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A Middle Ground

December 9, 2011

Even if you don’t know me personally, I think it’s fairly clear between the blog name made up of two Old Hollywood actresses and a fondness for retro-inspired fashion, art that involves letterpress, and a series called “Fashionable History,” that I have old-fashioned sensibilities and tastes. So it should come as no surprise that I detest e-readers. I’m not a Luddite (although I don’t have a smartphone either), but they just don’t make me feel as good as reading a real book does. I love books. I don’t find the size or weight of them at all inconvenient. I find reading  a screen tiring, boring, and not as captivating. It doesn’t give me the same sense of satisfaction or coziness, and my attention span plummets since I’m so used to reading nothing longer than blog posts on something that’s backlit. I like being able to look at my bookshelf, both for aesthetic purposes and because just glancing at a favorite book’s spine brings back the good feelings I have when reading its pages.

But, I hope to get books of my own published one day, and am striving to work in the publishing industry in one way or the other. I know I need to keep up with the trends, and that if I don’t understand digital publishing that I’ll never make it. That doesn’t mean I have to like it, but a bit of news caught my eye today that I think may result in me giving it a chance. Kindle Singles aren’t a new concept, but it wasn’t until the announcement of Sloane Crossley’s Single, Up the Down Volcano, being released tomorrow that they were brought to my attention with any kind of legitimacy. Crossley is one of my favorite authors (second favorite nonfiction author, to be exact), and I was excited to get to read more of her work beyond the short bits published around the web she writes. Singles are reserved for works that are longer than you would find in a magazine, but not long enough to be considered  a full-length manuscript for a book or novella, up to 30,000 words. Crossley, who writes personal essays (her books I Was Told There’d Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number are must-reads), is a natural fit for the format. Up the Down Volcano is a seamless followup to “How Did You Get This Number,” which is notably different from “I Was Told There’d Be Cake” with its inclusion of travel essays detailing adventures in Paris, Lisbon, and Alaska. In this new essay, Crossley travels to Ecuador on assignment and decides to spice up the article by climbing one of the tallest volcanoes in the world, despite not having any mountaineering experience. Schadenfreude ensues. The preview, although only a few pages long, shows it’s written in classic Crossley style, full of wit, dry humor, and a dash of self-deprecation. (“This is not like me. I am a profoundly lazy person. I won’t meet a friend at a location more than five blocks away from my apartment if it’s too windy or if the sidewalk is looking especially hard today.”) And the kicker? It’s $2. That’s less than a subway ride to keep in touch, so to speak, with one of my favorite writers.

So, what is it exactly about Kindle Singles that are prodding me slightly over to the side of digital publishing? For one, the price. An e-reader isn’t necessary, as long as you download Amazon’s free e-reader software where you can read it directly on your computer. I can’t afford an e-reader, and even though e-books are less expensive, I think it would take a while for it to be financially worth it. Secondly, the length works for me. I can handle reading 35 pages on a screen, since it’ll probably be done in one sitting. It keeps my attention and I feel like it would be worth the price, as opposed to being asked to pay for even a long article online. And most importantly, I think this format can be very useful for authors, especially for ones at Crossley’s level, who are relatively well-known, but don’t have the fame that would immediately sell books just for having their name on it. In the years between coming out with new books, publishing these mini-works and sneak peeks of what’s to come keeps their name in the news and their audience excited for what’s next. It maintains the buzz. Sure, authors can blog or guest-post on popular websites, or publish an essay or short story in a literary magazine that so few people read, but that doesn’t have the sense of permanency or value as a Single. Not to mention that they can get paid, hopefully more than the likely-sad amount those other venues can offer them, if anything. I can think of plenty of authors that I would love to see a Single from, especially since I haven’t heard any word of new books on the horizon from them. (Are you listening, Ruth Reichl? Julie Klausner? Rachel Shukert? Jonathon Safron Foer? Even David Sedaris?) With the exception of Amy Tan, a brief perusal of what’s available right now isn’t terribly exciting, so I’m hoping that this program grows to include more well-known authors. If done well, it could really benefit the industry.

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