E-Readers and the Evolution of Publishing

ImageAt first, I resisted the emergence of e-readers. I feel comfortable with a paper book in my hands. When technology fails, I can always rely on my library to keep me sane. Then, I began researching the publishing industry and was somewhat startled to see a new pattern. I realized that because e-readers are so convenient, consumers are turning more and more to electronic book formats. More importantly, they are buying e-books for their tantalizing ‘bargains.’

Self-published authors have the leisure to apply their own price tag and still receive a good portion of the revenue. As long as these writers charge less for their e-books than the retail price of a hard copy–which they usually do–consumers feel that they are getting an irresistible deal. They don’t have to drive to the store, pay taxes, or wait for the book to arrive, and they are only spending a couple bucks. As long as the book is not too horrible, the consumer is satisfied.

I’ve seen this happen with many of my friends who bought e-readers. Then I bought a tablet and it wasn’t long before I was looking through the free e-books too. While I still love physical books, e-books offered me another medium for finding new stories. My personal experience with e-books spurred me to do research.

Circulation at my local library has steadily decreased since e-readers were released. While I’m sure there are several factors that explain the decrease, I am certain that e-books play a large part. My library has done a decent job adjusting to new technologies and trends. We have an ever-expanding library of e-books available through the Pioneer Library Database. However, we can’t expand fast enough because of publishing companies’ ridiculous restrictions.

Only a few publishing companies even work with libraries for the acquisition of e-books. One publishing house charges $80 for one e-book, and because of copyright rules we have to buy individual copies to lend out. We can’t lend one e-book to several patrons despite the fact that it’s digital. Another publishing house charges us for every 24 check-outs. That’s to compensate for the money they’d be losing because e-books don’t need to be replaced.

The whole e-book revolution seems to have caught publishing companies and booksellers off-guard. I’m pretty sure the NOOK saved Barnes and Noble (though KOBO wasn’t enough to save Borders). Publishing houses are afraid of e-books sending them under, which has forced them into hasty action. Unfortunately, decisions made in fear often create new issues that can be harder to resolve. I won’t go into detail about that right now. Instead, I want to talk about what all of this means for writers.

E-books have opened the gate for self-published writers. Publishing companies charge about the same for an e-book as they do for a paperback. It’s hard for people to justify paying that much for an item that doesn’t have any production costs. However, publishing companies charge that much because they still have to pay overhead. They figure that if they charge any less for e-books, they won’t sell enough to cover the overhead. On the other hand self-published writers don’t have much overhead, especially if they choose to publish through Amazon or any other such company.

Writers can choose their own prices and receive a significant portion of revenues when they publish electronically. They also don’t have to go through the painful process of finding a publishing house who is willing to give them their first break. They can present their work directly to readers. Then, because of the low prices, writers are even making decent money from their self-published works. Publishing has never been so easy.

The power is steadily shifting in favor of the writers. There are still several roadblocks to overcome before self-publishing earns a reputable name for itself. Still, I think that the future of publishing will bear the face of the writer.

How Much for that Kidney in the Window: A review for The Missings, a novel by Peg Brantley

The weekend was murder and it was awesome, if a little on the short side. Got to say, I’ve been trying to find a good murder mystery for a while and found myself pleasantly surprised by The Missings, a novel by Peg Brantley batting at 376 pages.

themissingsbookcover

Image courtesy of Amazon.com

Now I said it was a little on the short side for two reasons: one, it is most definitely not 376 pages. About thirty of those are acknowledgements and a preview of another book. Two, the chapters are extremely short–we’re talking short like Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech before getting cut off by Kanye West. Anyway, I like short chapters well enough, but I’ve always been more of a “linger longer” scene-reader myself. Keep that in mind if you think you’d like this book. Now on to the good stuff:

Chase is a police officer in the town of Aspen, Colorado. When he finds two victims in a row who have similar physical characteristics, he’s sure he found a link. With his team, Chase discovers more murder cases in the last year with similar characteristics. The interesting thing? All are illegal aliens. The gruesome connection? All victims have had their organs surgically removed. The problem? Noncitizens aren’t known for their trust of American police officers. The case would be impossible to solve without the Hispanic community’s help.

Brantley did an excellent job weaving together the lives of over ten distinct characters and their roles in the Aspen murder mystery, both good and bad. Whether telling from the point of view of Chase, a cop with a soft spot for murder victim families, or of Daniel, a Hispanic detective who struggles with his inability to fit in either the American or Immigrant world, the author shows me characters that are deep and dynamic.

I struggled with this book mostly in the telling of the story—like I said, the characters were interesting and the plot was compelling, but the chapters were so short I felt like I only glimpsed what was happening. I wanted more! I also got lost at times because I had to remember so many names. With more development and less cut-scenes, I think Brantley could make a mystery that was just as punchy but with soft spots where I could catch my breath. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Virtual Reality Cookies are Sweet but Need Meat: A review for Gamers, by Thomas K. Carpenter

Once upon a time I saw an incredibly delicious cookie. I had no self-control, so that little morsel was taken care of within 90 minutes time. Now you probably understand that I’m talking about a book, not a baked treat, and that book is Gamers by Thomas K. Carpenter.

gamerscover

Image courtesy of Amazon.com

This is a true young adult dystopian coming in at 324 pages and a near carbon-copy of Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series. This book is fun to read, the concept is creative, and the idea that someone could “hack” life for real is pretty darn cool, in my opinion. Having said that, this book is pretty typical of mainstream YA sci-fi except Carpenter leaves out a bucketload of stuff that’d catapult his book from being a great self-published novel to a bestseller. Now on to the good stuff:

Gabby is a high school student living in a nerd’s dream: every activity in life is gamified and everything can earn you lifepoints (e.g. getting good grades, solving problems, brushing teeth, etc). Gabby’s deal is she’s quite good at LifeGame. She even hacks it to help her friend Zaela, who isn’t so great.

The plot thrust is that Gabby makes contact with an insurgent group called the Frags. They’re losers in the LifeGame but know the truth about the gamified reality. I loved this part of the book most but it was the smallest section! I hardly got to know the Frags at all or what they’d discovered about LifeGame’s sinister control factor. It was just a taste before Carpenter threw me into Gabby’s “Final Raid.” Some extra exposition at this point would be greatly appreciated, not to mention helpful for the novel’s character development.

Gabby’s “Final Raid” was a sort of fantasy adventure to earn her last lifepoints before graduation. This section took up well over fifty percent of the text. It was quite entertaining to read but did little to satisfy any curiosity I had about LifeGame, the government, the Frags, or how Gabby was going to deal with life after high school. Basically, if Carpenter were to make Gamers about 100 pages longer, there would be better character development and interaction overall, especially between Gabby and her friend Zaela. The concept of LifeGame is a sweet treat but it’s the people that make everything compelling.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The Dark Soil of Worm: A review for Worm, a web serial

Worm

Courtesy of the author.

The following review starts with a repost from a review that I had posted on Web Fiction Guide on June 25, 2012.

I registered on this site (which I’ve been lurking for awhile) just to review this.

Worm is fascinating in a lot of different ways, but let’s cover the basics first.

The basic premise is an aspiring superheroine who can mind-control various creepy crawlies. Taylor, our protagonist, seems to creep a lot of people out, and with good reason. She can be cunning, ruthless, and unyielding (she’s taken a knife wound to the gut once without flinching). She has shown an uncanny ability to expertly capitalize on the slightest weakness. And, of course, her power involves bugs, what else would you expect?

Still, for all of her strong survivor spirit, she has shown a nobility that transcends her infamy. In a world where the “good guys” constantly makes compromises for their own ends or to protect the status quo, it’s very easy to cheer for Taylor.

Worm is also fascinating for having a rich world environment. Wildbow, the author, has so far demonstrated a genius in developing deep characters with unique powers and/or limitations. Other reviewers have written on this better than I could, so I’ll leave it at that.

The best part about the story, in my opinion, is that the author is not afraid of writing himself into a corner story-wise. The story is interesting because you honestly don’t know for sure how even Taylor is going to react, or how she and her gang are going to survive. Wildbow himself has said that he doesn’t always know—yet, he hasn’t missed a single update.

End of content from Web Fiction Guide

At the time of writing, the audience did not know whether or not Taylor would be able to rise above her supervillainess roots. I also tried to make the above review spoiler-free. What follows will not be. In other words:

SPOILERS

Taylor has gained the trust of the gang that she has infiltrated, the aptly named Undersiders. However, she was never able to gain the trust of the superheroes. In a startling twist, she is betrayed by one of them, forcing her to abandon her aspirations as a superhero and to become a real member of the Undersider gang.

Meanwhile, she finds out that one of her heists was bankrolled by her mysterious benefactor as a means to distract the heroes while he kidnaps a young girl with prophetic powers. Taylor becomes haunted by this and resolves to do everything in her power to save the girl. But can one girl with such a weak superpower be able to stand up to the mysterious Coil? Can she even survive the constant onslaught of enemies that threaten her and her people?

Notes: Even though, technically, the story features a sixteen year old as the protagonist, the reader should be advised that this story is not a YA story. The story features gruesome violence, gut-wrenching topics, and swear words. In Brockton Bay, everyone is desperate just to survive and even the heroes are less than pure.

The story is about 900,000 words long so far.