Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Paper or Plastic?
My fourth grade teacher, Mr. Duffy, used to read to us. A former Marine with huge hands and a raspy voice, Mr. Duffy ran our class with a wisdom that belied his no-nonsense exterior. He gave us boys plenty of unambiguous direction, and during reading time, if we needed some encouragement to listen more quietly, he wasn’t above throwing the book at us. Literally.
Mr. Duffy usually threw beanbags at us, but sometimes the paperback book he was reading from worked just as well. That year he was working his way through some of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books: Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, and Little Town on the Prairie. Later, in graduate school, I thought back to this mixture of literature and projectile crowd control and was thankful that he hadn't been reading us the Russian authors I was currently studying. Still later, I wondered what he would have done if he’d been reading from a Kindle, and that got me thinking about the debate between the value of electronic books versus traditional print books.
Though my book Creative Writing in the Real World has just been published by New Plains Press as a traditional print book, it’s not available in electronic format. I have another book that’s ready for publication (pending a green light by The Vermont Press), and I have to decide whether I want it published as a traditional print book, an electronic book, or both. Called A Brief History of Innkeeping in the 21st Century, it’s actually an updated version of a book already available as a Kindle book: The Innkeeper’s Husband. So what’s the hangup?
The hangup is the allure of electronic books. They’re much easier to get to “print” than traditional books. They’re easier to market, especially for someone like me, who doesn’t always have the time to invest in the schlepping necessary to promote a page-and-ink book. They’re certainly more accessible and portable. But with that accessibility and portability comes forgettability. They lack the permanence of a physical book. They can’t collect dust and be discovered by future generations. Worse, they can be deleted.
Whenever I encounter these self-generated conundrums, my Goddard College training kicks in, and I try to focus on the writing. I’ll prepare A Brief History of Innkeeping in the 21st Century for publication, send it to the editors at The Vermont Press, and look at the finances. Getting it into electronic shape will be easy; I’ve done it before. Choosing the print option raises the stakes with up-front costs that will need to be covered through sales. While I’m able to sell books regularly here at the inn, to really move copies I’ll need to be more active in readings and other events, and given the demands of innkeeping and teaching and family, that’s a problem. Hence the siren call of an e-book.
I can’t imagine Mr. Duffy hurling his Kindle at us fourth grade boys to settle us down--after it bounced off our noggins it would fall to the floor and shatter, and he’d be out a hundred bucks. I can’t believe he used to toss paperback books and beanbags at us--or should I say that I can’t believe that fourth grade teachers aren’t throwing beanbags at rambunctious boys anymore? The technology has changed the reality at all levels. Independent authors like me need to constantly evaluate and manage our writing, resources, and options. E-books give us great opportunities to reach wider audiences and make some money with our writing, but you can’t hurl an electronic file at a fidgeting 10 year-old boy.