Monday, February 04, 2008

The talk around Amazon’s new electronic reading device, Kindle, forces to me mention that I was, believe it or not, a pioneer in electronic publishing. To my considerable regret. Peer back into the mists of time, all the way to 2000, when electronic publishing was the hot new thing. Electronic publishers were springing up all over. All of them prepared to break through the wall of stifling minds and corporate marketing to bring YOUR book to the millions of readers desperate for fresh, new, twenty-first century novels.

And there I was on the cutting edge. My first novel was named Whiteout. To this day, I believe it had the potential to be a big book. Unfortunately, I submitted it to an electronic publishing company. It won an award, an EPPIE for Best Mainstream Novel Published on the Internet. If you have a look at my web page, or my bio, or any of my publicity info, you won’t see mention of the EPPIE. Because, if Whiteout was the best novel, I can’t imagine how bad the others must have been.

Let me explain. Back at the turn of the century, electronic publishers were producing books exclusively, or almost exclusively, to be distributed electronically. You could read it on your own computer! Print it out and put the pages in a binder! Or read on a fancy new reading instrument! No longer restricted by the narrow minds of the traditional publishing industry deciding what THEY want to publish. And much, much cheaper than buying a paper book. (Nice royalties though – 50%!!)

Most of what they produced was garbage. Unedited, probably unread. Full of typos, spelling mistakes, never edited for content or clarity. Cheap, all right, because no money was spent to publish excellence. And that includes Whiteout. The interchange between author and editor is long and tedious and frustrating and infuriating for a reason. Because you’re working to make a good manuscript a great book. That’s work.

I really loved my Whiteout, still do, I poured my heart and soul into it. But it was my first book, and it needed a tough editor’s hand to make it as good as it could have been.

I am eternally grateful for the editor at that E-publishing company for turning down Burden of Memory. She said the romance was too lightly drawn. Yeah, because the book wasn’t a romance – it was a complex psychological suspense in which two people gradually realize they’re attracted to each other. I shelved Burden for a few years and later submitted it to Poisoned Pen Press, where my editor tweaked it, and made suggestions, and pointed out errors and inconsistencies, and generally worked with me to carve it into publishable shape.

At my first Bloody Words conference I was on a panel to discuss electronic publishing. One of the editors of the company that published Whiteout, who was also the father of the publisher, and one of their authors (too many hats!) said that a book to be published electronically had to have short sentences and short words.

In other words, the medium determines the content. In his clever little play, Charles talked about the discovery of the paperback. It makes me wonder if the introduction of the paperback influenced content. Did long novels with long sentences and big words (think Charles Dickens, Jane Austin, etc) start to become out of date if they didn’t fit the smaller, more compact paperback format? I don’t know. If anyone does, please pipe into the conversation.

Does all this have anything to do with the Kindle? I’d suggest that if recognized publishers prepare an electronic version of a book they’re publishing in print – exact same words – there are lots of people who will chose to read their book on the Kindle. But if the market is flooded by work unpublishable in print, the technology is doomed.

P.S. All is not lost: Whiteout was released in January by Worldwide Library, and is available through bookclubs or online It was edited for spelling and grammar and had a bit of content editing.


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Anonymous said...

Electronic publishing, or epublishing, uses new technology to deliver books and other content to readers. Because the technology allows publishers to get e-publishing information to readers quickly and efficiently, it is causing major changes to the publishing industry.