An American Editor

July 7, 2014

Worth Noting: A Great Book Deal at Smashwords

Do you like to give indie authors a chance? I do and I’m happy to say I have found and read a great many excellent books by indie authors, some of which I have reviewed here on An American Editor (see, e.g., “Worth Noting: Daisy’s War by Shayne Parkinson,” “On Books: Eden by Keary Taylor,” “The Book of Adam: Stimulating Thought Via a Novel,” “On Books: Ice Blue,” and my favorite indie author, Vicki Tyley, “On Books: Murder Down Under“; other reviews of indie books can be found by searching An American Editor).

I usually wait until the summer and winter sales at Smashwords to buy indie books because of the significant discount that many authors give. Sometimes it is a coupon to get the first book in a series free, sometimes it is a coupon for 25%, 50%, or 75% off the usual retail price. Regardless, I usually find a few books to add to my to-be-read pile. In addition to the discount, all of the books let you read a significant portion for free, either by downloading the sample or online. You don’t have to buy and hope.

The Smashwords July Summer/Winter Sale has begun and it runs through July 31. Use the filters or just start browsing all of the on-sale books. (NOTE: Books purchased at Smashwords can be downloaded in all popular formats and are DRM free.)

Additional books are generally added throughout the month so it is a good idea to make a couple of trips to the Smashwords sale to see what new books have been added (they appear at the beginning of the lists).

I suggest bookmarking Smashwords and visiting it regularly throughout the year. It is an excellent place to find indie authors. Also, titles that appear at Smashwords also often appear at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online ebook sellers.

If you buy some books at Smashwords, please be sure to let us know what they are. Other An American Editor readers may well be interested in the books.

Smashwords July Summer/Winter Sale 2014

Richard Adin, An American Editor

(Neither Richard Adin nor An American Editor receives any compensation of any type for promoting Smashwords or the July sale. I promote it because I think it is of great value to readers and to indie authors.)

January 3, 2012

Worth Noting: A Poisoned Pen Press Deal

Did you get a new ereader device for the holidays? Are you looking for some mysteries to try? Perhaps a new series of mysteries or some new authors?

Poisoned Pen Press, a publisher of mysteries, is offering a great deal on 10 ebooks that are the first in their series (one is marked as the second in its series, but these are supposed to be the first) — buy 1 or buy all 10 at 99¢ each.

What you receive after buying is a zip file (separate for each book bought) that contains both an ePub and a Mobi file. The ePub is usable on all major devices except the Kindle; the Mobi is for the Kindle.

I haven’t read any of the books yet, but I did buy all 10 yesterday. It is hard to go wrong at 99¢ a book, and I like a good mystery, so I’m willing to give these books and authors a try. If only a couple of the ebooks turn out to be very good or better, I consider this a win.

But a word of warning, and something that I don’t like at Poisoned Pen Press: After you make your purchase, they give you a download link for each book you bought. The link is good for 24 hours; I think it should be good for longer — a lot longer. In addition, you have to download each zip file separately; why not provide a way to download all of them at once?

The other thing I do not like is how the files are named. The zip files are named with a combination of letters and numbers that are nonsensical to the purchaser. The files within the zip files are named similarly. Consequently, once you download the files to your computer, you have no way to identify the book without opening the file in your reader device or software. File naming may become my next crusade :). Why not name the files by author and title?

Yet for the $9.90 I spent on 10 ebooks, I was willing to suffer a little inconvenience. I downloaded the files immediately and then renamed the files.

I don’t know how long this deal will last, so you may want to check it out quickly.

Also, if you haven’t already tried Vicki Tyley’s (see , e.g., Worth Noting: A New Vicki Tyley Mystery) or L.J. Sellers’ (see, e.g., Worth Noting: The Arranger by L.J. Sellers) novels, two authors whose mysteries and suspense novels I highly recommend, you might want to check them out.

August 15, 2011

Worth Noting: A New Vicki Tyley Mystery

As you know, I enjoy reading the mysteries written by Australian author Vicki Tyley. If you recall, I called her the Australian P.D. James. I last reviewed her books a few months ago in On Books: Murder Down Under. Vicki Tyley has written and published a new book, Fatal Liaison, which is now available at Smashwords in formats for all ereaders. To me, Fatal Liaison cements Tyley’s reputation as an oustanding author of mysteries.

Fatal Liaison is described as:

The lives of two strangers, Greg Jenkins and Megan Brighton, become inextricably entangled when they each sign up for a dinner dating agency. Greg’s reason for joining has nothing to do with looking for love. His recently divorced sister Sam has disappeared and Greg is convinced that Dinner for Twelve, or at least one of its clients, may be responsible. Neither is Megan looking for love. Although single, she only joined at her best friend Brenda De Luca’s insistence. When a client of the dating agency is murdered, suspicion falls on several of the members. Then Megan’s friend Brenda disappears without trace, and Megan and Greg join forces. Will they find Sam and Brenda, or are they about to step into the same inescapable snare?

Bonus: Discount Coupon

In celebration of the release of another book, Tyley is offering ebookers a discount coupon (code: QN93F) for use at Smashwords. The regular price of Fatal Liaison is $3.99 but with the coupon, the price is reduced to 99¢, saving readers $3.00. This is a limited time offer.

Reviews

I read the book last week in one day — I couldn’t put it down. This is an excellent mystery — one of the best I have read — and I have to confess, this time I didn’t identify the right character as the murderer. This book’s twist ending is outstanding. It is another 5-star read by Vicki Tyley.

Grace Krispy of the Mother Lode blog, which reviews books and photography, has reviewed Fatal Liaison and rated it 5 stars. The review is comprehensive and well worth reading. Grace’s reviews are always worth reading, so I also recommend bookmarking her blog.

July 13, 2011

On Books: Detective Jackson Grows and Grows

One pleasure I get as an editor is the ability to work on subsequent editions of an author’s book and see the author grow book by book. By “grow,” I mean the author’s writing style — communication with the reader — improves. This pleasure is rather limited in my editorial business because of the types of books I edit.

However, that same pleasure occasionally occurs in the fiction I read. Some authors improve subtly, some more dramatically, some maintain an even keel at a high level. Good examples of the latter are Vicki Tyley and Shayne Parkinson; in both cases, the writing has kept an even keel. In Tyley’s case, it is harder to discern changes because her books are not a series that revolves around a continuing group of characters; each book is a fully standalone novel — different characters, different plot twists and turns, different venues. (For a review of Tyley’s books, see On Books: Murder Down Under; for a review of Parkinson’s books, see On Books: The Promises to Keep Quartet.)

And now I can add L.J. Sellers to this “elite” group of indie authors who deliver a 5-star experience from the get-go, except that, in her books, one can see the improvement in writing style as one reads her Detective Jackson Series in order. The books in the series are, in order:

  • The Sex Club
  • Secrets to Die For
  • Thrilled to Death
  • Passions of the Dead
  • Dying for Justice

The first book introduces us to the Eugene, Oregon, violent crime detective squad, with Wade Jackson as the lead character. Jackson is the choice for lead detective when the case seems particularly difficult to solve. He has the solution knack! Jackson, along with the other members of the squad, are the vehicles through which we can watch Sellers’ writing improve with each book. As Jackson grows, so grows Sellers’ communication with her readers.

Sellers humanizes her characters by giving them the attributes of everyday, ordinary people. No superheros, no supercops, no powers of deduction and reasoning that evade otherwise mere mortals and separate mortal from demigod. Jackson, for example, is in the process of divorcing an alcoholic wife and suffering from an illness that he thinks is just too much acid from too many cups of coffee, while trying to protect his teenage daughter from her mother’s alcohol addiction as well as from the usual travails of being a teenager. Lara Evans is the only female on the squad and she is having trouble finding the right soul mate, but has her eye on Jackson. Sophie Speranza is a reporter whose personal life swings between ups and downs but who is tenacious in striving not only for the story but to help Jackson. Lammers is the head honcho, who has promotion ambitions and the presence of a bull, but yet moments of kindness and understanding, as well as insight that comes from experience in a leadership role. And so it goes with each of the core crew of the series.

Sellers tries to balance reader involvement and reader standoffishness, something I discussed in Characterization: How Important is Reader Emotional Involvement? and On Books: Plot-Driven, Character-Driven, Hybrid? (Sellers’ books fit the hybrid category.) Her success in finding that balance improves with each book in the series.

Let’s get something out of the way now: Even though each book is an improvement over the previous book in terms of writing and drawing the reader into the community, each book in the Detective Jackson Series is a 5-star book. (For more on my rating system, see On Books: Indie eBooks Worth Reading (I).) Also worth noting is that the novels remind me of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct Series. If you like Ed McBain, you will like these books. Although you can read the books in any order, they really do build one on the other and so I suggest reading them in order.

The biggest complaint I have about L.J. Sellers’ Detective Jackson Series is that the author has not made the books available on Smashwords, only at the link provided and at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Finding good indie author books to read is difficult enough; finding ones that are 5-star reads is wearying. But when we find them, we need to support those authors by buying their books because 5-star indie authors are a rare treasure in the ebook age of self-publishing. Sellers’ Detective Jackson Series joins that exalted crowd — the mysteries are different, the plot twists are unusual, the characters are believable, the community semifictional in the sense that her Eugene, Oregon, could as easily be my or your hometown. Sellers has made it easy for the reader to become another partner in the violent-felony squad that Jackson leads. Jackson’s humanness is refreshing and his solving of a crime doesn’t rest on some obscure Holmesian fact — rather, how he solves the cases seems to be how real police solve real cases.

I think that Sellers intends to rise above the ordinary mystery by making her characters our next-door neighbors. Perhaps a bit more conservative than some of us, but not radical in any way; simply a part of our neighborhood. In this endeavor, she succeeds, increasingly so with each book in the series. The Detective Jackson Series joins my hall of fame for 2011; I eagerly await the next book in the series. Now, if she would only make her books more easily accessible to all readers. The lack of easy universal availability is an unnecessary drag on her books.

May 2, 2011

The Editor: A Writer’s Fairy Godmother or Ogre?

Today’s guest article is by Australian author Vicki Tyley. Regular readers of An American Editor will recall my review of her mysteries in On Books: Murder Down Under. She has 3 books available and you can buy them at a significant discount until May 15, 2011 using the codes found in Worth Noting: A Gift from Down Under or in Worth Noting: A Gift From Down Under Redux.

In previous articles (too many to list here, but you can see Finding a Professional Editor: The Needle in the Haystack Problem and the articles cited therein), the need for professional editing has been discussed, but primarily from an editor’s perspective. Vicki Tyley provides us with the author’s perspective.

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The Editor: A Writer’s Fairy Godmother or Ogre?

The digital age opened the floodgates to all those writers who’d been trying for years to break through that almost impenetrable publishing wall.

No more “does not suit our current publishing programme.”

No more “we’re too overcommitted, and as a result, can’t take on any new projects.”

No more “sorry, not for us.”

Screech! Wait. What about quality control? Where once upon a time it was the role of the publishing house to hone and polish a manuscript until it gleamed, in the case of an Indie publication it now falls to the author to produce that high quality, marketable product.

Readers love the opportunity to sample fresh and new authors, books that cross genres, books from around the world. However, they (and I am one of them) expect those works to be up to the standard of mainstream books. Unfortunately, the complaint I hear most about self-published works is that many fall a long way short in the editing department.

In the Amazon Kindle store alone there are 750,000+ titles. That’s a lot of choice for a reader. So why then, I asked myself, would a writer not give his/her book a fighting chance and have it edited?

Initially, I thought that maybe it was the expense. For a writer struggling to make ends meet, the investment of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars can make the idea of employing an experienced editor out of reach. I soon discovered that whilst this does hold for some, it isn’t the major deterrent.

First, do writers even need editors? How essential are they in the publishing process? To answer that, we need to understand the editorial role and the different levels of editing services available.

According to the Australian Institute of Professional Editors, the tasks that an editor performs can be grouped broadly into three levels: substantive editing, copyediting and proofreading. A comprehensive edit involves all three levels of edit. [For the An American Editor perspective, see Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor.]

Substantive editing (sometimes called structural or content editing) aims to ensure that the structure, content, language, style and presentation of the document are suitable for its intended purpose and readership.

Copyediting aims to achieve accuracy, clarity and consistency in a document. It does not involve significant rewriting, providing a single authorial voice, or tailoring text to a specific audience—these belong to a substantive edit.

Proofreading (usually called this, but, more accurately, known as verification editing) involves checking that the document is ready to be published. It includes making sure that all elements of the document are included and in the proper order, all amendments have been inserted, the house or other set style has been followed, and all spelling or punctuation errors have been deleted.

Shelley Holloway of Holloway House sums it up simply: “You need another pair of eyes on your work to see what you don’t.” [For the An American Editor perspective, see The WYSIWYG Conundrum: The Solid Cloud.]

Or as freelance editor and author SM Jobar puts it: “Most of us think we’ve written the best/most entertaining book ever, and then have the scales fall from our eyes when the failings are pointed out. It’s far better to publish a work you are sure you can be proud of than something that falls short of its potential.”

And most would agree with them. So why would any writer serious about his/her career skip this vital step? Are editors that scary — ogres to be feared? Well, that depends on the editor. Every industry has its good and bad operators; editorial services are no exception. I’ve heard mention of editors who have pressured writers to change his/her name, and of others who’ve tried to sway an author’s career in a completely different direction.

But by and large, the biggest issue is that of an editor changing an author’s “voice.” A good editor doesn’t do that. I learned a very expensive lesson about six years ago when I commissioned an editorial agency (I was never given the name of the editor, although I did later discover this through a slipup in removing document properties) based on an advertisement and testimonial in a writing magazine. No sample edit. No references. No anything. More fool me.

You can imagine my shock when I received the manuscript back to discover that the assigned editor had decided my book should be a dark thriller and not the mystery I’d written. I have no doubt that this particular editor was skilled in her job, but we weren’t a good match. She wanted to make the book into something it wasn’t.

Fortunately, I’d had a wonderful editor previously (sadly, she passed away), so I knew Ms/Mr Right existed. After a couple of days of licking my wounds, I decided that if I wanted to succeed, I had to find another editor. This time, though, I asked for a sample edit and references. I also decided not to mention the experience with the previous editor.

This time when the manuscript came back, I decided my new editor was a fairy godmother in disguise. The changes she’d made (using “track changes”) improved the book no end and added a shine I couldn’t have achieved on my own, yet it was still my voice. Thin Blood is my bestselling novel.

As William Campbell, author of the Dead Forever trilogy, points out, there are also two other kinds of editors to steer clear of:

1.Editor in disguise who really wants to ghost write.

The job of an editor is not to write your work. Copy editors and proofreaders will correct typos and change words to correct usage, but you shouldn’t see entire sentences rewritten. Even a developmental editor won’t. They might make large-scale suggestions to flesh-out a scene or character, or drastic cuts when you’re being redundant, but not write it for you word-by-word. That’s not an editor; that’s a ghostwriter. If that’s what you want, fine. Just don’t confuse one for the other. Me, and I imagine plenty of others, are NOT looking for ghostwriters. Any editor needs to be clear about their intentions for your work.

It’s these kind of disguised editors who strip away the author’s voice. If that’s the goal, fine. Just be aware.

2. English teachers who can’t stop teaching English.

While they may be helpful in correcting grammar, they can also ruin a novel. Business reports, or a college thesis, are not novels. Novels are by nature more colloquial and good editors understand that and take it into consideration. This is not to say grammar can be thrown out the window, or these editors will ignore it. A good editor knows the boundaries of what will “feel wrong” to the reader, in either extreme — bad grammar the same as grammar “too good.” Common people’s dialog does not sound like a college professor. Just hang out in any diner, listen a while, and you’ll see what I mean.

I also think some writers feel intimidated by editors. Not surprising as a skilled editor has a lot more experience than the first-time novelist. But just remember that if the author (versus a publisher) is paying for the editing services, the author is the one who has the final say. Editor Shelley Holloway of Holloway House agrees:

I am very clear that the author is the boss, and I am respectful that it’s his/her name on the cover — not mine. The control lies in the “accept/reject” buttons! If I make a word change, I explain why. If the author doesn’t like it, he/she can click the “X,” and it’s gone forever. I take full advantage of the “Insert Comment” tool! If there are paragraphs that are confusing; scene changes or voice changes that seem to come out of nowhere; dialogue that doesn’t sound like the character would say it; too many pronouns in a sentence or paragraph to know who’s who; excessive use of certain terms or phrases…and more — I point these things out. I often offer suggestions. Again, the author can accept or reject. I strongly believe it’s these sorts of things that an editor should provide in addition to grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.

Lynn O’Dell, Red Adept Editing Services, bills herself as an Indie Editor:

This means that while I make suggestions to ensure that books follow the common rules of writing fiction and presenting it to the public in good formats, i.e. using correct viewpoints, I do not try to force authors to change their actual plot, subject matter, or storyline. I tell my clients that I am going to make their story the best it can be.

In other words, I talk to the author (yes, by phone) and find out what their goals are with plot, storyline, and characters and use that information to edit or give suggestions.

See: they’re not all that scary. A good editor only wants what’s best for you. Not all editors are created equal. The author/editor partnership is like any other partnership — some work and some don’t. Each just needs to find the right fit. But don’t leave it until the last minute to start looking. Many editors — especially good ones — are booked months in advance.

I’ll leave the last word to freelance editor and author Rhonda Stapleton: “Don’t be afraid to ask around and get quotes. And ask for samples or references too. But please, take your work seriously. Even if you don’t hire an editor, get a trusted critique partner. They can find a lot of that stuff you miss.”

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I know that fellow editors will agree with Vicki Tyley, but what about her fellow authors — do you agree? Is it cost that is the determining factor as to whether or not you will hire an editor?

One thing that is not addressed in the above article is the difference between having a professional editor work with you or the next-door neighbor who is an editorial dabbler. I know I wouldn’t presume to be capable of writing a novel at the high quality level of an author of Vicki Tyley’s caliber, but I do know authors who assume that their self-editing skills or the editing skills of friends and neighbors are on par with that of a professional editor. Speaking generally (there will always be an exception who demonstrates contrariwise), do those of you who are authors believe there is a difference between editors that breaks down into the professional and amateur categories? Do you view an editor as an ogre or a fairy godmother? Tell us what you think.

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 5, 2011

Worth Noting: A Gift from Down Under

Last week I wrote a review of Vicki Tyley’s murder mysteries, On Books: Murder Down Under. If the review sparked an interest in her Down Under murder mysteries, you can, until May 15, buy her books for 99¢ each — a savings of $3 on each book — at Smashwords using the following coupon codes (courtesy of Vicki Tyley):

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

Smashwords lets you download the ebook in your choice of format, one of which will be suitable for reading on your preferred device — whether it is your computer, your cell phone, or your ereader.

It is hard to go wrong, even if you only occasionally read a murder mystery. Buying all 3 of the books using the coupon  codes saves you $9 — for $2.97, you can have 3 excellent murder mysteries.

If you do buy any or all of her books and enjoy it (them), pass the word. Remember that indie authors rely on readers telling other readers about good ebooks. And be sure to share the coupon codes.

April 4, 2011

Characterization: How Important is Reader Emotional Involvement?

In past book reviews of fiction (my On Books series), I have noted whether the author’s characterizations, particularly of the lead character, have emotionally involved me as a reader. Did it really matter to me what happened to a character? Was I moved to react to a character’s fortune or misfortune?

Those who read my most recent review (On Books: Murder Down Under), will recall that I distinguished the 5-star ratings I gave to the murder mysteries written by Vicki Tyley from the historical fiction novels written by Shayne Parkinson by this very criterion. The result was that although both authors deserved a 5-star rating, Parkinson actually deserved a higher 5-star rating (what I called “plus a smidgen more”) because of how Parkinson got me (and my wife and friends of ours who read the books on our recommendation) emotionally involved.

Consequently, the questions are: How important is reader involvement, and if important, how do you rate for it or for the lack of it?

At a personal level, I think how well an author creates a link between the reader and the author’s characters is an indication of the craftsmanship of the author. An indifferent character leads to an indifferent book. It may still be a good read, but it won’t be a memorable read. If you are in my age bracket (old and getting older by the minute), you are likely to have read thousands of novels in your lifetime, and it is novels on which we are focused. Of those thousands, how many characters can you remember? How many can you identify by name, description, and traits?

Storylines and plots are much easier to remember, largely, I think, because there seems to be a finite number of storylines and plots. Authors simply recycle them using different environments. For example, how many novels, when stripped to their core, are really remakes of Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey? How many are variations on the theme of My Fair Lady? How many romance novels don’t have bodice ripping, girl meets boy and heart thumps, boy meets girl and becomes an Arthurian knight, and similar plots? How many murder mysteries don’t have at least one dead body and a nonpolice officer as the hero or a police officer as a hero but with a civilian sidekick? Familiarity with the broad scenario makes remembering a book on a broad basis relatively easy compared to remembering a character.

Think about characterization. How many of us remember Scout and Atticus Finch, but not the specifics of the plot of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird? How many of us remember the characters in Leon Uris’s Exodus or who the lawyer-heroes were in John Grisham’s The Firm?

To me, feeling empathy/sympathy for the lead characters is important – because it keeps my interest in future books and makes me remember the author. I see that as the single characteristic that distinguishes between an average writer and an exceptional writer. It is not that the average/mediocre book cannot be a great read; it is that the average/mediocre book is an enjoy-today-then-throwaway-and-forget book, whereas books that involve my emotions compel me to read every book written by the author, especially those that include the characters that have moved me. In contrast, when an author’s characters do not move me, I may well buy and read everything by the author that is currently available because they are good read-once-and-toss buys, but am likely to forget about the author when I have to wait a year or two for the author’s next book to come out.

Two good examples of why I think creation of a link between the reader and the author’s characters is important — especially for the author — are traditionally published David Weber’s science fiction books, which are built around the character Honor Harrington and her universe of family and friends, and indie author Richard S. Tuttle’s fantasy books.

My discovery of the first Harrington book (On Basilisk Station, free at the Baen Library) hooked me. Honor Harrington became a character I cared about. I not only have bought and read every book in the series (12 so far that directly involve Harrington and more than 6 others that are from her universe) and preordered those to come, but Weber got me to spend money on buying books that I have never bought before because I do not like the genre: short story anthologies. I studiously avoid short stories, whether as part of an anthology or standalone, except those that relate to the Harrington universe and Shayne Parkinson’s Promises to Keep world (she has one free short story available, All I Want). In addition, because of the Harrington books, I also bought and became hooked on Weber’s newer Safehold series (which began with Off Armageddon Reef).

Perhaps more important for authors in today’s indie age, is my experience with the fantasy books of Richard Tuttle. He has authored 27 ebooks and I have purchased and read every one because his characters involved me. (His Young Lord of Khadora, Book 1 of Forgotten Legacy is a free ebook.) I admit that the characterizations did not remain equally compelling over 27 books, but they remained compelling enough to induce me to look for and buy every fantasy ebook Tuttle has written. Isn’t this what every author wants — readers who make a special effort to look for and buy their books?

Importantly, unlike the average/mediocre books that are good reads but not compelling enough to remember, for those authors who entwine me with their characters, every couple of months I search to see if there is another book scheduled for publication that I can preorder. If I can’t preorder it, I make a note in my calendar to remind me to check again for preorder availability. Shayne Parkinson’s Promises to Keep series is a good example. Parkinson was supposed to have another book available in her Promises to Keep series but it is still being worked on. Yet I keep looking for it, a good year after I finished the quartet and the short story. Similarly, it took 1.5 years before I found new ebooks by Richard Tuttle, but I kept looking, and I have calendared to preorder forthcoming Weber books. 

Even more importantly to the authors, these are the books that I keep recommending to other readers. Which novels that you have read do you keep recommending months, if not years, after you have read them? Think about why.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that crafting characters that make readers react to them, to events that occur in their fictional lives, and to the world around them is profoundly important to both readers and authors. I am also increasingly convinced that the ability to craft such characters and worlds is what distinguishes the memorable author from the average/mediocre author. And, finally, with the single exception of editorial quality (i.e., few grammar and spelling errors to distract the reader), whether the author crafted characters and worlds that involve the reader at the emotional level is the most important criterion a reader can apply when evaluating and rating a novel.

What do you think?

March 30, 2011

On Books: Murder Down Under

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 10, 2010

The Lure of eBooks: Gotcha!

eBooks are like a good spy: seen but not truly noticed until the last minute when it is too late — at least that was the case for me.

As each day passes, I find that I am more inclined to read an ebook and less inclined to read a pbook. This was finally hammered home to me with the release of two new fantasy novels, Terry Brooks’ Bearers of the Black Staff and Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings.

I wanted both of these books for my library, so I bought them in hardcover when they were released (just in the past few weeks). I finished an excellent mystery in ebook form (Vicki Tyley’s Thin Blood, a great buy at $2.99 and an excellent read) and decided to next pickup the Brooks book. My habit is to be reading 1 or 2 nonfiction books and 1 fiction book (usually an ebook) concurrently. So I put down my Sony Reader and picked up the Brooks hardcover and got as far as the copyright page, when I realized that I didn’t want to read the book in pbook form; I wanted to read it as an ebook. I also realized that I felt the same about the Sanderson book. So I bought both books in ebook form and put the hardcovers on my library shelves. For once, the publishers got me twice.

Combine this with my struggling to get through any nonfiction book in recent weeks because I really want to pick up my Sony Reader rather than the hardcover, and a dawning occurred — I finally realized that given a choice between an ebook and a pbook, I really do prefer to read an ebook on my Sony Reader.

The preference for ebooks stealthily snuck up on me. Unfortunately, I also recognize that my preferred books to read are nonfiction and ebooks aren’t quite there yet if the nonfiction book is loaded with illustrations and notes (perhaps the new readers will be better; I plan to try a nonfiction book on the Sony 950 when I get it). So I’m in a quandary: on what do I compromise? Do I forego the footnotes (99.9% of which are useless anyway and are present only to impress readers with the extent of the author’s “research”) and illustrations (many of which help explain the text) and read nonfiction in ebook form, or do I forego the pleasure of reading on my Sony Reader and continue to read nonfiction in pbook form? I suspect that the latter is what will happen for the most part, although I will start buying nonfiction ebooks when possible.

Of greater concern is whether I am seeing a new phase in my buying habits, a phase where I buy the hardcover for my library and the ebook to actually read — format double-dipping. Double-dipping could become a mighty expensive proposition, and as much as I love books, double-dipping makes no sense, especially as I do not truly “own” the ebook versions of the books that I would double-dip.

Here is where willpower comes into play. I am resolute (at least for the moment) that the Brooks/Sanderson double-dip will not be repeated. How resolute I am is yet to be tested, especially if the new device meets my hopes as regards the reading experience. (Wouldn’t it be nice if publishers said buy the hardcover and we’ll give you the ebook for a token price?)

The problem is ebooks and the very positive reading experience, at least on my Sony Reader (I don’t feel this same lure when reading books on my desktop or laptop; then I can’t wait to go to the pbook). eBooks are seductive. First, they are convenient — I love the ease of carrying my Sony Reader everywhere, such as while my wife shops. Second, 95% of the ebooks I buy are significantly less expensive than a pbook, in fact they are usually less than $3 and rarely more than $5. Additionally, ebooks can be better reads than many pbooks, as Vicki Tyley’s Thin Blood, mentioned earlier, and Shayne Parkinson’s Promises to Keep quartet, which I reviewed here and here, deftly prove. Each of these books cost less than $3 yet are exceedingly well-written and captivating.

But as seductive as they are, ebooks, for me, lack the permanence of hardcovers and the ability to pass down to children and grandchildren (which means that I value books, just as publishers want me to do; so why do publishers make it so hard to value ebooks? and, yes, I know I can strip DRM but I prefer not to), just as they lack the price of hardcovers (the great tradeoff). I have yet to surmount the peak where I am willing to forego adding hardcovers to my permanent library and only buy ebooks; I find that I look forward to giving my grandchildren my library. I expect the day is coming, however, when I buy only ebooks, but I do not see it in the immediate future and thus my need for great willpower. At least that willpower only needs to be exercised with fiction (for the moment) and I do not buy many hardcover fiction books. (I much prefer my fiction to be in ebook form so I don’t feel bad about starting a novel and deciding that it was a waste of money and time; ebook fiction is easy to delete and doesn’t take up precious space. I also generally prefer to buy from the independent authors I find at places like Smashwords, which is where I found Tyley and Parkinson.)

eBooks have captured me. Everything is right about fiction ebook reading, assuming, of course, that the book itself isn’t one of those that falls into the Give Me a Brake! or Truman & MacArthur & Why a Good Editor is Important category, which, sadly, an increasing number of pbooks are doing these days. Additionally, what is right about ebooks and ebook reading seems to get “righter” with each passing year, especially as devices get better and authors and publishers more careful and concerned.

I guess this needs to be viewed as a warning to all those yet to be initiated into the addictive pleasure world of ebooks. Once you stick your toe into the ebook waters, you will be captured because the reading experience is excellent and keeps getting better as publishers take ebooks more seriously. This is one of those experiences that compel you to go forward, that does not permit backward movement. Just remember to keep control of your pocketbook so you don’t end up like me: buying the same book twice; instead buy more ebooks, which is something else I do because I find I read significantly more books than ever before since I was captured by ebooks.

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