Monday, October 4, 2010

Ten Things I've Learned AK (After Kindle)

I've had my Kindle for two weeks now.  It's great.  I don't regret not owning one three weeks ago, but I definitely am glad to have one now.

Here are 10 things I've learned since I got my Kindle.

1.  I am reading several books at once. 

I didn't used to do this.  There was the book I was reading, and a lot of books I wasn't reading.  Of the books I wasn't reading, a few I might have started and even had the intention of finishing.  But they weren't the book I was reading.  Which meant if I wanted to read on a car trip, I had to ensure I had that specific book in my purse.  With the Kindle, of course, all the books come with me, so I can pick up where I left off as I please.

2.  The Kindle changes how I perceive the length of books. 

For the uninitiated, I will explain that there are no page numbers in Kindle books, just a progress bar along the bottom with three bits of information:  Percentage read at the left, total number of "Locations" to the right, and in the middle the specific range of "Locations" for the text on the screen.  I understand why this is so: because you can make the text bigger or smaller, the concept of page numbers becomes so elastic as to be meaningless.

The result is that all Kindle books "look" to be the same length because the progress bar is always the same width and the number of Locations is pretty meaningless.  Obviously a book with 3,000 Locations is shorter than a book (e.g., Outlander, which I got free the other day) with 13,000 Locations.  But as I have no concept of what a Location is, I find I rely on the "percentage read" function to help me figure out how long a book is.  And that brings in the concept of speed.

Clearly, if I've read 10% of a book by the end of the first chapter, it's not a long book.  And if a book is a "fast read," I might look down and be dismayed to see that I'm already 65% through it.  The converse is unfortunately true as well.  I was reading what should have been a fast-paced thriller, but I noticed that the progress bar wasn't filling up as fast as I would have liked.  Not a good sign.

Watch out, though:  just as with paper books, a Kindle book can look bigger than it is, if the progress bar and number of Locations include the extra material at the end, e.g., excerpts from the next book and so forth.  I've caught myself thinking I had another 10% to go when, boom, the book ends.

3.  It's way too easy to buy books.

I've mentioned this before, that the 1-Click system is just way too easy.  I do not want to see the credit card bill.  More to the point, I don't want my husband to see the credit card bill.  (Can I claim this as a business expense?)

On the other hand, I just pre-ordered Lee Smith's latest Jack Reacher novel.  It's $9.99 for the Kindle, will download automatically on the release date, and it saves me the hassle (and gas, and time) of requesting it at the library and then going to get it.   That's not a bad deal when it's a book I really want to read, like, NOW.

4.  The economics of the "free" book are not obvious.

I had a rather misguided notion of the free Kindle book, namely that the adage, "You get what you pay for," would apply.  I thought that when I was offered a "free" book, I'd figure, "Oh, why not?" click, download, and ignore.

When one of the free books was by Jennifer Ashley (Penelope & Prince Charming, alas now back to costing actual money), I thought, "Who am I kidding?  I'll take one, please."  I haven't read it yet, but I'm not ignoring it as much as just not reading it.  (I have dozens & dozens of paper books I'm just not reading.  They're my TBR collection, and they breed at night.)  And when the free book on offer was Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, which I have never read, it was a no-brainer.

In other cases, the "free" book was basically the first third of one complete story; parts 2 and 3 costs modest amounts.  (I bought them all -- even double a modest amount isn't a lot of money.) (See #3.)  Clearly the "free" book is a teaser to get you to buy #2 and #3, and therefore a front-loaded "buy two, get one free" offer.

For more on the "free" book, see #5, below.

5.  I'm (still) unconvinced about the self-publishing revolution.

Here's the theory, as I understand it.  It doesn't take a lot of money/entreprenurial spirit to get YOUR book uploaded to the Kindle store.  Want people to read it?  Offer it free!  They will love it, recommend it highly to their friends, and so forth.

Maybe this works, but here's what I experienced.  Someone tweeted about 35 free Kindle books.  I clicked on the link and found myself at a Kindle blog with 35 book titles, each highlighted to show I could click on them to -- presumably -- go to that book's Amazon page.  No authors' names, no other information.  (The posts were edited to add the size, in KB, of the download.  This information, it seems to me, is even less useful than the number of Locations on the Kindle progress bar.)

In two weeks, I already have a modest TBR list on my Kindle.  So why would I want to download a book about which I know nothing?  If I had an hour to kill, I could have clicked each of the 35 links, but with an hour to kill, I'd rather read.  So if the best independently-published ebook was among those 35, I didn't bother to learn about it.

I assume every one of those authors has a blog, a website, a Twitter feed, a Facebook page and is doing everything possible to build a social network so that people can find her (his) book.  But it's hard work, and at least from my perspective, offering the book free isn't a surefire hook.

6.  By contrast, a free Harlequin Blaze?  Sure, why not.

This is the flip side to #5.  I won't do the work associated with figuring out if independently-published books are worth the gamble, but I will snatch up a free Harlequin Blaze (Slow Hands, by Leslie Kelly) that I would otherwise not have read.  Hey, 10% in, I should know if I like it.

Why won't I accord an independently-published book the same courtesy?  Because of two things.  First, someone at Harlequin liked the Leslie Kelly book enough to publish it (that's the "quality assurance" component to commercial publishing -- what some people call "curating" -- the idea that someone else has read a thousand manuscripts and picked the best), and second, several people at Amazon have posted reviews that say, in effect, "I got it for free and it's not bad."  I don't normally go by Amazon reviews, but on a free book?  Sure, why not.

7.  I don't know what to do with the crummy books.

This would actually be something I haven't learned yet -- how to organize my Kindle books into something other than page after page of book titles.  And is there a way to delete books?  Yes, I understand I don't have to -- the Kindle will hold thousands of titles -- but maybe I want to.  Or at least, maybe I want to stick the stinkers someplace where they won't clutter up my KTBR (Kindle To-Be-Read) offerings. 

On the plus side, though, even a cluttered Kindle doesn't present the obstacle course my office floor does at the moment.  I've got piles of paper books waiting for further disposition.

I'll keep working on challenges of organization -- electronically and in three-dimensions!

8.  The Kindle is like a paper doll.

Thanks to my cousin, I have a skin on my Kindle.  This one.  And, also thanks to my cousin, my Kindle has a little sack dress coming from an Etsy store.  (I don't know which one, but I'll edit this post when it arrives.)  The temptation to make it multiple outfits is considerable -- I certainly have the fabric for it! (see right) -- but the time involved would definitely eat into my reading time.  And while the Kindle does lend itself to multi-tasking (see #9, below), I don't actually think I can read and sew a straight line at the same time.

9.  I really can read with one hand.

When I tried a first-generation Kindle a year ago, I was unimpressed.  Particularly annoying to me was the ease with which the "go forward" and "go back" buttons worked.  I kept getting lost in the book, and with no page numbers for guidance, I was not happy.

Well, they've fixed that -- it takes a distinct and intentional click on the go-ahead button to advance the story.  And with both the go-ahead and the go-back buttons on both sides of the Kindle, I can hold it in one hand, read, and do something else with my other hand.  Like play Castle Age on Facebook, or stir something on the stove.  You get the idea.

10.  I haven't forgotten how to read a paper book -- nor lost the desire to do so.

After a week with the Kindle, Ross teased me by suggesting -- complete with a pantomime -- that I had already forgotten how to turn the pages of a paper book.  Hah.  Very funny.  But not true.  And it's a good thing, too, given how huge my paper TBR piles are.

If there was a "1-Click" approach to turning my existing paper books into Kindle books, I'd be tempted only to do it for my Betty Neels collection and a handful of other books.  The Betty Neels canon is special simply because of the rapidity with which The Uncrushable Jersey Dress blog is reviewing them.  They post a new review every few days (and posts every day); with each new review I find myself thinking, "Now, if I could just pull that book up on the Kindle, I'd reread it."  Why don't I just find it in paper and read that?  Because somehow the paper Neels books "compete" with a lot of books I haven't already read several times.  Yes, you got that right.  I've read many of the Betty Neels books more than once, and some several times.  Still, I'm tempted to buy them for the Kindle . . . if it weren't that Harlequin is e-publishing them one per month.  With 134 books?  Are they crazy?

So, as long as I can get paper books from PaperBackSwap or for a penny through Amazon's used book function, I'll own and read paper books.  And continue to trip over them, more's the pity.


  1. Yes, there is a way to delete books. Click on the title with the right arrow and it will ask if you want to delete. Say yes and it's done. (I don't have my Kindle with me, but it's the same way you add books to a collection, only you hit the other arrow.)

    I also love free preview. You'll know right away if an author's style is for you. And I'm off to get that Harlequin blaze. (I really enjoyed the free Ashley too. Charming.)

    Sandy AAR

  2. This is a great post, and you bring up some interesting points. I don't have a Kindle, and it's news to me that it doesn't have page numbers. (I read my ebooks as PDF's, which do.) Does this mean you might go into a book not knowing whether it's a full-length novel or a novella? And might that bring you some disappointment, if it turns out to be shorter that you thought? Does the cost of the book give you an idea about that? This concerns me since I like to write novellas, and I'd want the reader to know in advance they're reading a short. Thanks for sharing your Kindle experiences!

  3. Heh--all very good points. I think what ereaders lack the most, or at least the Nook, is a good way to organize files. I tend to be a bit anal about file organization.

    I still buy paper books, but just not as many. I like being able get a book instantly too, which is bad for my wallet.

  4. I had a very definite feeling you would love it!

  5. Sandy -- Thanks for the tip about deleting books!

    Juniper -- I would recommend a Kindle over reading a book as a .pdf file. I think that much time reading the computer would feel like work to me.

    Dhympna -- I am not the most organized person, but I can see that having folders on the Kindle is a bit of a no-brainer. But then being able to buy someone a Kindle book that they can download when they're ready seems a no-brainer too; it's what i-Tunes lets you do. So Jeff Bezos isn't batting 1.000 when it comes to the features customers actually want.

    Sharyn -- I'll just bet you did! LOL

  6. Such an interesting post! I have an older Sony reader, so I don't have the instant digital download, but I can see how it would be addictive and fun. So nice how Kindle makes everything with reading so much easier.

    Also, what you say about Neels. If it was Kindle, you'd reread. One weird thing I find is that if I have started a series on my ereader, I want to keep it on ereader and not go to paper, but if I have started a series on paper, I like to keep it on paper.

  7. Prior to buying my BeBook, I never read more than one book at a time. These days, I usually juggle two or more. I have to restrain myself from going crazy buying ebooks. The instant gratification business is dangerous.

  8. The newer Kindles do have a folder system - it was added last year after lots of bitching by Kindle owners. They aren't called folders but rather "collections". You can add as many folders as you like to your Kindle, then move various books into and out of them. You access this function by going to your home page, then selecting any book and moving the controller button to the right. It will then bring up a new menu. Click on "Add to Collection..." and you get to a menu that allows you to add new folders, or add the current book to an existing folder.

    There's a pretty detailed explanation somewhere on the Amazon Kindle help pages, but I didn't read it. I just started messing around on my Kindle and figured out the basics. It's pretty intuitive. I think there are a bunch of functions I'm not using, but really all I wanted was a couple of folders to keep my free books, my samples, and my "finished but still want to keep on my K" books out of my main book listing.

    Also, in addition to deleting books off your Kindle itself, you can also delete them completely out of your Amazon archive, but you have to do that through your Amazon account on your computer - you can't do it through the Kindle. I had a couple of books that were so awful, I didn't ever want to see them again, even if they were just in my archive and not on my K. This was another function that Amazon added after numerous requests from Kindle owners.

  9. Regarding Juniper's question about novella lengths, many Kindle owners have gotten pretty savvy about figuring out whether a book is a novella or is novel length.

    I have two ways of figuring size. If it is also listed on a site like Smashwords or All Romance, I look at the word count. On Amazon, I look at the file size in the product details. I consider anything under 200 KB to be a novella, and if it's 100 KB or less, it's a short story. I get fooled occasionally, but that's a pretty good rule of thumb.

  10. Super post. I haven't gotten a Kindle yet, but I'm becoming more interested in them when I read posts like this. Thanks.

    BTW, Roni said you'd contacted her to get my email addy. I'm not sure if she gave it to you or not, but here it is: lynnette_labelle at hotmail dot com.

    Lynnette Labelle

  11. I've always been a multi-book reader so I haven't found the Kindle changed anything for me in that sense. In fact, now I lug one or two paper books with my and my e-reader, LOL. Don't you think it'll be interesting to see how differently we're reading in a few years' time?

  12. I've been resistant to the idea of e-books - mostly because earlier models didn't have the function and features that the newer ones do and they were quite expensive (the eternal electronic predicament). My husband, who is a complete techno-geek, would really really like to get one, but he knows he can't justify getting one for himself - so he keeps drooling over them and giving me significant looks. I suspect this is the year I give in and let him get me one.

    I would like to know about ease of downloading. I own an i-Pod (which I love), but I sincerely dislike i-Tunes and find that it is not as intuitive to use as I would like. Is the Kindle easier?

  13. Regarding ease of downloading, I can't speak about the others, but the Kindle is unbelievably easy. In the menu, you click on the choice "turn on wireless", then you "shop in the Kindle store". The kindle will connect to Amazon and present you with a storefront page. At the bottom of the page there is a search bar. You type in the author's name or a title, then click on what you want from the search results and it will bring up a page very similar to Amazon's webpage for the item. There's a big black button that says "Buy now". You click on it, your Amazon account is automatically charged through one-click and less than 30 seconds later, the book is downloaded to your Kindle waiting to be read. That's it.

    Buying from other publishers such as Samhain or Smashwords is only slightly more complicated in that you download the book from their website to your computer first, then hook up your Kindle to your computer using the provided USB cable and transfer the book file to your Kindle exactly the same as you would transfer any file from one folder to another.

    Honestly, you wouldn't believe how easy these devices are to use.

  14. Betty Debbie -- Let me reiterate what JenM has said. It's the easiest shopping in the world, and I access books a lot of different ways. (Hmm... I think there's a blog post in there.)

    With the Kindle, and because I have WiFi, all I do is click "Buy" and within a remarkably short period of time, the book is in my Kindle waiting to be read. All I had to do was click the buy button.

    It's a good thing I'm not at an impressionable age anymore or I could get used to having things presented to me that easily!

  15. I love your blog and, more than ever, I love this post! :D Physical books and the Kindle are not mutually exclusive, true true.

    Would you be interested in reviewing e-galleys? If so, where can I reach you?

  16. Lauren -- I tried to leave the following over on OpenRoadSource's website, but the Contact Us link didn't work.

    Here it is:

    Lauren -- I'm responding to a comment you left on my blog, Promantica, asking if I'd like to review e-galleys.

    I really appreciate the compliment, but I don't review. I have a lot of reasons for that -- I even blogged about it here -- although my reasons have increased over the months.

    Basically, I'm an easily dissatisfied reader. I started a book that had won the Golden Heart and been nominated for a RITA for best first book, and it was a DNF for me! I don't like dissing books; I'd rather rave about the few that make me very happy.

    Again, thank you for asking, which I know is praise indeed, but I have to say no.

    All the best -- Magdalen

  17. Ha! I hear ya, sister, and I can relate... on a personal side, I too can be a hard sell. Anyway, keep up the blogging!


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