When I go out to read as a guest to writer’s groups these days, no one is really interested in hearing me read my work. Instead, everyone is interested at hearing of my adventures as a writer struggling to break into the big time. They want to know about my travails in the old self•publishing days, of the myriad rejection slips, of the near misses with publishers, of speed dating with agents, of trade publishing experiences, distribution woes, online marketing, where I get my ideas, how many ideas are left, social networking, blogging, radio and TV interviews, shameless self•promotion and…and… the liberating messiah they all hope it will be: the e•book.
Will the e•book finally become the mp3 of publishing, enabling writer•to•reader transactions off the former’s website, cutting out middlemen (publishers, publicists, distributors, retailers etc)? Could we build sufficient loyalty in our online readership platforms, feed them downloads of books and short stories in any e•book format, for a donation, and thereby recruit benefactors with financial contributions far in excess of what a provincial or federal arts council can provide us in subsidy, now that royalties from publishers are dwindling faster than ever? Will we finally be one•on•one with the readers whom we wrote these stories for in the first place? Politicians face their audiences when making public speeches, performing musicians do the same at concerts, stage actors too when they step out of the wings. But writers are like movie actors: they go through a multitude of arbitrary filters, before their work is exposed to their final arbiters. Would e•books solve that problem? When would the inflection point come when e•books outnumber traditional books? When am I going to launch an e•book?
These are the questions I get asked. And frankly, I wish I knew!
What I do know is that, with the pursuit of blockbuster•only titles by the traditional industry, that segment is going to shed even more writers, not assume new ones. The fringe is therefore open to the masses of writers coming on board, many with the notion of “I think I have a book in me,” and the e•book will be their entry point. How will one be noticed in this sea of wannabe ink? Would it mimic POD self•publishing that came out a decade ago? Would e•books be no different from the turbulent seas writers have traditionally cruised in over the centuries, in their makeshift rafts with tattered flags hoisted, in the hope of getting picked up by a glittering cruise ship—SS Publisher—full of thousands of readers?
Something tells me that we have played this record before.