An American Editor

April 30, 2011

Worth Noting: A Gift From Down Under Redux

In an earlier article, Worth Noting: A Gift from Down Under, I printed Smashwords coupon codes for the 3 Vicki Tyley murder mysteries that I had reviewed in On Books: Murder Down Under. The coupons were set to expire today, April 30.

The response has been excellent — I hope all of you who have used the codes and bought the ebooks enjoyed them as I did — so I asked Ms. Tyley to extend the discount to May 15 for anyone who is still sitting on the fence about buying the ebooks; graciously, she consented.

New coupon codes that expire May 15, 2011, have been published. As with the previous codes, these discount each of the 3 ebooks from $3.99 to 99¢. So here is another opportunity to buy all 3 ebooks for less than $3 (i.e., less than the price of buying 1 ebook at the regular price). The new codes are available both below and in the prior Worth Noting: A Gift from Down Under, courtesy of Vicki Tyley and are usable at Smashwords, just click the links provided for each title:

  1. Brittle Shadows = XU78P
  2. Sleight Malice = VX78D
  3. Thin Blood = QF35J

Enjoy and watch for Vicki’s guest article, which will be published this coming Monday.

April 27, 2011

In the Era of eBooks, What Is a Book Worth? (II)

The first article in this series of musings, In the Era of eBooks, What Is a Book Worth? (I), brought a lot of comment, particularly on blogs that reprinted it. Most commenters disagreed with me, and several of the commenters compared an author’s uniqueness and a book’s worth to a painting.

Collecting original paintings is one of my hobbies. I was somewhat pressed into collecting by my wife, who is a professional painter as well as a collector. (For those of you interested, some of my wife’s paintings can be seen at her website, www.carolynedlund.com, and in an earlier An Art Interlude: Portraits.) But paintings and books, especially ebooks, are different, and I do not think comparable at all.

Consider that an original oil painting truly is unique. There is one and only one of it. That it can be copied doesn’t change the uniqueness of the original. Unlike that original painting, there really is no “original” ebook that can be identified, auctioned, or made distinguishable from a copy. There is nothing particularly unique about the bytes that comprise the ebook master file. eBooks do not increase in value (in the collectible sense) over the course of years, unlike print books which can increase in value as fewer pristine print copies of the first edition, first printing remain. A first edition, first printing, in fine condition of a print copy of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is worth significantly more today than when it was first published — because a copy in such condition is scarce and Hemingway is considered an important writer.

Yet that same book, in ebook form, will never increase in value because there is nothing unique or scarce about the bytes that comprise the book. Everyone who wants a copy can have a copy at a cost of pennies for duplication. There is no limit to the number of copies and every copy will be an exact clone of the master. The same is not true of that first edition, first printing print version: that bit of uniqueness, as minimal as it may be, cannot be duplicated on demand. The text may always be the same, but subsequent editions and printings will be just that — subsequent, not first.

Commenters also pointed to the entertainment factor, comparing books to movies. When I go to see a movie, I go as part of a small social group, as do most theater goers. We usually do not go to see movies by ourselves. Part of the “adventure” is the social intercourse. How many times have you said to yourself, “I want to see that movie,” but ended up not going to the theater because you would have had to go alone?

Unlike the social experience of theater going, reading is generally a solo adventure. Yes, some of us belong to book clubs and discussion groups, even online communities for this purpose, but when we read a book, we still read it alone. Reading as reading is not a social activity; discussion of what we have read is a social activity.

In the sense that Stephen King is a wordmaster and I am not a wordmaster, King’s writings are worth more than mine. But we are of different tiers of skill. In the case of Dean Koontz and Stephen King, I think neither is worth more than the other because both are of the same tier. In addition, I see them as interchangeable — if I am in the mood for a new King novel but none is available, I easily shift to a new Koontz novel. It isn’t that their writing styles are so similar; rather, it is that their writing styles are not so dissimilar.

It was pretty clear from the comments made to the first article that many readers do not believe and do not accept that same-tier authors are interchangeable. But I do think there are several pillars that support interchangeability.

First, consider books written by an author in association with a second author — the Tom Clancy or James Patterson with XYZ type of book. Second, consider books that are of the same world as an author’s books but written by others — for example, the David Weber Honor Harrington Universe that is populated by stories written by other authors, such as Eric Flint and Steve Miller. And third, consider the incomplete-at-author’s-death series or manuscripts — for example, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series with Brandon Sanderson completing volume 13.

In each of these instances, the original author is being substituted for by someone the original author (or the author’s heirs) thinks is an equivalent or near-equivalent author and one whose writing will give the original author’s fans the same or nearly the same reading experience. That is, the original author thinks he or she is interchangeable with the substitute authors, even if only subconsciously.

Something else to consider: If Stephen King writes a new novel every 3 years, what do his fans do for reading between novels? If there was no near-equivalent horror writer to Stephen King, the reader would simply have to wait for the next King work to arrive. Yet most horror fans find other authors to read while waiting and have the same expectations for those other authors as for King. King may be preferred but King is not exclusive — King has near-equivalents that horror fans read.

Why is this interchangeability important? Because it broadens the choices available and makes a particular author’s work less unique and thus less valuable in the marketplace. If Koontz and King are not interchangeable, then there should be a great disparity in publisher pricing of their books. Yet pricing is, like the authors, near-equivalent.

The question becomes whether these books, particularly the ebook forms, are being priced at their worth or in excess of their worth by the publishers.

We all know that ebooks are shackled. The iron bindings of DRM schemes and format wars should have a greater effect on the worth of an ebook than the current pricing would indicate. (Yes, I know that DRM can be removed and then formats converted, but let’s limit our discussion to compliance with the law so that all readers are addressing this on equal footing.)

Interchangeability eliminates the notion of author uniqueness. In the absence of uniqueness, what justifies the pricing of an ebook. To say it is what the market will bear is inaccurate. Since agency pricing entered the pricing scheme, the idea of market forces working their magic on pricing appears to have dissipated like the sands of time. Certainly, the laws of supply and demand do not exert much force on ebook pricing, especially pricing by the Agency 6, because the supply of an ebook — unlike of a print book — is infinite and it is long-tail demand that matters most to book publishing. Perhaps publishers are failing to see that the long-tail demand for their products will be in electronic form rather than the traditional print form, and that failure is driving their pricing decisions.

Whatever the reason, it appears that ebooks are being overvalued and overpriced by traditional publishers, and that the traditional publisher’s pricing scheme is influencing the self-publishing author’s pricing — all to the detriment of ebookers and ebooks in general.

(Alas, there is still more to say, so discussion will continue yet another day in Part III.)

April 25, 2011

In the Era of eBooks, What Is a Book Worth? (I)

Some questions have no answer, or at least not a universal answer. This is true of this question: In the era of ebooks, what is a book worth? Yet, every day, ebookers are making that value judgement, including in their calculation of whether or not to buy an ebook what they believe is the worth of a book.

As there is no across-the-board, universally applicable answer to the question, we need to address value/worth broadly, beginning by separating books into two broad categories: fiction and nonfiction. From my point of view, nonfiction is worth more than fiction — again, I am speaking in broad terms — because nonfiction is intended by both the author and buyer to be referred to multiple times. Granted some nonfiction’s multiple times may be only twice, but at the other extreme, consider cookbooks, course books, and how-to books, which may be referenced dozens of times over the course of the buyer’s ownership of the book.

On the other hand, most fiction is of the read-once-then-shelve-or-toss-away variety. How many of us buy a novel and read it more than once? And if we do read it more than once, how many of us will read it more than twice? As with all else, there are exceptions. I can name a handful of novels that I have read more than once — To Kill a Mockingbird, Babbitt, Elmer Gantry, and a few more — over the course of 60 years of reading. Considering how many novels I have read in those 60 years of reading, the handful is a very tiny fraction of books I have read, especially compared to nonfiction.

With these thoughts in mind, I wonder what the true value of a book is today, especially considering all the restrictions that are applied to ebooks, the varied pricing of ebooks, and the pricing of ebooks compared to their print versions. I also wonder about the value, by which I mean the price to be paid, of fiction in any form. Why is a new Stephen King novel worth $15 or more in any form?

When valuing commodities, and books have evolved to be commodities rather than the luxury items they once were, in a true free market system, value is set by scarcity and production costs with a margin for profit. But ebooks have no scarcity value, unless we consider each author to be so unique that no other author can be substituted. Once created, the electronic file can be duplicated innumerable times, with each duplication being a precise and perfect clone of the original.

There are production costs, but these costs can be amortized over an innumerable quantity of duplications that cost virtually nothing to create once the master has been created. This is the essential difference between a print book and an ebook: Each copy of a print book has some measurable production cost — for example, the cost of paper, the storage and shipping costs, the minimum print run cost — but the ebook lacks these measurable costs once past the creation of the master file. It isn’t that the cost of the master file isn’t or shouldn’t be amortized over the duplication run, but rather that the duplication run doesn’t add measurably to the cost of the master file, unlike with print books where many of the costs of the initial print run are incurred again with the second printing and again with each subsequent printing.

The one criterion that changes ebook to ebook is that of the author. Although Stephen King and Dean Koontz write similar books in a similar genre, one is (supposedly) not a perfect substitute for the other. Notwithstanding marketing claims to the contrary, a bar of soap from Ivory is a near-perfect substitute for a bar of soap from Kiss My Face. We may have a preference for one brand or the other, but the two bar soaps are really interchangeable in the marketplace — they are near-perfect substitutes, one for the other. Although King and Koontz are similar, it is claimed that they are not near-perfect substitutes, one for the other.

Or are they? Perhaps we have been drilled over too many years to believe that each author is so unique that one author cannot be substituted for another, that we actually believe author uniqueness to be a truism. Perhaps there is a shade of gray to that statement. Consider this: Do readers of Stephen King only read horror genre books written by King? Do they read other horror authors while waiting for the next King novel to be published? Is Tolkien the only fantasy author Tolkien fans read, especially knowing that there will be no more Tolkien novels forthcoming?

If we read other authors in a genre, are we not really saying that it is the genre that we like more so than the author, and that King and Koontz are at least near equivalents? I accept that there are tiers of authors; that is, some authors are better than others and that some are first tier, whereas others are third or fourth (or even lower) tier. But I also accept that authors in a tier are, for the most part, interchangeable for each other. Perhaps scarcity, in the sense that each author is unique and not interchangeable with any other author, is not truly a criterion applicable to books even though we have been indoctrinated to believe otherwise. Consider that other authors are hired to complete books in a series because of the original author’s untimely death. Isn’t that the publishing world’s equivalent of saying Brandon Sanderson is interchangeable with Robert Jordan?

If we accept that books are commodities and that same-tier authors are interchangeable, the current equation for determining the value of a book is undermined and needs to be rethought. Alas, this is a complex problem that cannot be resolved in just one short article; consequently, the discussion will continue another day in part II.

April 20, 2011

A Musical Interlude: The Genius of Kindergartners

Filed under: A Musical Interlude — Rich Adin @ 5:00 am

Sometimes nothing needs to be said other than “watch and enjoy.” The musicians are 4- and 5-year-old kindergartners. I should only be so talented!

April 18, 2011

Gatekeeping: Necessary or Not in the eBook Era?

I think there is a marketplace confusion regarding the value of gatekeeping vs. nongatekeeping.

Problem 1 is that nongatekept authors whose ebooks sell well fail to distinguish between books sold and books read. This is an important distinction. Using myself as an example, I am willing to read an author’s description of their ebook and spend a maximum of 2 minutes reading the sample online, and then, if the blurb seems interesting and the 2-minute sampling doesn’t reveal horrendous errors, I am willing to buy the ebook for 99 cents. It just isn’t much of a financial risk.

So the sale looks good for the author, but should I start reading the ebook and discover that it isn’t worth the bytes it occupies and thus I cease reading it — no one knows. Even if I post a negative review, many other readers are willing to gamble the 99 cents.

Unfortunately, there is no way to measure whether a book has been bought and read or simply just bought and left in a To-Be-Read pile forever, or started and stopped because of discovered inadequacies. Yet knowing whether a bought book has been read is important, just as it is important to know whether someone thinks a book is worth reading.

Although not a true solution to this problem, perhaps a step in the direction of a solution would be to post the actual number of sales of a title. It could be very revealing if a book sells 1,000 copies but only has one 5-star review and a handful of mediocre down to 1-star reviews. If there are only 3 or 4 reviews, even if all are 5-star reviews, it might be an indication that (a) there have been a lot of sales but few reads or (b) a lot reads but few readers who think the book is worth mentioning to anyone. Although a less-than-perfect solution to gauging how good a book is, it is an iota better than the current system in which readers have no idea how well a title is selling.

Sales figures even without companion reviews can be valuable to readers. If a book is ranked number 1 on a bestseller list but has only sold 300 copies, there may be less of rush to buy a book because it is listed as a bestseller. Conversely, if the book has sold 5,000 copies, it may well cause readers to rush to buy it.

The second problem is pricing. Books that have gone through the traditional gatekeeping role tend to support higher pricing than those that have not. I am willing to spend 99 cents for a nongatekept ebook because it is not much of an outlay — it’s like buying a lottery ticket; I am willing to gamble $1 on odds of 6 million to 1 but I am not willing to pay $5.99 for such an ebook because the risk of getting dreck is much too high. On the other hand, I am willing to spend $7.99 for a gatekept ebook because the risk is generally that I will not enjoy the writer’s style or I won’t be in the mood for the particular genre, not that I will be stuck with dreck (although that, too, does happen and is happening with increasing frequency as the gatekeepers fumble around ebooks).

Yet to read the blogs and comments, one would think gatekeeping is passe, something no longer either needed or desired. To many commenters, the freedom to publish drivel is superior to the gatekeeper system that existed before the ebook revolution because it offers more choice.

The problem with unfettered choice is that it is impossible for readers to wade through the 1 million new titles that are published each year to find the 50 or 100 or even 250 ebooks that a reader can physically read in a year. I suspect that even if a reader made it his or her full-time occupation to peruse published ebooks to find the 250 ebooks to buy and read that they couldn’t do much more than toss a pebble into the ebook flood. What ebooks have done is inverted the pyramid. Rather than having a system to narrow choices to a manageable number, it has widened the choices to infinity, an unmanageable number.

These gatekeeping-is-dead articles would be much more impressive and valuable if they gave pricing information and surveyed purchasers to determine whether the ebook was actually read or not. Making broad-based claims of no need on as little data as is currently done has virtually no value.

Let’s see where we stand. Take this unscientific poll:

I probably should be asking more questions and/or giving more or different choices as answers, but this will get us started.

April 15, 2011

On Today’s Bookshelf (VII)

Adding to my TBR (to-be-read) pile seems to be a neverending process. Since the last On Today’s Bookshelf (VI), I have added the following books:

Hardcover —

  • The Death Marches: The Final Phase of Nazi Genocide by Daniel Blatman
  • The Eichmann Trial by Deborah E. Lipstadt
  • Bismarck: A Life by Jonathan Steinberg
  • Fugitive Justice: Runaways, Rescuers, and Slavery on Trial by Steven Lubet
  • William Bouguereau (2 vols.) by Damien Bartoli and Frederick C. Ross
  • Blackveil by Kristen Britain

Hardcover — Preorder

  • The Language Wars: A History of Proper English by Henry Hitchings
  • Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • How Firm a Foundation by David Weber
  • The War That Came Early: The Big Switch by Harry Turtledove

eBooks — Nonfiction

  • Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today by David Clark
  • A Philosophical Dictionary (6 volumes) by Voltaire
  • Secret Holocaust Diaries by Nonna Bannister
  • Hitler’s Pre-emptive War: The Battle for Norway 1940 by Henrik Lunde
  • Honor Killing: Race, Rape, and Clarence Darrow’s Spectacular Last Case by David E. Stannard

eBooks — Fiction

  • In Fire Forged: Worlds of Honor V edited by David Weber
  • Mrs. Quigley’s Kidnapping by Jean Sheldon
  • Deadly Withdrawal: An Aggie Underhill Mystery by Michelle Hollstein
  • The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
  • The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick
  • Letters from Earth by Mark Twain
  • Paid in Blood by Mel Odom
  • Warriors of the Cross by T.R. Graves
  • Stars Rain Down by Chris Randolph
  • Blue by Lou Aronica
  • Life Blood by Thomas Hoover
  • Syndrome by Thomas Hoover
  • You Can’t Stop Me by Max Allan Collins
  • Protector (Jane Perry Series #1) by Laurel Dewey
  • Medical Error by Richard Mabry
  • Sword Lord by Robert Leader
  • The Labyrinth by Kenneth McDonald
  • Arm of the Stone by Victoria Strauss
  • Redcoat by David Crookes
  • The Shepherd by Ethan Cross
  • The Twentyfirsters by Kekoa Lake
  • Rogue Forces by Dale Brown

Of the above listed books, I have read, and thus removed from the TBR pile, The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, Blackveil by Kristen Britain, and Honor Killing: Race, Rape, and Clarence Darrow’s Spectacular Last Case by David E. Stannard. All three are excellent; I plan to do a review of Honor Killing as I think it is a particularly worthy book, even though the publisher did a terrible job creating an ebook version (words were dropped and too many sentences begin with “I” when it should be “It” or something else that begins with an “I”).

If you are reading or have read a particularly interesting book that you think others might enjoy, why not add a comment to this article and let us know. It is only by sharing our reading lists that we can broaden our exposure to worthwhile reads among the nearly 1 million books published each year, especially among the self-published/indie books.

April 13, 2011

Frustration in eBookville: Will There Be a Rubicon for Publishers?

I’m one frustrated ebooker! I recently purchased several books in hardcover (The Eichmann Trial by Deborah E. Lipstadt and Bismarck: A Life by Jonathan Steinberg), which is (supposedly) what the publishers prefer I do. But although I bought hardcover versions for my library, I would like to do the actual reading on my Sony Reader.

I already own (and read years ago) Hannah Arendt’s 1963 book on the Eichmann trial, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, and I would like to read it again but this time as an ebook. I am particularly interested in comparing the Arendt’s contemporaneous account (who also attended the trial) with Lipstadt’s hindsight account. The reviews of Lipstadt’s book indicate she comes to a conclusion opposite from Arendt regarding Eichmann’s role in the Holocaust.

All three books are available as ebooks. One would think, then that the problem is solved. Just buy the ebooks. Alas, it isn’t solved because of the exorbitant ebook pricing.

I purchased The Eichmann Trial for $16.20; the ebook costs $12.99. I purchased Bismarck: A Life for $21.25; the ebook costs $14.97. Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem was originally published in hardcover in 1963 (I own a first edition of the book). In 2006, Penguin released a paperback version. I can buy the paperback today for $10.98, but the ebook costs $12.99. Based on the ebook price, one would think Arendt’s book had been released for the first time yesterday, not that it is nearly 50 years since its publication!

The publishers of these books are playing a dangerous game. It is readers like me, that is, readers who want both hardcover and ebook versions of a book, that publishers and authors should be trying to find ways to accommodate. We are interested in buying a book twice.

Alas, it appears that neither the publishers nor the authors are able to wrap their heads around the concept of a decent package price. It is certainly obvious that publishers are fixated on a single remedy to cure all ills, with that remedy being high ebook pricing — even on a book first published 48 years ago. What happened to the promise of lower prices the further away from the initial hardcover release we are? How much farther away than 48 years do we need to be?

As it stands now, the ebook pricing scheme is forcing me to consider the darknet route for the ebooks. Truthfully, I’m not sure that I’d even consider, in this instance, darknetting as piracy, as I bought the version the publishers wanted me to buy — the hardcover version; after all, preserving hardcover sales was/is the rationale for high ebook pricing.

What the publishers should be doing is thinking up schemes to entice me to buy both the hardcover and ebook versions. The first step to accomplishing this is to come up with a realistic ebook price when the hardcover has already been purchased or as a package price at the time of the hardcover purchase. This latter approach would work easily.

Give me the option to buy the hardcover alone, the ebook alone, or the hardcover-plus-ebook combination. In the combination package, charge me $5 more than the hardcover alone. Because I value having hardcovers in my permanent collection but want the pleasure and ease of reading the book on my Sony Reader, I, for one, would readily pay a $5 premium for the package. Publishers should learn from the movie companies, which increasingly are offering DVDs in two packages: DVD alone and a combination of DVD plus Blu-Ray, with the combination package costing only a few dollars more.

With all their complaints about piracy and the threat the darknet raises to their existence, the reality is that publishers are their own worst enemy because they refuse to address honestly what the marketplace wants. Instead of complaining about their problems and doing nothing productive to solve them, publishers should be devising creative solutions to those problems — and packaging the hardcover and the ebook together, although not a final solution, is one interim solution that would increase sales and revenues yet preserve the hardcover that publishers seem to be focused on preserving.

If publishers do not take such steps, they will have met their own Rubicon. They will turn ebookers like me into darknetters, the opposite of what publishers want and need to happen. It is time for publishers to meet head on the challenges of the eBook Age and not continue to try to hide them beneath the carpet.

April 11, 2011

On Words & eBooks: What Does It Take?

In past articles, I have spoken of the need for indie authors to use professional editors (see, e.g., On Words: Is the Correct Word Important?, Professional Editors: Publishers and Authors Need Them (Part 1), and Professional Editors: Publishers and Authors Need Them (Part 2)). Alas, there is always an excuse for not using them. A little more than a year ago, in On Words & eBooks: Give Me a Brake! I talked about the problems that readers often face when confronted with an unedited or nonprofessionally edited book. This topic has been repeatedly discussed in numerous blogs and on numerous forums — almost discussed to death.

Yet, here we go again.

A few days ago, I was looking at what new-release ebooks were available at Smashwords. I found a couple of doozies. Try this one, first: So Your Afraid of Dieing by LaVall McIvor, for which the author wants $4.99, and which the author describes as follows:

Everyone dies, what happens after we die. Is that the end of who and what we are? I have had two NDE’s and I can tell you there is more to ‘us’ than just the physical life we live on this world. I only lay out my experiences, what you believe to be true concerning an afterlife is up to you to decide.

Setting aside the “your” problem, does “dieing” mean dying as in death or dyeing as in coloring? OK, I get the gist and realize death is meant, but why should I have to guess or assume?

So I checked the sample to see if the title was an anomaly. Here is the first paragraph of the book:

Probably the single most commonality of all of us, is knowing that someday in the future this physical life will end. But what happens when we die, are we just consumed by the elements, is that the end of it? If you are a religious person, you have been ‘taught’ that if you live a good life doing no evil, you (your soul) will be rewarded with eternal life in ‘Heaven’. If you are an atheist, you may believe there is no ‘afterlife’, that when your body dies, that is the end of who and what you are. I was of the latter persuasion until I had two NDE’s (Near Death Experiences).

Then, as I was reeling from the title, the author’s description of the book, and the first paragraph, I came across A Crown of Thorns by Andrew Cook, for which the author wants $2. Cook describes his book as follows:

When the Spencer’s arrive at Millbridge, Virginia meets Rector Byrnes, beginning an emotionally charged and passionate relationship. Rev Byrnes is in a vulnerable position struggling with his wife’s inner demons, and his own loss of faith, and with no one to confide. Virginia is consumed with hatred towards God but they find comfort in each other’s weakness with dramatic consequences.

Tell me: Is the location Millbridge, Virginia or is it Virginia who arrives at Millbridge? No matter because within the first few paragraphs of the book, we find this:

The reason I am writing this is because I want to remember all my thoughts this morning, for it is remarkable to me that it should be this morning that I was again allowing myself the shameful thoughts of death, my own death in fact, while appreciating at the same time the pleasure and beauty of life. The green rolling hills that overlooked the cemetery and continued for miles, the bright blue sky as though painted that morning by an artist, devoid of cloud, the flowers dancing in the breeze celebrating the arrival of spring. It was a day to celebrate life, not to contemplate death. But perhaps I was not considering death in the physical sense. There are many types of death. This morning I once again felt as though my soul had died and I had paled once again into insignificance. If one died emotionally, what would be left? Without love people wither like flowers starved of water.

I am afraid to venture further into either book.

Tell me, what does it take to convince authors that there is a reason why professional editors exist and why they are hired to go over a manuscript before it is published? Would you willingly pay $4.99 or $2 for either ebook?

What these two ebooks vividly demonstrate is that the combination of the Internet Age and easy self-publishing — without any gatekeeping (i.e., vetting of the manuscript, which is the role agents and traditional publishers have played) — has turned everyone who wants to be an author into a published author. Yet too many of these wanna-be-published authors are unwilling to accept the responsibilities that accompany publishing, particularly the hiring of a professional editor.

Sadly, I expect both of these authors to sell copies of their ebooks. Even more sadly, I expect that those who buy their ebooks won’t (and don’t) recognize the grammar and spelling problems that are in the ebooks, nor that the ebooks have not been edited — professionally or otherwise — by someone with at least minimal competency.

Companies like Smashwords have done a great favor to both readers and wanna-be authors. They make distribution to the normal book-buying channels possible. Yet, at the same time, they fail both readers and wanna-be authors because they do no vetting of manuscripts at all. These distribution platforms do us no service when they reinforce illiteracy, which is the effect of making such drivel widely available.

I realize that we are early in the evolution of ebooks, but the time to address basic issues is now, not later when the problems become so entrenched that they are insurmountable. Although the distributors need to share in the blame for permitting this drivel to see daylight, those of us who are professional editors also have a responsibility to reach out and educate authors. In this endeavor, we are failing as evidenced by these two ebooks and by the overall decrease in grammar and spelling skills in younger generations (see The Missing Ingredient: Grammar Skills).

Professional editors need to better explain our role to authors before we have no role to play at all (see Symbiosis: The Authorial and Editorial Process).

April 8, 2011

A Musical Interlude: Sita Sings the Blues

Filed under: A Musical Interlude — Rich Adin @ 5:02 am
Tags: , ,

Sometimes one finds a real gem of animation, a video that sticks with you over the months and years. Sita Sings the Blues was originally released in 2008 and it still captures my imagination. Beautiful music, beautiful animation.

Sita Sings the Blues is a true full-length video that runs 82 minutes — yet every minute is outstanding. I have, on occasion, simply let the movie run in the background so that I could listen to the music while working. I have watched the video a couple of times.

Wikipedia summarizes the tale on which Sita Sings the Blues is based as follows:

The Ramayana

The film uses a pared-down adaptation of the legend that retains many of its finer details while adopting a perspective sympathetic towards Sita; in the director’s words, the film is “a tale of truth, justice and a woman’s cry for equal treatment.”

The plot joins the legend at the exile of prince Rama from his father’s court, at the behest of his father’s favorite queen, Kaikeyi. Having earned the right to any single favor by saving the king’s life, Kaikeyi attempts to secure her own son’s inheritance over the eldest and favorite, Rama, by ordering him banished from the court. Sita determines to accompany her beloved husband, although the woods are dangerous and over-run with demons and evil spirits. The demon king Ravana, encouraged by his spiteful ogress sister, hears of Sita’s beauty and determines to kidnap her. He sends a golden hind past their dwelling to distract Rama, who tries to impress Sita by hunting the hind into the woods. In his absence, Ravana abducts Sita and demands that she submit to him on pain of death. Sita remains staunchly devoted to Rama and refuses to entertain the idea; Ravana sets a deadline for the ultimatum and Sita waits faithfully for Rama to rescue her.

Aided by the monkey prince Hanuman, Rama eventually discovers Sita’s location and brings the monkey army to assist in her rescue. Ravana is slain and Sita restored to her husband, although he expresses serious doubts concerning her fidelity during her confinement. She submits to a trial by fire, a test of her purity; upon throwing herself into the flames, she is immediately rescued by the gods, who all proclaim her devotion and fidelity.

She accompanies Rama back to the palace, and soon falls pregnant. Lingering doubts still play on Rama’s mind, however, and after overhearing one of his subjects beating and ejecting an unfaithful consort (claiming he is no Rama to accept and forgive her unfaithfulness), he orders his reluctant brother Lakshman to abandon Sita in the forest. In the company of ascetics she gives birth to her sons and raises them to love and praise their absent father. Years later, Rama overhears their hymns of adoration to their father and locates their dwelling. Distressed and disappointed by her reunion with Rama, Sita prays to the earth to swallow her as final proof of her purity and devotion and the prayer is duly answered, despite the pleas of Rama and Lakshman.

The official website for the movie is http://sitasingstheblues.com/watch.html. At the website, you can download high definition versions. I recommend going to the website and clicking the 1080p HD version to play the video on your desktop via QuickTime or Windows Media.

For your immediate viewing and listening pleasure, here is Sita Sings the Blues in low definition from YouTube.

April 6, 2011

On Books: Indie eBooks Worth Reading (I)

In the scheme of things, I haven’t got a lot of time — well, maybe I do have the time; perhaps it’s a lack of ambition and desire — to review all the books I read. (I usually read several books a week.) Consequently, I make the effort only for those books that I think are exceptional — either exceptionally well-written and interesting, or exceptionally poorly written. The in-between books are only mentioned, if at all, in my Today’s Bookshelf articles. (The problem is that I am constantly buying books. For example, in March, I purchased 116 ebooks and 8 hardcovers; I will name only a few of them when I next write a Today’s Bookshelf article.)

I have decided that such an attitude — that is, only writing about the exceptional books — is unfair to the many indie authors whose books I have read that are good reads and worth reading, but that fall at the 3- to 4-star mark. So I’ve decided to start naming names. Basically, in broad terms, this is how I rate books:

  • 5 and 5+ stars are exceptional books. They are interesting, well-written with few and very minor grammar and spelling errors, and if 5+, have characters with whom at least I, and usually also my wife and perhaps some friends, get involved emotionally; that is, we react emotionally to events that happen in a characters fictional world. These are the authors who inspire you to immediately buy whatever else they currently have available that you haven’t read and whose next book you eagerly look for even months after finishing the current read. These are the books that are worth buying almost regardless of price.
  • 3 to 4 stars are well-written books, too. They also are interesting but may have more serious grammar and spelling issues than the 5/5+ books. However, such issues are not so serious that one can’t read and enjoy the book. These books are not particularly memorable; they are memorable for a few days then forgotten. The characters don’t involve you greatly, although a 4-star book’s characters do involve the reader at least a little or occasionally. These are the “average” books — the ones you read once, perhaps mention to someone else that they might be worth reading, and then discard. Whether the author writes another book doesn’t matter all that much to you. These are books worth buying if the price is right.
  • 1 to 2 stars are the horrors of indie publishing. A 1-star book has nothing in its favor — the story/plot is bad, the writing makes a sixth-grade student look like a Pulitzer Prize for Literature winner, and the book is so riddled with grammar and spelling errors, you wonder if English is a language the author recognizes at all. Not even a professional editor could salvage the book; the book needs to be scrapped and begun from the beginning. The 2-star books are slightly better. With these books there is a glimmer of hope. These books need the touch of a professional editor, but they at least do have a good story/plot. Again the grammar and spelling is atrocious, but editorial help might fix the problem. A book with a 1- or 2-star rating should not be bought, or even downloaded for free.

So what follows are my first ebook recommendations for the 3- to 4-star ebooks. I don’t think the 1- to 2-star ebooks are worth listing, so they are excluded. I also exclude the 5+-star ebooks because those I generally review. Most of the ebooks are available at Smashwords and some at Baen Books.

5 stars

  • Sugar & Spice by Saffina Desforges
  • The Man with the Iron-on Badge by Lee Goldberg
  • The Honor Harrington books by David Weber
  • A Just Determination, Burden of Proof, Against All Enemies, and Rule of Evidence by John G. Henry
  • The Speaker by Sandra Leigh

3 to 4 stars

  • The Mudbug Trilogy (Trouble in Mudbug, Mischief in Mudbug, and Showdown in Mudbug) by Jana DeLeon
  • Pool of Lies by J.M. Zambrano
  • An Unfettered Mind by Annmarie Banks
  • Ain’t No Sunshine by Leslie DuBois
  • ExodusThe Ark by Paul Chafe
  • The Sex Club by L.J. Sellers
  • Heris Serrano, The Serrano Succession, and The Serano Connection by Elizabeth Moon
  • Carved in Bone by Jefferson Bass
  • Ameriqaeda by Markus Kane

I have read all of the above books. I can’t tell you how many 1- and 2-star ebooks I had to go through before I found these books, but there were a lot of them. I hope you will find a few to enjoy from this list.

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