Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thoughts on Story Pricing: Trying to Care

I've been experimenting with the pricing of my Kindle stories this past month. My book of short stories (Trying to Care) is currently for sale through the Kindle Publishing Direct system. The collection is written for people interested in questions of marital fidelity, mature love, and caring for family members at many stages of life. The title story is about a guy who watches his mother on closed-circuit video instead of visiting her at her senior housing complex. There's a story about a husband who thinks his wife murdered the family pet; another about weirdness taking care of the neighbor's house; and then others about love and quitting cigarettes, visiting a mom in high rise housing, and a Pakistani father and son working at a gas station on 9/11.

Each of the six stories can be purchased separately for $0.99 just like a basic song on iTunes. Originally, I'd intended to make just four stories available separately. If you wanted all six you could by the book for $2.99. That's a decent deal. However, I have been paying careful attention to pricing scales that other more seasoned indie writers recommend. A collection of short stories like mine is more reasonably priced at $4.99 - $5.99. I chose to price it at $4.99. I also ended up posting all six of the stories at $0.99. You can find everything at my author page by clicking here.

All of this is experimental. A lot of folks on Kindle aren't posting short stories to the extent that I am. Not a lot of writers seem to see the $0.99 option as a meaningful pricing model. Makes total sense to me, though, so I'm keeping it for the moment (even though a lot of iTunes songs are now $1.29). In fact, I'd say that one of the amazing advantages of this new digital publishing world is that writers can in fact publish short singles (fiction or non-fiction) at a very modest price. We don't get much by way of royalties this way, but the idea, obviously, is depending on volume.

Today, in the interest of further experimentation, I've now dropped the price of Trying to Care the book, to $3.99. The logic is that at $4.99 you only save about a dollar off of buying all six stories. So, if you bought one story as a single and then decided you wanted the entire collection, you wouldn't save anything at all. At $3.99 you save two bucks and hopefully would buy the collection after reading a single knowing that you still save money. I probably should just publish four stories and keep things at $4.99, but we'll see what happens with a $3.99 set for the next few months.

If you're interested in reading good, non-linear fiction with attention to character, emotions, and the meaning of relationships (and the confusion of being a real person in the world), you should check out these stories. They're not your run-of-the-mill anything...and I've made sure they are well-edited.

While a Kindle or iPad is highly recommended, you can also download Amazon's computer reading software for either Windows or Macintosh. They've got smartphone apps too...Go here for all the apps that's fit to download.

Whether you buy my stuff or other indie writers work, know that you are supporting committed and thoughtful writers working hard to provide readers with quality stories. Any feedback you may have, please send it my way.

Happy reading...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Digital Reading Impediments?

I'm a strong proponent of digital reading. I also believe that when folks talk about healing our economy, the key is for consumers to step up and consume. There is no question in my mind that part of the gentle plus side of the growing economy of 2012 is the development of the digital reading/electronic tablet/iPad markets. It is likely that you saw Apple's phenomenal sales figure of 3 million new iPads sold in the past week. Do you know as well that studies are now indicating that roughly one-third of American households now has at least on electronic reader/tablet?

Digital reading is more than just here. It is a dominant new experience for all of us. The arguments against e-reading or the notion that this is just a bubble (ie, those of us reading nuts are on spending sprees but will be satiated soon) are specious. In five years most college students will be doing all of their reading with iPads. In ten years all students from age 5 - 85 will do 95% of their work on iPads (or whatever new invention is on the make in 2022).

But an online Time article from their Healthland series should give us all pause for thought. I've referenced it at the end of this article. If you pay attention to your digital reading experience and compare it to reading paper, there is no question that the geography of a digital screen is somewhat disorienting compared to paper. In fact, it seems to me we need to make a distinction between what you might call screen reading and page reading. Screen reading is literally virtual, especially on small screens like Kindles, iPods, and iPhones. It is a somewhat confined reading experience. Even with a larger iPad screen words, ideas, paragraphs, whatever are more or less floating in that little electro-liquid enclosure, kind of like a bathtub stuffed full of floating toys.

Page reading is different. When you look at a page of paper filled with text it is fully with you in space and connected to the light, sounds, smells, and furniture of the room around you -- even the music you may be listening to. Pages have full context in the world. How you relate to them, if you think about it, is almost a second-nature, instinctive process of cognition. You look at a page and even though you're reading words line by line, just like you do on a screen, your peripheral vision is aware of the entire paragraph and all the other paragraphs on the page. You know where the chunk of text you are attacking with reading cognition is. The whole page is a map of text in your hand.

Screen reading is not the same. There is at once a tight limitation to what you can view and a sense that the limitation can expand or contract with the click of a button. It's fully open ended, but constricted at the same time. I think we're still learning how to read screens. The Internet has taught us to more absorb or skim meaning out of light than it has rewarded us for focused reading cognition.

The article in question below, which you need to read in a sec, talks a lot about memory loss from e-reading and is sort of vague about "research" going on out there. I just finished reading Jonathan Franzen's 576-page novel Freedom alternating between my iPad and my new Kindle Touch. I enjoyed the experience and remember the characters' names and have had several lovely conversations with my wife about the story and what happens with Patty, Walter, Joey, Jessica, Richard, Connie, etc. I don't know what the difference is between long-term and not so long-term memory, but I think it was a good, meaningful, memorable experience.

My take for now on the digital reading experience is that we are still learning how to do this new thing. Research is not going to reveal much other than the experience is kind of weird. It's easy to scan a small screen and grok two or three sentence fragments without actually "reading." But it's also quite fun to lie in bed with all the lights out and your iPad in "night" mode with nothing but sepia letters floating on top of a blackened screen to look at as the hours fly by and Walter and Patty struggle to grow beyond the malaise of middle age.

Do they get back together? Should they get back the book and find out...I think it's the same digitally as it is on the page, but I'm not completely sure.

See here for the Time article in question.

Happy reading!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Heart and Soul and Click

There's a lot of talk about Great American Writers these days. Jonathan Franzen got branded with a version of that moniker (Great American Novelist) a number of years ago when he published The Corrections (and then made the Oprah Follies). Freedom, his latest, still gives the dude buzz 2 years after it came out (and gave him a chance to make nice with Big O). I've read as much of both books as I possibly can, and I'm sorry: Franzen is a great writer, a monster writer in fact, if you will let me invent such a term. Both novels are gargantuan stories about what it means to live in America here in the future. But there are many more profound and touching books out there that the press, Oprah, and Time Magazine don't seem to be aware of.

My favorite writer over the past decade has been Anthony Doerr. I read his book of short stories, Memory Wall, back in early 2011 and was blown away. It's out in paperback now. You should read it. See a short video here where he talks some about the main story, "Memory Wall." They're making it into a feature film too. The whole book is a collection of stories taking different angles on the question of memory, something all of us over the age of 50 are obviously very interested in...and concerned about.

In the video Tony also talks about his first published short story, "The Hunter's Wife," that came out in The Atlantic nearly 11 years ago (you can access the story here, although I suggest buying the whole book of stories, see references at the end of this entry). I read that story when it first came out and was blown away by Doerr's talent. That one story made me believe there was still hope for short fiction in America. Although The Atlantic has stupidly discontinued their monthly offering, short story writing seems to me better than it's been in several decades.

If we're going to talk about Great American Writers on any level, the first and most important thing about them needs to be their ability to wield language like a kind of real world magic. Most of the bestsellers out there do very little with language. There is no heart and soul in the words, no click, as David Foster Wallace would say. In "The Hunter's Wife" there is serious heart and soul and click, from the first line to the last. I highly recommend reading it if you want to spend time with a Great American Writer. (The same heart and soul and click can be found in most of Toni Morrison's work for sure; Diane Williams and Amy Hempel, master micro-fiction artists are all about heart and soul and click; and what Annie Dillard does with language in her lone novel since 1992, The Maytrees, is truly amazing...and I'm sad that she says she is done writing).

Most importantly, what I find in Doerr's work is a lyrical, intelligent and even spiritual (in a 21st century way) approach to stories and characters. Couple that with his astounding linguistic talents and you have the makings of quiet genius. He has a passion for the details of the physical world and enormity of "the environment" such as this paragraph when the hunter takes his wife out in the snow to "hear the grizzly":

"The bear denned every winter in the same hollow cedar, the top of which had been shorn off by a storm. Black, three-fingered, and huge, in the starlight it resembled a skeletal hand thrust up from the ground, a ghoulish visitor scrabbling its way out of the underworld. They knelt. Above them the stars were knife points, hard and white. "Put your ear here," he whispered. The breath that carried his words crystallized and blew away. They listened, face-to-face, their ears over woodpecker holes in the trunk. She heard it after a minute, tuning her ears in to something like a drowsy sigh, a long exhalation of slumber. Her eyes widened. A full minute passed. She heard it again."

The grizzly listening section goes on for a few more paragraphs with the Hunter's Wife wanting to touch the hibernating bear. That section is a treat in and of itself and well worth the read.

Doerr's work is available digitally as well as in book form. Personally, I believe some fiction should be collected for the shelf. Memory Wall is a book you will want to go back to every once in a while over the next 30 years.

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