Thursday, July 17, 2014

Changing Expectations across Book Formats

image from: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/breakthrough-capitalism-top-50-books
Something I've been more conscious of since I started to read more audiobooks was how my expectations and standards had changed across various book formats. People told me a while back that they missed my discussion posts, so I thought I might revive them with a discussion on how our standards might change consciously and subconsciously. Also, I have limited working mobility, since two of my fingers on my right hand are in a splint (nothing serious!), and you'd be surprised at how tiring typing gets then. So voila to this post instead of a cover reveal round-up.


For me, audiobooks take the pressure off the author. If the story isn't that great or the characters are not that developed, the narrator can do a lot of work to help change that, infuse the story with a humorous undertone and change the character accents so that they come to life. When the writing is awkward, if the narrator says the sentence in a specific way, I might not notice it as much. Or given my short attention span, I forget about the few sentences that might sound strange because there are five to ten hours worth of words to hear. The flip side of this is that sometimes the narrator can make a sentence that's not awkward sound awkward, but I imagine the director of the audiobook would try his/her hardest to correct those slight errors. Even dry scientific writing styles can feel a lot more alive with an audiobook and its narrator. But audiobooks must also cost a lot of money to produce because there's only a few with them, and they're generally the bigger or more emphasized titles from publishers.

In an ebook, since I've still got the "highlights" section turned on, I'm expecting a book to have a lot of good quotes and scenes to bookmark. I'm more conscious of the novel's "quotability" versus its generic feel and tone. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty dog-earing my books because I know other people hate that and I generally lend my books quite a bit or donate them when I'm finished, which is obviously not the case with ebooks. Ebooks are the perfect format to have if I ever want to revisit an author's writing. As a writer, I like to sometimes look at books as "textbooks;" I want to learn from them and ebooks, with all their highlighted glory, show me too what people absolutely love in a novel. This also awakens the fangirl in me and makes reading the book seem less isolated, like I'm with all these other readers who've loved this line in this book because it reflects X and X about the characters. Ebooks are a perfect tool for learning from and revisiting a novel, looking at its general feel and whether it's worth buying the book in print too, and fangirling with other readers around the world (if your highlights section is still on).

Print books make me feel more conscious of the pacing. I'm really intimidated by large books. If I'm not in the proper mood to read those, well, they'll just sit on the shelf then because it's hard convincing myself to "slug" through those books. If you have to turn all those pages and feel the weight of the book in your hand, it's a lot easier to notice when the authors pauses to meander on some philosophical musing. Print books, like audiobooks, also remind me of how much the publisher has spent on this novel. If there's a crappy cover, it feels as if the title has been pushed to the side. If there's a cover that has symbolic resonance in the novel, I know that someone else has read the book and they've discussed how best to market the novel to a specific audience. Knowing this is also a factor that I think plays in my subconscious experience of the novel because if the publisher is excited about the novel, I probably will be too. It's not just the cover either, but also the font selection, the color, the chapter heading, the general layout. I know a few of my friends dislike some young adult novels because the spacing between sentences is too large and the book then feels younger. In some ways, I think the ebook is the place where the author can shine most; the print most dependent on the publisher's pushing and the audiobook dependent on the narrator you get.

Do you ever notice your expectations or standards changing across book formats? Which format do you prefer to read and why?

24 comments:

  1. My expectations are definitely different across book formats. Narrators can make or break an audiobook (usually they make it better, but there have been a few that make it awful). I also have a hard time reading big books in print. They are just so heavy and have lots of pages and I am always aware of how far I have to go to finish. I prefer to listen to long books, but my ereader pages are always much shorter than the print book so that works for me too.

    I never really thought about it before, but ebooks really do come down to just the author and their writing. Everything else is stripped away!

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  2. I don't use audiobooks (too impatient) so I can only really comment on ebooks and books.


    I have a Kobo so I don't have the highlight feature. Well, I do in the sense that I can highlight stuff but other people won't see it. So my Kobo doesn't really change much except all the text is formatted exactly the way I like it. The difference is that the pages aren't regular book pages. There's more in a page than normal, and I'll say, "Oh, this Kobo book is 280 pages, how short!" and it ends up being extremely long. So it's messed with that perception.


    I agree with you with hard copies of books, the formatting and presentation affects everything, negatively and positively. Some books are gorgeous and will make me want to read them because they're my type (big, solid, small-ish font, clean pages) while others don't appeal to me (paperback, brownish pages, smell).


    Anyway, this was a pretty interesting post on a under-discussed topic. :)


    -P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex

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  3. I'm not sure if my expectations are different in regards to reading via different formats. But I definitely notice differences between audiobooks and print books. There are so many books that I've enjoyed so much more because of the wonderful narration.

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  4. Wow, I think you completely summed it up for me with that last line, Christina. Seriously, I don't think I could be any more succinct in my answer than that. But, basically, here's how it goes for me: I only have print books of those I received for review or those that I already read and loved and had a mighty need for the finished copy. Ebooks I generally read as review copies, as well, or purchase when a particular book that I've wanted to read is on sale. But I definitely agree that this is the format in which an author can really shine. It's just them and their words. And if it works, print copies for me! :) Audiobooks are my catch-all. If I didn't get to a review book, I either request the audio when it's out for review, borrow from my library, or download from Audible. If I had it for review in the first place, I must have wanted to read it for some reason or another, and I don't want it to pass me by, ending in the oblivion that is my TBR. Also, favorites that I want to re-read but don't have time for, or when I need to re-read a series prior to the newest installment's release...these are the times I turn to audio. There are few narrators that I just can't listen to, and I can usually forge through them if I know the story is worth it. But with each format, my expectations and what I take away from the story are very different. As is how I review them.

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  5. I never noticed my own changes when reading different formats of books, but I think I can relate to pretty much everything you said. I typically don't listen to audiobooks because I can't focus long enough, and it feels a little impersonal. If I can read a hard copy and listen, then I'm fine, but otherwise, it just doesn't work. I think I view e-books and print books pretty much the same, except I typically avoid using my Kindle as a mobile thing... I don't know why, but I do. I view print books as more mobile, which is really strange since e-books are typically seen as the mobile format. :D Great post!

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  6. Wow, I really never thought about this before. Great post though, you really hit all the highlights! I read a TON of books by way of audios. Mostly because I have very little "free time" these days, and by listening to audios I can listen in the car, while doing laundry, and sometimes even at work while I'm doing other things. Otherwise I wouldn't even get through a third of the books I read each year. You've really got me thinking now. :)

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  7. " They are just so heavy and have lots of pages and I am always aware of how far I have to go to finish. I prefer to listen to long books, but my ereader pages are always much shorter than the print book so that works for me too." -- EXACTLY!! Somehow the ereader makes it easier to trick myself into reading the longer book than with print. And unless I'm really really really into the story, it's like that heaviness weighs you down too, huh?

    "there have been a few that make it awful" -- do you remember which narrators did this so I can avoid them :O :O?

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  8. Yeah, I know what you mean about ebooks. It does seem to depend on what app you use. Sometimes I'm reading on my phone and the book seems so much longer, like I've gotten through so many more pages because they're smaller. Same with you and Kobo, it sounds like. But it, like the print, depends on the spacing and syntax.

    I can't say that the smell of a book has ever turned me off, even the old, musty library ones, but I can identify with the sentiment. And thanks, P.E.!

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  9. Yeah, I think audios vary. I'm having a hard time with the Night Circus right now because not everything has connected just yet, but other audios have been real easy to focus on and slip back into. It is nice to see how much you've gotten through on the print copy, though I feel like the moment I start noticing the amount of pages is the moment I've slipped out of the text itself... vs. the progress bar on ebooks seems to come up naturally, no matter what I do, so... I may disagree with you there ;). And thank you!

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  10. Me too! What are your examples? For me, The Raven Boys audio amped up my enjoyment of the print copy too :D.

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  11. "I only have print books of those I received for review or those that I
    already read and loved and had a mighty need for the finished copy" == Me too! Or at least how I am now for the most part. The mighty need comes in more frequently than I'd like, even for ones that I just think I'd like.

    "Ebooks I generally read as review copies, as well, or purchase when a particular book that I've wanted to read is on sale." -- ebook sales are the worst for your wallet!

    "I either request the audio when it's out for review," -- is requesting an audio similar to requesting print/ebook/etc.? I don't send out any emails, so I suppose some part of me is hoping that there is an audio request website lol.

    "If I had it for review in the first place, I must have wanted to read it
    for some reason or another, and I don't want it to pass me by, ending
    in the oblivion that is my TBR." -- yes! that's what I'm doing too! Esp. with the recommendations you gave me.

    "There are few narrators that I just can't listen to, and I can usually
    forge through them if I know the story is worth it. But with each
    format, my expectations and what I take away from the story are very
    different. As is how I review them." -- this is a good summary too of your expectations!! :D

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  12. Ooh, I'm curious about your impersonal reaction to audiobooks. To me it feels a little more personal than any of the other formats so :D. Print books are mobile in their own way, and if you don't use your mobile Kindle, they will definitely be the most mobile for you! :D Thank you!

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  13. "Mostly because I have very little "free time" these days, and by
    listening to audios I can listen in the car, while doing laundry, and
    sometimes even at work while I'm doing other things." -- ME TOO!!! Audios are the best for multi-tasking :D. Thanks, Lisa! Here's to us both getting through more books thanks to audios!

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  14. Haha. Have you listened to The Scorpio Races also by Stiefvater. Whoa, such a great audiobook! Also the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman. Oooo and the I Hunt Killers series by Barry Lyga. Those books are creepy, but so good. Oh and also Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. Haha. I love audiobooks. :)

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  15. Ooh, no. I listened to a sample of TSR when I was still only somewhat into audio books, but couldn't get into the accents/narrators, but a lot of people have recc'd TSR so I should try again. And oooo His Dark Materials - I need to read this series & I'm curious what a horror novel will be like on audio :O. Doesn't Libba Bray narrate Beauty Queens? One friend didn't like her enthusiasm or accents or something on it I think, but perhaps I should listen to a sample.

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  16. I love how you compared all these formats. to a large extent, I have to agree with you about formats influencing the way I go about reading all these books. I've enjoyed a couple of audiobooks more than I think I would've if I had read those books myself. At the same time, I've also had a book or two spoilt for me in the past because I just didn't like the narrator. 'Twas a pity for the synopses sounded rather interesting. I do like ebooks a lot for the ease of note-taking and highlighting of notes. I can highlight with reckless abandon and not worry about destroying my books and neither do I need to keep stationery on hand, which's very convenient.

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  17. I've never ever thought about this before but you are so right in all regards! I'm definitely with you on all of them. Especially with the pacing and the physical copy. The size just intimidates me so I often get hung up counting the pages which is why is so much better for me to read chunksters on my Kobo. I find I'm able to let go of the numbers better and just read!

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  18. That is very interesting to look at different formats. I've never thought about it before.

    If we take out the fact that I don't listen to audio books, I definitely think some books could provide from having an entertaining voice. If a middle part is boring and someone can MAKE the story, it will be much easier than having to read your way through it.


    I also like to highlight quotes in my e-book, but now that you've pointed out I'm definitely more aware of sentences than in a physical book. Combined with your next point I sometimes notice I read e-books easier and faster. I don't pay attention to 'how many pages I still have left' although I still prefer the feeling of a physical book. Just the fact I can put it on my shelves makes me happier than closing an e-book I can't see.

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  19. Too true. The narrator can ruin a few audiobooks, but in a way, that makes it so easy to know that it's the narrator, not the book itself, and that if you care enough, you can find the print version to tide you over. I feel like, with print or e-books, I'm always reading to the end with the hopes that things will change whereas a narrator incongruity I can hear almost immediately. "I can highlight with reckless abandon and not worry about destroying my books and neither do I need to keep stationery on hand, which's very convenient." -- Also so true. Though I'm still pretty bad at taking notes ;), which it sounds like you do quite well.

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  20. So agreed! There are a few books that I've got right now that I can't muster the courage to read because they're all so thick. Like Afterworlds is a beast of a book and I'd definitely be counting the pages... Tackling the chunks on Kobo sounds like the smart plan :). Happy reading, Annie!

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  21. Yes, audio really can change the middle part of the book. For instance, I recently listened to Feed by Mira Grant on audiobook, and I feel like I would've enjoyed it so much less had I read the book and been more conscious of the sagging action and info-dumps. But the narrator made it sooooo much more entertaining. "Combined with your next point I sometimes notice I read e-books easier and faster." -- Me too. Like there's a greater compulsivity to reading an e-book? You're not as conscious of flipping that next page so much as what comes next? But yes, of course we should prefer the feeling of a physical book -- all my favorites, as it sounds like you do, I buy if I've enjoyed the audio or ARC or ebook or whatever format. :)

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  22. That's so interesting to look at the distinctions in expectations between the formats. I've only ever listened to one audiobook years ago, but I recently recorded my first audiobook. I'd heard all the lines in my head so many times, it was really odd to hear actors delivering them. I hadn't considered how delivering a line could totally change the impact it has. But it was a really great experience to have them bring their own take on the material.


    I like ebooks more fore rereads than first reads. But I agree the pacing definitely feels different than physical books. I remember once I ended up reading a 500 page ebook but I had no idea I was getting myself into such a long story and I kept being surprised that it wasn't ending. So, now I check beforehand just so I know what to expect.


    I do consider how much investment a publisher has put into a book - but I hadn't thought about how, in some ways, it's more a chance for the publishing house to shine rather than the author. But, honestly, as soon as I open the cover I'm so focused on the authors words that I forget all that. I can step back and decide if I think it warranted the attention it got (or more). But personally I engage with physical books more than ebooks because of the tactile connection.


    But then again - I do love highlighting ebooks :)


    Such interesting comparisons to consider. Thank you.

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  23. How cool - I haven't heard from an audiobook narrator before :D. I hope the experience was well worth the time for you.


    Hahah I did the same with Outlander - being surprised that it wasn't ending. I knew it was a massive book, but I definitely do not think I would've gotten through it without it being an ebook. Checking beforehand is a good strategy, though sometimes you'll still be surprised ;).


    True, I think it's a lot harder to disengage from a physical book because of that tactile connection. But yeah, I do think a publisher can enhance that experience with the quality of the pages and the ink and the cut and the designs within the book. I do think that we fall within the reading experience, but I don't know that it's necessarily separable from the publisher's effect. Though I do agree with you that you can step back after the fact and decide whether the book warranted the attention it got.

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  24. Love this post! I'm always curious to see what others think about different formats. Personally, I have trouble with audiobooks. I find it difficult to focus, and I often have to go back because I missed an entire section. But lately, I've been trying out more audiobooks, and I find it easier to concentrate with some rather than others. My favorite format has to be a physical copy. I actually love seeing the pages pile up on the left, and it makes me feel satisfied with my progress. And, for me, nothing beats the feel or smell of a physical copy. But I do read ebooks from time to time, especially when I receive egalleys. A very thought-provoking post!

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