Reading and Writing Around the Web: The Nonfiction Edition

Every day I scour the web for interesting articles, tips, and just great reads. Most of what I’ll share concern reading or writing, books, movies and TV, because that’s what I’m into. If you see something worth reading or care to discuss a topic, just leave a comment.

I may not be a paid journalist any longer, but I still appreciate interesting news stories that are timely, well-told, or that inspire debate or critical thinking. Here’s a roundup of some articles that caught my eye in the past week:

The New York Times had an interesting report about Amazon’s bruising workplace culture. But even the Times was at odds with the story, as its Public Editor Margaret Sullivan pointed out what she felt were flaws in providing complete fairness in the article. There are numerous links in her opinion piece to additional takes on the article, both in favor and against. The article and its fallout-over 5,000 comments on the Times article alone—has the attention of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. And Fortune offers three lessons from the Amazon takedown. Apparently the idea of peer reviews that Amazon uses have been popular for years, according to NPR. Doesn’t make them right, though, if the idea is just to tear down someone else or stab them in the back so that you can get ahead.

Elsewhere, Conor Friederdorf of The Atlantic recently posted his annual list and links to 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism. Says Friederdoft: “This is my annual attempt to bring some of those stories to a wider audience. I could not read or note every worthy article that was published last calendar year and I haven’t included any paywalled articles or anything published at The Atlantic. But everything that follows is worthy of wider attention and engagement.” Truth is often stranger than fiction, as they say.

NPR posted this story about a library in Sri Lanka after it was gutted in a mysterious fire decades ago and how it has been reborn.

NPR also has a neat story about the first two women set to graduate from the Army’s elite Ranger School.

And this article sounds like that movie The Monuments Men: Nazi treasure train found in Poland.

For those of you who still can’t stop talking about Harper Lee, there’s a forthcoming book that explores the childhood relationship between the author and Truman Capote, “Tru & Nelle,” by Greg Neri, and how their friendship pushed them to write.

There was an interesting discussion between Liesl Schillinger and Benjamin Moser in the New York Times earlier this month about the so-called death of the novel. Of course, the novel is anything but dead. If anything, it is continuing to evolve with the advent of both self-publishing and ebook publishing, but the article is definitely worth a read.

For young adult authors out there, here’s an interesting article from NPR about cultural touchstones that today’s youth have never had the pleasure of knowing.

And, sadly, here’s an interesting story about the late actress Yvonne Craig, and her heroic battles onscreen as Batgirl and offscreen as an advocate for workers unions, free mammograms and equal pay for women.

Read anything good lately? Articles, books, or otherwise. Post your list (and links if you’ve got ‘em) in the comments below.

Reading and Writing Around the Web: Feeling Bookish

Every day I scour the web for interesting articles, writing tips, and just great reads. It’s all part of my ongoing effort to learn more about the craft of writing. Today’s roundup includes a look at the latest in books and authors. Enjoy.

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Ankerwycke Books, which is the publishing arm of the American Bar Association, is reprinting Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series. I picked up three of the first five books this week from Walmart.com. I used to read these books during my free study period at high school but have never had these books as part of my collection.

For Such A TimeThere’s an interesting drama going on over in the romance literature world right now concerning the Nazi romance novel For Such A Time by Kate Breslin. The book was recently nominated for two major prizes at the Romance Writers of America conference in July, but has since come under fire for its story involving the romance between Hadassah, an inmate at a concentration camp in World War II, and the Nazi commander who rescues her to be his secretary.

Frank Herbert’s Dune turns 50 this year. Here’s an interesting article about how the ecological lessons of the novel were ahead of its time. I’ve never read this one, but my brother speaks very highly of it so I’ll likely give it a read someday.

JRR Tolkien’s first story will see the light of day this month. The Story of Kullervo was written in 1915. Tolkien is among four writers featured in a new book, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: JRR Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams. George R.R. Martin, in a recent talk, noted that Tolkien failed to deliver at the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings.

Dog in the Night-TimeThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon was recently pulled from the children’s reading list at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Fla., amid concerns over foul language used in the book. Incredibly, this is an awarded-winning book that has also spawned a prize-winning play.

Everyone seems to have a list of best books to read, even President Barack Obama. I came across these lists in the past week. I have my own big list of books to wade through, but I do peruse these lists for something I’ve missed or something everyone is talking about. I just wish I could read faster.

Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime – I’ve got several of these books in my library already and I found a few I’d like to add to my reading list. One book I read and despised as a child was Where the Wild Things Are. It gave me nightmares. Maybe I should go back and reread it.

The Guardian posted this list: The 100 Best Novels Written in English.

And for those genre-specific readers, here are 10 Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Novels of 2015

If you still can’t find anything to read after sifting through the above lists, chances are you’ll find something on Oct. 5. That’s the day being heralded as Super Thursday in the bookworld, in which more than 500 new books will hit the market in time for Christmas gift-giving.

Finally, if you’re in the Nashville area looking for a good read, head over to Parnassus Books, one of CNN’s coolest bookstores in the world.

What are you reading? Leave a comment below and let’s talk about it.

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/25: The Amazon edition

It seems like everyone wants a piece of Amazon. Or at least to blame Amazon for their writerly woes. The Interweb is full of articles bemoaning Amazon’s Kindle author pay policy, customer review policy, and more.

Here’s just a few articles I came across recently:

The Authors Guild is urging the Department of Justice to investigate Amazon for what it calls “anti-competitive behavior” in book sales.

Bestselling authors make roundabout arguments that it’s in readers’ interest for big publishers to collude on high prices.

Amazon recently debuted Amazon Follow, a special tab on its Amazon author pages that allow you to follow news and publications as they happen by your favorite author, including instant notifications when new books drop.

Amazon’s also come under fire recently for its customer review policy, in which it prevents friends from leaving comments about friends’ books on the site. Blogger Rachelle Gardner points out Amazon’s Customer Review Guidelines outline a number of things that are not allowed. They specifically disallow reviews “by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product.” Here are a couple of older articles about it: Forbes and New York Times.

Do Kindle countdown deals work? Here’s one take.

Speaking of Kindle and ebooks, did you know Amazon could wipe your slate of ebook purchases clean? Apparently,  it’s happened and it’s all in the fine print of the company’s terms and conditions. Just one more reason why print beats digital!

And in case you missed it elsewhere on my site, here’s my take on Amazon’s pay per page plan.

All of this wouldn’t be in the news if it weren’t for the fact that Amazon is a force to be reckoned with in the book publishing world. Simply put, Amazon has changed the game and the traditional publishers, as well as brick and mortar stores, are quaking in the wake of this marketing juggernaut.

So, what’s your take on Amazon? Love ’em or hate ’em? Leave your comments below.

Kindle writers: Keep ’em hooked, or pay the price

Any good book should keep readers turning pages towards the end, shouldn’t it? Why reward authors who fail to do so?

That’s basically what Amazon’s new payment plan for its Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Lending Library programs boils down to. If readers stick with an author’s book ‘til the end, the author will be rewarded. If readers close the book midway and move on to something else, again, authors will be rewarded, just not as much.

kindle screenOn the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that concept.

The old plan provided authors with a flat rate for each borrow through the program. The payout was guaranteed regardless of how far the reader actually flipped into the book. The new plan pays according to how much of the book the reader reads.

According to Amazon, the plan was developed after extensive feedback on how to improve its payment system. Many authors with longer works apparently complained that they weren’t getting a fair deal compared to authors with shorter e-books. It didn’t matter how much prose you wrote, the payout was the same.

“Our goal, as always, is to build a service that rewards authors for their valuable work, attracts more readers and encourages them to read more and more often,” Amazon says in its statement.

So, why is everyone upset over the new payout plan?

Simply put, it means the author now has to earn his or her pay. If a reader doesn’t keep flipping the pages, for whatever reason, the buck stops on whatever page they left off. That’s a big risk for authors who thought they could bank on a certain amount of money per book download, no matter whether the reader finished or not.

Not that we’re talking a lot of money here, in any case. According to recent reports, the amount comes out to about .006 cents per page read. A reader would have to read the whole book or pretty close to it (something like 70,000 words) before the author is able to recoup the previous payout of $1.30 per book.

It also means authors who thought they could cash in with shorter stories or novellas may now have to rethink that strategy.

Few readers even cross the finish line

Most people downloading ebooks don’t even finish their books, according to a New York Times article. Authors, as a result, will likely lose out on this per page read plan compared to the flat rate plan.

The reasons for not finishing a book are numerous. A story that starts out with a bang may become muddled by the middle.  Readers get bored and find there’s something better out there. Life often intervenes and readers lose track.

Generally, my cutoff point is around page fifty. If the book hasn’t thoroughly engrossed me by then, I will cut my losses and move on to something else. Or, in the alternative, I may put the book aside for a while and begin something else. At some point, I may return to the book and give it a second chance. (I wonder if authors would get paid twice in that case?)

Another potential reason for stopping midstream: the format itself.

I’ve talked about this before, but the bottom line is I don’t like reading books on the Kindle or on the computer. It’s a fascinating irony given that I spend most of my days at the computer either reading websites or social media feeds or typing on my own book. But the fact is I prefer to hold a physical book in my hand, flipping through the pages at my leisure, or flipping back to a previous chapter if I so choose. I like being able to gauge where I am in the book by looking at my bookmark or thumbing through the pages to see where the next chapter starts. You get none of that by reading on a computer or tablet.

Case in point, I’ve got a lot of books stockpiled on my Kindle waiting to be read. None are of the KU or KLL variety. Most of the e-books were either purchases or freebies picked up during a promotional sale. I’ve flipped through some of them and even managed to read a couple in their entirety. But most have sat unopened and unread, mainly because of my preference for physical books.

Write your own guarantee

Nothing comes easy for writers.

The writing itself can only be described as a love affair with the written word. Most writers must realize by now they’re not going to get rich from it. They may just barely eke out an existence, let alone a career. Though, of course, that is the dream of all writers.

Traditional publishers take around 70 percent of the costs for the books, leaving royalties of just 30 percent for writers. Advances for books are small or nonexistent.  Independent publishers sometimes offer royalties only, leaving writers with no guaranteed paycheck.

Even marketing books is being pushed more and more on the authors rather than the publishers. Building a fan base through social media is becoming paramount to success, and even then it’s no guarantee.

So, what’s an author to do in the face of all this?

The answer is simple and it comes right back to the crux of Amazon’s new payout plan: write well-crafted books that keep readers hooked and turning pages.

Does that mean you need to rethink the way you write? That you need to write more cliffhangers, shocks and twists in your story? Not necessarily, though that may be a tactic to consider.

Flooding the market with inferior products and get-rich schemes won’t work. Finely written stories will find a way. As a writer, you have to believe that. That’s your only guarantee.

Author’s note: I posted a previous version of this article, but have since modified it to reflect the newest information.

Other takes:

JA Konrath answers questions about e-books, Amazon

What authors really think about the pay-per-page plan