Many long grueling years ago, I was invited to give a presentation on ebooks at the University of New Brunswick’s prestigious Maritime Writers Workshop. The presentation was held in a large theater with tall stained glass windows before an audience of students, instructors, professors and anyone interested in literature. The room was packed.
I stood before the audience and talked about how ebooks were the coming wave in publishing…how they cut distribution and production costs, put more control in the hands of authors, lowered the cost of books….you know, the things we take for granted today. Pretty much the entire audience seemed enthralled by this concept, especially the aspiring writers.
I seem to recall one of the professors showing some interest, but the others stared at me like I was a stalagmite of bacteria sprouting out of the floor. One of them seemed offended that I was talking this sacrilegious nonsense on the last day of the venerable workshop, poisoning the minds of promising writers and despoiling the honorable repetition of Canada’s longest running literary workshop.
To be fair, the early days of ebooks were a chaotic scramble. Try to imagine a bumper car ride filled with drunken drivers on meth. This was before Kindle, Kobo and Nook. The standard methods of delivery were the PDF file, the floppy disk and the CD-ROM. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that Stephen King serialized a novel delivered on the Glass reader, a piece of software that, thank God, drowned in the advances made by other ereaders. The Rocket Ebook and Softbook suffered the same fate.
Writers who’d been turned down by every publisher on the planet because they couldn’t write a complete paragraph without insulting the rules of grammar and showed their dismal lack of storytelling ability were paying hundreds of dollars to have their books published electronically by scam companies proliferating across the literary horizon. Fortunately, few of these writers knew anything about marketing and most of the scammers offered marketing services that the writers couldn’t afford.
On the other hand, there were those who embraced the new technology with enthusiasm and the belief that epublishing was just as important as the advent of the printing press.
But…back to the workshop. I received a generous round of applause from most of the audience, but lukewarm from that area where the profs looked at me like I was something awful and hopefully not contagious.
After the presentation, I did some mingling, answered a few questions and was just about to leave when one of the profs approached me and said, “So you really believe that these things are actually books?”
Before I could answer, he went on to say that ebooks were a passing fad and that serious writers and publishers would never accept them, as though any book in ebook format was automatically not good writing. So I asked him if The Sun Also Rises (which I’d just read for the second time) were to be published in as an ebook, would it still be a great novel? He gave me that bacteria look, scowled and just walked away.
I’m not sure how he feels about ebooks today, but I do know that The Sun Also Rises is available in ebook format and it’s still a great book. In fact, I might just read it again on my Kindle.
I think the discrepancy in thinking here is confusion between content and format. Granted, the early days of ebooks were iffy on some fronts, but what we’re really talking about is the writing itself. Good writing is good writing whether in print or digitized. Bad writing is bad writing whether in print or digitized.
Our attitudes have come a long way since then, given that we’ve become more of a “content-based” society willing to accept alternate presentation methods as long as the content is good, but I still come across people who look at me like I’m a germ when I pull out my Kindle in a waiting room or plane. I’m tempted to look across the room or aisle and say, “It’s The Sun Also Rises. Have you read it?”
WARNING: I read both ebooks and print books…ebooks early in the day and print books before bed. The reason? Screens emit blue light, which inhibits the production of sleep-inducing melatonin and puts your brain on alert status. So treat your ereader like coffee in the evening.
(Shown above is the cover for my first novel…cover artists Brock Parks and Paul McNeil. It was first published by a law firm in California in PDF format and then by Jacobyte Books in Australia in print-on-demand and CD-ROM formats.)