Musings on the Wild World of Writing & Editing

Single and Ready to Mingle

I recently received an Amazon gift card. I was about to go on long flight, so I decided to do some browsing on Amazon to get some books for my Kindle (yes, I have an e-reader, but that’s a discussion for another post). I tend to browse through the Kindle store rather than just the books department, because I get a little sad when I find out that that great book I just discovered doesn’t have a Kindle version yet. So anyway, I’m in the Kindle store, browsing to my heart’s content, when I stumble across a feature I hadn’t encountered before–the Kindle Single. I hadn’t been on Amazon much over the past year, so I was a bit puzzled by this new-fangled Kindle Single. What’s the  Kindle Single, you ask? Basically, a Kindle Single (from here on out KS because I’m too lazy to type out the whole thing over and over) is longer than a magazine article but shorter than a novel or full-length book. Think a few chapters of a book, a novella, or a long essay. The KS tries to provide an outlet for writers who have great ideas that need to be expressed in a medium that allows for a piece in that pesky in-between length; Amazon’s tag line for this new product is “Compelling Ideas Expressed at Their Natural Length.” Amazon’s Russ Grandinetti puts it as, “Ideas and the words to deliver them should be crafted to their natural length, not to an artificial marketing length that justifies a particular price or a certain format.” This way, works can be fully developed, researched, and written in a format that does not squeeze out important content for printing space (magazine article) or require a long, drawn-out expansion of ideas that slowly becomes boring (full-length book). Prices range around a few dollars–significantly less than the average Kindle book around fourteen to fifteen dollars.

A KS should be around 30-90 pages or between 5,000 and 30,000 words. I write personal essays around 30-50 pages in length, and although I don’t check the word count on those bad boys, I think possibly they might fall into the KS parameter. I’ve been working on a series of essays entitled I’m Not From Around Here and Other Essays, which hopefully once I’m done in 18 months, will comprise four or five 30-50 page essays. Before, I thought that if I did want to publish them (I don’t), I would have to publish them altogether as a book, because there was no way really to submit them for publication otherwise. At 40 pages, an essay wouldn’t fit comfortably into The New Yorker but couldn’t stand alone as a book. I could, potentially, submit my work as a KS, either in a serialized format or just one particularly well written essay.

As a writer, I could submit my work to Amazon for publication (submission guidelines can be found at http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000700491), see if Amazon accepts it, and be published online in the KS format. I’d be part of the growing trend of writers who bypass the traditional publisher–through the Big Six, small press distribution, or otherwise–and self-publish (albeit through the giant Amazon). Amazon hopes that many writers will submit their works, and Amazon can offer a unique, creative, and versatile market full of options for its consumers. Amazon is trying its very best to expand its e-reader marketplace, and the KS is the next step in providing variety. And because I would self-publish, I could receive up to 70% in royalties per sale, a significantly higher percentage than what an author might receive from a traditional publisher. But in return for getting a high royalty, authors lose some of the perks of going old school: publicity, typesetting, cover art and design, copyediting, fact checking, permissions, etc. Authors now must self-promote, work with a freelance copyeditor/designer/typesetter, and polish their work without a development editor or a creative team dedicated to producing the work at a high-quality level. It’s a trade-off–more work on the writer’s part for more share in the profits. But, one more factor tips the scale toward self-publishing on Amazon: the writer retains the rights to his or her work.

So, would I try and get published as a KS writer?

In a word, no. I’m all for the free exchange of ideas and an arena dedicated to the dissemination of information and writers having more room to share their work, but I’m wary to publish through Amazon, whose tactics in dealing with the Nook, the iPad, and the Big Six concern me. I’ll discuss Amazon as a player in the publishing market in another post. Plus, I need more info. Although the Kindle Single became available well over a year ago and big names such as Dean Koontz and Stephen King are appearing on the KS page, I’m waiting to see how the market develops. And maybe part of the issue is my fear of self-publishing. I mentioned in my first post that fear of finding a mistake or error in your work after it’s been put on the market and the daunting tasks of typesetting, designing, fact checking, indexing seem overwhelming. Writing the damn thing was hard enough in the first place.

But as a reader, I’m beyond thrilled. These KS works are a bargain. I bought “Up the Down Volcano” by Sloane Crosley for $1.99, and the average price for a KS is around two dollars. All I can think is, “Hooray!” to the money I might save. In the past, I’ve had to buy an entire book of essays or magazine articles that couldn’t stand alone on the book shelf. I only wanted to read one of the essays/articles within the book but had no other choice but to buy the whole thing (think back to before iTunes when you had to buy the whole album rather than the one track you really wanted). Now, I don’t have to get bogged down reading other pieces within a compilation/anthology; I feel I have to read them because after all, I did buy them. This mentality is how I never finished The New Kings of Nonfiction compiled by Ira Glass. Even though I had read the piece I bought the book for, I was determined to read each essay in order, and I’d be damned if I didn’t. I got stuck in a piece by David Foster Wallace. For starters, I despise DFW’s writing. I can’t stand it. Maybe it’s because he’s as pretentious as I am and that irks me, but more likely it’s that I have a philosophy about foonotes: if a footnote is longer than four or five sentences, it deserves its own paragraph within the actual text. If you need that much space to extrapolate, add it in to the actual text and spare us the half-page of tiny text. Additionally, the Kindle is great except for how it handles footnotes–constantly clicking back and forth between DFW’s page-length footnotes and the actual piece got old, fast. So, I never finished the book. I know; I know; I should finish it anyway and just skip over DFW. It’s on my to-do list. Now, maybe a piece that might have sat next to a DFW essay in a book before might stand alone on the KS platform.

As a writer, I’m not ready to take the plunge into the world of the KS, but as a reader, I’m excited to see what other works become available and if some of my other favorite writers will make an appearance on the KS page. The possibilities are enticing.

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