Spritz – The Future of Reading? How Should Writers React?

Web and social media sites have been abuzz about Spritz (http://www.spritzinc.com/), a new app that allows readers to read words at a phenomenal rate and is akin to a technology called RSVP (Rapid Serial Visual Presentation). When I saw this, I thought, “Wow! It’s going to revolutionize reading.” We’ve been reading the same way (tracking words across page be it left-to-right, right-to-left or other) for thousands of years. But the digital age is full of amazing advances, and Spritz appears set to provide another. 

Obviously, for those of us who have a monstrous reading backlog, the first impression is that this is a good thing. Personally, I’ve whittled away at my hardcover and paperbacks to the point that they fit in one set of shelves, and in the process I’ve amassed a library of e-books that I can carry around wherever I go. Along with a hefty wish list and the ever-present list of upcoming titles. So, imagine being able to hum right on through this library with this handy-dandy app! 

But hold on. Critics argue that comprehension goes down the tubes the more words you try to jam into your brain all at once. Spritz gives you the option to slow things down or speed them up, from 250 words/minute all the way up to an eye-blistering 600. But can your brain actually grasp what is going on at those speeds? And perhaps more importantly: would you want it to?

One of my favorite authors is Guy Gavriel Kay. I don’t often re-read books (see backlog + lists above) but I’ve re-read Tigana and A Song for Arbonne several times. Two of my favorite books ever. But one of the things I love most about Kay’s books is his style. Truly, reading one of his books feels as though I’m at the feet of a bard. I never blast through a Kay book. I digest them, piece by piece, enjoying the nuance, the language, the absolute splendor in his voice. I simply cannot imagine capturing all of that by cramming it into my brain at lightning speeds.

Let’s then take the occasional arresting moment. I’m currently reading Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns. I came across a passage (and I don’t want to share it because of mild spoilers) that made me stop. The sentence was fantastic. I re-read it. I tweeted the author about it. It was really that good. Had I whizzed by it at 300 words per minute I might never have given it a second thought nor the author his due.

But to the point. Let’s assume that this catches on with readers. To assume it won’t is to make the same mistake many publishers did when they claimed digital distribution would be a fad. The world is all about speed. Technology changes at a rapid pace. You get your news moments after it happens; you tweet with your friends about what you’re doing right now; and you carry tomes of books on devices that weigh a few ounces. So let’s assume that a few years from now a good portion of the reading world is flying through books using this or some other speed reading app.

Should writers think about that when they sit down to write?

The answer could very well be yes. 

Certainly as a writer of speculative fiction, I’m already considering what my reader can envision in his head. For many speculative fiction authors, world-building is part of the art. Can you see the world I’m trying to build? Is the magic system (if there is one) complex enough that I need to describe it in detail? Setting becomes so critical, because when I say “Athynea falls” … I need to describe Athynea to you, why it was important to the characters who defended it. On the other hand, if I say “New York falls” then you have a picture of New York in your head. 

So the art of world-building, of telling a tale in an otherworld, becomes one of imparting the vision of that world to the reader. Think of Lord of the Rings. Would Tolkien have needed to spend more time describing Minas Tirith if he’d known you were pulling a fly-by? He might have. Because to me, the need for you to comprehend my world, to grasp its rules, is critical to the tale. So in a world where readers are reading at 500 wpm but perhaps not comprehending at 500 wpm, I need to describe my world and my rules in simpler terms or in even more detail. 

And let’s just throw in a brief mention of names. I’m used to creating worlds with strange names: Athynea, Darramor, Logenbressa, Elryssen. To a reader catching these strange names for the first time as they fly by, the import of their name and their place in the world could very well be missed. And if so, what should I do, as an author, to fix that name and that place in the reader’s mind, regardless of whether they’re reading at normal speed or high speed? More description, simpler terms. 

Reading comprehension is obviously critical regardless of what you’re reading. But there are layers to it in speculative fiction that demand the author be precise. If the law of physics is being changed, if the world I’m building is not the one the reader is already familiar with, then I am already concerned about imparting comprehension.

But in the near future, how closely I impart it may need to change with how quickly the reader is reading it.

 

 

Day 11 – Learning to Market My Book

There was a particular scene in the Disney movie Mulan that I really liked. All of the trainees are tripping over each other and causing all sorts of havoc and they land at the feet of the auditor who is now in charge of their training. He looks down his nose at them and writes on his parchment with an imperious, “Daaaaaay 1.”

Being an indie author is sorta like that. There’s a lot of tripping and falling and havoc and at the end of the day you can take a look at how many copies of your book you’ve sold and sigh. Of course there’s always tomorrow.

Ahvarra has been available for 11 days, and I’ve sold 11 copies. The glass half full version of that is “hey, that’s one per day!” We’ll go with that. There’s a lot of works involved in selling 11 copies, regardless of how many went to friends, family, etc. Some have gone to people I don’t know, and that’s exciting and terrifying. I don’t have a review yet, but I’m anxiously F5’ing Amazon awaiting word.

I realize I shouldn’t be nervous. A lot of people have read this book, or at least a prior version of it. An entire writing group’s worth of people, more than a dozen, gave me line edits, character consistency comments, story/plot feedback, etc. It’s gone from a 180K+ word draft to a crisp 120K+ word novel. It’s a novel. And at least from the feedback of the writing group, a good one.

Which leads me to the marketing. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a flock of people just waiting for my book to hit Amazon. And so the marketing has begun. A Facebook author page (with the obligatory “Like me here: https://www.facebook.com/ahvarra), signing up for free advertising from eBook sites, looking into things that might or might not be legitimate, and finally learning how to tweet. 

I’ve followed a lot of people on Twitter over the past 11 days. Some of them likely think I’m stalking them, and I’ve undoubtedly made a social media faux pas or two already. I’ve horned in on conversations (are they really private if they’re on Twitter?), I’ve started a fight over whether dark or milk chocolate is superior (dark) and had actually had a brief discussion with two of my favorite authors about single malt scotch. And in the process, I’ve gained followers, and maybe one or two sales, along the way. 

But it’s a scratch and bite business. There’s no doubt that seeing my Amazon rank in the thousands early on was exciting, and seeing it dip to 300,000 was… not. Meanwhile, I’ve got a full time job, boys who need help with homework and to continue plugging away on the second book. Which reminds me, I need to get the writing group back together again.

But you know what? I wouldn’t change it. I’m a published author. Bring on Day 12.

Best Fans and What’s Next?

I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about my family, who are definitely my #1 fans. First off my wife is simply amazing. She has helped me find a way to host this web site, wrote most of the biography I used on Amazon (because apparently when I try to write about myself it’s boring), and has been supportive every step of the way to making Ahvarra’s publication a reality.

My eldest son immediately captured a picture of my cover and put it up on Instagram, urging his friends to buy it. 🙂 He’s taken on lead marketing duties and, once he’s caught up on all his schoolwork, wants to read the book.

My youngest son immediately started reading the book and loves it. He likes to tweet about it while he’s reading it, so he’s not only enjoying the reading but also helping with the marketing. 🙂

My brother was book sale #1 and my sister was book sale #2. 

Just want to say how great it is to have my family in full support of this book and my writing career. It is truly a pleasure and blessing!

 

Now, as for what’s next? Well, I’ve only sold 10 copies in the first week, so there will be a continued marketing push. Really looking forward to getting some reviews up on the site to see the reaction from my audience.

Other than that, it’s on to my second book. This one will be darker than the first. It’s also one I wrote some time ago, so I’m pulling it out of the drawer and starting the laborious self-editing process before engaging with the writer’s critique group again. 

Originally this second book was to be completely separate from Ahvarra, but again my wife stepped in with a fantastic idea. I’m going to need to make some pretty interesting modifications, but tying it to Ahvarra by sub-titling it “A Tale from the Other Side of the Heart of the World” will at least keep an over-arcing story — and a consistency to my magic system — in place.

And It’s Complete!

I just finished. I hit the “save and publish” button and Amazon whisked Ahvarra away for review. In 12 hours or so, the English version of the book will be available.

It’s difficult to describe my feelings. I’m both tremendously euphoric that I’ve gotten the book to this point, where I consider it done, ready for the world; I’m also quite a bit nervous that the world will say, “Meh.” And obviously I’m full of hope as well, that many readers will find the story interesting, riveting and will feel the pull of the characters and world I’ve created.

When I began writing Ahvarra I wanted to tackle different themes than what I saw in traditional fantasy. Much of the genre had seemed to me at the time to be locked in the epic tale of good vs. evil. It also seemed that you couldn’t pick up a fantasy novel without understanding that it was the first in a trilogy or an even longer series.

I wanted to write a story that didn’t need a sequel. I wanted to write a story where the characters weren’t good or evil necessarily, but where the reader could recognize and even sympathize with their intent. Don’t get me wrong: there are characters whom you will want to see win, and there are characters whom you will want to see lose. But that doesn’t mean that the winners are good and the losers are evil. These characters are, for the most part, people. They have goals, ambitions and interests that conflict with one another. And where there is conflict, there is a story.

I hope you enjoy reading Ahvarra as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Closing In on the Finish Line

Writing a novel can be a humbling experience. Certainly getting it to this point, where I have just a few more pages to incorporate feedback, has been a fully daunting experience. I began writing Ahvarra quite a long time ago. In fact, I thought I had finished it quite a long time ago. But I’ve never necessarily been good at the bit beyond the actual writing. And so this tome, this extremely large tome, sat in a box while the responsibilities of life came along. 

And then came the magic of Kindle, of digital distribution. Authors from all over the globe, who have struggled with the same bits I’ve struggled with — the getting an agent, editor, publisher interested — came out of the shadows and began publishing their work directly. 

So I pulled Ahvarra out of its box and started working through the steps necessary to get it into the right format. My wife, who is much smarter than me, said, “Do you think you should work with someone to get some feedback on it first?”

My book, need feedback? Of course she was right. 

And so came more than a year working with some fantastic people at the Triangle Writer’s Group. And a further six months working with a select few others who are also working on their books. The debt owed to them is immense, for Ahvarra is a much better book today than it was when I started with them. 

I have their feedback now, and I’m down to the last 30 pages or so that need that feedback dissected, considered and incorporated. 

And very soon Ahvarra will be complete, and the process of turning it into a Kindle publication will begin.