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Reading Challenge Update

Reading Challenge Update

At the start of the year, I made a plan to read 75 books in 2024. It started off very well, but lately I’ve been struggling a bit and I had to sit down and think about whether this was really something I could do, or, more precisely, whether I should do it.

Here’s the thing: I love to read, but I am starting up a business and that takes a lot of time. When I sat down and worked it out, reading 75 books a year would take about an hour and a half of reading every day. Longer, if I wanted to listen to audiobooks as part of that. That’s around 10% of my total waking time spent reading, more if you take out the essential things that I have to do every day, whether or not I want to. Then it’s more like 70% of the time I have on any given day.

I’m not quite ready to give up on the goal, but it’s looking less doable now, because some of the time I have remaining after doing all the things I need to do each day might be better spent on things that could directly benefit my business, like writing a blog post, and fixing up my website.

75 books in a year was always an ambitious target for me. Currently, I am on track to read more like 52 books, which is still a book a week and much better than I managed in the last few years.

Reading Challenge for 2024

Reading Challenge for 2024

I haven’t set a reading goal before but over the last few years I have been struggling to read as much as I would like. There always seems to be other things I should be doing instead. Consequently, the number of books I have read has decreased year on year.

  • 2015: 76
  • 2016: 60
  • 2018: 49
  • 2019: 72
  • 2020: 60
  • 2021: 41
  • 2022: 37
  • 2023: 36

There are a number of reasons for that. Some of it was due to things happening in my life that left me with little mindspace to read. Some of it is due to the fact I read the first three Stormlight Archive books last year and each of those is over 1,000 pages long.

Regardless of the reasons, I decided that this year I want to read more. The goal I have set myself for it is 75 books. That’s the simple goal.

It gets more complicated though, because some books are long (Stormlight Archive) and some books are not so long and I don’t want to be able to manipulate the results by reading shorter books.

I figured that 100,000 words is a good length to make an average and worked off that number. I read both on my Kindle and audiobooks so a rough guess is that I average about 200 words a minute across those. So all I did then was work out how long it would take me to read 75 books and then broke that down to a daily goal of 1 hour and 45 minutes. If that ends up being more or less than 75 books it doesn’t matter, I will be happy having read that amount each day.

That was the plan. The start of the year didn’t work out quite how I planned and I am only now catching up to have an average of 1 hour and 45 minutes per day.

The goal is to read more and in order to hit that amount of time, I am having to read at times I didn’t used to. Times when I would have been on Reddit or wasting my time on something else. So this challenge is having an added benefit in making me spend less time on social media.

As of this morning, I have finished three books this year:

  1. A Deadly Education – Naomi Novik (2024-01-04 Thursday)
  2. How To Be A Stoic – Massimo Pigliucci (2024-01-08 Monday)
  3. The Last Graduate – Naomi Novik (2024-01-11 Thursday)

I am starting the last Deadly Education book now. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recomend it. It’s very good.

The Problem With Endings

The Problem With Endings

When Jude died, life felt impossible. There are entire months of time that I can barely remember. Somehow, we got the important things done; Oscar went to school, we ate, we slept. We had a lot of help. We watched a lot of television.

The television we watched was mostly old stuff that we’d seen a dozen times before. It was comfort food. One thing I remember watching was Friends. It was a good show to watch because nothing about it was too serious and we had both grown up watching it as kids, so it was familiar. There were a good number of episodes, so we didn’t have to think about what to watch next. Just start it on Netflix and let it keep going until we started falling asleep in the evening.

It was also the first time I realized I had a problem with endings. Not just me, either. Without needing to discuss it, neither Tamzin nor I wanted to watch the last episode of friends and have it end. I have noticed the same thing with books and other television shows.

The books I read tended to be things that went on for a long time. I started re-reading the Discworld books, and even now I haven’t finished the series. It is just there, unfinished.

You don’t need to be a psychologist to realize why endings were such a problem for us; we had just dealt with the ultimate untimely ending and the idea of anything else finishing was hard to handle. Plus, there was no need for us to handle it. No one cared whether we watched the last episode of Friends. It didn’t matter whether I read the last few Discworld books.

There is one place where it does matter, though; my writing. If I can’t end a story, then I don’t really have a story. I quickly found that I did still have the desire to write (which surprised me, in the early days I had assumed I would never write again) but couldn’t bring myself to finish any of the stories I wrote.

It took me a long time to get over that, and along the way I found other ways to get the comfort I desperately needed from books that I was reading and books that I was writing. But it still isn’t easy.

Endings are tough.

Diminishing Returns

Maybe it’s my imagination, but it seems as if there is a fundamental difference in the way we think about books and other mediums. The longer a book series goes on, the smaller the readership. It feels as if we have accepted that each new installment will only appeal to a percentage of the readers who liked the previous book.

On the surface, that makes sense, but we don’t think that way about other things.

No one is suggesting they should stop making Star Wars or Marvel films because they will only appeal to a few existing fans! No one expects viewers of Doctor Who to have watched 60 years’ worth of stories.

In film and, to a lesser extent, television, we view each new entry in the series as a potential entry point for new fans, but I rarely see books talked about in the same way. 

There are reasons for this. Films are more self-contained; you can watch the latest super hero film without having seen all the others leading up to it because all the relevant information will be explained. I don’t feel so confident about picking up the latest in a book series.

So then is it because of the way we write books we expect each new edition to sell worse than the one before? To an extent, and if that’s the case, then can we overcome it? I think so.

The only long-running series I can think of that doesn’t have this problem is Discworld. You could jump in at any point in the 41 book series and enjoy the story. That is largely down to the brilliance of Terry Pratchett, but also because the stories themselves are self-contained, like films are.

As I begin the process of re-launching my series with new titles and remastered editions of old books, I’m looking at these lessons closely. I want each book, or sub-series, to be something that anyone could pick up and read. Sure, you will get more out of it if you read them all, but they should be accessible to all. And as I think about that, it seemed interesting that the best lessons for how to do it are contained in films and television, rather than books.

A.I. Audiobooks as Accessibility Tools

It has always been my intention to start releasing my stories in audiobook format but I didn’t think I would get around to it as soon as I have done. Originally, I was thinking it would be when I started releasing the new books that I am working from, and that the older titles would not be converted over.

As you might know I am currently doing re-releases of all my back catalog titles. I publish direct to Kindle, but use Draft2Digital to get my titles on the other stores. I like D2D because I can upload everything once and they handle all the distribution and that makes it a lot easier. They are also really good at trialling new services.

When I was loading up the new version of Unhallowed Ground I got a pop-up suggesting I start an audiobook version. As well as the Findaway Voices option, there was a new option to create an audiobook on Apple Books using A.I. voice generation.

The process couldn’t have been more straightforward and I set everything up. But I did feel conflicted about it.

As a writer, I am keeping an eye on the A.I. business, because one of the things it does is write. There have been whole books created using ChatGPT. So I was worried that I was contributing to the problem by using A.I. rather than a human narrator.

A few months ago, I remember reading about a guy who used A.I. to create the images for a children’s book and there was a lot of backlash about that because he was taking work away from an actual artist. Which I can sympathise with. I didn’t want to go down that route, not only because I didn’t want to deal with the hate, but because I respect the art of audiobook narration.

I was close to pulling the title from audio, but then I had a conversation with Tamzin and she helped me realise that I’m not taking work away from a human narrator by doing this. First of all, I had no intention of creating audiobooks for these stories. So this wasn’t a case of choosing an A.I. narrator over a human one, it was choosing an A.I. narrator over no narrator at all.

Secondly, and this is something that rarely gets spoken about, there is a whole group of people who enjoy reading, but because of vision problems, can’t. When you think about it like that, creating audiobooks is creating an accessibility tool.

Thinking about it that way helped and I have created a couple more audiobooks the same way.

Once I start releasing new stories, I fully intend to use human narrators. However, having done a couple of audiobooks this way now, I’ve got to say, I’m really impressed by the quality of them. There are some rough edges that you wouldn’t get with a person, but for what they are, they’re really good. Certainly something you could comfortably listen to.

If you’re interested in checking them out you can find my current releases here:

Stephen King Made Me An Author

I have been writing stories since I was a kid. I can still remember lying on the floor in front of the TV with my new Ghostbusters notebook and pencil and writing a story about how Slimer became a Ghostbuster. That would have been when I was around seven years old.

It was all just for fun, but that was all it needed to be.

Many years later, I was still writing, although school and socializing meant I didn’t have as much time for it as I used to. I wasn’t reading so much either. Honestly, if things had carried on the way they were, I probably would have given up on the whole writing business.

Then I read The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition.

If you’ve read it, you know it’s a big book. Certainly the biggest I’d read up to that point. I went through the whole thing in a single weekend, and I was hooked.

From that point on, I read every Stephen King book I could get my hands on. There were a lot. I raced through them all. Some I loved more than others, but every one of them had something special about it. I started reading interviews, and then tracking down the books that he loved, and reading them as well.

And a funny thing happened along the way. It wasn’t just a love of reading that returned; it was writing as well. Suddenly, I was taking the idea of becoming a professional writer seriously.

After that I was buying the writers digest, submitting stories to magazines and following King’s advice from On Writing. I was on the journey that would lead me to where I am today and wherever I will be in the future. None of it would have happened if it wasn’t for Stephen King.

Long days, and pleasant nights to you all