extribulum

Posts Tagged ‘ebooks’

The Punctuatin’ Monkey

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2014 at 10:00 am

I spent a lot of time in January working on a “warm up” novel — whipping myself through a mediocre murder mystery I decided to write, in order to get back into practice after not working on original fiction for-ev-er. I posted about it in January, but I thought I’d share the post here, too, albeit a bit later.

Among the Google searches I performed for the work was a string of increasingly frustrated searches about the punctuation of text messages:

  • Grammar when narrating text conversations
  • Grammar when describing text messages
  • Grammar text message fiction
  • Chicago Manual of Style online

I am fortunate to have access to the Chicago Manual of Style through my work, but for the record, the Chicago Manual of Style does not define how to incorporate text messages into dialogue. My question was how to punctuate the following text message conversation:

Cooking wheat paste. Been pulling tape off a nude all morning. That sounds a lot more fun than it was.

I don’t know, there’s a sexy note to tape and nudes.

LOL Not when it involves scalpels.

Should it be, in prose, punctuated thusly, the way dialogue would:

Cooking wheat paste. Been pulling tape off a nude all morning. That sounds a lot more fun than it was, Anais answered.

I don’t know, there’s a sexy note to tape and nudes.

LOL. Not when it involves scalpels, she shot back.

Or should the punctuation on the text should be preserved, thus:

Cooking wheat paste. Been pulling tape off a nude all morning. That sounds a lot more fun than it was. Anais answered.

I don’t know, there’s a sexy note to tape and nudes.

LOL Not when it involves scalpels. she shot back.

And if so, should that last “she” should be capitalized, given the text ended in a stop.

I thought I’d go for the nearest approximation once it became clear I wouldn’t find anything in the Chicago Manual about chats, SMS, text messages. The problem is, I found two: one digital and one old-school.

When quoting something containing an email address, “Readers of print sources should assume that any punctuation at the end of an e-mail address or URL belongs to the sentence” meaning that you should punctuate the same way the digital statement was punctuated; plus, when citing a digital source, the Chicago Manual says it’s permissible, though not necessary, to enclose the URL in brackets which will isolate it from surrounding punctuation (thus preventing a corruption of the URL). This does look rather stylish and somewhat futuristic:

[Cooking wheat paste. Been pulling tape off a nude all morning. That sounds a lot more fun than it was.] Anais answered.

On the other hand, the Manual suggests that “unpublished field notes (the author’s own or those of a colleague or assistant)” which is informal communication comparable to a text message, should be “edited for consistency — with other notes and with the surrounding text—in matters of spelling, capitalization, punctuation…” and so forth. Which would mean punctuating the text messages like a conversation, per the first example.

Oh, what a madcap world in which we live.

When I talked about this on my livejournal, early comments favored the brackets, mainly I think because brackets do look cool. The end majority, however, thought that — being a conversation — the text messages should be punctuated like one. On the other hand, if logic ruled grammar, our world would be very different, I feel…

Playing A Book

In Uncategorized on May 17, 2013 at 9:00 am

A couple of weeks ago, at the London Book Fair, Faber & Faber announced that it was creating a “fully playable, fully immersive product” when it came to ebooks. It was working with software publishers and a developer, The Story Mechanics, to produce a reprint of John Buchan’s early 20th-century serial novel The Thirty-Nine Steps, which most of us — if we know it at all — know from Hitchcock’s film adaptation.

My knee-jerk response was that any book which has achievements you unlock, items you collect, and music which plays at points during your reading is not a book — that’s a video game. But I reined in my what the hell is wrong with you almost immediately, because whenever I find myself saying “that’s not the thing it says it is, it’s some other thing” I usually end up having to have a long argument with myself (occasionally even other people) about definitions.

Besides, there’s nothing wrong with video games. I know I’m not the only person who does this, but I enjoy video game narratives without needing to play the game. I don’t especially want to play Assassin’s Creed, but I am entranced by the story, so I enjoy watching other people play it. If they made a movie out of the cut scenes, I would probably go to see it. I actually got frustrated that there was no way to pause the cut scenes in Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess because when I was playing that game, people would invariably try to talk to me during a really long cut scene. I failed the final level of Braid so hard and so often that it soured the whole game for me and I no longer even care how it ends (apparently it’s incomprehensible anyway) but the only reason I played it as long as I did was the story.

It’s not like a video game has never been based on a book before, either. And there are books you can “play”, like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books. But these ebooks, which have a soundtrack and achievements — and maybe levels? Do they have bosses you have to defeat? — blur the line a great deal between what a game is and what a book is.

I keep thinking about Dara O’Briain’s comedy routine about video games: no other medium prevents you from experiencing it based on skill. He points out that music doesn’t make you dance competently before playing the rest of the album; books don’t stop you after chapter three to ask you what the theme of the work is. But we now have a fairly widespread platform for reading where a book could give you a test before allowing you to go any further. Which is a little freaky.

So with the production of books-as-interactive-experiences and video-games-as-narrative-media I suppose there are two questions left to answer: where does the line between story and experience fall? And, if we can cross or blur that line, does the line matter — do we actually need to know?

I am a competitive person and I frustrate easily, so I don’t want to play a book. I just want to read it. I’m also not that keen on paying for a book that has involved a software development team, because I suspect either I’m paying more or the author of the actual story is getting less for features I will not use. But that’s not a good reason to prevent the exploration of a new medium, or a melding of two older mediums, and it’s not a good reason to say that’s not a book — because what does that prove, anyway, and who told me I got to arbitrate what a book is? People have been “playing” murder mysteries for over a century, trying to solve the case before the detective does.

There’s a lot of fear in the publishing industry right now, that ebooks are going to kill paper printing, that authors who grew up in a video-game generation (authors who are — or will be very soon — the children of the MTV generation) don’t have as much invested in the written word. I can’t speak to the former, but I’m pretty sure the latter is bunk — or we wouldn’t get awesome stories in our video games.

So as long as they warn for video games in our awesome stories, I guess I’m good. Trepidatious, but good.

Eff Yeah Gutenberg

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2012 at 12:20 pm

In the 1970s and up through the end of the 20th century, Project Gutenberg was the pioneer for digital literature and nonfiction online. It’s been around almost as long as the internet has, and even now when I want to find a text that’s out of copyright, Gutenberg are usually the ones stocking it. All their books are free, including the entire works of Shakespeare and Conan Doyle, and their mission statement cracks my shit up every time I read it:

To encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.

THAT’S IT. More books on computers. That is the alpha and omega of their purpose. Of course it can get a lot wordier than that, but essentially that’s it. And I like books and computers, so I am for Project Gutenberg.

I try to keep current on publishing and e-publishing and indy lit, because I have a stake in all of those things, which is how I found out that Project Gutenberg was introducing a new self-publishing branch. This being Project Gutenberg, it’s all about the ebooks, but that suits me fine. For a long time I’ve been hosting free PDFs of my books at Lulu.com, and while Lulu is great they are not the most convenient place to host free PDFs. So I am right in the throes of uploading my PDFs to Gutenberg as we speak. At the moment I’m awaiting “approval”.

It’s very early days for this new site. They don’t host ePub yet, just PDF and a few audio formats for audiobooks. Their site is a little slow because they’re still building it, and they have some quirky requirements, like asking you to upload an author photo for every book you upload. I’ve just been using good old Copperbadge, which they seem to accept without issue.

What struck me as funniest was how they are clearly crowdsourcing their genres. Genres are difficult to define at the best of times, and I can imagine trying to decide what is populous and important enough to be a genre is difficult. I don’t actually expect Magical Realism to be a genre in most websites because it’s a very small one, and usually can be crammed into Literature, Horror, or Fantasy.

But they also didn’t have Satire, which is not exactly a tiny division of the world’s literature, nor did they have “Fiction”. Or “Literary Fiction”.

What do they have? Well, if you’ve written a book about France, you’re golden.

I was going to say I find it hard to believe that there’s more call for Erotic Fiction than for Satire but then I remembered wait…I’m on the internet.

Let me be clear, however: I’m not whining. I’m laughing. I know sometimes with me they sound very similar. I’m not complaining about Project Gutenberg because they have more than proved themselves, and I’m sure someday Magical Realism will totally be on their Category List. I’m just amused that if I wrote Nameless in Esperanto I’d have somewhere to put it, but for now it’s a toss-up between Fantasy and Mythology.

At any rate, if you love ebooks, want some free ones, and can load PDFs on your ereader or other device, Project Gutenberg’s the place to be. And if you love Project Gutenberg, remember to support them with your moneys!

1984 is Spying On You

In Uncategorized on July 3, 2012 at 8:20 am

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal recently called “Your E-Book Is Reading You“. It concerns the way in which e-readers interact with their users — specifically the information that e-readers gather, or are capable of gathering, from the people who use them.

The upshot is that if you use an e-reader, you are by default a Nielsen Family; your Nook or Kindle is tracking how fast you read, where you stop, what notes you make, and how your reading habits vary from book to book. Perhaps you’re not making an impact alone, since this is an overwhelming amount of data to sift, but you are adding to the general knowledge pool.The article is very astute about debating whether this is a good thing, but a portion of what it all boils down to is that e-readers are institutionalising extribulum. They’re just doing it in a very our-way-or-the-highway kind of way. My readers volunteer; their readers can’t use their hardware without agreeing.

Amazon, in particular, has an advantage in this field—it’s both a retailer and a publisher, which puts the company in a unique position to use the data it gathers on its customers’ reading habits. It’s no secret that Amazon and other digital book retailers track and store consumer information detailing what books are purchased and read. Kindle users sign an agreement granting the company permission to store information from the device —including the last page you’ve read, plus your bookmarks, highlights, notes and annotations—in its data servers.

The article refers to the traditional yardstick — sales and reviews — as “metrics that offer a postmortem measure of success but can’t shape or predict a hit”. This is mainly true, though I’ve never forgotten what I learned at the knee of a friend’s publisher parents, which is that much of an otherwise ordinary book’s success is dependent upon how much promotion it gets. Still, it’s fascinating reading:

Barnes & Noble has determined, through analyzing Nook data, that nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts, while novels are generally read straight through, and that nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier. Science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start. Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend skip around between books.

I am for more reader feedback rather than less, definitely; I like to know this stuff, though I’m not nuts about the stats being provided involuntarily. I’m excited by the news later in the article that Sourcebooks is testing out “serial, online publishing” where readers can give feedback, and Coliloquy allows readers to customize characters and plotlines. That information is then relayed back to authors, “who can adjust story lines in their next books to reflect popular choices.” Sound familiar?

The concern is, of course, that “data driven” storytelling can hinder creative risk-taking, but it’s not really the data that’s driving it now. Most of the big six publishers operate on profit-driven storytelling, hiring only authors they know can produce hits and pressuring those authors to write more and faster because the name will sell the book more than the quality will. Feedback from readers, I believe, usually makes for a better story; this particular feedback may make for smarter publishers, forcing them away from a narrow profit-driven view.

The article quotes Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus, & Giroux: “We’re not going to shorten ‘War and Peace’ because someone didn’t finish it.” Well, no. Don’t pander to the shallow end of our intellectual pool. But if nobody finishes a book, maybe you could examine the idea that it’s not a good book. Or at any rate, not relevant. I haven’t read War and Peace, so I couldn’t tell you if it’s good or relevant, but metrics on readership could paint a picture to a certain extent. The relationship between books and readers is not as simple as “I like this book so I shall read it”; price, advertising, and word-of-mouth buzz all play a role too.

But the more data you have, the more accurate you can be. More knowledge is always better than less, particularly when it pertains to artistic, intellectual pursuits.

At any rate, it’s a great article with a lot to say, and I’m really proud to see that I called it — extribulum is now being put into play by big business, where I hope it will prosper.