Monday, September 26, 2011

The world is my editor.

For those of you who have not discovered Miracle Jones, he is an incredibly prolific and talented fiction writer who confines his writing to blogs and e-books. I sent him an email praising his two novels, Sharing and Shifting, both available on Smashwords (the first one is free). He replied graciously and wrote the phrase I have used as the title for this entry.

And it got me to thinking.

Although a carefully prepared, edited, proofread, and typeset book is to be greatly desired, most printed books have at least a few typos or other errors.  Maybe there are sentences that would have been better had they been shaped a little differently, or descriptions that just miss their mark. I was once asked on a radio show in Jacksonville if there was a time in the writing process when I knew when a poem was finished. I replied that I hoped it was finished after each edit, but knew that it was not. The radio show was in conjunction with a reading tour I was doing with Jean Monahan--our first books of poetry came out at virtually the same time and from the same press.

In the years that have elapsed since that radio show, I put my own book from that tour--The Secret Life of Moles--on Smashwords and Amazon as an e-book. But because the original book file was lost, I had to retype the entire thing and, you guessed it, I made well over a hundred changes to a book that had been gone over with a fine sieve when it was first published. Is it a better book now? I think it is, but there are two schools of thought here.

When Thomas Pynchon decided to publish his early stories, he made the conscious decision to publish them exactly as they looked in the original magazines in which they appeared. He thought that, although he might have been able to polish them up, a revised story would not have been true to the spirit of the young Tom. It's also possible that he was just lazy and didn't want to fool with them. On the other hand, Henry James insisted on revising his entire oeuvre for what is known as his New York Edition. Unfortunately, by the time Henry decided to do this, his use of language had developed to such a degree that his earlier books became verbose and overly complicated. Few people read the New York Edition, but for that matter, few people read Pynchon's Slow Learner, either.

With the advent of the e-book, however, maybe there can be a time when a work is finally finished. Think what would have happened if Henry James had put his New York Edition revisions out as e-books before they were actually put in print. Would the screams of the purists have changed his mind about the total overhaul? And would Thomas Pynchon have spruced up some of the language in Slow Learner? We can only hope.

For probably the first time in history, readers have easy access to authors through their blogs, websites, or social networks. If you buy an e-book on Smashwords, you have the right to review it on their site--another way of communicating with the author. Authors are rarely their own best editors, but by bypassing the megapublishers, writers are also missing out on the real talents of some of today's editors and proofreaders--the difference in professionalism between most of the e-book originals I have read and most books by the large print publishers is obvious and for e-book literature to thrive and grow, this must change.

That's where the world comes in. And I'll invite you right now--if you find anything wrong with my own books, shoot me an email. If I agree, I'll fix it with thanks. Remember that, unlike Amazon, once you buy a book on Smashwords, it is yours forever, in any format (another phrase from Miracle Jones, this time from his nonfiction blog). That goes for revisions, too.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

That's a lot of words!

Earlier this year, I determined that I had written over a million words. Not in emails or grocery lists but in finished works--stories, novels, books of poetry. Not all published, but all complete. Maybe that's why I'm interested in a statistic that Smashwords keeps on their page, updated continuously. It's the number of words they have published in their three+-year existence. And I am given to believe that these words are only counted from books that are currently in publication--not practice books that are published for a few minutes so that their authors or formatters can see how they look, then unpublished or archived.

I've kept a few notes and done a little figuring. On May 6, 2011, Smashwords authors had published two billion words. They reached the total of 2.8 billion on the afternoon of August 15. That's .8 billion in about 98 days, or .1 billion every 12.25 days.

2.9 billion was reached on August 29, so that's .1 billion words in 14 days, a drop off of about a day and a half per tenth billion. Today, September 10, 2011--12 days later--they reached the total of 3 billion. It seems, then, that the amount of words uploaded over the last four months has been pretty steady.In this case about a billion words in approximately 4.1 months.  I'll continue to keep tabs on it, though, and report back.

Congrats to Smashwords and to the authors who have made their books available through their services.

UPDATE, JULY 4, 2013. On this date, Smashwords crossed the 8 billion words threshold. That translates into about a billion words every 4.4 months, which is a slight decrease over the last time I checked, above, where it was a billion words every 4.1 months. I'll see if I can keep tabs on it until 10 billion is reached.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How much should I price my e-book?

I read a whining article by a published writer about how she simply couldn't afford to price her e-books at less than $6.99 or so. That at $2.99 she would have to sell thousands of books to break even for the time she spent on writing them. For some reason, I took offence at several of her points. First, there are many writers who download their books on Smashwords and Kindle who will probably never sell a single book, regardless of the price. Second, this woman--who writes genre fiction--seemed to think that her books were more valuable than those of the rest of us. But mostly, I was disgusted at a creative artist actually figuring out the cost of her writing time. Fuck you, lady, and here's why.

I have put in far more hours writing than she has and most of them have been pleasurable. I love writing and I love what I create. I love the act of creating and if necessary I would have paid for the opportunity. The books I have written--the stories, the poems, the essays, and the novels--are my greatest accomplishment on earth. How do you put a price tag on that? Not every writer wants to be rich and famous, but most do. I do, in fact, but this seems to be out of my control. What is important is the writing, the characters, the stories, and the things that I learn from them. If other people can learn from them, fine. If people want to pay for them, even better. The advent of e-book reading has given every author the opportunity to get their words in front of a vast audience, so let's take advantage of it if we can.

So what should you charge? Here's my two cents worth. If someone charges $12.99 or even $24.99, there is a pretty good chance that people are going to pass it by--no matter how good or useful it might be. I know people who have started high (high prices and high expectations), then gone lower when the book did not sell. In increments. From $24.99 to $17.99 to $9.99 and so on. But why not do the reverse? Start out by pricing the book low--anywhere from 99 cents to $2.99. If it doesn't sell despite whatever vigorous marketing campaigns you might undertake, then it probably won't sell at all. If it does, you can always raise the price.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Do blurbs help sell books?

Of course they do, but in the world of e-books, they are essential. On Smashwords, for instance, e-book shoppers are presented with a cover and a short description of a book's contents--a blurb. If the cover looks interesting (and yes, many times you can tell a book by its cover), they will read the blurb. If the blurb is interesting and concise, they may decide to download a sample. If the blurb sucks, they will go on to the next listing. It's that simple.

So why do so many of the blurbs I read make me think poorly of the book? I find spelling errors, errors in grammar, typos, run-on sentences, half sentences, meaningless sentences, bluster, blather, biography, and horrible cliches. If the description of the book is poorly written, there is a good chance that the book will be poorly written too. But the reverse is also true--an interesting and exciting description will often hook someone fishing for books.

As a Smashwords and Kindle author and formatter--and because I am always on the lookout for exciting new literature--I carefully read hundreds of blurbs a day. Yet I haven't found an interesting one in months and I'm starting to despair.

This is not a mini-essay on how to write good blurbs. In fact, if I knew the secret to good blurb writing I would be a much better-selling author than I presently am. All I'm saying is that authors should pay special attention to what they put in their 400-word descriptions. If potential readers don't enjoy the description, they'll never get to the actual book.