e-book, e-publisher, e-fun


“My name is Chris and I … until recently … used to be a printed book addict.”

Yes, dear readers, I had it bad: bookstores used to suck me in, tearing the money out of my wallet for, at first, a single paperback, but then whole boxes and then entire bookcases of reading materials.

My bedroom walls were covered by bookshelves of paperbacks, my coffee table’s legs bowed under the weight of picture books, my toilet tank cracked from the weight of stacked hardbacks, and my nightstand always had a perilous pre-topple of trade paperbacks. Professionally, I looked at printed books as the one-and-only, and glowered at those who’d gone the ebook route.

I said ‘until recently’ because a few years ago, that changed. This is the story of how I went from being a printed book junkie to an e- book booster.

Part of it was simple pragmatism: publisher after publisher after publisher has simply closed up shop—and the few that remain have cut their buying dramatically. No one likes to say it out loud but it’s commonly understood that if you’re a writer who insists on publishing exclusively in print … well, it must feel very much like being a master calligrapher looking for work after Gutenberg changed the world with moveable type.

The other part is when I looked around at my bedroom walls, my coffee table, my bathroom, my bedroom, my kitchen, and then my basement—and realized with a chill that while, yes, it’s still very nice to hold a book in your hand, relish the crispness of the paper, feel the weight of it, breath the smell of it, print books are actually tremendously wasteful … and not good for writers.

Think of it this way: your books comes out from a traditional printed-book publisher. That’s fine. That’s dandy. But if they only printed a few thousand— if you’re lucky—copies then that’s all there is. Ever. (Unless it sells well enough to go into a second printing, which happens but it’s not common.) Once those are gone, for whatever reason, your work is nothing but a memory—and then after you and the few people who read your book are gone it’s nothing but … well, nothing.

E-books have their flaws, but once an e-book is published, it can stay accessible for as long as there’s an Internet: days, weeks, centuries, eons even. There’s virtually no cost to send out a single copy or a million. Each e-book you write can sit out there forever, waiting patiently to be discovered and enjoyed.

Because printed-book publishers basically have to bet on an author’s popularity, there’s a large amount of pressure on a writer to perform. If you don’t sell enough copies, you simply aren’t worth their time or energy to publish again. If an e-book doesn’t sell, it might not be ideal but it isn’t a disaster for the author or the publisher.

The same is true for bookstores. If an author doesn’t sell, they don’t re-order their books—and if they don’t re-order books the publisher starts to question not just that particular author but maybe even that entire genre.

Even ecologically printed books are bad: trees for paper, energy for printing and shipping, energy for those who recycle them or landfills for those who stupidly won’t. Honestly, do you want to see Al Gore cry?

A great side effect of the e-book revolution is that almost anyone can become a publisher, even writers themselves. Yes, it’s possible that the world will become supersaturated with publishers to a point where writers won’t be able to get themselves heard above the noise of them all. But it also means that if you write it more than likely someone will publish it.

So what makes a good e-book publisher? It really depends on what you’re looking for: a big one so you’ll have name recognition by proxy or a smaller and ‘hungrier’ house where every book is special because you’re one of dozens and not thousands? Do you want to work with a publisher who only handles erotica or with one who puts out a wide range of books? Do you want someone who will either publish your work as an e-book as well as a printed one, or would you be fine with just a digital edition? Only you know what will suit you best. Isn’t it nice to have options?

By the way, just in case some of you haven’t heard, print isn’t likely to die. Instead, it will probably become an option called “Print on Demand” where a hardcopy will be printed ‘on demand’ and shipped out to you. The technology is a few years away but will be here before you know it.

The best thing, though, about the e-book revolution, which I’ll be writing about more in the next few Streetwalkers, is the flexibility it gives to writers. For every print publisher closing its doors, a new crop of e-book publishers springs up, offering a whole new world for writers to explore. There are options today that have never existed, ever. Think of today not as the fading of traditional print publishers but instead an explosion of possibilities and options. If you don’t like one publisher there are dozens—if not hundreds—of others out there who might think you’re the best writer who ever lived, or at least treat you really well.

Yes, I miss the smell of books, the feel of books, even the taste of books but then I fire up my Mac, or flick my finger across the screen of my iPhone, and there are books after books after books after books, from Homer to Steinbeck to Hugo to Verne, to Dickens to virtual unknowns like this M.Christian guy—and that is truly, staggeringly, awesome.

M. Christian
July 2009

“Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker” © 2009 M. Christian. All rights reserved.

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