B is for Book

Welcome back to The Author’s Alphabet.  You can read earlier posts here.  Each week, I’ll be posting another letter of the alphabet, selecting a word that starts with that letter, and sharing my view of what that word means to me, as an author.  Then, the fun begins — you get to comment, question, poke, prod, and otherwise get involved with the discussion.

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B is for book.

Once upon a time, the vast majority of books were published in two formats:  Hardcover and Paperback.  Sure, there were subsets — hardcovers could be coffee table books, or children’s picture books, or babies’ board books, or regular ol’ literature sandwiched between rigid, cloth-covered boards.  And paperbacks could be mass market (the convenient pocket-size books that most of us thought of as paperbacks) or trade paper (exotic beasts, printed with fine covers and even finer paper, primarily serving up Literature.)

Welcome to the modern age.

Hardcovers continue to exist (although not many people buy them any more.)  Paperback is still around (although, sales are dropping).  But a multitude of new formats have appeared to fill the gap — .mobi (for reading on a Kindle device or app), .epub (for reading on a Nook and on most other devices or apps), .pdf (for people who like to torture themselves while reading), .html (for people wanting to read online, through a web browser).

And then there’s the expanding notion of a “book”.  Almost every day, I hear someone say that they “read” a “book” through Audible.  I have to admit, those words still jangle for me — I think of reading as being the act of passing one’s eyes over text.  Listening to that text is something else entirely.  (I’ve made this argument many times.  I continue to be surprised by how many people disagree with me.  Vehemently.)  In any case, toss recorded books into the format mix.

For most of my life, I treated “book” — at least when I’m discussing fiction — as synonymous with “novel”.  For the books I’ve written, that’s meant stories of approximately 100,000 words.  Until I got a letter from my publisher, asking me to keep the next book at 80,000 words, so that it could be printed economically in a world where paper prices were soaring.  And until I started writing category romance, where 60,000 words was considered the gold standard.  Until the standard shifted to 65,000 for some imprints.  And 70,000 for others.

Electronic publication is changing the way people think about book length.  When we stared at potential purchases on bookstore shelves, we were reluctant to spend $X for a skinny little novella, when we could have purchased a full-length novel for the same bucks.  Sometimes, we held off on buying the extra-long tome as well, because we knew we couldn’t easily carry it on the subway, or to the beach, or in line at the grocery store.  Electronic readers blur those distinctions — short and long reads aren’t as glaringly obvious.  The prevalence of short fiction in some hot electronic genres (e.g., erotica) has trained some readers to accept — even to expect — shorter works.

Of course, there are variations of “book” that I haven’t even touched on — graphic novels, and anime, and books composed entirely of tweets or Facebook posts.  Next year’s definition of book is likely to be more expansive than today’s.  And so on, and so on.

These changing definitions have a real impact on my life as an author.  Whenever possible, I work hard to harness the features of unique formats.  If you buy one of my books in .epub format through the Barnes & Noble website, you’ll find links to other books written by me — in the same format, available through the same vendor.  Likewise, I “personalize” my books for Amazon, Book View Cafe, iTunes, and Kobo.  I’d be a fool to ignore my readers’ preferred formats.

Readers’ increased interest in shorter works opens up possibilities for me.  At the moment, I am seriously considering publishing nine inter-related novels next year (a romance mini-series, with the first book launching in April, and the last coming out in December.)  Those novels will be relatively short — around 50,000 words each.  I’ll be pushing myself substantially to write 450,000 professional words in a year.  I could never consider meeting my old writing lengths — 900,000 words — in a single year.

My earliest novels (The Glasswrights Series and Season of Sacrifice) are already available from Audible.  At this point, I haven’t seen graphic versions of any of my work.  But those points might change in the not-too-distant future.

B is for book.  And authors write books.  But our definition of book is changing, day by day, week by week, year by year.

Are you reading or writing in different ways than you were five years ago?  Ten years?  Twenty?





B is for Book — 6 Comments

  1. Pingback: B is for Book | Mindy Klasky, Author

  2. Pingback: B is for Book | Bibliotropic.com

  3. I have to admit that one of my biggest frustrations is with the pricing of electronic books. I fail to see why the publishers set the kindle price essentially the same as the mass paperback price. There is no cost of paper or printing, so why isn’t it less? I am skeptical that the authors get that extra money that wasn’t used to print the physical copy.

    And also on the pricing, maybe it is just me, but when I see a book of a little over 100 “pages” priced the same as one of over 300 “pages” I always go for the longer book. Even in the electronic world there is the same thought to book size as in the print world (at least for me).

    I am all for supporting new authors (as my kindle will show), but only if I am getting an actual “book” and not a college creative writing submission. Call me a snob if you will, but I can’t be the only one who thinks this way. It is also terribly annoying when the author keeps repeating themselves within the same book, sometimes even within the same chapter. This isn’t your high school English class where the instructor graded on number of words, this is the real world with people purchasing your work hoping for something new and creative (or at least derivative).

    If any publishers are reading this, please feel free to chime in…

    • Wow – lots of things to unpack in this comment!

      Pricing of ebooks – As you probably know, there’s active litigation about this in federal court — Apple was found, just today, to have price-fixed, increasing prices of ebooks to the detriment of buyers. I, personally, won’t buy ebooks over a certain price point; I’d rather wait to read the book once the paperback comes out and the price drops. I *do* understand that publishers fold the ebook price into the model for the entire book — they need to earn $Z, which is made by making $W on hardcover plus $X on paperback plus $Y on ebooks. To some extent, the different formats can — and often do — subsidize each other.

      Book length — I understand saying, “I’ll never pay $X for a book less than Y pages” — I certainly got to that point when hardcovers crested the $25 mark. That said, I think that the key thing is clearly labeling the length of books — let buyers choose after they’re informed.

      Editing — I believe strongly in professional editing, and in the sale of professional books. Some authors who regularly make the NYT bestseller list have, um, a different definition of “professional” than I — there are some atrociously edited self-published books on the market. (To be fair, there are some pretty bad traditionally-published books, too, but traditional publishing *tends* to weed out the most egregious violations.) There are many authors I’ve decided not to buy again, because I can’t tolerate their casual relationship with English grammar.

      • Oh, and forgot to mention that I LOVE your books. Have for years. 🙂 And this even before I met you at the Jane’s house. 😀

        Please let me know when you are back for a visit as I would love to have you sign copies of the Jane Madison books. For you I will double up and get physical copies to go with my electronic ones.