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Old 07-13-2010, 02:58 AM   #1
Hitech_luddite
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Do Ebooks Make the Reading Experience Too Narrow and Personal?

Don't get me wrong. I love my little ebook reader. As someone long term unemployed and with limited funds it has opened me up to a mass of free content which I am loving exploring. However several weeks of lurking in these forums have convinced me there is something about the attitudes which I am seeing here that are in my view not healthy for the craft of writing. Rather than exposing people to a greater wealth of material, ebook reading seems for some to be narrowing their scope more than ever, meaning there are difficult choices to be made for the writer.

In sitting down to write my first ebook, the Gods of the Terminal, I did not set out to offend anyone. I had a creative idea which I pursued and allowed characters to speak using the terms and the imagery which seemed appropriate for them. I sometimes used colloquial adult terminology because it fitted the modern informal tone of the narration much more than precise biological terms would. Like generations of writers before me, I made thoughtful choices in the words used and I would hope the reader would respect that. However reading ebook reviews of other people's work, both here and at other sites, I cannot help but feel the fundamental compact between writer and reader is breaking down. Writers are being judged not on the book they have written but on the book the reader wanted them to write.

I love the poetry of TS Eliot and fully accept that in his latter years he was a man of faith who wrote from a religious perspective. Not sharing his religious views does not mean I cannot appreciate the quality of his work. There are people here that have said they will not download any Christian fiction. I am a pagan and I can say that I honestly enjoyed Violet Dawn immensely. It was a thrilling and moving story which had it not been so labelled I probably wouldn't have recognized as Christian fiction since the religious references were subtle and well integrated. Links of Utopia was more explicitly preachy towards the end but I still got a lot from the book and was glad I read it. The writer must bring out what is within them, and if that is a Christian conviction I can respect that.

In another thread here a writer was criticized for his use of religious swearing. I haven't yet read his book but I have little doubt he chose the vocabulary that he thought his characters would use. Is the craft of a writer to hold a mirror up to reality or offer an idealized version of it which has been shaped for the individual prejudices of the reader? Because ebook sites encourage categorization, which is always a dangerous thing, there is a real temptation to go with what we know we like. Moreover we are dependent on how other people view and class a book in order to find it. This isn't something unique to online stores, I am sure we have all heard the tale of the book shop that placed the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy in the Travel section, but it exacerbates the growing difficulty.

As a young man I remember visiting Foyles of London, back then both the biggest and most disorganized book store you could ever have imagined. You could almost guarantee both that they would have the book you wanted and that you would never find it, but in browsing would probably come out with several others you hadn't previously considered.

Perhaps because ebook reading software is installed on devices as personal as phones, the reader now seems to expect and demand a more personalized experience, reflecting the language and themes only of his choosing in his selected literature. If there is now a right not to be offended it is a misguided one, because literature and great writers should be able to challenge us. In dictating exactly what we want to read it seems that that we are losing faith in the skill of the writer and that the inevitable consequence is that publishing will become such a mechanical process that ultimately the reader will be able to pick from a menu the things they want included in their download, so the paragraphs covering love scenes for instance, can be ripped out of the book before it is transferred to the ereader.
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Old 07-13-2010, 03:18 AM   #2
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Within almost any book I've ever read are passages that I find tedious or at least predictable. Doesn't mean I will condemn the book (or its author), nor does it mean I will stop reading. Most of the time I also find passages that are entertaining, thought provoking and sometimes even intellectually challenging. Those I love and they will keep pulling me back.

I much prefer books books where you have Good and Evil fighting each other and Evil goes away the victor. That doesn't mean I'm a fan of Evil or even inclined towards being Evil, it just means that sometimes Evil does win, at least in real life.Hardly ever in fiction though. That is why I also love walking around in disorganized giant bookstores, because you never know what you will walk away with. When I'm in its electronic alter ego I try to do the same, unfortunately the browsing feature is geared towards an organized selection that discourages the adventurous among us.
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Old 07-13-2010, 03:18 AM   #3
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You make some interesting points, to be sure. And while I can't speak for everyone of course, only myself, I don't overly worry about classifications or genres when picking out books. I pick out what sounds interesting. And in doing so, I have gotten to read some very good books that have made me stop and think about ideas or issues I hadn't considered.

And I'm willing to bet a great many readers do the same thing. As with most things in life, the ones who object the loudest to "offensive or objectionable" are generally in the minority, as most of us are too busy reading to actually sit down and write reviews.

I myself am very guilty of this, I keep meaning to write reviews, but then I get busy reading another book and forget all about writing the review.

So go ahead and write your stories your way, if they sound interesting to me, I'll read them, it not be assured that it wasn't because of the language you used.
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Old 07-13-2010, 03:24 AM   #4
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Welcome to the world of abundance. People are no longer limited in what they choose to read. If they want to be challenged, they can be. If they want comfort reading, that's available too. In the world of abundance, choice becomes very personal. It is no longer limited by what's available in current access.
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Old 07-13-2010, 08:24 AM   #5
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My opinion? There is nothing new under the sun. Your piece could have been written 70 years ago about pulp paperbacks and resonated with many people. For good or bad, art is always pushing limits.
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Old 07-13-2010, 09:55 AM   #6
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@ Hitech_luddite: While I totally understand your concerns, it is still you, the author, who decides what to write and what language to use.

You may offend some readers, you may enlighten some. As gastan says, nothign new under the sun, and definitely not fundamentally eBook-related.

Anf if you publish your work yourself you decide on which shelf your eBook will be put in any online store. If you use a publisher. he/she will attend to that fact.

Just write. Worry later.
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Old 07-13-2010, 10:13 AM   #7
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The world evolves. Some things improve, some get worst. Do I miss my friendly corner-store librarian and the advice he could give me? Sure. But would I trade it for being able to go online, read hundreds of review of a book, then download it and start reading it within minutes, without getting off my couch? Not a chance in hell.
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Old 07-13-2010, 10:28 AM   #8
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It's an interesting sketch of how you see things to be changing.

If the middle-man is removed from writing, there is likely to follow a much closer relationship - and much more discussion - between author and readers. In some ways this is a good thing; but when I think of my all time favourite books, the majority seem to have been written by authors who had very singular views of the world, gloriously unadulterated by the demands of the market/fans.

If you take the idea of the reader demanding a 'personalized experience' far enough, you might imagine a stage where the author offers several different plot branches on their web-site for fans to choose their preferred path. But surely the pleasure of reading fiction is to see another (hopefully exceptional) person's view of the world. It's about empathy, be that pleasurable or uncomfortable.

A real advantage of an ereader for me is that it removes a layer of pre-judgement from texts. I can download a spooky anecdote from a website, and read it in the same packaging as a Penguin anthology of ghost stories. I can write my own short story and it is immediately 'packaged' to be read in the same medium as that of any print-published author's. This is a good way of personalising choice for the reader. He or she is free to choose whose recommendations to listen to; potentially free of the judgements of agents and publishers of which are 'quality' texts and which are not.

Foyles was a great bookshop. I think if there were more like that still in existence, I would have far more qualms about switching to e-books. The only one of similar quality (but smaller) I can think of anywhere near me is, http://www.jabberwockbooks.co.uk/. The chains are more sterile by far than visiting a website.


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Old 07-13-2010, 12:43 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hitech_luddite View Post
...several weeks of lurking in these forums have convinced me there is something about the attitudes which I am seeing here that are in my view not healthy for the craft of writing. Rather than exposing people to a greater wealth of material, ebook reading seems for some to be narrowing their scope more than ever, meaning there are difficult choices to be made for the writer.
Intuiting general trends from such a small and self-selecting sample as a forum like this is a bad plan. It's a statistically insignificant group.

To get a real idea of reader habits, you'd have to pore over databases of companies like Amazon and B&N, who have both significant ebook sales and long paper book sales histories.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Hitech_luddite View Post
However reading ebook reviews of other people's work, both here and at other sites, I cannot help but feel the fundamental compact between writer and reader is breaking down. Writers are being judged not on the book they have written but on the book the reader wanted them to write.
Ok, but what does that have to do with ebooks?

Fans, particularly the hard-core vocal types, tend to be highly demanding. The difference isn't the medium or the delivery, it's the line of communications between author and audience -- that is, for those authors who choose to open that line of communication.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Hitech_luddite View Post
In another thread here a writer was criticized for his use of religious swearing.
Ya know, I'd imagine that as an artist who wants sales, you have to pay some attention to your readers. But I don't see how caving in to their every whim helps you as an artist, especially since the desires of the members of your audience are likely to contradict one another as well as your own goals.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Hitech_luddite View Post
Because ebook sites encourage categorization, which is always a dangerous thing, there is a real temptation to go with what we know we like....
• "Categorization" has been rampant in the book biz for a long time.
• Ebook sales don't encourage categorization any more than paper books. In fact, there's essentially no difference between the ebook and paper site designs for Amazon, B&N etc.
• Niche marketing and niche sales, in addition to also having a long history, are trends in the culture at large rather than "just ebooks." (On a separate note, fwiw there is still a desire for the big hits.


I'm not finding your position terribly persuasive. Pretty much at every step of the way, someone somewhere has decried whatever changes are underway -- dating all the way back to the invention of the printing press, and more recently cheap paperbacks; big chain stores; online sales; POD, etc etc. I.e. your idealized era for authors -- assuming it existed as your fond memories recall in the first place -- was probably someone else's nightmare.

I also have to echo some other comments in that change is just the nature of things. You cannot dip a commercial enterprise or cultural structure in amber circa 1950 (or 1970 or whatever idealized year you have in mind), that's just not how the world works.

What can I say, I think if you really want to make it as a writer, you need to worry a hundred times more about landing an agent than what a bunch of web forum posters think. Yours truly excluded, of course.
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Old 07-13-2010, 02:06 PM   #10
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For me, e-books are more likely to broaden my experiences in reading (and already have, to a limited degree), especially when it comes to public domain classics. I'm far more likely to try new authors and genres if I am able to get them for free or cheap (I am on a budget), without the time constraints public libraries have to impose, and without having to browse a bookstore. I love bookstores, especially used ones, but, at the same time, I find it very frustrating to dig through racks upon racks of books when it would be so much easier and faster to browse online from the comfort of my home at any time of day or night.

Mayhap part of the problem the OP is lamenting is the idea of witing an e-book vs. a paper book. Why the distinction? To me, a book is a book no matter the media it is delivered in, be it hard back, paperback, audio book, e-book, or papyrus scroll; the content remains the same. The differences in media merely reflect current technology, ease of use for a variety of people, what one is comfortable with, and how much one is willing to pay. I personally find audio books difficult to follow (having ADD makes it difficult to stay focused) and, thus, detest them. Other people find them easier, especially when multitasking. There are people who look down upon paperbacks (likely from the outdated unsavory reputation they gained because, when first introduced, they were mostly used for really tawdry trash stories) and will only read hard backs. To me, expense is the important criteria. Granted, a huge bookshelf filled to the gills with beautifully leather bound books is impressive to behold (and I love the smell of leather). But, in the end, the content is the same so why should an author set out to write an e-book? For the past ten to twenty years or more, pretty much all books have started out in a digital form that was easily edited and formatted before being transformed to the target media. For reading at home, I'm finding e-books to be far more convenient than paper books. Once ebook readers advance to a level of technology and price I find accceptable, I'll prefer them over a paper version when away from the house. Will it narrow my reading experience? Not even! Even if a new title comes out I want to read and is only available in paper or DRMed e-book forms, I'll buy the non DRMed paper book, cut it apart, and scan it (I will be doing so anyway so it won't matter if I do it before reading it or afterward).

Again, no matter the media, the content is the same so, once the technophobes and tech snobs get over themselves, it should be business as usual.
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Old 07-13-2010, 03:01 PM   #11
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I tend to agree with your observations but I do not see how that is related to e-books and e-reading in anay way. I always had an abundance of reading material, even when I was financially limited to what I could get free from my local or school library. I could be just as fussy and personal in my choices as I wanted to be since, oh, about 40 years ago.

It is true that the internet brings us a great deal more chaff but there are ways to improve your signal-to-noise, such as asking for recommendations here. Might you miss something or someone important? Sure. But that was ALWAYS true.
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Old 07-13-2010, 03:21 PM   #12
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Feedback is more readily available to authors nowadays, is all. It's up to them whether they pay attention to feedback.

As for e-reading being narrowed: I think the opposite is true. Many readers explore beyond their usual reading if e-books are free or cheap. For me, e-reading is just about portability. I choose e-books as I do / did print books. I'm selective and am willing to pay for quality.
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Old 07-13-2010, 03:32 PM   #13
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Quote:
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Rather than exposing people to a greater wealth of material, ebook reading seems for some to be narrowing their scope more than ever, meaning there are difficult choices to be made for the writer.
In my experience the arrival ebook readers and widely available ebooks has had the exact opposite effect. I've found myself reading a wider variety of authors and genres than before. While I still love Science-Fiction and Fantasy I've sampled and enjoyed detective fiction, thrillers and even *gasp* paranormal romances on my Kindle.

I've delved into unread classics just because they're free and easy to download. Plus, with my Kindle no one can see that a big oaf like me is reading Jane Eyre.
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Old 07-13-2010, 03:42 PM   #14
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I agree with penforhire, it's not about e-books but about how our culture is evolving, in part as a result of the permanent instant global feedback the Internet allows.

On the other hand, the Internet also gives you tools to show and sell your works, even if they don't appeal to a majority of people (supposing the people who object to swearwords actually are a majority, and I have no idea whether that is true or not - they might just be the comments you notice the most). The world changes, some changes are good, some are not so good. But on the whole I think the Internet offers wonderful opportunities to creators who are not established yet.

The thing is to learn to listen to the comments, but not become a slave to them. Because you will find that some people hate your style, but others love it, and maybe they will love it for reasons you would never have imagined. You shouldn't become a slave to positive comments either of course. Just try to enjoy the exchange, but keep doing what you have to do

[For the record, I'm not a writer, but I am a painter, and there are more similarities than you'd think]
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Old 07-13-2010, 03:57 PM   #15
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The words of a book are going to be the same on paper as on a screen. So just write the book and forget the medium. Just let the words do the talking.
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