An American Editor

May 31, 2011

On Books: Changing Buying Habits

As readers of this blog know, every so often I do a piece titled On Today’s Bookshelf in which I list a sampling of my recent hardcover and ebook acquisitions and preorders. In working on a yet-to-be-published On Today’s Bookshelf, I realized that I am stockpiling ebooks, growing my TBR (To Be Read) pile, and doing so largely by “purchasing” free ebooks — that is, ebooks that either the author has set the price at free or the author has issued a limited-time coupon that reduces the price to free. If I had to guess at a percentage, I would say that between 80% and 85% of all my ebooks fall into the free category.

I think this does not bode well for the financial future of either authors or publishers. I don’t imagine I am unique in acquiring free ebooks.

As of this writing, I have 86 unread ebooks waiting to be loaded onto my Sony 950 and 220 unread ebooks already loaded on the 950 (I delete ebooks from the 950 once I have read them). Since I received my first ereader 3.5 years ago, the Sony 505 that my wife now uses, I have “purchased” 934 ebooks, of which I have either read or tried to read 628.

I realize that many of the free ebooks are poor imitations of literature, but a significant portion are at least good (a rating of 3 or 4 stars) and a significant number — that is, significant within the schemata of the ebooks — are excellent (a rating of 5 or 5+ stars). If I had to apply a percentage to the number of ebooks I have “purchased” that are 3 stars or better (using, of course, my rating system which I outlined in On Books: Indie eBooks Worth Reading (I)), I would guesstimate that 40% to 50% meet that standard.

So why does this not bode well for authors and publishers? Because as the number of ebooks I “purchase” at the free price grows, the less I need to consider actually spending money on an ebook. This is not to say that I won’t spend any money on ebooks; rather that I will spend money on many fewer ebooks than I otherwise would. At Smashwords, which is a prime source of ebooks for me, my wishlist has 38 ebooks on it, some of which have been there for many months. I do add to that list, but I have made no move to spend money on any of the listed books because I have yet to deplete my trove of free ebooks.

I have “purchased” more than 125 ebooks at Smashwords, but most of them had a final price of free. During ebook week in March alone, I “purchased” 105 ebooks at Smashwords, all of them having a final price of free.

Smashwords is not the only place these free ebooks can be found. There are numerous sources, including at the better-known ebooksellers GoogleBooks, Sony, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon, and lesser-known ebooksellers and sources like Baen, ManyBooks, MobileRead, and Feedbooks.

It strikes me that free is rapidly becoming the new price point. One cannot even argue that the free books aren’t written by known, bestseller authors, because a goodly number of them are written by such authors, particularly in the romance, science fiction, and fantasy genres (and their subgenres like historical romance, military science fiction).

With 306 waiting-to-be-read ebooks, I have at least a year’s worth of reading currently available to me. Yet that is somewhat misleading because that year never seems to get shorter — I am constantly adding to and subtracting from that TBR pile as new ebooks are made available to “purchase” for free. True, I won’t get the newest Martha Grimes or David Weber novel for free, but that’s the tradeoff.

The economics of ebooks become baffling if one doesn’t spend money on ebook purchases. The amortization of the reading device across the free ebooks makes sense; after all, it is pretty hard to go wrong spending $150-$200, even $300, on the device when you can read thousands of ebooks for free on it. Where the economics falter is in authors and publishers earning money.

I suspect that a significant part of my focusing on “purchasing” free ebooks is that publishers and many indie authors are setting unrealistically high prices for their ebooks. Whether the prices are justifiable in true economic sense doesn’t really matter; they aren’t justifiable to the reader. A reader who gets burned once spending $14.99 on a poorly written, poorly formatted, or nonproofread ebook, especially when they are nonreturnable, is unlikely to be willing to spend $14.99 again in hopes that the next purchase won’t be a repeat sucker purchase. Instead, such a reader is likely to move down the price chain.

As increasing numbers of ebookers move down the price chain, the average selling price of ebooks also moves down the price chain, and will eventually reach the free marker. The closer that average gets to free, the more difficult it will be for authors and publishers to earn a living. (Yes, there will always be a few authors and publishers who are able to earn excellent incomes at lower rates, but we need to look at the macro picture, not the micro picture.)

As other ebookers have pointed out in articles they have written, buying habits are changing. They are changing for a lot of reasons and ebookers are not universally focused on “purchasing” free ebooks, but regardless of the reason why their buying habits are changing, the trend is clear that the changes are not for the economic betterment of authors and publishers.

In my specific case, where I used to spend $5,000 or more a year on purchasing books, I am now spending less than $2,000 — even though I am “purchasing” more books than ever before. The poor quality of ebooks has made me more cautious about purchasing pbooks. Previously, I would simply purchase a pbook that interested me because how well written and edited it was was already cast in stone — it just wasn’t going to get better than it already was. However, ebooks have changed that. I now scrutinize pbooks before buying because ebooks have made me more aware of poor writing and editing and less willing to spend money on such books — whether p or e. However, the closer the purchase price gets to zero, the more tolerant I am.

The freedom to publish anything and the failure of authors and many publishers to invest in quality for ebooks has resulted in making purchasers wary across the board. I “purchase” more books than ever, but spend less money doing so. What is needed by authors and publishers is for that to change so that the more I purchase, the more money I spend. If I were a gambler, I’d bet against that change occurring any time soon. If self-publishing authors and traditional publishers don’t soon start offering the correct balance of quality and pricing, they may well lose readers to free permanently.

May 25, 2011

On Books: Hearts Touched by Fire

A few days ago I was in my local Barnes & Noble checking out new nonfiction books. I came across Hearts Touched by Fire: The Best of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War edited by Harold Holzer. This book is different from other books in many ways (not least of which is its size — 1230 pages), and one of those differences is what drew me to it. (It is available in both hardcover and as an ebook, and is one of the few new releases I have seen where the ebook is actually less expensive than the hardcover.)

Let me say upfront that I have not read the book in its entirety. I have read snippets. Yet let me explain what this book is and why it is worth buying for anyone interested in the U.S. Civil War.

In July 1883, on the twentieth anniversary of the battle at Gettysburg, the 19th century magazine, The Century Magazine, entertained an argument regarding which was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Opinions differed and the discussion led to this: Why not invite Confederate and Union generals, or if dead someone who could speak for/from the dead general’s view, to write articles about various battles from their own perspectives. For example, getting the perspective from both sides of the battle for Fort Sumter, which is recognized as the opening battle of the Civil War.

Apparently the magazine had great success with this concept, as it led to the publication of a 4-volume set titled Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. Hearts Touched by Fire is an edited and merged-into-a-single-volume version of that 4-volume set.

Hearts Touched by Fire also adds to the discussions year-by-year introductions written by eminent Civil War historians such as James McPherson and Craig Symonds. I’m sure there are other books of a similar structure, but none that I am aware of for the Civil War. It is fascinating to read the differing perspectives of, for example, the first battle of Bull Run written by P.G.T Beauregard and Joseph E. Johnson. Ever wonder what the common soldier thought? The volume includes “Going to the Front: Recollections of a Private” by Warren Lee Goss.

If you are interested in the U.S. Civil War, Hearts Touched by Fire can provide unique insights into the thinking of each side. I highly recommend the book.

May 23, 2011

Smashwords: Will It Ever Get Better Filtering?

Smashwords has been one of my favorite places to shop for ebooks, but its filtering system is too limited (see, e.g., Smashwords: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, Finding an eBook to Buy, and Finding the Needle in a Haystack of Needles (II): eBooksellers), which means it is losing a lot of sales to me. I keep hoping Smashwords will devote a few hours to improving the consumer’s experience, but it doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon.

The consequence is that I have been spending decreasing amounts of time searching for new reads at Smashwords. I used to check Smashwords every day; now I check once every week or two for a few minutes. Usually I wait for someone else to mention a specific book and provide a link; my days of simply going to Smashwords, applying the few filters it allows, and checking out the books are passé. But they shouldn’t be! Smashwords should be devoting some time and effort to improving the interface between it and the consumer. Doing so would be good for readers and authors alike. Right now Smashwords treats the consumer-reader as if he or she is the enemy rather than a friend!

I don’t think my requests are all that outrageous. How about a filter that filters out foreign language books? I don’t read Russian or any other non-English language — never have, never will — so why can’t I eliminate from search results books that are written in Russian or Croatian or any other language but English? And for those who do read in those languages, why not a filter that includes their language of choice and excludes languages that they do not read in, including English?

Smashwords also needs a third length filter. The choices should be less than 25,000, less than 50,000, less than 75,000. And why not series filters. Those would be particularly helpful to readers who want more than a singleton experience. The filters could be singletons only, multibook series only, first book in a series, any. Granted it might mean that Smashwords would have to come up with some dedicated tags and require authors to use them, but in today’s coding world, that shouldn’t be difficult.

I used to think that genre filters would be a good way to filter books, but my experience is to the contrary. First, authors too often do not tag their books correctly; they either mistag the genre, undertag the genre, or overtag the genre in hopes of snaring a broader audience. I wouldn’t eliminate the genre tags, but I would suggest better educating authors on how to choose a genre tag.

I would also like to be able to choose maybe a half-dozen key words/tags to exclude from the results. For example, I will never knowingly buy a zombie story or a horror story. I also do not purchase vampire books. I would love to eliminate them from the search results as well, along with erotica.

How about a filter based on intended audience. I appreciate quality writing for children younger than 12 years, but unless I’m looking for something to read to a grandchild or a neighbor’s child, I am not interested in having to wade through a sea of children’s books. On the other hand, when I am looking for such a book, I would like to eliminate books intended for teenagers and adults.

Another filtering system I would like to see is price. Now I can filter by free or all books, but I really need to be able to filter by price ranges, such as free only, 99 cents or less (including free in the less notion), $1.99 or less, $2.99 or less, and so forth. I already know that I am not going to spend more than $3.99 on an ebook unless I know the author and the quality of the work beforehand. If I know the author and like author’s writing, I will search by author name and buy the author’s books; I won’t be going through pages of available books. Consequently, being able to filter by price is important.

I would also like to be able to filter by star rating. Now I can filter by highest rated, which simply means that the list begins with 5-star-rated ebooks and works it way down to 1-star rated ebooks. But why not let me filter for only 5-star-rated ebooks or ebooks rated 4 stars or higher?

With proper filtering, I should be able to filter for ebooks that cost less than $2.99, are the first books of a series, are intended for adults, have no zombies or vampires as characters, are not erotica, are longer than 75,000 words, are rated 4 stars or higher, and are written in English.

If Smashwords only had 500 ebooks to choose among, filtering would be significantly less important. But Smashwords is a rapidly growing ebook seller with many thousands fo ebooks. I suspect that Smashwords’ sales are being hampered because of filtering frustrations — no one I know has either the time or the patience to sift through the many thousands of ebooks that remain even after applying the minimal filtering currently available.

I know that I start with good intentions and end up perhaps adding a couple of ebooks to my wishlist, and then quitting Smashwords after 10 minutes of searching without buying any ebook. I quit my searching because I am tired of trying to wade through all the ebooks listed when I am currently in the mood for particular types of books.

Smashwords is doing a lot of things right and for which it deserves mountains of credit. But the failure to address the inadequacies of the filtering system is a massive black mark against Smashwords and is, in my view, significantly hampering sales. Helping the customer find what the customer wants can only be beneficial to both Smashwords and the authors who use the Smashwords platform. It is time for Smashwords to seriously address filtering, its Achilles heel.

May 20, 2011

Worth Noting: So You Think You Are a Proofreader

The Society for Editors and Proofreaders wonders if you are up to a challenge. To dispel the myth that anyone can be a proofreader (or an editor), the Society has specially created a proofreading test. Give it a whirl and see how you do. The test can be found at the Society’s website. Just click the proofreading test link in the “So you think you can proofread?” box. Or you can click this link to go directly to the test. Don’t worry — the results are private and I won’t ask how you did. 🙂

May 18, 2011

On Books: Honor Killing & The Thousand Autumns

This time it is a two-for-one review: one nonfiction, Honor Killing: Race, Rape, and Clarence Darrow’s Spectacular Last Case by David E. Stannard, and one fiction, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell. Let’s begin with Honor Killing.

In the annals of American jurisprudence, one lawyer stands above all other lawyers in popular mythology: Clarence Darrow. Darrow was the most successful and popular lawyer of the 20th century. Every move he made was followed by national press. His legal exploits covered the gamut of supertrials, including the infamous Leopold and Loeb murder of a cousin, in which Darrow’s clients pleaded guilty and he spoke for several days to save them from the death penalty. Darrow was also noted for representing union members at a time when union busting was a government policy. And he was most famous for defending the Tennessee school teacher, Scopes, in what was billed as the trial of the century — the great Monkey Trial of evolution vs. creationism in which his opponent was the great orator William Jennings Bryan.

Honor Killing: Race, Rape, and Clarence Darrow’s Spectacular Last Case by David E. Stannard discusses Darrow’s last major case. Darrow was desperate for money, having lost his fortune in the bad investments and the collapse of the stock market, and so when he was approached in his retirement to defend Thalia Massie in Hawaii, he hemmed, he hawed, he accepted.

Thalia Massie was the daughter of penniless socialites who lived off the charity of relatives. But a socialite she was. And she was married to a U.S. Navy officer. The incident occurred in 1931 Hawaii. On the U.S. mainland, also in 1931, the racial prejudice was directed against blacks and an accusation of assaulting and raping 2 white women was made against 9 young black men, collectively known as the Scottsboro Boys. In Hawaii, the prejudice was against the native Hawaiians, by the oligarchs who controlled the economy and by the U.S. Navy.

Until I read Honor Killing, I admit I was unaware of the extent and depth of the prejudice against the Hawaiians. Honor Killing was an eye opener. The Massie trial was the culmination of a concerted effort by the white community to convict a group of native Hawaiians of raping Thalia Massie, a rape that never occurred, and the killing of one of the Hawaiians when a conviction was not gotten. Darrow was hired to represent the whites in the murder trial.

Honor Killing is a well-researched and well-written book. For my taste, too much time was spent by the author laying out the social, political, and economic environment in which the trials were held, but that was not enough to deter me from enjoying the book. Essentially, the attempt by the white community to convict the Hawaiians was largely politically motivated and was the Hawaiian Scottsboro Boys trial. Although the prosecution of the Hawaiian defendants preceded the trial of the Scottsboro Boys, you could easily substitute the participants in one trial for the participants in the other.

Honor Killing is a 5-star book and worth reading to get a better understanding of how racial prejudice in the early decades of the 20th century manifested itself and the expectations of the white citizens to be believed even in the face of directly contradictory evidence. As one person noted, evidence doesn’t matter.

David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet takes us to late 18th century/early 19th century Japan and the Dutch trading post at Nagasaki. At first I had trouble with the writing style, but after spending 15 minutes reading the novel, the style grew on me — so much so that I had difficulty putting down the book. Jacob De Zoet is one of the best novels published by one of the Agency 6 (Random House) I have read in years.

The story takes place in Dejima, which is the location of the Dutch trading post in Nagasaki harbor. De Zoet is a young man who has agreed to give 5 years of his life to the Dutch East India Trading Company in hopes of making his fortune and being able to return to The Netherlands to marry his sweetheart. The story is about his rise and fall, along with the rise and fall of Dejima and the Dutch East India Company, between 1799 and 1801.

The book provides an insight into Japan’s self-imposed insularity and the how Japanese society functioned at the time. In addition, it well illustrates the European attitude toward Asians.

The cast of characters is varied, covering the spectrum of who one may well have encountered at the time. De Zoet’s original plans are altered, however, after a chance encounter with Orito Aibagawa, a disfigured midwife who is also a pupil, by special dispensation, of Dr. Marinus, who is part of the Dejima personnel. This encounter changes everything for De Zoet and ability and inability to deal with the intrigue and social customs that surround him forms the basis of the story.

Jacob De Zoet is historical fiction at its best. This, too, is a 5-star book and one worth spending the inflated price that has been artificially set as a result of the agency pricing scheme. It has been my policy not to buy Agency 6 ebooks except for rare instances, and this was one of those rare instances. I made the plunge because of the many positive remarks the book generated on an ebook forum. Well-crafted and well-written novels are becoming scarcer, but David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet demonstrates that such books are still available.

Both Honor Killing and Jacob De Zoet are books worth buying and reading in any format.

May 16, 2011

The Buying Conundrum: pBook or eBook?

In a recent post on the Teleread blog, Joanna, a contributor to Teleread, vented about being tired of pbooker’s “economic snobbery.” She wrote,

If you read any ‘ebooks versus print books’ article, you’ll soon come across the print fetishists. These are people who acknowledge the rise of ebooks—grudgingly—but then insist that ‘real’ book lovers surely prefer paper, or that paper is ‘nicer’ or a ‘better experience’ or in some way superior. I am starting to get really annoyed with these people! Overlooking the obvious ‘print and pixel really can co-exist and there is no need for an either/or mentality’ argument, I am starting to grow a little offended by the economic snobbery that I perceive in some of these arguments.

What I think a lot of these ‘paper is superior’ people fail to consider is that even in this modern day and age, having a large paper library is still an economic luxury.

(For Joanna’s complete post and the comments it generated, see Print Fetishism, Economic Snobs and the Price of Real Estate at Teleread.)

Needless to say, I couldn’t keep my fingers off my keyboard and so I wrote a response. But after thinking about it, I decided that a more expansive response here at An American Editor might be appropriate, so here it is.

Joanna essentially makes a generational argument. She is in the same generation as my children, those just starting their careers or a few years into it, whereas I am at the other end of the spectrum. I agree that this makes (or should make) a difference from the financial perspective. But that has always and will always be the case.

When I was Joanna’s age, decades ago, I learned to prioritize how my money was spent. At her age, I didn’t make a fortune and had to decide between, say, spending a few dollars to see a movie or to buy a book or not spending it at all. Yet even in those hard-pressed days, when I lived in a studio apartment whose rent surpassed 50% of my net income, I bought books. Unlike spending money to watch a movie, I never considered book buying to be frivolous — reading was (and is) the primary method for learning.

I am not dismissive of the economic woes and realities of my children’s generation, but everything has to be dealt with in perspective. I remember my parents, for example, paying a mortgage of $30 a month, at a time when they earned only $15 a week. Gas also cost less than 25 cents a gallon, the New York Times was a nickel, you could buy a Coke for 5¢, and so it went — and the take home pay reflected that cost of living. I don’t know anyone today who has a mortgage or rent of $30 a month!

Of course, in those days, ebooks existed only in the imagination of science fiction writers. Personal computers hadn’t yet come on the scene and the Internet, as we know it today, didn’t exist. To buy a hardcover book required a significant investment. In proportion to earnings, hardcover books were luxury items back then and a bargain today. Paperbacks were the “poor person’s” access to literature. How things have changed with the passing decades.

eBooks are the next step in the evolution of personal libraries. Some day — but not today — pbooks will be a true luxury item and part of antiquity. Someone will recall them but be unable to produce in hand an example.

eBooks have lots of benefits for readers today, but not financially. Yes, they are the way to build a collection when you are hard pressed for real estate to house a pbook library, but that problem existed 25 years ago, 50 years ago, 100 years ago — some people had homes large enough to house vast libraries whereas others lived in cramped studio apartments, some less than 100 square feet in size with everything communal but sleeping quarters. Yet, people read, bought books, and endured. And they learned to love the pbook, especially the paperback, which brought reading to the masses by making it more affordable.

I admit I actually prefer ebooks to pbooks for reading. If I could, I would buy every nonfiction book that I buy in hardcover also in ebook form so that the hardcover could go on my library shelf and I could read the ebook. But pbooks do have seven things that ebooks currently do not have:

  1. When I buy a pbook, I own it; when I buy an ebook, I rent it.
  2. pBooks are resaleable on a secondary market and/or rise in value as they become scarce; ebooks are never scarce and have no secondary market in which I can recoup some of my investment.
  3. Nonfiction pbooks tend to be less expensive to purchase than the ebook version and are available for significantly less on the legal secondary market, which includes the legal remainders market.
  4. pBooks can legally be cooperatively bought, thereby reducing the price to individuals even further (I have bought in cooperation with my son several books over the years that we have shared the purchase cost of).
  5. My pbooks can be lent to other readers innumerable times; if I’m lucky, an ebook can be lent once for 2 weeks to another reader (after being lent that one time, the ebook cannot be lent again to anyone).
  6. Once I buy a pbook it remains mine; unlike the ebook, no one can remotely remove the pbook, replace the pbook, or do anything that interferes with my ownership of the pbook.
  7. As my collection of hardcovers grows, I, too, may run into the space situation. At that point, I can reevaluate my pbooks and remove some from my collection, and I either sell them on the secondary market (see 3) or, more likely, I can donate them to my local library, which is happy to obtain them as they are in pristine condition, giving me a charitable contribution deduction on my taxes at the fair market value, which is the average price in the used book market. I can’t sell or donate no-longer-wanted ebooks to anyone, let alone to my local library.

The day when ebooks have a universal format and DRM scheme, like videos do, some of these pbook advantages will disappear. But at least from a purely economic perspective, pbooks — at least those from the Agency 6 — have a greater economic value and are a better bargain than ebooks. eBooks shine on portability and ease of reading on the electronic device, but that’s about it — ebooks often cost more, sometimes much more, than the hardcover, so from an economic viewpoint, ebooks are no bargain.

It seems to me that the person struggling with finances would be better off buying a pbook version than an ebook version of an Agency 6 publication. The initial cost and the subsequent ability to recoup some of that cost seems to me to create an unbeatable combination for the frugal. Of course, free and low-priced indie ebooks change the calculation, but then those aren’t the pbooks I buy.

Joanna is right only in the sense that real-estate challenged readers have a hurdle to face and overcome with pbooks that they do not have with ebooks — the storage problem — but she loses the argument when she dresses the problem in economic terms. For the real-estate challenged reader whose disposable income is limited, the person Joanna describes, buying less-expensive pbooks is a better deal than buying the ebook because the pbook can be read and then sold on the secondary market. No need to tie up valuable real estate with a pbook collection, plus you pay less to begin with.

Seems to me rather than being peeved at those of us who still like pbooks, she should be thinking about how to maximize her purchasing power by buying and reselling pbooks. (I will concede, however, that once we move away from the Agency 6 and from the economic issues, ebooks are the better choice.)

May 13, 2011

On Books: Ice Blue

Last night I finished reading Ice Blue by Emma Jameson and am sorry that I finished — because the next book in the series is not yet available and I want more! The book is well-edited, well-written, and well-formatted, indicating that the author cares about the reader’s experience, a sense that too many indie books fail to communicate.

Ice Blue is a 5-star British mystery that involves Scotland Yard and the tensions between social classes that pervade the English cultural and social milieu. Unlike too many indie ebooks, Jameson has crafted a fine suspense tale but an even finer story about a Lord and a commoner, a modern-day Cinderella tale, yet one with believable characters. (And no, there is no fairy tale ending in this ebook, which is supposed to be the first in a series that features these characters.)

I firmly believe that there are several characteristics that define the writing of an outstanding author. I do not mean to imply that to be outstanding an author must demonstrate all of these characteristics, but rather the author must have more than one to be outstanding and the more the author has, the more outstanding the writing.

Those who follow my blog know that two indie fiction authors I regularly put in the outstanding category are Shayne Parkinson (historical fiction) and Vicki Tyley (mystery). Emma Jameson (mystery) is now a third, a new addition to my pantheon of superstar indie authors and has joined my list of must-buy authors. In my rating system (see On Books: Indie eBooks Worth Reading (I) for an explanation), she falls between Parkinson and Tyley. Her characterizations are better than Tyley’s but not as good as Parkinson’s. All three are 5-star writers.

Jameson’s lead character is Scotland Yard Detective Sergeant Kate Wakefield, a clearly lower-class denizen who puts her foot in her mouth more often than not. But Kate is a character you can touch, you can say is your next-door neighbor, is someone you want to see come out on top, is someone you can care for. Lord Hetheridge, her superior and chief superintendent, is the typical stiff, upperclass noble whose facade is cracked by Kate. Hetheridge’s character is written in such a way that a reader feels he or she can actually drink tea with this member of the nobility and feel comfortable doing so. The third major character is Detective Sergeant Paul Bhar, England-born but of Asian descent, who has a great sense of humor and such self-confidence that he steadies the investigative team and gives some “cheek” to the snobs of the upper crust of English society.

Altogether, the three primary characters are people you believe you can invite in for tea and biscuits (although they seem to prefer coffee) and not feel ill at ease.

The story itself is a typical British mystery, what one would expect from a Martha Grimes, Ruth Rendell, or P.D. James. And as is typical of British mysteries, everything is understated, by which I mean there are no blazing guns and mobsters that are typical of the American style — Ice Blue is more sedate and more involved in character development than in mystery development.

I rarely suggest to my wife that there is a book she must read; our reading tastes are generally too divergent. But occasionally I come across a book that is compelling. Again, the Tyley and Parkinson books fall into this category, as does Jameson’s Ice Blue. I will be interested to learn whether my wife agrees, especially as she is not a mystery lover.

For those of you looking for a new indie author to support, it is hard to go wrong with Ice Blue and Emma Jameson, especially at 99¢. I suggest giving her a try, particularly if you like the English-style mystery. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

May 11, 2011

On Words: The Power of Words

Within the past few weeks, Jack Lyon, a regular reader of An American Editor, sent me an e-mail pointing me toward this video:

I found the video poignant and an excellent reminder of the power of words and the role an editor plays in helping an author to shape those words.

In Symbiosis: The Authorial and Editorial Process, we explored the relationship between the author and the editor, but not the power of the words put to paper. Advertising, as an industry, relies on the power of words. Choosing the wrong word can destroy a product. Two good examples from the world of politics are “death panels” and “death taxes,” both of which conjure a particular image regardless of whether there is any correlation between the conjured image and the truth.

The big lie is what politics is too often about. The big lie is also what forms the justification for oppression that occurs in many countries. In all instances, the big lie is founded on the power of words to describe and motivate and move people in a particular direction. Is not this true, for example, of antisemitism?

Words move readers in particular directions. Choosing the wrong word can move a reader the wrong way, or at least wrong in the eyes of the author who wanted the reader moved oppositely. This is the role of the editor — to help the author find the right words to describe and convey the author’s message.

Choosing the right words to convey the author’s message is a role that a professional editor is intended to play. Consequently, a professional editor needs to be a wordsmith, needs to be familiar with the power of words and the word options available. How different would our country be had the Declaration of Independence been worded differently? How different would the world be if the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen had been worded differently? How more/less powerful would an author’s manuscript be had parts of it been worded differently? Is it not the craft of the poet to create an illusion in few, but powerful words?

The power of words is something every author and editor should consider — the author when first putting words to paper, the editor when first suggesting changes to those words. The message may be the same, but the words different, more compelling or less compelling, altering the dynamics. The above video demonstrates the truth of this conclusion.

May 9, 2011

Going Hand-in-Hand — Drinking & Editing

Okay, so “drinking” is a bit misleading. No, I’m not talking about alcohol or even the authors who could drive their editors to alcohol. Rather, I’m talking about drinks like tea, coffee, and soda pop — the stuff that can make a day enjoyable while suffering through another language calamity.

Years ago, I drank coffee. I never really liked it; it was just that it was a little better tasting than milk (I hated milk except for buttermilk) — just about anything was better tasting than milk — and drinking coffee was a sign of having crossed from childhood to adulthood. That should give you a clue as to how ancient I truly am!

I knew that I was drinking coffee out of habit, not out of like, the day I realized that I would have a sip or two, leave the rest to get cold, dump the rest because it was cold, pour yet another cup, and repeat the cycle. I bet on a great drinking day, I never got through more than 1 cup of coffee when totaling sips together.

This love-hate relationship with coffee continued for decades. I even tried buying expensive, gourmet blends, grinding my own, and gourmet coffee-making systems. Nothing changed my drinking process, although I will admit that I did learn how great a difference there is between a gourmet bean like Jamaica Blue Mountain freshly ground and Folgers.

Then one day I was reading yet another novel in David Weber’s Honor Harrington series when it struck me that Honor was drinking hot chocolate even when all her companions were drinking coffee. Well, I like hot chocolate — actually anything that is dark chocolate — so I decided to drop coffee and go to hot chocolate (no marshmallows, though).

Once again I went through all the machinations and from store blends like Swiss Miss to gourmet blends purchased online. Alas, this quickly became another coffee for me. The hot chocolate just wasn’t satisfying. It certainly was better than the coffee (much better than the chocolate dusted coffee I had been drinking), but I’d still drink a sip or two and end up discarding the rest.

I’d never been much of a tea drinker. Off and on I had experimented with tea but the truth is, I was experimenting with Tetley and Lipton and Red Rose and other store-shelf brands — the mass market teas. I did try Twinings, which was a step up, but all the teas suffered from the same problem: not much flavor and not a compelling drink. It was coffee and hot chocolate all over again.

Perhaps the problem with all of these drinks is that I do not use sugar (although the hot chocolate was sweetened with the substitute stuff). I don’t use sugar because I can’t. Too much sugar sends my body into disaster mode; it’s one of the reasons I rarely ever eat a dessert. If that was the problem, I wasn’t going to change my sugar avoidance, so I had best find another drink. Let’s face it; water is a great drink but even though it is life-sustaining, it hasn’t got that panache or flavor to satisfy the drinker in me.

Anyway, one day in the gourmet grocery I came across some upscale green tea. I wasn’t having luck with anything else so I decided to buy it and give it a try. That was the beginning of my downfall. I probably now need to join Tea Drinkers Anonymous because I am hooked.

I begin my day with a carafe or two of a full leaf green tea. I alternate each day between Bi Luo Xian, Sencha Kyoto, and Dragon Well (Lao Tzu’s Tea), all from the Republic of Tea. (I’ve tried a couple of other gourmet tea sellers, but I always come back [so far] to the Republic of Tea.) During the day, I either make a carafe of one of these teas or I drink The People’s Green Tea, which comes in tea bags.

With these teas, I have finally found drinking salvation. For quite some time, I simply boiled a kettle of water and let it cool for a minute or two before pouring it over the tea. But I kept reading about how important it is to use the correct temperature water for tea so as to get the full flavor without burning the leaves. I admit I was skeptical, but I finally broke down and bought a Cuisinart variable temperature kettle. Here is a link to a review of the kettle. What a difference using the right water temperature  — and the right steeping time — makes!

Yes, I am a convert — to green tea, timing the steeping process, and the variable temperature kettle. I actually enjoy drinking green tea enough that when I travel, I take my carafe with me, along with a timer. (The People’s Tin Lid Timer replaces the lid on the cans, making it easy to carry.) When we eat out, whereas before I would always decline an after-dinner drink, now I bring my own tea bags and timer and simply ask for hot water.

Needless to say, as I spend my day editing, I often have a cup of green tea at my desk. These days, when the cup of tea isn’t alongside my keyboard, I almost (but not quite) feel naked, exposed, as if something is missing. A good cup of tea just makes my day.

What makes your day, drinkwise? For those of you who drink green tea, what green teas do you drink? Do you have a favorite tea store? Tea blend? Tea brand? Does drinking go hand-in-hand with your editing day?

May 6, 2011

Worth Noting: A Vision of the Near-Term Future

Filed under: Worth Noting — Rich Adin @ 5:00 am
Tags: , , ,

This video from Corning Glass gives a look at what our future may hold in 5 to 10 years. Fascinating!

What do you think?

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