wondered when I saw one of those articles, how everyone could be reading “A Tale of Two Cities,” or “Les Miserables” in the original French. Where were the readers of Anne McCaffrey? As my life went on, I would scan these sorts of lists, hoping someone would fess up to the new Nora Roberts in her purse.

No one ever has.

Me? Right now I’m reading Veronica by Mary Gaitskill and Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready. On the Kindle I just finished Nalini Singh’s Angel’s Blood and I’ve got JR Ward’s Lover Avenged queued up.

I love ’em all.

You Never Write, You Never Call…

Okay, the heady romance is over. I confess: I’ve begun to cheat.

It’s not that I was ever completely monogamous, especially in the beginning. You know how it is: in the begining you’re still trying each other out, not ready to fully commit. I’d kept reading a hard copy book or two, would keep a book with me on the plane, in case the flight attendant decided my Kindle was an electronic device that must be shut off. (Incidentally, no one has made me shut it off through about 10-15 take-offs and landings. I wonder if this is because they don’t know what it is or it doesn’t look all that electronic?)

But I had committed. All of my recent book purchases were on the Kindle, either via the Amazon store or through other ebook sellers. Then, last night, I put the Kindle in the drawer and started a hard copy book. It felt good, too. Like coming home to an old love. It felt right to be holding my book, curled up in the armchair while the snow fell.

I confess, the in-laws soured things for me recently, what with the Amazon “glitch.” I really hate that Amazon may have been censoring and sanitizing, a serious development given their stranglehold on book rankings. I hear people saying they’re giving their business to Powells, which has ebooks, too. I might have to see if their formats are Kindle-compatible. Not every ebook is, it turns out. I suspect this situation will continue to improve over time. It seems like new tech starts out very specific and proprietary at first, but then natural market forces move everthing to intercompatibility (is that a word?) over time.

Maybe it’s good for us to have a little time apart. It’s okay for my Kindle to be just one part of my reading life. I’m beginning to think that any monopoly can’t be a good thing. In nature, diversity wins.

In love, I’m a one-man woman, but in this way, at least, I’ll continue to play the field.

Reading Time

I’m so amused that I have to share.

I bought an ebook yesterday from Fictionwise for my Kindle. This is one of the sites that sells ebooks and emags, that ISN’T Amazon. (I know — who thought it was possible?) Fictionwise seems to be a pretty decent site, though I paid more for this ebook than I have for any so far. They promised me a 50% rebate, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it and finally decided it wasn’t worth $7 to me to screw around with it any more. A little bait & switch-y there, but so it goes. Along with the traditional book information, they give this:

Available eBook Formats [MultiFormat – What’s this?]:
Adobe Acrobat (PDF) [895 KB], eReader (PDB) [317 KB], Palm Doc (PDB) [312 KB], Rocket/REB1100 (RB) [278 KB], Microsoft Reader (LIT) [277 KB] – PocketPC 1.0+ Compatible, Franklin eBookMan (FUB) [306 KB], hiebook (KML) [699 KB], Sony Reader (LRF) [364 KB], iSilo (PDB) [259 KB], Mobipocket (PRC) [322 KB], Kindle Compatible (MOBI) [379 KB], OEBFF Format (IMP) [450 KB]
Words: 96890
Reading time: 276-387 min.
Microsoft Reader (LIT) Format: Printing DISABLED, Read-Aloud ENABLED
Adobe Acrobat (PDF) Format: Printing DISABLED, Read-Aloud ENABLED
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED

My favorite part is the offered “reading time.” I suppose this kind of thing is inevitable in a culture where every minute is squeezed for maximum effect. But, is it just me? This seems like such an odd quantification for pleasure reading. I mean, sure, when I was in college or grad school, I figured out my approximate reading rate, so I could plan how long a particular text would take me to get through. Like I would any job. As a consultant, I have to be very good at knowing how long, in terms of billable hours, a given project will take to accomplish. Both by me and anyone on my team. What I do for work or schooling, though, rarely applies to my leisure time.

For those who don’t want to do the math, the reading time suggested here varies between 250 and 350 words per minute. My reading rate is generally around a page a minute, if I’m being pretty direct about it. We already discussed here the whole “paragraphs as mountains” concept and that “industry standard” for genre is 250 words per page. Denser works have more words per page. I find it really interesting that the supposed industry standard for genre matches the bottom end of Fictionwise’s reading rate.

I’m sure there are people who sit around and figure this kind of thing out. All part of product development and placement. Still, as much as I believe I’m jaded and cynical now, things like this continue to surprise me. Which probably shows my enduring naivete in the face of the world’s attempts to toughen me up.

Despite it all, there’s a part of me that’s still the little girl who always had her nose in a book. The girl who picked out the thickest books on the library shelf, because they would last longer. I want to immerse, to lose track of time, to slow down in the second half, so the story won’t end too soon.

Let my reading be timeless, please.

Our First Spat

Alas, the Kindle honeymoon is over.

No, he didn’t let me down. Didn’t stand me up or fail to be there when I needed him. And really, the love affair is still strong. I just discovered one of his flaws. Inevitable in every romance.

It turns out I can’t buy books for my Kindle-having friends.

I thought I could go to Amazon, buy several books for my friend Karen’s birthday and send them to her Kindle. Instant birthday present! She turned me onto the Kindle in the first place so it seemed good and right to do this.

But I can’t.

I can give her a gift certificate, says the Amazon guy. Or send her the hard copies. We can actually share registries and trade books. But I’m old-fashioned, and a writer to boot: I want the author to get her sale out of it. I don’t want to send a generic gift c, I want to send a specific book. A specific series, in fact. Giving a friend a book you love is a way of communicating, of sharing the experience. It’s a letter, written in someone else’s voice.

If Amazon wants to change how we read books, they’ll have to get a grip on this.

Let Me Count the Ways

“Do you love it?” they ask me.

Total strangers walk up to me in airports, at Starbucks, when they see me reading my Kindle. “Do you love it?” they all ask and I let them play with it.

Yeah, I do love it. My mom gave me a Kindle for Christmas, then was devastated that they couldn’t ship it until February 24. But it turns out that they were waiting to complete production and ship the Kindle 2, so it was fine by me. David gave me a Blackberry Storm for Christmas (this was my techno-Christmas, apparently) and I was still trying to learn that. The lament of my age group — we played Pong as kids; we used computers in high school, so it should NOT be this hard to keep up with technology. Everyone is fretting about twitter now. I tried to read a twitter page and nearly clawed my eyes out. One thing at a time, I figure.

Except the Kindle 2 was super-duper easy to get going. I had to read the user guide for a few things, but I found what I was looking for. I love that I can slip it in my purse, that I can pull it out, hit the slider and it opens to my page. Child of my era and my culture, I just love the instant gratification. I finished a book that left me craving more and instantly downloaded the next in the series. It’s light, easy to read, easy to turn the pages.

I found I had to adjust my page-turn timing. As a long-time reader, I have a rhythm of starting to turn the page while finishing the last couple of lines at the bottom. If I hit the next page button on the Kindle at the same rhythm, the page replaces before I finish the last line. But I adjusted pretty quickly to that. I do miss the feel of “having” the book, of seeing the cover image as a prelude to settling in. I read a book on the Kindle that I ended up really loving: Jeaniene Frost’s Halfway to the Grave. (It was her One Foot in the Grave that I immediately downloaded.) Reading her was like having paranormal romance steak after six months of nothing but Ho-Ho’s. (A side note for those interested in such things: they classify her as urban fantasy, see? that means there’s no happily ever after at the end.) Anyway, now that I feel all warm and fuzzy about Jeaniene’s books, I want to HAVE them. Even though I already do. But I don’t have the sexy cover and I didn’t know this was the “Night Huntress” series until I recommended it to someone else. That part I miss. Is it important? We’ll see. It looks like I’ll get to meet Jeaniene at the RT convention — I can hardly have her sign my Kindle. Something for Jeff Bezos to ponder.

So, if you see me in the airport or at Starbucks — Yes, I love it. And of course you can play with it.