Word Count, Text-to-Speech = Madness

By | February 27, 2009 | 2 Comments

Advice: Avoid writers when they start talking or writing about, well, writing. We’re a bunch of self-involved, arrogant bastards, friend, and we will bore you to death with our own perceived genius. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

First off, word counts. I never used to truck with word counts. I wrote whatever I felt like and didn’t worry too much about how long it was, and, believe it or not, things usually worked out just fine. The idea of counting words would have disturbed me, to be honest, as I had better things to do, like hang out on streetcorners drinking blackberry brandy and wondering why no one thought I was cool.

Of course, this was waaayyyyy back in time, before computers were everywhere. I typed everything on an old manual typewriter, and it was good. Eventually, for cover letter purposes, I figured out that every page was approximately 200 words, give or take, but that’s as far as I went.

Even now, when misguided publishers have actually paid me for my work, I usually only worry about word count after I’ve written the first draft, and then it’s just idle curiosity to see how far off the mark of a Real Live Novel I am. Usually I’m in the money. I have a weird instinct for that. Can’t explain it, and it’s one of two talents I actually have, the other being the ability to drink entire fifths of whiskey and still bike home. Well, someone’s home, anyway.

A few months ago, I knew I had about 3 months of down time while I pondered story ideas for the next Cates novels, routed them to interested parties, and got contracts signed. I didn’t want to do what I usually do with downtime, which is to drink too much and sit around strumming chords on the guitar and making up songs about my thrilling adventures, so I decided on an experiment: If I had 3 months, I’d write a book in 3 months. Hell, folks write novels in 1 month for NaNoWriMo, right? SO I figured if I wrote 1000 words a day, I’d have something novel-length at the end. So I set off. And I did it, or just about – it actually took me one week longer to finish it up.

It’s not bad. I doubt it’ll ever get published, but a version of it might. Who knows?

But I’ll tell you this much: I’m never going to keep track of word count again. I hated doing it, found it got in the way of my creative flow, and in the end I don’t know if I necessarily wrote any more or any more efficiently because of it. So it’s back to tossing words in the dark and hoping for the best.

Naturally, this isn’t meant to argue that everyone should do as I do. If word count as a daily/weekly/whatever goal works for you, go with Gary and do yer worst. For me personally, I’m done, beyond the macro word-counting to make sure I’m not about to send my publisher a 20,000-word premise instead of a 80,000-word novel.

SECOND, since I actually do have books out there in the marketplace (huzzah!) I have to pay attention to things like the Authors’ Guild’s stance on the new Text-to-Speech feature of the Kindle 2. Which basically seems to boil down to: The guild considers the TTS feature to be a derivative audio work of the novel, for which fancy lads[1] like myself ought to be paid. This despite the fact that the “voice” of the Kindle 2 sounds like the Kindle 2 is begging you to euthanize it.

Now, I am not a lawyer but I’ve had three cocktails, so: I don’t think you can really argue that anything read aloud by anything is a “derivative work”. The Guild’s role is to protect authors’ rights, and the thought process goes like this:

  • 1. Audio books cost $$$ – the famous voice, the packaging, the high production values.
    2. Kindle 2 will read your cheap ebook for pennies on the dollar in a voice that will make you wish to jab knitting needles into your ears.
    3. Therefore no one will bother buying audio books because they will just buy the cheap ebook and let it read them into hypnosis while driving, then order them to kill everyone.
  • Maybe there’s a tiny point there, in that if people own a Kindle 2 AND they are the sort of people who buy audiobooks, they might stop buying audiobooks because their melodious Kindle 2 gives them what they want, aw yeah. And potentially declining sales of audiobooks seems to me to be the obvious real motive here. But the larger point is, you can’t stop this shit, man. The technology has already time-traveled into the future and defeated your future armies. New features are going to be developed and attached to popular technologies, and you cannot put these things back into the box.

    In other words, even if through voodoo or magic or litigation Amazon is forced to remove the TTS feature from the Kindle 2, what happens when your iPod can read books aloud, or your netbook, or your wristwatch, or a small man who can live inside a knapsack you carry on your back at all times? This kind of unstoppable technological breakthrough is unstoppable, and very quickly becomes omnipresent. Think MP3s back in 1994: the RIAA tried to suppress that, too, and boy-howdy that worked.

    Of course, you have to put things in language I’ll understand: Things like royalties and high finance make me sleepy, but if you tell me that the Kindle 2 is somehow going to rob me of a bottle of Glenlivet 12 in the year 2013, and I will suddenly get all Hulky and smash things.

    [1] UPDATE 2/28: I would like to be referred to as The Fancy Lad from now on, okay? Yes, I have been drinking. What of it?

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