COME ON IN—THE WATER’S FINE!
I will confess to being “of a certain age,” and that means that I grew up reading pages, not pixels. I learned to type (the young’uns would call that “keyboarding”) in a summer school course on a manual typewriter. The room at the local middle school where we met to pound on those hulking machines wasn’t air-conditioned, so it was six weeks of hell.
When I was a Ph.D. candidate in art history, I had to produce a doctoral thesis that was some two hundred double-spaced pages long (that was just the text—pictures had a volume all their own). On a non-correcting typewriter (at least it was electric). The submission guidelines stated that there could be no more than two typing errors per page, plus I had to insert footnotes manually on each page. You can bet that there was a lot of cursing and a lot of wasted paper.
As you might guess, I have embraced the electronic age. I love the ease of editing on a computer, where you can delete vast swaths of text—but save them just in case you might want them later. Where you can store your precious material on disks, flash drives, external hard drives, and off-site (or all of the above, if you’re really paranoid about losing anything).
But until now I’ve been leery of entering the world of electronic publication. Silly, I know—I have plenty of writer friends who have taken the plunge successfully. But the transition is challenging. I have been collecting books as long as I have been reading, and I’ve been reading as long as I can remember. I have a copy of the children’s anthology Read Me More Stories, which, according to the inscription inside, was given to me when I was three, that I “improved” with my own scribbled additions. I have full shelves honoring my science fiction phase, my women’s fiction phase, and of course, my mystery phase (by far the largest group, and still growing). In fact, I have so many books that I’ve run out of space for them, even after donating five boxes of the overflow to our local library this week. So the time has come to face electronic reality.
I think all of us involved in the publishing industry these days—writers and publishers alike—are struggling to understand and take advantage of the possibilities of electronic publishing and distribution. We’ve watched the Borders chain implode, and seen too many small independent bookstores shut down. Yet people still read, and the electronic vendors make our books available to a far wider group of readers than ever before. They make it possible to acquire a book in a minute, if something catches your fancy. They make it possible to travel anywhere with a library tucked in your bag—you need never be caught without something to read. As someone who has been known to read ancient mildewed magazines stuffed into sofa cushions because I couldn’t find anything else, this is an incredible boon.
Last month Beyond the Page published my first ebook, Called Home. I just wrote it; they formatted it and uploaded it to all the right places. This was something I had written a long time ago; in fact, it was the first chapter of the original version of what eventually was published as One Bad Apple. There were changes along the way, but recently I realized that the story worked well as a prequel to the rest of the Orchard Mystery series: the story takes place just after my protagonist, Meg Corey, has arrived in Granford, and she knows no one, and she certainly hasn’t found any bodies yet. And yet in that single chapter I managed to lay out and solve a murder mystery.
Does epublishing mean the end of books as we know them? I don’t think so. Writers still write the words, and readers still want to read them. The physical form is secondary. It may take a while for people to change their mind-set, but that was probably true when the lightbulb and the telephone were invented. Epublishing is only going to grow, and now I’ve got one toe in the water.