I'm a huge supporter of ebooks. Ironically when I speak about them online or at conferences, and caution aspiring authors on the perils of e-publishing their works, they take that as an attack on the format or on the entrepreneurial spirit. That couldn't be further from the truth. I caution people on ePublishing because having an Amazon page doesn't equate to sales, and unless your goal is simply to have your book available for download, you need an actual plan in order to sell your books. When I released my first ebook-exclusive novel Faking Life, I did it to present the prologue to my career, a book I wrote as a younger man, a book that, despite the flaws of youth and inexperience, I felt still had some merit. (Especially since the book is about a man whose life is unknowingly manipulated in order to sell more copies of his memoir -- and in the age of Greg Mortenson and James Frey, it seems more relevant than ever.)
But the ePublishing boom has me thinking about other ways that ePublishing will affect the landscape, and not from a reader or publisher perspective, but from the author's perspective. Now, if an author can make a living, or at least achieve their unique goals through ePublishing, these changes might not matter. But looking back at my career, there are certain events or moments that still live with me. And I wonder if down the road, if/when ebooks become the dominant format, how the loss of these moments might affect authors.
Book Signings: Now, the sad truth is that unless you're a mega bestselling author, you're likely not to get more than 20-30 people at any given book signing. And every author, for certain, has had events with far less (I know I have). However, bookstores are far less likely (and likely not at all) to host events for authors who are ePublished. And though my first few book signings were about as relatively well-attended as the average Pittsburgh Pirates game, they meant the world to me. I remember friends and family standing outside stores imploring strangers to come inside. The first strangers came to my events with worn and tattered copies of my books asking for a signature. I had my very first book signing at a terrific independent store called the Black Orchid, where my father shopped for years. I had later events at the legendary Mysterious Bookshop, where I'd long dreamed of signing, as well as a well-attended event at my local Borders at Kips Bay. Today, both the Black Orchid and Borders Kips Bay have closed their doors. As writing is such a solitary endeavor, experiencing these bittersweet moments made it all seem worthwhile.
Seeing Your Book in Stores: When my first book, The Mark, was published, I still remember the first time I walked into my local Barnes & Noble and saw it sitting there on the New Release shelf. It was a magical moment. I remember when my second book, The Guilty, came out, seeing a stranger pick it up off the shelves, take it to the cashier and pay for it in front of my own eyes. I've had people tell me they saw my book being read on airplanes. The Mark was optioned for film because a movie producer randomly picked up a copy at LAX, read it on his flight and contacted my agent when he landed. I've heard from readers who picked up my book at a garage sale, and then purchased my other works. Now obviously these experiences can be translated into ebooks, but I have to believe they'd feel slightly different.
Collectors and Fans: If you have numerous books in print, every author has had that experience where a fan comes up and presents you with copies of your old backlist books, some in pristine condition for collecting, some worn and loved and creased. To know that your books are sitting on a stranger's shelf, being read and read again, cannot be duplicated. And while there are ways for authors to sign ebooks or ereaders, writing your name in ink on the title page, having that special pen you bring to book signings, handing your work to a smiling reader, are things I imagine most writers would certainly miss.
Friends: Few things bring me more joy when I see strangers reading books written by authors I know and care about. I've taken pictures of my friends' books in my local bookstores, told strangers that I know the author they're reading and how much this will mean to them. I love seeing people reading their Nooks and Kindles on the subway, but unless you want to seriously violate personal space, it's difficult to see what they're reading. And since books, at their heart, are social experiences, this is something that I fear will be lost in e-ink.
That Feeling: Opening up that first box of books from my publisher was one of the greatest moments of my life. I'm counting down the days until I get finished copies of my first book for young readers, Zeke Bartholomew: Superspy, in my hands. Now, I suppose these can be superficial moments. A book is text, and text reads the same either in print or in digital form. But there's something about feeling your book in your hands that is, simply put, a special experience. The day may come when authors no longer receive galleys, no longer hold finished books in their hands. And while the end result may still be many readers and enough money to make a career, that is a moment, again, that I fear may be lost.
In the end, the act of writing a book will not change. Whether by computer, pen or typewriter (yes, some authors still use those), the words get to the page in the same way they always do. Yet as the publishing world changes, as do the ways in which readers digest books, I feel that many of the most meaningful moments in an author's career will be lost or different in a way to make them unrecognizable. Some will be okay with that. Others, like me, can support ebooks and the vast potential they have to change the industry and world for the better, yet still feel a sense of loss both for themselves and those currently toiling away at their word processors, unsure whether they'll have a chance to have their heart leap for joy they way they always dreamed.
Jason Pinter is the bestselling author of five thriller novels (the most recent of which are The Fury and The Darkness), as well as the ebook exclusive thriller FAKING LIFE, which have nearly 1.5 million copies in print in over a dozen languages. His first novel for young readers, Zeke Bartholomew: Superspy!, will be released in November 2011. Visit him at www.jasonpinter.com or follow him on Twitter.
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