Eight years ago, my book was released into the wild in Canada on a small scale. Publication day meant that smooth-covered books arrived at my house. They had my name on them and they smelled and felt like Real Books. It was intoxicating.
This week, Seeker of Stars was released into a bigger ocean but no books arrived on my doorstep or yours. There will be print versions available, but the book was initially released as an e-book, and is currently only available online. The intoxication this time was that, almost in real time, I could see the ranking of the book rise as more and more people downloaded the book. Where last time it took weeks to understand where the book had gone, this time I could see within hours.
I don’t know about you but the changes in the publishing world are challenging for me. Truth be told, most change is challenging for me. I don’t tend to be an early adopter of technology (I don’t have a smart phone of any stripe, for instance.) I am inordinately fond of the sensory pleasures of a book — the fonts, the binding, raised lettering on a cover; what a book smells like can make or break a purchase for me. I’m also a passionate supporter of our beloved local bookstore (WordsWorth Books).
And now I’m an e-book author.
Last Christmas, I took my first, Luddite-y steps into this brave new world when I snagged a small e-reader at a Christmas gift exchange. (OK, I stole it from my mother — but that was allowed within the rules of the Christmas game.) Over the next month, I spent a fair bit of time in hospitals with very sick friends and relations. Sometimes I had to be there on the spur of the moment. Sometimes I had to sit around for long, long, stressful periods of time. To distract myself on such occasions, I tend to clean out my purse, organize receipts, read through my (paper) calendar, etc. This time, however, I pulled out my little ereader and escaped into fictional worlds.
Would I ever look back? Yes. I still enjoy the pleasure of a real book, often. I buy those books from the brilliant curators at my local bookstore. But I also look ahead and I enjoy the pleasures of an e-book: when I was sick and had exhausted all of a favourite author’s books available in the local library, I downloaded several of her books from the privacy of my own tissue-ridden bed and was able to be reading within minutes.
I don’t want to see good bookstores disappear; booksellers indeed play a vital role in communities and in literature. Nor do I want to see physical books disappear. I don’t believe they are likely to. But publishing seems to be a difficult industry these days and ebooks present both a challenge to publishers and a solution.
I often tell fledgling writers that it is incredibly hard to find a publisher because publishing is a risky business: what will sell? what will languish in the warehouse? I tell them to think of the books they see on the racks in airports, the well-known authors. Those are the low-risk, high-return authors. Someone like me? Much higher risk. Because maybe my writing is good, but how do you, as a reader know that? Will you take that risk? Maybe. And maybe a publisher and you will be more likely to take that risk if the book is an ebook and neither of you has to pay for the paper and the shipping and all the costs of a physical book.
Whether it is exciting or difficult for us, change happens. Often we can’t see what the results of change will be. So to this emerging book form and its ripple effects on reading, commerce and community. But here is what I am unequivocally glad about: at long last, people are able to read and enjoy what I’ve written. As I said in my last blog post, I’m not entirely convinced that a book is a book until it is read. If ebooks enable a book to reach more eyes, I’m in. How about you?