The bloat-ification of books

When I first began reading science-fiction, a novel was perhaps 60,000 words and an anthology might run to ten stories. No more, and bloat-ification rules the shelves. Macleans magazine has a new blurticle on the topic today, musing on why “Books just keep getting longer”

“the ever-expanding girth of Stephen King’s recent oeuvre has earned him the derisive title of ‘King Bloat’ within the publishing industry.”

It makes one wonder how much of a market there may be for heavily abridged versions, if authors will stand for that. Of course, some audiobooks do offer abridged versions, with the author’s permission. And much non-fiction of the ‘pop best-seller’ variety (Malcolm Gladwell et al) can be heavily abridged with little loss, and services such as Blinkist and others already offer impartial short summaries (impartial compared to the summary on Wikipedia, which has to be assumed to be slanted and spun and snipped for any even a slightly politically-relevant book). So far as I know, the Blink summaries are written by humans and they can be read in 15 or 20 minutes. Marry that with three long reviews found online, and you’ll have a fairly good grasp of the book without having to spend a day reading it.

The risk will come in A.I. powered auto-abridgement, perhaps in tandem with ‘reader attention data’ from devices (which indicate the parts that ‘most people’ skip). We already have news-article summation tools, though I find they’re rarely better than a trained eye skimming down an article.

Already annoyingly automatic is the ‘book shortening’ found on the Kindle, in which Amazon will assume you don’t want to savour the art and typography of the front-cover, the introductory matter and Contents page, before starting a downloaded ebook. Amazon assumes you must immediately leap to the first word of the main body and start reading. This ‘leap’ is often very annoying, and I can’t see any setting in the Kindle dashboard which states: “Always start my ebook at the front cover”.

Of course, that assumes the front cover is worth seeing. In 95% of self-published ebooks, it’s ugly as hell. Apparently most ebook authors don’t want to spend $30 at Fiverr on buying services from a cover designer who knows about typography and who can source good free public-domain artwork. Too many book covers from establishment publishers are also mediocre.

Then, at the end of the book, I find that the Kindle ereader will again try to truncate the book. Too often it will want to whisk the reader away to engage with social media (Amazon Reviews, GoodReads etc), once the last word of the main body text is reached. Whereas there may well be endnotes of other matter in the book that are skipped by leaving at that point. For instance, that happened recently with an Arthur C. Clarke non-fiction book I’d purchased from the Kindle Store. If I hadn’t continued paging on, regardless, then I would thus have missed about 12 pages of endotes to the book. Some of them quite long. The same is true of the Kindle wanting to skip an index or bibliography. If I purchased a book, then I want to at least know about everything that’s potentially available to me in the book.

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Book publicists wanted, on Fivver.

There appears to be a huge gap in the market on Fivver, for ‘Level One’ providers of a ‘book publicity package’ for a new book. For when you have your new book, and you want someone to plug a listing into Open Library, GoodReads, etc, get a press-release on Google News, a few posts on large/relevant Facebook Groups, and get a few mentions on likely-looking niche blogs.

How to remove the ruled footer line in Word 2007

How to remove the ruled footer line in Word 2007, and leave only page numbers in your document footer.

1. First, add your page numbers: Top Menu | Insert | Page Number.

2. Staying with Insert, find the Header and Footer buttons, next to Page Number button. Click on: Footer | Edit Footer.

3. Very importantly, then make sure you click your cursor inside the footer. Now it can be edited. Changes should be applied globally to all footers.

4. On the Top Menu, switch back to the Home tab. Now find the tiny border control icon in the Paragraph sub-panel…

Choosing “No Border” will remove the ruled lines from all footers, leaving you with the page numbers only…

5. If adding Headers and Footers have thrown out all your carefully done page-layouts, then you’ll also want to reduce the size they take up on the page. In Header and Footer Tools, you can adjust these margins to be more sensible…

Here we have the Header space reduced to zero, and the Footer dropped to 0.1, to force the page number to appear much nearer to the bottom edge of the page.

Nielson Author Earnings report

According to a new Nielson Author Earnings report science-fiction and fantasy book buyers have fled the establishment publishers and are flocking to self-published authors. Authors who actually give them what they want (hint: not a lecture on political correctness, disguised as a novel). Who knew?

The report crunches together 2017 sales data from NPD Pubtrack, NPD Bookscan, and Amazon ebook sales…

“SF&F print sales dropped a full 50% since 2009, and have recovered 0% since.” Meanwhile, 48% of all sales “across print, digital, and audio” are now self-published.

Yes, self-publisher “unit prices average just $3.20 compared to traditional publishers’ ebook average of $8.04”. But self-publishing authors are likely seeing more profit than they would with an establishment publisher who pays them their royalty in peanuts.

How to fix VLC Media Player’s playlist-sorting problem.

This post is not about ebooks, but may be useful for many, and possibly especially so for those with downloaded audiobooks.

Problem: While the free VLC Media Player is excellent, one of its enduring mysteries is what happens when you drag-and-drop a 1, 2, 3, 4 etc list of files to a new playlist. The playlist order all too often gets garbled into 4, 1, 3, 2 etc.

Even in the new version 3.0 of VLC there’s still no way to then re-sort a garbled playlist by File Name. You can re-sort in several ways, but not by File Name…

This is annoying if you have a list of tracks that need to be played in order, such as a carefully curated 50-track trance music set, hundreds of short audiobook recording clips, or a webinar presentation made up of lots of small video files in a careful numbered sequence. For various good reasons you’ll want to use the mature and stable and ad-free VLC for these, but you don’t want to have to spend 20 minutes fiddling about with manually re-ordering the playlist by File Name.

And you can’t just use the ubiquitous Windows Media Player to make a correctly-ordered playlist, and then save it and take the list into VLC. Why? Because while VLC claims to understand Windows’ own .WPL and .M3U, in practice it doesn’t. Load a .M3U and VLC’s attempt at playback goes haywire in a never-ending loading loop. Load a .WPL playlist and you only get the first track on the list. Load an .ASX in VLC and the list is intact, but certain files in the album will be greyed out and unplayable. There is no option to save in VLC’s native .XSPF format from Windows Media Player, and no plugin to enable that.


Solution: Here’s how to quickly get a proper 1, 2, 3, 4 file-name order playlist over to VLC:

1. Get the free Windows freeware open source Amarok player, install. (This may be a very slow download, and you may want to shop around for faster mirror servers. It also takes an age to install and then load). Amarok can output the .XSPF playlist format that is needed by VLC.

2. Install and load Amarok, and then load a correctly-ordered playlist thus…

Top menu: Playlist | Add Media.

As you can see Amarock has no problem with then offering the full range of file re-sorting options for your playlist…

Once you’re happy with the order, click the floppy-disk icon below the list, and this will save the playlist in the Amarock database (which is over on the opposite side of the screen). Right-click on this saved playlist name and ‘Export as…’ to .XSPF format.

The playlist must be saved and played alongside the .MP3 audio files in the same folder, and not then moved elsewhere. This is because of the way that the file paths are written inside the .XSPF playlist format.

3. You can now load the .XSPF playlist in VLC, and it will retain the correctly sorted playlist order.

Comichaus

The Comichaus: the new indie British monthly has now reached an impressive eight issues. It’s the flagship comic title for the Comichaus indie website, which wants to be the Netflix of indie comics.


At first glance the site itself is not as impressive as it might be, though. No genre categories, and my initial search of the site for the phrase “science fiction” was not very promising: it had no results at all.

I see they also have a new app, launched at the end of November 2017, for a £3-a-month subscription streaming service for indie comic books. It’s an “all you can eat” pricing model. Sadly the Amazon store says it’s not compatible with my new Fire 10″ HD, and it doesn’t show up at all on the Store on my tablet. I suspect what Amazon mean is it competes too hard with the Amazon-owned Comixology.

Spoilers: it’s in the bag

I like this idea. Bryan Talbot’s new graphic novel, the latest in the Grandville series, has an unusual anti-spoiler device. A black plastic wrapper and seal prevents the reader from flipping though to certain pages at the back of the book, and thus spoiling the surprise…

Perhaps we need a digital equivalent. Tick a box on your Amazon Kindle account, and authors who put a snippet of anti-spoiler code in their ebooks / graphic novels / audiobooks get their story protected from ‘jump-ahead’ readers.

That might also be accompanied by a code-of-conduct for troll-reviewers on Amazon: you hide your plot spoilers in a cloaking code-wrapper, and those who don’t want to read huge spoilers don’t have to. It would be in Amazon’s financial interests to do that, as if the plot is spoiled in a big way, someone is then far less likely to buy the product.

Office 2019

I’m pleased to hear that Microsoft has announced a proper standalone desktop Office 2019, and for a one-time payment. The preview version is due in mid 2018. Very welcome, especially for those who use Word daily, and hopefully there will be all sorts of new ebook friendly features.

Maybe Office 2019 will even be available in a box/USB, for those lacking the capacity to download Gbs of software and the inevitable patches. Which these days still amounts to a surprising amount of people in the USA. In fact, it’s kind of difficult not to see the Office 2019 announcement as some sort of sweetener for President Trump, aimed at swinging the ongoing tussle over Microsoft’s plan to bring decent flat-rate broadband to America’s rural millions ($8-$12bn+) vs. phone company cell-phone towers ($20bn+++) doing the same. Trump must be aware of how much a top-flight desktop productivity suite still means to productivity in much of the USA, for people who can’t or won’t use the Cloud.

Instapaper: “there’s definitely something wrong…”

Mobile Industry Review tests “Pocket vs. Instapaper”. I’m seriously looking at Paper, as I’m starting to loose count of how many times I’ve seen this frustrating notice from Instapaper, when trying to save out a Kindle .mobi collection of articles. The worst of this is, the wording suggests the user has done something wrong. When any regular user knows that it’s Instapaper that’s failed. If Instapaper can’t keep their servers online, and insults their users during such failures, then why bother with it when there are alternatives?