Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kate's Kindle Diary Day 5 and beyond: Don't go changing...

Due to a nasty autumn bug, I've been able to share more quality time in bed with my Kindle. After nine days with my grey companion, I think I am on safe ground saying that it’s more than a flash in the gadget pan... I have found my perfect e-reading match.
He might be simple. He might be a little limited. Too matt, bordering on dull at times. But, in the (supremely patronising) words of Mr Joel, I don't want clever conversation.
I love you just the way you are!

I really look forward to picking K up, and to selecting something to read that exactly suits my mood. No different from having a shelf-ful of glorious books, I guess except that a) I don’t normally buy lots of new hardbacks on the off chance I might like them enough to read past the first chapter and b) if I have too many books on the bedside table it generally freaks me out and makes me feel very guilty.

Yeah, just like Billy J, I do like the fact that the Kindle is a one trick pony. It makes it hard for me to do anything BUT read – laptops and iPads have so many other distractions, but the Kindle is for reading and I actually think it might even improve my attention span, which has been seriously eroded by surfing. There’s no over-functionality here. It does what it’s meant to. OK, there’s a browser but the temptation to check email is severely diminished by the fact that it's a terrible faff.

Sample downloading is my new vice, but it is definitely encouraging me to embrace new genres and new authors – though, crucially, I still haven’t bought anything. I will, honest. But for now, I am enjoying the pick ‘n’ mix qualities of the Kindle.

As for what it means for writers, well, many smarter people than me are pronouncing on this. I do think that that first fifty pages, always absolutely critical, becomes even more important now. In conventional bookstores, it’s the cover, the blurb on the back and the first page that seal the deal, especially for newer/less well-known authors. The e-reading fraternity have more to go on, so a cracking first paragraph must be followed by fifty more pages up to the same standard. Once I do purchase, I will be pretty sure I want to stay with that author.

Niggles – well, it does feel weird to be restricted to the UK store. I understand all about rights – a lot of my income comes from selling my work in different territories (countries or regions) – but I wanted to look at How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely (a novel, rather than a self-help book, though obviously I would love to know how to do it myself) the other day, and while it’s been published in the US, it doesn’t arrive here till next May. Somehow the question of different rights in different territories seems less relevant and more archaic when you’re downloading. I don't think rights should necessarily be changed or relaxed, because they are so important for the publishing industry, but it's an issue.
Final statistics:
Samples downloaded: 47
Classics: 8
Children's classics: 4
Money spent: £0

Oh, and one final whinge. Where’s Scrabble? The Americans have been able to download it for a while now, yet there’s no sign of it here yet. Grr.
***Mumbles off moaning whose language is it anyway. Then goes onto Kindle store to search for books about the invention of Scrabble/global English etc etc etc.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Kate's Kindle Diary Day 4 - and post number 400!

Wahey, four hundred posts today! A good excuse to add the fireworks, eh? And to tell the truth I was getting a bit bored with Kindle's monochrome qualities.

Today I'm going to talk about Writing and the Kindle.

Maybe ‘digital natives’ will grow up different, but most people I know find it almost impossible to spot errors in documents or emails ‘on screen.’ Yet when the text is printed, it’s immediately obvious that your exclamation marks have been breeding and your mental spellcheck is on the blink.

That was one of my reasons for choosing the Kindle – I can upload my own work, then read it as I would a published book, even annotate as I go along. That was the theory, anyway.
My first issue was working out how to email it to myself. If you have the 3G version, you can email your own Kindle address, and pay a fee to have the material sent to you, based on how large the document is. Seems a bit mean to me, but then again I guess people might abuse it with ENORMOUS documents. You can place a limit on how much each document will cost you, so I’ve set mine to nil, plus the mailboxt is automatically set so that you will only receive emails from designated addresses (otherwise you could end up paying for spam). The emailing process also converts your document into the right .azw format for Kindle.
The alternative is to send to the FREE address which also converts the doc and sends it to your normal email address, so you can use the USB to transfer it to the Kindle, and it also sends it to your Kindle if you’re connected to a wireless network. The latter option proved irritating. I got a message on the Kindle saying an email had been sent but I couldn’t seem to ‘download’ the attachment, or work out how to swap the machine between 3G and Wifi. It all seemed too fiddly so I ended up doing a wired transfer.
But despite these delivery niggles, the reading part works terrifically well. I sent the Word draft of my new Young Adult novel, Soul Beach, and it looked JUST like a book, without the hassle of having to print it out and haul around a ream of paper, or change the formatting on Word so it’s in two columns (something I’ve done before to 'trick' myself into reading it as though a work-in-progress was a book). I could change the font size, spacing and even have the text-to-speech function read it to me. Very smart!
The commenting is also easier than I feared. Just click on a word, type and it allocates a number. You can view your annotations as a list. Having said that, I haven’t yet worked out how you transfer these or use them at the editing stage, but there’s a good article here that suggests you can. It does imply that printing is a pain, because publishers want to avoid people printing off entire books (hmm, why WOULD you do that, though? Seems like a red herring in the piracy stakes). I might actually use a different notebook for thematic questions, in the same way that with a printed paper manuscript I write on the page and then add the annotations on screen later.

This ability to read and work with your own work is cool and arguably the most useful feature for a writer. Though being able to download those lovely samples to research the best in your genre/area of interest and work out how they get readers hooked (or not, as the case may be) comes a pretty close second.
Samples downloaded: actually deleted some (by left clicking on the five-way button, took me ages to work this one out) though I will not name the two excerpts. One YA was overly Gothic for my tastes, and another chick lit was so clothes obsessed I thought it must surely have been written in the 90s. Nope. Published this year. Not for me. Now down to 24 samples.

Money spent: still none, sorry, Amazon. But soon...

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Kate's Kindle Diary Day 3

So, you’d be expecting something pretty wild in the ‘experimental’ section of your 2010, third generation Kindle, eh? Perhaps a demo of the kind of much-heralded multi-media content that will transform e-books (though, in black and white, it might not seem all that flash). Or a K-dar where you can match up reading matter with other Kindlers in the area, and find true love/friendship/fellow Hobbits.

Sorry to disappoint, but what you get is a not-bad text to speech program that will read to you for as long as you like, an MP3 player I haven’t tried yet, plus possibly the world’s most frustrating web browser.
Ugh. I know that it’s ‘only experimental.’ That we’re too used to touchscreens and that therefore it was always going to be frustrating. But presumably Amazon also wants to limit the amount of time/data used by Kindlers with the free 3G to check their emails etc. by making browsing as irritating as possible.
They’ve definitely achieved that. For a start, the internet looks wrong rendered as monochrome ‘printed’ text. Well, that’s to be expected, but it’s still odd to see. Interesting, but odd. The real problem is navigation, as you need to use the ‘five way’ button to select the part of the page you want to interact with, i.e. to enter a password, click on a link etc. As an internet addict, I’ve surfed on many unsuitable phones and devices, but this is easily the most irritating.
But I am a dogged sort, and I do think it could come in handy when abroad and not in the mood to clock up roaming charges or go to an internet cafe if I just want to check my email.

Kate's Experimental Wishlist
They should have included:

  • An iTunes ‘genius’ style function which analyses what you’ve read so far – language, theme, style – and makes recommendations depending on mood.

  • A Loathe-o-meter which connects you wirelessly to other readers who only got a page or two into a recent bestseller before hurling down the Kindle with dangerous levels of force.

  • A Truss One Click App enabling you to send corrections to authors/publishers when you spot errors of punctuation or grammar.

Amazon, honestly, you should have me on your R&D team.

Samples downloaded (total): still 26. Too busy snarling at browser to download more.

Money spent: £0

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Kate's Kindle Diary Day 2

Today I took my Kindle for a walk! Obviously I was worried about its little screen getting scratched and I hadn’t been able to bring myself to spend £50 on an 'official' case that really ought to be provided with it, so I googled for alternatives and decided to ‘upcycle’ an old Jiffy bag by cutting it down to half the size. I was going to post a step-by-step tutorial but I am guessing you can work it out for yourself. Perhaps I will embellish it later with ribbons to stop the Kindle falling out. I am very crafty, don’t you know!
Anyway. Took it to the park. Sure enough, the print was as clear as a book would be in bright sunshine, no dodgy reflections. I kept looking up, hoping my new baby was attracting some attention, but the nearest I came was when a man with a bag approached purposefully. Coming to admire my lovely new bit of kit, surely? No. He only wanted to sell me ‘cerveza, cola, fanta, agua.’
The truth is that the Kindle isn’t the prettiest. It’s a very Windows/PC type gadget, the plainer, more business-like cousin of a Mac or iPod. So it might be a while before anyone comes over and coos.

No matter. My Kindle passed the ‘lying on my back holding the “book” aloft’ test and the page-turn buttons on either side, which some have criticised, meant I could go back and forwards using the same hand. It actually felt lighter than a normal paperback, and equally it passed the ‘lying on my front with ankles carelessly held up in the air looking like trendy student girly type advertising the Kindle’ test.
And as I bought the 3G version (rather than the Wifi only version) I could also indulge in my new hobby of... downloading samples! The world's literature awaits. Effortless...
Which is more than can be said for - well, let's leave that one till tomorrow, eh?
Samples downloaded (total): 26
Money spent: £0

Monday, October 04, 2010

Kate's Kindle Diary Day 1

OK, so it arrived on Saturday, when I was nursing an unspecified, not especially dramatic bug of the kind that leaves you lethargic and glandy, without any specific symptoms that you can use to scare the life out of yourself by googling.

My Kindle has had quite a journeyfirst to my parentsin Merseyside, then to Spain, the reason being that you can’t choose to have a UK Kindle (with access to the UK titles in the shop) if you live here in Espana. Not sure of the logic of this, and I can’t imagine Europeans generally being too pleased at being linked to the US shop, but there we are.

Unpacked it in a hurry - the box said it was 'certified frustration-free packaging' which struck me as irritating. I was going to post a shot of the box but then I got a grip.

There are more techie reviews and macro close ups of the thing than you can shake a stick at on the web, and mine looks exactly the same as everyone else's. Kinda grey. What I want to do here is to talk about how it’s affecting my reading habits, so I will only say that, no, I didn't cut myself on the cutesy cardboard box and yes, the type/e-ink is amazingly clear and book-like from the moment you see the thing (the picture shows a close-up of the screen), and yes, it felt solid but light in my hand. Not pretending to be a book at all, but with enough familiarity to make the connection clear.

Initially I downloaded lots of freebie classicsincluding Winnie the Pooh. The illustrations looked great. But I didn't quite feel the same enthusiasm for starting on Crime and Punishment. OK, it's brilliant that the Kindle stays the same weight once I have thousands of pages of Russian Literature available to me, but embarking on a Great Work is no less daunting for that.

Hmm, I thought. Maybe I need to read something more contemporary. Shall I download The Help? Or Stephen Fry’s latest? Somehow the choice of my first paid for book seemed Significant.

It was only after reading this Guardian piece that I found theread a samplebutton on the amazon page – I swear I am normally more observant but there are a lot of buttons on the right of the amazon page!

Well, that was me. Off!

Went on a downloading frenzy and, in particular, was seeking out books that had been reviewed in the weekend papers. So in went When the Lights Went Out by Andy Beckett, about the 1970s, Whoops! by John Lanchester and The Blitz by Juliet Gardiner. I can’t help thinking that Amazon should have a page forfeatured in the paperswith hotlinks to the reviews, as there’s something rather cool about reading a review, clicking onto Amazon and buying, within the space of a few moments. On Me and My Big Mouth (in an article originally published five years ago), Scott Pack insists that reviews don't sell books. I wonder if this might change, at least for those who live online?

Not that I have bought anything yet! No, I am still sampling away. My library includes:

Classics: Anna Karenina; Madame Bovary; Dracula; Diary of a Nobody; Crime and Punishment; The Moonstone; The Phantom of the Opera and A Christmas Carol. All free.

Children’s: The Jungle Book, Grimm’s Fairy Stories and Winnie-the-Pooh (again, all free)

Samples: oh, yes, this is the biggie: When the Lights Went Out; Whoops!; The Blitz; Agent Zigzag; Operation Mincemeat; Eat Pray Love; Freedom; Nothing to Envy; Mini Shopaholic; The Help; Sister; Room; The Legacy and A Place of Secrets.

Interesting, for me at least, that I am really open to sampling non-fiction when my usual reading is predominantly novels. Not sure how many will transfer into purchases. Or whyperhaps it’s because non-fic books are generally so heavy to buy in print? Having said that, you presumably miss out on photos (unless they are reproduced in the full versions).

Samples downloaded: 14

Money spent: £0

Day 1 conclusions: samples are like crack. As a reader, it’s fun to flit between books. As an author, it might lead to fewer sales as the reader is spoiled for choiceor maybe the iTunes effect will apply and people will be buying like billy-o, electronically, as it’s so much less painful than handing over real cash or using Amazon’s new choice of courier, Home Delivery Network which has, to put it mildly, ‘mixed reviews.’ And unread books will be less intimidating on the Kindle than on the about-to-topple-over, guilt-inducing to be-read-pile on the bedside table.

What do you reckon?

Shake-up

Right, this ridiculous neglect of the blog has to stop! Just because I am writing/planning three books simultaneously and learning a foreign language and trying to shift my appalling case of Writer's Bum through painful gym-going does not mean I can become a slacker on the cyber-front.

So, stand by for Special Features. Beginning, later today, with My Kindle Diary - I know there are millions of people blogging about their New Best Friends but mine will be different, honest. For a start I will make Very Wise and Perspicacious Comments about the Future of Publishing.

Honest.

To follow that, I will be trying to blog once a week, minimum, with a mixture of writing tips, news and general musing on living in two places at once.

I just hope this new plan outlasts the my brief experiment with Photos of the Day. Hmm.