Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Democracy of Ebooks

If you’d have talked to me two years ago, you probably would have heard me say I’d never read an ebook in my life.

But, as you know, things change.

Today, though I still tend to favor printed books over their electronic cousins, I have read a fair share of ebooks. 

And I’m learning more from them than I ever would have from a printed book. Not necessarily as a reader, mind you – but as a writer. 

Part of it I chalk up to maturity, to an increased awareness of the raw mechanics of writing a good book, brought on by trying to write good books of my own. But most of it, I chalk up to the electronic medium itself, and the ease with which unpublished authors become published through it. 

Electronic books certainly have a more “You wrote it, you publish it” vibe. There are fewer gatekeepers – for both good and bad. It’s easy to tell, for example, that in writing her first book, J.K. Rowling had more assistance from editors than with her later books (or at least a lot less leeway with those first books). There are pauses for explanation in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone you don’t see as much in her latter works. 

Then there’s A Place Beyond the Map, by Samuel Thews, an electronic book I’ve just finished reading. Thews, though he writes a good tale, needs more of that editor’s subtle touch. And that need goes beyond the occasional use of passive voice, the misspellings (Thews has characters cheer “Here, here,” rather than “Hear, hear,” at one point; he also misspells the name of his enchanted land at least once) and into the trickier realms of characterization and pacing, which is where I struggle the most as well. In missing the little things, perhaps ebook writers miss the bigger things as well. 

Not to say that Thews is a bad writer – he actually crafts a good tale, but one that could have been better with a bit more help from a disinterested third party. Maybe what we need is a collective of individuals ready and willing to read, for free, each others’ books before they’re published, to offer critiques, advice; kind of like J.R.R. Tolkein’s Tea Club and Barrovian Society, or, more appropriately, the Inklings. Surely there’s got to be something like this around (NaNoWriMo has meetings locally; I should go check them out.) I did find this, where a former co-worker (published) writes. I’ll have to check them out.

Reading these published ebooks and noting their good and bad points helps me, as an author, recognize what’s got to happen in my own writing before I hit that publish button, which surely I will without the help of a publisher, likely without the help of a paid editor. A bit of “There, but for the grace of God, go  I.”

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