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Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

The single life: Progress report on digital short forms

Close to a year ago, a fellow Appazoogler pondered the future of digital shorts and book formats conducive to Kindle Singles. The focus, appropriately, was on form length and our waning attention spans. New York Times columnist Dwight Garner described digital shorts as “long enough for genuine complexity, short enough that you don’t need journalistic starches and fillers.”

Source: Amazon.com

Source: Amazon.com

The latest notable digital short came from mega-author Stephen King in an impassioned gun control essay last week. “Guns” is available on Amazon for 99 cents; King’s earnings from the sale of the essay will go to a nonprofit to prevent gun violence. The Single is comprised of  six chapters, 3-4 pages each. (Amazon’s infuriating “location” function wouldn’t reveal the total number of pages on my cloud reader, but you get the gist.) The length? Appropriate for the content, full of  straight-shooting commentary that is galvanizing—surely penned while King was in an emotional, moved state.

What’s important to note is not only the length, but the time spent producing a Kindle Single. A huge draw for authors writing singles is catering to the need for immediacy. Pieces like King’s are on the coat tails of current events, urgent and shouting, “Quick, listen!” Granted, King sits atop a pedestal granting him the means to churn out whatever he would like in record time. Even so, the cover maybe took 20 minutes in Photoshop. An Amazon editor told The Washington Post, “King finished this essay last Friday morning, and by that night we had accepted it and scheduled for publication today.” In an interview with PaidContent, lesser known author Sloane McCauley outlined the publishing life cycle of her Kindle Single “Up the Down Volcano”:

Everything’s in the author’s control, down to the price. There’s copyediting but no editing. The cover process has a very quick turn-around (especially in my case, as I gave them a photograph I took), as does the ‘jacket’ copy. In both journalism and book publishing, I am accustomed to very long incubation periods during which every detail is up for debate. This has its obvious advantages, especially with a book-length work, and in my opinion that will never change. But it was refreshing to work hard on a piece of writing, declare it done, then submit it, and ship it within a few weeks.”

Sounds like a no-brainer for authors. Scrolling through other Singles best sellers you see King (with Guns” at number one), Andy Borowitz, Michael Connelly, and James Nestor from the Atavist. According to Amazon, Kindle Singles offers “reporting, essays, memoirs, narratives, and short stories presented to educate, entertain, excite, and inform…at a length best suited to the ideas they present.”

But are they all really suited as Singles? Besides “Guns”, other Kindle Singles I’ve purchased or read are “Bearded Lady” by Mara Altman and Part 1 of “Wool”  by Hugh Howey. “Wool” was a thrilling teaser to his longer book, which I enjoyed. But “Bearded Lady”? I found it empty, devoid of enough detail or substance to help me dig into her attempts at a humorous, self-deprecating narrative. I felt cheated out of 99 cents—which I suddenly considered overpriced. At what point is a lightning-fast production period a detriment to the content?

While established writers dip their toes into the “single life,” others may misuse or miscalculate the parameters in relation to their content. Readers: What Singles have you read lately that have fallen short? Bad pun intended…

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This entry was posted on January 30, 2013 by in Culture and tagged , .

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