Writing for the Very Young

As someone who’s read books to his children and (more recently) his grandchildren, I’ll offer my thoughts about books for the very young. Here I’m considering books for children who haven’t begun to speak yet.

baby-looking-at-the-bookI believe the writer and reader of such books share a profound duty, one they shouldn’t take lightly. They work together to create an experience, from a first and indelible impression to a repeated pattern that becomes an ingrained habit. Their shared purpose has several facets:

  1. To entertain. This is not as important for this reading audience as it will be when they get older. Perhaps I could have phrased it as “To avoid boredom.”
  1. To teach vocal communication. The child needs to understand the one-way vocal transmission of thoughts and ideas. Sure, you don’t need a book for that, but the book provides something to look at while the speaking/listening communication takes place.
  1. To transmit the joy of human story-telling. It’s a primal human trait; we tell stories.   We convey life lessons through the use of characters, which make the lessons clearer. We pass down the stories through generations, and that strengthens an understanding of ancestors and the past.
  1. To imbue a love of books and reading. At some point the child will realize the book always opens the same way; the pages are always moved one at a time in the same order; the book doesn’t change from one reading to the next; and there must be some connection between the funny little marks and the sounds the reader is making. The child should come to see reading a book as a quiet, comforting experience.

The reader has a huge part to play in accomplishing these purposes. I think it’s important to introduce books in brief doses. Don’t even read the whole book at first. Gradually lengthen the time spent reading. In every case, you should finish before the child is ready for you to finish. In other words, don’t associate reading with boredom. Needless to say, vary your voice pitch as you read, and read with dramatic emphasis.

Enough about reading. For the writer, you have only pictures, words, and book layout to work with.

  1. Pictures. At first, the child will know your book only through the pictures. Make them bold, colorful, and immediately obvious.
  1. Words. The child won’t understand the written words, but will experience them by listening to them. Use short, simple words.   Make use of rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, and onomatopoeia. Use words that sound good together.
  1. Book Layout. Consider cloth or plastic pages for early books, or a thick grade of paper. Don’t put too many words on a page; make the reader keep turning pages frequently.

Another thought on book layout—as the shift to e-books continues for adults, e-books will soon appear for adults to read to small children. From what I can tell, the ones available now still have real pages to turn, and the book narrates its own story without needing an adult. I think there would be value in a sturdy e-reader able to display pictures and text, but requiring an adult to read it.

Whether you write books for little tots or read books to them, please take the task seriously. If you do it right, you’ll spark a love of reading. If you do it wrong, the child will forever consider reading boring. Thank goodness Mom and Dad did it right for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

October 12, 2014Permalink

9 Things the World Loses With E-Books

Most weeks I blog about writing, but this time the topic is more about reading, specifically the technology of reading.

As you can tell from my fiction, I write quite a bit about people coping with new technology. I’m fascinated by the process of one technology supplanting another. The process forms a repeating pattern, whether you’re discussing the transition from sailing ships to steamships, from horse to car, or from dirigibles to airplanes.

ebooks vs books 002When society is in the midst of such a technology transition, as we are now moving from traditional paper books toward electronic books, or ebooks, debate often rages about which technology is ‘better.’ Some people embrace the new, others cling to the old.

Those who cleave to more traditional technology often use arguments based on ‘romantic’ ideas, things like aesthetics and the lifestyle that will be lost. In other words, the world has formed itself around the old technology, and layered infrastructure and culture around it. When traditionalists envision a new technology supplanting the old, they associate the old tech with its accompanying milieu, and bemoan the loss of all of it.

I’ll not wade into the argument about whether print books are better than ebooks.   For one thing, most of my published books are available only in ebook form. For another, the marketplace will decide the real answer no matter what I say.

Besides, no new technology ever completely stamps out an old one. People still use sailboats, ride horses, and fly in balloons, as part of nostalgic connections with the past.

Let me play the crotchety old traditionalist today, and tell you young whippersnappers all the things you lose with ebooks.

  1. What’ll you do when the power fails and your battery runs out? Can’t recharge your e-reader then, can ya? I’ll still be reading my print book by the light of a flashlight or candle.
  1. Can’t really lend or sell your ebook to a friend. Oh, you could loan ‘em your reader, but then you can’t read until your friend gives it back.
  1. You can’t impress anyone with your ebook. You can’t hold it prominently while waiting for a bus or walking in a school hallway, letting everyone know what you’re reading (or what you want them to think you’re reading).
  1. You can’t dazzle anyone with your whole library. Think o’ them commercials for lawyers, or politicians on the talking head shows. They always have a bookshelf behind them, lined with important-looking books. Think of all those books stored in an e-reader, and that e-reader sitting alone on the bookshelf. Not quite the same impact, is it?
  1. Try putting your e-reader on your coffee-table. ‘Nuff said.
  1. Got little kids? Oh, they’ll be real enthused about reading when you snuggle up with your e-reader. My grandkids much prefer the real books with pictures and pages that turn. They love those pop-up books, too.
  1. Looks like some bit or byte got out of place and your ebook froze up. Too bad. I’m still readin’ right along with my print book, with no circuit cards or software glitches in sight.
  1. Every book is different, and deserves to be different, and separate from other books. Your ebook reader jams ‘em all together so they all seem the same. Print books have different sizes, shapes, colors, fonts, paper thicknesses, and smells. All that stuff combines with the content to form the overall experience of the book.
  1. Are you a collector? Not only is it tough to impress folks with your ebook collection, but it’s not like the collection’s value will go up with time, like first edition print books do.

There have been some really good blog posts written on this subject by others, notably here, here, and here.  To repeat, I believe the marketplace will sort out whether ebooks truly replace print books, but no matter what, print books will never truly vanish. A lover of ebooks and traditional books alike, I’m—

Poseidon’s Scribe

What Should Your E-Book Cost?

Most authors (including me) are not experts in economics.  Many of them might have a vague idea that if their book was priced high, they’d make more money.  But this ignores the relationship between price and quantity sold.  The author should be seeking to maximize income over all, not income per book sold.

Caveat:  I’m no economist, so this is my best guess at the economics of e-book pricing. The thousands of economists who read my blog should comment and correct any errors I make.

Supply-and-demandThe relationship between price and quantity, from the consumer’s (or reader’s) view, is what economists call the demand curve.  Price something high and few people will buy it, and vice versa.  In classic economic theory, the demand curve gets paired with a supply curve and the intersection of the curves yields the equilibrium price.  The theory behind the supply curve is that high prices compel suppliers to produce more, and vice versa.

How does this apply to your electronic book?  The demand curve indicates you’ll sell more books at a lower price and fewer at a higher price.

But you can throw the supply curve out the window when it comes to e-books.  Why?  The supply curve is based on some assumptions, which are true for most products:

1.  If you’ve produced x  items so far, there is some measureable effort expended and resources used to produce the x + 1 item.

2.  Since resources are needed to produce the x + 1 item, it is possible to have shortages or surpluses of the item.

3.  The market is competitive.

None of those assumptions is true for e-books.  After the first book is produced, there is zero effort and zero resources expended for all the books that follow.  Therefore there can be no shortages or surpluses.  Also, the market is not competitive; there is only one source for your book.  Whoever publishes it has exclusive rights, though they may license competitive distributors to get the book to readers.

So it’s impossible to draw a supply curve for an e-book.  Quantity is irrelevant, so no supply curve, and no equilibrium price.

If you’re an author wondering whether your e-book is priced right, the lack of a supply curve and equilibrium price doesn’t leave you any more lost than you would be otherwise, though.  That’s because those curves represent a reasonable theory of how most markets work.  In practice, things get difficult.

Here’s a thought experiment:  Say you want to plot the demand curve for your just-published e-book using real data.  You set the price at $10,000 and nobody buys it.  You gradually lower the price each week and plot the sales data.  Eventually your book is priced at $0.01, demand is very high, and you’ve got your complete curve drawn.

The problems are: (1) many decades have elapsed, and (2) you haven’t ended up with the real demand curve after all, but pieces of many curves.  That’s because the curve changes with time too.  Economists say demand curves shift right or left depending on consumer tastes and preferences, the prices of related goods, and other factors which change with time.  What you really wanted at the launch of your e-book was the complete curve at that time, but there’s no practical way to determine it.

Sadly, e-book pricing involves guesswork.  If you’re self-publishing, you can set the price near that of similar books, and alter that price as circumstances warrant.  If you engaged a publisher, you have to trust their guesswork.

They call economics the dismal science, and we’ve arrived at a dismal conclusion.  Don’t blame me.  I’m no economist; I’m—

                                                                  Poseidon’s Scribe

January 26, 2014Permalink