Monday, September 27, 2010

E-books again

This is probably going to be a fairly short post, as Dr Biren -- our Island GP -- has just done a house-call to check that I'm behaving myself. Which I suspect doesn't include sitting here and typing. I won't tell if you don't. My sense of humor is just a little less present than usual. Tickle yourself for the obligatory chuckle.

I've just read my first book on an e-reader. As you all know I am an enthusiastic supporter of e-books. I've read on screen for many years now... and never really figured why people found it awkward or difficult.

I think I understand now.

Barbara loves the e-reader, and has always struggled to read on a computer screen. The difference between us is quite simple. B is a relatively fast reader, and can perhaps finish a book in a 4-6 hour sitting. I am a very fast reader. A normal 400 page novel will take me 2 hours or less. I'll persevere, but honestly the e-reader was not very pleasant, because there is relatively little text to a page, and I was changing pages every 8 seconds, which I found an irritation. So: as e-readers are intended for overconsumers (and I am an extreme example, I grant) for me they'd need a very much bigger screen.

Which brings me to ask: are there different formats (not fonts or line spaces, but structural format) and requirements for ideally presenting a story to e-book consumers that are different to the requirements of a paper-book?

I suspect ideally e-books need to be shorter, and possibly more modular. Eric Flint is a good eg. of an excellent modular writer. Although his books fit together well as units, they're made up of a sequence of modules, each of which stands on its own to some extent, and one can take out and replace with slightly different scene, ending in more or less the same point, without damaging the overall story line. I am not a good modular writer, as there is a lot more interweave and foreshadowing in my work (I am not a pantster, I know where a book is going and build toward that) - with the book being the smallest unit. This means I am a lot harder to read -- as people often do read with e-readers -- in snatches.

I'm also of the opinion that the current length of books is more to do with economics than ideal reads. A book after all is as long as it needs to be. There is usually a relationship between the number of major characters and its length (this differs from writer to writer as some writers devolop characters more and some of us are more wordy than others.) A short story is very difficult setting to adequately develop a complex set of characters or a complex story line or world-building. Of course some authors do this, it's just hard. This is why I believe that writing shorts (even if you can't sell them) is the best possible training for writers.
But I believe there is a market and space for the Novella and Novelette again, especially if priced appropriately. Of course we are now in a situation where cover art becomes a serious part of the cost.

Your thoughts?

And BTW don't forget to check out http://www.nakedreader.com/ - they have some great books and stories. Some even free - if you look in at the right time.

12 comments:

Amanda Green said...

Dave, if you're like me, it does take time to get used to the e-reader. And to answer your question about formatting, there really isn't much difference from a layout standpoint. The real problem is the size of the screen. If I remember correctly, your reader is smaller than a kindle, which I use. I have no issue reading on the kindle. However, when I switch to the iPod touch (which I throw into my pocket when I'm going to be somewhere I don't want to carry the kindle) I have much the same issue you mention.

To be honest, the biggest issue with e-books that I'm running into as an editor is how different outlets demand different formats when you submit to them for distribution. Amazon is actually the easiest. I can format into a mobi file to see how it looks and, when all the links work, the layout is as I want it, I save as a mobi and send. There is usually no real issue from that point on. Smashwords, however, has you submit as a .doc file. There are issues with the conversion where spacing and alignment can change that way. It becomes much more time intensive to keep check on their final product.

This is a long way around to the answer. The key is in the size of the e-reader screen and the scalability of font. I love my Kindle 2. But I would, in honesty, prefer a Kindle DX or iPad for reading of magazines and newspapers because their larger screens would make it easier to follow the format I've become used to.

MataPam said...

Ussues of the "right" story size, and chapter length might be a good subject for an informal readers poll.

Naked Reader is so new and unknown . . . are there many forums for ebook readers where this could be brought up? Not using anything but my computer screen to read on, I'm where Dave was a few days ago.


After Lawyers of Mars is out in its entirety, perhaps you could get opinions about its length (29K) and chapter length (about 4k with a few much longer or shorter). If we don't ask, we won't learn that people want books in longer or shorter lengths, bigger or smaller chunks.

I've wondered if switches of POV, following two or more story threads won't be more difficult when taken in small steps. Shorter stories with fewer threads, or possibly just less frequent (or more frequent) switches to the other thread might be more readable, as reading habits change.

More frequent scene breaks, with cues to bring the reader back in quickly?

I don't know, and we must not forget that a lot of readers will still sit down and read the whole thing straight through.

Geoffrey Kidd said...

I think the problem really comes down to how fast a new page is displayed and building a new reading habit.

I tried an eInk-based reader, and discovered the wonderful world of blink-induced migraine headaches and the fact that the "black blank" interval to change pages made the change intrusive.

When I first got into eBooks, ten years ago, I tried MobiPocket on my Palm and yes, there was relatively little text on the page, and I was changing pages frequently. That wasn't the issue, it was the fact that the change took place slowly, and so the change was, again, intrusive.

I finally settled on a system in my Palm where I read text plus _italicized text_, which is really easy to build if the book is not DRM protected. I use QED, a plain text editor for the Palm as my "reader." Page changes are instantaneous, and I'm long past the point where I even notice that I'm thumbing the "down" button to get to a new page.

The point of all of this is that most eReaders intrude on the reading process and that is the big obstacle. Blinks, slow page changes, anything that makes the reader notice that they're reading is simply a no-go for the technology. What's behind that technology, whether it's HTML, M$oft DOC, Mobi, or whatever, is irrelevant.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Good point, Dave. I'm a fast reader and it would drive me crazy to have the page changes slow me down or become intrusive.

Still sitting on the fence.

PS. Hope you are OK.

Kate said...

Hm. I love my kindle, but I do read faster than the screen, and the breaks for the refresh flash can get irritating. So far I've found it most satisfying for non-fiction, where I slow down to consider the information involved, and of course, reading in bits.

As a general rule with fiction, I find if there are scene breaks, that's enough - but I know very well I'm not the typical anything so I'm not going to claim I'm the "ideal market"

Dave Freer said...

Amanda, I think a big screen might help. I'll persevere

Dave Freer said...

Matapam -Lawyers of Mars is what i suspect will be a good length. The key may be to make sure readers don't think they're getting what they're not - if they expect a full book and get a novelette... cross reader, won't buy your books.

Dave Freer said...

Geoffrey - Barbs (my better half) says the blink really got her at first. Now she has tuned it out. So that too may happen. It bothered me, but I will persist

Dave Freer said...

Rowena, I'll try a few more books. Still a bit crook this morning :-(

Dave Freer said...

(grin) No Kate, you're only typical atypical!

Chris McMahon said...

I have to put quite a bit of energy in to 'tune' into a story & the writer's style. So I tend not to read short stories. I do, however, enjoy writing and reading novella length. So I would certainly hope more markets pop up for this length:)

Anonymous said...

Oh, see, I find myself reading faster on the nook. I don't mind changing the pages that way. I just read with one of my thumbs near the "turn" button. And it really helps me to be able to jack up the size of the font as my eyes get tired.

I do find myself inconvenienced when reading anthologies though. I don't generally read the stories in succession, but am seriously encouraged to by the non-browsing nature of the reader. There is the "Go To" button, but I don't get to check out the stories to see which one I want to read next. I read more novels however, so it's not too much of a problem.

It did take me a few novels' worth of reading to get comfortable with the nook as far as knowing how to do this function and that, so do persevere. I think you'll find it gets easier.

I will say that I rarely read physical books now. It's just so much easier for me with the nook, the biggest problem with the physical books being the font size. And I hate to break the spine on my books, so I generally read over the curve. This way just takes that out of the picture.

Anyway, happy e-reading!

Linda