Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Getting Over The "Paper" Dream

"I have to get my book published before everything goes digital. It just won't be the same not to see it in paper!"

I've seen this sentiment—heck, I've even thought it myself—many times. With the increasing ebook market and everyone saying they'll eventually dominate, it seems as if writers feel like a guillotine is hanging over their dream.

"My book will never be in a bookstore."

"It won't have a cover, pages to turn."

"I won't get to smell it."

I won't pretend that these thoughts don't get me occasionally, too, but today I want to ask: Is that really why you want to publish?

Because if your dream is to see your book on a shelf, there are plenty of print-on-demand websites out there. You can upload your book, design your own cover, and have it shipped to your house. Then you can put it on whatever shelf you want, hug it, smell it, moon over it, build a shrine to it, whatever.

I have a feeling this isn't the most important thing, though. If I had to choose between that tangible paper book or knowing that a couple thousand people would read my words on their ereaders, well, the choice is obvious, isn't it? My goal in trying to be published is to get my story to as many people as possible. I want to share it (and let's be honest, I want a little cash in return).

I guess I'm just saying your dream won't be "dead" if ebooks take over. You don't have to rush yourself based on those fears. I mean, can you imagine some ancient writer freaking out over the invention of the codex (aka: the book)?

"I HAVE to finish this epic poem before people stop reading on scrolls! It's always been my DREAM to see my story unroll on a furlong of parchment! Curse those boxy, new-fangled codices."

Yeah...that doesn't sound silly at all.


  1. LOL. Yeah, I'm with you: it's not about the format, it's about connecting my story to its audience.

    I don't think print books will be "going out of style" for a little while (if ever), but even if they were all pulped and recycled tomorrow, it wouldn't change my dream to be published. It would just change the definition of published.

  2. Are there print on demand places that would put a book on a scroll? Because that sounds awesome to the history geek in me.

  3. Great post! I agree - although I don't expect "paper" books to go anywhere. Sure, there may be less quantities printed for each title, but as long as people buy them, they'll keep making them. IMO.

  4. This is a great post, and I both identify and agree. I think, maybe, what I want to see - deep down (and in addition to the pure nostalgia of paper) - is not just a printed book on my own shelf, but on the shelves of other people. That's not so easily accomplished by the print-on-demand method.

    I'm reminded of a special I watched on J.K. Rowling once, I believe it was last summer sometime. In it, she visited the apartment where she wrote the first Harry Potter book, which is currently occupied by a stranger who gave them permission to film there. It was incredibly moving to see J.K. Rowling's reaction to the books she wrote, in that very room, on a stranger's bookshelf. I don't know whether that was staged or not, but the idea? Totally moving, nonetheless.

    Anyway. You're right, though. What counts is that people read it, not that there's physical proof that they read it.

  5. Dude, SM, I'm thinking the market for scroll editions is WIDE OPEN. This could be an excellent business opportunity...

    Could you imagine?

    Relax, I'm a Ninja
    Available Formats:
    Ebook $9.99
    Hardback $15.99
    Paperback $10.99
    Scroll (3 set) $75.99
    Stone Tablet (15 set, disqualified for free shipping) $435.99

  6. I must bow before the genius that is your mind Natalie. Can you imagine your favorite book, hang it on the walls for inspiration as stone tablets. Best decorating scheme EVER!

  7. SM, if I ever get rich, I'm getting ALL my books in stone tablet form. I might even spring for the gold inlay and hand carving.

  8. Yes, Owlandsparrow, I'm thinking that's what people really mean when they say this stuff.


    Seeing it on someones else's shelf—that indicates that they've read it. And that's were the warm fuzzies really come from, right?

    I mean, would it be the same if you saw it there and they were all "Oh, yeah, I bought that 6 months ago but haven't gotten to it."?

    My guess is no.

  9. Natalie -

    Absolutely valid point. That would be pretty disappointing/discouraging!

  10. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who thinks books smell wonderful.

  11. How can I flaunt an e-book in everyone's faces? ;)

    I'm of the same mind. It's not the same as a real book you can hold and caress and send to friends and relatives who never thought you'd be published. And I love that paper smell.

  12. While I do find the new book smell intriguing, nothing is worse than the bad book smell. Someone at work was giving away his book collection and one just smelled old or pickley or something, and every time I got a whiff I wanted to gag. I think I got about 50 pages in and put it down. I feel a little bit bad that I didn't give the book enough of a chance because of the smell!

  13. You have a very good point. My desire to have a physical book has more to do with the fact that as a reader I don't like computerized books. I haven't tried an e-reader, so I guess I should hold out my judgment on it but I did have textbooks on my laptop and that was horrible. Though a fiction book wouldn't be as bad since it doesn't require switching between chapters and an appendix except Infinite Jest.

    Now the university is switching to e-versions preferred for all classes. Thank goodness I have one class left before graduating from there and I am getting the regular book despite cost and shipping. I can't see Microbiology with lab all on the computer as a good option. I need the physical textbook, as Psychology and Statistics proved. *shudders at the memory*

  14. Excellent point, but I just happen to like physical books better. You can hug them without destroying the interface.

  15. Wait... they don't publish on scrolls anymore? Dang it! Foiled again! *shuffles off to dump out ink and throw away quill* :)

  16. I don't think eBooks will completely take over in the immediate future. There are still too many people who won't buy eReaders. I think there will be a massive increase in eBook distribution and less "traditional" books printed but I can't see it being an eBook only market in the next five years.

    However, I don't really care what form it's in, as long as it's read!

  17. Hahaha. I have to be honest, I don't think we'll move away from books for a loooooong time. We have mp3's, but we still have CDs. I don't think we'll have to worry about it for at least a decade or more.

  18. Great post! I too feel that guillotine above my head. Because having your book in a bookstore signifies that it is few make it there and if yours makes it...well...that means it's really something. Anyone can sell a book online...Amazon has made self publishing super easy, but that in no way guarantees that people will read it. If a book is special enough to make it to a bookstore shelf, obviously there are a lot of people (agents, editors, publisher, book buyers) that have faith in it and they know their stuff. If a book makes it all the way to the shelf, chances are it will sell well and more poeple will be reading your words.

  19. We are now the proud owners of an e-reader (Nook) and I LOVE it!! Is that blasphemous? I resisted the idea at first, but now I love it! Reading is so much easier on the hands and eyes on a nook, not to mention I can download all my beta reads. I think the best of both worlds would be hardback books that come with a digital copy cd inside, like they do for a lot of movies now. I would pay a couple extra bucks to get both the hard copy and the digital one.

  20. Haha, awesome! And I love the usage of new-fangled. Always a fun word choice. :)

  21. I loved this post. These same thoughts torment me at night when I'm supposed to be sleeping. I finally decided that I don't care how it's published. Just get it out there and let the money roll in!

    Then I'll print my own paper version for my shelf, so I can feel it, turn the pages and smell it all I want!

  22. As much as I LOVE real books, the feel of the pages, the weight in my hand, the smell of a newly cracked binding, especially older hardcovers, I do see your point.

    Yes I'm a little obssesive, I collect vinyl records too.

    The dream of being a published writer is really about touching as many people as possible with your story. Whether you accomplish that with paper pages, lcd screens displaying active text, spoken word recorded on a cd, or even wetwire connected directly to the neurons like in Strange Days the POINT is the story. And the characters.

    It's always been about the tale and it always will be.

  23. I totally want mine on scrolls.

    I am one of those people who cringe at the thought of ebooks taking over but I don't really think it's going to happen. I believe it will just be another option.

  24. Okay, I am snarfing over the scroll whine by ancient Romans and Egyptians. I wanna have a scroll book now!

    I have mixed feelings over it all . . . but I do want to be READ. That's the most important thing.

  25. Scrolls would be kinda cool! But I'll settle for an ebook or a book too :)

  26. Any e-reader without e-Ink is evil (*glares at IPad*)

    One MAJOR thing with e-books is that it's friggin' hard to get someone's autograph and collect the books as "special" editions.

  27. Electronic text could be a massively important innovation for fiction and poetry if more authors would take the preparation of the digital text as seriously as the manuscript/typescript itself. But, I suppose that's a future dream - when so many authors double as self-professed bibliophiles, it's hard to move past the page and onto the page-dot-html.