Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The road less travelled by Cally Phillips

Tomorrow sees the 50th post on Authors Electric sister site Indie Ebook Review. Many Electric Authors have both reviewed and been reviewed on this site and the positivity of all concerned is one of its best features. 


Since a guest blogger has gone AWOL today I recommend that you take yourself over to the IEBR site and check out some of the past reviews. Spend a bit of time in the virtual bookshelf - familiarise yourself with the writing and the reviewing 'style' of our contributors and generally wallow in the stuff in preparation for the 50th celebrations tomorrow. 


Cally Phillips (editor IEBR) writes about indie ebook reviewing: 



The three months I’ve spent hunting down and reading ebooks (not for me the easy one click of free bestsellers on Amazon) have resulted in my coming up with an interesting observation or two.  And I feel it’s time to explore this as an analogy (inspired in part by one of the books I’ve been reading – a travel book).

I think ‘indie’ E-books are to traditional print publishing like independent travel is to package holidays. If you start with this view you will a) not get so annoyed about lots of things and b) have much more pleasant a journey and c) gain much more from the experience.

I’d like to consider some of the most frequent complaints about ebooks I regularly  come across.

People are always saying ebooks are poorly edited.  That the stories don’t ‘end’ the way I want or they ‘drop off’ in quality before the end.  Sometimes this is a fair point. A lot of the time it’s people saying ‘I didn’t like it.’  There is a difference.

If you read Amazon reviews you’ll see that many ‘reviewers’ really don’t have the basics of understanding the different between personal opinion and critical commentary (more of that another time).  Underlying these gripes however, is the fact that these complaints are basically surrounding issues  (or perceived issues) of ‘professionalism’ in both the skill of the author and the final publication. One can argue long and hard about this. One can give examples of poorly edited mainstream titles and disappear into etymology or definition of words like ‘professional’ and the responsibility of publishers. The relationship between author and publisher…. Yada yada….

I am not being an apologist for slack work here. Believe me. Of course one wants a book to be as well edited as possible.  As good a reading experience as it’s possible to be. But I think we may be in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater here. Or of keeping in a package holiday mentality and thus losing the joy of ‘the road less travelled.’

I say. Get over it. Especially while prices are low to free.  Stop being so mean minded. In daily life one fairly regularly doesn’t get exactly what one wants. That bruised apple/tomato in a pack. That overpriced coffee/sandwich/meal. Do you complain about everything in life that doesn’t end up the way you want? If so, I suggest you stay away from ebooks.  But  I humbly suggest that what is needed here is a change in attitude. A re-alignment of expectations.

If you book a two week package holiday anywhere in the world you can be reasonably confident that you’ll have a particular experience.  If you travel to the same place independently you’ll have a different experience.  In the first instance you can expect things to go to plan (though you’re bound to have disappointments) but more importantly you can COMPLAIN if it doesn’t deliver what it says on the tin. And even get compensation if your expectations are dashed. But if you’re lucky you’ll just have a nice, relaxing, non threatening, non challenging experience (usually complete with Full English Breakfast if you want it) and come back with suntan from all that time spent reading ‘trashy’ novels on the beach. Okay?  If you book on a Saga holiday or an 18-30 holiday you have some expectation of what you are paying for right? All inclusive cruise, similarly. (Unless you run aground or sink!) But, if you choose to travel independently you’re going to have to take a whole new view on the thing.  Your experience will depend more on local conditions than on the security of homogenised holiday hotels.  It’s a lot more risky, a lot less certain… and if you are of a certain mindset… a lot more fulfilling.  There’s much less COMPLAINING goes on because you accept some responsibility for the problems arising yourself.

Well… let me venture to suggest that – for the moment at least – one should consider indie ebooks as analogous to an independent holiday experience.  You will read books where some
more careful ‘editing’ is required. Personally, when I read an indie ebook that’s not my first concern any more than if I buy something from a Charity Shop I’m going to complain if it’s not in BRAND SPANKING NEW condition.  I don’t expect M&S (sorry ‘YOUR M&S’) perfection in charity shop purchases (even if the items originated from M&S) You learn to adapt. You learn to see what’s important. In clothing this is – does it fit, is it suitable for my purpose – in ebooks this is – do I like the story? Do I feel a connection with the writer? Are we sharing something? Am I learning something?

In order to have this ‘experience’ I can live with things that are not ‘professionally’ perfect in terms of editing and delivery, as long as the story grabs me. That doesn’t mean it has to develop or end the way ‘I want’ or even how ‘I expect.’ It means I have to learn something, be moved by something, feel my time isn’t being wasted.

The 'Big Boys'  try to present us a homogenised view of digital publishing (the ultimate one click experience) but don’t be fooled. They are packaging product. They don’t care about your individual experience.  They are leaving it up to the combined ‘us’ to formulate the ‘experience’.  They’ll charter the planes. They’ll book the hotels but they don’t care whether you have a leaking tap/noisy neighbours/no beach view in your hotel room.  We can complain about this for ever. They won’t change. Their business is selling you product not enhancing your individual life experience. That’s up to you. They set up the hype and follow the money. 

What excites me about ebooks is the opportunity to go beyond this. To find things out. To take control of one’s reading beyond the market driven, money oriented or indignant personally biased reviews. I want to make my own choices.  And now I can.  I can’t guarantee I’ll always have the ‘best’ experience any more than I can know which is the best place to eat in a foreign country. 

Just remember. There’s a whole world out there. Your own perspective is important. You discover for yourself. You choose what you like as an individual. You don’t have to buy into what you don’t want to. You can take risks if you want. But don’t complain that it’s not EXACTLY as it SHOULD BE in the world of the giant corporate business of publishing.  This is NOT what indie publishing is about. It is about real individuals publishing their stories (fact or fiction) to the best of their abilities and if we price them out of the market by demanding the same rigorous (or anal) attention to ‘detail’ while expecting them to deliver us with perfect goods without the slightest typo or editing glitch, then we will end up with a diet of bland pre-packaged fare…. And isn’t that what we’ve been trying to get away from?

So… it’s a timely reminder that if you are the kind of person who will get up to 90 if there’s a spelling error you might be best not to dip your toe too far into the choppy waters of ebooks.  Or only buy from sources you can be 100% sure of.  That option is available to you.  Probably costs more though.  However,if you truly believe that content is king, if you want to explore the world from outside the package holiday, then indie is for you.  The better you research the less likely you are to part with money and then be unhappy with your purchase.  I’m not trying to convert anyone, but I think it’s important that people take some responsibility for their own engagement in the world of digital publishing.  Think about the arguments. About how and why you want to engage with it. 

At IEBR we are here to help you with that task.  We’re neither a large commercial tourist company nor a state sponsored tourist organisation. We are offering views on potential ‘holidays’ for independent travellers.  For individuals.  We can show you some places to go but we can’t decide for you whether you’ll enjoy the same journeys we have taken.

I am not suggesting that anything goes quality wise, just that we need to take a more flexible, more mature attitude to ebooks and not throw our hands up in horror if something we read doesn’t work out as we ‘expected’ or as we ‘wanted’ it to.  Reading a true indie ebook is being an independent traveller. Don’t expect the ride to always be comfortable, but it’ll all be part of the experience of life!  Less complaining about how someone else doesn’t live up to your personal whims or expectations and more finding out what you do like and why and researching where you can get the ‘best’ personalised experience for yourself. Think positive. Read positive. Judge positive.

I’ve found the best thing about running this site and reading and reviewing is that I’ve found what I want. In all sorts of places I never knew about.  I’ve encountered lots of challenging reading I would never have otherwise known about.  Sometimes some of it is hard going and takes me out of my comfort zone, but I like that in reading. I like to be challenged, to undergo a learning experience and to have the opportunity to make a virtual one to one connection with another person’s mind.  I write fiction that doesn’t suit everyone. I like to read fiction that doesn’t suit everyone. I reckon I’m pretty good at my initial research because by the time I commit to read something, I’m rarely disappointed.  Okay, sometimes I make a bad choice. It happens in life. Every day. You just have to get over it. It’s not like you shelled out a huge sum of money for a bad holiday now is it?  It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. You can always stop reading. But sometimes, if you carry on reading and get to the end, you realise the problem was less with the writer and more with you, the reader, and your misaligned expectations.  

I don’t suggest that everyone is looking for the same as I am in a ‘good read.’  I’m not suggesting that they should.  I’m just suggesting that some of the onus on whether an ebook ‘experience’ is good or bad is in the hands of the reader.  Read the label on the tin before you open it.  Browse. Download samples. Read reviews (critically) and look both ways before you cross the road! 

3 comments:

Jan Needle said...

wonderful as ever, ms phillips. the thing that worries me about you is the unbelievable energy and dedication you put into everything you do. i'm a slow reader, i admit it, but i try. one of my problems is that once i've started a book, i'm loath to stop, even if i think i need to (on the life's too short principle).

which means that i end up resenting finishing some books, and being prejudiced against them far beyong what they deserve. and i'm also wary of picking up some books, especially if they're long (and despite the fact that moby dick is my all time favourite)

so - i'm trying hard to embrace the ebook revolution, and i'm trying even harder to start a book, think 'hhm, not for me' and zip on to the next one. thanks, as ever, for pointing ouit the way.

julia jones said...

One of the kindest early reviews of the Salt-Stained Book compared it to a hand made wooden toy "where the occasional wonkiness is part of the charm"! I think that's what you're saying about indie ebooks. I also like the invisible aspect. If one gives up on a printed book it tends to lie around reproaching you. The ebook accepts its fate out-of-sight. On the other hand if i reallty really like an ebook, then I want it tangible.

Dan Holloway said...

Excellent as always, Cally. It's interesting that one of the few people in the mainstream media actively seeking out self-published books, Damien Walter, has a thread up at present looking for the best ebook pulp fiction - http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/may/29/new-pulp-fictioneers-fiction - what's interesting, as with print (and the ever-patient and enthusiastic Kim Newman's foray into straight-to-video films) is that a whole new layer of rather marvellous ultra-cheap/free fiction is emerging on its own terms