Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sneaky eBooks

So while those of us who participated in National Novel Writing Month in November, sweating it out every night trying to meet our daily word count so we could hit that 50,000-word level by Nov. 30, somebody named Megs Var is selling one-page books through Barnes and Noble for 99 cents a shot, and getting at least one person upset about it.

I almost want to buy Aquatic Animal Book, just so I can verify this Consumerist reader’s claims that it’s a bundle of disappointment.

A one-page book is, certainly, an aberration in the ebook world. I’ve read several books published exclusively in the electronic format, and found that ebooks have the same kind of varying quality that traditional books possess. Some are well-written, well-illustrated, and a delight to read. Others, well, are not.

But as this situation points out, sometimes before you buy a book you want to try it out before you plunk down the plonks. Traditional bookstores let you do that (as do most electronic publishers). But not so in this case.

Even so – just looking at the illustration offered puts up some red flags for me. In the description, we’re told we’ll learn the names of the fish in this beautifully illustrated book. But three of the fish in the illustrations are described simply as “fish,” while a hermit crab is described as a “cancer hermit” and a seahorse as a “hippocampus.” (The last one, I grant you, is technically correct, as hippocampus is the seahorse genus. But none of the other animals, including the “coldfish,” which should probably be “goldfish” are identified by their taxonomic names.)

I’m not saying that “real” books, with more than one page, don’t also send up red flags in their initial representation at the bookstore, whether of bricks and mortar or ether. I’ve read many a book that, in the opening lines and paragraphs, I can tell just by the style of writing that they’re going to be stinkers. But at least I had the opportunity to peruse such matter before I buy the book. This one-page book offers no such option.

However, it’s still buyer beware. The same book presented at Amazon.com says in its description that its print length is thirteen pages. So it’s breaking the “divisible by eight” page rule set in the print world, but this is electronic publishing so anything goes, right?

Aaand over at Smashwords, you get a word total: 27. Yes, a whopping 27 words. Unless this is a Dr. Seuss book, I’m highly skeptical it’s going to live up to its description.

Then there are the reviews. For the most part, anonymous, and for the most part, short and glowing for Aquatic Animal Book. As many times as I’ve been asked to go in and offer a review on a book that technically I haven’t read, just because the author in some vague sense has a connection with me (and that connection may look like this Venn diagram below), I’m a bit leery of online reviews, especially when they’re linked at commercial sites. That’s one reason to go to GoodReads and read reviews before you buy as well, rather than just trusting the reviews you see right at the point of sale. (Though in this case there are no GoodReads reviews of this book.)

What this tells me as an author: Do not oversell what you’re offering. Underpromise and overdeliver, that’s the key. Because the online world is cruel. Develop a bad reputation – and it doesn’t take long – and you’re toast as an author and a brand.

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