Are e-books good or bad?

I can’t remember the last time I bought a physical book. I was given one about three years ago, but I only read it out of a sense of duty (it was connected with my work at that time). But it’s been even longer since I bought a book that wasn’t electronic.

When I got my first e-reader (an old Sony thing), I imagined I’d use it solely for free classics, all those books I told myself I really should read at some point. I downloaded text files from the Project Gutenberg website and converted them to PDF (because I wasn’t too keen on how epubs looked on that old machine). I thought I’d still buy and read physical books.

Fast-forward to today‌—‌my Kindle is in daily use, and I can’t imagine going back to reading paper.

But e-books aren’t perfect. Like anything, there are pros and cons — and sometimes it’s hard to tell one from the other.


Pro‌—‌nobody can see what I’m reading.

I’m not embarrassed about what I read, but I’m also a private person. I don’t always read books I particularly like, either‌—‌sometimes I read books because I want to know what all the fuss is about. When I’m doing this, I don’t relish the thought of someone judging me based on that. I don’t want to be classified as a reader of such-and-such rubbish. I don’t want people to mentally pigeon-hole my reading habits based on one book.

E-books are popular with readers of genre fiction more so than of literary fiction, and I think the anonymity of e-reading goes some way to explaining this. ‘Education’ tells us we should be reading ‘intellectual’ books, and that only great literature is worthy of our time. On one level we buy into this, yet we still yearn for simple good stories. We want the thrill of a chase, or a book that’s a bit close to the bone. Sometimes we want popcorn entertainment. Sometimes‌—‌maybe much of the time‌—‌we want to relax with a good book rather than wrestle with a great one.

Con‌—‌nobody can see what I’m reading.

But there are advantages to displaying reading material. If I have a particular book in my hands it can work as an ice-breaker to start a conversation. I may want to impress others with what I am reading. It is part of the appeal of coffee-table books, those tomes that get displayed at home to show what kind of people we are, even if they are never opened.

I still have physical books, and I still store them on shelves. But I don’t touch them now. They are pretty much there for decoration, and they don’t represent what I’ve been reading over the past few years. I like the idea of having a ‘library’, a space where I can be surrounded by books, but it would be purely cosmetic, because all my reading is done on a little device with a plain black cover.

Sometimes, we want to advertise our tastes to others. Sometimes we want to draw admiring looks, or even provoke arguments. Sometimes, the anonymity of e-readers keeps us too far apart from others.

Pro‌—‌I can have a vast library of books available to read at any time.

I love the idea that through one small device I have access to more reading material than I can ever consume. I can select new titles without having to move from my chair. I no longer need to travel into town, find a bookshop, then hope it has what I want in stock. Now I can order practically anything I can think of, and be reading it a minute later.

I’ve just checked, and I have over two thousand e-books. I can’t imagine how much space they’d take up as physical objects. I’d need a separate room at least. We’d need a bigger house, one we can’t afford. But with e-books, I am no longer constrained by physical objects, or physical places. I can have this vast library with me at all times. And with apps, I don’t even need a dedicated e-reader. I just need my phone.

When I go on holiday, I don’t have to think about what books to take with me beforehand. If I have the urge to read an old Harry Harrison short, I can do just that in a moment. If I decide to get all intellectual and finally try some Proust, there is nothing stopping me. If I want to re-read Gormenghast, I don’t have to hunt for the book on my shelves.

I have instant access to more books than I could ever read. I am spoilt for choice.

Con‌—‌I can have a vast library of books available to read at any time.

With thousands of books, and access to thousands more, I find it hard to keep track of what I’ve read and what I haven’t. There are books on my ‘to read’ list that I’m starting to think will never be opened.

How many books can I read in my lifetime? How much of my free time can I dedicate to reading?

At the moment I average two or three books a week, which equates to somewhere over a hundred a year. Over a decade I might get through one thousand books, maybe pushing towards two thousand. I might finish all the books I already have over the next twenty years.

But, of course, by then I’ll have downloaded even more, and I’ll still have a backlog to get through. Those books on my ‘to read’ list will still be sitting there, reminding me that I’m too often skimping on the harder reads, settling for popcorn when I should be putting my mind through a workout.

And I’ll feel bad about that, so I’ll download something that looks fun, just to cheer myself up.

But I’ll still be drowning in a sea of never-ending titles.

Pro‌—‌with the ease of creating e-books, publishing is open to everyone.

I have found some fantastic books over the last few years, and very few of them have been through traditional publishers or physical bookstores. Many of my new favourite authors have gone the independent-publishing route, and are making a living through their art, which gives them the time to produce even more books.

There are stories of authors being rejected by publishing companies because their books are ‘not commercial’, or that their particular genre is unpopular at the moment, then going on to sell thousands off their own efforts. Yes, their books might not be ‘commercial’, but in a connected world with billions of readers, there are always going to be enough readers who enjoy a particular style to keep these authors going.

And, because anyone can write and publish a book now, people can take chances. Want to kill off your main character in the first act? No problem. Want to write a book in first person future tense? Give it a shot. Want to release your story as a series of shorts? Hey, with indie-publishing, you can do anything.

Of course, not all these ideas will work. Many will be unpopular with the majority of readers. But that shouldn’t be a reason to stop trying. If there are only a handful of readers who connect with your books in each country, that can still give the indie-published author a sustainable career. And for these readers with these specific tastes, the fact that someone is writing these bizarre books that they love is incredible. Finally, they don’t have to rely on mass-market books chosen by some arbitrary gatekeepers for their suitability to create money for a large company. Finally, individuals can write what they want and set it free for those select few who will appreciate it.

The freedom of e-books means everyone is free to create. And that means more and more books. If many of them don’t float your boat, there will still be thousands that do.

Cons‌—‌with the ease of creating e-books, publishing is open to everyone.

Since getting into e-books, I’ve read some absolute rubbish. I’ve found myself questioning if the author is writing in their second language. I’ve found myself picking apart the writing because it’s more fun than trawling through the turgid prose and unrealistic dialogue in search of an engaging story. I’ve read books with so many gaping plot holes, and such a lack of logic, that I question if the author was thinking at all, or if they even read books.

How much of my time can I afford to waste reading this dross?

There is so much information on e-book marketing out there that it is no longer a case of judging a poor book by a poor cover. Some of this rubbish has fantastic covers, and the authors clearly know a thing or two about effective marketing. They are well-formatted, and it looks like care has been taken on their creation. And yet, the writing itself is still terrible. Often, the reader only finds this out when they’ve already started reading.

I don’t like leaving a book unfinished, and I don’t like the idea of throwing something away (or deleting it). And so I feel that I have to waste my time and storage on trash.

When everyone is free to publish, where is the quality control?

Three reasons why e-books are fantastic, and the same three reasons showing their problems. Which ones are right? That’s up to you. Personally, I realise there are issues with e-books, but I love the positives they bring. When people talk of e-books destroying reading, I remember that over the last few years, as I have stopped buying physical books, I have been consuming more and more. I read more now than I ever did.

Are e-books good or bad? That’s not a sensible question.

The printing press can be used for uplifting tracts or hate-filled propaganda. Film and TV can give thought-provoking drama or mindless gossip. Radio can fill our minds or simply be background noise. Stories told round the camp fire can be thrilling adventures or ego-filled monologues.

E-books are simply another way of presenting information and telling stories. They are not good or bad in themselves.

It is, as it always has been, the words themselves that matter.

New short story – ‘Allegiance’

I’ve put up another short story, called Allegiance. Hope you like it.

It’s another experiment‌—‌I wanted to see if I could write something purely in dialogue. I’ve seen this kind of thing used before, both as part of a book (e.g. Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game), and even as a whole book (A Closed Book by Gilbert Adair), but it’s hard to pull off. I’ve heard quite a few complaints about the dialogue-only passages in Ender’s Game (although I personally like them‌—‌they add a nice touch of mystery from the very start).

Anyway, I think I’ve done okay in this story. You can read it here, and you can check out my other short stories here.

Dark Glass now 99p/99c!

Dark Glass (Dominions I)

Until the end of November, Dark Glass (Dominions I) is available for the bargain price of 99p/99c (or your local equivalent).

Click here to see all the stores where it can be found.

You can also pick up a copy of the exclusive Dominions novella Control when you join my mailing list.

If you come across a store where Dark Glass is still at it’s usual full price (and it is still November), please let me know.

Don’t forget‌—‌this offer is only until the end of November. Come December, Dark Glass will return to it’s full price.

My NaNoWriMo is now NaNoEMo

It’s November, so it must be NaNoWriMo.

For those of you unfamiliar with this, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. The aim is for participants to (surprise!) write a novel in a month. It’s a worldwide thing, with forums and support groups, as well as meet-ups in all kids of places where people can go along to work on their novels. Those taking part sign up, usually before November starts, and then post their word-counts as they go. They get support from others taking part, and it’s a great encouragement for anyone struggling to get their first draft done.

I heard about it last year, but didn’t get any of the details until later‌—‌it was just this ‘write a novel in a month’ thing. I spent time in October planning what would become Deep Water, and thought I might as well give this thing a go, albeit unofficially‌—‌I’d start writing my initial draft on the first of November, and see if I could complete it by the 30th.

A couple of weeks in, and I knew I wouldn’t do it. I had only covered about a third of my planning‌—‌there was no way I’d get to the end in the next two weeks.

And then I found out a little more about NaNoWriMo. The length of a novel is undetermined, so saying ‘write a novel in a month’ would mean different things to different people. So the NaNo organisers chose 50,000 words‌—‌about 150 pages. I checked my word-count on Deep Water (called Dominion 3 at the time)‌—‌I was at about 45,000 words already, and still had half the month to go!

So I set myself a different challenge‌—‌I might not get to the end of the story, but I’d aim for 100,000 words by the end of November‌—‌a double NaNo.

I made it, just. And a couple of weeks into December, I had the first draft of Deep Water finished.

But that’s all it was‌—‌a first draft.

There is a complaint that is often levelled at NaNoWriMo‌—‌that 50,000 words of first draft is not a novel. And this is true. But NaNo has never been about creating a completed novel in a month. There is no expectation that writers will start the month with nothing, and will then have a finished product, ready to put out into the world, by the 30th. Oh, people have done this‌—‌Sean Platt and Johnny B Truant wrote their book The Dream Engine over a month, in their Fiction Unboxed project. They started with nothing, planned the story, wrote it, edited it, got a cover, and had a finished product on sale by the end of the month‌—‌and they broadcast the whole process live on the internet.

But they are the outliers. They are doing this writing thing full-time, and they have a machine-like collaborative process. Those of us who are mere mortals have to contend with day-jobs. The majority of us simply cannot work that fast.

And, for a great many people, this can lead to despondency‌—‌if they can’t compete, why bother? There are so many people out there who have started, and then abandoned, their writing projects.

These are the very people NaNoWriMo is trying to help. One of the best encouragements for continual writing is a sense of achievement, and one of the most important achievements is completing that first draft, especially for a new writer.. And, with NaNo, there is no sense of judgement. From what I’ve seen, there is an incredibly positive vibe about the whole thing. Yes, people are proud when they ‘win’ with their 50,000 words. But there is just as much encouragement given for the ones who struggle to find the time in their busy lives, and finish with a word count of 30,000, or only a couple of thousand. They have still taken part, and they have still pushed themselves. They might not have ‘won’, but they have not lost, because with those few thousand words they have come closer to the end of that first draft. Every single word written brings the completion of the project a step closer.

I wanted to take part in NaNo this year‌—‌not for the encouragement to write, because I’ve already proven to myself that I can complete a first draft, but for the sense of community, and the chance to ‘meet’ others, like me, who have this writing bug. But things haven’t worked out. Over the summer, I planned Dominions 4. I didn’t want to wait before I started writing, not while so much was fresh in my mind, so I ploughed on, and finished the first draft about a week before the end of October.

But a first draft is not a finished book. It is only the start. The first draft of Dominions 4 was (is?) a mess. I was aiming for 100,000 words, but ended up with something closer to 150,000, so I have loads to cut. There are problems with the structure, and I don’t believe some of the characters’ motivations. It is a long way from being the novel I wanted to write.

A first draft is never perfect‌—‌far from it. Some people refer to it as the ‘vomit draft’, in part because it is, for many people, simply a case of getting the words out, but also because it often stinks, and needs to be cleaned up.

And that is what I am doing now, with Dominions 4. I’m deep into my first pass of editing (what I refer to as my ‘Kindle edit’, because it starts with me reading the text on my Kindle, as if it were a book, and making notes on all the major problems with the story). So I won’t be doing much writing over November. I won’t be taking part in NaNoWriMo.

At least, not in the normal way. But I’ll still be taking part in spirit. I won’t be working on my first draft, but I’ve set myself an alternative target. I might have started this edit at the tail end of October, but I’m aiming to finish before the 30th of November. For me, this is National Novel Editing Month‌—‌NaNoEMo.

I might not ‘win’, but even if I don’t finish this edit until December (or later), I’ll do what I can this month. Along with all those who are flying through their words, and those who are struggling to find the time to turn on their laptops, I’ll be working on my story. I’ll be watching the days, and be thinking of how much I have left to get through. And, when I’ve finished this edit, I’ll let the thing sit before doing another pass. There is still a long way to go before the writing becomes a book.

So, for anyone out there who is taking part in NaNoWriMo‌—‌keep at it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t reach that magic 50,000, or if you sail past it. You’ll get to the end of that first draft sooner or later, and when you do, you can give yourself a pat on the back, maybe have a drink or two, and take a moment to realise what you’ve achieved.

The vomit draft is over. You have a story, in all it’s messy glory.

Now comes the next stage.

Now comes the time to turn it into something special.

Deep Water (Dominions III) out now

Deep WaDeep Water (DominionsIII)ter (Dominions III) is now available from all major e-book stores. Click here for a list of them.

It’s probably my favourite of the three novels in the series so far. It answers many of the questions raised in Dark Glass, especially about Rodin and Paskia.

But it’s not the end. Dominions will continue. The whole series is going to be structured as a collection of trilogies. Deep Water completes the first trilogy, which is focused on Rodin. He will return (probably in Dominions V), but the next trilogy will deal with larger issues around the Dome and the surrounding districts (and further afield).

I’m working on Dominions IV at the moment, but it won’t be ready until well into next year. But for now, there is the first trilogy, ending with the new book, Deep Water.