Novel Workshops, Fonts, And Kindle Grit

Nick Mamatas has some good insight into this piece over at The Millions about "10 Thoughts on Academia’s Novel Crisis" and the one thing that really stuck out to me was this line: "The obvious solution is simply to understand that one cannot workshop a novel." And it got me thinking about a particular workshop I went to several years ago that workshopped novels. There were, I think, about 20 other writers. You submitted the first 40-50 pages of your novel and a 1 or 2 page synopsis of the rest, and those sections were copied and put in huge binders and sent to the 20 writers to critique weeks before the actual workshop. And then once the workshop came around, those 20 writers would sit in groups and discuss those particular sections with those particular writers (there were established authors there as mentors, as well as an editor at a large New York publishing house). And I remember thinking how, well, stupid it was that they we were just critiquing the first 50 pages and synopsis. Yes, there was some value to the experience, I guess, and it's true that you can judge a novel by the first few chapters just as you can judge a story by its first few pages (if not paragraphs), but I remember a few of the writers admitting they read those first 50 pages with interest and just glossed over the synopsis. I have to admit I think I did the same thing too. Because a novel, in my opinion, should be the length it is because it can't be described in only a couple pages. If that's the case, then it should just be a story. Sure, you have the basic summary (and that, I guess, was one of the reasons for doing it: to see if the writer was the on right track, had a good story arc, etc.), but you can't experience the novel that way. Especially if a novel is complex on a Peter Straub level; just how are you supposed to show the reader all these different complexities in only a page or two, and even if you can, how can the reader really tell whether or not it's effective? They can't, and that's why if you critique a novel, you should read the entire novel and not just the first couple chapters and synopsis. (The basic lesson from that workshop? Start your book off on a really great opening hook. Like that isn't already obvious.)

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Over at, Laura Miller suggests that hideous fonts might actually be good for you:

A recent study out of Princeton, and brought to wider attention by Jonah Lehrer at, suggests that ugly, irregular fonts can boost the amount of information readers retain from a text, while easy-to-read type is more likely to just sort of slide out of their minds. The study, titled "Fortune Favors the Bold (and the Italicized): Effects of Disfluency on Educational Outcomes," found that people remembered more from worksheets and PowerPoint presentations when they were composed in a hot mess of hated fonts like Monotype Corsiva, Haettenshweiler and the dreaded Comic Sans Italic.

The hypothesis is that the added difficulty in reading these texts forces more cognitive engagement, which leads to greater comprehension. While we naturally think that we learn better from texts that are pleasant and easy to read, the opposite may be the case. For Lehrer, who admits to loving his Kindle but also to worrying that it makes "the act of reading a little bit too easy," this is an ominous sign.

One thing I do love about e-books is the option of changing the font and the font size. Kindle (at least the app on my iPad) doesn't really let you change the font, but iBooks gives you six different kinds to choose from. Currently my preferred font in iBooks is Palatino, for whatever it's worth. What should you take away from the Salon article? Basically if you want high reading comprehension, read everything in Wingdings.

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Speaking of e-books, it was announced yesterday that True Grit will be available next week on Kindle. Sweet, I thought, it's about time. Only when I checked it out, I saw that it's priced at $12.99. Okay, I thought, that's not too strange. But Amazon has the trade paperback listed for only $8.08. So ... yeah. Not sure what the thinking currently is with the publisher on that one, but best of luck to them. I mean, it's not like Random House isn't doing really well pricing some of their e-books accordingly (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is currently #1 in the entire Kindle Store, and why? Hmm, maybe because it's priced at $5.00. Just a guess.)