An avid reader calls it as she sees it on books, publishing and the written word in general.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Six ways to annoy your reader

Rachelle Gardner recently posted 10 Ways to Annoy A Literary Agent and it started me thinking about some things in novels I find really irritating. So below we have....*drum roll*...Six ways to annoy a reader.

  1. Characters who are “quirky,” “sassy” or “ditzy”. It’s not just the constant overuse, it’s the fact that authors use them to avoid the work of actually creating a realistic character. One adjective does not a character make.
  2. Female characters obsessed with shoes. Okay, most women like a pretty new pair now and then but we don’t all go and spend a month’s salary on them. And if we do, it’s because we want a pair of shoes, not because we have no head for money/are depressed/are compensating for not having a man. Closely related irritant – female characters obsessed with shopping. Enough already.
  3. Naming characters with similar names – there’s no way I’m going to be able to keep Matt and Mark straight, same with Christine and Crystal. Maybe it’s a clever ploy to get readers to slow down, as according to Jonathon Franzen's book of essays it annoys the hell out of writers when readers whiz through their books. 
  4. Changing genres halfway though a series of books. You thought those were dragons? No, silly, they’re actually clever machines – did I forget to mention that in the first three books? Must have overlooked it, small details and so on…
  5. Getting to the “whodunit” scene and finding out the murderer was someone barely mentioned in the book. That’s playing with loaded dice and taking unfair advantage of the reader, in my opinion. How do you expect us to put together the clues if you don’t give us any?
  6. The series that will not die. You know which one I mean (okay, there are a few offenders out there, in several genres). If Stephanie vacillates between Ranger or Morelli one more time I’m going to blow up her car myself. On the other hand, if you kill characters, marry them off, let them get old, and generally keep things fresh, I don’t mind long series. But not when they are a literary version of groundhog day.
What annoys you the most? Post in the comments below.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Buying eBooks vs "buying" eBooks

I’ve been thinking about asking Santa for an eReader for Christmas. Apparently, the main manufacturers have recently become aware that there is a place called Australia and *gasp* they read books there! As a result, we have a number of devices to choose from in the price range I’m interested in (AU$300 and below), including the new Sony Touch, the Kindle International version and the Kobo sold by Borders stores.

I have been thinking seriously about a Kindle, but there’s one intellectual property aspect that is giving me pause. You may have heard this story earlier in the year. To summarise, Kindle mistakenly made available a book to which it didn’t have the rights. It then withdrew it from the store and deleted it remotely from users’ devices. The funniest part? The book was George Orwell’s 1984.

So how could Amazon do this? Simple – when you buy an eBook for your Kindle, you’re not really buying the book (you didn’t expect Amazon to be restrained by logic and/or the dictionary, did you?). You’re actually licensing it under a fairly restrictive set of terms and conditions. It’s a model similar to the software world rather than the actual paper book world. And here comes the crunch, in my opinion.

Amazon is perfectly entitled to licence books rather than sell them, as do most of the other eBook publishers. They were entitled to remove Orwell’s book from users’ devices, and if I worked for them I would be thanking my lucky stars that they could use the licence terms to clean up the mess before they were sued for copyright infringement. This is the reason why eBook publishers choose the licence model, after all – it allows them to maintain a much greater degree of control over the things users can do with their eBooks. However, Amazon are so far the only company to unilaterally remove books that readers have purchased (sorry, "purchased"). This might be because the 3G connectibility of the Kindle makes this possible; I'm not sure whether the others would be able to do this in a technical sense.

The real issue in my view is that there is a lack of honesty about what readers are really buying. You don’t see a lot of advertising saying “License your eBook here!” Rather, Amazon’s store provides you with a picture of the book, a blurb and a link to buy the book. The Terms of Use state Unless otherwise specified, Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider. I’d query whether the repeated use of “buy” on the site could even trigger this provision to mean that the content is sold. In any case, users are likely to assume unless specifically told otherwise that “purchasing” a book means that they have bought a copy which is then theirs to own. Technically, they could be vulnerable to action under the Trade Practices Act or equivalent US legislation for misrepresentations or false advertising.

If I was advising Amazon I’d be telling them to change the language in their advertising and to review their Terms of Use. On the other hand, it’s quite possible that Amazon’s attorneys are telling them just that, while the marketers refuse to have a bar of it (cynicism about marketers? Me?).

As a purchaser, it’s another reason pushing me towards the Sony and away from the Kindle, though I have some affection for a company that comes up with such great brand names. I mean, Amazon for an online bookstore? Kindle for an eBook reader? They may have licensing issues but they clearly listened to their trade mark attorneys.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

How Cary Grant restored my faith in humanity

I just finished reading Truth by Peter Temple. It’s won a swag of awards and acclaim. Everyone’s buzzing that literary awards such as the Miles Franklin have been won by a crime novel. My mother and great-aunt both loved it and recommended it to me.

I didn’t like it.

It sounds heretical just to say it, but I’ve always been an emperor-has-no-clothes kind of person. Not that I’m saying it’s a bad novel; this is just my subjective view. I had two main issues with it. The main one was that there were that many characters, I simply lost track of who was who. It’s not a good thing for the writer when he reveals “whodunit” and the reader thinks “Now who was that person again? What was their connection? I’d better flick back and find out because this is making no sense to me whatsoever.” Personally, I think he should have taken a tip from Janet Fitch and collapsed a few characters in the police hierarchy together. I loved the character of the father though – anyone who’s been to the country in Australia will have met a tough old bugger like Bob. Still, I think some of the other characters risked becoming those “faceless men” that Tony Abbott is always banging on about (although come to think of it, perhaps that was the point).

The second issue I had was that it was so damn depressing. His thesis seems to be that everyone is corrupt to some degree, whether it’s in their professional or family life. Possibly true, but so bleak. Luckily, my local cinema had a Cary Grant double on last night with Holiday and His Girl Friday and I went along and laughed my head off and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I know there’s a certain cool factor with bleak and depressing novels but I’ll take a book that leaves me feeling good at the end every time. Thank God for Cary!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Light and shade

Inspired by a post over at Query Shark, I've been thinking recently about light and shade in novels. It seems to me that light novels need serious moments, and heavy novels need light ones. Otherwise, you get a piece of fairy-floss that you've forgotten five minutes after reading, or something that makes you want to go out and slash your wrists.

On the other hand, it's sometimes jarring to have a change of tone. Today's analogy (and I have no idea where this one came from as I'm not in the least musical): it's a bit like musical octaves. You have an octave, maybe two, maybe three if you're lucky, and within those you can move about, go higher or lower. However, if you suddenly try to reach for that High C that's way out of your range - well, the audience is likely to cringe. I was trying to think of how "strained vocal cords" translates to novel writing, but I think my analogy might break down at that point.

So here's to novels that make you laugh and cry...without straining in the least.