The Rise of the “Fearsome” e-BookWhat Does It Mean for You?
by Erin Brown
As I made my way back from my role as a “book doctor” at yet another successful PNWA Writers Conference a few weeks ago, I reminisced about how meaningful and inspiring it is to interact with new and old writers (not old as in sagging knee skin, but as in previously published writers). Conferences always give me a special shot of enthusiasm and love for the art of writing itself, versus the business of publishing—mighty strange considering almost every author there is trying to get published. Getting back to the basics of writing is especially important in this modern digital age, with its “I hate what the Kindle is doing to traditional publishing” hand-wringing. Because I truly believe that the digital age hasn’t changed writing, only publishing. In fact, it’s a wonderful thing for authors whose writing can now reach a much wider audience. So don’t despair, authors of the world—let the publishers and editors stay up nights wondering about their futures for a change—you’ve put in more than enough time doing that!
Obviously, there are many issues that publishers face from ebooks, and the traditional houses must now come up with new ideas to work alongside the digital publishing phenomenon. The concerns at publishing houses are warranted, but it’s not the end of book publishing as we know it. The houses are actively trying to figure out how to still make money in this age of cheaper online editions and will do so, I have faith! This whole issue was recently discussed at a panel during this year’s BEA during the Opening Plenary: A CEO Panel on the Value of the Book. Joining other publishing and writing luminaries were David Shanks, Chief Executive Officer, Penguin Group (USA) and Scott Turow, bestselling author and incoming president of the Authors Guild. David Shanks kept things optimistic by saying that publishers would simply need to sell more books and espoused any method that brings books to a wider audience. Amidst a panel of warmed over concerns about digital versus print, I loved David’s positive spin on the future of publishing, because I believe that there will always be a place for the printed word—printed on paper that I can hold in my hand.
I truly believe that the success of ebooks won’t change the craft of writing. Even in this digital age, writing has remained the art, no matter the medium, and writers will continue to create beauty unabated by the rise in ebooks. After all, writing has always survived— with the most informative, talented, creative, and inspiring writing inevitably rising to the top—whether the words are written on clay tablets, with a quill, a fountain or a ballpoint pen, or on a computer. Novels have been written longhand and copied in ink, created en masse with a printing press, and are now downloaded as ebooks. The medium as changed throughout the centuries, but the art of writing does not. Writers are the only truly important piece to this modern digital puzzle. In fact, ebooks give more people more access to a writer’s work at a lower cost. This means that you, the writer, should be thrilled with this new medium. Dance a jig, sing a song, drink a beer—your life as a writer is even more promising with the acceptance of ebooks.
Do you remember dear reader, the fear years and years ago about boxed wine replacing traditional bottles of wine? Oh, yes, my friend, this formidable new cardboard technology could keep wine fresh for over a month after opening (!!!!) and contained much more wine that a typical glass bottle. And it was dirt cheap in comparison to most bottled wine. I know! What could be better? Why would people stick with bottles when they could have more functional, cheaper, and simply better box containers? If you don’t remember the vineyards’ fear of the encroaching “Mighty Wine Box,” you’re not alone. But it existed, and here we are, decades later, still enjoying our bottles of wine (well, unless you’re in college; then Box ’O Wine is heaven on earth—the sweet pink nectar in its space-age foil bag—but I digress). And years from now, readers will still be clutching beautiful, bound books in our grubby little hands, devouring the pages as we turn them—with our own fingers and without the help of an arrow button. Oh, and while I’m on the topic, who stopped going to movies when they bought a television? Anyway, you get the idea. The ebook does not mean the end of traditionally printed books, and even if it eventually does, which I hope it won’t, the medium will change, but not the art.
Which means that you, as a writer, are not in peril in this digital age. The publishing houses will figure it all out, and in the meantime, remember that the art of writing isn’t in jeopardy, only the business of publishing hard copies of books. I was very pleased to see acclaimed writer Jonathan Franzen on the cover of TIME magazine recently (see the August 23rd issue)—the first living novelist to grace the magazine’s cover in a decade (Stephen King took the honor in 2000). It just goes to show that brilliant writers and storytellers will always find a place for their work in this modern age and are still being celebrated for their craft and talent, no matter how their books are published, and that is what matters. After all, it’s about the writing, not the medium. Talented writers will remain talented writers, no matter what the future holds. Well, unless we’re taken over by aliens who really, really hate writers and ban them from existence on the new Earth, with the only remaining art form being new episodes of Jersey Shore. But ironically, that’s a perfect scenario for a burgeoning sci-fi writer, so go figure.
Erin Brown worked as an editor in New York City for over eight years. She recently left Manhattan to start her own freelance editorial business. To learn more about Erin, visit her website at www.erinedits.com