I’ve been struggling with myself lately on a particular issue. A lot. There’s nothing Earth-shattering to it, though. I’m not debating about the meaning of life, or thinking about a move, or a marriage, or why the sky is blue (it’s actually white today, but that’s beside the point).
I’ve been debating on the merits of a Kindle.
For years I have been a shameless snob about the little devices. I hated and despised them. I would tout how they were hurting bookstores and real books— how switching to one would be a traitorous action of the highest degree.
I could tell you a hundred ways that Kindles were nothing like a real book, and inferior for it. When my brother finally caved and bought one, within five minutes of reading on it, I had decided that my accusations were confirmed. It was awkward to hold, difficult to immerse myself in, and it could hardly compare to a real book.
But in the back of my mind, I was unsure. I love to read. I love to write. So why wasn’t I falling in love with the Kindle— a device made specifically for more enjoyable reading?
This December, I decided to give it another chance. After all, I am a shameless Amazon addict, and their constant advertisements have to be working in some capacity. I reasoned that I wouldn’t really be able to tell if I could enjoy it or not without sitting down to really use it.
I bought a new Paperwhite with the full intention of returning it within a week or two for the above reasons. The lure of free books every day and the ability to borrow and loan virtual books was just too great. And, as a writer, I hoped it would encourage me to read more diverse material.
See, I have this bad habit of picking books entirely based off of what I’ve loved in the past, which is apparently taboo. One of my friends adequately summarized my reading interests with this list on Goodreads. Kick-ass heroines, indeed. I’m a tomboy, what can I say?
This taboo is something I don’t entirely understand. Aren’t we supposed to choose books based on what we enjoy? I was forced to read plenty of classics in school, but I don’t intend to return to The Great Gatsby, the Grapes of Wrath, or anything similar in the future. I will stick with my Girl-Kicks-Massive-Butt books (it’s a genre, didn’t you know?).
Anyway. I’m horribly off-topic.
So, I bit the bullet and ordered my Kindle (after two weeks of debate). After much guilt and harassment from my reader friends—you know who you are— my Paperwhite arrived in the mail. Initially I was engrossed with the new-tech feeling— almost like a new-shoe feeling. This feeling was mixed with more guilt, and the feeling that I had betrayed my beautiful piles of books.
I had a few mini-crises like— what will my room look like when there aren’t piles of books lying around? How will I read books that I’ve already bought when I refuse to re-purchase them on the Kindle? And more major ones like— what if I am single-handedly destroying the publishing industry?
Yes. I have melodramatic thoughts. So sue me.
Anyway. Slowly I started to enjoy reading on it. It wasn’t the same as a real book— it still isn’t. But something slowly dawned on me as I began to use it more frequently: It’s not supposed to be.
Maybe, for some people, the Kindle has single-handedly replaced all real world books for all practical purposes. Maybe these people really do love carrying their library around with them (I don’t. It makes me entirely too distracted). Maybe, for them, the Kindle really is the reading tool of the future.
I find myself leaning in another direction. What I’ve found is that it’s more of a supplemental tool— not a replacement for normal books. I’ve fallen in love with the practical mix of Instapaper and Kindle, and I do most of my internet reading on the Kindle now. It really is nicer than staring at a screen all day, which is what I do when I’m writing anyway. (For those of you wondering about Instapaper, check out this post here. It’s a great tool for people who do tons of reading online).
I’ve found that I read more non-fiction. There really is a host of non-fiction titles to pick from, a lot of them free, and while I’ve never found myself reading them in the past, I gravitate more towards them when a $25 non-fiction title is in the Top 100 Free list.
And in fairness, the reading experience is not as distracting as I first led myself to believe. The screen is clear enough, and I have no complaints about the backlight or the weight of the thing. Overall, it’s enjoyable to read on.
That being said, I do have several complaints. First of all, this is not a book. Don’t expect it to be a book. Books have history. Books and their dog-eared, torn, water-damaged pages have character. They smell like a printing press. They feel nice in your bag. They feel nice in your hands. They make you feel studious. I love books. I do.
This is not a book.
If you plan on purchasing a Kindle, don’t expect it to be one.
Another complaint: The quality of the Top 100 Free list, and Kindle Direct Publishing.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘Of course free books won’t be the same quality as a paid book.’ This is true. Or rather, for some books it is true. I check the list almost every night before bed, and what I find is this: mostly self-published nonsense mixed with a few legitimately published titles that happen to be on sale for dirt-cheap prices.
I’ve gotten several books I’ve really enjoyed from the free list. But with those few titles, I find a host of poorly written, awful, self-published books. This is a result of Kindle Direct Publishing, which allows anyone to write a book and publish it, at no additional cost.
So yes, KDP makes it so that anyone, and I mean anyone, can write a book. Isn’t this a good thing? Yes and no. This has been true for years. Anyone can write a book. Anyone can do the work required to put a story together.
But not everyone should.
It’s like American Idol. I never watched much of this show, but one thing was clear: some people would have done best if a kind family member had told them to stay home. Yes they could sing. Could they sing well? No. Everyone can sing, to some degree. American Idol made it clear that not everyone should sing. Writing a book is no different.
Now, before I continue to bash self-publishing, let me say this: There are likely many well-written, beautifully done self-published titles out there. But they suffer from the vast majority of titles that haven’t even bothered to edit their own work, let alone to hire an editor to clean it up. The likelihood of finding good self-published titles is like dumpster diving. You have to sift through the trash to find anything worthwhile, and sometimes you go home empty. I want to believe in self-publishing. I do. But too often the industry is ruined by egotistical people who refuse to do the work before publishing.
Honestly, I feel that the publishing system is there for a reason. Books need that process. They need to go through tons of rejection and rewrites. Because nothing worthwhile is easy. The really sad thing about this self-published business is, I see a lot of titles that have a fantastic premise. I get them off of Amazon, and I’m always really excited about what the book promises to deliver.
But then I start the book, and the poor grammar, cliches, and awful character development ruins what was once a very promising idea. If this person had gone through the traditional publishing process, they might have produced something astounding— something worthy of respect. But instead they took the easy way out, and their readers are paying for it.
Writers need the publishing industry. They need to hold on for an indefinite amount of time. They need space from the story. They need to tear the story to pieces in order to get it to work. They need to care enough about their work and their trade that they will keep trying, even when it seems hopeless. They need the maturity and the patience to wait, because not every story is ready the moment you type ‘The End’.
Folks, the Gatekeepers are there for a reason. Editors, agents, and the publishing industry are not villains. They all want to take a good story and make it great. But it requires patience, and sacrifice. It is the difference between the Major Leagues and the Little League.
Kindle Direct Publishing is the modern Vanity Press. Since people have finally caught on to the idea that it’s completely silly to pay to publish your own work, Amazon has decided to become the middleman. They don’t have to print anything, so you owe them nothing. Meanwhile, if your book does take off, Amazon is raking in the money in vast quantities.
And that’s another thing. A lot of self-published authors who have been successful seem to point to their own successes as evidence that self-publishing is legitimate. There are exceptions to every rule. But I’m afraid I can’t endorse things like Kindle Direct Publishing until quality material is consistently put in front of my nose.
I’m not published yet. But I feel like I have every right to judge the quality of this work, because I’m a reader. I’m the audience, and frankly, self-published titles have not been cutting it for me.
When I finally finish my manuscript, I won’t be converting it to kindle format and shipping it virtually off to Amazon. I’ll be doing it the old fashioned way: with blood, sweat, and tears. Maybe it’ll take me more time, and more effort, but the finished product will be worth far more to me than what I could upload to Amazon.
I don’t want to write a good story. I want to write a great story. And I look forward to the day when I’ll be afforded the opportunity to work with people who, frankly, know a heck of a lot more about editing and publishing than I do.
This has gotten far off track from my Kindle. But it was a much-needed rant. Thoughts? I’d love to hear your opinions. Feel free to comment below.