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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Is popular fiction bad?

I’ve been getting a bit irked by the amount of threads slamming popular fiction as ‘bad’ lately. There are currently a number of mass-market book series that may not be the best ‘literature’ on the planet. I don’t personally care for the way the Twilight or even, dare I say, the Harry Potter books are written, and I won’t be sitting down to read them (although I have tried) but does that give me, or anyone else, the right to universally slam them as bad?

Ok, these popular books may not be ‘literary,’ whatever you think that means, and they may break most, if not all, the ‘proper’ conventions we are constantly taught as authors (or would-be authors.) But, I do honestly think people have to define what they mean by ‘bad’ a bit more.
Remember the two afore-mentioned book-series in particular are responsible for introducing a lot of people to reading that probably would never have picked up a book otherwise.
I know perfectly reasonable, well balanced, and intelligent adult people who do like the Twilight and HP books. So who am I, or anyone else, to tell them and the millions of other readers, that they are reading rubbish?
People have always read ‘rubbish,’ in other peoples opinions. Some of the books lauded as ‘classics’ by the nay-callers of today may very-well have been seen as a bit ‘rubbish’ by some when they were first published. Not that I’m saying the Twilight or HP series will become classics, but who is to say really? Only time will tell.

So where does the current trend for slamming popular books come from?
Why is it that a certain percentage of people seem to hate these books so much as to deem them universally bad? And I’m not just talking about the two series I mentioned earlier here. The general trend amongst non-mainstream readers nowadays seems to be to deride popular fiction and laude over the merits of other lesser-known authors.
Now don’t get me wrong, I read a lot of work from new and unknown authors. I even ‘occasionally’ peek at things that are generally considered to be more ‘literary’, and I do like some of them. I do think people should be more adventurous with their reading, it’s how I’ve discovered some of my personal favourite books. But people have to start somewhere, and if they start and stop at twilight… well at least they started, right? Everyone has their own taste, and if that only lends itself to the big mainstream series, that’s better than nothing at all, right?
After all, popular titles have generally got that way for a reason, and that reason is a very simple one: people are buying the books because they like them, simple as that.
And that brings me back to my original question: why is popular fiction bad?

I think some people have to remember that a ‘good-book’ doesn’t have to be a life-changing event. It can be that, but it can equally just be a bit of simple, fun, light-hearted entertainment to kill a few hours. Just like a ‘no-brains required’ action film, or button-basher mindless-blaster computer game can be.
Can it be that we still have too much book-snobbery in the world?

Surely HP, and even Twilight, can be seen as a good thing, in that they have enticed hoards of previously non-readers to read anything at all? These books could be the starting off point for a whole new generation of readers; surely that’s a good thing?

Can you honestly say a book is badly written if people like it, and would much rather read it over ‘properly done’ and ‘literary’ fiction; which most mainstream-readers generally describe as ‘boring.’ Isn't this just snobbery, plain and simple?

If there really is something that inherently makes a good ‘book’, as opposed to the technicalities of ‘good writing,’ then surely it could be argued that the only valid acid-test is the number of people reading that book, and we all know what the ‘best’ books would be in that case…

Surely any book that gets people reading is a good book?

Friday, 25 March 2011

So what exactly is an E-book reader?

After asking this question both face-to-face and on-line I’ve come to the conclusion that every answer I got is both right and wrong.
So what it that supposed to mean you may ask?

Well, when I first heard of an e-reader it was referring to a dedicated e-ink reading device, which lead to me purchasing my trusty Sony Pocket 300, and eventually my wife’s Kindle. So I, like many others, had the notion that ‘e-reader’ universally meant on of these e-ink type devices to all people. Then I found out that not all of these dedicated devices used e-ink. Not only that, but most people reading e-books weren’t even using what I would have considered an e-reader at all.

Now, I was vaguely aware that some people used things like iPads and Tablet-PCs to read e-books, but statistically it seems that most people read e-books ether on a laptop or net-book PC. I didn’t really consider any of these to be viable e-reader platforms, so I did some research and apparently I was very wrong. But that wasn’t the end of it by a long chalk. I was genuinely surprise to find out a lot of on-line sites saying a large percentage of people use their mobile-phone as their primary e-reader. I realise none if this may exactly be news to a lot of people but it spurred me on to try and find out just what you can read an e-book on and how many people seem to primarily use what.

Of the twenty or so people I talked to face-to-face, five used a dedicated e-reader, 4 of which used a Kindle. On-line that percentage seamed to remain roughly the same, although the non-kindle percentage was slightly higher. Most people from both groups used their laptop or net-book, so the statistics seemed to be bearing out. I did specifically ask about using phones as e-readers and roughly a quarter of people said they had readers on their phones, but mostly used it for downloading news and or short-texts rather than entire e-novels. I didn’t find anyone who said the use a phone as their primary e-reader. It may-be that I just wasn’t hitting the right demographic for this, I don’t know.
I wouldn’t clame my little experiment to be scientific or representational in any way, but it would be interesting to find out other peoples results.

Just as another little bit of an experiment I gathered up all the (non-e-reader-dedicated) hand-held electronic gizmos I could find lying around the house and decided to see how many I could read an e-book on.
I found that I could read an e-book on the following: PC, Laptop, net-book, original iPod, iPod mini, MP4 player, stills camera, video camera, SatNav, Palm Z22 Personal Organiser, Android Phone, Blackberry, and last but not least the good old Nintendo DS… actually the SatNav was quite good to read off, decent sized screen, little glare and quite long battery life!

So what exactly is an E-book reader? Well, honestly I think it’s pretty much anything that people read e-books on. Is that a cop-out answer? I don’t think so. I think it’s currently the only honest answer I can give. What do you think?

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

You can’t fool, or please, all of the people all of the time…

Hello again, this post is somewhat about my writing or at least about peoples reactions to my writing and to differing reactions to books in general.
This may be a bit of a navel-gazing exercise, but bear with me for a few minutes on this one, ok...

I recently got a fair few critiques back for part of one of my OtherWhere stories, most of which got the plot and quite liked the characters. The one that stood out though said more or less the opposite of all the others for every question I’d asked, and in a way that’s the one you want to be most interested in. Praise is always good, as long as it’s constructive. “I liked it,’ doesn’t really give much in the way of help, or improvement. So what was the main difference, you may ask? Character definition, the critique that differed in opinion though my protagonist and main secondary character had none, a fairly fundamental drawback to a story I’m sure you will agree.

So why would opinion be divided on such a fundamental thing, what had I done wrong? This got me thinking about some of my favourite books and some of the often shockingly deriding reviews they have received on occasion. Now I’m not saying I don’t trust the opinions expressed in any critique that differs from the norm regarding my own work. I do, and I don’t for a minute think anything anybody who has ever giver such an opinion was ether wrong or ever intended to be derogatory. To the contrary, I believe everything they have said was for my benefit, and there minority opinions have helped me understand how I write, what I am writing, and possibly most importantly who I am writing for. Right now this is possibly the only thing I have in common with my favourite authors, they know who they are writing for, and they know not everyone will like it. It sounds simple, but it’s probably one of the bitterest pills for a new and struggling writer to swallow - You will probably never write a book that everyone likes.

It’s hard to put your heart into something that screams ‘like me, like me, like me,’ only to be told ‘No.’
So what can I do about it? Do I simply ignore this minority? Of course not, I do what those successful authors do, I take their comments at face value and try to write better, for at the end of the day surely it’s about marginalising the minority as much as possible and gaining as much happy readers as possible.
But, is this a cop out, a sell out to you’re ideas. Some people would answer ‘yes’, and others’ no’. As the title paraphrased, “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
Just remember you can’t please them all ether, so I try to make my work as good as I can without making it sound like something it isn’t. Trying to fool a reader will always come back as bad reviews, and despite what ‘they’ say, any publicity isn’t good publicity.

So what do you think? If you write, what do you do?

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The future of the traditional book-shop

I recently started a forum thread asking what people thought the future held for traditional bookshops, and was somewhat surprised by some of the views.
I’m not sure what I expected. Being a lover of the traditional book, I maybe just wanted to be patted on the back and told ‘there, there, everything will be alright.’ Maybe that’s why I was so surprised by the general direction the majority of the views went. It seems that most people thought e-publishing is already set to take over from the paper-book in some areas, such as the ‘throw-away’ paper-back novel market. Just now paper-books still vastly out-sell e-books, in terms of sheer numbers, but various statistics seem to all show a sustained growth in e-book sales. It seems that a substantial amount of people who were quoting these e-book sales figures are quite keen on seeing the rise of e-books. Is this a trend that will grow? I don’t know, but as the e-world becomes more entwined with our daily lives perhaps more and more people’s opinions may change towards e-publishing. If the core book buyers adopt e-reading as the norm this market-share may well be set to grow well into the future, but will it ever push the ‘throw-away’ paperback-novel out of the market? I personally hope not.

Another thing that became obvious from the thread was that people are already starting to polarise. There are some people, admittedly like myself, which just like paper-books for the sake of them. We may wax-lyrical about having a solid object with history behind it, rather than an ethereal string of data. We may come up with various reasons why paper-books are better, but in the end our argument just boils down to the fact that we love 'real' books, and what’s wrong with that?

We did all more-or-less agree that, at least for the foreseeable future, there were some types of books that are more resistant to change and may possibly always remain in a paper format; such as the more tactile children’s books, how-too manuals, coffee-table type picture books, and those that generally heavily rely on pictures, diagrams and other illustrations; in general those that employ some form of tactile or graphical aspect to demonstrate their function.

A rather surprising bone of contention, to me anyway, seemed to be how the money was divided out from e-book sales. Bear in mind that there were a fair amount of published Novell Authors in the discussion group, so this probably wouldn’t be as much of an issue for readers. Having said that there were some good points made about who should make what from a book sale. I’d be interested to know a readers perception of where the money goes. Who would you like to see getting the lions-share of your hard-earned cash?

So what do you think? Are e-books destined to be a niche product and nothing you will ever personally be interested in? Or are they the next big thing, destined to resign paper-books to history? Are the current trends a flash-in-the-pan, or a portent of future change? Let me know!