Tuesday, May 31, 2011

You want what for $9.99?

There is room on the web for all kinds of obsession, and this is one of the things I love about it. I have an RSS reader full of lovingly collected and cultivated obsessions, and not a day goes by when I don’t happily flip through them. And not a week goes by when I don’t plunge down a rabbit hole of someone else’s heretofore unknown-to-me obsession. Today’s examples: ebook and online typography, by way of the legendary techblog Daring Fireball (a blog so well read, that its links have spawned a verb: Fireballed).

From one typography maven, who has an almost justifiable beef with Kindle typography:

How can so little care be given to the presentation of text on a[n electronic] page? Do publishers care, or even realize, what is happening to the texts they lovingly commission, copy-edit, and proof-read, when they enter the electronic domain?

Earlier in the piece, he writes this:

I can just about forgive the opening words in ALL CAPITALS, because, although letterspaced SMALL CAPITALS are much nicer, even William Morris resorted to chapter openings in the all-up style.

This gentleman knows way more about type than I do, and I loved reading the post for that reason. I’m not disagreeing with the spirit of his analysis. But the light bulb should go off at the mention of William Morris. Actually, no, not the light bulb. The laugh track.

Look, I love type. The people I work with in production love type and obsess over it (and many other things readers don’t know they care about) to a degree most people would find shocking. But Kindle ebooks cost 9.99 (or less). I don’t know what a Kelmscott Press book cost in 1895 in inflation- adjusted dollars, but I would be willing to bet dollars to donuts that it wasAmazon Kindle logo.svg more than 9.99.

Even if cost were no factor, consider the fact that publishers don’t create ebooks for the Kindle alone. We do so for constantly proliferating ebooks standards, devices, and vendors, none of whom allow anything like the proofing control afforded by print. (William Morris, by contrast controlled every aspect of his bookmaking, and the lifetime output of the Kelmscott Press was less than the number of Kindle books Amazon sold in the time it took me to write this sentence.)

Who’s your daddy?

The point of typographic comparison for a Kindle book ought to be a mass-market paperback edition of Valley of the Dolls bought in a grocery store sometime in the late 1960s, not Sonnets and Lyrical Poems by Rossetti from1893.

Being shocked that the typography is lousy on your Kindle is like being shocked that the beef on your White Castle slider isn’t Kobe.

Perhaps a less snarky (more optimistic) way to think about this is like so: Being shocked by the mFile:Dodoens02.jpgediocre typography on your Kindle is like being irritated that the screen on the iPod you bought in 2001 is green and that it doesn’t make phone calls. Early days people, early days. Early print typography was no great shakes either.

I am beginning to think of coining a new Internet axiom (if that’s not an oxymoron in itself): “If you are shocked by what you’ve got, first consider what you paid (and when you paid).”


Bezos photo by dberlind

Thursday, May 26, 2011

BEA, schmEA

I’m not at BEA this year (don’t cry for me, I’m going to ALA in a few weeks), so I’ve been living it vicariously through Twitter, and I wasn’t missing Javitz or the crowds or the stupid name badges, but then Steve Brezenoff posted this:

A late lunch. 

OK, now I’m jealous.

True, he didn’t just eat pizza:

.@edwardnecarsulm and I show off the shiny cover of Brooklyn, Burning.


But still, Motorino

Carrie Jones, Ilsa Bick, and Kate Hosford are also making the annual pilgrimage to nobody’s favorite part of Manhattan. I look forward to their pizz—I mean pictures.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Everything in its right place

HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON - Decisive Moment, The from bt465 on Vimeo.

PetaPixel calls their post “Henri Cartier-Bresson talks Photography.” I’d say he’s talking about all art, particularly when he’s talking about the pleasure inherent in the geometric details of his photos. “The sensuous pleasure … of everything in its right place.” This is no less true for novels.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Harder than you think

promoDid you catch kidlit agent (and editor of more award winning books than you can shake a stick at) Brenda Bowen on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me a couple weekends ago? I’ve been listening to that show since I was in high school, and rarely have the panelists irritated me more than they did in this show, when they found out what Ms. Bowen did for a living. It was painful. I was impressed at her civility.

I’ve been meaning to blog about it, but now I see Adam Rex has already done it, and he’s much funnier than I am, so go there. I particularly like his challenge:

“May I suggest you try something?–write a brand new, memorable quote. Something we'll still be repeating a hundred years from now, like people are always doing with Twain. It should be easy, shouldn't it? It only needs to be, like, ten words.

“Or is it hard to think of something worth saying? And hard to think of the perfect way to say it because, with so few words, each one has to really count? My stars but that's interesting.”

For my part, I’ve spent the better part of a half hour trying to come up with a brief, memorable illustration of how much more work at every stage picture books are than almost anything else, and I can’t do it. Gee, I guess it’s hard to be brief and memorable.

It’s not succinct, but I can say that I had the pleasure of having Nancy Carlson in my office last week. She’s illustrating a book by Jane Lindaman for Carolrhoda’s spring 2012 list, and we were going over her third dummy for the manuscript (or maybe it’s the fourth). The first dummy would have made most people happy; this dummy was hilarious. But Nancy still found things that weren’t quite right and that she still wanted to work on. Nancy Carlson has been doing picture books since I was the on the young side of the target audience for picture books, and it’s still not easy.

So, I’ll still listen to Wait, Wait, but I can’t wait to reject Paula Poundstone’s picture book.

Paper photo by photosteve101.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bootless cries

I must apologize. All of my social networking energy has gone into troubling deaf heaven, asking why Minnesota has more than its fair share of elected nutjobs and why same nutjobs are mucking about in my world. (As you can see from my Facebook, my pleading began very early this morning.) Plus, yesterday I blogged about a file format and its impComing September 2011lications for the future of my industry. So, I have very little to say today, my appointed blogging day. But I was just peeking at the Goodreads page for Brooklyn, Burning, and I saw this:

“There are approximately twenty-seven trillion books about kids who have it rough, kids who are on the street, kids who don't get enough love, kids life treats badly.

“Even though I am not one of these kids, and never have been, most of these books read so false and middle-class-trying-to-be-down-with-the-poor I could scream.

“Brooklyn, Burning is not one of those books.”

It’s not a negative-as-in-bad negative review. It’s a negative-as-in-clever-use-of-negative-space negative review. I kinda like it. And judging from the other reviews, I’m not alone.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Docx IconI’ve seen more than a few tweets and blog posts from publishing pros whom I respect asking that authors not submit manuscripts in .docx—Microsoft’s new-ish version of the ubiquitous .doc file format. It seems like quite a few of us are using older versions of Office or they want to to be able to park files on their Kindles easily (though .docx support is coming to the latest Kindles).

I can understand this reasoning. I’ve got the latest version of Office at work, so I don’t really care what file format files arrive in, but I do occasionally have to resend something because the recipient runs an older version of Word and can’t or won’t convert the file (you can convert .docx files to .doc without upgrading). So yes, .docx can be a pain. I get it.

However, with sincere respect, I think telling would-be clients and authors not to use .docx is a Bad Idea and sends the wrong message. I’m beginning to think these kinds of cludgey, technologically-backward impulses are what make us look like anachronistic gatekeepers. Docx has been around for years. It’s the default file format for the most pervasive word processor on the planet. When we ask our clients not to use it, we look foolish and cheap. We look technologically unaware when we say that Microsoft created .docx to force people to upgrade (not true). It’s also maddening that the part of the publishing industry that’s managing the inflow of manuscripts is actively resisting XML (what did you think the x in .docx was for?) while the side of the industry that manages the outflow of finished books is killing itself to embrace XML, because it’s supposed to save our collective asses.

In short, this requirement needs to go away, even if it means some short term pain.