Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ebook Prices From the Reader's Perspective.

When I first started this blog, I did so with a very simple strategy, namely that I wasn't going to make an ass out of myself until I absolutely had to. Hence, mostly shutting my face about writing or publishing until I've proven that I can actually sell something. However, what I do have under my belt is twenty some-odd years of being a reader, and a good fifteen or so of paying for those books out of my own pocket. That's, like, three doctorates. If those trashy romances I hid from my mom until I was sixteen only knew what educational value they possessed! But I digress.

There's a discussion making the rounds in ebook circles, mostly indie, about what the "correct" price for an ebook ought to be. One fear is that, now that indie ebooks have burst the idea that an ebook has to go for ten bucks a pop in order to be quality or professional, there's not going to be any bottom until the books are free or sold so cheaply that writers can't make up in volume what they sacrifice in profit per book. Since anyone can indie publish, the supply is bound to outstrip the demand and drive prices lower and lower until no one can make a living wage as a writer. A $2.99 book in competition with a $.99 book will invariably lose, and then the $.99 book will lose to a cheaper alternative, and so forth, just like an expensive television cannot compete with its less expensive cousin as long as they're both doing roughly the same things.

Guys, speaking as a reader on this, humans just don't think that way. (By which I mean that I don't think that way, but what the hell: wildly generalizing we shall go!) Money is an abstract. It's only useful in that it gets you stuff, places where you can keep that stuff. When I buy the cheaper television over the expensive one, I think of the difference in terms of the groceries and cable bill. When I buy one physical book over the other, I'm thinking in terms of where the hell I'm going to put it when I'm done reading. That doesn't work quite the same way with ebooks, so long as a few caveats are kept in mind. The difference between a $.99 and $2.99 book, or even a $.99 or $4.99 book, isn't large enough to be computed into the all-important stuff algorithm. It's not "this book OR that book", it's "this book AND that book." Which can (and frequently does) get me into trouble when certain impulse control issues come into play, but I'm assuming that most of you don't snuggle your Kindle against your chest while shrieking about how you are now to be addressed as the lizard queen after you've gone on a good word-binge. There is a certain maximum amount that I'm willing to pay for an ebook, which currently favors the indies because the difference between $2.99 and $12.99 is officially big enough to curb my impulsive side and bring the stuff algorithm into play, but most of the discussion I'm seeing is using $4.99 as the absolute top-most price.

There are also side discussions going on concerning self-respect and the value that one places on one's own time and effort, but that's largely irrelevant to the argument that I'm making as a reader. Keep in mind, though, that it's also going to be irrelevant to everyone else approaching the discussion as a reader, but if you're thinking it through enough to start busting out formulas that make my eyes cross just to look at them you're probably not pulling out any of the ~artistic sensibility~ standbys.

Monday, July 25, 2011

On Heroes

So, I saw Captain America on Sunday, and I loved it for all of the reasons I've been enjoying Marvel movies lately: aesthetic consistency (I can easily picture the two Iron Man movies, Thor, and Captain America happening in the same world), remembering that good is not boring and that this ride should be fun, and perfect casting*.

To be frank, it's the second item in that list there that has me swinging more and more to Marvel's side of things after years of being a DC fangirl. (To the vast amusement of a certain hardcore Marvel fan that I'm friends with.) (And DC making it more clear every day that they don't want girls in their clubhouse certainly doesn't help.) I have a sad confession that I must make to you all: I love heroes. When I say that I'm a recovering DC fangirl, I mostly mean that I'm a recovering Superman fangirl. I love characters who do the right things because they're right, even when it's hard, even when it hurts, for reasons bigger than their personal baggage. (I haven't seen the final Harry Potter movie yet. I know that I'm going to bawl like a bitty girl as soon as it gets Harry's walk through the forest, and I would rather do that in a theater with as few people in it as possible so that I can at least pretend to have dignity.) Because good characters don't have to be boring, and heroism needn't always arise in response to a darkly hidden trauma. More than that, good characters who step up and get their hero on for no other reason than because the world needs them and they have the power to make a difference stand as symbols to us. Media is a powerful, powerful tool when it comes to shaping how we view the world and interact in it** Heroes are symbols of what we can strive to be even if we're not terribly strong, don't have a magic hammer, or can't fly. The empathy and concern for others, that is something that anyone can do, and that's why I will always and unabashedly love writing and reading about heroes. During the film, a little boy runs by with his own makeshift Captain America shield, going to play the hero in whatever way he can. It's probably my favorite moment out of the whole movie.

Oh, dear. I think I'd better go now, before I get even more disgustingly earnest and/or Platonic. We'll return to your regularly scheduled snark next time!

*I howled with glee with RDJ got Tony Stark, because come on. Tony Stark is an addicted screw-up who finally got his crap together and then turned out to be awesome. He does autobiographical superhero movies! On the other hand, having seen Chris Evans in mostly comic roles, I had my doubts about him as Steve Rogers, but he just radiated decency and compassion all over the screen even as he was kicking Nazi ass.

**I'm a child of the late nineties, the first Green Lantern that I knew was John Stewart, and he's stuck with me ever since as the Green Lantern, no impostors need apply, even though I know that Hal Jordan came first. I don't talk about representation/erasure a whole lot around here, mostly because I think that it's more productive to fill the gap than to bitch about it, but: it matters.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Quickie Post: Let's Have a Straw Poll!

I'm sure most of you have heard by now that Stephen King is picking up the Dark Tower series again. This is the point where you're probably imagining me flailing about the room like an utter dork, doing dances that no one should ever see, and only calming down in fits and starts so that I can type. I mean, I've read everything that the man's ever written, often three and four times. (Or fourteen times, in the case of the Book-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named.) I read It at nine by "borrowing" a copy from one of my mother's friends, hiding it under the couch, and gulping it down thirty and forty pages at a time whenever I managed to go over. The Gunslinger still has one of the greatest first lines I've ever read. ("The man in black fled west, and the gunslinger followed." We ought to include that in a Touring test; any truly advanced being will immediately shiver.)

I am so ambivalent about this eighth book. Outlining, or the lack thereof, is the primary reason why. I fully respect the pantsers. Some of my best friends are pantsers. In anything under 15,000 words, I am a proud pantser myself. However, it was fairly obvious by the seventh book (sixth, to be perfectly honest) that King didn't know where he was going and was making it up as he went along. Fine if you take the series as a very long novel that he could go back and edit in order to clean up the flailing bits, not so good when the first book was twenty years old. My inner Type-A is clutching at her pearls (of course she has pearls) at the mere thought.

So, friendly folks, are you a pantser or an outliner? And pantsers who have series written or planned, how do you do it?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: The Jakarta Pandemic by Steven Konkoly

My first review Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian Review Challenge! I actually thought about doing the ground-breaking review on The Stand before deciding that reviewing a novel that's thirty-five years old was probably against the spirit of the review challenge. I also love that damned book so much (even the uncut edition that you could beat someone to death with) that it would have been the blogging equivalent of throwing glitter repeatedly against the screen. However, I do love me a good pandemic, and the ominous oranges and reds on the cover of this one tugged me in right away.

Summary: In the late fall of 2013, a lethal pandemic virus emerges from the Islamic Republic of Indonesia and rages unchecked across every continent. When the Jakarta Flu threatens his picture perfect Maine neighborhood, Alex Fletcher, Iraq War veteran, is ready to do whatever it takes to keep his family safe. As a seasoned sales representative for Biosphere Pharmaceuticals, makers of a leading flu virus treatment, Alex understands what a deadly pandemic means for all of them. He particularly knows that strict isolation is the only guaranteed way to protect his family from the new disease.

With his family and home prepared for an extended period of seclusion, Alex has few real concerns about the growing pandemic. But as the deadliest pandemic in human history ravages northern New England, and starts to unravel the fabric of their Maine neighborhood, he starts to realize that the flu itself is the least of his problems. A mounting scarcity of food and critical supplies turns most of the neighbors against him, and Alex is forced to confront their unexpected hostility before it goes too far. Just when he thinks it can’t get any worse, the very face of human evil arrives on Durham Rd. and threatens to destroy them all. Alex and his few remaining friends band together to protect the neighborhood from a threat far deadlier than the flu, as they edge closer to the inevitable confrontation that will test the limits of their humanity.

My Thoughts: Alex is an engaging narrator, both flawed enough to remain interesting and decent enough that I kept rooting for him and his family even as he did some admittedly questionable things. War veterans as action leads are pretty common at this point, as are doctors, but a pharmaceutical rep was a new one on me. Konkoly also injects some originality into the society-destroying virus genre by not killing all or even a majority of the human species. Unlike King's 1-in-500 immunity rate in The Stand, only about 20% of people wind up succumbing to the super-strain of flu. 20%, however, with the other 80% shrinking away from their neighbors and any sense of ethics larger than the familial in fear and a Northeastern winter racing up is more than enough to bring all of civilization grinding to a halt. Konkoly works the claustrophobia created by a suburban neighborhood still rendered impassable by snow and ice, paranoia, and a complete absence of civil services to great effect; the danger is palpable even before human malice shows up in the form of the Mansons. They're called that because we never get their true names, and in fact they only show up at all in the last third to quarter of the book. Sparsely-drawn, they're also not the real villains of the story, as both Our Heroes in the form of the Fletcher family and the neighborhood at large have been growing steadily more savage towards each other for weeks before the sociopaths popped up to say howdy. By the end of the book, Alex's primary ally is a right-wing gun nut that he would have crossed the street in order to avoid four months prior.

What could have been improved: needed another go with a copyeditor, as there was a tendency to switch from past to present tense and then back again midway through a sentence that cropped up just often enough to set my teeth on edge. I also would have liked Alex's PTSD and the hardening of soul that it brought about in him as winter wore on to be drawn out a little more clearly as something that wasn't necessarily admirable; while the book ends on an ambiguous note and everything that was done was done in the name of survival and with little other choice, the Fletchers are a creepy bunch of folks by the time that it's all said and done. If I'm going to do stars, hearts, etc., I still enjoyed the hell out of it and would give it four out of five overall.

Friday, July 8, 2011

So, I finished a series today.

Four books clocking in at a collective 320K words, probably whittled down to around 280K once I really start taking a scalpel to it.

ME: "I wrote Lord of the Rings..."

AUDREY: "Yay!"

ME: "...in cat vomit."

AUDREY: "Well, not if you're going to put it like that."

I've always heard "kill your darlings" as a warning to writers that they're going to have to start slashing apart something that they love. What happens when what you would really love is an excuse to go Mad Medea on it? Any other writers out there have this experience?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review: Egypt the Uprising

Never help a coworker get their groove back. (Unless, of course, you, like, want to be a nice person or whatever.) One full year later, they will be an absolutely terrible "No" person who whispers sweet nothings about how new laptops are technically tax write-offs if you get off your ass and have a book out by the end of the year as you promised yourself.

Absolutely shameful, it really is.

Anyway, as a result of my computer-related foibles over the past week or so, I haven't had much time to do a standard blog post, and no one really wanted to listen to me natter on about writing until I've proven that I can, anyway. What I did do was read. A lot. One of the books I gobbled down:

Egypt: The Uprising (Battle for Maat #1) by Amira Aly

Book Description from Amazon: A debut novel like no other-- touches on the apocalyptic flavors of the times and tells of a history that transcends the past.

Why is the Arab world in turmoil? What instigated the Spring of Freedom?
There is more to the story than meets the eye...
The very fabric of the world is at stake.

And , believe it or not, your fate lies in the hands of one book-loving Egyptian teen with an extraordinary heritage .

Aya is an Egyptian teenage girl trying to mind her own business and take care of her brother. As their country is swept by the tides of a revolution against a tyrant nicknamed the vile pharaoh, Aya tries to stay adrift. But her blood has something different in store for her.

Learning what the Ancients have always known, She joins a battle for truth and freedom-- a battle for Ma'at.

It is not just a story, however, it is a world-within-world, and a fresh tantalizing outlook on the events in our modern world.

This elegant novella is an introduction to a multi-volume series... The Battle for Maat.

My Thoughts: Overall, I enjoyed this. Aya is a smart, proactive heroine, and Aly is skilled at weaving Egyptian mythology into the modern world without clunking the reader over the head or making you feel like a toddler trying to catch up. (A compelling dose of pseudo-science and the immediacy created by setting it against the recent Egyptian revolution helps.) The story is well-paced and, though I guessed that Sheddy wasn't dead, there were several twists which took me well by surprise. There were about a dozen typos, which isn't awful for a novella-length work, and it could have used another go of fine-line editing to clear out some clunky sentences. The author has since put up a copy with the typos corrected, though, and I'm interested in where she goes next.

Buy this author's work on Kindle, B&N, or Kobo.

Note: While my "inexplicable love for ugly things" tag might amuse the hell out of me, I realized that I can't expect people unused to my sense of humor to realize that I'm poking my love of genre rather than their individual works. So, alas, it must be retired.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Blogger! I return!

Actually, no, I don't. I'm having a number of computer issues right now that are currently leaving me internet-functional but unable to work in anything that isn't longhand, which is obviously an issue when it comes to drafting or blogging (the thing that you're all here for). I'm working on it, and begging the sweet and lovely IT guys to get me one more year with this laptop before I have to purchase another one.

In news that I hope is not related but highly suspect given the timing, my Yahoo account was hacked Saturday morning. Now, this is not the account that I use for professional correspondence, but I access them both from the same computer, and this "coincidence" in timing is bringing forth serious side-eye in me. If you get an email that looks as if it's from me, for the time being I highly urge you to contact me on Twitter before you open it. I'm MariStroud thereabouts, too.

See you when I see you, y'all, which hopefully won't be too long of a gap. (Obvious statement is obvious, but: damn if the internet doesn't move like lightning.)