Monday, August 23, 2010

Guest Post by Brian Drake: Reflections on the Revolution So Far

I suppose it was a year or two ago that e-books began picking up steam. I recall some skepticism regarding the Amazon Kindle and other e-reading devices when they were first released, but must admit my recall is a little hazy because I had no intention of ever having anything to do with e-books or e-readers. Paper and ink for me, baby, and no mistake. But then the economy went south, and a certain writer started pontificating about the terrible state of publishing, authors being dropped by book companies (including him), and the success of his work on the Kindle. He wasn’t entirely wrong, as my dear friend and fellow author Rebecca Forster was one of those writers dropped by her publisher, and her struggles in this racket have been very sobering as I began my assault on the citadel. Other articles appeared in business publications mentioning how hard a time Big Publishing is having these days--about the same amount of trouble as everybody else, really, but the tone of these articles was grim indeed. If there is any good publishing news in recent months, I haven’t found it.

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, though the dream probably began back in the 7th grade when I discovered Ian Fleming and after that began gobbling up any other spy and adventure novel I could find, regardless if I had full comprehension of the plot and nuances of the stories or not. (Rereading some of those books as an adult proves I had no clue what I was reading at the time and I enjoy them much more now.) That dream includes printed books. Paper and ink. A real editor and real publisher. Not ones and zeroes. No “independent author” status--and is that title full of PC garbage or what?

But the reality is, the publishing world is a jungle and it’s not getting any friendlier (it probably never was very friendly, but there was a day when books outnumbered televisions; and back in the ‘80s, the latest bestsellers were always hot conversation topics). With the economy as it is who knows how long before the industry recovers, if at all, considering the poor sales reports that are not hard to find, and highlighted by those who now have a vested interest in electronic books.

E-books apparently are the future, though I’m sure print books will survive in a niche form. If motor cars ever go fully electric, we’ll still have gasoline engines for driving enthusiasts who need internal combustion for their sports cars. The car replaced the horse and buggy, but horses still occupy an important place in our culture.

So it’s with that realization in mind that I began putting my work out for the Amazon Kindle and other electronic reading devices; it’s why I’ve taken on the “independent author” title (gak!); and why I’m making the herculean effort of publicizing my work and build an audience. If I can bring an audience to a publisher instead of having to find one once a book is published. . .

My latest is called Justified Sins and it’s an action thriller with hard-boiled elements; fans of The Executioner and “Dirty Harry” and many of Charles Bronson’s films will find something to like; if you’re of the hard-boiled and noir school you will appreciate those aspects of the story. At 35,000 words it’s short, but I think it would have found a home with Gold Medal back in the day. Or maybe Ace. Or Pocket. One can only imagine. I guess that’s the nice thing about doing an e-book: I don’t need to write a 100,000 word door stop. But coming up next is a spy thriller called Heroes Wear Black, a 90,000 word story, which will not only be released for the Kindle but also shopped to real agents and real publishers as I continue my assault on the citadel.

Because e-books are not my dream. Until paper and ink books go away forever, they will always be my preferred format.


Frank Loose said...

Interesting times, interesting observations. Thanks for the post. I do not own an eReader yet, but feel certain one is on the horizon with my name on it. I see where Amazon's least expensive Kindle is on back-order. Quite affordable --- now at $140 so they must be selling.

Still, based on the history of technological changes, it seems that few advancements (I'm not classifying eReaders as "better" than paper books) totally shift the market overnight. Prices need to drop, which they are; the public has to see advantages, which they evidently do by the look of sales; and the industry has to generate a business model that will yield a profit for all; which i guess is yet to be determined.

It seems to me that books made of paper will still be around for some time. TV did not kill the movies, but it prompted that industry to develop wide screen formats like Cinemascope, and XM has not killed radio. CDs are still available despite a heckuva lot of folks download digitally.

One thing's for sure, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Ron Scheer said...

McLuhan liked to say that old media are not driven out by a new medium but become integrated into it. Meanwhile, older media continue to exist and evolve, though not in ways that can be predicted. Paradigms shift. As long as you keep writing, James, I'm happy to keep reading, whether on paper or an ereader.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

This is an interesting point Brian makes - 35.000 words. If that's what the story needs then great and that's as it should be but only a few short years ago that would have no chance unless it was padded out to 90,000 or even a 100,000 words. That is another plus of the shift to eBook - stories will be told in the length needed for the story, be it long or short. Traditional publishing has all but killed mid-list fiction. I seriously believe eBook will be its saviour.

Fred Zackel said...

I believe the ereader will bring a surge in novellas, which oftentimes is the perfect length. In the future we will price stories for their qualities and less simply for their length. Good luck & best wishes with the new venture.