ebooks

Ethically sourced books

I bought my first brand new full price paperback novel in a long time, at the weekend (written by a friend, released by an indie publisher), and it got me thinking about how and where I get my reading material, and whether the author gets anything out of it.

Last week I was discussing e-book pricing with a selection of strangers on Twitter. Sam from Lounge Books pointed out that readers are now used to paying less for e-books than paperbacks:

I then commented that you can’t get second-hand e-books, so for those of us used to charity shop prices, even a discounted paperback price for an e-book can seem unusually high. Libraries, as usual, are the answer – the author gets a payment, the reader gets it for free (covered by some tax they’d have to pay anyway). But do I practice what I preach?

Pie chart of the books read by JY Saville in 2017

If in doubt, make a chart. First I looked at books I’d read so far this year, and where I got them from (strictly speaking Library of Mum & Dad this year actually means Big Brother). I’m only looking at books I’ve read the whole of, so if I gave up on it (like the book I took back to the library on Friday morning after 3 chapters), or read only part of a collection or reference book, it’s not counted. Neither do I count audio books.

What we can see from this is that more than half the books I’ve read so far this year haven’t directly contributed to the author’s earnings. I say directly because you could (if you were grasping at straws) argue that all those review copies generate a review that drums up sales or library borrowing. So am I always this bad?

Column chart of sources of the books read by JY Saville 2014-17

Er, pretty much, yes. I bought a few e-books in 2016/17 because I got a Kobo voucher for Christmas 2015 (so should they all be under gifts?) and I watched for special offers and made that voucher stretch as far as I could. Even the gifts aren’t always bought new, as we often give each other second-hand books in my family (including friend T), though I have bought a few new books to give to other people over this time period. Free e-books are mainly the out of copyright variety though one or two were special offers (and one was a digital textbook that came with an online university course).

In my defence, when I buy second-hand books it’s almost always from a charity shop, so at least some charity benefits rather than a private vendor. And if there’s a copy of a book I want to read available in the Library of Mum & Dad, it would seem rude not to borrow it. I’m not about to give up the thrill of getting books through the post, either, often before they’re out there in bookshops. Maybe I could wean myself off the discount e-books, however, and borrow more from the library, as I understand authors get more cash that way.

A promise to frequent the local library more? That shouldn’t be hard to keep. Who’s with me? Last one to the issue desk buys the tea and biscuits…

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Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow (free e-book)

Cover of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow

This is an odd book, there’s no denying it, but it’s a good one if you take it on its own terms. At its simplest it’s an urban fantasy set in Toronto in the early 2000s. Middle-aged former shopkeeper Alan refurbishes a house in the bohemian area of Kensington Market, befriends his student/drop-out neighbours (one of whom has wings) and gets involved in a community project to deliver free local wi-fi. Much of the book is taken up with the day to day goings on around all that. However, (and here’s where you have to like a particular sort of oddness) Alan’s father is a mountain, his mother is a washing-machine, and three of his six brothers are nested like Russian dolls and can’t exist without each other. The innermost nested brother goes missing, the other two turn to Alan for help and it looks like their brother Davey, who they all killed years ago, has returned for revenge.

Full of interesting characters and with some affecting flashbacks to Alan’s childhood, I thought there was a good undercurrent of living with secrets and fitting in, getting on, being normal – whatever that means. It gets pretty dark at times but it has its lighter moments and some beautiful imagery. I have only two minor quibbles with the novel: names and chronology. Though Alan is mainly referred to as Alan, he is for no particular reason I could fathom also referred to by any other name beginning with A, similarly with his brothers B, C, D, E, F, G so that sometimes they change name within a paragraph, and Andrew and Drew refer to two different people (Alan and Davey). Mainly the book is in the here and now in Toronto, or Alan’s childhood further north, but occasionally there’s a flashback to earlier in Toronto that isn’t clearly a flashback (confused me anyway), and it’s not always clear how much time has passed between events (or how old Alan is, but that may be deliberate).

If you enjoyed, or think you might enjoy the superbly odd graphic novel The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis you’ll probably love this Cory Doctorow novel. And, because he like me is into the Creative Commons stuff and sharing art, you can even download it as an e-book for free so what have you got to lose?

Week 10: Return of the back (problem)

Hurrah for the Kobo Mini, small and light enough for me to pace around the flat with as I try to get some muscles working, and to hold above my face as I lie down and take the pressure off my errant spine. Believe me, it’s not nearly so easy with a thick paperback.

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That got me thinking about buying books, and I realised that apart from half a dozen bought as Christmas presents for friends and family, OneMonkey and I didn’t buy a single brand new physical book in 2016. Between us we bought 7 or 8 ebooks, having received Kobo vouchers for Christmas 2015, and we definitely bought a few books from charity shops for ourselves (and a selection of second-hand books for other people), but mainly we’ve been reading either library books (including ebooks), or books we’ve been given. Disloyalty to the book trade?

With the help of a laptop on a plastic crate that doesn’t wobble too much, placed on a kitchen worktop by OneMonkey, I’ve been able to finish writing a rumination on what it is about the north that inspires me, which I hope to be able to point you at a link to fairly soon. One thing my dayjob did have, a sit-stand desk so I could crank it up to standing height when I couldn’t bear to sit in a chair any longer. It occurs to me I could do with something similar at home. The kitchen worktop is wonderfully distraction free (if you don’t count the kettle and the tea-caddy) but sometimes it’s useful to have the computer in a room the wi-fi signal reaches.

The first story submission of 2017 was made this week, organisation continues for the Chapel FM Writing on Air festival (specifically the writing workshop we’re hosting at Seacroft library at the end of the month), and at the start of the week I wrote a few midweek blog posts, the first of which you’ve already had (thankfully, I’d scheduled it). Oh, and I finally read Pride and Prejudice since it was lurking on the Kobo and I had a lot of reading time on my hands. It was alright actually, quite amusing in places – maybe I should go lie down again.

Print to ebook: what happened to the back-cover blurb?

Quite often when I’m reading a novel, usually during the first couple of chapters or if I’ve put the book aside for a few days, I’ll need to remind myself what the book’s about or where it’s set. Now I don’t think I’m particularly forgetful, and I doubt I’m the only person who has this problem, but it stems from never getting only one book out of the library at a time, and frequently leaving a book on the To Read pile for ages before I get round to it. Questions such as these arise:

  • Is this the one where the vaccine gets stolen, or the one where they accidentally travel forward in time and start a war?
  • That detail seems a bit out of place – is this in fact set in the 1960s? Or Australia? Or 1960s Australia? By default and until instructed otherwise I read contemporary-ish fiction as though it’s set in contemporary-ish England.
  • Is this a crime novel or literary fiction? If the former, the crime that’s just taken place will be what I need to focus my attention on, if the latter it’ll all be about the aftereffects, so I needn’t bother trying to spot clues.
  • Isn’t this a fantasy novel? So far it’s all in 1980s Manhattan and nothing unusual’s happening.

Particularly where it’s an author that’s new to me, and the title’s not giving that much away, I might have picked up a novel I’m not quite in the mood for today, which is where the synopsis on the back of the book comes in really handy. Simply flip the book over, scan the paragraph or two on the cover and you’re as clued in as you were when you first chose the book from the library or shop. Except you can’t do that with an ebook.

It seems fairly common with ebooks (and I’ve done it myself. Twice) that the front cover and the whole contents of the book are set up as if for a print book, with the copyright page, acknowledgements and all the rest of it. All that’s missing is the back cover. The blurb sits on the webpage that you found the ebook on, which is great when you’re choosing books, but by the time you get round to reading the thing three weeks later, on the bus with no wi-fi access, you have no idea what that blurb said. If I should ever release another ebook I’ll try and remember to slot the back-cover in somewhere, even if it’s not actually on the final page. In the meantime, compilers of ebooks please take note – some of us need a little reminder to put a novel in context.

Free ebook release of my first graphic novel

The death of books and traditional publishing is a hot topic at the moment, and while I firmly believe that print books will be around for a good many years yet, I do also think it’s time to admit there’s more of a mix than there used to be. Readers of this blog (as opposed to my other one) might not be aware of my graphic novel/comics output, self-published but that’s not as unusual for comics as it is for mainstream fiction. In further experimental fashion we (me, the artist Mark Pexton, and OneMonkey who does all the technical stuff) decided to make a pdf copy of the first graphic novel, Boys Don’t Cry, available for free (under creative commons license CC BY-NC-ND) here. This is an enticing picture of the cover:

Boys Don't Cry front cover

And here’s what the back cover says:

Teenage boys aren’t known for sharing their fears and emotions, so if you’re the father or sister of one, how do you know how he’s coping with his mum’s death?

Fifteen year old Hunter isn’t entirely sure himself, and even if he could put any of it into words, he no longer knows who to say it to.

So if zero pence sounds like a good price to pay for the beautifully-drawn saga of a bereaved teenage goth in Edinburgh, feel free to peruse and comment – part of the reason for doing this is to reach a wider audience; there’s only so many people willing to buy an 80-page graphic novel by relative unknowns and I’d prefer to have more people read it. Particularly those that might not normally think of themselves as graphic novel audience material.

Creative Commons License
Boys Don’t Cry by Jacqueline Saville, Mark Pexton, Andrew Woods is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.