Tag Archives: e-books

Why I Stopped Killing Trees

I’m a book lover. Have been all my life. I don’t even remember learning to read. So why am I now getting rid of most of my books?

Hint: It’s not that woman who says you should keep only 30 books. She also says that you should look at your possessions and ask whether they bring joy to your life. And all these books have certainly given me countless hours of joy, plus every other emotion you could think of. I couldn’t possibly pick only 30 that have affected me joyfully, or in some other way.

Nevertheless, my bookshelf now contains a mere 20 books. Oh, there will be more. But not nearly as many as there used to be.

Many – I venture to say most – were destroyed either by our recent natural disaster or by the incompetent salvage company that stored them in boxes which they left sitting on wet carpet for days. And then put the soaking boxes in a hot, lightless pod for weeks. Can you say “mold,” kids? I knew you could. Pages glued together? Plenty of that too. We’re currently going through those boxes and rescuing what we can.

Still, I’m discarding many more books than I’m keeping. The ones that are physically ravaged, of course, but lots of other books that are in relatively good condition. I’m not trashing those. I’m donating them to the Planned Parenthood Book Fair, where, to tell the truth, I originally got many of them. (That was the only place I’ve ever had to cross a line of protesters to buy a bag full of books. But I digress.)

What are my criteria for keeping and disposing, other than mold and water damage? I am keeping any signed-by-author books, ones that friends have written, a few books of poetry, and little else. Dozens of true crime paperbacks – gone. Dozens of hardbound as well as paperbound mysteries – off to Planned Parenthood.

I had hundreds of books. Maybe a couple of thousand. They filled three floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in my study, and spilled over into stacks on the windowsills and piles in the bottoms of closets, where normal people keep shoes. There were books all around the bed, in the bathroom, and on more bookshelves in the hallways and great room. There was even a bookshelf on the stair landing. More books than a person could read in a long lifetime. Though I had read my way through a fair percentage of them, I had a TBR pile tall enough to kill me if they tumbled over like a giant Jenga.

Now I’m replacing most of my books with e-editions. I like to think that I’m saving thousands of trees, but really my motivation is not nearly so lofty. I have nearly a thousand books on my Nook and I can carry them with me anywhere without being squashed and needing to have another back operation.

There are things I do miss about so-called dead-tree books: the solidity of them; the sensory touch of turning the pages; the colorful bindings, dust jackets, and covers; and, of course, the smell that takes me back to my days lurking in second-hand bookshops. And there are books that don’t do well in pixels, such as the Miss Peregrine books that rely so heavily on photos and hand-written notes.

Which brings me to why my husband is making the insurance company replace his books with actual, physical pages and bindings. He’s a very visual learner and had dozens of coffee-table-type books recording everything from the War in Vietnam to the legacy of the Grateful Dead to the latest fantasy art to Middle Eastern architecture. It’s actually kind of fun searching for them online, seeing if Amazon or ebay has the best price, and then stalking the mail carrier for a week afterward.

Anyway, books are books, no matter what form they appear in. I just dread the day when my e-book purveyor goes out of business entirely and I have to switch to a different dealer to provide my literary fixes.

Getting Closer to a Real Book

book chapter six
Photo by Kaboompics.com on Pexels.com

I’ve written before about publishing a book and how amazing it feels to get a response to a query from a publisher, a request for a complete manuscript, and an author contract.

There are even more joys to come, big things that make your book more and more real and smaller things that make you grin. Here are some of mine.

Being assigned an editor. Another person is now actually working on your book, helping to make it into something real and better.

Working with said editor. I’ve been an editor myself and know what it is like. It can be a game like chess by mail (or email, in this case). Your editor – in my case Aaron Smith from Eliezer Tristan Publishing – sends you a tracked manuscript with suggested changes and you accept them or not.

For my book, the great majority of editorial changes were right on, particularly in the matter of punctuation. I have a tendency to overuse commas, parens, and dashes. These are things that feel like my natural voice in writing but aren’t necessary or even correct. Aaron also helped me see where my writing needed to be fleshed out and where links to other sites were superfluous. Only one round of back-and-forth was needed before we both were satisfied.

Getting an ISBN number and barcode. If you’ve ever looked at the back of a real book, one you’ve bought at a store, you’ll notice the ISBN number and the barcode. The barcode, of course, allows someone to know the price and pay for the book. The ISBN number is what tells you you’re got a real book. Here’s an explanation from the International ISBN Agency: “An ISBN is essentially a product identifier used by publishers, booksellers, libraries, internet retailers and other supply chain participants for ordering, listing, sales records and stock control purposes. The ISBN identifies the registrant as well as the specific title, edition and format.” A real book!

The cover process. I understand that with large book publishers you simply take what you are given. My small, indie publisher, however, sent me a copy of what they came up with and allowed me to comment on it. It’s nice to be asked. They even gave me a do-over and a new designer when I didn’t like the first version.

The galleys. Or in this case, a copy of the documents laid out in spreads, like the open pages of the book it will be. I reminded the publisher that I wanted a dedication to my husband, suggested a way to make the table of contents a bit clearer, and pointed out when one essay title was in the wrong font. I don’t know if there will be final galleys after this, but if there are, I will read them thoroughly and promptly.

The bound books. I am not yet up to the point of this ultimate thrill, but I anticipate it with great incipient glee. When the box of 25 books arrives on my doorstep, I will, after my husband picks it up and brings it inside, rip it open, make high-pitched sounds of delight, and insist that many photos be taken of me posing with the books and in my Eliezer Tristan Publishing t-shirt and signing a book for Dan.

Then I will get to decide who gets an autographed copy and who has to wait for it to come to a bookstore near them.

The launch party. This is still theoretical at the moment, as I can’t afford to throw an actual party. Perhaps a local bookstore or library will let me do a reading and I can call that a launch party. Or maybe my friend Tom, who does online concerts, can coach me through an online launch.

The t-shirt. Completely optional. But my husband has said that he will take an image of the cover and have it printed on a t-shirt for us both to wear. Maybe we can call it advertising and take it off our taxes.

Then I can get to the really important stuff – promoting my book and selling it, which the publishers will also be doing. It takes a real book to be able to do that.

What I’ve Learned About Publishing From Lack of Success

I have been an editor. I have rejected lots of manuscripts.

I have been a writer. I have been rejected by lots of editors and agents and magazines and ezines.

Right now I have two books in the works: a memoir based on my other blog (bipolarjan.wordpress.com) and a mystery novel hovering around 40,000 pages (60-75,000 would be a reasonable length).

Here’s what I’ve learned.

BOOKS

I’ve learned one queries nonfiction with a proposal and fiction with a completed manuscript. However, I spent so long contacting agents and publishers about the memoir that I actually finished it while I was waiting to hear back.

At some point, you will reach the “This book is crap” stage. Do not give up. This is natural and to be expected at least once or twice. The thing to do is pause. Go read a book about how to plot or write description or whatever it is that made you say “This is crap.” Or work on another project for a while. You do have at least two going, don’t you? Or at least a great idea for another one? Or you could join a writers’ group and see if any of them can figure out the reason for the crapitude.

Note: The first draft is not a manuscript and should not be submitted. That’s why it’s called a first draft. You will need at least another draft or three before it’s ready to release into the wild.

Yes, you need an agent. Probably. Only a few publishing companies look at proposals and manuscripts that don’t come from an agent. There used to be editorial assistants who had to read those submissions, but budgets are tighter than tight in the publishing industry. You don’t need an agent to submit smaller pieces of work like short stories and articles.

Which brings us to:

EZINES and MAGAZINES.

I write blog posts of 600-1000 words and, if appropriate, submit them to online magazines. (Most of this applies to print magazines too, if you can still find one.) A large part of the time, it’s like dropping my writing down a proverbial well. But again, I’ve learned a few things.

First, a heresy: You will have to write for no money. At first, anyway. People who say not to write for free are coming from a position of privilege. They are at a stage in their careers when they can get actual money (at least a little). If you’re just starting out, you’re not. There are reasons for this.

Some editors will want to see work that you’ve had published, just so they can tell you can write, meet deadlines, and be professional. The other reason is exposure. Yes, I know starving artists die of exposure. Yes, I know that exposure doesn’t pay the rent. But it does help in other ways.

An agent or an editor will look at a query more seriously if it says, “I am a regular contributor to X website and have been published on Y and Z.” Or “I have had short stories printed in Publication A and B.” Even if you only got six copies of the magazine as pay, or a byline and a bio, these are credits. They indicate that you’re more than just a wannabe. After you’ve got a few credits to your name, you can start pitching to sites that pay.

Do you really need to pitch? Or can you just send a story or article? Publications differ. The website will have a page helpfully called “How to Submit” or “Submission Guidelines.” Follow these instructions exactly. If they say query first, do that. If they say send completed story, do that. If they say paste it in the body of an email, do that. If they say attach your file as a Word doc, do that. Whatever they want, give it to them. It takes longer than blasting out a flurry of identical query letters or submissions, but it increases your chances of getting favorable attention.

I have either made all of the above mistakes or seen them made by people who submitted work to my publications. I can’t guarantee that any of this advice will get you published. This business doesn’t come with guarantees. But you can piggyback on my failures and those of others on your way to becoming a success. Good luck. Even if you’re a terrific writer, you’ll still need it!

 

 

 

Books, etc.: Creating a Lifelong Reader

The other day I saw an article on the web, “Raise Lifelong Readers With These Handy Tips.” (http://blog.theliteracysite.com/raising-readers/?utm_source=social&utm_medium=trnfan&utm_campaign=raising-readers&utm_term=20150713)

It was a good article, and I had to admire the author’s pseudonym, Paige Turner. She (or he) said:

Booklovers are not born. An interest in reading and a delight for stories found within the pages of a book is something that has to be carefully fostered.

For kids who learn an early appreciation for reading, the benefits can be extraordinary … readers have a huge advantage from early on!

 

The advice in the article was all good: Read to your children, take them to libraries, be a role model, etc.

My mother didn’t know how to teach reading. But she read to me and my sister, as far as I can recall, every day, one on each side of her, nestled on the sofa. We went on frequent trips to the “bookmobile,” a library outreach trailer, and on special occasions to the library itself – even the big one downtown. This ample supply of reading material was supplemented with trips to a favorite used book store. We grew up surrounded by print.

Paige offered good advice, as far as it went, but it omitted one important point, in my opinion:

Love of reading starts before a child can read.

If you wait for your child to learn to read before you share reading experiences with him or her, it may be too late. It takes reading together to make a non-reading child into a reader.

I honestly can’t remember a time when I was a non-reader. Despite Paige Turner’s statement, I was very nearly a born booklover.

My mother didn’t follow all Paige’s good advice. I never remember either her or my father reading for pleasure. (My father did, much later, when he was ill with bone cancer and couldn’t get out of bed. Again the library outreach stepped in, and a dear friend who worked for them, brought him stacks of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour.)

To me, print is important. Picture books are good, but I think one thing (among many) that my mother did right, was to expose us to print at an early age. Even though we couldn’t read the black marks on the white paper, she read them for us. One thing this promoted was consistency. The story was the same every time, and that lead to the idea that the little black letters had something to do with how the story went.

Without being told, we were learning what reading was, even if we weren’t yet being taught how to do it. The words stood for something – something familiar and delightful, a magic so enticing I couldn’t wait to learn how to create it myself. So I didn’t wait.

Many years later I worked in a bookstore. Often a parent would come in and ask, “How can I get my child to read?”

“How old is the child?” I would ask.

If the child was a teenager, I would offer some suggestions, but inwardly shake my head. For most of them, I knew, it was too late.

That’s one of the reasons I adore the Harry Potter books, flawed as they are – they made reading cool, provided an experience so enthralling that even non-readers, pre-teen, teen, or even adult, would make the effort for a chance to experience the wonder.

(It’s also why I’m glad that the movies didn’t come out until years after the books began their epic sweep.)

Alas, reading is growing more difficult for me. I’ve had eyeglasses since the age of three and my eyes are now on a definite downswing. All the books I collected when my vision was more reliable are becoming blurs to me now.

I certainly need new glasses, and as soon as I can afford them, I will get some. (That’s another thing my parents did right that Paige didn’t mention – regular vision checkups and new glasses as needed.) And I’m intensely grateful that e-readers let you change the type size all the way up to humongous.

But if I’m truly going to be a lifelong reader, I probably ought to start learning braille now.

 

 

 

Books, etc.: Quitter

Don’t get me wrong. I can’t stop reading, even if I wanted to, which I don’t. I’ve read while walking down halls. I’ve read while getting blood drawn.(1) I’ve read under the blankets while sleeping on a sofa and nearly melted the Naugahyde. I’ve read when there was nothing to read but the label on a ketchup bottle.

I have always read books straight through to the end, too, no matter what. It seems wrong somehow not to finish a book that I’ve started.

Then came The Horror Novel.(2) The set-up started okay – it didn’t jump right into gore and heads in the microwave. It introduced the characters, like a good novel should. They were a couple, an architect and a stockbroker. They were extremely good-looking, seriously wealthy, and lived in a fine house with all the amenities. You were supposed to feel good about them and – well, horrified – when creepy things started happening to them.(3) Instead, I was rooting for the monster, whatever it was, to slaughter this ridiculous Ken and Barbie. And prevent them from reproducing, if at all possible. And tear down their marvelous house and set the rubble on fire.

I stopped reading, knowing that, in the end, the monster would be vanquished and I would be disappointed – nay, angry.

Now if a book makes me want to throw it against the wall, I abandon it.(4) I feel just a teensy bit guilty when I do, but I’m getting older and my time is limited. I can’t squander it on mediocre fiction or dry-as-dirt nonfiction.(5) There are so many books in the world that I’ll never get through all the ones I want to read.

Nowadays my to-read stack reaches the virtual ceiling and rivals my three floor-to-ceiling bookcases, plus the stacks in my closets, where most women keep shoes.

But at least now I can carry them around in my purse.

(1) I think they struck ink.
(2) Never my favorite genre anyway, unless it’s by Mira Grant.
(3) The first creepy thing was that they came home to an exquisite candlelight dinner that neither one of them had fixed. Oooh, yeah. Make me shudder.
(4) And not just because I use an e-reader and would be destroying my entire collection.
(5) Though I did keep around a biography of Prince Albert – the most boring book ever about the most boring man ever – in case I should run out of Ambien.

Books, Etc. – Books as Mashed Potatoes

Books are like mashed potatoes.(1)

Some books are like mashed potatoes.(2)

Mashed potatoes are warm and creamy, oozing with butter or redolent with garlic, or chunky with fiber-filled shreds of skin, if that’s your thing. They’re yummy and atavistic, a taste that tugs at the link between memory and taste and smell and emotions.

For me, a used bookstore taps into the sensory-emotional link – the scent of dust and aged paper, the warmth of an old heater, the motion of a rocking chair, the calming voice of the owner of a store I went to in my childhood and teens.

Books themselves and the act of reading are less sensory and more intellectual. But just as mashed potatoes are comfort food(3), some books are comfort books.

When I’ve been on a serious reading jag(4), engaging with books that leave me pondering or wrung out, or even sobbing(5), when I’ve overdosed on nonfiction that punches me in the gut or heart(6) I need reading material that’s familiar and soul-satisying without being overwhelming.

I need a comfort book.

I’ve had comfort books since I learned to read – books I’ve returned to again and again, that I never feel I’ve had too much of.(7) My first were Dr. Seuss’s immortal Green Eggs and Ham in my childhood and Bel Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase, in my early teens.

Later, my go-to comfort books were the Mrs. Pollifax series by Dorothy Gilman – fairly lowbrow adventure/cozy mysteries starring a little old lady working undercover for the CIA. Each book took place in a different country and served up a travelogue more intriguing than the plot and as appealing as the quirky characters and the practicality of the heroine.(8) Also, I know that nothing really bad is going to happen to any of the main characters – none of this “relative dies at the hands of a serial killer” or “best friend is kidnapped and tortured” or “haunting memories of the main character’s dreadful past,” the stuff of much modern crime or spy fiction.

Nowadays my comfort books are largely those by Lois McMaster Bujold. She writes intelligent, witty, engrossing science fiction and fantasy novels, the best-known being the Miles Vorkosigan series. The Vorkosigan books take on sf genres including military sf, space opera, interstellar intrigue, and more, all with solid backgrounds in fields as disparate as biology and engineering.(9)

Of Bujold’s fantasy books, I find most comforting the Chalion trilogy (The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt) or the first of The Sharing Knife series (Beguilement). Falling Free, a mostly stand-alone novel, is also a comfort book, nicely blending the possibilities of technology and humans.

And then there’s Tolkien. Don’t get me started on Tolkien. I’ve read Lord of the Rings dozens of times. My husband, a more visual person than I, has seen the movies dozens of times. As with comfort books, comfort movies no doubt exist. But we won’t get into those. Unless you really, really want to.(10)

Nonfiction comfort books are harder to come by. Familiar but dramatic stories (The Right Stuff), biographies of interesting people (
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

by Robert K. Massie)(11), and accounts or diaries of exploration do it for me. Ernest Shackleton’s diaries are particularly comforting in the summer. The vivid polar prose actually seems to lower my body temperature.

Your comfort books may be entirely different; in fact, they are almost certain to be, given our differing experiences and reading histories. My friend Leslie returns to the Catherynne Valente Fairyland series (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is the first), an excellent choice, but also joins me in nearly yearly Bujold binges.

The best thing about comfort books is that I can curl up with them in bed, on rainy or snowy days, with a cat, and lose myself. After eating a big bowl of mashed potatoes.

Now, that’s comfort!

(1) No. No, they’re not. Let’s try again.
(2) There. That’s better. Let’s continue until the analogy breaks down.
(3) Mac-n-cheese. Fried rice. Club sandwich. Grilled cheese with tomato soup, the way my mother used to make it.
(4) Trying to remind myself that I was once an English major and an aspiring member of the literati.
(5) Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief and Melanie Benjamin’s The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb were the most recent to make me cry.
(6) Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster by Melissa Faye Greene or And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts, for example.
(7) Hence mashed potatoes = comfort.
(8) There are only a few I could probably read now – the first of the series (The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax) and a couple of ones from the middle of the series that featured characters or settings that appealed to me (Bulgaria and Turkey come to mind).
(9) Of the series, the most comforting is A Civil Campaign, described as A Comedy of Biology and Manners. Memory is the best of the novels, but isn’t always comforting, given my experiences with memories and memory lapses.
(10) Hint, hint.
(11) Avoid Prince Albert, unless you suffer from insomnia. The dullest book ever about the dullest person ever was a biography of Prince Albert. Comfort books are soothing, not boring.

Currently Reading:
Fosse, by Sam Wasson
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold

New Features Coming!

What are the new features?

Books, etc. and Cats, etc.

Where do I find them?

Right here on this blog, Et Cetera, etc.

When will they appear?

Whenever I feel like it or have something to say on either topic.

Can you describe them?

Yes.

Okay, smart-ass, describe them.

Books, etc., will contain book reviews, books I’m reading now or have loved in the past, musings on trends in fiction and nonfiction, the writing life. Etc.

Cats, etc., will contain true tales about my life with cats, plus occasional posts on cat care, health, behavior, and cats in the news. And cat pictures. Yours, too, if you want to send them.

Why are you qualified to write these features?

I read a lot, write some, and edit more. I have a B.A. in English from Cornell and an M.A. in English from University of Dayton.

I have been owned by at least a dozen cats (no, not all at once) and lived with more. They have all been shelter cats or ones that found us. No purebreds, so you’ll have to go somewhere else if that’s what you want.

But what about the posts, stories, and general crankiness we’ve grown to know and love?

They’ll still be here. Books and Cats will be post titles, followed by subtitles.

Can you give us examples?

Well, sure! Blog: Et Cetera, etc. (same old address); Books, etc.: Why Haven’t I Heard of Melanie Benjamin before?; Cats, etc.: Stupid Cat Tricks.

Can we suggest topics?

Absolutely. Go right ahead. I might even write about them.

When will these new features start?

See above, where I said, “Whenever I feel like it or have something to say.”

How often will they appear?

See above, where I said, see above, where I said, “Whenever I feel like it or have something to say.”

When do you…?

Don’t make me say it again.

A Book Is a Book Is a Book

One would think that, considering my life-long status as an ardent bibliophile, I would have been one of the first to get my knickers in a twist at the rise of the (shudder) e-book.

But no.

I do admit that books are a wonderful, magical invention and that the solidity and heft of a printed book are a comfort. And the smell of them! When I was a kid I used to haunt Dennis Used Books and the moment I walked in, I was overwhelmed with the scent of paper, dust, ink, spices, pipe smoke, and the warm space heater.

I used to go to the library and come home with glorious stacks of books, each awaiting my avid reading. And rereading. And rereading. My mother would insist that I get at least one book I hadn’t read before.

Even as I write this (on a computer, not with a quill pen and a pot of ink), I am surrounded by shelves of books, stacks of books, piles of books, toppling towers of books, bags of books, autographed books, even a couple of first editions.

I wanted a book within reach everywhere. I had a bedside book, a purse book, a bathroom book, a car book, lest I be stranded somewhere with only a ketchup bottle for company. Hell, I used to buy purses based on how many paperbacks they would hold.  (I would try to make each book a different genre so that I could switch back and forth among them without losing track.)

The thing is, many of my bibliophile friends complain of the insubstantiality of electronic editions. And admittedly, they do not offer the same sensory delights as “dead-tree” editions.

But.

The content of a book is still the same content, no matter how it’s delivered. If each new technology had been rejected for its difference and novelty, I would be sitting here surrounded by scrolls of papyrus and creating these words with a pointed stick and a slab of clay.

Printed books were easier to make and distribute than hand-copied ones. Saint Gutenberg brought inexpensive, widely available reading to the masses. Anyone could own a Bible, a biography, a newspaper, a novel. And bibliophiles were born and said, “It is good.”

E-books have made the written word even more accessible. You don’t even have to go out in the snow. Just press a few buttons and you have a new book – or even a very old one – instantly available.

The e-book functions very much like a printed book. It may not replicate the heft or scent, but it remembers where you stopped reading and goes there promptly. It allows you to look up an unfamiliar word without first hunting down a dictionary. It lets you read in bed without disturbing anyone who is sharing that space.

There are some types of content that are not suited to e-books – picture- or photo-heavy texts, for example. (Though I read National Geographic quite happily on my tablet.) But otherwise, the content of a book is still the content of that book, whether it’s ink on a page or pixels on a screen.

And for me, the e-book holds one overwhelming advantage – the very insubstantiality that others dislike. I now can carry with me, wherever I go, 300+ books. Even 3000, if I want to. To a person with a bad back, this is a godsend.