Musings on the Wild World of Writing & Editing

Posts tagged ‘kindle’

The E-Reader Wars

Okay, fine, that title is a little incendiary. But the wars behind e-readers are varied: libraries getting mad at publishers because publishers limit the number of e-rentals before the libraries have to pay again; price collusion on e-books leading the DoJ to sue five of the Big Six; self-published e-books taking on the traditional publishing industry. Yes, the battles are varied and many, but I want to go back to a topic I discussed a little while back: a new meaning of “ownership.” I read another article on another e-reader war about digital rights management (DRM). The Big Six publishers require that their e-books be sold with DRM protection so that readers cannot make copies of books, and because of DRM requirements, a book you buy for Kindle can only be read on other Kindle devices or apps (or Nook with Nooks and Nook apps, etc.) Many consumers hate DRM because if they decide to switch e-readers, there is no way for them to convert the file to read on another device. However, the issue goes further; non-DRM books can’t be read on Kindles (some can, but relatively few). So, if you have a Kindle, you’re pretty much stuck getting your e-content from Amazon. An “easy” way to circumvent this problem is to get a tablet with multiple e-reader apps, but a Kindle e-book has to stay in the Kindle app, and an iBook has to stay in the iBook library. 

Independent booksellers want to sell e-books without DRM so that no matter the customer’s e-reader/tablet, that customer will be able to buy whatever book he or she likes. Some imprints of major publishers are ceding to this trend and allowing non-DRM content to be sold. Hopefully other publishers will come around and let independent bookstores fight Amazon’s growing market share of e-readers and e-books. 

As a writer, I’m pretty torn about copyright law and piracy. On the one hand, I respect intellectual property and do not want my work stolen without my permission, but I feel that in some ways copyright law is outdated, overly strict, and stifling. When a music label sues a mom for using a song on a YouTube video, that label comes across as out of touch and stingy. I know; I know; the music industry is struggling right now, but the woman didn’t intend to break the law, just add a cute soundtrack to her video. And don’t get me wrong–I’m super against piracy. Unless a friend gave me the song/CD, I’ve bought every song on my iPod and every book on my Kindle. 

I’m just not sure that ruthlessly cracking down on every possibility of copyright infringement is really in the creator’s or the consumer’s best interest. I’m glad that the resources in the creative commons are growing, but we are a long way from recognizing that copyright laws might be getting in their own way. I’m going to go into more on this in my next post, so stay tuned. 

A new meaning of “ownership”

I’m going to start off topic today and mention a post I made a few weeks back about the importance of public libraries, and I recently read a Publisher’s Weekly article that supports my claim with statistics: I’m not posting this to say, “Hah! Look! I was right!” Really my intention is to show with numbers that libraries continue to be a valuable resource and an important asset to communities. There are several books I’d like to read soon, and I don’t have the funds to buy them, so I’m looking forward to checking them out from my local public library. Hooray for libraries!

Moving on to the main topic of this post, which will be short and sweet today while I chill during my lunch break before the rest of my afternoon (read: 1.5 hour long class and a goodness-knows-how-long group project meeting followed by going home and writing 6+ pages for my thesis and then eking out some French homework before working out). I know many of my posts are pretty long, so I’ll spare you the long-winded idea explications.

As someone who uses an e-reader and has purchased a fair amount of e-books for my Kindle, I became pretty concerned when I read this article: Most stores that offer online content for your e-reader have clear rights of ownership; you’re basically a renter of what you buy online and is subsequently stored digitally on the seller’s server. This move is (pardon my inappropriate language for a minute) a cover-your-ass tactic on the company’s part to avoid a lawsuit should they have a systems failure/crash and your e-content disappears. Without their disclaimers in their terms of use, you could technically sue them for loss of property if your content is lost or unavailable from a systems failure/error.

The author, Eileen Brown, brings up an excellent point of the end of the article: with content becoming increasingly digital, we need to re-evaluate our notions of ownership. When we buy an e-book, we don’t own the book in the same sense that we own a print book–Amazon or B&N or Apple or whoever has the absolute right to revoke your access to that content. You’re pretty much paying a one-time fee to lease or borrow the content, but it’s not yours. Fortunately, none of the books I’ve bought are particularly sentimental or important to me–I make sure to have the books that matter most to me in print where they’re pretty much protected, except from theft or fire, though I have no idea who would want to steal my measly book collection or set fire to my apartment.

Anything we buy online and that exists online isn’t really “ours.” We’re renting it, and like something rented, the right to rent can be revoked at any time, often without any reason. I’m not sure how long it’ll take me to get comfortable with being at the whim of large companies with stuff that I think is “mine.” “Ownership” is undergoing a radical definition change. Maybe Merriam-Webster’s will have to catch up and add an entry for online ownership. Hopefully the law will catch up with these changes to protect consumers, though I doubt with the current political gridlock that that will happen anytime soon. For now, I’m just going to enjoy what I’ve got and not worry about it; I already have a long list of things to worry about, some of which keep me up at night. There’s no room in my overcrowded head to heap this issue on the towering pile.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Thought for the day: “Moderation in everything, in itself, is a kind of extreme.”

The Reading Renaissance?

Before I get down to business, I have some news to share. I recently got published in the Sagebrush Review, Volume 7. I’m pretty excited that I’m in a book that’s on Amazon ( and that has an ISBN number. If you the extra funds and are so inclined, it’s definitely worth spending the fifteen dollars.

Now that I have unabashedly and shamelessly promoted myself, I can get on with it. I recently read an article from the Guardian about how publishing really is still going strong ( Even though the publishing world is having some major setbacks (DoJ lawsuit, anyone?), people are still buying books. In fact, “Kindle readers buy four times the number of books they did prior to owning a Kindle.” Although we might hate Amazon for its relentless and crushing rise to the top, at least we have evidence that people are continuing to buy and read books, albeit from the evil empire. Self-publishers (apparently they’re now called indie authors, which I think is a more appealing if more hipster-ish title) are still churning out books like there’s no tomorrow, some of which are even better selling than traditionally published works. Penguin just invested $100m on a company that sells DIY services to aspiring self-publishers.

I prefer to think that publishing isn’t a dying industry, just one that’s undergoing some serious growing pains and enduring massive upheaval as the industry enters the electronic age. I was at a dinner with a family friend of my boyfriend, and he asked me what I was planning to do after my graduation. I told him I hoped to enter the publishing industry and eventually become an acquisitions editor. His first question: “Isn’t that a dying industry?” Like I said, I don’t think publishing is on a slow and inevitable decline. I told him, as patiently as I could, that publishing is trying to adjust to a new era of e-readers and tablets, indie authors, and growing competition from online booksellers. Yes, publishers are reporting losses (partially because of legal fees from the DoJ lawsuit, an ill-informed lawsuit from a government that doesn’t understand the ins and outs of a complicated industry), and university presses are shutting down. But I think it’s partially a matter of time while publishers re-calibrate their methods to suit a new era where books are interactive and recommendations and reviews appear anywhere from an established magazine to a blog (such as this one). New material is pouring out as both publishers and indie authors continue to put their work on the market. On a side note, I find this inundation of material a tad bit overwhelming. I walk into a library or bookstore and can’t figure out where to begin or what to read. But that’s another post for another day–where we should turn to find new titles.

But I did take issue with one of this article’s points–that of the massive success of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and how that’s evidence of the publishing industry’s continued power and prowess. Phillip Jones writes, “Every half-decade the book business comes up with a title that crystallises what it means to put an author in touch with a reader: a relationship that can be both bountiful and long-lasting.” Despite the trilogy’s success, I don’t think it deserves a special place in publishing history. For one thing, its writing is almost as bad as the Twilight Saga, if not worse (to check out what I mean by bad writing, look at Also, it appeals to a fairly narrow audience: adult women who finally get an excuse to read “acceptable” erotica. In my opinion, if you want to read respectable erotica, just open Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I’d have to argue that other series and books are much better proof of the enduring power of books, ones that are much more far-reaching and teach much better lessons than how to have kinky sex. The obvious example is the Harry Potter series, a series that made reading cool again and introduced an entire generation to the magic of the written word. The series’ success far outstrips the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey. For one thing, HP a coming-of-age saga about good versus evil and the amazing power of love–familial, platonic, and romantic. Twilight, by comparison, is mostly about how important it is to have a boyfriend. And also, the book that (I hope) will define this half-decade is not soft-core porn but a book about courage, bravery, and honor: the Hunger Games series. By no means high literature, this series is inspiring a generation of young readers to value strength, whether it be mental, emotional, or physical. Despite the fact that I take issue with the amount of violence it reveals to kids, The Hunger Games is a cross-over series that means a lot more than a sex contract given to an insecure young women by an older man with odd sexual tastes. Evidence of publishing success does not lie with E. L. James but with Suzanne Collins and J.K. Rowling, not to mention Stephen King or Barbara Kingsolver. 

Whether or not we are in the middle of a reading renaissance remains to be seen. Part of this reading renaissance depends on the kind of writing we are consuming. When I told my father I wanted to study contemporary American literature in graduate school, he asked me whether or not I thought any of it was worth studying or reading. He asked if there were any modern masterpieces in the works, if any of them could hold a candle to F. Scott Fitzgerald or John Steinbeck. He seemed to believe that the golden age of American literature had since passed. It’s true that classic authors are influencing contemporary authors less and less (, but that by no means indicates that current writing fails to set a new standard or are classics in the making. Yes, our postmodern (or post-post modern) writing may diverge from the established norms, but today’s writers demonstrate their own style. One can look at the emergence of the prose poem, the lyric essay, flash fiction, and the abundance of free verse and realize that literature with a capital L is still out there, still being written on a daily basis.

I have no facts or figures on how many books are being bought every day and by whom, and I have no clear understanding if losses in publishing houses indicate a decline of reading. However, every day I find more people online who share a passion for reading and writing. Go on twitter and you’ll find thousands upon thousands of people who describe themselves as writers and readers, who tweet about books they’re reading and articles they liked. WordPress features hundreds of blogs dedicated to creative writing, publishing, and books. This core group of people whose love of the written word has not diminished comprise the base of people who are unwilling to let publishing desiccate quietly in a desert of lameness. We are proof that millions of people still read and recommend books to friends. We are evidence that publishing isn’t on the decline but really on the upswing, if only those at the top can find a way to adjust to the electronic age.

Fanning the Flames

I recently read an article about Jonathan Franzen claiming that e-books are damaging society ( and Franzen asserts that e-books are impermanent and too open to alteration and change. He enjoys the durable quality of books, that if you spill water on a book it’s still readable (usually) and that most of the things in our lives today are so fluid that we need an unchanging medium. The ability to alter an e-book concerns Franzen, and he contends that “serious readers” aren’t satisfied with the malleable and temporal nature of the e-book; serious readers are enjoying a specific text in a specific time and place that was meant to be printed in ink, not read on a screen.

I’m probably allowed to see myself as a serious reader, and I have a Kindle, so I take a little offense to Franzen. I have to make a concession to Franzen: he sold three million copies of his first book, so I’m going to give him his due. A man of his skill is allowed some latitude in making such proclamations, and his expertise makes him somewhat of an authority on the subject. In short, he’s a serious reader and writer, so I’m not going to question his personal opinion.

But I am going to take issue with his blanket generalization that all serious readers are dissatisfied with the e-readers. I read both on my Kindle and print books. Each have their merits and their drawbacks. I received my Kindle as a Christmas present back in 2009. I love my Kindle; it’s light, cute, and portable. For someone with so many books, I like knowing that when I pack my bag to travel (which I do quite often), I’m not going to be weighted down by several books. Writers who do serious amounts of research for their books such as Eula Biss and Amy Tan enjoy the iPad and Kindle, because they can travel with massive amounts of books and articles on a single lightweight device. As a CNF writer, I do a fair amount of research for my essays, and sometimes I just can’t keep all the necessary materials with me.

When I told my friend that I received a Kindle for Christmas, she was temporarily incredulous. “You? A Kindle?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“Are you still going to buy books in print?”

“Of course. I’m not planning on switching exclusive to an e-reader.”

“Okay good. Because a writer like you just wouldn’t seem right without a lot of books in your home.”

I believe that no room is truly complete without a few books. I believe that books in printed form are beautiful, living things and holding them in our hands and reading them is to connect to the human experience.  Reading taps into the human story, the one story that encompasses what it means to be human and alive. Print books are important to preserving cultural heritage and staying connected to thousands of years of human history. From cuneiform to hieroglyphs to the alphabet, the written word is enduring, what links the past to our present.

And of course I believe we should still continue reading print books. We do miss something when we read from a screen and lose the interaction with the page. We sacrifice some of our relationship to the books, when we press a button instead of turning a page, when we highlight with a cursor rather than underline with a pen, when we set aside a book by flipping a switch rather than closing a cover. The physical connection between our hands and the printed book is delicate and precious. We should do what we can to preserve the magic of that feeling.

But at the same time, “serious readers” (I’m not even sure what that means) can still engage a text, even if it’s on a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad. One could even argue that serious readers benefit from the advent of the e-reader–they can buy books more quickly and more easily with less money. Browsing is easier online (although I do sometimes miss my frequent trips to the bookstore), and downloading a book happens almost instantaneously. Maybe we should have to work more to acquire a book, but I think breaking down the barriers between discovering a book and reading it is worth the transition.

Although I don’t know if I qualify as a “serious reader,” I think my attachment to books might put me into that category. I’m a writing major; I read both on my own and for school on a regular basis. I have a life-long love affair with words, so yeah I’d say I’m a serious reader. I do miss being able to loan out books I like; you can’t just say, “Here, take my Kindle for a few weeks and read this book.” But still, the Kindle is a way to read many books at once and not break your back in the process.

Franzen also talks about how those who e-publish don’t put the same painstaking effort into getting the words just right and making the language appear just so on the page. He believes e-publishing makes room also for “sprinkling” classic works with advertisements and liberal editing. Those who publish online won’t put as much thought and effort into correctly formatting and modifying a classic text for e-consumption. I’m not a publisher, and I don’t work with re-formatting print text to e-text, but blaming publishers for taking a classic and essentially perverting it for profit is unfair to the publisher and the consumer. And on the subject of classics–books should be accessible and enjoyed; I dislike classics worship as though they’re sacred and untouchable. The reason classics are classics is that they effectively tap into the human experience that I mentioned earlier. They can adapt with the times; they’re meaningful and applicable years later. Maybe they should be put into e-reader form so that they can continue to reach and affect future readers.

Plus, those who self e-publish view the work they’re publishing as their brain child, their opus. They will not skim over the details or cut corners for the sake of being on the Internet. Your credibility is on the line when you e-publish; lots of major errors put your reputation in jeopardy because your ethos as a writer is at stake. Franzen underestimates the dedication of those who self-publish online and the amount of effort and labor writers lovingly pour into their work.

So here’s what I have to say to Jonathan Franzen: make your own Luddite opinions on the e-reader revolution, but e-readers are probably here to stay. The publishing world is currently experiencing serious growing pains as it acclimates to this new reading environment. Speak for yourself, Jonathan Franzen, because the serious readers of the world remain dedicated, devoted, and faithful to the written word, no matter the format.

Walks with a Dinosaur

To understand this post, you need to know something first: I’m twenty. I’ll be twenty-one very soon (a month and a half, not that I’m counting). I can’t legally drink or rent a car, but I already feel obsolete. I have a year and a half left of college, and I already feel behind the times. I recently read an article stating that children have little to no preference learning from e-readers than they do from actual hard copy print books. Comprehension-wise, as long as the story doesn’t have too many distractions through applications and games, children retain and comprehend books on e-readers just as well as print books. (For more info, check out these links: and

Fourth-grade children comprehend and remember e-books better than I do. I’m primarily a visual and kinesthetic learner, but with an important focus on the kinesthetic: I remember from writing things down, pointing to things on a visual page, remembering the location of a word in a book–left or right side of the pages; top, middle, or bottom of the page; beginning, middle, end of the book. As mentioned in an earlier post, I have a Kindle, and trust me, I’ll address that issue at a later date. But here’s my issue with reading from screens and e-readers:

I rarely remember books I read on the Kindle as well as I remember books that I read on print. Ask me to summarize a book I held in my hands and physically turned the page, and I have no problem relaying the story back to you. Ask me about a book I read on my Kindle, and I’ll be able to recall some of the major details, but not as clearly or concisely. So this technology has affected my reading. I lose the kinesthetic feel of where information is on a page, how it’s physically organized.

Reading from a computer screen is similar. Because there is no sense of spatial organization, I tend to skim. Scrolling pales in comparison to flipping a page, running your fingers over text, imprinting the memory of the image of the words onto your mind. You can’t interact as well with a screen as with a good old-fashioned print book. You can’t annotate; you can’t underline or highlight; you can’t bookmark or dog-ear pages.

I’m currently taking a cyberliteracy course where we’re trying to examine whether my generation’s preference for print is from habit and upbringing or from how humans must learn. Most of my peers, when assigned a reading online, print out the reading and use the hardcopy to underline and make notes. I do this. I just printed out a 55-page white paper on children learning through technology. I printed front-to-back, but I still took the time to print out 28 pages just so that I could read better. When we read from a computer, we skim. Reading from a computer requires bullets, shorter sentences, a get-to-the-point, hurry-it-up chase to the message. We tend to read the first few sentences of a web page then scroll quickly through the rest, so if you have something important to say, say it at the top of the page.

I think the preference for print is probably from habit and taught modes of learning. Students learn to take notes physically, to annotate books for class, to read from hard-copy textbooks. I had the option of buying an e-textbook for significantly less than the print version, but I sprung for the print version just because I knew I wasn’t going to remember an e-book as well as the print version. It’s the way I learned, and I’m not going to break easily the surface, superficial learning I do from online sources. It’s going to take some time.

But back to my feeling old at a young age. Yes, my generation grew up learning to use computers and came of age during the myspace and Facebook revolutions, but we still learned primarily from a traditional pen-and-paper classroom setting. I have a feeling we’ll have trouble keeping up with students who are learning from computers, who will have more training in comprehending from a screen, who will (maybe) be better able to concentrate and control the distractions inherent in learning from a computer. I’m not sure I’ll fully be able to do this within the next few years. I feel obsolete and behind-the-times, and I’m still waiting for my twenty-first birthday.

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, 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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