Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Emotions and Ebooks

So the web has been in a tizzy the last few days ever since Barry Eisler turned down a $500,000 book deal on two books in favour of self-publishing (ebook self-publishing). So now lots of people are talking about the brave new world etc ahead all of a sudden. Again.

And I thought to myself, didn't I blog about this already? 'Cause I feel like I did, and yet . . . I feel like I didn't.

Turns out I was half right. I blogged about The Race for the Future and my hope that we could all just get along, stop being so adversarial in having either one form of media topple the other. And that we could appreciate the unique qualities of both.

And I touched upon the fact that the debate is between two very different sides, the pragmatic (ebooks) vs the emotional (paper books).

However I wanted to expand on the emotional thing, not just focus on the emotional connection to paper books, but on the emotions running underneath this whole ebook discussion currently going on. And thought that I'd already done that too. Again . . . half right. I'd done it. But in a writing forum. So I decided to repost what I said there, here. Because I think emotions are often ignored, and people who are all gung-ho about ebooks tend to look at us who, yes think they have a lot of merits to them but are nonetheless a little sad about their existence, as totally bonkers. Why on earth wouldn't we be as excited as they are about this brave new world?

So here's that post. Hope you like it:

You know what I think [the tension] is, it isn't people dismissing the Kindle ebook revolution or whatever you want to call it (I for one am keeping a very close watch on it, and I adore my new Kobo ereader - it's so pretty ), it's more personal than that.

Honestly, with the rare exception of some real techno-files, the true reason for the joy amongst certain authors about the boom in ebooks has to do with "how can I use this to get my books out there". It's not about the technology or how reading is changing, it's "what can I get out of this". And there is ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with that. There are SO MANY advantages to self epublishing. Getting the writing into the hands of more readers. Control over the product, higher percentage of sales etc.

But just as people greet the ebooks with that kind of excitement over what they will get out of it, so too do people on the other side of the aisle greet the news with "what am I going to lose".

So for someone like me, who has seriously contemplated self publishing herself, I think about what I lose:

1. I lose the ability to just be an author. Now I know people really do feel that publishers these days do nothing for an author, but that isn't true. They edit, they format, they hire a designer and cover artist. Some publishers even pay for fancy websites for their authors. They make swag, they offer special deals etc. They send you on tour.

Yes authors these days are doing more than ever and to just sit back and do nothing is ridiculous. But some people are more publicity savvy than others, and the thought that I'd have to do EVERYTHING (and that includes all the putting the book together stuff) on my own terrifies me. Also one of the things holding me back from putting an ebook out there is that I'm currently trying to finish writing a novel, and I just don't have the time to do both. Now I know some people are seriously awesome at writing fast and multi-tasking, but I'm not.

That's another thing. It seems to me the authors who do best with epublishing are authors who can produce books quickly. Like Amanda Hocking . The idea that the world of literature is going to turn into "be fast or be left behind" frightens me because I don't know if I can keep up, and I don't know if I want to keep up.

Instant gratification isn't always a good thing.

2. I don't get to hold a copy of my book in my hands. I love books. I love how they look, I love how they feel. I love everything about the aesthetic of a book.

For that matter, I love bookstores, and I'm SO worried what would happen in an ebook only universe.

3. I don't get paid up front.

4. A more general thought: a possible devaluing of books. Like what they say in THE INCREDIBLES: "When everyone is special, no one will be." When everyone who wants to be an author can be, then it devalues the work of authors who actually ought to be. I know people say that the strong stuff will float to the top, and I hope people are right in that (and that it won't just be people with marketing savvy who float to the top), but I still fear being put on par with someone who can't even string a sentence together and decided for a lark to put their work up on Kindle.

5. I don't get to role play author. I know that's probably the most superficial of all the losing out things, but having gone to BEA three times now, been sent on tour, going for lunch with my editor and agent, meeting my publisher at their offices. All that stuff is just plain fun. I like it.

I know all these points are debatable, and I know some of these points are just personal preferences. I am NOT posting them to debate them. I am pointing them out to maybe give some a perspective on the other side. On why people can feel sad about the ebook revolution while still being interested in it. That it can also just be an emotional thing, not entirely pragmatic.

And also, you know what, it hurts to see so many authors be so full of joy at the demise of publishers. Because for those of us with publishers, their demise means we're . . . well . . . in trouble. So these authors are basically happy that we're in trouble. I know they don't think of it like that, but that's how some of us feel. Like they'd be happy to see all us authors published the "traditional" way fail.

And that just hurts.

I know people would prefer to think emotions aren't a part of this debate, but I believe they are so key to it. It's a matter of either an excitement over what we'll get out of it, or a sadness over what we'll lose. Though I do think most people, like myself, are somewhere in the middle.


KD said...

Wow, I always love flipping the page of a good book, besides I'm a book collector, so no matter what technology brings to the table I'm going to buy actual books until they no longer offer them as an option and the very thought of that is SCARY. Still the e-book revolution does create a way for me to get out there until hopefully obtaining an agent/ publisher. ;-) Great post!

J=C said...

There will always be a place for the professional publisher because for every Amanda Hocking, there are ten thousand other self published authors who are not writing publishable material. That makes for a very unfavourable signal-to-noise ratio.

Barry Eisler is probably right to go it alone, since a significant proportion of his sales will be driven by the fan base that formed when he was being professionally published. He can (probably) contract out all of the work a publisher would normally do for him for far less than a publisher would take in its share of sales revenue. That makes the decision a fairly simple one, economically.

I think publishers are going to find themselves losing more and more big hitters to self publishing over the next decade and will, as a result have to put more effort into finding new talent, which personally, I think could be a truly great thing.

Jon M said...

All excellent points, Adrienne. I, too, love books. Love the smell, love the feel, love the AUTOGRAPHS. I love the Kindle, as well. I can go on vacation with a hundred books. If my basement leaks, well, even if my Kindle shorts out, I can get a new one and all my ebooks are back. As I continue to downsize (wonderful daughter all grown and married), I have less space for the physical, so I pick and choose, and make up the difference with ebooks. Works for me.

L.E. Falcone said...

As someone (a traditionalist, at heart) who is currently researching the life right out of this self-epub venture, I can absolutely relate to the emotional side of things. There is nothing like the tactile experience of holding a book in your hands -- the smell, the crack of the glue in the spine when you first open it, the 'phwush' sound of turning the page, all of it -- it just seems so personal and intimate.

That said, though, I have to recognize (and I do mean only myself) that what I like and what I would like to see remain doesn't mean the rest of the world feels the same way. I know that's stating the obvious but as someone who's trying to look at things objectively, I have to take that into consideration when making such a big decision such as this. It breaks my heart, actually, but the world is changing.

I think we're just seeing the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction and I'm hoping that we can all find a middle ground where we can embrace all great works no matter how it's distributed.

I still loves my books, though!

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I'm one of those who never thought I'd like ebooks, but now that I have a KOBO I love it.
Every author has to make their own choice what's best for them. Hard to judge another's decisions.
I've just discovered your blog! Hello fellow Canuck. I came over from a brilliant comment of yours on Verla Kay. Happy to be a new follower.

marta said...

Your post pushed me to blog about this topic too. And to admit I want the traditional publishing experience. I liked what you had to say about the good and the bad. Sharp and honest observations.

Kevin R. said...

"I lose the ability to just be an author." It depends on your perspective, here. Because some people (including me) think that you actually gain authorial control. Formatting, designing, touring, etc., might seem like a hassle to be pushed off to other people. But personally I want to be be able control how my work is presented. I'm not after instant gratification (I don't think anyone should be, in fact). For me, it's the control.

Then again, you are right to think it's a frightening or unmanageable amount. It is somewhat overwhelming.

Ishta Mercurio said...

I agree with you on all points.

Also: it's not just liking the feel of a book for me. I am very, very visually oriented. I can close my eyes and find any book from anywhere in my house, because I can picture exactly where I last saw it. I can remember what outfits my friends wore to different events. I can do this because I have seen them - I see my books, and my other stuff, every day, all around me. If I were to take all those books and photos and CDs and put their content into a digital file that lived invisibly inside a thin plastic device, I would lose my memory of them. They would disappear. I'm handicapped in the all-digital world.