An American Editor

March 30, 2011

On Books: Murder Down Under

My reading habits seem to me to be odd. Why odd? Because I read genres in spurts. The spurts may be months or years, but I haven’t read a genre continuously throughout my reading life.

What I mean is this: Many years ago, the only fiction I read were mysteries written by authors like Ed McBain, Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon, Martha Grimes, P.D. James, Mickey Spillane, and Arthur Conan Doyle. I read those books for years, then one day I stopped and moved to another genre and didn’t pick up another mystery — that is, until recently.

Several months ago I bought the ebook of Vicki Tyley’s Thin Blood at Smashwords. The synopsis looked interesting, and several people on another forum remarked positively on the ebook. I thought I couldn’t go wrong at the price. Even if I didn’t like the book, it wasn’t much of an investment.

Thin Blood, which is the story of a reporter’s investigation of a decade-old murder, reignited my interest in the mystery genre. Thin Blood is a compelling story with a twist, and Tyley keeps the reader’s interest with her articulate prose. The writing style reminded me very much of the Ed McBain/Dashiell Hammett style — sentences that have been stripped down to the barebones.

After reading Thin Blood, I had to read the other mysteries written by Tyley, Sleight Malice and Brittle Shadows. In Sleight Malice, the lead character is devastated by what she thinks is the death in a house fire of her best friend. Then she learns that the body found in the fire is male, not female, and she teams up with a private investigator to discover the truth.

In Brittle Shadows, the body of our heroine’s sister’s fiance is found hanging in his closet, presumably death by accident. Two months later, the heroine’s sister commits suicide, an act that our heroine cannot accept, especially when she learns that at the time of her death, the sister was 6 weeks pregnant.

Each of the three books is different, yet all are united by a single characteristic: strong, female leads. Tyley’s characterizations allow the reader to grasp the mental framework of the lead females. The writing is taut, direct, and without waste. Throughout the three books, there were only a couple minor grammar errors, at least from an American perspective. I admit that I am not familiar with Australian style.

What I find particularly interesting is that even with the very high quality of the writing, Vicki Tyley, as is the case with the exceptionally talented New Zealand writer, Shayne Parkinson (see On Books: The Promises to Keep Quartet), remains unsigned by the major traditional publishing houses. Makes me wonder if there is a Down Under bias.

There is no question in my mind that Vicki Tyley is the Australian P.D. James — a writer whose work is a can’t miss read. The writing is outstanding, the stories creative. The one failing is that her female leads are frenetic. Interestingly, although the female leads are as strong a character as any of the males in the story, and often even stronger, they do not comport themselves as well as their male counterparts in stress situations, leaving the impression that they are weaker than their male counterparts. It is almost as if Tyley is suggesting that no matter how strong a woman is, she is still emotionally ruled whereas men are both strong and emotionless, or at least better capable of contolling their emotions and thus more objective under stress.

The significant difference between the Parkinson books and the Tyley books is how the lead female characters — Amy Leith, in the Parkinson books, and Jemma Dalton (Brittle Shadows), Desley James (Sleight Malice), and Jacinta Deller (Thin Blood) — emotionally involve the reader in their story and plight: In the case of Amy Leith, I was greatly engaged, whereas the Tyley characters didn’t rise to that level of reader involvement. My emotional involvement was minimal at best.

That, however, is no reason to not buy, read, and enjoy these books and to anxiously await the next Tyley Down Under murder mystery. On a 5-star rating scale, I would rate each of Tyley’s 3 books as 5 stars. In comparison, for those of you who took my advice and read Parkinson’s Promises to Keep quartet, the quartet’s rating would be 5 stars plus a smidgen more, the difference being the emotional involvement of the reader with the characters.

As I wrote earlier, Vicki Tyley is the Australian P.D. James — a can’t miss read. Her mysteries definitely are in the same class as McBain, Grimes, and James, and like Grimes and James, have that little bit of reserve that distinguishes the English-style mystery from the American-style mystery. And at $2.99 an ebook, the value is greater than that of the better-known but not more capable English-style mystery writers. I highly recommend Tyley’s three ebooks to mystery fans.

March 29, 2011

A Humor Interlude: What Goes Around Stays

Filed under: A Humor Interlude — Rich Adin @ 8:31 am
Tags: , , ,

Sometimes what was still is. I had this revelation last evening. Occasionally, I watch a video on my TV. (I never watch cable TV, however, at least not for the past 12+ years.) After all, when we had our living room redone (we bought an older house that needed fixing), I decided to splurge and bought a 42-inch plasma TV that we mounted over the fireplace. After buying that, I do have to occasionally turn it on :).

So last night I was in the mood for some humor, and what came to mind were the BBC series Yes, Minister! and Yes, Prime Minister!. I’ve always had an appreciation for British satire and although our governmental systems are different, the problems of government are twins. Anyway, I dug out the DVDs and watched a couple of episodes.

The series was originally televised in 1979 — 32 years ago. But watching the machinations of Jim Hacker (the minister and then the prime minister) and Sir Humphrey (his civil service advisor), I realized that what was being satirized 32 years ago still goes on. The humor is still fresh, everything remains the same — only the names have changed.

For those of you looking for good political satire that is understated but still relevant, I recommend watching these videos. Here are a few examples available on YouTube (and there are many more clips there; just search for yes minister). I hope you find them as relevant and enjoyable as I do.

Pushing the nuclear button

Two explanations of foreign policy

Of course, there is the question of politics versus truth and pressuring (censoring?) the news media

A three-part discussion of education policy

There are many more clips on YouTube. It is better to watch the shows in their entirety, but even these clips will do. After watching them, do you see any difference in the politics of then and now?

March 28, 2011

Book Reviews & Reviewers: Deciding Which Reviews to Trust

Recently, on a discussion forum, the question was asked: “Would you trust a paid book review?” Most commenters declared an unambiguous “no,” but I’m not sure the answer is so easy or should be so emphatically given.

We start, of course, with what constitutes payment for a review. In the forum, the answers began with as little as receipt of a free review copy and moved on from there. What was never really addressed, although I did try to raise the issue, was the reviewer’s credentials.

The consensus in the forum was that the most trustworthy reviews are those written by a person who bought the book (which includes either print or ebook version), but studiously avoided the question of “What if the ebook was free?” Commenters didn’t detail what makes these reviewers and their reviews the most trustworthy other than to say, in the broadest terms, that the reviewer is not being influenced. It is truly a sad commentary on our society when we see corruption and influence in everything.

My take is somewhat different. I look at reviews written at Goodreads, Amazon, and other forums with quite a bit more than a grain of salt. As I have remarked in previous posts, anonymous reviewers do not inspire confidence, at least in my thinking, in the veracity of the review. It is not that the reviewer may or may not truly believe that a particular book is worthy of 5 stars or 1 star, it is that I have no idea what criteria the reviewer applied nor do I know what specialized knowledge the reviewer has. Who reviews the reviewer?

If you do not trust any paid reviews/reviewers, you cannot trust reviews in such publications as the London Review of Books, The New York Review of Books (NYRB), Publishers Weekly, or the New York Times Book Review. In each of these instances, the reviewers are paid and the publications rely on publisher advertising. But isn’t the truth elsewhere? Isn’t it true that you can rely on these reviews, regardless of whether you agree with them, because of the credentials of the reviewers and the veracity and history of the publication?

When I read a review in the NYRB, which is my favorite review magazine, I know that the reviewer is knowledgable about the area under discussion. When Max Hastings reviews a book about World War II, I know he is competent to do so as a historian of and writer in the era. I expect he will be objective, or as objective as a reviewer can be, because his reputation rides on what he writes.

Importantly, the reviews in magazines like the NYRB are detailed and compare the book(s) under review with other books in the field that address the same issue. Isn’t such a comparison valuable? Doesn’t it add to the worth of the review? Isn’t seeing Max Hastings’s name at the top of the review important for determining the value of the review?

I know that Hastings was paid to write the review, whether it be in dollars or in writing credit for his career. I also know that Hastings writes similar books. Consequently, when I read his review I can evaluate the value of his review, something I cannot do with the anonymous and/or unknown reviewers we see popping up all over the Internet and at places like Amazon.

What I would like to know is how you decide to trust a review. Can you really just ignore all the 5-star and 1-star reviews at Amazon and just concentrate on the 2- to 4-star reviews? How do you feel about a book you have purchased that got rave reviews but when you start reading it, you find it riddled with spelling and grammar errors, and even incoherent in places — none of which was pointed out in 95% of the reviews?

Although a blog is a difficult place to have a discussion, I would like your comments on what you look for in a review and/or a reviewer, not where you go to read reviews.

March 22, 2011

What’s Wrong with this Sentence? The Editor’s Eye

I was reading some fiction recently, when I came across this sentence (and it is the complete sentence as it appeared in the story):

“As well ask Beelzebub to rein in Belial.”

The sentence brought me to a halt. What is wrong with the sentence? Nothing? Something? I’ll wait for your editorial eye to tell me the answer, and how foolish I was to be stopped by a perfectly good sentence.

(Waiting for time to pass and your editorial eye to grapple with the question and come to a resolution.)

Okay, enough time has passed. Either you are ready to tell me how foolish I am or how magnificent an editor I must be. Which is it?

Grammatically, the sentence is fine. It has everything one could hope for in a succinct bit of prose. The problem, if there is one, lies with Beelzebub and Belial. Beelzebub is a name for the Devil, as is Belial. To the average reader, the sentence reads, “As well ask [the Devil] to rein in [the Devil].” To distinguish between Beelzebub and Belial requires a sophistication that the average reader of the type of fiction in which the sentence is found is unlikely to have. To make the distinction requires some familiarity with Milton’s Paradise Lost, a work few of us have mastery of, and perhaps knowledge of Late Latin translations of Biblical Hebrew.

A confused reader is likely to turn to a handy dictionary, such as The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.), in which the primary definition of Beelzebub is “The Devil; Satan” and that of Belial is “A personification of wickedness and ungodliness alluded to in the Bible.” It seems to me that the former includes the latter and the latter includes the former; that is, they are one and the same.

But when we get to Paradise Lost, we learn that although both Beelzebub and Belial are evil incarnate, each is a different fallen angel. Milton uses Beelzebub as the name for the fallen angel who is the Devil and Belial as the name of the fallen angel who represents impurity. With Paradise Lost in mind, the sentence becomes clear (or at least clearer); without Paradise Lost in mind, the sentence is muddy. How many of us have Paradise Lost in our hip pocket?

I ask the question because it raises an editorial question. If the book I was reading had been a book about etymology or language or Paradise Lost or any number of nonfiction topics, the sentence should pass without hesitation, assuming there was explanatory context for it or a reader would be expected to know the allusion. But the book was fiction, which means it was addressed to a different audience with a different expected level of literary sophistication. Consequently, the editorial question becomes: Should the editor have flagged this sentence, questioning whether it would be understood by the expected readership?

I view the role of a professional editor as more than just making sure that a book is devoid of homonym and spelling errors. I think a professional editor needs to tackle with the author issues such as allusions that the author’s expected readers are unlikely to grasp without help but that are important to the story. This is particularly the case in fiction, which is intended to be entertaining, not scholarly (in the sense of a nonfiction academic work). Entertainment is rarely having to research the meaning of a sentence in a novel.

I grant that with some of the new electronic reading devices learning the difference between Beelzebub and Belial is pretty easy. On my Sony 950, for example, I can double-tap on the names and the Oxford American Dictionary pops up with definitions/explanations. But as quick and easy as that is, doing so interrupts the flow of the story. Alternatively, I can just ignore the sentence and assume it has some deep meaning that is of little relevance to me or the story, but isn’t that accusing the author of wasting my time with irrelevancies? Is that the reputation an author wants to develop? Being a time-waster?

Presumably an author has chosen words carefully to convey a particular meaning. In fiction, an author wants that meaning conveyed immediately, with as little fuss on the reader’s part as is possible. A good author includes in his or her story only those words and phrases that are relevant for conveying the tale the author wants to tell. Consequently, in the fiction I was reading, the sentence, “As well ask Beelzebub to rein in Belial,” had great importance — it was important to convey in a compact way the difficulty of getting a character to do/not do something. Which means, does it not, that the sentence needs to be understandable so that the meaning is conveyed?

Which brings me back to my original question: What is wrong with this sentence in light of who the expected reader is? Is this the best way to convey the information to be conveyed to the reader? Will using two names that are often identified with the same “thing” be helpful or confusing? What should the professional editor do when faced with this type of sentence?

Although there is no definitive answer to any of the questions, how an editor answers them and what the editor does can speak volumes.

March 16, 2011

The Missing Ingredient: Quality Control in Indie eBooks

To me, the lack of quality control is a big deterrent to paying more than a dollar or two for an indie ebook from an author whose books I have not previously read. In the beginning, Smashwords was a great place to find indie books and give them a try, but that is rapidly changing as the number of indie ebooks rapidly increases. As Smashwords has grown, as indie publishing has grown with the rise of ebooks, and as the needle in the haystack has become increasingly difficult to find, we need to implement a method that imposes some sort of quality control.

A common response to this puzzle is to suggest looking at reader reviews on ebookseller sites like Amazon, on social sites like Goodreads, and on book review blogs. Perhaps in the very infancy of ebooks these were good and practical ways to determine quality, but that has changed with the rapid growth of indie ebooks. Not only are many of the indie ebooks simply not reviewed, those that are reviewed are often not well reviewed except in the sense of whether or not the reviewer liked the story. The insight of a professional reviewer is missing.

I began to notice the problems with reviews when readers began giving 1-star ratings because of price; that is, they were protesting the price of the ebook rather than evaluating the content. Price should not be a determining factor because each of us is capable of determining whether we are willing to pay the price, independent of whether someone else believes a particular price is too high, regardless of the book’s other qualities or lack thereof.

Compounding the price boycott review problem are the reviews that give a book 4 or 5 stars but do not detail what is good or bad about the book. One book I was interested in had a rating of between 4.5 and 5 stars. Of the 23 reviews, only 2 mentioned that book clearly had not been edited or proofread and, thus, reading it was difficult. This is not to suggest that the other 21 reviewers either didn’t or shouldn’t have enjoyed the book; rather, it reflects another concern of mine: Perhaps readers are unable to discern the difference between there and their, seen and scene, or seem and seam, and thus do not know that a book has errors. Some readers have told me that, as long as they get the idea, they do not care. I’m not convinced that bodes well for the future of literacy.

Yet another problem with these reviews is that it takes a leap of faith to accept that they are legitimate and made knowledgeably. This is the result of a lack of uniform, accepted criteria against which a book is judged by everyone — the gatekeeper role. When someone with the screen name “opus941” and no other identification tells me that so-and-so’s ebook was by far the best fantasy ebook he/she has read since Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but doesn’t mention that there are 4 homonym errors, 2 run-on sentences, and the same character’s name spelled differently within the first 3 paragraphs, I wonder whether opus941 ever read LOTR or simply watched the video, and I wonder how much credence to give to the review and the reviewer.

It is true that with a lot of work on my part, I can overcome many of the problems. For example, if I discover that opus941 has reviewed 42 ebooks and that I have read 10 of them and agreed with his/her reviews, I can probably move toward the end of the spectrum that says I can gamble on an ebook with a good opus941 review. But such trust is rapidly shattered by the first ebook opus941 raves about where I can’t get past the first few paragraphs because of poor grammar and editing, an occurrence that happens much too frequently with indie publishing.

The real question, however, is why should I have to do so much work to find a decent indie ebook to read? The consequence is that I am unwilling to pay much, if anything, for an indie author’s ebooks until I have read 1 or 2 and am convinced that the author can actually write a coherent sentence that captivates my attention. There are just too many things competing for my attention for me to undertake yet another major project, and looking for indie ebooks that worth reading is becoming such a project. Clearly, this is neither good for authors nor for their distributors. Yet, in the absence of traditional publishing that assures at least a minimal gatekeeping, this hurdle needs to addressed by 90% of indie authors (yes, there will always be a percentage for whom none of this is a hurdle to overcome).

The solution may be for distributors to become the new gatekeepers, either themselves doing the gatekeeping or requiring authors to attest that their ebooks meet certain prestated editorial criteria. I am not talking about storyline, plot, or other content related to the storyline or plot. I am talking about quality control — that the book has been professionally edited and professionally produced. The question is how to implement such a system at the distribution level.

I suppose one way to do it is to require every ebook to have a minimum price of 99¢ and to require the author to offer a double-your-money-back guarantee should the buyer find x number of grammar and/or spelling errors. (I accept, and think everyone must accept, that no book, professionally edited and proofread or not, is wholly error free. The question really is one of numbers: 1 error every 2 to 3 pages may be acceptable whereas 1 error every paragraph would not.)

Another way might be to require reviewers to respond to certain questions as part of the review process: “Did you find any spelling errors? Give examples. Did the ebook appear to have been edited? What is the basis for your conclusion?” Perhaps 2 or 3 more standardized questions should be asked and answers required before a more general review about the story or plot can be posted and a star rating awarded. Then the star rating can be given as weighted to include the answers to the required questions. For example, if a reviewer gave the story a 5-star rating but said that spelling errors had been found and the ebook appeared not to have been edited, the weighted rating might be 4 stars. However, a reader could see the review, the answers to the questions, and the story rating, as well as the overall weighted rating, and can assign his/her own weights.

I’m sure there are other creative ways to get a truer sense of an ebook, we only need to collaborate to find them. Authors and distributors should agree to the method ultimately settled on should be agreed and it should be applied uniformly across distribution channels. Authors would still be free to do as they please. However, readers would be better served and the better authors — those who really do care about their relationship with their readers — would profit more because readers would feel assured of getting a quality read from these authors and thus be more willing to spend a reasonable sum to buy the author’s ebooks.

It could only be good for all concerned when distributors are able to sell ebooks for a reasonable sum, authors are able to sell ebooks for a reasonable sum, and readers can improve their odds of finding that proverbial needle in the haystack. Certainly, it is worth thinking about.

March 15, 2011

A Humor Interlude: Why Editors are Important

Filed under: A Humor Interlude — Rich Adin @ 6:00 am

Although intended to satirize government response to Freedom of Information Act requests, substituting authors for government and editors for news illustrates one of the problems caused by the rise of ebooks, self-publishing, and the Internet and their intersection.

Is it no or know? Your professional editor knows (or is it nose?)!

March 14, 2011

Worth Noting: Eagle Watch

Filed under: Worth Noting — Rich Adin @ 8:10 am

It is not my habit to do more than one post in a day, but I think this link is particularly worth noting.

Live Eagle Roost

It is a live feed from a camera very close to a nesting eagle. The eagle is currently sitting on several eggs. Via this link you can watch the roosting and, eventually, the hatching in real time. Enjoy!

Symbiosis: The Authorial and Editorial Process

Although not usually thought of in these terms, there is a symbiotic relationship between the authorial and the editorial processes. In many ways, it is like the relationship between a composer and librettist. How well the relationship works can determine how good the end product is.

A well-written book is analogous to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. It begins softly, builds to a crescendo, and adds new characters and plot twists and turns (i.e., new instruments and sounds) until that climactic moment.

To bring off this well-written book successfully, not only must the author have great skills, but the editor must be skilled. To use another music analogy, consider opera. The role of the author is that of the composer; the role of the editor is that of the librettist. In the case of opera, the person credited with the opera is the composer; the librettist, although noted in an acknowledgment, is publicly forgotten. Yet what makes an opera great is the symbiotic relationship between the composer and the librettist.

Consider Léo Delibes’s opera Lakme. It happens to be one of my favorite operas. I especially love the “The Flower Duet,” sung as Lakme and her servant Mallika gather flowers, which was written by the librettists Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille, who are essentially unknown in the opera world. It is the combination of the music and the duet between Lakme and Mallika that makes “The Flower Duet” so extraordinary:

Just as this combination of the known (composer) and unknown (librettist) can combine to create great, memorable music, so the relationship between an author (visible) and editor (invisible) can combine to create a great book.

Unfortunately, with the changes that are occurring in publishing and with the rise of ebooks this symbiosis between author and editor is being strained to the point of near-breaking. Publishers are trying to cut production costs as finely as they can, and too many see editorial work — in the sense of editing and proofreading — as being of ephemeral value. It is no longer uncommon to hear a publisher say that readers don’t complain about poor editing, so they obviously must not notice when editing is missing.

Authors, who with the rise of ebooks are increasingly taking on the role of the publisher, take the same tack but more often emphasize the expense. One author boasted on the copyright page of his meganovel that the ebook hadn’t been copyedited because no one cared and he wasn’t going to spend the money. That might have been okay if the ebook were being given away for free, but the ebook was $8.99! (I read enough of the ebook via a sample to realize it was in desperate need of an editor, so I passed on buying it.)

The authorial and editorial processes are really a single process; different phases of a single process, but a single process nonetheless. We tend to divide the phases of manuscript preparation into separate stages and processes, but that is really more for convenience that a reflection of the reality of the process. The two processes are so intertwined that they should be inseparable and authors should not fear an editor’s input. A manuscript doesn’t become less the author’s work because of editing, but it may become more of the author’s vision as a result of editing. Consider Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and their editor, Maxwell Perkins.

Although Perkins is considered to be perhaps the greatest editor of the 20th century, it is not Perkins who is remembered and revered (except by a few of us editors who know of him), but Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Yet both acknowledged that their books would not have been the masterpieces they were if it hadn’t been for Perkins’s contributions.

Ultimately, my point is that, like great music, great books are collaborative enterprises and when part of the collaborative team is missing, the book suffers, the author suffers, and the reader suffers. Authors need to rethink their stance when they decline to spend money to hire a professional editor, and there is a world of difference between a professional editor and a friend whose job is maintaining a computer network who thinks he/she can edit a book because they have read a lot of books. These differences have been discussed in prior articles; see, for example, The Missing Ingredient: Grammar Skills; Finding a Professional Editor: The Needle in the Haystack Problem; In the Face: eBook Errors; I Published My Book But Readers Keep Finding Errors; The WYSIWYG Conundrum: The Solid Cloud; On Words: Is the Correct Word Important?; and On Words & eBooks: Give Me a Brake! These articles are well worth reading if not previously read, and rereading if it has been a while. Because the author wants to be viewed as a skilled writer, the author needs the help of a professional editor whose skills transcend those of the neighbor who dabbles because he/she reads.

The authorial and editorial process can help a book follow the path of Lakme — from beginning to finale — in creating another memorable “Flower” duet.

March 9, 2011

Smashwords: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Smashwords is one of my favorite ebookstores. I probably buy more ebooks there than from any other ebookstore. A lot of that has to do with price, but it also has to do with my desire to find great reads from indie authors rather than supporting Agency 6 overpricing of ebooks.

The good of Smashwords is that it is a place where one can find true gems, true masterpieces among the slush, and find them at very reasonable prices. Some excellent, even outstanding, authors I have found at Smashwords are Richard S. Tuttle, Vicki Tyley, Shayne Parkinson, Lee Goldberg, Catherine Durkin Robinson, Saffina Desforges, and Markus Kane.

The bad of Smashwords is how difficult it can be to find these authors.

Consider this week (March 6 to 12), which is Read an eBook Week, both worldwide and at Smashwords. Many authors are running specials on their ebooks at Smashwords, from 25% to 100% off the normal retail price (which is often not very high to begin with). If you want to peruse all of the ebook specials, you have to wade through 12,224 ebooks. To peruse all of the ebooks available at Smashwords, you have to wade through 37,249 ebooks, a number that grows daily.

Until today, searching the eBook Week specials didn’t permit you to search by coupon code. Fortunately, that filter has been added as of this morning. The primary filters are limited. If you choose “New Releases,” “‘RE100’ 100% Off,” and “Longs (25,000+ words),” that helps cut the list to 66 ebooks, but it doesn’t show you those ebooks that have coupon codes of 75%, 50%, or 25% off that are free as well once the discount is applied, nor does it include those ebooks that are free without a coupon code.

The point is that even with the addition of filtering by coupon code, two people are getting short-changed — the reader looking for a bargain and a quality read, and the author who is trying to build a following — because there are just too many variations that are not inclusive enough. I know this from my own experience of the past few days at Smashwords.

Through last evening, I have purchased about 40 ebooks — all ultimately for free because of the coupons — yet that has taken me through only the first 1,750 ebooks in the specials over the course of many hours. I’ll never get through all 5,771 ebooks that are part of the eBook Week special event and are filtered by “New Releases” and “Longs (25,000+ words).”

The bad and the ugly of Smashwords are the filtering and the remembering. Both are inadequate considering how many ebooks Smashwords hosts and how important it is to expose readers to authors. Consequently, I think Smashwords needs to add these features to make the site better for both readers and authors.

First, it needs to give the reader the option to exclude from display ebooks already purchased. I’ve already purchased Vicki Tyley’s three ebooks; do I need to see them again when I search for more ebooks to read?

Unfortunately, just excluding what I have bought from a search won’t help me enough when I return to Smashwords tomorrow. Consequently, second, I should also be able to exclude ebooks that I have already seen in the past 30 days. After 30 days, they should be readded to the visible list because what didn’t interest me last month may interest me this month. Yet, I shouldn’t have to keep struggling to get through ebooks because there are so many of them to get through.

This raises another issue: If a book is regularly priced as free at Smashwords, you can download it immediately. You don’t have to go through the checkout process. But by not going through the checkout process, the ebook is not added to your list of purchased ebooks. In addition to not being added to your purchased list, you do not have to have purchased the ebook to write a review about it, whereas with ebooks that you have to purchase — even if they are free after a coupon is applied — you must have purchased the ebook to write a review. I think that all ebooks should be added to one’s purchased list and that should be a prerequisite to being able to review an ebook.

Third, Smashwords should add another length category: Medium (25,000 to 50,000 words) and change Longs to 50,000+ words. I generally prefer longer books and know that I will never read poetry or short stories — they just are not to my liking.

Which brings me to a fourth suggestion: Instead of having categories from which I can choose a single category to search, such as Historical, why not offer me categories to exclude. I do not like books about vampires and am not interested in erotica, among other categories. Why not make a search an excluding one rather than an including one? This way, I can exclude all the topics I am not interested in at all, yet see what books are available in the multiple topics that I am interested in.

As part of the fourth suggestion, Smashwords really — desperately — needs, fifth, to add more categories and subcategories. For example, the category “Fiction: Historical” covers an ocean, not a waterfront. But I’m not interested in caveman historical fiction and probably not in pre-Elizabethan historical fiction. I suggest that it would be beneficial to both readers and authors for more extensive categories and subcategories along the lines that Barnes & Noble provides.

Overall, I can’t recommend Smashwords enough. It is a great place to find some great ebooks at a reasonable price. You simply have to be willing to give authors a chance. My experience has been that for every 20 ebooks I obtain at Smashwords 2 or 3 will be excellent or outstanding, 4 or 5 will be good, and the rest unreadable for one reason or another.

But for Smashwords to keep being a great place to find ebooks from indie authors, it needs to improve the experience by which ebooks are found. I’ve given a few suggestions; perhaps down the road there will be more.

March 7, 2011

Sarah, Where Are You? Capitalism in eBookville

Sarah (Palin, that is), where are you? America desperately needs you and Michelle (Bachmann) and Glenn (Beck) and Rush (Limbaugh) and all your Tea Party compadres to save it from creeping socialism.

I never thought I’d say it, but you may be America’s first defense against the Murdochian (Rupert, that is) subterfuge to convert America from out right Wild-West-type capitalism to socialism. And, if you don’t take a stand now, how much longer will it be before Rupert starts pushing America down the path to socialized medicine plans sold under the Murdoch brand? Your buddy, Rupert, has taken that first step down the path to destroy capitalism and you are silent. Now is the time to speak up loudly and tell Murdoch you won’t stand for this subterfuge!

We know it all began with talk radio that transformed into talk TV and that became branded as Fox “News.” Murdoch established his credentials as a right-wing conservative who abhors socialism and embraces capitalism. He then suckered you and your colleagues into believing you had found a bully pulpit to protect America from creeping socialism, a mount from which you could castigate the poor for being poor and for needing government assistance. (Interestingly, you never castigated the rich corporations for needing — nay demanding — government assistance, but then no one is perfect.)

But now eBookville desperately needs you to stand tall and protest the socialization of ebooks, a charge being led by Murdochian forces. As you know (and preach), the basis of capitalism is to let the market dictate success or failure, profit or loss, unfettered by either government or private manipulation. Under capitalism, it is the end consumer who is supposed to decide the fate of a business. In contrast, under socialism, the market is hamstrung so there is no truly free market and no market can dictate success or failure, profit or loss — to each according to his want.

And so it was in eBookville until the advent of the agency system, a system put into place with the help of Murdochian forces (HarperCollins ring a bell, Sarah?). The free market was telling Murdoch that his ebooks were overpriced and to cut the prices until the market found its equilibrium. Alas, the dark forces were not satisfied and the Murdochians decided that the free market in ebooks shouldn’t be so free, and the agency system was founded in collusion with other socialist forces.

Where are the protests from you and your conservative colleagues? Is it that you fear having your paycheck cut? Or is it that you believe in a free market only when it benefits you and strangles others? Or is it that stealth anticapitalism from a fellow conservative is OK?

We ebookers need your help to straighten out this stealth attack on what we value most — free market competition. We need you to stand up to the Murdochian forces and lead them back to the path of competition. We need you, Sarah, and your colleagues to demonstrate that you are much more than empty shills for capitalism; that you are not quitters when it is your paycheck on the line; that you really believe in capitalism, in the free market, and in competition; that you are not simply Murdochian puppets in disguise. We ebookers need for you to be that grizzly mom who defends our public libraries from Murdochian overreach.

Come, Sarah, prove America wrong — prove that you really believe in capitalism. Tell your Murdochian compadres to tear down the wall of socialism with which they have surrounded ebooks; to tear down the wall of anticompetition in ebook pricing; to tear down the wall that hems in eBookville’s free market.

Sarah, give those yearning masses of ebooks their freedom.

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