Sunday, April 8, 2018

Matters Related: What else do you put in a book besides the story?

Zoë Sharp

The eBook revolution was a burst of sudden freedom for the content of books of all types, but especially for novels. Suddenly, there was almost no limit to how much you could include alongside the actual story. A bit like when DVD replaced videotape as the movie medium of choice. Now you had ‘making of’ documentaries, directors’ commentaries, deleted scenes, interviews, stunt reels, and alternative endings, alongside the main event.

Those are the bonus features that fascinate me as a movie viewer. I’ve even been known to buy again a movie I already owned on DVD if the new edition had all those kind of extras on it. Why not the same with novels?

If your story is set in a particular (real) location, would maps of the area add to the feel of it, or provide an unnecessary distraction? Or perhaps it is more of a requirement if your story is set in a fictional locale like GAME OF THRONES.

If you write a series where the books come out at intervals, wouldn’t it be a good idea to remind the reader of the story so far, or would new readers use that to catch up and no longer need to buy/borrow the backlist?

The question is how much information do you include? The jacket copy synopsis? Or simply a couple of lines to tempt the new reader and remind the existing fans? Do you include an excerpt from the next book at the end of this, as further encouragement to keep reading?

When you read a novel, are you interested in what inspired the story, where the author got the idea from, or how they dropped on the perfect ending by some random set of circumstances? How much do you want to see behind the scenes, or will it entirely spoil the magic for you?

Do you want to read an interview with the author about the art of writing, the inspiration behind the series, or how they’ve developed the character?

Or how about extras in the form of a short story? I’ve always thought that what brings readers back to an author is because they like the sound of that author’s voice. What better way to keep talking to your reader than to give them a bonus in the form of another complete example, and one that’s easily digested in a short sitting?

The downside, of course, is the expectation factor. By this, I mean that as you read a digital book you’re told what percentage of the story is still to come. If there are a lot of extras at the end, the actual body copy of the novel could end at 80-90%, leaving the reader feeling somehow let down having thought there was at least another chapter or two to go.

So, I’m left in a quandary, hence all these questions. Once you’ve read a story, how much more story do you want to read?

This week’s Word of the Week is Barmecide, meaning someone who offers something that’s disappointing or an illusion. The word comes from the Arabic Barmakī, who was a prince in the Arabian Nights tales, who offered a beggar a banquet which consisted of decorative but empty dishes.


  1. Myself, I love lots of extras, be they an extra story, author's ramblings, what the author did with the love of their life while stuck in an Uber in the rain...

    I do NOT read "the first couple of chapters" of the next novel (if I liked this one well enough, I'll buy the next one, I don't need a couple of chapters to get me hooked), and I HATE the fact that modern eReaders show %-to-end-of-file instead of %-to-end-of-STORY. Simple software, easy fix, why the hell haven't they fixed it??? But anything else? If the author has a voice I enjoy, I read the dedication, the preamble, the preface, the introduction, the footnotes, the author's note, the afterword, the By-the-Way, and the appendices. If not, I'm too old to read more than about 50 pages. But the extras won't sell me the book, only the story will do that, or rather enough of a hook for a new author. For an author I know and love, don't get between me and the cash register if you value your toes.

    1. Hi EvKa. You make some valuable points. Thank you for those. I think links to excerpts or first chapters would be better than including the chapters themselves, as most people now read on a device that's likely to be connected to the internet full-time, rather than my original Kindle, which I seem to remember had to be plugged in to download new material.

      And trying to calculate the percentage-to-end-of-story would be an interesting bit to include!

  2. I am with EvKa on this. And like you, it's the voice that gets me too, Zoe. A song I love has a line: "Conversation with you is like a drug." Some writers' voices are like that to me. I read them and my brain chemistry changes. Like EvKa, I also hate the eReader page footers. I much prefer paper books still. But I do like it that I can travel around NYC or the world with fifty books in my pocket.

    I love talking process and inspiration with my fellow authors. That REALLY is like a drug. Fills my head with endorphins.

    1. For anyone who travels as much as you do, Annamaria, I know how lovely it is to have so many books to hand. I read on my phone and love being able to do so, although for research books nothing beats a print copy covered in Post-It notes!

  3. As the farmer said in kissing his horse, "Taste is all in the mind of the beholder." [Now, there's a straight line for EvKa to run with if ever I wrote one.]

    Personally, ebooks have made my life much easier, cheaper, and lighter. It used to cost me hundreds of dollars to ship cartons of books to Greece, and getting new books while over there was a drawn out hassle of time, postage and price. Now it takes just the click of a button and voila, I have it.

    But even when back in the States, and taking into account my preference for tree-books, I still find a distinct benefit to ebooks in certain instances. For example, if I'm asked to blurb a book still in manuscript form or moderate a panel involving authors not yet published in the US, it's far easier for all concerned if I'm sent a Kindle friendly version. That also eliminates the guilt I feel at marking up a paper book with notes.

    As for what additional items should be included in an ebook version, that is clearly a matter of taste, though a few things I believe should be included whether in ebook or paper form. Namely, maps if locales are significant, a glossary of foreign terms if not otherwise explained in the text, and a list of characters if so many names are involved as to potentially confuse the reader.

    As for the other things you mention, if they're helpful or of interest to some readers, why not? Those who might be interested will appreciate the effort, those who won't will ignore it. To that I add one caveat. If the author believes such bells and whistles will salvage an otherwise less than stellar bit of work, those barmecides can fugedaboudit.

    1. Ooh, nice appropriate use of Word of the Week there, Jeff! I originally started to add a From The Author's Notebook to my books because I loved sleeve notes on CDs, telling you a bit more about the song, when and where it was written, and what was going through the artist's mind when they did so. I agree, though, that if the music was no good, I wouldn't bother to read them, so a point well made, methinks. The only proviso I make about cast lists is one of the translations for my books included a cast list, even though it wasn't a particularly large cast. This had the effect of ruining a plot reveal that one character was related to another, when it stated this fact at the start of the book. Doh!

  4. Jeff: I only have one comment and one question. First, I never realized you were a farmer. Second, how does Barbara feel about the horse?

    1. I think the phrase was that you shouldn't LOOK a gift horse in the mouth, not kiss it there. (And that's only because you tell a horse's age by checking its teeth, so it might be considered rude to see how many years of work were left in an animal that had just been given to you for free.)

      Hey, I'm trying my best to get you out of trouble, here, Jeff!

    2. And all this time, Zoe, I thought you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth because, “It might bite your head off!”

  5. Well, that's always a distinct possibility with some horses, Jeff. I heard a rumour once that they're not supposed to be carnivores. Nobody told the horse that!