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Monthly Archives: August 2012

The price of intangible things, and why we should pay it

Between the meteoric rise of e-book popularity, DOJ lawsuits, and unapologetic pirate sites, the debate over the cost of e-books doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon. I got into a discussion about this with someone the other day, so it’s been on my mind more than usual ever since.

It’s interesting (and telling) to me that the dictionary defines “immaterial” as both “something intangible” and “something worthless or irrelevant.” And it’s partly this, I think, that’s led to me having to explain to people why e-books shouldn’t be free. Because it didn’t cost anything to make, right? It’s just sitting in a database somewhere, ready to be downloaded forever and ever and ever. It’s not the same as a “real” book, which has to be printed and manufactured and physically distributed to a brick-and-mortar bookstore or the warehouse of an online distributor.

Well, that’s kind of true. The second copy of the e-book cost almost nothing to make. The first copy, though, cost more than anyone should pay to own a single book, ever, at least if that e-book was edited properly by professionals, designed by layout designers, given a cover by a graphic artist and maybe a photographer, coded by someone who knows what they’re doing, and marketed by specialists. It takes a large number of people to create a quality book, physical or digital, and all those people have to be paid for their services.

Oh, and so does the author.

I agree that an e-book probably shouldn’t cost as much as a hardcover, which is a physical thing, in the same way that mp3’s shouldn’t cost as much as getting that same album on vinyl. They’re different formats and should be priced accordingly, but the digital versions should cost money. It’s worth noting here that in the course of the conversation that led to this post, I said I would be in favor of the publishing industry adopting the model offered by so many record labels–that of a “free” digital copy with the purchase of the most expensive physical format. Buying vinyl and getting a much more portable copy for download isn’t anything new to music lovers. But I digress, sort of, and anyway that’s about as far as the two industries can function in the same way. Musicians don’t make money from album sales anymore, it comes from touring, and my Twitter feed the last time an author tried to charge outright for a bookstore appearance was an ugly, ugly thing.

Regardless of the delivery system, the purchase of a book isn’t about simply owning the book. I can hear the protests now, but it’s true. If all we wanted to do was fill our bookshelves, the books on those shelves wouldn’t matter. We’d go into the store and haphazardly grab whatever was in reach, pay for it, go home, and leave their spines uncracked forever. The price we pay is for the experience of having already read the book, been lost in the story, in the same way that concert tickets provide a fleeting few hours of escapism but the memories stick around far longer. The same goes for movies, roller coasters, skydiving. It’s human nature to pursue experiences and reality that we should have to pay for them.

It’s also, though, human nature to become attached to objects, and so we become attached to books we can hold, whose pages we can flip through and sniff and measure affection for by the wearing at the edges. And when we can’t do that because those words are on our e-readers, the connection is harder to grasp and hold. . . for the reader. But I’m going to tell you a little secret:

The connection is the same for the author. Someone slaved over that book, loved and hated it in turns. It’s someone’s brainchild, maybe their proudest moment. Whether or not that should matter to the reader is up for debate, since to an extent authors let go of their books when they’re released out into the world, but it’s relevant when talking about value and cost and therefore someone’s (at least partial) livelihood. As an author, watching books sell for 99 cents all the time, in a you-get-what-you-pay-for world, is difficult. People with much louder voices than mine have discussed at length the idea that cheapness = bad quality, and that buyers will question whether a book being sold for a buck is worth reading to begin with. Sure, it’s great when things go on sale and become affordable to people who might not be able to pay full price, but it’s also one more thing, when done en masse, that devalues the written word.

It’s not the only thing.

The internet itself is the biggest culprit here. Anyone can–and should–write whatever they want online. News is available constantly, just hit the refresh button. Even if I limited my blog reading strictly to the things I’m interested in, I’d need 48 hours in every day and the ability to survive on no food or sleep just to read them all. The problem, (other than that 48-hour days seem in short supply) is that a wealth of anything drives down the market value for everything in that category, including information. And at this point, we’re used to reading for free–on our computers, our phones, at home and at work.

This creates a strange situation in which the internet, which is almost totally responsible for e-books and certainly responsible for their explosion, is also the biggest threat to reading for pleasure at all. What’s the point, and is there even time?

Please, for the love of everything sacred, make the time. And pay the price.

I’m not only saying that as an author, though it’s true that I really want people to buy my book when it comes out. I’m saying it because although the reading (and writing and publishing) landscape has changed, books are our future and our history. The price, whatever it is, isn’t for the copy of Harry Potter on the shelf–it’s for the memory of reading it for the first time. In the case of almost every other author in the world, it’s for the possibility that the author will write another book you’ll hopefully love.

My final point is one that occurred to me in a jet lagged haze but might be the most important of all: Maybe we like the intangibility. Not because it’s portable or uncomplicated, but because fewer and fewer people are going into bookstores and plunking $20s down on the counter. To accept that e-books are “real” and as worthy of protection from piracy and wacky pricing as physical books is also to accept that in pressing that easy one-click button to hit up our already-stored credit card, we paid real money for them.

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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Music Monday, with bonus books and video

Things have gotten all heavy and busy up in here, so today I thought I’d stop waxing philosophical on female authors and YA, and being inspired by the Olympics, and strange book comparisons, and just have some fun. This, of course, means music, but I’ve also been reading some good stuff recently when I needed to relax and not write (or, in one case, when I had The Plague and could do little more than whine and sniffle.)

 

Magical Bird Book does not so much have a playlist as it has the entire Decemberists catalogue on repeat, especially the song linked below, The Infanta, and Shankill Butchers, with a few other things thrown in for fun. Some Mumford & Sons, some Johnny Flynn, a ballet which will for now remain nameless so as to keep Magical Bird Book shrouded in mystery, the Alice in Wonderland soundtrack, one specific piece from a Harry Potter movie.

All credit to my agent for finding this, which is the coolest thing ever done to a completely ridiculous song:

The Mariner’s Revenge Song Comic

 

The original music from this, which (the video) was Magical Bird Book’s original inspiration, in its way:

 

The Invention of Love

 

And this:

 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Lovegood

 

When not writing and/or listening to music, or watching YouTube videos, I’ve been reading this summer. Some highlights:
Absolutely the best book I’ve read this year was The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. It’s adult, not YA, and a gorgeous, sweeping, epic love story set against the Battle of Troy. It was one of those books that left me bereft when it was over, just because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

On Writing, by Stephen King. I’m not a particular Stephen King fan–nothing against him, and there are a few books of his I like–but this memoir is wonderful. Well told, full of advice without being preachy, and entertaining.

I was also lucky enough to get my greedy hands on an advance copy of The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann, a middle grade gothic-steampunk-faery story. Read it when it comes out in September. DO IT. It’s amazing, and the prologue will slap you in the face. In that good way.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Female writers and YA fiction: a rant

Two blog posts in a week. Wow.

This one is actually at the suggestion of my agent, who, among several others in my Twitter feed, tweeted a link to an article in The Atlantic that went up a few days ago. I read it and promptly messaged him to say exactly why I have a problem with it.

 
The article, titled “Why Do Female Authors Dominate Young Adult Fiction?” tries to answer that question, and it makes some valid, well-written points. In fact, I don’t so much argue with the largely-supportive-of-women content of the article (I do a little, but more on that in a minute) as I object to it as the latest in a long line of opinions on YA authors, whether adults should read their work, and whether “good” should be a relative term when applied to books written for anyone not old enough to vote.

 
It’s undeniably true that there are more female authors writing for young adults than there are male ones, no arguments there. My issue is that the very existence of articles like this, especially the ones with slightly combative titles, seems to blame women for being women and wanting to write at the same time. Any given author who has a book (or many) in a bookstore, is on the road to publication, or is in the bizarre heaven-hell mix of the first draft stage decided only one thing: that they had a story to tell. That’s it. I didn’t decide to be a female writer, I’m a chick who wrote a YA book. It’s not my fault – or that of any of my peers – that almost everyone else who made the same choice is a woman, too.

We didn’t all get together in a big convention room and decide to stage a mass takeover, is what I’m saying. I guarantee the first steps of our respective journeys were, in the majority of cases, decidedly lonelier. A late night, a glowing computer screen, a character who wouldn’t shut up. Maybe a few perplexed but supportive friends.

Gender equality, or lack thereof, and its many ramifications is an important discussion in any field, and as a rule I support that dialogue, but are mentions of “dominance” really fitting here? Is referencing another article, in which the writer theorizes that YA is popular because the plots are simplistic – a point so insulting to both authors and readers I hardly know where to start – the best way to (ostensibly) support female writers? Is continuing to somehow try to justify the explosion of the YA market actually helping anyone? Or does it just serve to make YA the Lady Gaga of literature: Undeniably talented, wildly successful, but divisive and excused as merely a fascinating freak show by detractors? Pick any genre you want, there are terrible adult books that slot neatly into it, and yet those markets are being picked apart for scraps far less. Is this where I make the point that those are mostly written by men? Because I don’t really want to. To me, a good book is a good book, a bad one is a bad one.

Even if the above does illustrate the best way to have the gender debate, I still think the article’s author missed, in opting for nostalgia over science (a split which itself feels very feminine/masculine), what is perhaps a crucial point: that women remember more than men. Faces, emotions, everyday events…we remember more, both differently and more specifically. And so, 10, 15, 20 years later, we are more likely to recall our teen years in a vivid way than men, rendering clearer on the page what is clearer in our heads. It’s worth noting that neither The Atlantic nor any of the other many articles on the subject give statistics on attempts at writing YA fiction, only stats on the ones who did it well enough to be picked up by a traditional publisher. Maybe we’re not doing it more, we’re just doing it better. I really don’t know.

Articles like the one in The Atlantic also almost universally discount that YA authors are, at least in my experience of knowing a bunch of them, just trying to do what any other writer is: trying to write the best book they can. Age is one of many factors to consider. Harry Potter (the first few of which I dispute are YA at all) wouldn’t have worked as books with an adult protagonist. Twilight probably couldn’t have made quite as many people believe that an upper-college-age Bella was still a virgin, though obviously some in that age group still are. The Hunger Games works precisely because of the figurative and literal death of childhood, right on the cusp of adulthood. Don’t write to trends, they say, and I don’t think we are. Since the first day I jumped into the YA author pool, I haven’t met a single published-or-nearly author who is just trying to cash in on publishing’s biggest market. I’m sure there are some, but they are the minority.

Finally, I’ll say what I said to Brooks: That it’s hard to reconcile the pervasive idea that we should be inspired to write books by reading them with being endlessly discussed and scrutinized because we got the damn hint already. The women who came before us did it well and captured our imaginations and were successful, paving the way – or almost single-handedly creating – the market we have now apparently cornered. I, for one, would just like to say thanks.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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How the Olympics slapped me with the wet suck-it-up fish

The Olympics are on! Drama! Big gold medals! Sweaty, muscly men in tight clothes!

Er.

The Olympics are supposed to be inspirational. It’s part of their purpose, along with deciding who the best sportspeople in the world are. Honestly, I feel like if you make it that far, you’re the best anyway, regardless of what a few points or hundredths of a second say, but that’s not my point here. It occurred to me the other day that I personally have never been inspired by the Olympics, but that realization came when, all of a sudden, I was. Or, more accurately, I was slapped in the face with the Soggy Trout of Truth.

I’ve been watching this year with a different kind of interest than I ever have before. I’m the first to admit that I have no concept of what these athletes put themselves through physically, since my life goals require me to sit at a computer for long stretches, but I know what it’s like to want to be great at a specific thing. A thing that requires training and hard work and mental strength, if not any muscles besides the ones that keep me upright and typing. So it’s through that eye that I’ve admired and cheered and drooled over the muscles.

There are only a few sports I’m really interested in. I don’t do any of them because they involve wearing something other than yoga pants, but put them on TV or a live feed online and I’ll sit there, mouth open, breath held, sometimes with my eyes scrunched shut because I just can’t watch. It’s a good look, let me tell you. One of these has long been track cycling, because I’ve always been a speed demon and these people can get up to cheetah speeds in under ten seconds from a standing start. That shizz is EXCITING, yo.

So there I was, glued to the scratch race of the men’s Omnium, which is basically the track cycling version of a heptathlon, except there are six elements. The scratch race is one of the longer ones, which makes it especially fun because it’s sort of impossible to pick the winner. Unlike some of the other races which have only one or two cyclists on the track, everyone and their dog (ok, no dogs) gets in on a scratch race, so you have a bunch of people jockeying for position on a steeply banked, polished wood surface while going at frightening speeds.

 
You might guess where I’m going with this.

 
The Danish guy who went on to win the Omnium crashed, and he was damn lucky not to take at least two other riders out with him. He slid down the bank to the infield, leaving a metric ton of uniform AND HIS SKIN on the track on his way, and by the time he came to a stop at his coach’s feet, he was looking for a spare bike to get back in the race. That is BAD. ASS. Not only did he get back in, he won. As in, beat-everyone-to-the-finish-line-eat-my-dust-suckers WON. Later, he said the crash gave him the adrenaline boost he needed to win the race and the event. I say again, BAD. ASS.

So, yeah. This is basically the point at which Emma starts to wonder why she complains about anything, ever.

Sometime, likely while I’m on a manuscript-completion high, a longer post will come about the process of writing my current book, and how different it’s been to writing CODA, but for now, CODA was kind of the surprise win coming from the back of the pack, and when the race ended I felt like it had been almost frighteningly easy. Huge chunks of that book seemed to write themselves while I slept. Maybe I had a helpful house elf. Maybe I was inspired. Maybe there was just no pressure. Maybe it was easier. Probably it was a combination of all of those except the house elf, which is a shame but that’s a rant for another day.

Not so, with what has come to be known as Magical Bird Book, except by people who know the actual title. “Writing is hard,” I whine when it doesn’t go my way. There are sections of this book I’ve rewritten at least a dozen times since I began it in March. Maybe more. I’ve completely reworked the beginning three times. “It’s not right,” I complain to the friend who, in a move that will one day get her canonized, puts up with me when I get like that. “Help!” I say to the Patient Agent, and lucky for me he does. If CODA was a sprint in an indoor Velodrome, fast, furious, and slick, Magical Bird Book is the Tour de France, harsh and almost unending and open to the elements.

Writing IS hard, sometimes it really doesn’t go right, and sometimes you need your coach to hand you a new bike. But metaphorical bleeding isn’t a reason to bitch, or give up. It’s a reason to keep going, and that reminder came at a great time for me.

So I didn’t – and won’t – stop. Yesterday, I reworked a section that has had me beating my head against the wall for weeks. I love it now. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. I can look at it now and say “you’re good, and I can make something great from you” and so I love it in that way it’s only possible to love imperfect things–for their potential. Today, I’m excited to get back to work, even if I know it still might not all be easy from now on. Half naked and skinless, finish the damn race. And win. Be a badass.

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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