It can be tough to embrace change, and things are changing so fast in publishing it’s hard to keep up. Facing my writing table are three Skandia bookcases chock full of books, the fruit of years of store browsing, used book sales and Amazon orders (I like to think my books cheer me on when I write). Yet the bookshelf is disappearing from the average American home.
But there is hope, because people are starting to walk around with digital bookshelves. In 2010 a tipping point was reached: Amazon, the biggest bookseller in the world, sold more ebooks than it did paperback books. The digital future which had swept the music, movie and television worlds, had finally kicked in the door to publishing.
Also in 2010, I inventoried the fiction I hadn’t published yet and found The Surfer, a favorite story I had lovingly revised and rethought and rewritten in drafts over the years. It was inspired by a near drowning experience I had in Hawaii. It progressed in a winding, circuitous way: some stories and characters are weirdly tenacious. They glow with a peculiar energy and you just keep coming back to them. But it’s a longish story (almost a novella) and it’s nearly impossible to publish anything over 5,000 words these days; most magazines won’t even consider it. Printing costs are high, space is limited. I’m a maximalist at heart, a natural novelist, but I’d edited The Surfer down to its final shape. Cutting further was out of the question.
But it was perfect for an ebook — that unit of digital publishing. I decided to go for it, to use the internet and unleash it on the world. That I could go for it is one of the advantages of being a writer today. This method of delivery potentially reaches well beyond the print run of a struggling lit mag. An ebook is a click away from anyone in the world with a Kindle, an Ipad, a Nook, a Palm, a Mac or PC.
Also, I was driven by the sense we are entering a new digital era of writing and publishing. I wanted to wade into the swamp and explore. Welcome to the DIY Social Media Era: where each writer (like it or not), from the highest to the most obscure, is primarily responsible for their promotion and marketing. And to succeed you must use digital tools to promote and engage, far and wide, with the depth and width of your exposure playing a role in your ultimate success.
Of the epublishing websites I used, Smashwords came with a 65 page PDF guide to formatting by CEO Mark Coker (illegal paragraph indents are illustrated as BAD! in blood red letters), but I give Mark credit for clarity, necessary since their source files must be compatible with 10 different formats. Amazon takes Word docs to magically turn into their Mobipocket format. An ePub version of my story went up seamlessly on Barnes & Noble.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m pro real books too, and pro independent bookstores. My disintegrating hardback of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test I will cherish forever. But I want reading, and all the amazing writers out there, to compete and thrive in the world as it is, and it is a digital world.
Reading as a pastime has mightily suffered in the last twenty years. It’s suffered from the competition of broadband television, the internet, video games, ipods, virtual role playing, and Facebook. The time suck of digital rabbit holes is limitless. There are some of the youngest generation who are only engaged when a device, a blinking screen or a console is involved. But along come the eReaders to champion reading! Kindlers and Nookers will tell you, the download accessibility of ebooks is encouraging them to read more than ever. eBooks, as accessible as an iTunes song, a YouTube video, or an Iphone app. eBooks have entered the digital game, and so far, to bet against the march of technology is to lose.
The traditional publishing world and the fast evolving indie publishing world of blogs, ebooks and social networking seem to regard one another warily right now, but a middle route seems to be emerging where ebooks and digital media provide a testing ground, an incubator for writers, who upon reaching a certain level attract the attention of agents and major publishers.
So I released The Surfer as an ebook because I wanted my story of struggle and friendship and nature and despair and lies and beauty to be set free into the world and discovered and loved. And because I want a piece of the digital wave which is gathering in a low, sucking trough, about to leap and give us all a ride.