Big books, writer’s block, Kindle and e-books

It seems ages since my last post. I’ve been in a strange space, repositioning myself in the world of writing and reading. On the one hand, I’ve turned over a new leaf with my writing. I’ve decided to stop banging my head against a brick wall and trying to find a publisher or an agent for my nascent books. One of them is still a work in progress, the Fairbridge biography, and I hope to be able to return to Perth next year to trace some loose threads in the stories, and in particular, to look more closely at the issues of abuse and institutionalisation of children. I won’t say any more about that now, as it is still at a delicate stage.

The other two books, a childhood memoir, and a book from my thesis, The Origami of Desire, are more or less finished, as much as any story ever is. I had become discouraged by, on the one hand,  praise from people who have read them, and on the other, lack of interest from agents and publishers, and failure to be shortlisted for Varuna awards. Each time I returned to the narrative to reshape it, I was retreading old ground, and I lost energy and inspiration for the effort to publish.

After a few words from an old friend and mentor, I began to think that I need to write something new. So I have begun writing my mother’s story, using my memories and imagination, and her handwritten, unfinished memoir. I am enjoying it, and though I have only a few pages, I feel it is flowing. I also feel that telling our family story from her point of view will help me to understand better the failures and disappointments, as well as the triumphs, that are our story. More of that another time.

So I’ve put aside the grind of rewrite-revise-submit, and have decided, in the New Year, to do e-publishing. I had begun to feel disempowered, and frustrated by not being accepted, and at the same time, disappointed by a lot of what is being published and reviewed. It seems there are two parallel worlds: print publication and e-publication. And the world of print is becoming more and more beset with obstacles, not least of which is the relentless commercial imperative that drives publishers and agents to seek books they think will sell. At the same time, in my writer’s group, and in the writer’s residency that I recently did in Perth, I keep hearing and reading stories that entertain and enchant me, that deserve to be published, and I am again and again impressed by the creative energy of  people who may never become well known and read authors.

My other innovation is Kindle. Some reading friends convinced me it is a great way to access books you might not be able to buy, books that are too big and heavy to hold in bed, classics, and more. I have always promised myself that when I have time, I will reread Shakespeare. But my complete Shakespeare weighs a couple of kilos, and is almost as big as my pillow. Not to mention War and Peace, Les Miserables, the novels of Balzac, Dickens, George Eliot, and more. All those great authors that I either visited and didn’t enter deeply when I was young and silly, or that I have loved and lost in my gypsy wanderings.

My Kindle arrived a week or so ago. I got as far as charging it and setting up a Kindle account, then I turned it off and forgot about it. Today, I made myself turn it on, and found to my surprise, that it was easy to download books. So I have War and Peace, and a book by Shackleton about his Antarctic exploration, waiting for me to enter.

You see, I’m a technophobe. I grew up in a house with no electricity or phone, and for some of my childhood, we didn’t have a vehicle, apart from a horse or our legs, and were miles from the nearest neighbour. I don’t wear a watch because I’m allergic to metal, but my years in the outback have given me an innate sense of time. But I am a mass of contradictions. I am wedded to my Macbook Air, and I have a mobile phone (but not an iPhone), and of course a car.

My next big step will be to acquire a GPS, so I can go to Sydney or Brisbane and not stress out all the time trying to find my way to where I want to go.

so the New Year has lots of challenges and adventures for me.

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27 Comments

Filed under technology and creativity

27 responses to “Big books, writer’s block, Kindle and e-books

  1. I’m a technophobe, too, Christina, but I think it’s worth embracing and applaud you on moving out beyond your initial comfort zone. You are in fact braver than most, given all you do.

    • Thank you , Elisabeth; you’re always so supportive. Do you have a KIndle? As for e-publishing, there’s a new company in WA that my daughter will be working for. They charge $379 per book, so it’s not much to lose.
      I have read the first 2 or 3 chapters of War and Peace! Still getting used to the strange, hard pages of the Kindle. What a long way we’ve come from the old stone tablets!

      • Hi Christina

        I don’t have a kindle. My oldest daughter does and she loved it in the beginning but I’m not sure how she sees it now.

        I’ve just finished reading Jim’s sobering and thoughtful comment to you above. It makes me wonder. I reckon he’s probably right and it’s sad and daunting news for us writers, trying to write about more serious matters than mere entertainment allows. It won’t stop us writing, though it’s frustrating how hard it is to get published. As Jim reckons, merit is almost the least of it.

        Merry Christmas.

  2. Good for you Christina … on all fronts. I look forward to seeing what you do in 2013. Meanwhile enjoy the Kindle. I enjoy reading mine more than I thought I would, so much so that I am onto my second one. Most of my reading is still print, because I had/have the books, but I am starting to look more at buying for the kindle (rather than just using it for free classics) because one day I really will have to downsize!

    Oh, and merry Christmas to you!

    • Merry Christmas to you too, Sue! Do you mean your first one’s worn out? I think I”ll always prefer print, but the convenience of the Kindle is attractive, and the access to books without taking up lots of physical space and spending lots of money, or borrowing them from the library.

      • No, not quite, the first one was the keyboard kindle which makes a little clicking noise when you turn the page or make notes. It wasn’t conducive to reading in bed when husband was trying to sleep. So I bought the kindle touch and gave my first one to mum …. Dad’s hearing is not great, she won’t be typing notes, and she was attracted to the ability to change the size of the font (a great feature, particularly for big classics which usually come in tiny print fine paper books!) BUT she’s barely used it as she has so many print books to read!

  3. I don’t want to discourage you—and in my experience we writers are especially prone to letting the smallest things knock us down—but e-publishing comes with its own set of problems. Yes, it’s relatively easy to get your book out there and you can have as much or as little control over the process as you like but because of this you have to realise that hundreds of thousands of other people have also decided to take the (seemingly) easy option and the market is awash with e-books at the moment and not just from people going it alone but also from the big boys who’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon. So saying that the competition is fierce is an understatement. The second big problem is marketing. Okay, even traditional publishers these days do very little for their newer acquisitions, especially if they’re a small press, and so it’s up to every author to promote their work as best they can. Being a technophobe doesn’t help because you really need to be able to get out and about online these days if your book is only available in electronic format. The next thing you need to bear in mind is the actual market and by that I mean: what do people actually want to read? As borne out by the recent bestseller lists it’s nothing highbrow. Perhaps this is symptomatic of a world in recession but people are looking for escapist literature—think about the films that were popular during times of austerity—and so I’m not sure that people will be falling over themselves to read a memoir or a biography of anyone who isn’t Adele or a Kardasian.

    I’ve published three novels so far, all of which I made available as ebooks a year or so after the release of the paperbacks, as the sales have been non-existent. The books are priced at $1.99 (US) and I’ve only sold a handful; too many authors are willing to settle for 99¢ or even to give their work away. The problem is identifying your demographic—not as easy as one might imagine—and then contacting them. Well, I’m a part of my demographic—the perfect example—and I’ll tell you here and now the majority of places I’ve found to promote my book are sites I would never go anywhere near unless I was trying to promote a book.

    The quality of the product is not an issue or even its worthiness. People are inundated constantly with information on new titles. I’ve not had to buy a book in the last four years I get so many review copies offered to me, from both traditional and independent sources. All my books have received excellent reviews—even my last reviewer, whose review was on the surface was a ‘bad’ review, gave me four stars—but people have too much choice at the moment. It’s most definitely a buyer’s market.

    If you do decide to go down this path you need to do your research and I spent months doing that. Things change all the time. The Kindle, for example, has changed its programming language and a lot of the old books have become unreadable—it changes pixels to points and the text becomes miniscule—so you need to know what you’re doing there or pay someone who does and a lot of people will say that they do but how do you know for sure? It can become expensive once you’ve paid for professional editing, a cover and coding. I’m lucky in that I have a wife whose adapt in all three fields because if that were not the case I’d be better off opening the window and tossing my cash out of it and sitting down to watch some mindless TV.

  4. What a depressing picture! I do know a good company who will do it for a small fee. AS for distribution, I’m not that concerned. I’ll do the usual things, blog, links, video on YouTube. I don’t really care if a handful or thousands read it. It’s far too confusing and depressing to start worrying about writing, demographics etc. I”d never write anything if I thought about that. I know there are like minded people out there, who care about life writing, and if I reach a few I’ll be happy. But thanks for your concern and for sharing your experience, Jim.

  5. I think it’s always easy to add up the negatives; and it’s only when we’ve tried something to the best of our ability, without success, that we need to think about changing tactics. I think merit still matters, and I know a lot of people out there who feel the same. As for reviews of books in print, and awards etc., it comes home to me again and again how subjective it is. Which means that publishers and agents, too, at the other end of the feeding chain, are subjective. So then I question why writers have to go through this hierarchy of selection and judgement, when, in the end, reading is a democratic process. We are influenced by prizes and awards, but sometimes it’s a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. And people’s choices have a lot of power. Tthe internet and e-publishing and social media are expressions of democracy. There are excesses and abuses, but there is much that is informative and enriching.

  6. Fabulous to hear you are planning new writing in the New Year, Christina! It always seems liberating to put something aside and start in a different place, with all the potential and creativity that a new project offers. I look forward to hearing more and eventually reading your writing based on your mother’s life and her memoir.

    I’ve recently been privileged to have some conversations with two authors (both much younger than me) about self-publishing in print and publishing e-books. They have done both. Although there is always the challenge of publicity and distribution, they have come up with some creative and innovative ways of selling their books. One of the keys, especially for e-books, seems to be the title of the book, which must be one that people find when they Google a topic or one which captures the collective imagination. For example, ‘Shades of…’ seems to be one that has been used to death in the last six months. I’m excited about the idea of publishing in new ways and hope to pursue this.

    ABC Books (now a division of HarperCollins) published my first book, ‘Other People’s Country,’ as an e-book a couple of years after it was published in print. The e-book seems to be selling a few copies. I think it may be overpriced, but hopefully that will be revised soon. It is also available print-on-demand, but booksellers are slow to work out how to order pod books for customers.

    I’ve been reading books on my Asus tablet for over a year and can’t remember life without an e-reader. As well as the books I would otherwise buy, I download and read all sorts of others that would not usually cross my mind because they are so accessible. My reading habits have become wider and more fun. A tablet or kindle is very portable, fits into a handbag, weighs little, can contain a whole library and is very useful. One example is instead of taking travel books when we went to Europe a couple of months ago, John and I downloaded only the chapters of travel guides that dealt specifically with the places we planned to visit rather than carrying whole books. We downloaded additional information material while we were away. I still buy books I want to handle and possess, but on the whole the e-reader delights me.

  7. I love this conversation, which proves that the length of time we have lived on earth does not determine our ability to take risks and step into new worlds. So here we are, both having lived a ripe number of generations, exploring new boundaries, and sharing our ideas.
    Re titles, I’m not sure I like the idea of choosing a title so it will sell google-wise; I like to choose a title that is poetic and reflects the theme of my book. Surely ’50 shades of’ was not a key to the mass consciousness until it was somehow promoted and exploited so that people thought they had to have it. And quite frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn about books like that. I hope the collective imagination has room for more than myths of neanderthal sexuality, as I’m sure you do too. Moving on!
    I love the fact that your reading has been expanded and enlivened by your e-reading, and that you and your partner can have travel adventures inspired by that.
    Happy e-New Year!

  8. When there are so many obstacles and unknowns and things that could go wrong with anything new and exciting why would you bother getting out of bed in the morning. Go for it I say and learn as you go. The people who inspire me are those who confess that they didn’t know what they were doing and made it up as they went along. That’s using common sense and creative problem solving at its best. Perhaps i identify with it so strongly because that has been the story of my life – starting up a theatre company with no theatre training! Of course i knew stuff – I knew how to entertain and had an innate sense of how to tell a story and knew that if it didn’t work I could do something else and use what i had learnt. Writing and publishing are a bit like that. For me the only real risk is being too rose coloured about ones expectations. You sound pretty grounded to me.
    Now, I will be travelling through Murwullimbah on Jan 9th and back on Jan 11th having met a distant cousin who carries the same name as myself about family history and thought we might do morning or afternoon tea at a coffee shop if you were available? Let me know if you’re interested. My email is capelin@optusnet.com.au

  9. An inspiring story, thank you. I agree; if we knew all the difficulties and setbacks we are likely to encounter in any relationship or endeavour, we’d never reach out.
    Would love to meet,will reply to your email
    Happy New Year!

  10. I am glad you commented on my AWW reading and that I found you. I have enjoyed reading you reviews about Richardson, browsing on your blog, and have signed up to hear from you in the future. I admire the writing of yours I have read and look forward to your ebook publishing.

    I enjoy mt NOOK especially because I can get books that are to difficult to find and/or expensive. I rely on Guttenberg and Spinifex Press for Australia ebooks. But I prefer real books, especially my own where I can write in the margins.

  11. Lovely to connect with you. What is mt NOOK? And I didn’t know Spinifex do e-books. I agree about real book! I am too lazy to write in the margins, mostly, but I do turn the edges of pages down, when I strike a memorable one. I’m told you can bookmark Kindle, but I don’t think I”ll bother with that.

    • My NOOK is partly a typo and partly Barnes and Nobles version of the Kindle. I don’t understand the differences, but my husband who claims to says it is better. I have learned to bookmark and even highlight on it but sometimes when I do everything I am supposed to do it still doesn’t work. Just like my life. I use bookmarks when I plan to review, but you are probably right to skip learning the function. I prefer yellow stickies on real books for marking phrases I may want to quote. I dislike how hard it is to go back and reread electronically.
      Many, but not all, of Spinifex books come as ebooks which eliminate the costs of international shipping for me.
      I am just learning Australian geography. Where are the mountains in your pictures?

  12. Oh, I didn’t know there is a Barnes & Noble version. Good to take business to someone other than the Amazon giant. Yes, stickies are a good alternative to earmarking pages, and you can write on them too.

    The mountains are the beautiful Border Ranges, part of the Great Dividing Range; they run from southern Queensland into northern NSW, or vice versa, depending on your point of view. The photo was taken from a lookout in a mountain rainforest, looking north-west. I live in the Tweed Valley, which is surrounded by the Caldera Rim, an ancient volcanic extrusion. Wollumbin, or Mount Warning, as it is commonly called, is not far from here. It is a spectacular triple peak, the first point on the eastern coast to catch the morning sunlight. Wollumbin is my preferred name; it means cloud catcher. It was called so by Galibal language group of Bundjalong people; see http://www.tropicalnsw.com.au/nationalparks/border.html.

  13. We, too, live in a beautiful place. The pink granite mountains of far west Texas. The photo on my blog is of the cliffs outside our windows. The grander mountains are south–closer than the nearest Walmart–in the big Bend National Park. Their website has excellent pictures. We look a little like the rough country around Alice Springs. And we are isolated as well. I love that in most ways, but we don’t have adequate medical care which worries me as I age. Thanks for asking.

  14. Pink granite must be amazing in the different light of morning and evening. What a wonderful thing to look out on. I was stunned by the baroque beauty of the mountains and the desert in Arizona and surrounding states when I lived in Colorado.I didn’t get to Texas. Living in an isolated place has many benefits, though, as you say, it can be hard as one ages.

  15. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a
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    I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but
    other than that, this is magnificent blog.
    A great read. I will certainly be back.

  16. Thank you! I’m not sure if this comment was meant to be attached to this post, but I’m glad to hear from you.

  17. Hey! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after browsing through
    some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely glad I found it and I’ll be book-marking and checking back frequently!

  18. Thank you. It’s nice to see that these comments keep rolling in to this post. See you again!

  19. Nice post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am inspired!
    Very useful information specially the closing section 🙂 I handle such
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  20. Thank you! The Kindle didn’t last long; I gave it to my grandson, who had a brief affair with it then sold it on to his mum. Now I have graduated to an iMac (from a Macbook Air) and will get an iPad for travelling; and am even going to set up Pandora radio stations (internet). This is the year of miracles!

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