Seven Minute Read

Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay

Long before sex, there was reading – one of my first joys.

My parents began teaching me the rudiments when I was four and a half. I still recall the blaze of pride when at five and a half I made it all the way through “Dick and Jane” on my own. I had a library card at six, and after that, there was no stopping me. My parents tried, with limited success, to instill a sense of balance. An obedient little girl, I’d go outside to play when they insisted, but I’d be back as soon as I could manage, sprawled on my bed and lost in ancient Egypt or revolutionary France or some colony on Mars.

Through the trials of my life, books have offered constant companionship and intimate comfort. As I age, I console myself with the notion that even if my body fails me, I’ll always be able to read.

Lately, though, I see alarming indications that reading may be going the way of the dodo and the dinosaur. So-called “new media” – predominantly visual – appear to be replacing written text as the preferred way to communicate information. Instead of user manuals or product specifications, companies offer video tutorials and testimonials. College textbooks have a lower text to graphics ratio than ever before. Mobile phone and tablet “apps” use icons for control, eliminating the need for reading or typing. Point-of-Sale systems use pictures or bar codes, not product names, to identify merchandise.

Even the New York Times appears to be following the trend. I receive a daily email with the day’s top headlines and links to the corresponding articles. Over the past few years, I’ve notice more and more of the links lead to videos or slide shows as opposed to text articles. And if you do follow a link to an actual story, you’re assaulted with video ads left and right.

In the so-called real world, I work as a professor. I used to assign reading to my undergraduate students from text books or original sources. I’ve completely abandoned that. I have learned from experience that my students either will not do the reading, or will not understand it. They do not even read my assignments. Instead, they ask me questions whose answers are clearly explained in the (very carefully crafted) instructions.

When I send students an informative article about some technical topic, they want to know if I have a link to a YouTube tutorial.

Yes, I know. I sound like a perfect curmudgeon. All my examples are anecdotal. However, research confirms my observations. According to the American Psychological Association, in 2016 twelfth-graders report spending an average of six hours per day on online activities, reading two fewer books each year in 2016 compared with 1976. Approximately one-third did not read even one book (including e-books) for pleasure in the year prior to the 2016 survey, nearly triple the number reported in the 1970s.

An American Academy of Arts and Sciences survey found that the average time American adults spent reading for personal interest declined at every education level from 2003 to 2018. The largest absolute decline occurred among those with advanced degrees, with the average falling from 39 minutes per day in 2003 to 28 minutes in 2018. The largest proportional decline occurred among Americans with less than a high school education, where the average time spent reading fell by more than half, from 18 minutes per day to eight.

Eight minutes per day reading for personal interest? Can you detect my tone of disbelief?

Meanwhile, have you noticed the recent trend to subtitle online articles and blog posts with estimates of the time they’ll take to read? “Twelve minute read.” “Seven minute read”. “Three minute read.” Does anyone other than me find this disturbing?

First of all, I object to the notion that reading is somehow interfering with other, more important activities. Heaven forbid that you spend too much time reading! This will only take you a couple of minutes, is the implication. Then you can get back to your Facebook feed or your streaming TV series or your Candy Crush.

Second, these annotations suggest that one pass through an article will be enough to assimilate its content. There’s no recognition of the fact that sometimes, you need (or want) to re-read, to re-think and re-evaluate.

Finally, seven minutes for whom? Each of us reads at a different pace. Some of us need more time to understand, others less. Who is responsible for coming up with these measurements, anyway?

I have to admit, I don’t spend as much time as I used to reading for pleasure. Still, I’m always in the middle of at least three books, and I typically devote at least half an hour before I go to sleep to one of them.

Written language is an incredibly efficient method for conveying information. Although there’s a theory that one picture may be worth a thousand words, I don’t believe visual or aural media alone can match the depth and complexity offered by written communication. This is at least partly due to the fact that unlike video or audio, reading does not have to be sequential. You can always go back and reread if you miss something, want to confirm something, or simply want to enjoy an especially well-crafted paragraph a second time.

I worry that society will suffer due to the decline in reading. There’s not much I can do about this social and intellectual trend, however – except to encourage the kids in my life to love books as much as I do.


Tune in next week…

Image by Detmold from Pixabay

When Amazon recently announced the creation of Vella, their new serial fiction offering, I shrugged. I have enough trouble writing one chapter of my WIP per week. Committing to a chapter every day or two just isn’t going to work for me.

In any case, I don’t trust Amazon. I tried to make sense out of their payment policies and it seemed pretty clear that to make any money at all, you’d need to pull in a huge number of readers. Basically, you’ll make about 15 cents per reader, for a 3,000 word episode. (Episode lengths can vary from 6,00 to 5,000 words, with cost to the user proportional to the number of words.) If you wrote a 30,000 word novella (just as an example), serialized it, and one person read all ten episodes, you’d make approximately $1.50. Actually, though, you’re required to provide at least the first three episodes free. So really you’re looking at $1.05 for the entire book.

I would normally price a 30K novella at $2.99. At Amazon’s 70% royalty rate, that’s $2.09 per copy. Tell me again how this is a good deal for writers, please?

In addition, the 15 cents is an upper limit. Amazon will bundle the tokens needed to unlock episodes. The larger the bundle a reader purchases, the better the deal for the reader – and the smaller the value of the individual tokens to the author.

Given this analysis, I was ready to dismiss the entire notion of serialized fiction. Then I got an email from one of my publishers, indicating that they planned to serialize several of my novels on the Radish platform, an independent serialization app.

That got my attention. It turns out that my contracts with this publisher do include serial rights. Furthermore, Radish sounds a lot more interesting than Amazon. Though there’s precious little information on payment available on their site, it’s clear that they support serializing previously published work (though I’d assume they pay less). Furthermore they’re actually looking to commission authors to create serialized stories for hire.

The pay here is quite good: $50 per 1,000-1,500 words, better than a Cleis anthology. Of course I don’t know what the rights situation would be, though I would expect in this case the rights would belong to Radish. One question I’d have is whether you’d get an author credit. If so, you might be able to get some spill over to your other books.

Radish has been funded by some venture heavy weights, so maybe they can actually compete with Amazon.

I have to admit, I’m not fond of the vision promulgated by Radish, of people “consuming” bite-sized chunks of story on their phones while they’re riding on the bus or standing in line in the supermarket. To me this seems to defeat the whole purpose of reading, which is to take some time away from reality and get lost in a fictional world. I also worry that slicing and dicing a book in this way will do violence to the narrative. You can’t have a gradual build-up of tension in a serial format. Every episode needs to have its own hook and own cliff-hanger ending. And I imagine you can’t really rely on readers remembering much from one episode to the next (though perhaps its possible to go back and re-read previously consumed episodes).

Do we really need reading to become like TV? Have people lost the ability to pay attention for anything longer than ten minutes?

I’m probably just being an old-fashioned curmudgeon. Indeed, serial fiction has a long and illustrious history. Some of my favorite Victorian authors including Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins originally published their work in serialized form. Alexandre Dumas released The Count of Monte Christo in 139 installments!

So I suppose this can be considered as the latest instantiation of an honored literary tradition. I find that slightly reassuring – though only slightly.

In fact, I’m considering whether to personally get my feet wet with Radish. I have a half-completed novel that’s been going nowhere for years, a paranormal erotic romance that seems to match the sort of content Radish might be looking for. If I have the time this summer, I might try breaking it up into episodes and publishing them on Radish. I have at least 30K written, so that will give me a starting backlog. Then maybe this will kick me into gear to finish the book!

One question that remains unanswered is whether Vella or Radish will accept explicit erotica, as opposed to romance. One would think that erotic content would be a natural for this format, but I haven’t seen any statement about this anywhere.

Maybe that’s another experiment I could try – or maybe one of you who is more prolific than I am might explore that issue.

If you do, let us know what you find out!


By Lisabet Sarai

I used to be such a good girl. I don’t know what happened.

In the old days, I followed all the rules. I got straight As. I adhered to the high school dress code. I was an expert at figuring out what people wanted and giving it to them. In every area of my life, I aimed to please.

How did I get so contrary?

I guess I got bored. Bored with the same old plots and characters, the same tropes, conventions and clichés. Overwhelmed by ennui when I looked at the best seller lists. The longer I spent in the world of publishing, the more frustrated – even disgusted – I became by the tyranny of genre and the overwhelming influence of whatever is Currently Hot.

Over the past decade and a half (has it really been that long?), I have become progressively less interested in pleasing the masses. Instead, I seem to have cultivated my own personal imp of the perverse.

In the first vampire story I wrote for publication, my hero is a blond, blue-eyed, Midwestern frat boy who doesn’t have Goth bone in his undead body. Unlike Lestat, Edward Cullen or the many recent incarnations of Dracula, he’s not in the least ancient or world-weary – he became a vampire just five years before the tale begins.

My soon-to-be-released paranormal romance The Eyes of Bast turns the traditional “shifter” paradigm on its head. The male protagonist was actually born a cat. A sorceress gave him human form in order to have a vehicle for satisfying her lusts. And if the heroine succeeds in freeing him from the witch’s curse, will he revert to his original feline nature? This is not a typical concern in a shape-shifter tale.

In reaction to the hundreds (thousands?) of gorgeous, athletic, thirty-something Doms crowding the BDSM genre, I have stories that feature a middle aged, overweight master and slave (“Never Too Late”, in my new D&S Duos Book 2) and a dominant who’s half paralyzed from a stroke. I’ve even started writing a tale where the Dom is a quadriplegic, though so far I haven’t had the guts to push that one very far.

Of course, dominant billionaires and submissive virgins are all the rage at the moment. Right now I’m working on a novel entitled The Gazillionaire and the Virgin in which the heroine’s the one who’s richer than Croesus, and the hero is a brilliant nerd with deep theoretical knowledge about sex but no actual experience. Probably it won’t sell any better than my historical novella Challenge to Him, about a filthy rich Gilded Age industrialist and a labor activist.

I can’t blame anyone but myself. I’m just too contrary to write what sells.

When I see a call for submissions that seems worth my consideration, my first thought is “how can I twist this into something different?” This isn’t always the route to getting my work accepted. For example, one editor just couldn’t see the Hindu goddess Parvati as a succubus, despite her consuming the sexual energy of the aspiring ascetic hero. I thought it was a great, original take on the theme, but hey, that’s just me.

One trope that’s been bugging me lately is the Natural Submissive. I’m sure you’ve encountered her. Despite never having had any prior experience with D/s, she surrenders immediately and completely to the charismatic Dominant. Without training, she kneels with perfect grace and wears her bonds without complaint. Oh, and she’s got incredible pain tolerance, too, just what the nasty Dom likes. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read recently where the dominant canes the sub in the very first scene, despite the fact that caning is quite an extreme form of discipline.

Now, I’m somewhat guilty of this cliché myself, especially in my earlier work. “You were born for this,” my slightly cheesy dominant Gregory tells Kate in my first novel, Raw Silk. It’s thrilling to believe that your Master can see through your everyday facade to the kinkiness at your core. To be known – accepted – valued because of one’s dirty desires – that’s intoxicating.

My subs are always conflicted, though, unlike the classic Natural Submissive. They’re shocked by their own behavior. Furthermore, they’re not ready all at once for the worst the Dom can throw at them (and of course the Dom knows this).

So now I’m toying with the notion of writing a story where submission most emphatically does not come naturally. I’m thinking about a female character who really does want to be a competent slave, but who keeps making mistakes – due not to lack of motivation but lack of aptitude and training. Maybe she has joint problems, so she can’t stand being on her knees or suspended from the ceiling. Or perhaps she’s just a natural klutz. Her poor Dom is actually embarrassed to take her to his favorite kink club. He loves her, though, and appreciates her sincerity, so he can’t bear to send her away.

Yeah, I know. Sounds like another best seller, right?

Ah well. At this point, I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I’ve reached official curmudgeon age, hence I have license to gripe with impunity about “the industry”. And as long as I’m writing – and enjoying the process – I’ll continue to seek originality over marketability. That’s just the way I am.

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