The Case for CodeX

Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich argue for the need to replace the word “ebook”:

We need to embrace digital reading as its own medium, not just a book under glass. That means imagining a new language for reading as an experience, starting with a new word to use instead of book.

Their solution comes from “a crack team of novelists, journalists, and publishers conducting a gonzo experiment in the future of publishing”:

With some trepidation, we would like to nominate codex, a word with a rich history that most of us don’t know anything about. Codex, derived from the Latin caudex (meaning “trunk of a tree”) even happens to contain the English word code, which will be central to the future of reading in a variety of ways. The things we’ll be reading in the future will not only involve a lot of programming; they’ll also require readers to decode complex, multilayered experiences and encode their own ideas as contributions in a variety of creative ways. Since standard printed books are technically codices, we propose (with significantly more trepidation) to distinguish our variant with one of those annoying midword capitals: codeX, to remind us that these new things involve experience, experimentation, expostulation … you know, all those X things.

They go on to refer to X-Men and the X games and make other arguments.

I’m not sure I agree with all the reasoning here, and I’m not even sure you can improve on the word ebook, which to my ear conveys a notion of these things being booklike but slightly different, with the e as the subtly perfect stand-in for the difference. How many calls for renaming email have you heard lately?

That said, I do like the nod to the old texts that you get with codex. Now that I’ve gone through the process, I feel like there’s something very monklike in handcrafting your own book.

Image credit:

Movellas: An Update

Since the primary distinguishing characteristic of a novella is length, it occurs to me that our quest for the greatest novella-like movie may need to consider runtime as one of its qualities. I will somewhat arbitrarily say it needs to be longer than 60 minutes (to distinguish it from television episodes). Ninety minutes feels like the right cutoff, and I’ve already proposed two that were below that. (Woody Allen’s Zelig and John Huston’s The Dead.)  I see this particular quality (sub-90-minute movies) has been explored.

Rope is a good addition.

Also Before Sunrise (which I mentioned before). City Lights? I’d have to watch that again. Purple Rose of Cairo – well, maybe, but it is almost like a long short story. (Again, I’m basically reduced to going on feel.) Several of the Godard films work, and maybe the Bergman, although those are almost like short novels more than novellas.

Have a favorite movella? Let me know!

Self-Publishing Update: Rocking Digital Marketing

Another great podcast from Simon over at Rocking Self Publishing.  This time it’s an interview with Kevin Leigh, indie author of Gollup the Woods, Twin Power, a book for young adults based on stories his father used to tell the family about Ireland. In his real life Kevin handles digital marketing for a chain of auto dealerships, and he’s leveraged some serious marketing know-how into his promotional work for his book. The whole episode is filled with great advice.

A couple of key points for me from this one:

Point Number One: Don’t Panic

As is often the case, as I was listening I began to get a little overwhelmed by the number of different things you can do to promote a book (and the thought of how much time and effort it would take to get each of them up and running). I think the best approach is probably to absorb it all, then set out to try at least one or two that seem like they make the most sense for you.

In my case, I was not so thrilled about sending an email to my Outlook contacts via Mailchimp. However, I did like the idea of using Google’s shortlinks to help me track the traffic to my blog, so I’m trying that.

I’m also intrigued by the idea of using a digital text reader to help with the editing, so maybe I’ll try that as well.

Onward and upward!

Point Number Two: About Simon

Simon is not an author but an audiobook reader! His podcast comes from an interest in self-publishing and a desire to put his recording equipment to good use. What a great idea – people who listen to the podcast will surely get a great sense of how their book will sound with him as the narrator.

But Simon, why not put some information about this on your about page? Your modesty in this area seems at odds with all the good marketing advice you and your guests have been providing!

Self-Publishing: On the Dignity of Small Audiences, Part II

Previously we wrote about the small readership Alice Munro had for the first fifteen years of her publishing career. Next up: William Carlos Williams (of “The Red Wheelbarrow” fame) whose 1935 collection of poems An Early Martyr sold just eight copies its first year.

Recall my modest goal for my novella (available now!): just ten copies to break even and launch me to Level 5 on the Ladder of Success.

And if I achieve this goal within a year I will be doing better than William Carlos Williams. Doing better in quality? Doubtful. In finding readers? Demonstrably!

Onward and upward!

Image: William Carlos Williams, 1883-1963 / Hugo Gellert, 1892-1965 / Crayon, ink and pencil on paper, c. 1930 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Most Novella-Like Movies?

A person holding a hammer thinks everything looks like a nail… but does a person obsessed with novellas see them everywhere? Apparently.

I saw the exquisite Before Midnight on a cross-country flight last week (thank you, Virgin America, for providing the best in-flight entertainment package currently in existence, and also for using those purple lights that put everyone in a let’s-be-human mood as they board).

I have really come to love this series of movies, maybe because I’m growing up with them. And even more because they feel very adult. I often find myself seeing both sides in the arguments that Ethan Hawke and Julia Delpy have. They’re both being reasonable! And yet there’s conflict! Because life is difficult!

And then it occurred to me: an intense focus on a single set of problems, a limited set of characters, a strong drive from start to finish, a compact timeframe… this is sounding a lot like the filmic equivalent of a novella! (A movella?)

What is the most novella-like movie you can think of? For some reason I’m putting Zelig (84 minutes!) down as my choice, though John Huston’s The Dead (83!) is a close second. And I would not argue with any of the Before movies.

Or the Kieslowski Three Colors movies? What are they but a trilogy of movellas?

Is there some way other than feel to judge this?

What do you think – what has your vote for the best movella of all time?

Great Novella Tournament of Champions: Interim Update

Readers, rest assured! I’m busy working on the next installment of The Great Novella Tournament of Champions.

A sneak preview: two more heavyweights, a German vs. a Russian. You. Will. Not. Be. Disappointed.

And after that: Will the brilliant protege knock off the Old Master? We shall see.

In my Alice Munro Nobel afterglow (evidenced here and here), I considered adding a Munro novella (or long story) to the queue. Brilliant Reader Alison nominated “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You,” which is no doubt as beautiful and devastating as the rest of Munro’s works. But who should I pair her with? Chekhov? William Trevor?

Suggestions are welcome!

Self-Publishing: On the Respectability of Small Audiences

I was still feeling the afterglow of the Alice Munro announcement, so I headed over to Munro’s Paris Review interview. One of the things I was struck by was her description of the first fifteen years or so of her career:


I was about thirty-six [when my first book came out]. I’d been writing these stories over the years and finally an editor at Ryerson Press, a Canadian publisher that has since been taken over by McGraw-Hill, wrote and asked me if I had enough stories for a book. Originally he was going to put me in a book with two or three other writers. That fell through, but he still had a bunch of my stories. Then he quit but passed me onto another editor, who said, If you could write three more stories, we’d have a book. And so I wrote “Images,” “Walker Brothers Cowboy,” and “Postcard” during the last year before the book was published.


Did you publish those stories in magazines?


Most of them got into Tamarack Review. It was a nice little magazine, a very brave magazine. The editor said he was the only editor in Canada who knew all his readers by their first names.

I’m not sure of the circulation, but since the Tamarack Review editor claimed he knew every reader by name, it can’t have been very large. Fifty? A hundred?

I myself spent a few years trying to place stories in journals like that. What finally made me give up is not the discouragement of rejection – I was fine with that. These places get hundreds of submissions and only have a few slots. No, what did me in with the little magazines was this: I did not know anyone who read them who was not themselves trying to get published in them. God bless the editors, who were working like crazy for not much more than a love of literature; it would be wonderful to have a person like that approve of your work. But what is that, in the end, but one person approving? Is that really so different from a few five star reviews on Amazon?

That seems like the biggest difference between the publishing prospects for literary fiction today and the one that existed in the second half of the twentieth century. Today you can upload your book and make it available to the world. For free? For 99 cents? For $4.99? It’s up to you. Maybe you’ll get three reviews. Maybe you’ll get ten. But you will have some readers. Not many, you say? Well, that’s not so bad. You’re just getting started. And it worked for Alice.

Alice Munro Photograph: Kriston Ross/PR

Independent Publishing: What Would Dr. Johnson Do?

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Okay, let’s see. What do agents and publishers have to offer a new author?

Free editing? Nope.

Marketing, surely? Not much of that either.

So… you edit everything yourself, before it gets to the publisher. Maybe you even hire someone to help.

Then the book comes out and you are left to your own devices to get the thing in the hands of readers.

And in exchange? You now have a lot of people who are entitled to a cut. And who get to decide what to do with your book. Forever.

One is reminded of the great Dr. Johnson’s letter to his “patron“:

Seven years, my lord, have now past since I waited in your outward rooms or was repulsed from your door, during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it at last to the verge of publication without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before. . . . Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind: but it has been delayed till I am indifferent and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary and cannot impart it; till I am known and do not want it.

Ah yes. Imagining Dr. Johnson with access to the Internet is a sweet, sweet thing (Best… Blogger… Ever…).

An Open Letter to Laura Miller

Dear Ms. Miller,

We have not always seen eye-to-eye in the past. And my tone was perhaps inappropriate. However, I will try to do better. I think your heart is in the right place and I have long appreciated your devotion to good writing and good literature. I am a fan of yours when you’re not being condescending! (Sorry, tone again. Mea culpa.)

I was interested by your statement that you are working on a series of articles on the changing literary landscape. I myself have come to view these changes as a great positive force for good. If that is too optimistic, then perhaps we can agree that change is inevitable; what we can hope for is that each of the constituent groups affected by the change will benefit to the appropriate extent.

I think the key main groups that will be affected are publishers, writers, and readers. (There may be others, such as bookstores, critics, teachers, and librarians, but I think these are the core three.) The key questions as I see them are these: Which of these groups do we want to see prosper? And how do we measure this?

Frankly, I expect publishers (and agents to the extent they are allied with them) to fend for themselves. They’ll figure out a way to make money or they’ll do something else. I do not care if at the end of the day Company A is ahead of Company B. Or if Grand Poobah C retires early while Grand Poobah D is forced to keep slaving away. We need to fight for the interests of writers and readers. I’m willing to base the success of publishers on how well they’ve served these two groups.

Moving on, while I’ve mocked the Great Fear of the Almighty Slushpile in the past, I do think there are ways in which readers can lose. Certainly if writers stopped writing, readers would lose. If books became more expensive than they are now, that would be a setback for readers. So too would reduced formatting options – if printed books disappeared altogether, for example, that would be a great blow for most readers.

The last group, and the one I want to focus on here, is writers. And the problem of measurement looks hopelessly formidable. What’s better – a thousand writers finding a way to publish for the first time? Or an established writer who is able to quit her job and write only what she wants? (And if that’s our goal, the patronage system might defeat anything currently on the horizon.) What are we trying to achieve here: A Nobel Prize winner? An all-time classic novel? A hundred really good books a year? Or a broadened field of a thousand, a hundred thousand, a million books out of which great art may arise (or may not). If we take publishers and agents out of the picture, do we think great art won’t happen at all? Or that we won’t be able to recognize it?

The problem is that any analysis of writers slides into an analysis of which writers you want to privilege. Do you believe there are a small number of people – the Great Authors of Our Generation – we should be looking out for? Do we open the doors completely and give everyone a shot? Opinions will no doubt differ.

What I would like to propose is a framework for a utilitarian analysis of the impacts of change on writers as a category, without privileging one type of author over another. In fact, I’ve already done so, with my Levels of Financial Success for Writers. I would hope that your forthcoming articles will not be limited to a few anecdotes but will instead look at the big picture. How will changes move writers up and down these rungs? How much do we value each of these categories? We all have opinions about what kind of books we want. What kind of world do we envision for writers?



What They Knew #10

Some films are slices of life. Mine are slices of cake.

–Alfred Hitchcock