I’m a convert. I suspected I would be. I was ardently anti-ebook for a while- not for others, only for myself. I couldn’t imagine reading a book without the smell, the feel, the design.
In creating my own book, I became even more entrenched in the importance of design aspects of books. The font, chapter layout, page scheme- these things matter.
I knew I’d have to get my own ereader soon, however. I was, after all, invested in making my books available as ebooks and saw how ebooks were changing the market. Building Lunatic Fringe as an ebook was a sometimes frustrating endeavor. I had spent hours upon hours typesetting my book to perfection, and now the Smashwords style guide was telling me to undo all of it? Really?!
But I did it. I converted my book for Kindle, Nook and Kobo. I said goodbye to my Imperator font and my carefully kerned title page. I abandoned my careful use of orphans and watched as my beautifully colored cover was converted to low-res grayscale. And I watched my sales increase ten-fold.
Well, the market is changing after all.
For Christmas, I requested a Nook. I wanted to be able to access these ebooks I was lauding so much as indie-publishing game changers. I also wanted to be able to proof my work on an actual ebook device.
And, I had to admit their convenience. Bibliophiles have been exalting ebooks for years if only because they allowed such swift and ardent readers a way of traveling with their libraries without owing a debt to their chiropractors. The more I travel, the more I wish I had access to multiple books to suit my mood.
So Santa brought me my request. I’ve enjoyed searching for books I’ve been meaning to buy and didn’t mind much if they weren’t paper. I was dismayed as I discovered a slew of desired books weren’t available in the Nook’s epub format (the lack of Kathe Koja and Elizabeth Hand titles were most distressing to me.)
I was also dismayed at how few of the major publishers were discounting their ebooks at all. I knew this was a problem before I was a nook-owner, but the pervasiveness of $15 ebooks is a frustrating and unsustainable practice, which I illustrated as I breezed by these overpriced books in search of affordable reads I was eager to try. (The book market has no dearth of quality product. It’s easy to pass up one over-priced product and find twelve other terrific buys. I hope publishers will soon realize how they’re shooting themselves in the foot.)
I enjoyed taking risks on unknown work and experimental fiction, and researching favorite 2011 reads of my peers and idols.
So, I stocked up my Nook for the long roadtrip back to California. This morning, as I was cozying up with Vanessa Veselka’s Zazen, I noticed something about my Nook I hadn’t yet considered. With its stock fonts and low-rent graphics, with its text flow and bare-bones formatting, the Nook gave me something I hadn’t expected. I was focusing, intently, on the words themselves. There was no special font telling me what to feel. There was no author name at the top of each page, reminding me that this was a work of fiction by a person I’ve never met. There was no weight in my hands or highlighter for me to fiddle with as I awaited a transcended passage. It was just me and the words. No middle man, no artifice, no bells, whistles and manipulations. I was experiencing the words as the author might, as they stood against a stark electric glow alongside a blinking cursor. There was, in short, no “book” here. I was dealing with the story.
It was akin, I suspect, to reading a handwritten, twine bound manuscript from a forgotten era.
Is this, then, the way books are “supposed” to be read, now that paper is nearly obsolete in both the creation and execution of a book? Will print books become merely charming artifacts or purist paragons?
I, for one, welcome our ebook game-changers. As a reader, they’ve forced me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to interface with books in a new and exciting way. They’re encouraging me to reconceive the way I write, and renewing my care to the words on the page. I’m enthusiastic to see how this change in perspective trickles into all book makers and readers.