Saturday, February 26, 2011

Today in epublishing

Agent Kristin Nelson thinks that in the battle of ebook vs. print, the tipping point is finally here.

And publisher Harper Collins is further restricting ebook distribution for libraries
. Essentially, a library can only loan an ebook 26 times before they have to "renew" their license. Can you see the greed. That's not what libraries are for.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wizardry and Wild Romance

I always love finding a good critical book about fantasy. I love reading fantasy and I love reading about it. I love hearing what authors and established critics have to say about the genre and its craft. That said, how could I not read Michael Moorcock’s WIZARDRY AND WILD ROMANCE: A STUDY OF EPIC FANTASY? I really had to read this. And I did.

Originally released in 1977, Monkeybrain Books re-released an updated version in 2004. This book did not go on about the forgotten greats of the genre, it commented on the best Epic Fantasy of then and now. It focused on what makes them great, and noted that the things that make books and authors great changes over time. This is a true study of Epic Fantasy.

Moorcock begins explicitly with a warning in his foreword. He is only writing these collected essays from his own opinion and observations of currently available romantic epic fantasy, he is discussing it and not defining it. He was wise to do so. I always get a little leery when anyone, even experts, start spouting about what they think is great without explaining themselves. As much as I want to take their well-learned word for diamonds, sometimes I only see dust.

Moorcock’s discussion is separated into six different categories: origins, landscape, heroes/heroines, humor, children’s books and genre deviations. Perhaps these are the most important craft elements of epic fantasy? In each section, Moorcock highlights the authors and books that represent the best work in each.

Despite being discussed in separate essays, his opinion is the same throughout. He asks for more. More attention to the landscape of a story, more attention to the characters, more consideration of humor. He lauds the authors who do it well, frequently the same people across the categories. And what is more, he provides excerpts! I wish more critical work about fantasy would do this. Moorcock says something is great and then says look at it for yourself so you can see how he formed his opinion of it. Nothing explains the quality of the words better than the words themselves.

While he mostly focuses on the strongest examples of the literature, he frequently reminds that there are hoards of imitators out there, looking to get rich from an easy, formulaic story and diluting the good reads. These are the authors who pay little or no attention to the above categories. He occasionally provides excerpts of these as well, for contrast.

By the end of the book, Moorcock has shown a timeline of the life of the genre within this book. Beginning as riffs on the gothic novels and chivalric romances, squalling through Sword and Sorcery, finding a firm foothold on the Tolkienian other-world stories, and coming into maturity within the walls of urban settings. At each point, Moorcock describes the genre’s historic connection to humanity, be it reactionary to a war or a specific artistic movement.

Where will epic fantasy go after the city? Out to space? Or even further back, to the dinosaurs? One thing is for sure, literary forms frequently change, but good craft will always hold a book together.

this review is cross posted at Wandering around the Words

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Doesn't Anybody Edit Anymore?

I've heard arguments against self-publishing that the quality of the books will suffer if there is no editorial process. I can't speak for everyone who has self-published, but I know that my stories go through extensive editing. I don't have an English degree, and I'm not employed as an editor, but that doesn't mean my books have not been through an editorial process. I spent countless hours reading and re-reading Pariah and I'm very happy with the final product. I'm sure it's not 100% perfect, grammatically speaking, but I have confidence that I have produced a quality book that is easy to read.

On the other hand, you have the major publishing houses. I just finished reading the second book in the Dragonlance War of Souls trilogy. These are books by established authors with many titles under their belts, and published by Wizards of the Coast.

As much as I like the story and the world, I'm finding this series to be very hard to read. It's not the vocabulary (even though I look up at least a dozen words per book), it's the grammar and the spelling. The state of these books is absolutely atrocious. I wouldn't have published it as-is through my company. These books need some serious work. And the further I get into the books, the worse the errors get -- missing words, extra words, repeated phrases, incorrect punctuation and capitalization. I'm actually getting a headache from trying to decipher the prose. Usually I'm an avid reader, but I can't read more than a chapter or two of this at a time.

And the faults don't stop with grammar and spelling. There are problems with the usage of incorrect proper names. Near the end of the first book, the leader of the evil army makes a speech:

"I do," Mina replied, serious and earnest. "I did not come here to make war upon the Qualinesti people. I came to save them."
Source: Dragons of a Fallen Sun, page 606

There's a fundamental problem with this speech -- she's not in Qualinesti. She's in Silvanesti. She's on the other side of the continent with a completely different group of elves. Now if I, on my first time reading through, can catch plot errors like this, then I would imagine any competent editor would also find it immediately.

I just discussed this with my brother Paul and he, having just finished the latest Wheel of Time book, chimed in with his experiences. Different publisher (Tor), same result.

After some reflection, I think I understand. Editors cost money, and quite frankly the publishers knew that people like us would buy the books anyway. So why bother paying someone to fix the grammar and spelling? Just rush the book to the shelf and maximize profits. Word's spell check feature is not a viable substitute for paying someone to actually proofread the finished novel. And that is where I think the problem lies - not with laziness, but with money. Having something properly edited costs money, and right now the whole publishing industry is in a rather shaky position. A lot of these publishing houses can't afford to pay for someone to clean up the grammar and spelling. So they just shovel the book out the door, hoping that nobody notices or cares. And in today's world, that's probably a safe bet (I can't even tell you the last time I read a news article that was free of technical errors).

The really sad part of this is that it reflects poorly on the authors of these books. I hate to think that this blog post will make people think that books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman are not worth reading, because they are excellent authors. I've been enjoying their stories for more than twenty years now. But their publisher really needs to hire some copy editors.

If anything, these revelations have led me to an interesting thought. Another bonus bullet point for the ebook revolution: I can edit the ebooks I've purchased, so that the next time I read them I can actually concentrate on the story and enjoy my leisure time.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Today in Epublishing

ireadreview recently had some interestingthings to say about ebook pricing, and some enlightening statistics.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Today in Epublishing

How Apple Saved Barnes & Noble. Probably.

Happy blackout anniversary! Where were you when the lights went out? We're sending out a series of alerts this week and next that look at the state of e-books, authorship and publishing to mark the one-year anniversary of the Great Blackout, when Amazon attempted to protect its near complete dominance of the rapidly growing e-book market through a stunning, punitive act against a publisher that dared to challenge its terms. (To see our account of this showdown as it happened -- posted last Groundhog Day -- go to "The Right Battle at the Right Time.")