Thursday, September 30, 2010

E-books and the future of publishing

       I spent last evening “speed dating” with Wyoming librarians.  Six other authors and I went around the room and spoke to small groups of librarians about writing and publishing.  Since I don’t have a current book to promote, I mostly discussed e-books and changes in the market. E-books were specially on my mind because I’d just read Michelle Black’s post on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s loop about how her recently self-published e-book is actually out-selling her new conventionally published print-book on Amazon. And only a couple of days ago, I was discussing e-books with a long-time library patron, who said that since he’s gotten an e-reader, he’s actually reading more than he ever did before, because of the convenience and the relatively low cost of e-books. 
       The consensus seems to be that e-books have finally arrived and are going to become a larger and larger part of the market. Confirming that thought was the conversation I had recently with my new agent. I was discussing with her the prospect of releasing my early books as e-books.  She advised against it, saying that if I ever wanted to resell those books to a conventional publisher, they wouldn’t be interested unless they got the e-book rights as well. 
       So e-books are the new buzz word, but nobody really has any idea how they’re going to change things.  Michelle’s take on it is that publishers, who traditionally served as the “gatekeepers” of printed stories and information, will no longer have that role. Instead, the new gatekeepers will be internet review sites, blogs and social networking. The role of “word-of-mouth”, which has always been important in creating bestsellers, will become more and more important.  But it won’t be people talking about books in person, but through electronic communication.
       With the librarians, I discussed how this change will impact librarians. My belief is that libraries will still be important, but in different ways. For one thing, there are certain books that people will still want in print.  Despite e-books, hardcover sales are up. People are still buying books, books they want to have in the personal collections, books they want to hold and cherish in the traditional way. One of the authors presenting last night, Cat Urbigkit, has written some wonderful children’s picture books on sheep herding and Wyoming wildlife. Her wildlife books are illustrated with gorgeous photographs by photographer Mark Goche. Those books would certainly be much less enjoyable in e-book format. 
       But for those of us who write adult novels, e-books are likely to have more impact. Western author John Nesbitt was also part of the program and he’s already had to come to terms with the changes e-books have wrought.  His latest western was supposed to be published this month by Dorchester Books, who just a couple of months ago announced they were no longer going to publish mass market paperbacks, but release their current contracted titles as e-books and then maybe, six months later, as trade paperbacks. So John’s latest book isn’t going to appear in print until sometime in the future—and possibly not even then. Certainly a discouraging development for a western author, who’s primary readers are fairly old and probably too traditional to make the change to e-books.
       The always-amazing Kathleen and Michael Gear were also part of the program (they write the “People Of… historical series, among other things.) As we were discussing the Dorchester move and the thought that the company may have to been forced into that decision to avoid bankruptcy, Kathleen mentioned she believes that several of the big publishers are in big financial trouble. If e-books and other market trends force the conventional publishers into bankruptcy, what does that mean for us authors?
      Change, change and more change, I guess.  I’m not wild about change, but it seems to be the nature of things. But whatever happens, I believe that people are more desperate for stories now than they ever have been. They yearn to escape into fictional worlds, to visit other times and places. As writers, that’s what we offer, and so no matter what happens, I’m confident that writing, and publishing, will survive in some form.

Keep the faith,


Thursday, September 23, 2010

From Blogs to a Writer’s Vision

I’ve heard that children born after 2000 are called “digital natives” because they’ve never known a world without the internet, mobile phones and MP3’s. The rest of us are “digital immigrants” and break down into three categories: avoiders, reluctant adopters and eager adopters. 
But it’s not as simple as that. I’m an eager adopter in some areas and a reluctant adopter, or even an avoider, in others.  I’m most comfortable with technologies that use skills I’m adept at.  I love “surfing the net” because it’s really the same as doing research from books, which I’ve been doing most of my life, and I’ve used email, which is just another form of written communication, for years. But I’ve dragged my feet on Facebook and Twitter and texting on cell phones because it’s not like anything I’ve done before.  I can’t get used to the idea of using abbreviations and slang in written communication, and I’m uncomfortable with the sort of exhibitionist, “look at me/listen to me” aspects of Facebook and Twitter. 
But common wisdom is that if you’re in an occupation that requires self-promotion, like writing, you need to do these things.  The idea of having a blog is also mentioned, along with blog tours and blog promo, and I thought, “I can do that!”  So here I am. 
I like the idea of a blog because it’s sort of like keeping a journal, indeed blogs are sometimes considered on-line journals. The term “blog” comes from a variation on “web log”.  Someone suggested that web log should be pronounced “we-blog”, the “we” was dropped and a new term was born. 
Most of my posts are going to be about things I’ve read or observed that made me think, rather than about writing. And yet, all writing springs from this mish-mash of thoughts and ideas and values that we develop over the course of our lives.
A lot of writing workshops talk about “voice”, meaning the unique way any one individual will put words together to tell a story.  But I think equally important is “vision”.  A writer’s vision provides the theme and the meaning behind their stories. Literary writers tend to have coldly realistic visions.  They aim to show life in all its excruciating misery, angst and brutality. Genre writers tend to portray their worlds more in terms of how we desire life to be: good triumphs over evil, couples fall in love and live happily ever after, the murderer is caught or the bad guy/evil entity thwarted by the good guys in some fashion. 
Genre writers and readers know, sometimes all too well, that the real world isn't like that, but when they read/write, they want to escape into a vision of a world where things work they way we think they should, rather than the way they often do.
As a  reader, I’ve really struggled with this dichotomy.  On one hand, if a plotline seems too neat or tidy, or the characters too much paragons that don’t exist in real life, I have trouble engaging with the story.  It doesn’t seem real enough for me to care.  But at the same time, I’m not always in the mood for the grim suffering that exists in real life.
As a result of my reading tastes, when I started writing novels, my early stories fell in the uneasy space between literary fiction values and genre ones.  I was writing genre fiction, specifically romance, so I tried to follow the rules.  But my personal vision kept slipping in.  My characters were often too flawed, too “real” to appeal to genre readers, and I did the unforgivable (for a romance writer) and killed off one of my main characters. I did it in between books, but it didn’t matter. I found out that romance readers want the couple they read about to live happily ever after forever, not just be that way at the end of the book.
As I’ve gotten older, that “Pollyanna-ish” outlook as become easier for me.  But that’s probably a story for another post. This has gotten long enough.
Until next time, “kept the faith”.