Friday, November 21, 2014

Coffee, Tea or...E-Reader?

Have you switched to reading mostly ebooks or do you still hanker for the feel of a bound book in your hands? How would you prefer to have your books published?

by Paul D. Marks

I buy and read both e-books and paper books (in both paperback and hardback).  And I’d say I read about ¾ paper books to ¼ e-books.  Some books, of course, are only available as e-books so you have no choice.  But of books that are available in each format, I’d say that ratio is about 3 to 1.

Maybe because I’m of a generation that grew up with paper books, it’s simply what I’m used to and what I like.  That aside, there are other reasons to like paper books better.  But first, the things I like about e-books. Obviously you can store about 10 trillion of them on your iPad, Kindle, Nook or whatever you use, so particularly when traveling you can take a variety of books with you.  And since I generally have at least one non-fiction and one fiction book going at the same time, I can carry one iPad instead of two books.  Also on that iPad are magazines that I subscribe to and now don’t have to carry. And a variety of other books, so if I finish what I’m reading or just get bored with it, I have many other choices to go to, including the complete set of Classics Illustrated comic books, which I bought on DVD and transferred to my iPad.  I read and loved them as a kid, but have only read two or three since I bought the collection years ago on disc.  But somehow they’re still comforting to have there. 

There’s also a certain immediacy with e-books. You can read in the dark or buy an e-book in the middle of the night on a whim.  And there’s also certain kinds of books that I’d just as soon read on an e-reader, like manuals and other such things.  One major advantage of e-books is less clutter.  We’re running out of shelf space and have books overflowing off the shelves and have even more shelves in the garage. Maybe we should start a lending library?

But despite all the cool things about e-books, I still prefer paper books for several reasons. The main one being the tactile sensation.  The heft of them, the smell.  The overall feel. All the sensory things you don’t get with an e-book. On hardbacks, I also like to read the jacket copy, front, back and inside. I like reading the short summary of the story, the author bio and whatever other goodies are there.  I miss that on many paperbacks as well as e-books. 

And lately there have been reports saying that when one reads a book in electronic form readers don’t absorb as much information as when reading traditional books. And since most of us here are mystery readers and writers, check this from The Guardian, August 19, 2014: “A new study which found that readers using a Kindle were ‘significantly’ worse than paperback readers at recalling when events occurred in a mystery story is part of major new Europe-wide research looking at the impact of digitisation [sic] on the reading experience.” (itals added)

Both types of books can be easily highlighted.  But I also like to write notes in the margins. And it’s much more of a pain to type a note on a Kindle or other e-reader. But an advantage of the e-reader is being able to highlight a word and look it up in the dictionary. That is a very cool feature. But not enough to make me want to read more e-books.

My novel, White Heat, has sold a lot more e-books than paper, though I’d prefer if it was the other way around.  Not for the money, but for the feeling (whether real or imaginary) of something solid and permanent.  Even though e-books may outlast paper books in the long run, there is something more “real” about a paper book. And when you go to conferences, like Left Coast Crime or Bouchercon, or talks at libraries or book groups, it’s nice to have a paper version with you.

And don’t you love going into a house with lots of books everywhere, seeing their covers and spines and what your friends tastes are (so you know who to dump—only kidding). I’d miss that if everyone had only e-books.

Isn’t it just more satisfying to see a three dimensional book, with a spine and back cover, as well as a front cover. Also, particularly when reading the classics, like Chandler, Highsmith, Hammett, Ross MacDonald, they sort of “need” to be read in the traditional form, sitting in a wing chair with a glass of Scotch by your side. 
Raymond Chandler Paper Covers
Raymond Chandler Paper Spines

Raymond Chandler e-book Spine

White Heat Ebook Cover

White Heat Paperback Cover

White Heat Paperback Spine

White Heat e-book Spine


And I’d like to congratulate two of our fellow Criminal Minds on their awards at Bouchercon a few days ago, so:

Congratulations to Catriona for her Anthony win! 

And to Art, for his Macavity win! 
Well done!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How do I prefer to have my books published?

Today! That's how. And that's why this post is a wee bit late going live. 

Dandy Gilver No. 8 - A DEADLY MEASURE OF BRIMSTONE - is out today and I'm preparing for a launch party tonight. The eggs and butter are coming to room temperature and soon there will be cakes.

BRIMSTONE is stuffed to the brim with technology.  It's set in 1929 in Laidlaw's Hydropathic Hotel in the hills of Moffat, where affluent and sickly patrons go for the likes of Faradaic, ultraviolet and galvanic heat baths. It's basically sulphurous spring water so disgusting it must be good for you and electricity - new and exciting! 

Water and electricity combined - how could it possibly go wrong? Well, it does. The Moffat Hydro is pretty luxurious but it shares one feature with every motel in mystery fiction. Guests check in . . . and you can guess the rest.

I'm not so much for technology, me.  I don't own an e-reader and don't have any plans to, even though that meant that over the summer I took five paper books to Scotland with me to prepare for Bouchercon moderating and then brought them back again in case I needed to check anything.

I like the double-page spread of a book. I enjoy seeing the jacket design while I'm reading one. I would miss the way your fingers tell you how much of a book is left and so you can plan the last reading session, with a cup of tea and guaranteed quiet while you race to the end.

I *can* read online, but it always feels like work, never pleasure. Likewise I can use a clothes drier, but I don't own one and the smell of line-dried clothes is one of my life's pleasures. I can use a microwave but I don't own one and the sound of a bubbling pot on the stove makes me happy. I always say I'd make a great Amish housewife if it weren't for the fundamentalism.

And the small matter of being a crimewriter too.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Help! Need feedback!

Q: As a reader, e-books or print? As an author, e-books or print?

-from Susan

Both and both.

Even though my first two Dani mysteries were already out in e-book form, I hadn’t succumbed to a digital reader until I began to plan for my recent trip to France. My dear American friend living in Burgundy had begged me to schlep a handful of books she couldn’t get there and I realized there was no room for my own necessary quota of reading material in the one small suitcase I was determined to limit myself to. To offset the cold, hard feel and look of the device, I bought a leather-like, embossed cover. I had no problem reading off the screen – I bought a Kindle “paperwhite,” which I can even read in bright light.

But, I find I don’t use the e-reader much unless I’m traveling. It can never take the place of books if only because the walls in my house are already lined with hundreds (thousands?) of books still begging to be read. I enjoy real book covers, I relish the feeling that each book is a gift waiting to be opened.

As a writer, this is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. My first Dani mystery, Murder in the Abstract, came out first as a hard cover. My friends were pleased for me, but it’s harder to sell a $24 book than a trade or mass paper edition, both versions of which followed a year or so later. My second Dani mystery, The King’s Jar, came out as a trade paper but also as an e-book simultaneously, and the e-book sales were quicker and more robust, in part because the distribution system my publisher used was weak. The paper version was $14 and the e-book less.

My third Dani mystery, Mixed Up with Murder, is in production now and I have asked my publisher to release it only as an e-book, at least for a first edition. My take on the pros is that people can decide instantly, that they’ll try reasonably-priced books with instant downloads, that online e-book promotions are pretty successful (see BookBub), and that libraries now buy e-books too. Since the other books in the series are also available electronically, readers who like one can easily download the others. The cons: no professional reviews (I got wonderful ones for the second Dani), fewer blog reviews, no in-store readings and book tours, nothing to sign when people do buy it. I’ll miss the interactions with readers, the best part of this whole process. It’s a gamble and I’m not at all sure what will happen, but I am pleased my publisher is willing to try it, and to do a print edition later if we decide it’s a good (read, profitable for them) strategy.

Fellow Minds, what do you think? Readers, are you aboard the e-book ride? I welcome your feedback. The book industry is shifting under our feet and the pathways are not always clear.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pick Your Poison: Short Stories, Series Novel or Standalone

Which do you prefer writing; short stories, standalone novels or series? Why?

by Paul D. Marks

Each form comes with its own set of challenges. But with each there’s the thrill of starting something new. And then with each you reach a point where you just wish it was done and you were on to the next thing.  It’s sort of like starting a project around the house. At first you’re all eager and pumped. You can’t wait to see the results. But about halfway through you wish you’d never started it and just want to be on the couch watching an old black and white movie like Double Indemnity or Out of the Past, eating pizza and wishing you could write something like that.

Short stories have the challenge of doing it all in a short time.  You have to weave everything together in a small amount of space.  And in some ways this is the most challenging thing to do. As a “pantster,” I find myself writing way too much and then spending most of my time editing and cutting out the fat. Short stories have to be pithy and get to the point without a lot of extraneous details. But at the same time you need to make the little details pack an extra punch, so you have to be meticulous in picking the right words, actions and characters.

Series novels present their own challenges. What comes to mind first is the task of keeping the series character/s interesting and growing.  In the first book you’re setting everything up and intro’ing everyone so everything is new and fresh to you, the writer, as well as the reader. But by book nine what do you do? Check out some of your favorite series where the plots and characters seem to have grown tired.  Or is it just the author who’s grown tired? And though I only have one novel published, I do have the sequel written (the reason that it hasn’t been published yet is a long, winding and torturous road, best left for another time).  But in the sequel it was a challenge to be consistent with what had taken place in the first novel. Sort of like being the continuity person on a movie set and having to make sure the vase of flowers is in the same position as before when you change camera angles in a scene. Plus you have to backfill a little on the plot and characters in the previous novel/s for people who missed earlier entries in the series. And there is an art to doing that without it reading like a laundry list or boring the reader with exposition.

Standalone novels can be fun because, unlike a short story, you have the freedom to develop plot and characters, the way you did with the first book in your series.  You’re inventing a new world from the ground up and that’s always exciting. Whereas in a series you sort of already have some things worked out for you – you know the character and the setting and you have a starting point (usually the end of the previous book) so you have something to work with.

As to which I prefer, basically whatever I’m working on at the moment...until I get tired of it and then I prefer what’s next at bat and start working it up in my head, and go after that one with all my enthusiasm...until...

*          *          *

And for a little BSP. I’ll be at Bouchercon next week. Here’s my sked:

Thursday: 4pm, Regency D. “Short But Mighty––The Power and Freedom of the Short Story.” With fellow Criminal Mind Art Taylor.  And Travis Richardson (M), Craig Faustus Buck, Barb Goffman, Robert Lopresti.

Friday: 6:30pm: The Shamus Awards banquet, where I’ll be a presenter.

Saturday: 2:30-3:30, signing books for Down and Out Books in the book room.

Come by and say hello.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Short Is Too Short for Me

"Which do you prefer writing; short stories, standalone novels or series? Why?"

- from Susan

Since I’ve written one short story and four novels, I’ll go with novels. I didn’t know my first novel would launch a series until I got an agent, although by then I’d fallen in love with my main characters, so it was a relief to hear I wasn’t alone in wanting them to blunder on for at least another book. I just finished my first standalone and it’s not a murder mystery. The topic came to me rather suddenly. I don’t know if I’ll get struck by that particular lightening again, but I hope so.

I mostly enjoy reading novels, which may be a holdover from childhood when I never wanted the book to end. But I recently read a lot of crime fiction short stories, 134 to be exact, for a competition, and I learned a few things about them:

  • -       “Short” is a relative term. These ranged from about 1,500 words to 50,000 and no one length had an aesthetic edge over another. Historicals tended to be longer and no wonder; there’s a lot of scene setting to do.

  • -       They use all of crime fiction’s sub-genres and a lot of the clich├ęs, perhaps because they have to move into action so quickly that shortcuts are useful.

  • -       The crimes were major, and felt particularly brutal, and I wondered if that was because there’s less space to hint, tease, lead the reader slowly into the darkest places in the story.

  • -       There was very little, almost no, humor in the submissions. They tended to be dark, twisty, and lacking the kinds of endings where justice is meted out.

I had thought, when I agreed to participate in the panel, that I might find myself inspired to write more short stories by reading so many. What I learned, though, is that writing good short stories is hard. Give me an 80,000-word book any day! We have some wonderful short story writers on the Minds panel, and I can't wait to hear how they pull it off.