Print books are dead!

“Print books are dead, Mom,” said my son in a recent phone conversation. Lest you think this mother raised a fool, Daniel is Dr. Lewis, with a PhD in English, and teaches that at college level. He loves books. He begged me to teach him to read at the age of three.

Daniel and his wife, Sarah, in Ireland.

But he’s also a member of the first generation to be raised with video games, which led to personal computers, CDs, DVDs, cell phones, DVRs, and eReaders . He’s fully ensconced in the digital age. As my son says, “Digital is faster, easier, and cheaper.” I can’t argue with that. I have a Kindle and I read a lot of books on it.

That’s not to say I don’t still love the feel of a “real” book in my hands. And I confess that print books still seem more substantial to me. More important. As I said in a previous post, once again I’m dependent on public library borrows for most of my books, and though they have access to some eBooks through Overdrive, most of the books I’m looking for are not among them.

So print books are still very much a part of my life. But are they a part of yours? Will print books be less important to the current generation of children and mere old-fashioned curiosities to the next? What form do you favor now?

I’ve taken a poll on this topic twice before, so let’s update again. If you’re reading this through email or a blog reader and don’t see the poll, PLEASE click through to vote.

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The Necessity of Free Books

The day I got my first library card was a 5-star day for me. Even when I moved to Germany, while my husband was in the Army, one of the first things I did was get a card for the base library. As a child, I couldn’t afford to buy books at all, nor did I buy more than a few books during the years I raised my sons. But as our family income increased, I bought just about any book I wanted. Now, as a retiree, that’s over.

library_signI’ve always used the public library to check out the books I didn’t necessarily want to own and to try new authors. And now I’m back to using it almost exclusively. But in this digital age, I have another option—free eBooks. Like most of you, when I got my first eReader, I loaded it up with free books, most of which I’ve never looked at since.

I’m more selective now. I read the descriptions and download only books I think may appeal to me. Not all of them end up drawing me in, of course, and I delete them. But I’ve read many good books I wouldn’t have been able to read if they hadn’t been offered freely.

Part of the drawback of self-publishing is that most of those books will never make it to a library—not even on the digital “shelves.” That’s why I make limited free offers of my books. I know there are others out there like me who are pitifully sad without books to read.

So, to those authors who’ve made it possible for me to read their work freely either by contest, free download, library availability, or by allowing me to beta read, I say THANK YOU.
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How do you use your reading device?

The topic of this post came to me as a question while responding to a comment on my last post. I confess, I rarely learn all the functions of my electronic devices, and sometimes, even when I know about them, I forget to use them. It doesn’t help that most of these devices no longer come with print manuals. Having to access an online manual annoys me.

Anyway, the electronic device in question today is the e-reader. I have a Kindle, a Kindle 3 to be exact, the one with the old-fashioned button keyboard. I’ve used it for almost two years, but I’ve not used it fully. I know how to open and page through a book, of course. I’ve tried the read-to-me feature, but the robotic voice drives me nuts.  I even know how to send documents to my Kindle by email.  But there are other features I’ve never used.

I’ve used the Menu button mainly to access the Wireless function and the “Go to” function, but only to go to the beginning or end of the book. I have never used: Search This Document, Add Bookmark, Add Note or Highlight, etc. Until two days ago, I didn’t even realize the progress bar that appears at the bottom of the screen as you read shows tick marks indicating chapter beginnings. And then I found out you can skip forward and backward through these chapters by clicking.

Yeah, I’m an electronic doofus.

The thing is, I read e-books differently than I do print books. I prefer the print version of reference books and books I will likely read more than once—like those of my favorite authors. Those are the books I add bookmarks or notes and highlights to. I use my e-reader mostly for easy, quickly read fiction. I don’t believe publishers will cease printing books in my lifetime, though I do expect to see a steady increase in books published in digital format only.

Now, here’s my question—rather, series of questions—for e-reader users. How do you use your e-reader? Do you use all its features? Do you add notes and highlights the way you do in print books? Of the books you’ve read in the last year, what percentage were digital? Do you read all types of books on your reader or do you prefer to read certain books in print? If you’d like to answer an e-reader question I didn’t ask, have at it.

Misfit Writer

Excuse this sort of stream of consciousness post. I’m all worked up from reading about other authors’ successful sales. Earlier this week I was invited to a movie and lunch. Magic Mike was the movie. Most of you have either seen it or decided not to, so I’m not going to review it. The movie was fun—because gyrating men do make me laugh. But the point of this post is not the movie or the lunch that followed, but my reaction, as an author, to being in the company of women who are in my target readership.

One of the women in that group is from my generation and the other two are of the next younger generation. None of oddthem are writers, but they are avid readers and movie goers. They didn’t discuss Magic Mike except for a few joking comments, but as we ate, I listened to them discuss several other movies and books they had all seen or read.

Listened is the operative word.

Most of the time, I could only listen because I had seen few of the movies and read even fewer of the books they named. As I listened, I felt as if I’d grown antennae and a few extra eyes. How could I be so alien to their entertainment world? Or more importantly to me as a writer, how can I write fiction that appeals to them when I’m such a misfit?

That was not the only time I’ve discovered I’m on the outside looking in. I’ve joined several reading groups on Goodreads, populated mostly by women, to find that I don’t read the same books they do. Writers are told to grow your reader base by joining such groups, not to sell, but to let them get to know you as a person. But I join and then remain silent because I have nothing to add to the conversations.

I could force myself to read the books they read, but then I’d have no time to read the books that truly appeal to me. And writers have to read, right? Yes, I know. We should write what we love to read. But when you’re a misfit like me, is that good advice?

Of course I’m not going to start writing political thrillers or something else completely foreign to me. Nor am I going to start writing “mommy porn” just because it’s selling through the roof. That’s the rub. This would all be moot if I quit thinking about how to sell more books.

If I could just not care about that, I could be happy in my little misfit world—and return to my study of Magic Mike’s character arc.

Dear Author, You’re a Slacker

Attention writers: if you publish one book a year, you’re a slacker! So says this article in The New York Times. It says, in this age of eBooks, readers require more, more, more. Publishers advise their authors to produce short stories and novellas between full-length novels if they want to remain competitive.

Also, the article says, readers now expect to connect with their favorite authors on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and more. Long gone is the reclusive author of times past. It seems authors today need to be writing, writing, writing as well as socializing 24/7.

How is that possible?

I know writers who’ve dropped out of the social media circus to concentrate solely on writing. I don’t believe I know a writer who hasn’t considered doing that. So, if these drop-out writers feel their work suffers when they don’t give it their full attention, what does that mean for the work of writers who are trying to do it all?

My reading has slowed quite a bit since I started writing seriously. I now consider it a good month if I read two novels, so I’m not tapping my foot waiting for a few favorite authors to crank out two or more books a year. I suppose, if you’re a voracious reader and limit your reading to the works of only three or four authors, you might often be at a loss for something new to read. Then again, you could give some new authors a chance and possibly discover additional favorites.

Your turn: Do you demand more than one book a year from your favorite authors? If you’re a writer, have you stepped up production? Do you think, in this era of “impatient readers”, writing quality will suffer—or already has? Could these “impatient readers” be mythical creations born of publishers’ desperation for increased profits?