According to Alexandra Alter’s article in the Wall Street Journal, for the first time in history publishers and book sellers have their claws on hard data about what turns pages.
Buying a Kindle, you sign an agreement with Amazon that they will be allowed to peer over your shoulder at what you bookmark, highlight, comment upon, and at which page you put the story down. Nook and Kobo do similar data harvesting off their e-readers.
What does that mean to the publisher? I guess it will be such a lot easier to decide which titles warrant big money behind them. Simply scan a manuscript through a few proofreaders and observe their reading behaviour (speed, highlights, comments…). Where before it was an art that relied on the author striking it “lucky” with style and finding an agent or publisher who enjoyed his book, now it’s becoming an exact financial science…
What does it mean to the author?
I would suspect, two things. Firstly,YAY! We’re finally getting feedback! (We got feedback before: It came in reviews, readers’ comments and sales figures, but now we’re getting detailed feedback: Which ones of our quips hit the funny bone best.) We can therefore learn which parts of our style are best liked by most readers, and we can adjust. Or we can decide, doggedly, to write for that fanatic minority that likes our long-winded melodrama and our unfunny lines, and not budge from our style.
But secondly, it means that publishers will now expect of us, more than ever before, that we attend writing courses so that we all can write in exactly the same money-spinning way…. (“im Gleichschritt, Marsch!”). The question is: If everything tastes like peanut butter, and nothing tastes of oysters (though oysters are admittedly an acquired taste), how long until peanut butter stops selling altogether? I think they pioneered this with the TV soapies…
Trends will be identified. Readers want to read about… boy meets girl, or perhaps, boy meets boy; murder-at-sea stories; and tear-jerkers about the teenage daughter of a rock star who follows in her dad’s footsteps even though he abandoned her and Mommy. So if you want to write about vampicorns, well sorry, mate: The market wants teen rock starsters. Not weird imaginary monsters.
It makes target marketing easier of course: If a book is marked “Young Adult” then sure as anything, for young adults it is! It’s not an “I-Think-So” science as up to now.
Seeing that ebooks in America have outsold paper books this year, this is definitely the way to go.
And then there is the privacy issue: Do I really want Amazon watching me while I read how the hero seduces the heroine? This is the kind of (ob)scene where I go and hide with my book in a cupboard to hide my blush, because frankly, I’m inside the story and privacy is called for! (If you think I’m embarrassed reading such scenes you should see me trying to write them!) So if the Great Amazon In The Sky watches my face burn while I read such a scene (slowly, savouring it), and later read it again because perhaps it was well-written… arrrgh! Leave me alone!!
Then again, do I mind if Amazon watches me while I read Harry Potter? Not at all, in any way! And with “The Wee Free Men” I sort-of wish the author were in the room to hear me roar with laughter – his reward for writing such stuff. Nothing blows my hair back better than hearing a reader giggle and snort over what I’ve written, and shoo me away because they want to focus on the book.
Here’s the upshot for the small publisher P’kaboo:
Currently all the ebooks we have available are in pdf format.
Every E-reader can handle pdf. (This is the main reason.) Even Android can.
But pdf can’t “read” you back. A pdf is practically an “image” file with the letters frozen into position.
There are programs that allow you to annotate pdf, bookmark etc… but they are (and stay) on your computer. (And gosh, let me sing you a saga about how unwieldy pdf is for editing!) P’kaboo cannot (and will not) pry. We love feedback; but we would like you to volunteer it. Drop us an email if you thought something was well written; or comment on the P’kaboo blog. Or better, just tell your friends what you thought, instead.
(and remember that there’s more of that story to be had, in “The Mystery of the Solar Wind” and “The Assassin” and, soon to be launched, “Freedom Fighter” and “Raider!”. )