An American Editor

August 29, 2012

The Business of Editing: Evaluating a Manuscript

One of the most difficult tasks an editor has is the evaluation of a manuscript to determine how much time it will take to edit the manuscript, and thus how to charge for the work. There are multiple ways of doing this, some of which are dependent on who the client is (i.e., a publishing company or an individual author).

For most editors, it is the author-client whose manuscript is the most difficult to evaluate.

As I have noted in previous posts, most recently in The Business of Editing: Language Pet Peeves II, different rules apply to fiction and to nonfiction, particularly in regard to use of precise language. When I evaluate an author’s manuscript, I keep the differences in mind.

I know that an author who hires me to edit his or her manuscript wants the best possible job for the lowest possible price, with an emphasis on lowest. Yet this same author often makes my job more difficult than it has to be by not carefully preparing either the manuscript or the materials that should accompany it (see, e.g., The Business of Editing: What an Author Should Give an Editor) and by not knowing precisely what type of edit the author wants me to perform (see, e.g., Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor). This is compounded by the result of my evaluation of the manuscript itself.

The very first thing I do is determine the true number of manuscript pages. It is not unusual for an author to tell me the manuscript is 150 pages when in reality it is closer to 400. Authors should remember that manuscript pages are not the equivalent of printed pages.

The second thing I do is search the manuscript for the use of certain terms, including due to, since, about, and over. These terms are very often misused in nonfiction, less so in fiction, but getting a count tells me how “lazy” with language the author has been. The higher the count, the lazier the author has likely (this is not always true and it does depend on other factors) been grammatically, which means it will take more time to edit the manuscript.

The third thing I do, but only with nonfiction, is check the references. Are the citations consistent in style or does each reference have its own style? Are the references complete or incomplete? Inconsistent styling of the references by the author and incomplete references are another sign of a lazy author. That’s okay, professional editors have lots of experience fixing references, but doing so is very time-consuming and runs up the cost. It is less expensive to fix references that are consistent in style, even if the style is incorrect, than if there is little to no consistency.

The fourth thing I do is check for consistent spelling of names and terms. Again, what I am looking for is laziness (or sloppiness) because the less consistent spelling is, the more time-consuming the project will be.

Fifth, I search for common homophone errors (e.g., where/were; your/you’re; there/their; too/to/two; here/hear; bear/bare; forth/fourth; principal/principle). When I find a lot of this type of error, I know that time will be needed. It is also a clue that the author may have a great story to tell but needs a lot of help with fundamental grammar.

Finally, I skim the manuscript to see if I can get a clue as to how much effort the author put into the manuscript’s preparation. Some manuscripts demonstrate that the author has self-edited and revised several times, making for a more polished, even though imperfect, manuscript; with other manuscripts, it is clear that the author sat at the computer and pounded out a manuscript without going back through it more than once.

This skim is also a way to get a handle on the author’s language skills. I expect the manuscript from an author for whom English is a second language to have more issues than the manuscript from an author whose first language is English, but that is not always true. I am looking for what I call grammar patterns, which are author idiosyncracies that are grammatically incorrect but done consistently and repeatedly throughout the manuscript.

With the above information in hand, I have a pretty good idea about how difficult the edit will be. Some factors weigh more heavily than others when trying to figure out how much editing time will be needed, and thus how much to charge, but it is also true that some of the problems could have been fixed by the author before sending the manuscript for editing.

If an author has provided the correct information with the manuscript (again, see The Business of Editing: What an Author Should Give an Editor), it will reduce the time needed for editing. If the information is not supplied by the author, it will take me time to assemble the information, time that has to be paid for by the author. Similarly, the type of edit that the author wants (again, see Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor) influences the cost.

There is no way to determine precisely how long it will take to edit a manuscript. The best any editor can do is guesstimate based on prior experience, but experienced editors are fairly accurate with their guesstimates. The quandary for the editor is whether to accept a flat fee or an hourly fee.

Whether to accept a flat fee or an hourly fee requires one more evaluation: an evaluation of the author. That is, how much author contact and back-and-forth between the author and editor is likely to be required by the author? Personal contact tends to eat up a lot of time and interrupt the editing process. Some authors require more contact than do other authors.

Some contact and back-and-forth is necessary and expected. How much becomes excessive is hard to know in advance. But in a professional relationship, which is what the relationship between the author and the editor should be, some trust on the part of each party that the other is doing his or her job competently is important and necessary.

The bottom line is that both an author’s manuscript and the author need to be evaluated by the editor to determine an appropriate fee. Once the editor has determined what an appropriate fee would be, it is up to the author to decide whether he or she wants to hire the editor.

August 27, 2012

The Business of Editing: Language Pet Peeves II

I guess editors never really run out of pet peeves when it comes to language use and misuse, but I have been editing a manuscript the past few weeks that repeatedly raises my ire when it comes to misuse of language. Don’t misunderstand; the manuscript is not a horror. Rather, it is an example of today’s lazy authors who choose imprecision when precision is really needed.

One thing that some editors and authors fail to do is to distinguish between the rules that govern fiction writing and those that govern nonfiction writing, especially academic-type nonfiction, such as medical texts. Grammatically, fiction is more informal, lazy, laid back, reflective of the times and the way people speak to each other — and rightfully so. There is nothing worse than being told a story for entertainment (even for education) that is so stiff as to be incomprehensible or boring. I do not expect the action hero to speak as if he or she is a grammarian trying to educate future scholars; I expect the hero to have all the grammatical flaws of everyday speech, and I expect a story to be told in a way that captivates me, not pushes me away.

But my expectations for nonfiction are different. I want to know precisely what the author means or intends. I do not want to have to guess, to have to substitute my words for the author’s words. Yet, increasingly, nonfiction authors are taking the path of least resistance, which is the path that treats nonfiction grammar as if it were fiction grammar. Which brings me to today’s pet peeve: due to.

When I receive a nonfiction manuscript that is riddled with due tos, I just know that the editing is going to be time-consuming and problematic. Laziness in one area is often a signal that other “shortcuts” and language liberties also have been taken. (I don’t want to get into the other indicator of a problem manuscript, inconsistent references, in this post. Manuscript evaluation is worthy of its own article.) I can expect imprecise terms like about, over, and since are also liberally sprinkled throughout the manuscript.

Due to, however, is in a class by itself. What exactly is meant? Does the author mean as a result of, as a consequence of, because of, caused by, on grounds of, owing to, something else? Why is it my job, as the reader, to figure out what the cause-and-effect relationship is that due to is trying to convey? And what if I guess wrong?

If the author’s meaning can be as amorphous as which meaning of due to is applicable, then how much credence should I give to the author’s conclusions? What effect does such lack of precision have on the author’s credibility? Nonfiction requires both author credibility and precision language.

There are at least three views regarding the use of due to. One view is that it is okay to use due to when its use is restricted to adjectival uses in the sense of attributable to, and following the verb to be (implied or express). A second view is that the phrase should be avoided altogether because of its imprecise meaning. A third view is that it is acceptable when used as an adjective and not as a preposition modifying a noun.

I am an adherent of the second view: Due to is always objectionable because it is never eminently clear as to which of its possible meanings is meant. In my view, due to is always objectionable in nonfiction writing because nonfiction writing requires precision writing; it is perhaps okay to use in fiction writing, depending on where and how, but certainly in dialog that is intended to reflect how people speak to each other.

The first and third views, especially, work on the assumption that the meaning of due to is limited to owing to and because of. Essentially, they take the view that due to is a term of limited meaning and is an acceptable substitute, even if in limited circumstances, for those very few phrases. The Achilles’ heel of that assumption is that authors use due to as a substitute for myriad phrases, not just for two, so that to determine what is meant requires the reader to pause and begin a rotation of substituting possible meanings for due to and then selecting one, not necessarily the correct one (What if the reader’s rotation is missing the author-intended meaning?), as expressing what the author really means.

It is this game of roulette with meaning that makes due to a pet peeve. It is especially bothersome when a single sentence has more than one instance of due to, which is not uncommon. And when a paragraph has several sentences riddled with due tos, I wonder what the author was thinking. Why wasn’t the author more precise?

Alas, although the initial blame lies with the author, too many editors accept due to and do not question its use. Nor do they attempt to determine what the author intended and substitute a more precise phrase. It seems to me that a professional editor needs to take phrases that are imprecise, like due to, and replace them with precise phrases, or at least get the author to make the change. The editor’s role is to make an author’s manuscript both accessible and understandable. It is the latter that suffers when the editor simply turns a blind eye to imprecise phraseology. Ultimately, it is the author whose credibility is lessened and the reader who walks away with a less-than-full understanding of what the author means.

August 22, 2012

Why Aren’t Publishers Pushing eBooks?

In a post discussing a twit from author Brent Weeks, Nat Hoffhelder of The Digital Reader wondered, in his blog post “Not All of Us Drink a $4 Coffee, Mr. Weeks,” why publishers aren’t “trying to convert paper book buyers to ebook buyers,” considering that publishers make more money on ebooks than on mass market paperbacks. Setting aside the question of whether publishers make more money on ebooks than on mass market paperbacks, the question is truly piercing: Why aren’t publishers trying to convert readers to ebooks?

We can begin with the proposition that ebooks are clearly the tsunami of the future for reading. It is not that the demand for pbooks will disappear entirely, just that ebooks will become greater than a majority share of the book market. One would think that publishers would want to grab the brass ring early while they can still steer the market.

Under the current scheme of things, ebooks are a much better investment than pbooks for publishers. If I buy a pbook, I can share it with an infinite number of friends, none of whom has to buy his or her own copy as long as they are willing to wait. In contrast, assuming I don’t pirate the ebook, every one of my friends who wants to read the ebook has to buy a copy.

OK, I realize that I cannot just shunt aside the pirating problem as if it didn’t exist, but there is a certain reality to pirating — the very vast majority of readers do not pirate ebooks. Instead, they buy a copy and if they share it, it is shared only among immediate family, often by letting the family member borrow the reading device. It is a small number of readers who post pirated copies of books and a small number who go to the trouble of finding them and downloading them.

Offsetting, I think, what believe the cost of pirating to be — or at least a goodly portion of that cost — are that with ebooks, publishers have no physical inventory to maintain, no cost of returns (unsold and overinventoried pbooks are returned by booksellers), errors can be inexpensively fixed (i.e., books do not need to be destroyed and entire print runs lost; with ebooks, the errors can be fixed and the ebook replaced very inexpensively), and sales are certain (under the pbook wholesale model, the publisher sells pbooks to a bookstore but doesn’t know how much it will ultimately be paid for the pbooks because they are subject to returns by both the consumer and the bookseller; contrast this with how the ebook market works). I’m sure there are other offsetting features of ebooks.

The publishers have been focusing, I think, on the wrong numbers when they discuss pirating. They seem to focus on the number of books available rather than on the number of downloads. Haven’t the Harry Potter ebooks demonstrated the problem with piracy numbers? Before the release of the ebooks, pirated versions were available. But their availability doesn’t seem to have affected very much sales of the official-release versions.

Publishers should be pushing ebooks, trying to convert pbook readers to becoming ebookers. In fact, if publishers wanted to twist Amazon’s nose a bit, they could subsidize Barnes & Nobles’ Nook: Buy a Nook for $99 and receive $99 worth of popular books of your choice (not the publisher’s choice) published by XYZ Publisher. Yes, the publishers would probably lose a bit of money to start, but once people get in the habit of reading electronically, few, I think, would stop.

Electronic reading done on an ereader is addictive, or at least I, my wife, and our ebooker friends have found it so. We are reading at least twice the number of books we previously read, and we read a lot. What we are not doing is reading more of the Big 6’s books — in fact, we are reading significantly fewer of those books. The reasons are simple: the big publishers, often called the Agency 6, are not pushing us toward their ebooks but away from their ebooks by their overpricing and their use restrictions.

Yes, pricing is an old argument that keeps coming back, but the bottom line is that it is an argument that cannot be avoided. Brent Weeks’ new novel — regardless of how much time and effort he put into its authorship — simply is not worth $14.99 to many of us. He is not a must-read author. Each reader has his or her own set of must-read authors, that handful of authors for whom we will pay $14.99. But the kicker is that for many of us, we’ll spend that $14.99 on the pbook version, not the ebook version, because that is the way publishers are pushing us.

This is a strategic mistake. It would be better to push us to the ebook version at a significantly lower price so that we become accustomed to buying the ebook version at a “reasonable” price. I have found that my list of must-read authors has dwindled considerably over the past several years. The more ebook reading I do, the less pbook reading I want or am willing to do. Consequently, when a must-read author’s new book arrives, I rethink how “must-read” the author really is.

The more time I spend with my ereader, the less willing I am to pickup a pbook. Yet that unwillingness does not convert to a willingness to substitute the ebook for the pbook when the ebook costs as much or more than the hardcover pbook. Increasingly, I find that I just pass on that “must-read” book and the author becomes a former must-read author. My list of must-read-traditional-publisher authors has dropped from more than 20 authors to 4 — David Weber, Robin Hobb, Harry Turtledove, and L.E. Modesitt, Jr. — although I expect Hobb and Turtledove to be dropped from the list over the next few months. (I also have a list of ebook-only indie authors, like Emma Jameson, Michael Hicks, Vicki Tyley, Shayne Parkinson, Rebecca Forster, and L.J. Sellers, among others, who I consider must-read but whose ebooks are at bargain basement prices compared to what the Big 6 and Brent Weeks want.)

By not pushing ebooks, the Big 6 are shrinking their market rather than expanding it. They are losing a significant number of sales that they (and their authors) should be making. More importantly, from the publishers’ and the authors’ perspectives, they are causing must-read author lists to shrink. As I noted earlier, it is clear that growth in the book marketplace lies in ebooks. pBooks may have some small growth, but not enough to sustain the industry.

Interestingly, I think that if the Big 6 changed their focus and pushed ebooks, they could easily pickup some of the best indie authors and publish them in ebook-only versions. The biggest problem that the indie authors have that the Big 6 could solve for them is getting the word out that they have a new book available.

I think three changes need to be made. First, publishers need to wrap themselves around ebooks as their future and start pushing them and doing so by pushing readers toward ebooks.  Second, they need to come up with a way to make brick-and-mortar bookstores relevant as showrooms for ebooks. Failure to make these changes is likely to exacerbate the decline of the Big 6. Agency pricing at current levels is really only a stopgap measure, not a sustainable plan for the future. Third, the Big 6 have to change their attitude toward indie authors and start looking to become the publisher of the better indie authors by offering intensive, high-quality marketing (along, of course, with better royalties than the standard pbook royalty scheme).

August 20, 2012

The Business of Editing: Language Pet Peeves

I don’t know many editors who are so laid back that they don’t have a pet peeve or two when it comes to language usage. Perhaps that is the sign of an editorial bent. I know I certainly have pet peeves (note: these are American English oriented and I am aware that different rules and perspectives apply outside American English usage). A couple of my peeves revolve around who/that and whether a corporation or company is singular/plural and an it/they.

I guess of all my pet peeves, the most aggravating one is the misuse of who and that. When I read a book and see a sentence like “Shirley was a sorceress that possessed a magic wand,” I just know that whoever edited the book (assuming anyone did) wasn’t a professional editor — or maybe it was a professional editor as I occasionally have seen the misuse in professionally edited manuscripts. What bothers me is that I see this error in manuscripts from people of all educational levels and walks of life. This isn’t something that is restricted to free indie novels.

Who is a nominative pronoun; it refers, in nongrammar parlance, to humans. It is used as the subject of a verb (“It was Felicity who scored highest in the exam”) and as a predicate nominative (“Beware the folk who know where you live”). The point is, that in its simplest application, who refers to humans and, sometimes, to their humanoid substitutes. How difficult is that!

That is a reference to an object, to something inanimate, something that has no human qualities — yes, like a corporation (regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court’s assertion that corporations are persons), or perhaps a demon (but give a demon some human qualities and who might be more appropriate).

The point is that use of who and that is generally not difficult. It is simply a matter of not writing as informally as one speaks. Because it is assumed that language users recognize when to use who, the usage guides focus on the difference between who and whom, not who and that. Unfortunately, it appears that too little attention is being paid by schools to language fundamentals, because the misuse of who and that seems to be increasing, but then so are other misuses and abuses of language.

A similar problem occurs when addressing a corporation. Many authors speak of a single corporation as if it were multiple corporations (corporations here is universally used to represent businesses and other inanimate [nonhuman] objects) and so choose to use the plural form of verbs and adjectives. In American English, one is still one, so a single corporation still requires a singular verb and adjective. Yet, you can pick up many books — fiction and nonfiction, academic and nonacademic — and find that the author and editor have adopted a non-American perspective and interpreted the singular corporation as plural.

Whether it is singular or plural matters because it sets the stage for the grammar of the rest of the sentence and the following sentences in the same paragraph. For example, singular requires this and was; plural requires these and were. Yet it is not unusual to read a sentence whose subject is a corporation in which there is a mismatch between plural and singular.

More problematic to me, however, is how many authors and editors treat the inanimate corporation as if it were human. They, she, and other human-nuanced words are used when speaking of a single corporation. Yet a singular inanimate subject requires it as the personal pronoun, not they or she, when speaking of the singular subject. (The plural subject, e.g., “these corporations,” can use they and other plurals.) Questions: When and how did an inanimate object gain gender? Why is the language used to refer to a corporation often feminine (why not masculine?)?

It is true that these types of errors do not cause the average reader to stop and wonder what the author means. Such errors are so commonplace that most readers ignore them and probably do not even recognize that they are errors. The real question is whether authors and editors have any responsibility to correctly use words and thus subtly educate readers as regards proper language usage.

I think authors and editors do have such a responsibility, especially the person who proclaims himself or herself to be a professional editor. When we reinforce poor communication and language skills, we help to speed the decline of our society. Imagine a future world where “u r gr8” is the standard written communication. How pleasing would you find reading a 300-page book that is replete with twit sentences?

The proper use of language is something that an author should be cognizant of because it can help in locating a professional editor. But an author who doesn’t understand, for example, the difference between who and that (or between which and that), won’t recognize whether an editor is a professional or an amateur, and thus won’t get the best return for his or her money.

Again, I need to emphasize that an error-free book is almost impossible to create. Perfection is an elusive goal. But there are certain fundamentals that can and should be expected from a professional editor, two of which are knowing when to use who or that and when to use it rather than she. It just isn’t that difficult!

August 17, 2012

Politics: One Term More

The following video was created as a political parody of “One Day More” from Les Misérables, but is so well done, I thought I would share it here. As its title implies, the video is pro-Barack Obama and anti-Republican. Enjoy the video for its creativity and excellent production. I suggest watching it with subtitles, as some of the lyrics are hard to discern.

One Term More — A Political Parody

One Term More — A Political Parody (with subtitles)

August 15, 2012

The Business of Editing: What Happens When the Cloud Isn’t Available?

I invest in my business. When a new version of a tool that I use becomes available, I buy it. I want to make my job easier for me and better for my clients. But the current emphasis on cloud computing worries me.

I recently received notice from Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins of the release of a new version of medical abbreviation software. I have been using this software since version 1. In previous years, I would simply order the new release and a few days later, I would receive a CD to use to install the software on my computer. Sometimes, rather than a CD, I would receive a download link. Either method worked fine because both let me install the database locally.

The new release changes the system. Now, the only thing I can do is buy a one-year online subscription. This is problematic in several ways, with the two most prominent problems being that it now becomes a yearly expense and I have to rely on both Lippincott’s servers and my Internet connection to be working correctly to access the abbreviations database.

This trend is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cloud computing. Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and other megagiants of the technology world are all trying to move users of their products to the cloud. They all promise little to no downtime and, of course, more security than I have on my local computer. But all of these are unproven promises and rely on too many other factors that they do not control. What happens, for example, if Google’s servers are working just fine but my gateway-to-the-Internet provider, that is, my local ISP, is down?

I don’t know about you, but I have never been hacked and have never had a virus infection on my local computer. I am careful and make sure I use high-quality security software that I keep current. Every week, however, I read about how some megacorporation’s secure computers have been hacked.

And what about backup? I haven’t figured out how I would backup the cloud to protect myself. I would have to rely on Amazon or Microsoft or whomever having a good plan in place, one that works, and one that fulfills my needs, not the needs of the average netizen. I have multiple backup systems in play constantly, all designed to keep me running in case I let my finger hit the delete button too quickly or a hard drive gets corrupted.

Cloud computing is generally reliable. The key word is generally. As we all know, it is very easy for Internet service to be down and for servers to be down. Even Amazon’s servers haven’t been fail-proof.

As a small business, I am reluctant to place the fate of my business in the hands of cloud computing. I rely on dictionaries and word databases in my editing. I rely on being able to access my files so that I can edit them when i want to edit them. Currently, if my Internet service disappears for a few days, I may not be able to search PubMed online to make sure a citation is correct, but I can edit the substance of a manuscript with all of the tools I generally use because they are all local to my computer.

In addition, because I designed my own computer, I have removable hard drives. I can “hot swap” them as needed. What this means is that I can keep a mirror image of my entire computer at hand and if my primary drives fail for some reason, I simply pull them out and replace them with the backup drives — all done in a matter of seconds, not hours or days.

Cloud computing has another disadvantage. I have no doubt that there are many of you who are still using older versions of Microsoft Word; after all, what real improvements has Microsoft made to Word that fundamentally affect its primary function — word processing? There have been a few innovations, but nothing earth shattering that says you must upgrade from Word 2003 to Word 2010. You bought Word 2003 once and continue to use it happily. But with cloud computing, that will no longer be possible. Cloud computing means you renew your license yearly and always work with the most current version of a software program, whether you want it or not. Cloud computing is really just a way to increase a company’s profits by forcing those who don’t buy the “latest and greatest software” to buy it.

I see no advantage to the independent editor to cloud computing. The proponents of cloud computing tout how easy it is to collaborate in the cloud. OK, I admit it is easier for two (or more) people to work simultaneously on the same document via the cloud than if the document resides on their local computers. But (a) how many of us really work that way and (b) how productive would such a method be for an author and editor? In my view, I think it would add to the cost of editing and increase the difficulty significantly. Most editors I know make changes in an initial pass and then review the changes one or more times before passing the work on to the author. How disruptive to the editing process would it be for an author to see  preliminary/temporary changes or queries or editor notes to self because of the collaborative features?

I suspect that ultimately cloud computing will be a failure except for games. If I buy an ebook, I want to know (believe) that I can access it 10 years from now and the only way I can do so is by downloading it to my local computer. When I accept editorial work from a client, I want to be free to do my job, mull over the changes I have made, and send the client what I think is the best I can do, but I do not want the client to become resistive because the client was able to watch the process from the start.

Perhaps most importantly, I want to have my own style of working, not an imposed style that forces me to sit idle when I can’t access the cloud, regardless of the reason. As part of my style, I want to be able to establish safeguards for my clients’ manuscripts and I want to be able to access them as I wish. In addition, I want to be able to decide when and what tools I will buy; I do not want to be caught in the neverending leasing cycle.

I have made it a point to notify companies that are trying to force me to buy their product in the cloud that I won’t. I’ll find an alternative or do without rather than encourage further inroads into my working independence.

Is cloud computing for you?

August 13, 2012

On Books: Value in an eBook World

eBooks have changed the way we think of value in regards to books. For myriad reasons, ebookers think that the price of ebooks should be no more than the price of a mass market paperback, and often less. Price is a reflection of value.

Much of the thinking revolves around a central point: unlike pbooks, ebooks are intangible — just a collection of bits and bytes. Yes, there are other reasons, too, such as the lack of secondary market value, lower production costs, restrictions on usage, and the like, but the reality is that most of the conscious and unconscious reasoning revolves around the matter of intangibility.

When I buy a pbook for $15, I have something solid to hold in my hand. I can put it on a shelf and admire its cover beauty; I can open the book and feel the pages as I turn them. An ebook lacks all of the sensory qualities of a pbook — it is intangible. The sensory experience lies with the reading device itself, not with the ebook.

I am aware that many ebookers pooh-pooh the sensory argument, but it really is not so easily dismissed. Many of the things that ebookers complain are restrictive about ebooks are not restrictive about pbooks because of the sensory experience. More importantly, it is difficult to become enamored with bits and bytes, yet the beauty that a pbook can project addresses the needs of multiple senses.

I think it is this sensory deprivation that drives the value argument. eBooks are of less value because they provide less of a sensory experience. We pay $100 for an ebook reader without a great deal of thought because it appeals to multiple senses; we complain about a $14.99 ebook price because it appeals to a limited number of senses.

Think about a rose. Do we value the magazine photograph of a rose the same as we value the physical rose in our hand? The photograph will last longer than the physical rose, yet we value the physical rose more than the photograph rose because the physical rose provides a more complete (and better) sensory experience.

Or consider this. Many more ebookers are willing to pirate an ebook — regardless of the rationalization given for doing so — than are willing to steal a pbook from a bookstore. Why is that? If the value is the same, the willingness to pirate/steal should be the same, yet it isn’t. I think it is because ebooks are intangible and thus viewed as of little to no value — ebooks simply do not ignite the same sensory experiences as pbooks.

Of course all of this ignores the fact that real value of a book — p or e — lies in the writing, not in its physical structure or presence. Yet when we talk about the value of books, the value of the content is rarely addressed. There is good reason for this. If we were to address the content value, then ebooks and pbooks should be equivalently valued. After all, the word content is the same, only the physical wrapper is different.

Another problem with addressing the content value is that the content value is not altered one iota by production costs (excluding editorial). If we value the content, we should value the content identically whether it cost $1 or $100 to produce. The production (excluding editorial) costs are wrapper costs, not content value.

eBooks have upset the valuation process. Prior to ebooks, value was determined largely by content. With the rise of ebooks, the wrapper has come to dominate the valuation argument and there is little to no discussion of content value. And this has consequences for the pbook world. This is what lies, I think, at the heart of the fear of the publishing industry: the idea that content will have little to no value, only the wrapper will determine pricing.

This tension between content and wrapper valuations is further fueled by the rise of the indie author. Readers are unwilling to gamble large sums on indie-authored ebooks from authors with whom they have little to no familiarity. If an indie author publishes a pbook and prices it similarly to other pbooks in its genre, readers are willing to pay that price even if they do not know the author because the price is aligned with what they expect to pay.

Yet this does not translate to indie-authored ebooks, where there is resistance to paying the higher pricing found with traditionally published ebooks. Consequently, indie-authored ebooks tend to be drawn to the lower end of the pricing scale. With the large number of ebooks found at that lower price point, that lower price point becomes a standard for the ebook. Again, valuation is based on the wrapper, not the content.

The next few years will be interesting as regards ebook pricing. Will the valuation of ebooks change so that content is the decider or will the wrapper valuation continue to dominate and also make inroads in pbooks? Although it is often heard that content is king, ebooks appear to be the exception. For ebook valuation, the wrapper is king.

August 8, 2012

The Shirking of Responsibility

Filed under: Miscellaneous Opinion — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
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Making the blog rounds in the not-too-distant past was commentary about how the new Nook with GlowLight has an easily damaged screen. The posts and comments came about as a result of an article that appeared at Gizmodo, “You Really Don’t Want to Drop the New Nook Simple Touch.” The article author relates what happened when he accidentally dropped his remote control onto the unprotected screen of the Nook.

A lot of bloggers immediately jumped all over the Nook. I understand that screen fragility can be a problem. Most of us know that we cannot drop our ereaders into a bathtub filled with water and expect the device to continue working; the devices aren’t waterproof. Similarly, most of us know that we cannot give our ereaders to a 6-month-old baby to play with; the devices aren’t childproof.

Yet many of these same people think the Nook should have been made car-key and remote-control proof. Why? We all know that the chance of being shot in America is high. Should the devices therefore be made bulletproof? The likelihood of carrying the device outside during a rainstorm is probably higher than the likelihood of dropping a remote control on the device, so shouldn’t the device be made waterproof?

It seems to me that we know that these devices are delicate before we buy them. Consequently, many of us buy protective covers and make an effort to keep the screen protected. It is also one of the sale pitches made when the sellers try to get you to buy extended warranty protection that protects against even dropping car keys on an unprotected screen.

But all of this is really beside the point, which is self-responsibility. In recent years, I’ve noted an increase in finger-pointing: whatever is wrong is wrong because it is someone else’s fault. The finger-pointer rarely points to him- or herself while claiming to be part of the problem. Need we look any further than the American Congress? Everything is President Obama’s fault, nothing is the fault of congressional partisanship.

Even in the world of ebooks the lack of personal responsibility is evident. Consider how many ebookers think there is nothing wrong with pirating an ebook simply because it can be done or because the price is too high or because the edition the ebooker wants isn’t yet available. The justifications are myriad but what is really important is that the moral code of responsibility for one’s actions has deteriorated in the Internet age.

The Internet has made it easy for people to find like-minded netizens who encourage antisocial behavior and the finger-pointing that occurs. Even if a person takes steps to assuage some critics, there are always new critics who are not satisfied. Because the Internet has made it easy to shout one’s complaints to a worldwide audience, we have become a society of complainers rather than of solvers.

I’ve noted an additional phenomenon of the Internet age that acts as support for the lack of self-responsibility; that is, the Internet supports and encourages anonymity, which tends to drown out solutions and trumpet problems or claimed problems. In my youth, which I admit was a very long time ago, if I had a complaint, I had to make it in person or in writing with my identity clearly revealed. Everyone ignored anonymous letters and telephone calls. Contrast that with today. Anonymous is found everywhere.

Reputations are readily sullied today by anonymous rantings. As I noted in The Uneducated Reader, people give credence to anonymous book reviews, even to ones where the reviewer clearly has not read the book. As a result of the anonymous phenomenon that the Internet encourages, people believe they can say and do anything without the need to take responsibility for what they say and do.

Consequently, products that work well are subject to atypical tests and downgraded because they fail the atypical test. How many Kindles, I wonder, could withstand concrete blocks being dropped on them from a height of 5 feet or could survive being washed by itself in a washing machine (normal cycle) and then run through the dryer for an hour at high heat? Isn’t that how you would clean a dirty ereader?

Look at what people display on social media like Facebook about themselves. Do I really care that Jane Doe got rip-roaring drunk last night? In olden days, the world didn’t know about it; today, there is not a place in the world that doesn’t.

This is not only a problem of a lack of self-responsibility, it is also a problem of lack of self-esteem. The two seem to go hand-in-hand — the more a person lacks self-esteem, the more irresponsible they seem to be and the more they are inclined to finger point. The more they finger point, the more they are willing to see themselves as outside the problem and not part of the problem.

Am I the only one who has noticed this?

August 6, 2012

The Uneducated Reader

I’m not an admirer of anonymous reader reviews at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and other forums where “readers” can anonymously “critique” a book. Occasionally I will look at these so-called reviews, not for information purposes but for their amusement value.

What struck me during a recent perusal of reviews of a book that I think highly of, Shayne Parkinson’s Sentence of Marriage (for my review, see On Books: The Promises to Keep Quartet) were two particular reviews. The first review gave the book a 1-star rating, anonymously, of course, with the statement that the reviewer hadn’t yet read the book. The book wasn’t discussed in the review and if the reviewer’s words are taken as true, he/she had yet to read the book but still rated it, giving a rating that was deliberately designed to lower the overall rating of the book. If you didn’t read the book, why rate it? And why give it a 1-star rating?

The second review that caught my eye was one that several other readers found “helpful.” This review raked the book over the coals. The review gave the book a 1-star rating and was titled “Disturbing, sick, just plain bad.” Rather than summarize the review, I reprint it here:

The main character is stupid, for lack of a better word, and her innocence and lack of instinct when it comes to “Jimmy” is unrealistic, she’s 15, not 8, just clearing that up. This is one of the most disturbing, sad books I’ve ever had the misfortune of reading. I only got about 600 pages in before I skipped to the ending to confirm my suspicions; It doesn’t get any better, in fact, it gets worse. I’m not referring to the writing, that was good enough, but the story in general is just depressing and it serves no real purpose that I could find. This is a Warning, this book was just sad, it helps you fall in love with the characters and then it screws them over in the worst possible way, it’s [sic] doesn’t even have the benefit of being a horror story. There’s no suspense, no action, just plan [sic] and clear depression, it kind of made me want to kill myself….and the characters….

The above review was immediately followed by what amounts to another 1-star anonymous review, this one titled “This author is a sadist.”

To me, these reviews illustrate the problem of what I call the uneducated reader. The reviewers are upset because there is no suspense, no action, no Batman coming to the rescue. The reviewers think that 15-year-old girls in 1890s New Zealand were as streetwise as 10-year-old girls in 2012 New York City. The reviewers apparently lack familiarity with either the genre of the book (not all historical fiction is Vikings on a rampage raping and murdering innocents) or the social mores of the time depicted in the setting of the story.

These reviewers are the type of reader that is the bane of authors — the reader who is clueless and draws baseless and unwarranted conclusions and loudly trumpets his or her uninformed opinion on the Internet. More amazing and sad is that other readers claim to find these “reviews” helpful!

A scan of other anonymous 1-star reviews of Parkinson’s Sentence of Marriage convinces me that either these people never read the book or do not understand what they read or have no familiarity whatsoever with history. If they are writing about a book that they actually read, then they certainly read a book that was much different from the one I read. This is not to say that every reader of Sentence of Marriage has to agree that it is a 5-star book. But at least be honest and fair with any criticism.

Complaints about poor editing, for example, which was the subject of several 1-star anonymous reviews, simply isn’t true. You may find the characters standoffish, the story not compelling, or myriad other things wrong that are important to you as a reader, but in this instance, it is not legitimate to complain about the editing, which is excellent.

Although I have focused on the reviews given Parkinson’s book, the problem isn’t limited to her books. As I said before, the problem is giving free rein to anonymous reviewers who are unknowledgeable about the book being reviewed. This is not to suggest that to review 19th century historical fiction one must have a doctorate in 19th century history; rather, it is to suggest that a reader should be familiar enough with the general subject matter and history so as to not make false comparisons and thereby draw incorrect conclusions — or, if you insist on making comparisons, state what the comparators are.

I have often wondered about the need some readers have to “review” a book. It is not that I think if you have nothing good to say you shouldn’t say anything. Some books deserve negative reviews, but when you give one, be constructive, not just negative, and be factual, don’t make up false reasons.

Personally, I think anonymous reviews and reviewers whose identity cannot be verified should not be permitted to post reviews. I also think that negative reviews that are negative simply because of price should not be permitted. I also think that reviews that state upfront that the reviewer hasn’t read the book should be deleted because they unfairly distort a book’s rating.

Reviews serve an important purpose and reviews that are clearly unfounded or that are based on superfluous items, such as pricing, undermine the credibility of the review process. Perhaps this is why I so admire and enjoy the reviews I read in The New York Review of Books. They have credibility in a world that doesn’t seem to care too much about credibility (this is the disease of the Internet — the demise of the value of credibility).

The online reviews at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the like should be challengeable by other readers and by authors. For example, one should be able to challenge a review that gives a rating and the comment that the reviewer hadn’t even read the book. If the challenge is upheld, the review should be removed, especially if the review is anonymous. It is unfair to prospective readers and to authors to let such reviews remain.

The review quoted above that some readers found “helpful” is so far off target that it is ludicrous, yet some, if not all, of the readers who found the review “helpful” won’t have bought the book and read it, thus missing out on what they well may have found, as so many others did, to be a compelling, well-written novel. Such reviewers should be challenged and made to defend their review. More importantly, reviews should be only accepted from verifiable sources, sources that can be flagged if they abuse the review process. These uneducated readers who write anonymous, scathing reviews that bear no relation to the book being reviewed make it difficult, if not impossible, to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to indie-authored books.

What do you think?

August 3, 2012

Worth Noting: PerfectIt Version 2 Released

In prior posts, I have discussed and extolled the virtues of PerfectIt during the final editing stage (see, e.g., The 3 Stages of Copyediting: III — The Proofing Stage). Now version 2 of PerfectIt has been released.

The major enhancements found in PerfectIt 2 include the following:

  • Quickly scan through errors with a new slider
  • Return to past issues with the new Back button
  • Clearer view of the working document with PerfectIt running to one side
  • Compatibility with 64-bit versions of MS Office
  • Quickly assess a document with consistency reports
  • List revisions with reports on changes made
  • Limit checking to sections of your document
  • Significantly faster document checking

The following video demonstrates some of the enhancements found in PerfectIt 2:

PerfectIt 2: What’s New

PerfectIt 2 is available as an upgrade for current owners of PerfectIt. For more information, please visit Intelligent Editing at

www.intelligentediting.com

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