Category: kindle

Why no notes or highlighting in Kindle magazines?

I’ve written before of the many reasons why I love e-books. One of those reasons is the ability to highlight text and make notes about what you are reading. I find this enormously valuable, and it is something I would never dream of doing in a physical book.

I’ve been reading a lot of magazines on the Kindle App on my iPad and iPhone lately, trying to catch up with stories that I missed in the SF/F magazines this year. And one thing I’ve noticed is that the highlighting and note-taking functionality doesn’t work or is deliberately disabled. This seems to be true for the four magazines that I read on the Kindle App: Analog, Asimov’s F&SF and Clarkesworld.

Does anyone know: is this a limitation to the Kindle App on the iPhone/iPad? Can you highlight/annotate magazines on a Kindle device? Or is this a limitation of the magazine format on the Kindle? Or, perhaps, is this a deliberate choice by the publisher? Any ideas from the experts out there?

I’m curious because it wouldn’t seem to be a technical limitation. I’ve discovered that I can highlight and annotate my copies of Lightspeed that I receive in ePub format and read in iBooks. So why not Kindle?

The science fiction magazine e-format boom!

I hesitated to update the Kindle App on my iPad to the most current version because of a philosophical issue I had with Apple’s in-app purchase policy. And yet I am weak, and cast my morals aside when the right circumstances arise. Two events converged this evening that convinced me to update the app:

  • Event #1: Fantasy and Science Fiction is now available on the Kindle. There are two versions of it: a free version which contains one story from the issue as well as the non-fiction in that issue. Or the “extended” version which costs $0.99 and contains the full issue.
  • Event #2: I discovered that Analog and Asimov’s are also now available on the iPad version of the Kindle App. However, you have to upgrade to the most recent version of the Kindle App to get them there. Up until now, I could read Analog and Asimov’s on my Kindle, but they weren’t available on the iPad version of the Kindle app. But now they are.

So I caved, and now, I can read all three of these magazines: Analog, Asimov’s and F&SF on my iPad.

In fact, I can read Lightspeed and Clarkesworld on my iPad as well. The former can be purchased issue by issue, but the latter can be had by subscription.

Apex Magazine is also available in e-format. Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show is available for the Kindle (and other e-book format). There are other magazines that are available online or in e-book format. Many of them.

So when people ask if science fiction is dying, or if short science fiction is dying, I look around at all the science fiction magazines, particularly those that are available in e-book format and I say, “Hell no! We are in a short fiction boom the likes of which probably hasn’t been seen since the 1950s.” I simply cannot keep up with all of the great magazine science fiction that is being produced today. Not even close. And that is a good thing.

It makes me feel good because I love science fiction and I love short stories–reading them and writing them–and it is wonderful to see them alive and well and thriving.

The Death of Borders and My Book-Buying Practices

If you are at all a fan of books and reading, you’ve by now heard that Borders books will be liquidating their stock and closing their remaining stores. This has to be incredibly tough on the 10,000 or so employees who will be jobless at the end of this process. And yet, I felt like I saw this coming. People have argued that e-books are killing off traditional bookstores, and that may very well be true. In my own case, it has been an interesting evolution, and an example that even someone with strong opinions can change his mind.

As e-books became steadily more popular, I shied away from them. The reason, I told myself and others, was aesthetics: I liked the feel of a book in my hand. I liked the smell of a musty old book. I liked turning the pages. I felt that paper books were superior in many ways. A paper book’s batteries don’t run out for instance (although reader’s might). Every once in a rare while, I’d give an e-book a try and it simply didn’t feel right to me.

Then, in June 2009, I got a Kindle and everything changed. The Kindle managed to capture a lot of the aesthetics of a real book without some of the drawbacks. It was easy to read from and it felt like reading a book. It’s battery lasted long enough that I was never concerned about power. Sure, I didn’t have those rich book smells, but on the other hand, I could mark up the book to my hearts content without feeling that I was “damaging” the book. And of course, I could instantaneously purchase new books with a few clicks.

It was the latter, of course, that signaled the death knell to bookstores. That and that fact that e-books are generally cheaper than their paper counterparts. (Sure, there are people that will argue that they should be even cheaper, but I’m happy to pay the prices as listed because of the additional convenience offered.) Because of the Kindle (and the iPad which followed), my book-buying habits have changed dramatically since June 2009:

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InterGalactic Medicine Show now available on Kindle

Good news! Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show is now available on the Kindle. I have a soft spot for IGSM. Not only do they publish very good science fiction and fantasy, but they also published my first pro science fiction story, “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer” back in July 2007. If you’ve never seen the magazine, I urge you to check it out.

The paperless writing-cycle using Scrivener and Kindle

Combining my quest for a paperless office at home with my writing goals this year has required some changes to old habits. It used to be that I would write the first draft of a story, print that story out, mark up the printout, and then begin working on the second draft. But I’m trying to avoid that middle printing step and now that I’ve been through the cycle once this year, I thought I’d share how I did it in 7 steps:

  1. Write an aborted novel using Scrivener 2.0
  2. Decide the story you are telling doesn’t really work (and in fact, you’re not yet cut out to be a novelist)
  3. Cannibalize the first part of the novel and use it for a novelette
  4. Use Scrivener to export the novel to the Kindle
  5. Read what you wrote on the Kindle and make lots and lots (165) annotations
  6. Copy annotations into Scrivener
  7. Use multiple monitors to write the new story using your annotions.

I’ve covered the first 5 steps in other posts, and if you are so inclined, you can click on the links to learn more about what I did. It’s the last two steps that I wanted to discuss today.

As I finished the read through on the Kindle, it occurred to me: how am I going to transfer 165 notes into Scrivener so that they will be useful for me–and do so without printing anything out? It didn’t take long for a simple, if not slightly cumbersome solution presented itself. Kindle uses “Whispernet” to sync your library with other devices and apps that you have. So I opened up the Kindle App for Mac on my MacBook and indeed, right there in my library was my NaNoWriMo novel. I opened up the novel in the Kindle App and there were my annotations right there on the screen:


From here, I could copy the note and paste into my Scrivener document as a comment in the appropriate place. Like, I said, a little cumbersome but I avoided paper and I avoided having to retype (which I what I would have had to do if I read it off the Kindle directly). I could have copied the entire “Clippings” file from the Kindle and pasted the relevant portion into my Scrivener document notes, but that wouldn’t have helped much because Kindle clippings list Kindle location and that wouldn’t have helped me locate where the note was supposed to go. The result was something like this:

Scrivener Comments.png

Now, I realize that I can split the screen and use multiple windows to look at the old document and the new, but when I am writing new stuff, I like having the window full with what I am writing. So I make use of two monitors when I am doing the actual writing:


The top monitor contains the original Scrivener document that I wrote for NaNoWriMo, along with the annotations I made on my Kindle and transferred into Scrivener. The bottom screen contains the new novelette version of the story (show in the picture in cork board mode). I can read what I originally wrote in the top window, along with my notes and annotations, and write the new version of the story in the bottom window. So far, this has been working very well.

It makes me think that an interesting future feature for Scrivener might be the ability to import annotations from the Kindle Clippings file directly into an existing Scrivener document, parsing them and creating the notes as comments in the document. Of course, this would require the ability of translating a Kindle location number into a position in the Scrivener document and would only work if there had been no changes since the export to the Kindle (otherwise the location numbers might not line up). Still I think it would be interesting.

Regardless, I think this is another good example of using Scrivener and Kindle together. Not only are they useful applications for writers, they are green applications and can be good for the environment.

Using the Kindle to read story drafts

My evolution of story draft reading has come a long way in the last year. A year ago, I’d print out my first drafts, mark them up in red ink and then head into my second draft. Then I tried reading the draft within Scrivener and that worked pretty well, too, but it was a little less portable than a paper manuscript, since I didn’t always have my laptop with me. Reading a draft is a convenient thing to do in those small scraps of time that one finds during the day, waiting for an elevator, sitting in a doctor office lobby, waiting for a meeting to start. So when I started my work on “Rescue”, I decided to try reading the draft on the Kindle and see how it felt.

As I’ve mentioned, “Rescue” is a novelette that I am writing by cannibalizing the first part of the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo. So in essence what I am doing is reading that first part, deciding what ideas and characters to keep and what to throw away, and then rewriting the whole thing from scratch as a self-contained story, cutting it from 35,000 words in it’s novel form down to 15-to-20,000 words in story form.

Scrivener makes it easy to export a story to Kindle format. Once the story was on the Kindle, I moved it to “My Fiction” collection and started reading. If I found something I wanted to cut, or change, I’d use the Kindle’s highlight feature to highlight the text, and then I’d use the Kindle’s notes/annotations feature to add a note. Since the keyboard on the Kindle is QWERTY, it’s easy to type and capture short notes like, “Cut this” or more extensive notes like, “I’m not sure if this character belongs in the story. Their viewpoint doesn’t add much and slows the pace down. It would also allow me to cut this scene…”

I’ve managed to get 63% through my reading and I’ve made well over 100 annotations and even more highlights. Here is a typical screenshot:


I’ve found that I can work as easily as if I had a paper manuscript in my hands, and since I almost always have my Kindle with me, I can work on this just about anywhere. And best of all, the notes and annotations that I am making are stored on the device and can be opened as a text file, which I can then pull into my Scrivener project to use as a reference when I write the new story.

There is one downside that I have found so far:

Because I copied the story to my Kindle directly from my computer, as opposed to using Amazon’s service (which would have cost a buck or two), the story is only available on the Kindle device. It does not sync up to Amazon and therefore, for instance, I can’t pull it up on my iPhone.

Nevertheless, I am pleased with the overall feel of reading a draft on the Kindle and making my notes there, and it is likely the way I will handle all future drafts of stories. A story like this one would easily have consumed 150 manuscript pages. Add to that another draft, to say nothing of ten more stories this year, and this method also goes a long way toward my goal of becoming paperless at home, too.

Kindle “samples” save money!

I’ve recently discovered another bonus of the Kindle–which I have been using now for well over a year: samples!  Prior to having a Kindle, my book-buying behavior followed 2 possible pathways:

  1. Rush off to bookstore, browse for something that piqued my interest, and purchase on the hopes that I would like it.  I rarely had the time to read the first few pages, let alone the first chapter in the bookstore.
  2. Order it online (usually via Amazon) and read it when it arrived.

In both cases, I sometimes found that a chapter or so into the book, it wasn’t what I expected, and had I known that, I would not have purchased it in the first place.

With my Kindle, I can download a sample of the book for free before buying the book.  Usually, a sample is about the first 10% of the book, which is generally enough for me to decide whether I want to finish or give up.  I cannot begin to emphasize how much money this has saved me.  I’d say I give up on one of every 5 new books, and given the volume of books I go through, this adds up.  And even though Kindle book prices tend to be cheaper than hardcovers, I am still saving myself a good deal of money by downloading the sample first.

And if I like what I am reading?  Kindle makes it easy for me to order the full book when I reach the end of the sample.

Being able to sample books like this makes the online browsing experience a little more like walking through a brick-and-mortar bookstore, with the advantage that I can pull 20 books off the shelf, sample them at my leisure, and then discard or ignore the ones that don’t capture my interest, saving my a good deal of time, as well.

Kindle to the rescue

It doesn’t happen often, but on those rare occasions when it does, it drives me nuts:  I leave the house and by the time I get to work, I realize I’ve forgotten whatever book it is that I happen to be reading.  I look forward to my lunches everyday because I usually spend that time reading.  It gets my mind off work and breaks up the day for me.  And so when I forget my book, it ruins lunch (and sometime the day) for me.

Today, I forgot my book.

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s The Stand and I’m enjoying it.  When I left the house this morning, going through my mental checklist, I ticked off this check box labeled “take stuff out to car”.  The thing is, Kelly is heading out of town and I took her stuff out to the car, and forgot my own messenger bag in the house.  Inside that messenger bag is my book.

But never fear, Kindle is here!

I’ve had my Kindle since late June and I’ve read a dozen books on it.  In fact, The Stand is the 13th book I’ve read on my Kindle (for those of you who are superstitious).  Of course, it doesn’t matter that I left my Kindle at home.   My lunchtime is not ruined.  I have at least 2 options:

  1. I can continue to read The Stand from where I left off by simply opening up the Kindle App on my iPhone.  Sure the screen is a little smaller, but the text is clear and I’ve read from my phone before without any trouble.
  2. I can download and install the Kindle App for Windows on my laptop and read from there, if I feel like I need a bigger screen.

This is one of those advantages to eBooks, in general, and the Kindle, specifically, that isn’t always captured in the “Why You Should Read eBooks” articles that are all over the web these days.  With an eBook, gone are the days where leaving your “book” (device) at home is a problem.  My lunch is not ruined.

Kindle saved the day.

More thoughts on the Kindle

Now that I have read about half a dozen books on my Kindle, I thought I’d offer a few more thoughts on the device and the experience:

  • I often read while I am eating my lunch.  With a traditional book, this has always been somewhat of a problem for me.  I am very careful with my books, even paperbacks, where I try to avoid breaking the spine for instance.  With hardcovers, there is the problem of keeping the pages open with one hand, while eating with the other.  With the Kindle, all of these problems go away.  I can set the Kindle flat on the table, and not touch it, except to tap the Next Page button.
  • With traditional books, I have always been hesitant to make notes in the margins.  With the Kindle, I have no problem doing this, and it’s actually very convenient to be able to mark the exact place I want to make a note, and have access to the notes file on my computer for additional edits, if I so choose.
  • Whenever I reached the halfway point in a book, I’d always toss the next book in my bag so that if I finished the current book, I wouldn’t be caught without something else to read.  With the Kindle, I don’t have this problem.  I can have many books “in my bag” at the same time, and no matter how many they are, or how big they are, they only take up the space and weight of the Kindle itself.

There are still some things that take some getting used to:

  • Footnotes can be awkward if they are not well-implemented.
  • It’s not as easy to skip ahead and see how much more of the current chapter is left (convenient for finding a good stopping point) as it is with a traditional book.  A future version of the Kindle OS might include an indicator that shows you how many “locations” remain before the next chapter.
  • I like the Kindle enough to want to read just about everything on it, so that it has become frustration (and disappointing) when I find that the book I’d like to read is not available for the Kindle.  (And clicking the “Tell the publisher you’d like to read this book on the Kindle” link that Amazon provides is of little help, especially since I have no idea what clicking that button actually does.
  • There are a few books that are listed for the Kindle, but when you go to the page, you find are “unavailable”.  The most frustrating of these is Will Durant’s Story of Civilization.

All told, I really like my Kindle.  I am surprised to find that it is just as easy and comfortable to read off the screen as it is the printed page, so long as it is done in a way that makes the screen feel like a printed page.