Work In Progress

Calling writers

I’ve been an editor for almost as long as I have been a writer, and believe I can help writers do what they do better by giving useful feedback and actively editing. That’s where BooksAhead is headed, and the next step toward the site’s more august purposes begins today.

Would you like to write for BooksAhead, getting the input of an experienced editor as part of your preparation for publication? If you’d like to join BooksAhead, send me email at godsdog (@) books[no-space] and let’s get started. Tell me a little about yourself, what you are interested in. If you are looking for ideas, I can help with that, too.

I know I’ve missed having an editor whenever I’ve written without one. Writers should form an editing collective, though that gets dangerously close to becoming a writing workshop. I promise to be a ruthless editor, though with that gentle interpersonal touch that justifies absolutely no payment whatsoever for your articles. Glory. It’s all about the glory of a well-written article and the inevitable notoriety that flows from publication under your own byline.

The Reading World

Dissing the e-reader

While reading a very thoughtful article on the economics of education in the Kindle edition of The Atlantic, I ran across the following mangled phrase:

The conventional wisdom is that you get what you pay for.that the larger the price tag, the better the product. But that.s not true in higher education.

The electronic version of the magazine isn’t being copy edited for errors after conversion from the files used to create the paper publication.

Poor quality copy is not going to help publishers solve the problems presented by the transformation of media. Treating the digital text as a quick, cheap copy only denigrates the reader, who is paying for quality writing, the writers who contribute the work, and the staff’s efforts to make a good product. All these are obvious reasons to make the same effort to proofread published material for errors before sending it to Kindle (or any e-reader) owners. The economics of poor quality lead only one way: downward.

The Reading World

E-books aren’t just digital pages

Follow the Reader‘s Susan Ruszala writes that she’s not bonding with the Sony Reader she received from the company recently. The problem reduced to a few words is, the digital book does nothing new or special. Publishers need to realize that a book converted to digital format is still less than a book, a “flat tire,” as Alan Kay describes badly designed technologies seeking to replace an existing technology.

Susan suggests book-club pricing schemes, and that may be an attractive way to bundle the choice of a few books out of the gate. Audible used to do something similar, letting people choose five books when signing up for a year of service, but that’s not the problem.

The problem is that e-books over-promise and under-deliver. They don’t do anything a book does, other than display words. They don’t help readers understand the text better and they don’t even show readers where they are in the book, which they can assess with a glance at the pages in the book. She suggests a calculator that tells how long, at one’s current reading pace, one will take to finish a book.

How about a simple volumetric display, a kind of at-a-glance view of how far through the book the reader is, so you can see there is only a third of the book or some such easily understood view of progress?

Susan concludes with: “I believe there’s a real danger that their curated and edited content won’t be as widely consumed as it could be—and that is a far bigger danger.” I think that’s missing the point. Curation, which means helping people find their way through books or ideas, and editing, which means working to improve the quality and authority (by vetting for accuracy), does add value. Just scanning a book, especially without adding the benefit of experience since it was published in paper—what if the author has learned a lot, or that the whole thesis they wrote about, is wrong—is what will make a book stand out from any other words packaged for the page.

Interestingly, though most people don’t understand it was so, this exactly the same problem publishers had in the early centuries of print.