Category Archives: Publishing

Story Pacing: 4 Techniques That Help Manage Your Plot’s Timeline

As a writer of fiction, you want readers to open your book and become so absorbed they can’t put it down. It helps to be aware that so much of what happens when a reader picks up a book takes place in the subconscious mind. Readers don’t realize that it’s happening, and many writers don’t pay attention to it either.

One of those largely subconscious mechanisms is story pacing.

Story pacing is often ignored as an aspect of learning how to craft a really great story. A lot of writers don’t give it much thought, yet it’s a critically important writing technique and quite exciting to learn about.

In this post, we’ll cover story pacing in detail, and I’ll provide some crucial areas for you to work on in your books—to open up some doors you didn’t even know existed.

Story Pacing Opened My Eyes

One of the primary ways we learn how to craft story is from reading a ton of books, especially in our target genre. I’ve been an avid reader of suspense fiction for as long as I can remember, and it’s been a huge boost to my writing abilities.

So when I started writing thrillers, I felt fairly confident about my skills. I knew I had an exciting storyline, with intriguing plot points supported by well-developed characters and plenty of action.

That’s why I was so surprised when my mentor took a look at one of my stories and said: “It’s not a thriller.”

He told me I had all the right stuff for a thriller, but the pacing was off. After he showed me the same techniques that I’ll share with you in this article, I was able to give the story a better sense of urgency, shaping it into a solid thriller.

With the help of this post, you can do the same with your stories.

What is Story Pacing?

You may be thinking that story pacing is simply the tempo at which your story unfolds. True enough, on the surface. But the deeper reality is that pacing is the art of keeping readers engaged in your story and not letting them out. It’s what pulls them through to the end.

Here’s another way to think about it. In a ThrillerFest panel discussion on the topic of pacing, Lee Child said:

“Every book you’ve ever read has a timeline; it starts somewhere and finishes somewhere. Pacing is how you manage that timeline.”

He goes on to talk about how he writes the slow parts fast and the fast parts slow. Meaning he operates like a photo editor reporting on a tidal wave. The editor shows the wave coming in at a tremendous pace and then slows down the tape as it crashes into the seawall to intensify the impact and examine it in greater detail.

As writers, we have the ability to speed and slow the rate at which our readers consume a story. You can learn those techniques and master the art of pacing by structuring your story according to genre.

Pacing is Inextricably Connected With Genre

Being clear about genre is really critical to the reader’s enjoyment of your story.

To make my point, I’ll tell you about this little trick my husband likes to pull on me. Sometimes when we stop at a gas station, he’ll disappear inside and come out with a large cup and offer me the straw. Though I never know what to expect, I can’t help but form some kind of preconceived anticipation.

So maybe I’m thinking root beer or Dr. Pepper. I take a drink and—Yuck! That’s awful! What is it? And he might say it’s Squirt. Well, I like Squirt, but since it’s not what my taste buds were expecting, it disappointed.

It’s the same with genre.

Readers start a story with certain expectations, they want a particular type of reading experience. That’s why genres exist. To help readers make good choices about what they want to read.

Pacing is dependent on genre and genre springs from pacing. Like the chicken and the egg, you can’t really separate them. The genre you choose to write will dictate the story pacing and the way you pace your book will determine the genre.

Relationship between pacing and genre

If a reader picks up a thriller and the story doesn’t have fast pacing like a thriller should, they’ll put the book down or finish it in disgust and never go back to that writer’s work. Same with a cozy mystery or a slow-burn psychological suspense.

And the reader won’t even consciously register what was wrong with it. They’ll just know it disappointed.

Pacing in Mysteries, Thrillers, and Suspense

Let’s think of a story’s pacing like a theme park ride. When you visit a theme park, you know the kind of rides you want to experience. The ferris wheel is fun and so is the Tilt-a-Whirl, but they move at different paces. Story pacing is like that, too.

Use this analogy to take a closer look at how the pacing differs in thrillers, suspense stories, and mysteries. Each genre is a joy to read, but the experience each provides is unique.


Thrillers are roller coaster rides. You get in and strap down and then the coaster pulls slowly out of the station and starts chugging up that first hill. This is like character development, grounding the reader in the setting, and building the suspense.

By the time your reader is solidly inside the viewpoint character’s head and has learned to care about that character, we’ve reached the top of that first big drop and we plummet ahead on a wild ride of twists and turns with an occasional breather while the story builds to another thrilling drop.

Thrillers are made of fast-paced scenes.


Mysteries are more like the funhouse. They’re designed to surprise, challenge, and amuse with puzzles to solve and riddles to unravel. They’re more interactive than a thrill ride, inviting readers to participate in working out the clues.

We may have to work our way through a revolving tunnel or cross a crazy obstacle course. And there may be spurts of fast-paced activity, but the overall tone of the ride doesn’t have the frenetic qualities of a roller coaster.

Mysteries move at a moderate pace.


We might liken suspense stories to the spooky rides where you ride on a track through a series of dark and mysterious passages, accompanied by scary music and lots of atmosphere.

Some of these rides are slow, drawing out the suspense, giving you time to worry and wonder about what’s coming next. Other rides move more quickly, giving you less time to recover from the unexpected each time you turn the corner.

Suspense stories vary in pace and run the gamut.

Pacing Influences the Reader’s Experience

As with most aspects of good fiction writing, intentional story pacing provides a quality reading experience. Proper pacing allows us to control what the reader thinks and feels. We do that in obvious ways, not so obvious ways, and some really subconscious ways. As I mentioned before, a lot of pacing is effectively a subconscious control system.

We’re going to look at the nuts and bolts of pacing, but unless you realize their purpose and understand the end goal, you won’t get full value from using these tools.

The way the page looks—sentence and paragraph structure, punctuation, amount of white space—sends signals to the reader about how to consume the story. Page appearance is important in pacing a book correctly.

So, before we dig into the specifics, we need to cover an absolutely key component of successful pacing.

Form Follows Content

If you’re wondering how to structure your sentences and paragraphs, look at your content. What’s going on in the story?

What is the character thinking or feeling in that moment? What should the reader be experiencing? These are what will tell you how long or short to make your sentences, paragraphs, and scenes.

In general, longer sentences promote slow-burn suspense while shorter sentences can create a frantic feeling of panic.  But the number one rule to remember in story pacing is this: form must follow content.

This means that what’s happening in the story should be reflected in the way it looks on the page.

If there’s a fight scene, or some kind of fast-paced action going on, the sentences and paragraphs should be short, clipped, and surrounded by white space. If your character is arriving in a new setting and taking it in, these descriptive passages will be slower, with longer sentences and paragraphs.

Flashbacks also slow the pace as you pull the reader from the active voice of the story into a more introspective vein.

Ask yourself what’s happening, and make your form fit your content.

Some people, when they hear the term pacing, think it means fast. And in suspense fiction, that’s often what readers want. But there’s nothing wrong with an occasional slow-paced scene if that’s what the content calls for.

Good pacing is about choosing the appropriate speed to advance your reader through the plot. And that’s dictated by the genre, tone, and events of the story. “ Story pacing is about choosing the appropriate speed to advance your reader through the plot. And that’s dictated by the genre, tone, and events of the story. Tweet thisTweet

Feel free to throw out the rules of grammar if they get in the way of pacing and presenting the story. Fiction writing doesn’t always require full, grammatically correct sentences. Those rules exist to serve the story, and the story exists to serve the reader. Our job, as writers, is to serve the reader in the best way we know how. And sometimes that means breaking the rules.

Now let’s dive into the specific techniques used in pacing. We’ll look at four big ideas:

  1. Sentence structure
  2. Paragraph structure
  3. Scene and chapter structure
  4. Cliffhangers

Sentence Structure

The way you structure a scene’s sentences sends a message to the reader, usually on a subconscious level, about how fast to read. And the content of the scene will dictate the form.

Longer sentences, with lots of detail, tend to slow the pace and that’s perfect, if that’s what the content requires. Short, staccato sentences—even sentence fragments or single-word sentences with lots of white space in between—convey a fast pace. Machine gun dialogue—those terse conversations say, during a car chase—does the same thing. It speeds the pace.

Often, when there is physical movement in the story, the sentences will be shorter and when things are stationary, they’ll be longer. But that’s a generalization. Always base form on content. That’s really the only rule. Your job is to tell a story, and all the little pieces you use to do so should follow that story.

How pacing works in sentence structure

The energy of a sentence is in its kernel, subject + verb:

The woman screamed.

Sometimes you’ll need to include an object and indirect object:

The woman screamed obscenities at the burglar.

But keep in mind that any clauses you add will drain some of the energy:

The woman screamed obscenities at the burglar, cursing him for tracking mud on her Persian carpet, berating him for breaking the window.

Remember, that’s okay if it’s called for by the content. What’s going on, and how do you want the reader to feel about it? Also, be aware of rhythm. In your sentence lengths and structure, you’re setting up a cadence which conveys a certain kind of tone.

The best way to learn the structures, rhythms, and cadences of well-written scenes is to read a lot and seriously study those who have mastered your genre’s story pacing.

Action is content. If you’re writing an action scene, you can often get away with less detail and shorter sentences. Content calls for them.

But two people sitting and talking doesn’t usually qualify as action. For moments like this, to keep the reader tucked into the story, you need to use more rich, sensory details that spark emotions and opinions. Which means longer sentences.

This doesn’t mean that if the pace of the story is fast you need to leave details out. Remember, you must tell the story—everything the reader needs to get the full experience. But if the pace is fast, you must deliver the information in a more clear, concise fashion.

No matter what the pace, you’ve got to get the reader inside the viewpoint character’s head, experiencing the story through that main character—their emotions, opinions, sensory input, and perception of what’s happening in the story.

Are you picking up on the major theme of pacing? Content drives everything. “ Content drives the pace of your story—content drives everything. Tweet thisTweet

Paragraph Structure

When a reader opens a book and sees a lot of black on the page—long blocks of text—that sends a message that it should be consumed at a leisurely pace. Short paragraphs with lots of white space around them signals a fast-moving page-turner.

It encourages fast reading.

The way you structure sentences and paragraphs will influence your reader’s breathing and physical state to some extent. Even when not reading out loud, we tend to breathe in conjunction with the words on the page, and faster breathing leads to a faster heart rate.

Lots of short, punchy paragraphs literally make your book a page-turner because your reader’s eye devours them and quickly moves on. Yet, in some cases, a long, run-on sentence can leave your reader breathless, since there’s no place to pause and take a breath.

Normally-paced text varies in paragraph length. It might go from a four-line paragraph to a three-line paragraph, then five lines followed by two, and so on. About ninety percent of most books, except for climactic scenes, run along in this sort of pattern. It’s interesting to the eye and doesn’t contain lengthy, intimidating paragraphs.

This will vary by genre. Literary works will tend toward longer paragraphs, while genres such as action adventure and thrillers contain only sixty to sixty-five percent “normal” story pacing. This utilizes a lot more white space and shorter sentences and paragraphs.

Use the power of the paragraph. Especially with faster-paced fiction. Hit the return key as often as necessary. Set short, punchy sentences apart for greater impact when the situation calls for it. This is a powerful technique.

How pacing works in paragraph structure

To further explore how paragraph structure affects reader experience, let’s take an excerpt from the thriller-paced short story Kowalski’s In Love by James Rollins. In this first example, I took the liberty of restructuring the paragraphs to reflect normal pacing:

Modified excerpt from James Rollins

Now, see how it appeared in the published version:

Original excerpt from James Rollins

Do you see how the shorter paragraphs facilitate a faster pace? Notice how they give more impact to the short sentences, which stand alone in their own paragraphs.

Scene and Chapter Structure

When you write, your scenes and chapters should drive the story forward and accomplish story objectives. Where you break them should not be random, but based on content.

You should be aware, however, that readers can bog down if the chapters are too long. Most readers are comfortable with chapter lengths between 2,000 and 2,500 words. Shawn Coyne, editor and author of The Story Grid, calls these “potato chip” chapters because they’re short enough to encourage readers to indulge in just one more before turning out the light.

And then, just one more…

It’s also useful to vary the lengths of your sentences, paragraphs, and scenes to avoid falling into a monotonous pattern. It’s important to realize that readers have an instinctive sense of story pacing, and when the pacing is congruent with the content, it feels right. If something is out of sync, they’ll sense that, too.

For example, years ago, when I read Connie Willis’s WWII time travel book, Blackout, I grew increasingly uncomfortable as I neared the end. Something was wrong. The pacing was off, and I realized my instincts were on target as the book came to an abrupt end—in the middle of the story.

The publishers had decided the book was too long and their solution was to chop it into two parts without any warning to the reader. I, along with thousands of other readers, was not pleased.

You want to do all you can to give readers confidence in your storytelling abilities. When they feel like they’re in good hands, readers will settle into a story and stick with it. Putting in the effort to get the pacing right will pay dividends in gaining reader trust.


Remember, the function of pacing is to pull the reader through the book to the very end. Cliffhangers are a vital part of that process and consist of scene and chapter endings and the openings that follow.

Cliffhangers don’t just occur at the end of a chapter where you decide to stop writing. They happen when you make the effort to build something compelling into that ending. Effective cliffhangers keep readers from putting the book down, bridge the gaps between chapters and scenes, and provide momentum.

Like links in a chain, the cliffhanger doesn’t stand alone. It connects to the next opening and incorporates techniques used in deep POV to ground the reader in the new setting and character, creating a seamless progression through the story.

For a detailed study on the crucial skill of writing cliffhangers, learn more from my post: Cliffhanger Meaning 101: What They Are and How Writers Use Them.

How Form Follows Content

Lots of factors enter into your reader’s experience with your book. Some of them are out of your control. Is she tired? Hungry? Just a had a fight with her husband? There’s nothing you can do about any of those things.

But you should do your best to take control of the things you can. Like the way your story looks on the page. This has a tremendous influence on your reader, though most of it happens on a subconscious level.

To get a better idea of what I mean, let’s look at an example from Dean Koontz’s thriller The Whispering Room:

Excerpt from Dean Koontz

Do you see how these terse, tight paragraphs of dialogue convey tension and move quickly like machine gun fire? This makes for a fast pace and the form follows what’s happening in the scene, a rapid back-and-forth conflict.

Now let’s examine another example, this one from Bloodline by James Rollins:

Excerpt from James Rollins

The concise sentences and paragraphs communicate tension to the reader and encourage a rapid reading, eating up the page, leading to faster page flips. They are direct and sparse, hiding nothing of the bleakness of the scene.

Here’s a contrasting example from Jeffery Deaver’s novel The Blue Nowhere:

Excerpt from Jeffery Deaver

Deaver could easily have broken this block into multiple paragraphs. Why didn’t he?

I think he did it this way because the long, unbroken paragraph mimics the droning on and on of the little girl. It also reflects the viewpoint character’s blasé attitude about murder, burying it in a pile of words as if it’s something of little significance, highlighting its trivial aspect as just part of a game.

Remember to think about what’s happening in the story and how you can use all your skills to communicate that to the reader. It’s not just the words you use, but how you arrange them on the page that affects the way your reader will experience the story.

Improving Your Story Pacing Skills

The first step in mastering pacing is awareness. Once you become aware of the subconscious signals you’re sending your readers, you can practice and improve.

However, the best way to control the pace of a story is from your own subconscious, the back brain, the creative part. Not from the critical front brain. So how does that happen?

It’s important to keep learning, studying, practicing, and polishing your skills as a writer. But to make those skills really useful, they need to be internalized and become a natural part of your writing process.

Musicians practice scales and fingering exercises. Basketball players run drills on passing, dribbling, and shooting. Dancers spend hours at the barre, practicing the basic moves. They do these things so that the techniques are available to them in concert, in the middle of a championship game, or on the stage.

We make muscle memory by repeating the proper movements until they become automatic.

For writers, this involves reading first for pleasure. And then, when you’ve found a book that grabbed you and pulled you all the way to the end, go back and study it.

Analyze and practice until you’ve internalized the skill and it becomes second nature. The first step is awareness, then comes practice. Do these things on a regular basis and eventually, the techniques and information will pass from the front of your brain into the back of your brain and become automatic.

How about you? Did you learn something new you can apply right now to your writing? Tell us about it in the comments.

By Joslyn Chase


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How to Write a Backstory

Many of our favorite characters are so beloved because their authors took the time to write a backstory that is as well crafted as it is memorable. Yet if handled poorly, backstories can become the most tedious parts of the book.

Good backstory is like talking with a fascinating person who has led an amazing life or gone through an extraordinary experience. You find yourself on the edge of your seat, wanting to find out more. Bad backstory is like being trapped with the most boring person at a party who insists on telling you about their entire life, down to the most tedious detail, in a monotonous voice and without even asking if you’re interested in it. 

How Authors Approach Backstory

Developing background is an important part of creating characters for a novel. You can’t hope to write your characters accurately if you don’t know where they’re from, who their family is, and what major events in their lives have brought them to where they currently are in the novel’s timeline. 

It can be tempting to include all of this within the main story, even for the minor characters, as a way for the author to show their work and get to the action of the novel. Other authors include it when each new character is first introduced in hopes that it will make the reader understand them better.

Authors who do this assume that because backstory is important and they’ve worked so hard on developing it, the reader will need to know it in its entirety. Unfortunately for them, this isn’t always the case.

There is also a common trend among storytellers is to use a tragic backstory in order to make villains sympathetic even when they don’t need to be. After all, a murderer can’t be excused for their crimes just because they were bullied as a child, for example, and it becomes especially problematic when addressing sensitive topics to establish a heartrending backstory. 

Why Backstory is Important

It’s not as if a book can’t or shouldn’t include backstory, even an elaborate one. It’s just that if it is done poorly or laid on too thickly, it can bring about any of the following negative effects:

  • Interrupt or upstage the main narrative
  • Slow down the pace
  • Introduce irrelevance to the plot
  • Make a character either unsympathetic or sympathetic, contrary to their purpose in the story

Yet when executed correctly, backstory can make a character multi-dimensional, pave the way for a good plot reveal, or even open the door for a prequel or side story to help begin a series. Just as it is for people in real life, characters’ backstories will affect how they act in the present. Somebody who has experienced trauma in the past, for example, is much more likely to show symptoms of PTSD or have difficulty forming long-term relationships.

How to Include Backstory

So, you’ve worked out your characters’ backgrounds, right down to how many times they had to take a driving test. That’s an important part of the storytelling process, but how do you weave it into the story? Should you include it at all?

Let’s say that you’re writing a contemporary novel with a protagonist who works in marketing. Their backstory is that they previously dropped out of medical school. Depending on the main object of plot, this could be an important part of the novel or it could be completely inconsequential. 

If the backstory isn’t relevant to the plotline, then there is no need to bring it up. Or, it could simply be mentioned in a throwaway line to add a little context wherever needed. Yet there are many ways to fit this backstory into the main one. 

Perhaps the protagonist’s story arc focuses on overcoming their feelings of shame and guilt as a result of their past failures. This will make the character highly relatable to readers, as we all have regrets. Are they desperate to land a big client to pay off their student debt? This will explain their present motives to succeed at the office. Will their medical skills prove useful at some point? This makes the backstory relevant to the current story. 

Once you’ve determined whether or not to include the backstory, and how much, you can introduce it to the plot when it is relevant. Nothing turns a reader off more than slogging through a long info dump at the beginning of the book, which ends up reading more like a Wikipedia page than a novel. You probably wouldn’t want to explain the protagonist’s past failures or influential experiences in the first scene of the book, or even within the first few chapters. You first want to establish the character, the present setting, and the main plot before bringing it up. 

To work in our marketer’s backstory, say that a few chapters in, when they are on the subway home after a stressful day at work, they see an exhausted nurse. This causes them to contemplate how differently their life would have been if they had completed medical school. There are many possibilities this scenario could open up. Perhaps they realize how good they have it after all, fret over their outstanding student debt from a partial education they aren’t using, or ponder how they wouldn’t have met their love interest if they hadn’t gone to work at the marketing firm.

Alternatively, many authors hold back on revealing the character’s past until close to the end in order to create a plot twist. This does give a chance to reveal the backstory in full, or to utilize a flashback, but it can also be revealed as a short, brief line that suddenly changes everything the reader or other characters previously thought they knew about the main one. While you can explain the backstory in full at this point, it is often best to still leave at least a little mystery to it, especially if you are writing a series and wish to entice readers to buy the next book.

Even if you have written out backstories that won’t fit into the novel, don’t throw them out entirely. These could still be used as a prequel or side story, perhaps even a freebie for readers who sign up for your mailing list. J.K. Rowling includes many backstories for minor characters in the Harry Potter series on her website. They aren’t essential for understanding or enjoying the books, but they are nice little treats for hard-core fans.

Questions to Ask About Backstory

Before you lay on the info dump, ask yourself these questions about your characters’ backstories:

  • Does it make the story or characters more interesting to include them? 
  • Are they relevant to understanding the story or character arcs? 
  • Can any of the backstories make an interesting plot on its own? 
  • Are any of the backstories more interesting than the main plot?
  • Does it explain a character’s actions?
  • Will any of them make for a satisfying twist?
  • Where does it make sense to introduce the backstory?

Backstory can be difficult for authors to nail down, and a headache to fit into the plot convincingly. But when done right, it can make the whole story better and more complex, your characters more believable, and can provide you with endless plot possibilities. 

Written by Jessica Wood


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Genre Switching: Launching a Successful Career in a New Genre

Admit it, you’ve thought about cheating. After all, there’s so many to choose from, why tie yourself down to one genre? (Hey, what did you THINK I was talking about?)

The reality is we’re always growing and changing, and sometimes that means delving into a new genre that we’re unfamiliar with writing. Maybe we go from non-fiction to fiction, or children’s fiction to memoir. When there’s a big shift, there’s also a learning curve. Rochelle Melander has navigated this move and is here with some great advice on how to make this a smoother transition. Read on! ~ Angela

When I launched my writing career in the late 90s, I knew I wanted to write for children. But with two master’s degrees and professional training as a life coach, I found immediate success writing articles, resources, and books. In 2017, I got serious about getting a children’s book published. In 2019, I landed a book contract for Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing, which came out this week.

If you want to boost your writing career, you can write more books, start a blog, write for hire, ghostwrite, and so much more. Genre switching might be one of the most challenging ways to expand your writing. But it also brings many benefits: writing in a new genre will inspire you, strengthen your writing muscles, and expand your platform. Here’s how to start:

1. Build on your strengths

Whether you’re trying to find a new genre or have one in mind, you can speed up your progress and ease the transition by assessing your current strengths. I’ve written picture books and middle grade novels. But when I got serious about getting published, I knew that I had the best chance of breaking into the market by writing a nonfiction book. I could use the skills I’d developed to write about famous writers. And writing about writing would build on my established platform.

Try this:

  1. List what you already do well as a writer. Be sure to include both craft and business skills.
  2. Brainstorm ways you could use these skills in a new genre. At this point, don’t limit yourself to the genre you’re leaning toward. This will help you expand your thinking about what’s possible for you.
  3. Note the specific skills you can use in your chosen genre.

2. Get schooled.

No matter how much writing education and experience you have, switching genres requires learning about the craft and market. Picture book author Kira Bigwood has two degrees in writing and works as a copywriter by day, but she studied and wrote for several years before she sold her debut picture book, Secret, Secret Agent Guy. She said, “You wouldn’t expect to know how to perform surgery without going to med school, so why would you think you could write a children’s book without first putting in the work (I’m talking to myself here).”

Try this:

Check out your new genre’s professional organization—and see if they offer classes. I’m a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and I used that membership to find classes. Follow the leaders in the field, and read their bios: where did they learn the craft? Read as much as you can, focusing on articles and books published in the last five years.

3. Get help.

You can take a gazillion classes, but at some point you’re going to need specific feedback on your writing. Whether you join a critique group, get a critique partner, or hire a professional editor, you need someone who knows the genre to read your work. They will be able to tell you if your work sounds contemporary. Retired educator and children’s book author Sandy Brehl said, “My critique partners worked hard to keep me from slipping into “teacher voice” and just let information work itself into the natural storyline… or land on the cutting room floor!”

4. Know your why

Succeeding in a new genre takes time, hard work, and persistence. You will have moments when you want to give up. According to Simon Sinek, author of Find Your Why, it helps to “know the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do.” Whenever you feel like giving up, get connected to your purpose, your why. Knowing that you are writing books to inspire children or bring joy to tired adults or teach people—that will keep you going when you’re facing obstacles.

In 2006, I founded a writing program for young people in Milwaukee. I wrote Mightier for the children I’d taught for years. I knew that they would love reading stories about young people just like them who found their voice, wrote their truth, and changed the world in the process. When I got stuck, remembering them helped me to keep moving forward.

Try this:

Connect your hardest tasks to your why. I encourage my clients to write a goal statement that includes their when and their why:

Each morning, I will write my romance novel so that it will bring joy to people!

Here’s the template:

When: [Time frame]
I will: [Your task and goal]
So that: [Your why]

5. Don’t forget to play

In the midst of writing, publishing, and marketing a book in a new genre, it’s easy to forget the passion and joy that inspired your decision to jump into a new playground. What seemed joyful at first can begin feel like drudgery—especially when you encounter obstacles. When you get stuck, remember why you started on this journey. Embrace the delicious parts. Take time to play with words. You will be happier. You’ll write better. And you’ll delight your readers.


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Why it’s So Much Better to Write to Express, Not to Impress

Have you ever watched a magician make his assistant levitate just by waving his hands?

Here’s what happens.  Two dancers come onto the stage to set the exotic atmosphere.  Once we’re in the mood, the magician’s assistant comes out and lies on a board supported by two chairs.

The magician puts the assistant into a trance. The dancers cover the assistant with the blanket on the board.  They remove the chairs and the magician begins waving his hands.

Magically, the assistant rises.  The magician passes a hoop around the assistant so we can see clearly that there are no ropes or wires lifting the board.


The audience claps and the magician does another trick.

Impressing is a strategy.

Wouldn’t it be great if your readers would be so riveted to your writing that nothing could stop them from reading every word?

What writer doesn’t want that?

Impressing is important, we’re told. If you can’t grab attention, you won’t get a chance to make an impact.

Consider the magician.  They’re making an impression all the time, aren’t they?  And they do it so well, they don’t even have to share their hidden message.

And what might that message be?

It’s okay to believe in magic.

Be careful not to overlook this fact.  The greatest magicians plan to show us that we should believe in magic.  If they just told us, then we’d dismiss it. If they didn’t plan for this, their shows wouldn’t be as good.

When the assistant rises and we can’t see why, we’re convinced (even if only for a moment).  The magician isn’t forcing us to believe.  They’re just presenting a picture and leaving it to us to interpret what we saw.

You impress with a headline or a startling statement to begin your blog post, your essay, or your book. Once you’ve got people’s attention, you’ve got one shot to make your message clear.

That’s where expression comes in.

Expression is a goal.

What impact do you want your writing to make?

The time to ask that question is before you write the first word.

Knowing what you want to accomplish helps you draw a map to get you there.  What road will you lead the reader down?  What sights will the reader see along the way?  What signposts will give hints for what is to come?

The words you choose will depend on the point you want to make.  Consider what the reader might be thinking when they find your piece.  What are they feeling?  What do they believe?  What do you want them to think or feel after they read?

To make your message clear, narrow your focus.

Narrowing means you pick one problem and provide a solution for it.  It means you tell one kind of story for one kind of reader.  To do more is to spread yourself thin and dilute your impact.

When you have one main point, it’s like a tour guide that directs you as you write.  It’s the ruthless editor that helps you cut out everything that doesn’t make your point. It’s the magnifying glass that excludes everything that doesn’t add to your message.

I grew up drinking sweet tea.  The first time or two I made it myself was a test.  I might add too much sugar or too much water.  Or maybe too many tea bags.  When it doesn’t taste right, you might suffer through a glass or two, but you can’t bring yourself to drink a whole gallon.

Your writing is a lot like sweet tea.  If you want your readers to enjoy your writing while they drink it in, suit it to their taste.  Be willing to test—and fail.  Analyze what happened, adjust your focus, and try again.  In time and with practice, you’ll find the right recipe.

You need both to make an impact.

To influence people, you have to draw them to you.

It’s not enough to open the door.  You’ve got to have something appealing inside.  If you bore them after you grab their attention, they’ll walk out on you.

TV producers are experts at this.  They tantalize you with the juiciest clips while you’re watching something else.  If they succeed, then they have to make watching so good you’ll go on a binge.

Think about your favorite shows.  What got you hooked?  What makes them so good you want to tell all your friends about them?

Here are a few:

  • Open loops – They show you a problem but withhold the solution until you watch. Characters you can identify with – When the hero seems like you, you think of them as a friend.  You see yourself in their shoes.  You may even find yourself rooting for them or talking to the screen to tell them what to do.
  • They sell hope – Have you had a bad day and want to laugh? Do you want to be as confident or skilled as your favorite character?  A few minutes escape can be just what the doctor ordered.

What can you add to this list?

Then ask yourself, “How can I use these techniques in my own writing?”

If you need help, take out one of your favorite author’s books.  Read for an hour.  Then grab a cup of coffee (or your favorite beverage) and write down the ways they capture your attention.

Then grab a pen and implement those techniques into your own writing.

Start with one strategy and implement it every day for a week.  Then add another the next week.  Soon you’ll become your ideal reader’s favorite writer!

Source :

By Frank McKinley

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Amazon will distribute ebooks to public libraries

May 19, 2021 By Michael Kozlowski

Amazon has reached a much anticipated deal with the Digital Public Library of America to distribute 10,000 audiobooks and ebooks to libraries. The content will be provided by Amazons own imprints, such as Thomas and Mercer, Amazon Crossing and 47 North. This is the first time that libraries will receive digital books directly from Amazon and this a very big deal.

The audiobooks and ebooks will be available on the DPLA Exchange, the only not-for-profit, library-centered content marketplace. Amazon Publishing titles will begin to be available in the DPLA Exchange via four licensing models this summer.  The vast majority of libraries will be able to access all of the Amazon Publishing titles by the end of the year. Library patrons will be able to access Amazon Publishing titles through SimplyE, the library-developed and managed e-reader app founded by New York Public Library.

I have heard from various library sources that the agreement with DPLA is not exclusive, so Amazon will eventually work out deals with other digital distributors such as the Cloud Library, Hoopla and Overdrive. I think the DPLA agreement was reached, because they literary hammered Amazon for months, trying to make it happen. I believe that the current deal with DPLA was more or less a testbed, so various licensing issues can be hashed out. Their are various terms limitations, but the total costs of each of them are still being worked out. The current terms are;  Unlimited, one user at a time access, two-year license,  Bundles of 40 lends, available with a maximum of 10 simultaneously, with no time limit to use the lends, Bundles of five lends, available simultaneously, with no time limit to use the lends and 26 lends, one user at a time access, the lesser of two years or 26 lends license.

It is currently unknown what the exact costs will be for the different term limits, or if the costs will be calculated differently for audiobooks and ebooks. These sort of things are likely still being worked out, which is why the launch date for the Amazon exclusive content will be sometime this summer.

One of the things I have heard for sure, is that Amazon will not directly receive data from the DPLA on how many times audio or ebooks will be loaned out. This would be solid for people who are concerned about privacy and their borrowing habits being fed into the Amazon analytics  machine.

Michael Kozlowski

Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.

20 bad Internet behaviors – and how to fix them

It would be impossible to describe all the bad things about the internet. Hackers, viruses, scams, and many other dangerous things loom online. It’s our job to protect ourselves as best as we can. Unfortunately, many internet users are negligent and careless when it comes to their security online. Doing a little online shopping while using free public Wi-Fi. Downloading files from sketchy websites. And, of course, creating easy-to-guess passwords, because “no one is interested in hacking my accounts.” There’s no way you can justify these risky actions. So here’s a helpful list of top 20 bad online habits you should change ASAP.

Anna Rasmussen

Anna Rasmussen

Mar 21, 2021 · 7 min readFacebookTwitterCopy link

20 bad Internet behaviors – and how to fix them


Breaking bad online habits (and replacing them with good ones)

While there are countless ways you can put yourself in trouble online, these 20 dangerous internet habits are too common to be ignored. So let’s roll up our sleeves and fix them one by one.

1. Using the same password for everything

This is one of the worst digital habits to have. If a hacker somehow manages to get that single password you use for every login, they will have no trouble accessing all your online accounts. So don’t be lazy and think of a strong, unique password each time you create a new account, especially for banking or shopping sites. You can also get a reliable password manager to help you remember all your unique passwords.

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2. Ignoring software updates

You, me, and the majority of users find software updates annoying as they tend to pop up exactly when you don’t have time to deal with them. So what you normally do, is hit the “Postpone” button thinking you will get back to it later. But you never do.

Keeping antivirus/antimalware programs up-to-date is crucial to make sure your device stays protected from malicious threats. If you don’t feel like checking for updates regularly, just enable your applications to do it automatically.

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3. Downloading free software

There are all kinds of free software available online. You could also find websites that offer to download paid software for free. Before downloading any of it, you must ask yourself “why is it free?”

Usually, the answer is that it will either collect a lot of data about you, bombard you with ads, it’s stolen (and therefore illegal), or it’s actually malware in disguise. Therefore, you should always be very careful when you download any kind of software. Read reviews, make sure the site is legitimate, and have your antivirus ready – just in case.

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4. Not using two-factor authentication

While 2FA makes it extremely difficult for hackers to get into your private files and emails, too many people still don’t use this awesome security feature.

Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security to your account and is available on many online services, including Gmail, Google Drive, Apple’s iCloud, Twitter, and Facebook.

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5. No lock screen protection

Unless you take your phone everywhere you go, without leaving it unattended even for a tiny second, you simply must use some sort of lock screen protection: pattern, PIN code, or password.

If you don’t lock your screen, anyone can install malware or spyware on your phone without you noticing. You should also enable remote location and wiping if possible, so that if someone nabs your phone, you can erase all your private information remotely.

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6. No computer password

People store much more private and sensitive information on their computers than anywhere else but often do nothing to protect it. Don’t make it easy for someone to install spyware or steal your private information. Put a password on your computer and lock it when you leave — even for a few minutes.

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7. No antivirus and antimalware

While ignoring antivirus updates is a bad digital habit, not having any software that protects you from malicious threats is even worse. Therefore, now it would be a perfect time to do some research and get yourself reliable antivirus and antimalware programs. On top of that, install a VPN as well for an extra layer of protection and always keep those three updated.

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8. Uploading files to the cloud as they are

You really need to save those precious GBs on your device’s storage, so you sync your files to the cloud. If you think that your data is safe while sitting comfy in the cloud… Well, it’s not. Most cloud companies can access your files if they want. Also, they are vulnerable to cyberattacks and data breaches, which may put your sensitive data in the wrong hands. You can avoid that by encrypting your files before uploading them to the cloud to keep your secrets private no matter what. Easy-to-use data encryption tools, such as NordLocker, will help.

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9. Clicking on links in strange emails

This is a prime example of bad online behavior. A lot of hacking and malware is successful because people open emails they receive from random strangers. This is known as phishing, and it happens to more people than one could expect. The purpose of phishing emails is to lure users into visiting fake websites. From there, hackers can easily install malware on their victim’s device or steal their passwords, credit card details, and other private information.

So the lesson here is simple: if you don’t know or trust the source, don’t click the link.

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10. Downloading attachments without thinking

While we’re at it — don’t download any sketchy attachments either. If you don’t know the sender, just don’t click on anything in the email you’ve received. This is especially true if you’re at work, as hackers can gain access to your company’s sensitive files.

bad internet memes 10

11. Using HTTP sites

If you haven’t been paying attention to the websites’ URLs when browsing the Internet, you should start doing it. “HTTP” in the prefix of the address indicates that your connection is not secure, meaning that snoopers can see the data you share with that website. That is especially dangerous for online payments and cases when you need to provide personal information. To stay on the safe side, only browse sites that use an SSL —encrypted connection, indicated by HTTPS.

If for some reason you need to visit unprotected websites, enable the NordVPN extension first. It will secure your HTTP traffic with strong encryption.

bad internet memes 11

12. Checking your bank account on public Wi-Fi

This one is especially painful since we all love free Wi-Fi. However, public wireless networks usually lack proper protection, leaving their users open to man-in-the-middle attacks and other nefarious ways for hackers and snoopers to get your information.

When on public Wi-Fi, don’t check any sensitive information, especially if it’s work- or money-related. Or better still — get yourself a VPN and keep your communications safe even on public Wi-Fi.

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13. Clicking on virus warning pop-ups

When visiting certain websites, you may face threatening pop-ups claiming to have found malware or viruses on your computer. Don’t click on them as they will more often than not try installing malware or adware on your device.

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14. Using “123456” as your password

While we all know that we need stronger, better passwords to keep our data safe, the most common passwords found in data breaches are “password” and “123456.” Don’t become a victim of cybercrime — get creative and think of a good, uncrackable password that will keep your data safe from prying eyes.

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15. Downloading files from sketchy sites

Downloading free pirated movies, games, and programs is not cool at all, and it’s one of the easiest ways to get yourself malware. Be very careful on sites you don’t trust, even better — don’t go there at all.

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16. Weak Wi-Fi password

If you don’t have a strong password on your home Wi-Fi, you may be susceptible to easy hacking. If cybercriminals hack your network, they can snoop on you and collect your private information.

One of the best ways to create (and more importantly — remember) your passwords is to use passphrases. You can use the words of that song that you like, or come up with an original phrase and then shorten it, using special symbols and numbers. For instance: “I care about my privacy. My VPN provider is NordVPN” phrase could be converted to a very strong password “1camp.MVpiN”

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17. Agreeing to all terms on software install

Reading terms and conditions every time you want to install a new app is a real pain, and no one’s surprised that you hit “Agree” without bothering to look at what’s written there. However, you should try to make reading at least a part of those terms a new habit.

By agreeing to the terms without reading them, you may be allowing the software to do many things: collect information about you, listen to your conversations, install additional software you don’t need, etc.

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18. Dismissing privacy concerns

If you have a feeling someone may be watching you through your webcam, you are not paranoid. Things like snooping, webcam hacking, and location tracking happen every day, but we are still not used to taking all the warnings seriously.

If you suspect someone is accessing your webcam without your consent, don’t ignore your sixth sense. Better read this article to find out if your camera has been hacked and take some steps to get out of this mess.

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19. Thinking your smartphone is inherently secure

As you probably take your phone everywhere you go, it knows you better than your diary or any living person. So why do you keep it unprotected?

With so much sensitive information residing on your phone, securing your mobile traffic should be the first thing you do after you get a new phone. Start by managing your security settings, adding lock screen protection and downloading the NordVPN app for your iPhone or Android.

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20. Not using a VPN when using public Wi-Fi

We have already talked about the dangers of open Wi-Fi networks, so why are you still on that free hotspot with no VPN protection?

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As such hotspots can be easily hacked or spoofed by a cybercriminal, securing your connection with a VPN is simply a must. NordVPN protects your data with strong encryption and has a bunch of extra security features to keep you safe from hackers, annoying ads, malware and other security threats.

Dealing with bad habits on the internet will require time ant patience. But once you set your mind to it, it will become a second nature. Soon, you won’t even be able to imagine a life without a VPN, password manager, and careful inspection of every email.

Book sales increasing through pandemic, March showing huge surge

Dublin, March 03, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — published a new article on the book store industry “Book Stores – Unit sales of print books increased nearly 25% year over year during the week ended January 2”

Unit sales of print books increased nearly 25% year over year during the week ended January 2

As a result of the pandemic more customers turned to online platforms like Amazon to buy books in 2020. The demand for print books increased as a result of lockdowns and the move to learning from home. Print book sales rose in 2020 to the highest level since 2010, according to the NPD Bookscan. Unit Sales volume for print books rose 8.2% year over year in 2020 to reach 751 million units.

Every category posted gains, led by juvenile fiction print books, which saw sales rise 11%. Adult non-fiction print books, the largest category of books in the US by both volume and sales revenue, increased 4.8%, or 14 million units. Unit sales of print books increased nearly 25% year over year during the week ended January 2 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan.

Direct access to bookstores was one of the last big advantages for traditional publishers but brick and mortar stores have suffered during lockdowns. Many brick and mortar retailers layered more expensive e-commerce offerings and new customer service options, from curbside pickup to home delivery, on top of normal business operations, putting pressure on their already stressed profit margins. In 2021 retailers may face the challenge of creating sustainable business and operational models that can hold or increase margins if COVID driven demand vanishes.

The article on contains a selection of reports on the book stores market such as:

  • Global Sporting Goods, Hobby, Musical Instrument, and Book Stores Market Report 2021: COVID-19 Impact and Recovery to 2030
  • World Book Stores & News Dealers (B2B Procurement) Purchasing Report & Database
  • World Book Stores, General (B2B Procurement) Purchasing Report & Database

The Cornwall a-book: An Augmented Travel Guide Using Next Generation Paper

David M. Frohlich, Emily Corrigan-Kavanagh

Mirek Bober, Haiyue Yuancentre

Radu Sporea, Brice Le Borgne

Caroline Scarles

George Revill, Jan van Duppen

Alan W. Brown, Megan Beynonsurrey


Electronic publishing usually presents readers with book or e-book options for reading on paper or screen. In this paper, we introduce a third method of reading on paper-and-screen through the use of an augmented book (‘a-book’) with printed hotlinks than can be viewed on a nearby smartphone or other device. Two experimental versions of an augmented guide to Cornwall are shown using either optically recognised pages or embedded electronics making the book sensitive to light and touch. We refer to these as second generation (2G) and third generation (3G) paper respectively. A common architectural framework, authoring workflow and interaction model is used for both technologies, enabling the creation of two future generations of augmented books with interactive features and content. In the travel domain we use these features creatively to illustrate the printed book with local multimedia and updatable web media, to point to the printed pages from the digital content, and to record personal and web media into the book.


Experiments in augmented paper date back about 28 years to Newman & Wellner’s (1992) digital desk and its variants. These use a variety of image recognition and tagging technologies to bring paper to life with sound, video and other digital associations that can be updated in a way that the printed word cannot (c.f. Signer & Norrie 2010). Despite demonstrable benefits in lab evaluations, only a few of these prototypes have made it into commercial products, and sometimes only temporarily. QR codes are probably the most commercially successful augmented paper technology, followed by full page recognition using a smartphone held over the printed page. An emerging set of augmented reality (AR) apps can be customised to particular paper documents, but this does not allow mainstream publishers to augment their publications in a generic way which is compatible with their publishing workflow. 

On the Next Generation Paper project we are tackling this problem in partnership with several book publishers in the travel and tourism domain, where paper and web information are already used together:  This commercial orientation may seem like an unusual one for a research project, but we have argued in a previous paper that user-centred design should pay greater attention to commercial factors and technology uptake in the process of innovation itself (Frohlich & Sarvas 2011). For this reason, on our project, we combine a number of classic design methodologies such as design ethnography, prototyping, interaction design, lab experiments and field trials with agile innovation. Hence, Bradt Travel Guides have published a commercial version of our demonstration in March 2019 for market feedback: We call this the Cornwall a-book, after Mackay et al (2002) who first used the term to refer to an augmented laboratory notebook. Here we showcase the prototyping and interaction design elements of the work, ahead of lab, field and market evaluation. 


The augmented book is created using standard publishing software, InDesign (see Figures 1 and 2). InDesign is usually used to create a printed book in a specialist print format. However, it also allows for the simultaneous creation of an e-book in different file formats (for different e-book readers), including interactive e-books with digital hotlinks. We use this latter feature to author an augmented book initially as an interactive e-book for Android smartphones and tablets in fixed format EPUB3.0. Different hotlink icons can be embedded in the text and linked to integral multimedia content or external websites. The book component of this can be printed as usual, but the links are played on a companion smartphone or monitor. In fact, the smartphone runs a ‘Next Generation Paper’ app which reads the interactive e-book file and supports control actions to play links corresponding to particular pages of the printed book. At present, viewing links on a large monitor is achieve with the smartphone in the loop through screen-casting. Future versions of the app might also run on smart TVs or other devices.

Two alternative control technologies can be used to link the physical book to the digital content through the app, as shown in Figures 1 and 2. In the first case, the identity of the currently open page can be entered manually by typing or speaking the page number, or by image recognition of the page itself from the smartphone camera. Speech recognition is provided by Google’s speech-to-text service. Image recognition is provided by Visual Atoms. We refer to this as second generation or 2G paper.Figure 1. Publishing workflowFigure 2. System architecture

Alternatively, light and touch sensors wired to a low power Bluetooth chip can be printed or embedded in the pages and cover of the book (see red book icon in Figure 2). We refer to this as third generation or 3G paper. Light sensors were printed on one side of plastic sheets for each page. These were laminated with paper having ‘windows’ cut out above the sensors as shown in the top right margin of the book in Figure 3. Touch sensor buttons for a variety of link types were embedded in the left and right margins of the book cover shown in Figure 3. Turning to any page and pressing the button for any available link type sends both page and link identity to the smartphone app. The book hardware was created in collaboration with VTT using specialist organic photovoltaic printing equipment. 

Our Next Generation Paper app currently runs in 2G or 3G mode, depending on whether page and link identity is given by optical or embedded sensing. 3G mode establishes a Bluetooth connection between the smartphone and the book. The tile-based app interface is illustrated in Figure 4. The four tiles in the middle panel (i.e. visual recognition, manual page entry, speech-to-text, and bookmarking) allow the user to identify page number and subsequently go to the link screen shown in Figure 5. This screen shows the seven link types used to augment the paper content, and which are available for the current page (highlighted in green). The live location service on the top right tile and twitter feeds and image slide show at the bottom of the screen provide additional interactions.Figure 3. 3G book hardware.Figure 4. Home screen of the Next Generation Paper prototype app


Despite the complexity of the system implementation above, we aimed to achieve a simple interaction in which a printed travel guide can be read in conjunction with a smartphone containing additional information. Working with travel writer Kirsty Fergusson and Bradt Travel Guides, we chose to augment a new edition of their Slow Travel Cornwallguide with a range of multimedia and web content (Fergusson 2019). This illustrates the text, keeps it updated, or connects the reader with some of the organizations mentioned. Figure 5. Link screen of Next Generation Paper app.

By default, the user reads the paper guide book and requests information manually on selected hotlinks (icons) displayed in the book. This is done by speaking, typing or photographing the page before selecting the link type on-screen as in Figures 4 and 5 (2G mode), or by pressing the selected link type on the cover of the book as in Figure 3 (3G mode). Users then select the actual link instance from a list to ‘play’ the content at full screen size on the smartphone. This leads to the paper-and-screen reading experience shown in Figure 6. This example shows the smartphone playing a video interview with a member of staff at the National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow. The interviewee is holding up a ‘berried’ lobster to explain how they are farmed. Figure 6. Multimedia illustration within the paper-and-screen reading paradigm

In addition to this default style of following hotlinks from paper to screen, we have been experimenting with reverse links and notifications pointing from screen to paper. For example, users can watch a slideshow cycling through all the additional digital images for the book at the bottom right of the app home screen shown in Figure 4. Touching any of these images, points the user to the printed page to which the image relates by bringing up its highlighted links as in Figure 5. A similar behavior results from touching flags on the map in the top right of Figure 4. Flags appear on the dynamic home screen map when users move into the Cornwall locations covered in the book, and notifications can be sent to the user even when the app is closed. This gives the travel book a kind of agency to call out to its reader through the app, at moments when the book might be useful to them. 

A final feature of the app allows the user to personalize the guide book by adding their own links to it. The plus symbol at the top of the link screen shown in Figure 5 can be used to cue Image, Audio, Video or Weblinks for association with that page. For example, users could record their own verbal comments on their visit to the lobster hatchery described on page 15.

A short video illustrating the operation of the 2G and 3G technology is shown in Figure 7. This was based on our first demonstration of an augmented Chapter 2 from the second edition of the Cornwall guide.


Although augmented paper and books have been demonstrated and sold before, their behavior has usually been simple and the process of making them has been highly customized to the technology and content used. In this demonstration we have shown how a more generic approach can be taken to what might be called a-books, in which a variety of link types and two-way connections can be established between paper and screen, through a more standardized creation process for both publishers and readers. We distinguish between optical 2G and embedded 3G paper for a-books because we believe optical page recognition is already robust enough to use in commercial applications today. 3G paper has some way to go before it can be made cheaply and reliably enough to manufacture at scale, yet ultimately offers a more seemless and magical interaction with digital content from the paper surfaces alone. By architecting a solution which is compatible with both technologies, we hope to have future-proofed this approach for some years to come, and laid the foundations for publishers to add value to their paper products and services with digital information. 


This work was funded by grant number EP/P02579X/1 from the Digital Economy programme in the UK. We would like to thank Adrian Phillips, Rachel Fielding and Anna Moores at Bradt Travel Guides and Kirsty Fergusson for collaboration on the augmented Cornwall guide.


  • Fergusson, K. 2019. Slow travel Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly, 3rd Edition. Bradt Travel Guides.
  • Frohlich, D.M. and Sarvas, R., 2011. HCI and innovation. In CHI’11 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 713-728). ACM. 
  • Mackay, W.E., Pothier, G., Letondal, C., Bøegh, K. and Sørensen, H.E., 2002. The missing link: augmenting biology laboratory notebooks. In Proceedings of the 15th annual ACM symposium on User interface software and technology (pp. 41-50). ACM.
  • Newman, W. and Wellner, P., 1992. A desk supporting computer-based interaction with paper documents. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 587-592). ACM.
  • Signer, B. and Norrie, M.C. 2010. Interactive paper: past, present and future. In proc ofUbicomp ’10. Sept 26-29th 2010. 

Publishers Are Taking the Internet to Court

In a lawsuit against the Internet Archive, the largest corporations in publishing want to change what it means to own a book.

By Maria Bustillos

SEPTEMBER 10, 2020

When Covid-19 struck, hundreds of millions of students were suddenly stranded at home without access to teachers or libraries. UNESCO reported that in April, 90 percent of the world’s enrolled students had been adversely affected by the pandemic. In response, the Internet Archive’s Open Library announced the National Emergency Library, a temporary program suspending limits on the number of patrons who could borrow its digital books simultaneously. The Open Library lends at no charge about 4 million digital books, 2.5 million of which are in the public domain, and 1.4 million of which may be under copyright and subject to lending restrictions. (This is roughly equivalent to a medium-sized city library; the New York Public Library, by comparison, holds 21.9 million books and printed materials and 1.78 million e-books, according to 2016 figures from the American Library Association.) But the National Emergency Library wound up creating an emergency of its own—for the future of libraries.

Brewster Kahle, the Internet Archive’s founder and digital librarian, wrote in March that the National Emergency Library would ensure “that students will have access to assigned readings and library materials…for the remainder of the US academic calendar.” He acknowledged that authors and publishers would also be harmed by the pandemic, urged those in a position to buy books to do so, and offered authors a form for removing their own books from the program, if they chose.

More than 100 libraries, archives, and other institutions signed on to a statement of support for the program, including MIT, Penn State, Emory University, the Boston Public Library, Middlebury College, Amherst College, George Washington University, the Claremont Colleges Library, and the Greater Western Library Alliance. Writing in The New Yorker, Harvard history professor and author Jill Lepore joined many media observers in praising the National Emergency Library as “a gift to readers everywhere.”

A number of other authors, however, took to Twitter to complain.

“Guys. Not helpful,” tweeted novelist Neil Gaiman.

“They scan books illegally and put them online. It’s not a library,” novelist Colson Whitehead tweeted in March. (I wrote last week to ask Whitehead what laws he thought were being broken, or whether he’d since altered his views on this matter, and he declined to comment.)

On June 1, Whitehead’s publisher, Penguin Random House, together with fellow megapublishers Hachette, HarperCollins, and Wiley, filed a lawsuit against the Internet Archive alleging “mass copyright infringement.” The Internet Archive closed the National Emergency Library on June 16, citing the lawsuit and calling for the publishers to stand down. But the plaintiffs are continuing to press their claims, and are now seeking to close the whole Open Library permanently.

The trial is set for next year in federal court, with initial disclosures for discovery scheduled to take place next week. The publishers’ “prayer for relief” seeks to destroy the Open Library’s existing books, and to soak the Internet Archive for a lot of money; in their response, the Archive is looking to have its opponents’ claims denied in full, its legal costs paid, and “such other and further relief as the Court deems just and equitable.” But what’s really at stake in this lawsuit is the idea of ownership itself—what it means not only for a library but for anyone to own a book.

The Internet Archive is far more than the Open Library; it’s a nonprofit institution that has become a cornerstone of archival activity throughout the world. Brewster Kahle is an Internet pioneer who was writing about the importance of preserving the digital commons in 1996. He built the Wayback Machine, without which an incalculable amount of the early Web would have been lost for good. The Internet Archive has performed pioneering work in developing public search tools for its own vast collections, such as the television news archive, which researchers and journalists like me use on an almost daily basis in order to contextualize and interpret political reporting. These resources are unique and irreplaceable.

The Internet Archive is a tech partner to hundreds of libraries, including the Library of Congress, for whom it develops techniques for the stewardship of digital content. It helps them build their own Web-based collections with tools such as Archive-It, which is currently used by more than 600 organizations including universities, museums, and government agencies, as well as libraries, to create their own searchable public archives. The Internet Archive repairs broken links on Wikipedia—by the million. It has collected thousands of early computer games, and developed online emulators so they can be played on modern computers. It hosts collections of live music performances, 78s and cylinder recordings, radio shows, films and video. I am leaving a lot out about its groundbreaking work in making scholarly materials more accessible, its projects to expand books to the print-disabled—too many undertakings and achievements to count.

For-profit publishers like HarperCollins or Hachette don’t perform the kind of work required to preserve a cultural posterity. Publishers are not archivists. They obey the dictates of the market. They keep books in print based on market considerations, not cultural ones. Archiving is not in the purview or even the interests of big publishers, who indeed have an incentive to encourage the continuing need to buy.

But in a healthy society, the need for authors and artists to be compensated fairly is balanced against the need to preserve a rich and robust public commons for the benefit of the culture as a whole. Publishers are stewards of the right of authors to make a fair living; librarians are stewards of cultural posterity. Brewster Kahle, and the Internet Archive, are librarians, and the Internet Archive is a new kind of library.

I first spoke with Kahle in 2013, when he became one of just a handful of people in the United States permitted to discuss his receipt of a National Security Letter from the NSA. Hundreds of thousands of these letters were sent out, but only the three that had been successfully challenged in court, and thus rescinded, could be discussed in public without risking imprisonment. The NSA had demanded that the Internet Archive divulge personal information about a library patron, and the only way to refuse to comply (without being jailed) was to sue the government, so that’s what Kahle decided to do. The Internet Archive won that lawsuit, with the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU.

“I’m a librarian!” he told me, back then. “Libraries have had a long history of dealing with authoritarian organizations demanding reader records—just, who’s read what—and this has led to people being rounded up and killed.”

Now Kahle finds himself on the other side of a lawsuit. The key issue in this one is the as-yet-untested legal theory of Controlled Digital Lending (CDL), which the Internet Archive and partner libraries have been working out over the last few years, in order to deal fairly with the new question of lending digitized books within the parameters of existing copyright law. CDL was designed to mirror the age-old library practice of (1) buying or otherwise acquiring a physical book, and (2) loaning it out to one patron at a time.

Like a traditional library, the Internet Archive buys or accepts donations of physical books. The archive scans its physical books, making one digital copy available for each physical book it owns. The digitized copies are then loaned out for a limited period, like a traditional library loan. The physical books from which the scans were made are stored and do not circulate, a practice known as “own-to-loan.”

Harvard copyright scholar and lawyer Kyle Courtney has explained this reasoning very clearly. “Libraries do not need permission or a license to loan those books that they have purchased or acquired,” he said at a recent conference. “Copyright law covers those exact issues.… Congress actually placed all of these specialized copyright exemptions for libraries in the Copyright Act itself.”

The for-profit publishers in the lawsuit, however, do not care for this idea. What they allege in the complaint is this: “Without any license or any payment to authors or publishers, IA [the Internet Archive] scans print books, uploads these illegally scanned books to its servers, and distributes verbatim digital copies of the books in whole via public-facing websites.”

What this ominous description fails to acknowledge is that all libraries that lend e-books “distribute verbatim digital copies of the books in whole via public-facing websites.” Yet the publishers claim later in the same document that they have no beef with regular libraries. They love libraries, they say (“Publishers have long supported public libraries, recognizing the significant benefits to the public of ready access to books and other publications”), and are “in partnership” with them: “This partnership turns upon a well-developed and longstanding library market, through which public libraries buy print books and license ebooks (or agree to terms of sale for ebooks) from publishers.”

The real issue emerges here: The words “license ebooks” are the most important ones in the whole lawsuit.

Publishers approve of libraries paying for e-book licenses because they’re temporary, just like your right to watch a movie on Netflix is temporary and can evaporate at any moment. In the same way, publishers would like to see libraries obliged to license, not to own, books—that is, continue to pay for the same book again and again. That’s what this lawsuit is really about. It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that publishers took advantage of the pandemic to achieve what they had not been able to achieve previously: to turn the library system into a “reading as a service” operation from which they can squeeze profits forever.

Their argument also hinges on the notion that it’s illegal to scan a book that you own. Note that this is what’s being claimed in the complaint: that the books are “illegally scanned,” as Whitehead tweeted back in March. It’s not just the distribution of “pirated” copies they’re trying to prevent. It’s doing as you wish with your own property.

This runs deeper than the question of digital format. NYU law professor Jason Schultz, co-author of The End of Ownership, explained it in an e-mail: “The key here is that our law and cultures have always distinguished between owning something and temporarily purchasing access to something. Most people know the difference between owning a home and renting one, or owning a tuxedo or renting one. We also know this with most media, for example the difference between buying a copy of a film on DVD and going to see it in the theater.”

The Internet is 31 years old, and in those three short decades the virtual world we’ve come to depend on has slowly eroded the idea of private ownership—literally, your right to call your belongings your own. Things you used to buy just once, such as your own private copies of software like Photoshop or Word, your privately owned vinyl discs and CDs, or movies on VHS—have increasingly begun to come through dispensing services you pay for every month, from vendors like Adobe, Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify. And you’ll never stop paying.

That rentier mentality is now reaching into the world of books. As Schultz elaborated: “For each physical book that a library owns, it can lend it out to whomever it chooses for as long as it wants and the copyright owner has no say in how such lending happens. But here, because digital technology is involved, the publishers are asserting that they can control how/when/where/why libraries lend out digital copies.… In other words, they want to change the rules in their favor and take away one of the most cherished and valuable contributions that libraries make to society—allowing members of the public to read for free from the library’s collection.”

The oldest surviving library in England was founded in 1653 through the bequest of Humphrey Chetham, a Manchester textile merchant and banker, “for the use of schollars and others well affected to learning, the books to remain as a public library for ever.” Chetham’s Library has been in continuous operation as a free public library for more than 350 years. The first keeper was charged with opening “from 8 till 11 in the morning, and from one till four in the afternoon,” and “to require nothing of any man that cometh into the library.”

We’ve come a long way since then—for good or ill—but the Internet isn’t as inherently democratic as Silicon Valley would like us to believe. Technology at the end of the 20th century advanced too quickly to prevent all kinds of unwanted consequences and threats to laws and long-held principles, like a boom town built with no zoning, ramshackle and rowdy, by people more intent on finding gold than on creating a worthwhile community in which to live.

It’s not easy getting anyone at the Internet Archive to discuss these matters in the middle of litigation, but I did manage to speak with Brewster Kahle for a few moments.

“Libraries buy, preserve, and lend,” he said. “That’s been the model forever. [Libraries] actually supply about 20 percent of the revenue to the publishing industry. But if they cannot buy, preserve, and lend—if all they become is a redistributor, a Netflix for books—my God, we have a society that can get really out of control. Because if a publisher maintains control over every reading event, who’s allowed to read it, when are they allowed to read it, if they’re allowed to read it, and be able to prevent anybody, or particular regions, from being able to see something, we are in George Orwell world.

“What libraries do, is they buy, preserve, and lend. What this lawsuit is about—they’re saying the libraries cannot buy, they cannot preserve, and they cannot lend.”

Libraries have operated on those principles for thousands of years, collecting, preserving, and sharing knowledge not for profit but as a public good—requiring nothing. For many centuries, young people of limited means have been the explicitly intended beneficiaries and users of libraries. Some of those young people grew up to write books themselves. It would be a tragedy if the profit motive were to succeed at last in putting an end to that.