I’ve recently started using Amazon’s Kindle. I didn’t buy one, I couldn’t justify buying an environmentally costly piece of tech designed merely for e-reading, though admittedly, the Kindle Fire does look very lovely and is a far more environmentally and economically sound investment versus the old one-trick-pony Kindle. Unfortunately, being that I’m a poor college student, I don’t have $150 lying around. I’m kind of saving up my money in hopes of visiting the optometrist soon and getting a pair of glasses so that I don’t get crow’s feet style wrinkles from squinting at the board during school lectures.
Anyhow, so I sprung for the only Kindle in my budget, the free Google Chrome app.
I’ve bought a few e-books: an ethnography on the Hadza Hunter-Gatherers that I needed to read for one of my Anthropology classes (and I got full points on the paper I had to write reviewing it), Odd and the Frost Giants written by my favorite author (it was on sale), and Infected: Click Your Poison by James Schannep (because, duh, zombies — totally worth the four bucks by the way, I recommend going and buying).
I’m liking e-books so far. The one-click buying option on Amazon makes it very dangerous for my wallet, but otherwise, the Kindle’s highlighting and note-taking capabilities proved very useful for my writing assignment, and I like that my Kindle app on the computer can synch to the one on my phone, and I’m able to open up at the page I left off reading on anywhere, anytime.
On twitter, which is another dangerous new toy that’s becoming far too much of a distraction, I’ve recently collected several e-book authors on both my follower and following lists, and I realized as I sat there scrolling through the ridiculously numerous tweets of “buy my e-book” or “buy his e-book” or “buy her e-book”, that we are currently in the midst of a revolution in the literature world. This thought may or may not have been prompted by an email update I received from Writer’s Digest featuring an article talking about e-books as an easy, low-cost alternative to conventional forms of self-publishing.
Admittedly, I have a few prejudices when it comes to self-publishing, I think most people do, but I’m trying to break away from those biases. I like the indie movement, in music, movies, video games especially, so it stands to reason that I should be open-minded towards indie books, but I’m still very torn on the issue.
I know that traditional publishing can be very difficult to break into, with or without an agent. I’ve heard many an anecdote on the subject; one about Steven King taking his first book to something like thirty-four different publishing houses before one agreed to option his manuscript and that J.K. Rowling and her agent had to offer paying half-the-costs of printing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in order to get a publisher willing to sign. If such stories are true, it does beg the question, do publishers really know what makes a good story? Not to mention, it fuels theories of an elitist world, where publishers decide whose voices can be heard, censoring the masses by silencing and squashing stories they dislike for whatever subjective reasoning they might supply.
On the flip-side, I feel that, with a few exceptions, the traditional publishing industry does help to maintain a certain standard of quality in the literary world. When you, allegedly, have experts with degrees in English, Literature, Creative Writing, etc., boasting oodles of practical knowledge on the fine mechanics of story-telling, sorting through the hundreds of millions of would-be novels they receive yearly, you have to assume that at the very least, a good chunk of the absolute best in that stack are making it through to our eager reader hands. I’m not an English teacher, and I’m not an editor, I don’t want to read juvenile writing efforts, and I most certainly don’t want to waste precious money (poor college student, remember?) on a book that probably should have been rewritten a couple hundred more times, or maybe just been tossed altogether. Cruel as it may be, there is still much benefit in the tactics of the traditional publishing industry.
That being said, what do e-books mean for publishing? Some speculate that between Amazon signing authors and the advent of the e-book industry, traditional publishing houses might be looking at going the way of the dinosaurs. Though it would set a very scary precedent for the future, I’m not entirely convinced. I do think that most authors looking to break into the field will try more conventional publishing routes first, e-books take a lot of work on the writer’s part, generally requiring the writer to do their own marketing, schedule their own events, and just all around doing the promotional work that a publishing house would do for them. For some of these beginning authors, Amazon will be that “conventional” route, but there will be other author’s that won’t want to sign with Amazon for varying personal or professional reasons. Those that can’t find a way into writing, or perhaps just don’t like the idea of going through traditional publishers may then look at e-books as an initial option, some will possibly stay e-book only, but I think many will use it merely as a springboard into print.
Because, honestly, at the end of the day, digital cannot replace the feel of holding an actual solid book in your hands, feeling the texture of the pages beneath your fingertips, hearing the soothing whisper with each turn, and breathing in the familiar smells of either the fresh ink in a brand new text or the dust and age in an ancient, yellowing tome. The words aren’t the story alone, but the book itself, the object in physical form, is an experience that book-philes like myself will be none too eager to give up in lieu of fancy highlighting and note-taking capabilities.
I like my Kindle apps. I love my books.
That being said, I think one day I may publish an e-book or two, mainly because I have some stories I’d like to put out there that I don’t think would ever sell in the traditional market. Why write them then? Well, every writer knows the answer to that question, the stories will eat me alive if I don’t.