Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Kindle

So's pushing their Kindle e-reader on us pretty hard, as anyone who regularly visits the site in the past few weeks has noticed. Now normally I associate "kindle" with some flammable pieces of garbage you use to start a fire, which seems to be the consensus about the device in general, only it costs more and is hard to burn.

To be fair, I have never seen a Kindle in real life or used it myself, so I'm not the most well-versed of judges here. The Amazon reviewers gave it a "mediocre" rating, which is I suppose not as bad as it could be, but in principle I never buy a new piece of technology/software first off the line. I wait until the second edition at least, when they've fixed all the bugs from the first edition and there's been a price drop. I also am not a fan of e-readers, as I do a lot of my reading on Shabbos, when electronic devices are forbidden because the rabbis who decreed that didn't have a Playstation (or that's my feeling on the matter).

I have to say, for a device that seems overpriced and ridden with obvious difficulties which would bother me as a customer (like not working in rural areas, or not reading .pdf files), they are pushing the hell out of it, and I have to admire them for that. Suddenly my account has a "Kindle orders" page (empty) and every book's profile makes sure to let publishers know they can have it in a Kindle edition. With all the timidity and confusion about the e-book market, they are going headfirst into it with the determination to at least attempt to temporarily corner the market. With all that effort, you'd think they would have designed a better reader, but they were probably rushing it a bit.

This all amuses me more than it annoys me because about a month ago, I may (or may not, future employers) have been at an AAR meeting with the heads of the big 6 publishing houses for a panel on digital publishing. In short:

Agents: Can our authors have 50% royalties on eBooks?
CEOs: No.

All of the major publishing houses are currently throwing millions of dollars into research and development for the digital revolution they know is coming, but can't predict the outcome of, since a book is not the same as a song or a movie. Fair enough. That didn't stop them from saying some things that I, as a Technocrat, was utterly baffled by.

"No, we don't see a reason why the author royalty rate should be significantly higher on an eBook than on the print version."

"I think eBooks should be priced at the same retail price as regular books, because it's essentially the same thing."

"Though it hasn't worked for the record or movie industry, we should definitely put a lot of money into investing in DRM technology."

(in response to a question about file sharing) "Why would someone do that?"

Amazon, as a website run by people who work on computers all day, is obviously ahead of the curve on this one, though for some reason one of the publishers felt that Amazon was no longer worth talking about because their book sale profits were on a downward slope, in a study that failed to take the blossoming used book market into account, from which Amazon reaps huge commission fees.

Amazon also thought of a way around file sharing, at least until someone cares enough about a Kindle to hack it, which is that the Kindle editions are in Kindle files that are sent straight to your Kindle reader, and you never really own them, and they don't go on your computer and you can't send them to other Kindle machines. Oh, and you can't upload non-Kindle files to the Kindle reader. I have good faith that my friends will hack the device sooner or later (if they haven't already) and find a way to get .pdf files on it, or they'll just buy a better eBook reader that actually lets them do that and lets them store more than 40 books at a time. (40? 40? Are fucking kidding me?)

Will Kindle dominate/topple publishing as we know it? No. Will a future, better device succeed where the Kindle will ultimately fail? No. Someday, I may buy a cheap e-reader, load my library into it, and use it for reference purposes while writing, but otherwise, it's books for me. Cheap, used books available on Amazon.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More Genre Guessing

Dear Rejecter,

You know how certain autobiographies go from interesting personal incidents to relevant social analysis(essay form) and back to more personal incidents? Would this format, if executed well, be out of line in a novel(with a fictional character instead of myself)? Because I've found that didacticism in the story incidents themselves (almost) always drag things down, but being straightforward about "this is what happened and this is what I think," if well written, could really work. Also, if you think this could work, would an editor pick it up? And to what area of publishing would you direct queries- and how would you label such a work? Is it inherently literary because of the analysis, even if the writing is plain? Should I call it anything other than a novel(in spite of the fact that that term is quite broad and welcoming thanks to the experimental fiction movement)?

A novel is a work of fiction. If you've written a series of essays based on your beliefs and personal life experiences, but changed the names, it's not fiction unless you change the facts.

The real question here seems to be whether it's "memoir" or a book of essays on social analysis. Novels - and even memoirs - are generally not written as a series of essays, but the real issue here is what point you're trying to get across. Do you want to tell a life story because it's interesting, or are you using life anecdotes to give social commentary? It sounds like the latter.

Your genre is: not relevant to your query. Just say it's a bunch of essays and that should be pretty clear. The agent will request it or not request it based on their interest in your subject matter, not how you label it.