GUEST AUTHOR - Sara Sheridan

Sara Sheridan is mostly an historical novelist but also publishes her contemporary fiction on Kindle. She sits on the committee of the Society of Authors in Scotland (where she lives) and on the board of the writers’ collective, “26”. She tweets about her writing life as @sarasheridan. Her books are available here.

Today she tells us about all her Kindle adventures...

This summer, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I read from my kindle during an event rather than using a copy of my book. All month “The Secret Mandarin”, my novel about early Empire explorer and tea botanist, Robert Fortune, had been running up and down the top 100 in the Kindle store, getting into the top 20 several times. “The Secret of the Sands” the book’s follow up (set in the desert) was not too far behind it. I figured most of my readers that month were using kindles, and why shouldn’t I? I was taking part in several events and wanted to read from lots of different sources – so the kindle was the obvious choice – I could bookmark what I wanted and have 1000 books in my pocket (to quote from at will). The event’s chairman was frosty, to say the least, but lots of the audience came up afterwards and asked questions – mostly about whether I liked the kindle or not (yes, I do!) and if I still bought ‘real’ books (yes, indeed! I have 36 metres of bookshelves in my study – I’ll always buy books).

You can’t attend a book festival, a trade conference or even the event programme in your local bookshop right now without having to sit through any number of people discussing their views on the digital revolution. There are celebrants and evangelists, those who are deeply suspicious and some who are outright up in arms. I am already bored of this debate. In essence it doesn’t really matter what we all think. Kindle is out there, being used and enjoyed by millions of readers. What I’m interested in focussing on is content, not delivery and personally I am completely unflustered by whichever medium people choose to read my words. I’m just delighted they’re reading them at all! To my mind, it’s way too early to decide how these technical advances are going to effect the industry as a whole – it’s easy to see where the issues are but no one can really know what will transpire. My attitude has been to keep myself informed, to campaign for net neutrality, and that aside, to dive in and see how I like it. So far, I like it fine. I’m thoroughly enjoying the level of control that this new media is giving authors (alongside social media tools) and I’m delighted that my out of print contemporary fiction has found a new audience online.

Mine is a two kindle household and we both use our kindles in different ways. My husband loaded his kindle mostly with classics from Project Gutenberg (initially with so many that he overloaded it). I use mine for a mixture of research (for which the search function and font options are fabulous) and books I can stockpile as I hear about them, in a virtual To Be Read pile that can go with me wherever I am. Because of my kindle I’m reading more – snatching precious minutes to dip into books. It’s so easy to carry in my handbag and I love that I can buy what I want, when I want - and get it straight away.

I was fascinated to see that Amazon is bringing out a new kindle – the much vaunted 7” Kindle tablet. This will play music and video as well as store books. However, it won’t have the celebrated e-ink matte screen. It’ll look more like an ipad with a touchscreen (though all indications are it’ll be far cheaper than the Apple version). The Kindle tablet will only support Amazon materials (not for nothing, one feels, that Amazon recently bought Lovefilm) and seems perfect for enhanced books where readers can click through for video or audio material that relates to the content. You won’t be able to see the screen in bright sunshine (though in Scotland that’s a moot point – so far I’m not sure I’ve sat reading in bright sunshine). For my research material it might well be a boon but when I’m reading, I like all the action to be contained in my imagination, as if I’m plugging the words straight into my brain! I’m not interested in music or additional video features. That’s not the way I take in a story.

Happily, Amazon have no plans (that anyone has discerned) to make readers choose between these two formats. The e-ink model will be on sale alongside the tablet and both will be developed. I expect they don’t know themselves, which one will prove most popular and whether a tablet that doesn’t have the app functions and computer smarts of the ipad can win over enough customers to carve out a market for itself. Little in this world stands still. It is amazing that the book has remained in much the same format for as long as it has. Now the geeks are in on the game, things are no doubt set to change exponentially. But writing, I expect, won’t. Especially in the fiction market where a good story is complete of itself. There I go – adding my voice to those dreadful bores with opinions. Tell you what – why don’t we just all wait and see what happens? And when the Amazon tablet launches (they say it will be late 2011 or early 2012) I’ll be first in the queue to have a shot and see how I like it. Best, I think, to make up my mind then.


Hywela Lyn said…
Hi Sara. Interesting post! Shame there's no release date for the Kindle Fire in the UK yet though. Also, the latest Kindle is advertised for $75 (£48)in the States but is £89 over here, nearly twice what it costs our American cousins. Seems we lose out yet again, which is a shame as a price in the region of £50 would be more likely to tempt UK readers to try a Kindle.
Joan Lennon said…
Hi Sara! With technology I tend to hesitate for an age, make a great leap, and then squat where I land for another age ... I do love my Kindle. Thanks for visiting us!
Nicola Morgan said…
Hi Sara - lovely to see you here. Hope the wedding and honeymoon were fab :)

You said, "Tell you what – why don’t we just all wait and see what happens?" Gosh, I wish more people would do that. Everything's to play for and we all need to keep an open mind. Good luck with your projects. Nx
'Content is what matters, not mode of delivery.' You nailed it, Sara. These days, people want choice. Some people choose paper, some choose e-paper. Some use one mode at home and another when on the move. Some people even read on iphones, which I can't imagine.
The new devices actually make it easier for people to read mor ebooks - which has to be a good thing, doesn't it?
Anonymous said…
I agree whole-heartedly with your 'embrace it and see' view of ebooks and technological advances, Sara.
I think what most sensible people agree on is that, as new forms develop and evolve, writers and readers will adapt.

Revolution is never quiet, simple, or tidy.
Absolutely - could not agree with you more. No idea why some people get so upset about e-readers. No one is being forced to use them. But they probably do not realise what they are missing out on!
Dennis Hamley said…
I'm a bit puzzled, Hywela. We bought a Kindle Fire in the pre-Christmas Amazon UK sale It's good. I have no preference between the e-ink screen and the Fire's backlighting. But the font on Fire is far nicer and it's good to have the net and email, especially for people as non-tablet, android and the rest as we are.

Nice post, Sara. Reading a Kindle at the Edinburgh Festival? Brilliant. A friend wrote to me over Christmas: 'If someone were to give me a Kindle I'd smash it against the wall.' I shall not bother to reply.

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