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My copy of The Hobbit

I have been reading The Hobbit to my seven-year-old son. He is loving it as his bed time story and I am enjoying re-reading the childhood classic I loved. It was one of the early books I selected for myself and I whizzed through it when I was 11.
But during the bedtime re-read I have noticed something – and it is a bug bear I have with other books – the pacing.
So, the first 10 chapters cover about 200 pages, with some chapters pretty heavy going (just before the woods, the slog through those woods, the bit with the elves) but the last 9 chapters cover about 100 pages and quite quickly zip along. Short and to the point, the plot moves much faster than in earlier chapters.
Sometimes I feel like I am reading a completely different book.
Now Tolkien has form for poor pacing in my opinion, when I was reading The Two Towers at 12 years old, I was aware of the weary trek of Frodo and Sam which went on and on and on . I nearly gave up on that book , abandoning the two of them to those marshes. Much later I would laugh heartily at Clerks 2 with the comment on the film adaptations: “even the trees walked in those movies”.
But, back to my point. It feels like two different books, kind of jammed together. The long saga of The Unexpected Journey and the fast pace of the adventures at the Lonely Mountain.
How did this happen? A fast approaching deadline, perhaps? A change of editors halfway through the job.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved the book when I first read it and I am enjoying the re-read with my son. If not for this book, many of the books I have enjoyed would never have happened.
And Tolkien is not alone in having pacing issues. I often find myself frustrated at books, films and tv series for this exact reason. I may blog about another more modern example at some point, but for now, feel free to tell me if you agree or disagree with my view of this legendary and much loved book.

An article here about the issues authors have with publishers over what the book cover should be like.

Having sat on both sides of this debate – as an author and as someone who has worked with author’s on brining their books to publication, I feel the author should have their say and the publisher should listen – but the final say should go with the publisher as they have the experience of doing more book covers than the authors have (and te cover is one of the top items of advertising for any book, and needs to work on a physical object and as an Amazon thumbnail) – and crucially are not as close to the book as the author’s inevitably will be.

The same is also true of the editing process, but that may need to be another blog post!

Quite some time ago I suggested in a post that in the future  books will be sold in hardback a bit like rarities (a bit like how vinyl is produced and sold now in the era of iTunes) based on the theory that you can buy cheap text as a digital file (altho this has still not quite happened – yet) and if you really, really like the book you can buy it as a luxury item to have on show in your house (altho this will most likely be a wider trend than those few who still buy vinyl – and it is entirely possible this will herald a return to a bygone era when only rich people had books as they were expensive – altho in the future the less affluent will still have access to them, just via digital mediums rather than bulky paperbacks).

Out Christmas shopping in Exeter (UK) recently I saw this in Waterstones (the large store, not the small one – for those of you who know the city):

 

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The text on the display, which you can partially see reads: “Classic books beautifully bound” – hardback books – objects of beauty and curiosity.

Expect to see more of this for all books as the digital revolution continues.

Books with sound?

September 29, 2011

One of the latest innovations in e publishing is books with sound effects.

Hmmm… I may be wrong, but I have to say, I am not convinced. Why would you want your eBook to play music throughout, like the incidental music in films.

Surely, you just need to buy an audio book and have it read to you with the incidental music there, rather than alongside your actual text? I often listen to random music when I read, but it is usually something I block out when I get engrossed (usually only noticing the sound when the playlist ends and some random mp3 comes on).

So, I remain unconvinced by the innovation of reading with its own pre-defined soundtrack, as do others. But let’s see what the eBook buying public think.

The Harry Potter books are to be sold as eBooks for the first time.

As far as I can tell from reading the various articles, JK is set to earn herself another fortune as she never sold the digital rights to her books to her publishers.

Which means when Pottermore sells a book, instead of the author receiving 10% of the sale as is often the case in traditional bookselling, as she appears to own Pottermore, she will make every penny.

Good for her by the way.

What this shows is an established author can sell direct to the public via digital means (and remember Radiohead did a similar thing with In Rainbows) but what does it mean for authors without the name recognition of JK and her boy wizard?

The world of publishing is changing rapidly and the iPad in my humble opinion may do more to speed this up than the Kindle )altho, I may be proved wrong in the end, but on the evidence so far, the iPad is winning).

The latest piece of evidence is called The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris and appears to be much more than just a book. Thanks to the iPad it is part open world game, part movie, part educational tool and probably many more things beside. And it has apparently outsold Angry Birds, which is something of an achievement.

An article in The Times (which I won’t link to due to Rupurt’s paywall) says that in the future it is possible this book “will be regarded as one of the most influental titles of the early 21st century.” High praise indeed (altho taken with a pinch of salt as Rupurt isn’t great when it comes to the internet – remember MySpace?)

One of the key points of interest here is that the book was not written by a single person, nor a collaboration of a pair or small group of people, no this was created using a studio method – I can only compare this to the gaming world where once games were produced by single coders in their back bedrooms whereas now they are produced by huge studios.

Perhaps the historic lone writer who works in a room cut off from the world to produce his masterpiece will disappear as books are produced in studios with huge development budgets…

Print on Demand trends

February 8, 2011

When Caxton invented the printing press he revolutionised communication. Copies of writing could be created far quicker using the machine than the existing technology of having someone copy it word for word in handwriting.

From Caxton’s time onwards the ownership of a press required lots of capital up front and this was reflected in the cost of printing. Every page of a document had to be set in metal before being printed, this was an expensive process – the cost of which was divided among the number of copies printed, meaning it was always cheaper per unit to print as many copies as possible.

Thus, publishing anything in great numbers came with a large financial risk.

In the last few years, the advent of digital printing has removed many of the old costly methods involved in printing. Because great sheets of metal do not need to be indented, much of the upfront cost of publishing has disappeared, or at least it has reduced to a manageable rate.

Within the publishing industry this seismic shift is called Print On Demand (POD).

Instead of printing thousands and thousands of copies of a book to reduce the per unit price enough to make it an economical process, we are at the stage where the economical rate is down in the hundreds.

Instead of printing 10,000 copies of a book and hoping to shift them all in a couple of years, with all the inherent business risks carrying that much stock would bring, a publisher can print a decent sized initial run and depending on the actual demand from the market, print more copies.

In my opinion the logical extension of POD will see book stores with every book ever written stored on a PC’s hard drive connected to a printing and binding machine capable of producing one copy of any book while the customer waits – most probably the waiting will be done over a cappuccino in the store’s coffee shop!

For now that is science fiction, but with the advances we have seen recently in printing technology, it can’t be that far away…

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