To e- or not to e-(Book): when writers take on the publishing world

Reader, I uploaded it. It is done.

My first book of stories, The Melancholy of Departure, is now live on Amazon and Kobo and, thanks to an agreement between Kobo and the American Booksellers Association, it is available through many independent bookseller websites in the U.S.

Everything I could have hoped for.

Not only is the eBook up and running; The University of Georgia Press published the paperback in March, and Canadian independent booksellers can order it through the University of Toronto Press.

In print and on the web. The best of both worlds, right?

So when my friends who did all the programming and heavy lifting turn and ask me what it’s like, why do I go blank?

My friends have spent hours (weeks—months) on the programming and formatting so that this eBook looks as good if not better on the screen, no matter what eReader you are using, than it does on the page.

Seriously.

This is astonishing and something to be celebrated. I am deeply grateful and proud of what they’ve created.

And yet I go blank when they ask me how it feels.

I am still skeptical of the hyped-up promises of cyber publishers. I am disappointed by the necessary compromise of dealing with Amazon, whose business plan and labour practices are abhorrent to me.

Something in me still misses seeing my book in the window of a bookstore owned by someone who knows my name, grieves the loss of professional editors with offices inside brick buildings downtown, publicists in those same buildings and designers, excited about the Fall line of books. I miss sales reps calling on booksellers across their territory. I miss reviews—even the bad ones—in newspapers and magazines.

Some months ago in a moment of frustration about what then looked like the impossibility of getting the paperback into Canadian bookstores, I wrote a snarky email to the University of Georgia Press, saying that I now understood why the publishing industry was in a state of collapse. And why writers were taking matters into their own hands and publishing their books themselves on the Internet.

I knew I had to apologize, but I still didn’t know where the vitriol was coming from.

If I were able to stand and face The Publishing World to state my case, I’d say:

“I feel betrayed and abandoned. I feel shut out, and now you appear to be dying without a fight. You have no integrity. You care nothing about your writers and even less about literature.”

And if I were able to stand in the shoes of The Publishing World, I might hear myself say something like this:

“I feel barraged by things flying at me. I don’t know any more than you do about what’s happening. I am being torn apart. This is not what I want either. I have no control over what is happening to me.”

And if I were to stand in a third place from which I could see both myself and The Publishing World, chances are I’d become aware of the long history of publishing, Gutenberg’s press, and, before that, monks copying their manuscripts. I would recall how important publishers have been to me, providing me with books that have shaped my life. I would remember Charles East, my first editor—his wisdom, his insight and the precision of his ear. I might suddenly understand that whatever is happening at present to traditional publishing and whether or not it signals its collapse, it is not the end of the story, a story that for me has always been about freedom.

I am reminded that my job as a writer is to describe the world as I see it. My responsibility is to keep publishing whatever I feel is important enough to share with the reading public in whatever form is available to me.

And clearly that is the Internet right now, and since I’m not getting any younger, I best stop whining and get on with it.

I find myself a reluctant pioneer in new media, and yet here I am at the start of my fifth year writing what I continue to call a column for a website I still refer to as a newspaper.

It doesn’t matter what I call it. What matters is that it exists and that I make good use of it.

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