Tag Archives: ebooks

Glitterland by Alexis Hall – quick thoughts

Glitterland cover art

The universe is a glitterball I hold in the palm of my hand.

Once the golden boy of the English literary scene, now a clinically depressed writer of pulp crime fiction, Ash Winters has given up on love, hope, happiness, and—most of all—himself. He lives his life between the cycles of his illness, haunted by the ghosts of other people’s expectations.

Then a chance encounter at a stag party throws him into the arms of Essex boy Darian Taylor, an aspiring model who lives in a world of hair gel, fake tans, and fashion shows. By his own admission, Darian isn’t the crispest lettuce in the fridge, but he cooks a mean cottage pie and makes Ash laugh, reminding him of what it’s like to step beyond the boundaries of anxiety.

But Ash has been living in his own shadow for so long that he can’t see past the glitter to the light. Can a man who doesn’t trust himself ever trust in happiness? And how can a man who doesn’t believe in happiness ever fight for his own?

This is a book that I could appreciate, in terms of writing and construction, but I didn’t love it. For technical merit, I give it a 4.5/5; for my personal enjoyment factor, 3/5.

1. Sometimes the prose in this book is lovely and striking. (I loved the game of Nabble, and dinner being prepared, and other scenes.) While other times it edges past lovely and veers into purple.

2. I really hate when pronunciation is spelled out to match dialect/accent, and the spelling of Darian’s Essex accent was extremely distracting.

3. The narrator was a pretentious twit and not a very sympathetic character. Writer struggling with mental illness — should generate sympathy, right? But I spent most of the book wanting to smack him for being a snobbish jerk. Is it ableist to think that being ill doesn’t excuse him from common courtesy?

4. The blurb tells me that the narrator was the golden boy of the literary scene but nothing in the text showed me that. It just showed me a writer with some commercial success.

5. Another personal taste quirk: the bubble graphics used to accompany the time shift markers were twee.

6. Dear editors: the country in South America is spelled Colombia. People who come from there are Colombian. That famous Spanish-language mystical realism writer is not Columbian but Colombian. That’s not a UK vs. US spelling difference but correct usage in both BrE and AmE, and it was missed here. (And, yes, it’s another pet peeve of mine. Even though I appreciate the shout out to Gabo.)

 

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PSA: ebook alert

Carla Kelly’s anthology, Here’s to the Ladies, is available as an ebook.

HTTL is a collection of short stories set in the American West, beginning with the Indian Wars and going through the  early 20th century. The book was originally released as a trade paperback by the publisher, a university press I think, about 9 or 10 years ago.  It’s a book that I thought was worth full TPB price — enough so that I bought a second copy to give as a gift.  While $9.99 is a little spendy for an ebook, the collection is worth that price in general I think.

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Real books vs. ebooks

I love to visit The Strand bookstore when I visit NYC:  so many books, so many choices.  And I’ve bought OOP and used books from the online store.

Having said that, I must confess that their marketing slogan, “Real books lower priced than ebooks!” seriously irritates me.  Whenever I see it in the store, I roll my eyes and walk past.  It appeared in the subject line of an email yesterday, and has really stuck in my mind since then.

The Strand makes money selling paper books, rare and common, old and new.  Ebooks aren’t something they sell or deal in at all.  I understand why they want to grab potential book buyers and their attention and their spare cash.  But calling paper books “real” implies that ebooks aren’t.  The nature of an ebook is a philosophical and legal question that can be debated for hours.  But what this slogan says, in so many words, is that the medium of the story being told is more important than the content.  Is that really the message an advocate of books/reading/literacy wants to send?

IMO, it will alienate ebook readers while pandering to readers who value the object over the content and who feel superior for their paper choice.  I don’t know, maybe their market research tells them that their customer base is not composed of ebook readers, so the slogan will work.  (It must be working — it’s been in use for several months at least.  Maybe The Strand is a brand that doesn’t need technology, or maybe its customer base is made of hipsters who love the retro aspect of reading paper books?)

There are always going to be people who want paper books.  And other readers who prefer ebooks.  And people like me who read both.

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A related question

Sunita has a great post up over at Dear Author about the hidden costs of the $0.99 ebook.  I haven’t commented, primarily because I’m not a consumer of $0.99 or free ebooks for the most part, but also because I haven’t worked out my own opinion about the value/risk relationship and social “responsibility” of readers to the reading/writing/publishing ecosystem.  There is a great conversation going on about the value of the $0.99 ebook (or the free book) as a loss leader and social value/risk of cheap ebooks.

At least one commenter (to whom I will link if I can find her again in the 100+ comment thread) has mentioned excessive pricing as a counterpoint to the cheap ebooks.  What is a reasonable price for a novella?  In the last couple of weeks, two of my favorite authors have released ebook shorts of approximately 20 and 35 pages each, priced at $2.99.  While I respect their desire to make a living writing and their autonomy in setting prices for their self-published work, that price seems excessive.  Taking the shorter ebook into consideration, at least 2 of the pages will be “wasted” with author bio and copyright information, leaving a story of perhaps 18 pages costing $3.  That works out to ~$0.17 per page: I can think of very few paper books I’m willing to pay that price for — maybe the annotated edition of Emma? But that is a beautiful object, while this is a very short story that I don’t even own, after all — I just have  a license to it, I can’t resell it or share it or swap it legally.

After being burned by a similarly ridiculous price by the same author earlier this year, I’m reluctant to pay that price for an even shorter (and older, reworked) piece now.  While a lot of readers love this author, he’s edging off my auto-buy list after a few too many overpriced shorts.

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In which I am a broken record

I’ve posted before about the prices attached to ebooks, particularly e-only releases.  There are some epublishers whose prices are, frankly, highway robbery, given the material and production values involved.  I won’t go into the prices of ebooks from the major NY publishing houses, because that’s been covered ad infinitum by better and more knowledgeable bloggers than I.  And if you don’t want to read this version, feel free to click away or to find one of my earlier versions, most likely posted under the “sbd” tag.

Anyhow, ebook prices.  One ebook with an intriguing blurb at a review site prompted me to check out the excerpt posted at the publisher’s website.  Interesting.  Maybe, and at $3.99 not too expensive…until I checked out the length.  Which one does when one has been burned by piddly stories for insane prices, as I have been.  Fifty five pages.  Seriously, epublisher?  Four dollars for what amounts to a short story?  I don’t think so.

Last week I tweeted in irritation about the *extremely* short story by Josh Lanyon (an auto-buy author) that works out to about 20 pages.  The price?  $2.99.  My own fault — I should have checked the file size or page length before buying but was in such a rush for new Lanyon material (he’s on hiatus this year) that I clicked without doing any due diligence.

Okay, I want authors to be able to make a living, and be able to continue writing and thus entertaining me.  But I do not appreciate price gouging, especially when half the time (although not in the Lanyon example above), the editing is lousy and the book is essentially a first draft with crappy craft, misused punctuation and uneven pacing.   And yes, I know that unless an author is self-publishing, s/he has no ability to control the price set by the publisher, who in theory is setting the price based on cost plus whatever estimated profit margin.  Except I wonder what cost is incurred sometimes, especially when the formatting is wonky or homophones are misused or basic points of history are incorrect.

At about the same time, another reader was complaining about the length and content of the new Suzanne Brockmann short, Beginnings and Endings, which cost $1.99 and was about 35 pages.  There was a little bit of Authors Behaving Badly (or acting entitled), too.   I received a paper copy as part of the promotion for the most recent hardback, so I didn’t pay for it outright (although technically I did, because I wouldn’t have pre-ordered the hardback but for the extras provided), but would have probably been unhappy with the value for money if I had.

Assigning value for money to a book purchase seems like a losing proposition.  In the end, it feels like a price per word metric, which isn’t what I really want to do.  (It did seem to work for Charles Dickens, though, didn’t it?)  Certainly there are authors whose very short works I would be willing to pay top dollar for.  It just seems like a lot of epublishers aren’t giving a great deal of quality for what they are charging, and the lack of uniformity from one epublisher to another is maddening.  After buying from enough of them, you realize that some (backspaces and removes names) are habitually overpriced when quality and length are considered.

What does this all mean?  For me as a reader, it means I’m less likely to try new-to-me authors from an epublisher.  Why spend $4.99 on a very short story by someone whose voice/style/worldbuilding I may not like when I can spend the same on a trusted author or an author from an epublisher whose quality to price ratio is more reasonable?  It means that I download a lot of samples and excerpts, and then pay attention to how much or how little polish there appears to be, and make a buying decision based on that.  FWIW, I’ve deleted a LOT of samples lately without purchasing, sometimes because the story doesn’t appeal but more often because of awkward dialog tags, missing direct address commas and the ubiquitous your/you’re, etc.  And every time I click the delete button, I wonder what, if anything, the publisher did before slapping on a price point and uploading the book to its website.

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Bits and bobs

+ A collection of previously published novellas by Carla Kelly has been published by her new (non-mainstream romance) publisher, Cedar Fort.  I thought I’d read all of her novellas before, but there is one that I hadn’t encountered.  At $2.51, the three novellas are a bargain compared to the cost of the print backlist.

~  Have I been an observer of the romance publishing industry (and publishing generally) too long?  A couple of recent posts written by people I thought were long-timers ponder things that I thought were common knowledge or generally understood.   An author blogged recently about the relative size of her name on the cover of her new Harlequin Historical regency novel.  I dunno, it seemed a little disingenuous for someone who has published several books with H/MB that their titles are fairly standard and seldom reveal much of use about the contents of the book and that many categories are sold based on line or author alone.  And elsewhere in my feed reader (apologies, I can’t find the blog to link now) another blogger mentioned learning only recently (2010) that the decision to move to hardback was not one in which an author usually has any input.  Really?  Hasn’t this been discussed by author after author as their books or series gained success?  I can recall Nora Roberts addressing this years ago when the In Death books moved to hardcover.  Eh, I feel jaded and old.

+ David Simon, former reporter and and TV-writer/producer of The Wire, Treme, Homicide, and Generation Kill, has begun to write at his long held but unused website.  (via Media Bistro).

~Sports in romance: I love and hate it.  Read the sample of a m/m novel (ridiculously priced, which is one strike) whose characters are baseball players.  In some ways, the sample showed a lot of baseball knowledge.  Yet in other ways, it was a little off.  Or maybe I just think it’s off and my understanding of baseball is off.

~ When I saw the cover for Suzanne Johnson’s urban fantasy novel, Royal Street, I did a double take because I first saw the author’s name as Susan Johnson and wondered when the Old School romance novelist had moved into UF.  Uh, no, different author.

– When did 35,000 words become “novel” length?  That’s…more like a novella in my mind.  When I searched for standard novel lengths, this interesting post came up, among others.  Pretty uniformly the various websites indicate that a standard novel length is over 50,000, and anything less is a novella.  Is this word inflation?  Maybe.  Of course, the e-publisher whose definitions prompted this check is one of the pricier e-publishers; knowing they charge $6.99 for an ebook that is half the length of an HP is disenchanting.

~  While looking at various holiday resorts, I ran across The Towers at Mullett Bay.  Now, I know that the word has and had other uses historically.  But all I can imagine is a harbor full of be-mulletted men now: not the image I want for a vacation.  😛

 

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Cost per word

Yesterday, after reading a positive review of an ebook in my feed reader, I hied me off to Amazon to buy a copy.  The title is a fairly common one and that particular book isn’t available for Kindle yet, but I clicked on a similarly titled book and was taken to what amounts to written porn (that title/setting is apparently a popular one for porn, who knew?).  I have no objection to porn, and might actually have bought a copy until I read in the description that the collection included “over 15,000 words” — as if that is a high word count — for only $6.99.

Okay, let me put that price in context.  A Harlequin Presents category clocks in at ~180 pages and 50,000 or so words, and is priced at $3.29.  So Amzn and/or the publisher want me to pay twice that for a quarter of the, er, output?  I don’t think so.

Now, I know that the romance publishing industry and the porn publishing industry are not synonymous, although arguably there is some overlap in light of the popularity of erotic romance and erotica.  But are the price points that different?  Is $6.99 for what amounts to about 30 pages the standard?

Are books commodities to be weighed by word or sold by the pound?  As a consumer, is it fair for me to treat the purchase of a book, the distillation of an idea into a package, the same way I treat the purchase of other goods?  Maybe not, but there has to be some sort of benchmark for what I’ll pay and what is too much.

Certainly in the context of other goods and services I’m willing to pay more for what I perceive as quality or simply a taste or style that suits my taste, otherwise why would I buy Diet Coke rather than generic diet cola?  Or prefer one type of oatmeal to another?  I pay more for hardbacks for certain authors than I’m willing to spend on others; some books I’ve got in more than one format (ebook, mass market, trade, *cough*The Curse of Chalion*cough*).  But I’m not at the point where I’m ready to pay $7 for a very short bit of wank material that appears to be poorly edited based on the sample I downloaded.

On this same subject, I tweeted the other day about another a 66 page book (length given in the publication information) priced at $3.99.  Vacuous Minx noted that she might pay that much for the work of an author she trusted; it’s a reasonable position and I agree.  But in that case, there were direct address commas missing and punctuation and spelling errors in the sample, which had me deleting the sample and clicking away from the buy button.

Where is your line in terms of price and book length?

~~~

And on a similar note:  making a sample available for download that includes ABSOLUTELY NOTHING except the copyright information and author bio is totally fucking useless as a PR or marketing move.  To me as a reader in terms of judging the quality of the writing as a basis for then buying the book, it is an utter failure.  In fact, I’ll decide NFW and spend my book budget elsewhere.

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SBD: what subgenre was that?

Prove It by Chris Owen

(c) 2011

Torquere Press Publishers

 

Let me begin first by saying that I enjoyed this book as I read it.  Most likely I would not have sought the book out but for SarahF’s review over at Dear Author.   While I read Owen’s 911 early in my m/m romance reading career[1], the few other Owen books I tried didn’t compel me to add him/her to my autobuy list.  But this one sounded good based on the review.

Warren and Silas meet for the first time at the age of five. It doesn’t go well.

When they reach junior high they have a truce in place and Tal, a new guy in their class, acts as a catalyst, bringing them together as best friends. Together all through high school, they survive school plays, Tal’s girlfriends, Silas’ boyfriend and Warren’s endless studying. College is more of the same, until Silas and Tal coax Warren out of the closet.

For Warren nothing changes, but for Silas the world has unexpectedly changed forever. He had no idea he was in love with his best friend at all, and when he finally tells Warren the reaction is another surprise.

Prove it.

Warren knows all about Silas, knows the tricks, the games, the very best and the very worst about him, and Warren loves him back. But Warren also knows that if they’re going to be together it’s got to be forever, and he can’t just risk everything for what might be another one of Silas’ whims.

Silas has to prove he loves Warren, and he wants to do just that. But how do you win the heart of someone who knows you better than anyone else?

The summary makes it pretty clear – friends to lovers theme, youngish heroes, the big conflict being entirely internal.  All good.

Once again, let me reiterate – I enjoyed the book.

So it pains me a little to say that Prove It, as a genre romance novel, was somewhat forgettable.  It worked much better for me as a coming of age or senior YA book, as boys transition to young men and figure themselves out.

The friendship dynamic between Tal, Silas, and Warren was by far the best developed relationship of the book.   Owen did a great job showing how Tal as buffer of sorts made it possible for the two of them to be close friends despite disparate personalities and interests.  The alternating narration early on, when the boys go on their own “Stand by Me” type adventure was excellent.  The way readers learn about each boy’s sexuality suits each boy:  loud and out in front for Tal; abrupt and then all-in for Silas; followed by a rational observation from Warren.

The maturity the boys demonstrate in some areas required significant suspension of disbelief.  Perhaps the boys of my acquaintance, in college and now, were immature, sex-crazed twits, but they would seldom have aired the concerns that Silas and Warren did about sex generally and what it might do to their friendship more specifically.  Sometimes it seemed that someone years older than the characters were supposed to be was talking.  On the other hand, Warren is depicted as being extremely thoughtful and utterly brilliant, so maybe it shouldn’t be such a stretch?

Warren’s reservations about any sort of romantic relationship with Silas were reasonable and credible.  And yet his position felt like a line drawn in the sand and an indictment of Silas’s approach to life and relationships.

The majority of the sex in the book is Warren’s…with people other than Silas: his first fumble with his roommate’s brother and then a full-on sex scene with his regular booty call (for lack of a better description).   It didn’t offend me – I don’t need for the hero to only have sex with the other hero in the confines of the book, as long as it isn’t cheating.  But I’m not certain what purpose it served for the romance narrative, other than to show that Warren really did have sex, wasn’t a virgin or abstinent.

Which circles back to the romance vs. other subgenre labels.  Is this book a romance novel?  Well, the latter third of the book was about the negotiation of their relationship and moving toward an HFN or HEA, so yes.  And yet so little of their actual romantic relationship occurred on the page.   Warren gives an ultimatum and also announces that he’s moving across the country for grad school, and Silas decides he can deal with what Warren wants and go slow and that he’ll follow.  Much more of the book was spent on the three guys together and their friendship, which expanded/changed in college to include their changing lives and goals.

In many ways, this book (again, for me) suffered the same problem as several other m/m romances have lately:  attempting to be too many things, or perhaps being mislabeled.  I’ve begun to wonder if this sort of thing is a reflection of growing pains of the sub-genre.  As a reader, I’d love to see more genre-bending…but I’d also like the books to be labeled and/or marketed carefully so my generic expectations are consistent with the content of the books.  If I had approached this book as mature YA, my expectations and filters reading the relationship(s) would have been rather different from those I’d set in my mind when I first began Prove It.


[1] That was way back when my primary e-reader was an eBookwise and Fictionwise was my main source for ebooks .  In real time, only three or four years ago, but a long time in ebook/reader years.

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Life After Joe by Harper Fox

Title: Life After Joe

Author: Harper Fox

Publisher: Carina Press

Copyright: 2010

Other index info: m/m romance, set in the UK (Cumbria), debut (I think), ebook

It’s not the breaking up that kills you, it’s the aftermath.

Ever since his longtime lover decided he’d seen the "heterosexual light," Matt’s life has been in a nosedive. Six months of too many missed shifts at the hospital, too much booze, too many men. Matt knows he’s on the verge of losing everything, but he’s finding it hard to care.

Then Matt meets Aaron. He’s gorgeous, intelligent and apparently not interested in being picked up. Still, even after seeing Matt at his worst, he doesn’t turn away. Aaron’s kindness and respect have Matt almost believing he’s worth it—and that there could be life after Joe. But his newfound happiness is threatened when Matt begins to suspect Aaron is hiding something, or someone…

Excerpt here.

Why this book?  I liked the cover art.  Call me shallow.

What did I think of it?  Well…it felt like a debut, a little unpolished and heavily reliant on romance genre cliches.  I liked the bones of the story, the set up, and the setting.  Some of the characters were a bit predictable and cartoony.  The destructive behavior of the narrator made him a little unsympathetic at times (TSTL) and made me question his reliability.  The conflict felt forced (Big Mis! Returning Ex!) and the epilogue felt rushed and not yet believable, given the progression of the relationship; HFN would have felt more realistic than the implied HEA.  

Ultimate grade:  C

Keep or pass on?  It’s an ebook, so I can’t pass it on.

Would I read future books?  Certainly.  I liked the author’s voice and style, even if the execution was a little uneven.

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SBD: ebook vs. print in one particular case

Today’s SBD: an occasion when the paper beats the ebook.

I’ve been reading more and more ebooks, and fewer print books.  There are some authors I still buy in print, primarily series books that I’ve been reading for a while, like Robb’s …In Death books.  I’ve got the original paperback releases (back before everyone knew Robb was Nora Roberts) and the hardbacks from when the series transitioned to that format.  Owning paper for that series (and a few others) is a hard habit to break.  

But there are many authors I’ve discovered via browsing at Fictionwise and other booksellers; having discovered these new-to-me authors in e-format, I haven’t felt any particular urge to buy a more "permanent" copy of their work to put on my Keeper Shelf.  (FWIW, the back ups of my ebooks?  Really don’t have the same cachet in terms of keeper-dom as the shelf does.  It’s not like I can point people to my external drive and say, hey, take a look at the pretty covers and blurbs.)

Anyway, back in October I read Steve Kluger’s Almost Like Being in Love, which was excellent.  Check out the reviews here,  here and here. (I bought a copy after reading the first review.)  As I read the book on my iPhone, I kept thinking that the epistolary style must show better in print.  The narrative was told via memos, letters, court transcripts, emails, etc.  And the formatting on the iPhone, which can be a little wonky anyway because of the conversion to the electronic format from the manuscript, left a bit to be desired.  

Today as I was browsing in a bricks and mortar store (first time in a month!), I found a paper copy.  While flipping through it, I realized how much more visually attracting and pleasing the different presentations are in the paper copy than the ecopy.  The changing fonts make a difference, as does the pagination for the transcripts and the graphic/block-styling of the memos and emails.

I loved the book when I read the e-version, but how much more would I have squeed about it if I’d read the paper version?

I resisted the urge to buy a paper copy, because I don’t *need* one.  But it was a very close thing.

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