Ebook Sales Are Down–Here Are Some Personal Whys

person-reading-on-ipadAnd I’ve seen that in my own life.  I’m one of those people who’s not not reading as many ebooks as before.

In the beginning I was excited to download books instantly whenever, wherever.  Forget two-day delivery with Amazon Prime.  If I wanted a book on my iPad at 3 AM, voilà–and the font and page color could even be adjusted.  How cool was that?

But then the books started massing and I lost track of how many there were, unlike being able to see and sort the TBR pile in my study. I know, not a problem the Pope had to address at the UN, but still–

tbr-pilesThen I noticed that far too many ebooks, from all sorts of publishers, seemed badly proofread, if at all.  Spacing was off, typos were bizarre, sometimes whole sections or chapters were in italics.  As an author and reviewer, I know errors creep into books, but this was a level of sloppiness that felt new to me.

Another contributing factor: Dealing with insomnia after a car accident, one solution recommended by experts was to avoid e-readers (and laptop or PC screens) at night because of the light interfering with my sleep cycle, so that forced me to cut down.

ipadreaderBut I had found myself drifting away from ebooks anyway by that point.  I’m an extrovert and can be easily distracted.  I turn to reading as a form of meditation. I want to be completely lost, mesmerized by storytelling whatever the genre.  Holding a device where I can check my email or the news can break the spell.

More than that, I still enjoy the physical feel of an open book in my hands, especially a hardcover.  I relish the sensuous experience of turning the page, marking passages I enjoy, making notes, comparing pages–things that are totally different experiences with ebooks.

However, I rely on ebooks for trips at home and abroad.  Back in the day, I could never decide what exactly to take with me and either packed too many books or the wrong ones.  That never happens anymore.  And if it somehow does and there’s absolutely nothing that interests me left on my iPad, I can still browse wherever I am.

If the WiFi is good….

So what about you?  Are you reading more ebooks than you used to?  Are you reading fewer?  Or about the same?  Why?

Lev Raphael is the author of The Edith Wharton Murders and 24 other books in genres from memoir to horror.

Bloggers: Is Donald Trump Reading Your Blog?

trump-tongue

I’ve never crossed paths with Donald Trump, but his type is very familiar to me because I grew up in New York City.  I think of him as a New York Blowhard, and they’re as much a part of the scenery as the skyline.

new_york_city_night_2048x1152I’ve run across the type in cabs, bars, subways and buses, classrooms, at parties and even family gatherings.  These people (of both genders) love attention.  They love to fulminate about anything and everything.  They love the sound of their own voices.  They spout opinions as if they’re facts.  They have a whale of a time holding the floor.

For them, as humorist Fran Liebowitz wrote years ago, the opposite of talking isn’t listening, the opposite of talking is waiting.

impatientAnd Trumpism flourishes sublimely well on the Internet when people can post without personal contact–because nobody can interrupt them at all.  Other bloggers will know what I mean.

If you dare to post a blog that criticizes any show, movie, performance, or book that somebody admires, a Trumpist will strike.  That Trumpeter will inevitably ramble in a condescending manner, miss your points or distort them, but most of all insult you directly.

That’s the key: contempt.

look-of-contemptYou’ll be called a hater or ignorant or some variant from the cool distance of the poster’s implicit superiority.  Engaging with comments like those is a waste of time because you only enter the echo chamber of the poster’s self-regard.  But you’ll be tempted… If you succumb, you’re playing the poster’s game because anything you say will be turned against you as further proof of your inferiority.

Of course, they’re not nearly as dismissive as the people who wonder why you’re blogging about —— at all when “there are so many more important things going on in the world.”

Luckily, all these people aren’t the only ones who post, or blogging wouldn’t be so rewarding.  They’re a distinct minority. Sometimes their comments are even amusing, in a sad kind of way.  And even blogworthy.

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in genres from memoir to mystery which you can find on Amazon.

“For Such a Time” Is Ersatz

Writers like Katherine Locke and Kelly Faircloth have blogged about the bizarre nature of the romance Kate Breslin concocted between a Nazi and his Jewish prisoner in her debut novel For Such a Time.  However much Breslin tries to make this relationship redemptive and wonderful, she can’t blur the cruel power dynamic at its core; the threat of rape and death; and the fact that genocide gets swept away at the book’s end.

What also troubles me about For Such a Time is the slipshod editing.  How nobody at Breslin’s publishing house corrected her clumsy attempts to root the book in the Holocaust or her skewed knowledge of Judaism and Jewish culture.

menorahExamples abound.  Why does she use the word Hakenkreuz rather than Swastika?  The latter word is one most readers would be familiar with.  Hakenkreuz is a feeble attempt to make the book feel historically accurate.  So is using Sturmabteilung rather than SA or Brownshirts.  Both of those are much more more familiar to readers of historical novels or thrillers set in Nazi Germany–and more understandable.

Why field the obscure word Gänsebraten when roast goose would do just as well?  Surely anyone picking up this book will understand that it’s set in Germany after the first few pages.  Breslin doesn’t need to keep reminding us, as when she substitutes the word Kaffee for coffee over half a dozen times. But Kaffee isn’t italicized, which it should be since it’s in a foreign language.  Page after page, you feel she’s just overdoing it and the publisher is careless and clueless.

huhWhich is unfortunate, given Breslin’s weak grasp of German and Germany’s history with Jews.  Breslin’s heroine is addressed as “Jude.”  That’s the masculine for Jew in German, not the feminine, which is Jüdin.  But more egregious than that, the Nazis had many terms of abuse for Jews, and simply calling her a Jew is not pejorative enough–given the period.

If Breslin was so desperate for authenticity, a little research would have yielded the insult Judensau among others. The Nazis were very fond of this slur which means “Jew pig,” and as a despicable term for Jews in Germany, it dates back to the Middle Ages.  It was so widely used, images were carved on churches.

Breslin’s understanding of Jewish culture and religion is also grossly off-base.  In a glossary at the book’s end, she defines a yarmulke as a “prayer cap.”  No it isn’t.  It’s a skullcap; it’s not just worn at prayers by observant Jews.  More incorrectly, she thinks a shtetl is a “small town or ghetto.”  That’s flat-out wrong.  It’s the Yiddish for a small Jewish or heavily Jewish village or town in Eastern Europe–not remotely the same thing as a ghetto.

If that inaccuracy isn’t enough, the glossary says that Jews in the Holocaust wore a “gold” star to identify “their Jewry.”

Breslin further makes a hash of history when she says that “Sarah” was “a term that Nazis used for Jewesses.”  That makes it sound like a synonym.  It wasn’t.  What she seems to be getting at is the legislation in 1938 which forced Jews with “non-Jewish” names to add “Sara” [sic] or “Israel” as middle names to their identity papers so that there could be no doubt they were Jewish.  She and her publisher also seem oblivious to the fact that the word “Jewess” isn’t just dated, it’s widely considered offensive.

One more indignity: Breslin crams the novel with more German than it needs, but gets a key German term related to the Holocaust wrong. The German word for Final Solution, Endlösung, is rendered as Endoslung in the book and in the glossary.

All these errors come from an author who claims to love the Jewish people. As the song goes, “Who Needs Love Like That?”

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in many genres including Rosedale in Love, set in New York during The Gilded Age.

Should Writers Follow Elmore Leonard’s “Rules”?

Every now and the I see people post and re-post Leonard’s well-known rules for writers. Some of them are common sense, like “Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue.”  Taken together, though, they seem to suggest that you should write in a very lean way.  Like Leonard himself.

elmore_leonardOne of the rules is “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.”  He references Steinbeck and Hemingway, but does Leonard follow his own advice? Below are some passages about the thug Richard Nobles in the novel LaBrava  (aren’t those great character names?)

He was thick all over, heavily muscled, going at least six-three, two-thirty.  Blond hair with a greenish tint in the floodlight: the hair uncombed, clots of it lying straight back on his head without a part, like he’d been swimming earlier and had raked it back with his fingers.  The guy wasn’t young up close.  Mid-thirties.  But he was the kind of guy–LaBrava knew by sight, smell and instinct–who hung around bars and arm-wrestled.  Homegrown jock–pumped his muscles and tested his strength when he wasn’t picking his teeth.

An ugly drunk.  Look at the eyes.  Ugly–used to people backing down, buying him another drink to shut him up.  Look at the shoulders stretching satin, the arms on him–Jesus–hands that looked like they could pound fence posts. 

Nobles, with his size, his golden hair, his desire to break and injure, his air of muscular confidence, was fascinating to watch.  A swamp creature on the loose.

labravaI see plenty of rich, evocative detail there, and it’s all well-chosen.  We get bits and pieces of the physical that create Nobles as an individual who’s anything but noble.  We also see him as a type known to LaBrava who’s assessing him, and the images are powerful (swamp creature, pounding fence posts).  Better yet, we have an evocative portrait of Nobles’s impact on people, the violent aura created by his mood and by his muscles.

Lean?  Not really.

It’s easy to quote Leonard, but it’s far more interesting to read him and see how closely he sticks to his own rules.  One question is, does it matter?  Another, the more important one is this: why should what works for Leonard–or what he implied worked for him–work for you?

I think in the end you can learn a lot more about writing from reading Leonard’s books than reading and slavishly following his Rules.  It’s also more fun.

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books including Writer’s Block is Bunk.

How to Write a “Big Book”

Lots of writers dream of writing a “big book.”

It’s a book that gets advertised and reviewed everywhere.

A book that people are reading on trains, planes, subway, and listening to in their cars on cross country trips or morning commutes.

reading-on-planeA book that everyone sees at airport book racks. A book that makes all the best seller lists and prompts speculation about who’s going to star in the movie.

A book that becomes part of the cultural conversation, even briefly. A book that gets the author onto countess chat and interview shows across the country.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, NICOLLE WALLACE, ROSIE PEREZ, ROSIE O'DONNELLA book that seems to be everywhere you look and that all your friends are talking about.  A book that book groups can’t wait to dive into.

What special talent does it take? What magic do you need?

Well, it’s crucial that the book is physically big.

500-600 pages is big book big. It tells readers that they’re buying something the publisher has invested lots of time and money in. Think The Historian, Mystic River, The Secret History, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I know of a writer who was doing well with a series and was told very frankly by an editor that to break out, to have a big book, that writer had to write books that were much longer. This is a true story. And kind of sad, because I thought that writer’s series was terrific.

Then I read the author’s breakout book which, you guessed it, became a big book with a star-studded movie and all the trimmings.

It felt overwritten and padded, easily 100 pages too long, if not more.

But the strategy worked. This author is now wealthy and famous, though not a better writer.  Just a bigger one.

Does size matter? Yes, if you want to make it big in traditional publishing.

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in many genres, including The Edith Wharton Murders, his first book to be reviewed in The New York Times.  It’s well under 500 pages.  🙂