Topical Tuesday: Anger Strikes an Unpublished Writer, Prompting the Rest of Us to Say, Who Hasn’t Been There?

The following are my thoughts on the post that can be found on Absolute Write’s forum, “Rejection and Dejection,” and that I’ve posted at the end of this entry.
It’s Cold Out Here
The accusation he makes this whiner makes is that the publishing industry is a waste of time, that its agents are morons who don’t understand his genius (though you’ll notice a dozen typos in his few paragraphs) and that no one is concerned with anything but money and pandering to the hot genre’s crowds.
Now, do I understand the sentiments behind his bitching? Sure – who hasn’t had a tough day in the world of writing. It’s a rough industry to break into, has tight and finicky rules, and a lot of weird, accepted behaviors. Agents can ignore their signed clients; personally addressed letters often go unanswered; and numerous publishers can’t even be contacted without an agent. What’s more, most people don’t want to represent you if you haven’t already been published, making breaking into the industry incredibly difficult. But, hey, people do it all the time.
Money, money, money, money – MONEY!
The publishing industry is a business – everything about it. This guy is pissed that people care about money, but publishers and agents spend all their time doing doing their jobs. If they’re not in it for the money, what are they in it for? Should their children starve so that this guy and every other shmoe can have representation?
Look, it may be frustrating that he can’t get published but to think that it’s only about money – or that all the agents are stupid – is a pretty ridiculous accusation. Yes, agents and publishers may like to represent works that are part of hot genres but every agent’s site says his/her interests and they’re definitely out there for every genre. Quite, frankly, if enough agents (say, 50-100) want nothing to do with you and give you no real feedback, it’s probably not a sign that the industry sucks but rather, that you do. Either you’re querying the wrong people or you should take the hint and write something else, write a different way or just don’t write….at least not to be published.
What He Can Do
If you think your work is so great and you want other people to read it so bad and you think that the industry is corrupt, guess what! You have options! That’s right, get some copies of your book printed yourself. No, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re published, but at least you’re not part of a mechanism you hate. Pass them out or sell them on the internet. I’m sure you’ll sell a few. Maybe it will go so well that you can requery agents and get it picked up. Perhaps they needed proof of its potential success. Though they may know their industry (presumably, despite this guy’s accusation), everybody makes mistakes.
And, hey, if you try your hardest with dozens and dozens of letters and every other means at your disposal and still can’t get published or represented by an agent, does that necessarily mean your book sucks and you don’t deserve to be a published author? No, not really, but it does mean that you might want to rethink what you’re doing or writing. Maybe it’s not as good as you think, because if you were the next J.K. Rowling, don’t you think somebody, around rejection 19, would pick you up?
So to this guy: I feel you buddy, but you know what – it’s not the publishing industry. It’s life. You’ve got to learn to keep your head up and push through the good times and the bad. Sometimes a lot of people won’t like the product you’re offering. Welcome to a free market. Life can be filled with rejection and unfairness and be a place where people like money. Go figure. So suck it up, take a breather and try again later. And if that’s the way you really feel then I’m glad you finally think you’re free.
What do you think about these complaints? Do you think I’m being too harsh? To read other Topical Tuesday posts, click HERE. To check out Chandler’s thoughts on this post, click HERE.
This guy’s letter
I’ve had it with this B.S.

This is a stupid industry and I’m tired of wasting my time with it. I’m not going to send any more carefully crafted queries to mind-numbed morons totally incapable of understanding my thoughts. The same brainless poli-sci, english, and lit majors that looked at me blankly in my university days when they’d discover I was studying physics. A vacuous gaze followed by an imbecilic chuckle and a comment along the lines of, “I can’t talk to you.” If only I’d have known those idiots who wouldn’t talk to me then, would be running the industry that somehow sucked me in I could have avoided wasting the last decade.

I guess that jokes on me, and maybe I’d feel different if someone had actually had the balls to read something besides a f-ing query letter. But from the comfort of my home I can just feel their eyes glazing over as soon as they see a word with more than three syllables or an idea that doesn’t involve a cop, a lawyer, or a disgruntled housewife. Those who moan glowingly about their deep understanding of the written word yet don’t seem interested in anything that doesn’t involve vampires, the paranormal, or women’s lib. The world is a big place full of wonder and fantastical ideas and they’ve reduced it to a single cart-full of dung. Aristotle knew what that meant 2500 years ago.

Finito, over and out, tired of trying to bring something beautiful into a world run only by money and people who’s sole expertise begins and ends with counting it. There are better ways to waste my life than a shelf of miscarriages and a head full of impotent ideas.

Free at last!

Topical Tuesday: Should You Be Able to Return Bad Books as Faulty Merchandise?

What!? I had no idea that this was even a question in the minds of people who read. It was recently brought to my attention by my good friend and fellow author, Chandler (whose thoughts on this matter I’m sure will be better than mine and available on her blog). Apparently, some book in a “Twilight” series wasn’t what people were hoping for and a lot of them are trying to return it and get their money back.

Whoa.

Buying books is like going to Vegas: it’s a gamble and if you don’t like the results, try getting a hooker. Some books are bad. Dare I say, more are bad than good, but the moment you buy it and put the words into your head, you’ve gotten what you paid for: those words, no matter your opinion of them.

I believe that the problem in this Twilight case was that people loved the first books in the series and were unsatisfied by the most recent one. You know what? Deal with it. The author obviously did a good enough job to convince you to get this one so hat’s off. We can’t win them all.

Should you get your money back for a bad movie? I wish! What if it was the fault of one actor? Should I always get my money back when I see Ben Affleck movies? NO! I should deal with it because I took the gamble. Movies and books can suck. That’s the way of the world: filled with opinions.

If you’re worried a book won’t be good or if you think you should have the right to read without paying then start using the library more often. That’s what the system is for.

Returning books because they’re bad….ridiculous.

Do you have an opinion on this matter? Have you ever returned a bad book? What’s the worst book you ever read? What did you do when you were finished reading it?

For another Topical Tuesday topic, click HERE. To read about how Ben Affleck sucks and ruins movies I should get my money back for, click HERE.

And don’t forget to check out Chandler’s blog for her thoughts on this matter HERE.

Topical Tuesday: How Historical Should Historical Fiction Be?

I’m going to have to preface this with the qualification that I’m a historian by training, specializing in Judaism, Christianity and comparative religion. This makes me, for all intents and purposes, a little biased when it comes to my opinions on the necessary degree of historicity of historical fiction.

The Benefits of Historical Fiction

But this doesn’t mean I’m not a fan. It actually means I love historical fiction, because I think, when done well, historical fiction can provide a flavor and understanding of a time and place that is missed amidst facts and theories and trying to understand the whys of history. Historical fiction allows us to imagine dimensions of historical circumstances not previously thought about by creating characters with personalities and lives that before were only a series of dates and events.

Moreover, by including a complex story in a finite amount of space the disconnected facts can more easily be visualized as a multitude of simultaneously occurring factors and motivations that coalesced in that which we consider to be the relevant moments. That reflects history better than many history classes can. Though this is often the goal of historians – to properly blend the whys and hows in order to arrive at the historical circumstances in question – historical fiction allows far more people to achieve this outcome and see the beauty of the events as the historian might wish for them to be seen.

Good Historical Fiction

There are some television shows right now that I think do a particularly great job: Mad Men and The Tudors, to name but two (The Tudors is a complicated issue though). One book that I found to be particularly well done historical fiction was The Last Jew. Another excellent one was Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore, written as a lost gospel and the parts of Jesus’ life that are entirely absent in the Bible. Truly excellent stuff.

How Historical It Should Be

That said, I expect an incredibly high level of competence and understanding on the part of the author before s/he undertakes a project of historical fiction. A veritable expert s/he must be. I think it’s fine to invent people that don’t exist and conversations that didn’t happen amongst people that did, and to create new events so long as they don’t distort history. It’s a difficult line to walk.

I think that the characters who were real should reflect all current and respected scholarship on the personality of that character, though interpretive liberties are obviously acceptable so long as the character does not become someone else. If, in the Tudors, Henry VIII were portrayed as a courteous, non-self-centered, timid fellow, I would be pretty put off. Historical fiction should seek to better explain and bolster what we do know and our understanding of the people or era under discussion – as well as to entertain of course. Changing known historical events, which isn’t to say embellishing, is unacceptable.

I also think that all historical fiction should come with an explanation by the author of what’s being done: the goal, what’s being changed and what liberties taken, what’s not, why these decisions were made, and anything the reader should know to be able to differentiate between history and historical fiction. There’s nothing I hate more (hyperbole) than someone with a poor knowledge of history (or religion) reading historical fiction and then thinking that what they read is all true and having no way to differentiate the true from the invented. Case in point, The DaVinci Code.

First of all, horrible book – so bad I wanted to rip my own head off. Worse still, that a friend of mine thought he understood the fine points of Christian theology and the truth behind Christianity and the Church after reading this book. Yes, we are told up front that places and works of art are being described as they are, but I don’t think that helped everyone. Even if it was a sufficient explanation, the book itself sucked: three page chapters with suspense that turns out to be nothing at the end of every one. I thought I was reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps again.

But that’s more than enough from me for now. What do you think about historical fiction? What’s important to you and how historical should it be? What are your favorite works of historical fiction and why?

Check out Chandler’s different take on the matter HERE.

To read some other Topical Tuesday posts, click HERE. To read Fun with the Bible, click HERE.

Topical Tuesday: My Literary Agent Dreams – History and Sci-Fi for Past and Future

I find the past endlessly fascinating and the future filled with wonderful posibilities. That said, I live every moment in the present – it’s the only place to live – but if I could be any kind of literary agent, I would be one who specialized in history (nonfiction though historical fiction is cool too) and science fiction.

Both of my degrees are in history and comparative religion and they are the subjects that truly capture my heart. Therefore, even if I were to handle fiction, I would have to include historical works as well. Oftentimes, academic and scholarly work is handled by university presses, and professors and academics who write such material do not seek out agents, but only their contacts at the appropriate presses who are already familiar with their scholarly accomplishments. So I suppose it would be a little hard for me to become an agent of such things.

However, I do love quality historical fiction (though it’s quite hard to come by, I think – or at least very difficult to do well), and in fact, most of the television shows that I watch and enjoy are historical fiction. Mad Men, for instance, or the Tudors. I love the elements that a show or book can give you about characters and life that my knowledge of historical facts just doesn’t fill in.

Also, sci-fi. I love good sci-fi and would be honored to represent it. Dune, The Foundation Series, LOTR, etc. The reason I think it would be cool being an agent for such things is because I feel like I can read good sci-fi and know whether or not I would want it on shelves. Other genres I couldn’t do that with. For instance, women’s romance literature. Hell if I know what’s good and what’s crap. Sci-fi, however, seems to be something that I could pick up and know about its quality, a very important attribute of a literary agent. Plus, you’d get to read all sorts of crazy crap that gets in people’s heads and once in a while be truly inspired – though perhaps that’s true for all genres.

I could also do smut. I would like to be a literary agent for total, degrading smut. Though that probably wouldn’t be a healthy habit to develop – reading smutty lit all day.

What about you? If you could be a literary agent for any genre, what would it be?

For yesterday’s Fun with the Bible post, click HERE or for last week’s Topical Tuesday – what book I would have written if I could have – click HERE.

And don’t forget to check out Chandler’s Fumbling with Fiction for her thoughts on the literary agent type of her dreams.

Topical Tuesday: If I Could Have Been the Author of Any Book it Would Have Been…

Slaughterhouse 5!

First, I jumped at the Bible. Oh to have written the Bible. But hey, I’m one guy in one place and that was written by dozens and dozens over the course of 1000 years so for the sake of keeping it a fascinating text, I let my dream of writing the Bible go.

My next reaction upon pondering this question was to look at my bookshelves and pick out something that I saw there. I love my book shelves. However, upon moving to San Francisco, I left them behind. I packed up hundreds and hundreds of books and stored them in my mother’s basement. With me came about two dozen.

I don’t really wish that I’d written any of the books I have here (other than maybe The Divine Comedy), and so I had to start thinking again from scratch. Of course, there are so many classics that I could have picked but what would my reasoning have been?

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn could have made a fine selection. Mark Twain was brilliant. The book was sensational, influential, historically relevant, etc. But somehow I decided that I wanted something else. At first I was toying with sci-fi: The Hobbit, Dune. I really like the idea of creating a whole different world and think that it’s very difficult. I would love to move people’s imaginations that way. Stephen King’s epic The Dark Tower could have been excellent but Chandler and I did say 1 book.

Thus, I settled on Slaughterhouse 5. There are a couple of reasons. Personally, I’ve read the book about a dozen times. It reads so quickly and never ceases to amaze me. You can take so much away from this book. There are great one liners that stay with you – i.e., So it goes. There are hilarious quips about life’s odd situations. Billy, for instance, has a huge penis, and says, you never know who’s going to have one.

What’s more, the book has amazing historical relevance (related to the Crusades and WWII), an incredible message about war that it doesn’t just tell you but makes you feel, and makes you think 6000 times about the structure of the universe and time and other such things. I use the image of the Rocky Mountains from the beginning of time until the end of time all the time to convey various points about the nature of time. That and the attitude of the Trafalmadorians about life just make it an absolutely incredible book, with no extra words to spare.

So, thanks a lot Kurt Vonnegut for doing it first. Though I may not get your much deserved acclaim for this incredible masterpiece, I can certainly say that your book has inspired me on a personal level and for my writing. If I could publish – nay, write – anything comparable to the things you achieve inside that book I’ll be a very happy man.

What’s your favorite book? What book do you wish you’d written? If they’re different why? Did you like Slaughterhouse 5?

Enjoy your own copies of Slaughterhouse-Five, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Divine Comedy and many other great books.

Enjoy more book and movie reviews.

Get a FREE Bonus Chapter from The Zen of South Park.

Topical Tuesday: The Importance of Loving Your Computer

I love my computer. It’s a Macbook that I purchased in February of this year. And I love it. It’s black, sleek, happy and most of all, wonderful to me.

Before my Macbook I had a Toshiba. The reason I had this Toshiba is because in a pinch, it was the easiest thing to get me after my Jerusalem apartment was robbed and my laptop (a Dell that I had had for two and a half years) stolen. Though it had caused me numerous problems I liked my Dell. It pissed me off enough, though, that I had resolved to get a Mac as my next computer.

Unfortunately, when I had to have something as quick as possible and my mom had to get it to me from overseas, I did not get to look at and shop for Macs but just had to take the quick fix. That quick fix was perhaps the worst computer I’ve ever used. Toshiba hasn’t always made bad products but recently they’ve been buying parts on the cheap, and the quality of their computers has suffered dramatically. This was such a computer. It was horrible, shutting down all the time, never working for long, and generally screwing up at every turn. Plus, it had Vista which totally sucks.

When I arrived in the States three months later I resolved to purchase a Mac and forever stay away from the horrors of PC. I did and I’ve never been happier. I feel like I divorced this ugly, stupid girl and started making love to the hottest and most brilliant chick in the world. The transition to a Mac from PC was relatively painless and I’ve never looked back. There’s no problem creating Word files; there’s no blue screen of death. I can run as many programs as I like at once (and I do). It is an intuitive experience and there are all sorts of excellent ways for me to enjoy myself with my computer by personalizing it more thoroughly.

And why is this all important? Because as someone who spends 12 hours a day in front of the computer, working and typing and writing and trying to be creative, I need to have an excellenet relationship with this machine. It is essential to my productivity, comfort and peace of mind. I didn’t used to love my work station but ever since I got this Mac I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

What kind of computer do you use? Do you love it? Why or why not?

Don’t forget to check out Chandler’s blog for more on this topic, or for another Topical Tuesday article click HERE.

Topical Tuesdays: Volume and Pitch – The Noise a Writer Needs to Do the Deed

And just to clarify for those of you with less than savory minds (or particularly savory minds, as the case may be), that deed is writing.

Yes, this Topical Tuesday is all about the volume: TURN IT UP! Or maybe for me, turn it down. We’re all a little different with our noise preferences when we sit down at the computer to write (or just work), but in order to do what needs doing, we all need it to be the pitch and volume we like it.

Noise In Israel

When I was getting my Masters in Jerusalem, I happened to live on the corner of a particularly busy street (Hapalmach and Koveshei Katamon, for those of you who may be familiar), and it was a noisy street. The #13 bus ran down Hapalmach and began very early in the morning and ended very late. Cars honked incessantly (everywhere in Israel) and motorbikes roared. It was also heavily trafficked by pedestrians and people had no consideration for the volume of their voices as they reprimanded their children, called out to a friend or simply discussed the days events. Honestly, all that noise never made it too hard for me to work. I wrote and I read and I did just fine.

But then the Sabbath would come. Though Israel itself stays relatively lively on Saturday (that’s the Jewish Shabbat), Jerusalem truly becomes very quiet and Sabbath-like. All the buses stop, very few people continue driving, and though the foot-traffic increases so more people are talking on the streets, there really is something less noisy about it all. Shabbat was quiet and on Shabbat you better believe I could concentrate and got some work done (though you’re not supposed to work or use computers and electricity or write, but if that’s the only time Israelis shut-up what can God expect).

Quiet in the U.S.

Upon returning to America I lived in the suburbs in a quiet neighborhood where the only noise was the kids across the street playing for an hour outside as they got home from school. It was blissfully quiet. This is where I wrote most of my book, but this level of silence actually has its ups and downs.

It was so quiet that I’d get sleepy around 1 p.m. (after 5-6 hours of writing) and want to take a nap. With no noise or external distractions, I would succumb to this unnecessary sleeping sensation and waste the rest of my day napping, then being groggy, then saying it was too late to keep writing. So in this way, noise can be good for me and my work.

Volume Up

Now I live on a busy street in downtown San Francisco. Buses go by. People are loud checking into the hotel across the street and walking around, and the noises of the city (and my loud cat) keep me up. Though I haven’t begun writing again I think that this environment, similar to my life in Jerusalem, will keep me alert and active and able to write – and if I need to turn down the volume there are always earplugs, my recommendation to everyone who needs that whether awake or trying to sleep.

Oh, and as for music: only when I do mindless work. I can’t write to music at all because the rhythm doesn’t allow my brain to think entirely in its own way. Do you listen to music when you work?

Do you like noise or quiet when you work? Is your situation conducive to those needs? What tricks do you use to keep things at the proper volume for you?

For more on this Topical Tuesday discussion check out Chandler’s blog.

Topical Tuesdays…on Wednesday! – Self Publishing

First, an apology. As some of my loyal readers (and for the record I love you all) will notice, this promised Topical Tuesday is not happening on Tuesday. It’s Wednesday (to be honest – I’m in San Fran so it’s still Tuesday here but since it’s Wednesday on the East Coast and most people on the West Coast won’t read this blog until Wednesday, here we are). Low and behold, you will also know, as a loyal reader, that I have just moved to San Francisco and so my life and schedule (and internet access) are a little thrown off. Please forgive me for the aberration in posting.

That all said, don’t forget to check out Chandler’s blog for more on this week’s Topical Tuesday subject, self publishing. I assure you it’s more informed than my own opinion. And here we go…

Self publishing is a challenging matter and Chandler’s point remains crucial: a self-published author has not been selected for publishing. The author has chosen to avail him or herself of the services of someone else’s abilities to print. That means you’re responsible for what happens (generally speaking) after said availing.

There are, of course, some benefits to self publishing. One is that, if an author is having trouble getting a book published, self publishing is a way to prove that the book can be successful. With a proper ad campaign (self-funded, of course) and good promotion, you can sell a lot of books (pending you convince people to buy your book). You can sell copies out of the trunk of your car after a book signing or talk. You can sell them over the internet and with an isbn number through Amazon.com. All of these things and more are possible and you could sell a crapload of books this way. If your goal is to be published, a publisher could be greatly incentivized by your book’s success and agree to give it a go through real publishing. So, in this sense, it could be a means to an end.

As far as money is concerned, first books and writing in general don’t yield a lot of money. Very few people become Stephen Kings or Nora Roberts. Most of us make next to bubkes doing this. If you self publish, you could be responsible for some money up front (I don’t know the details). Fortunately, if you get a lot of copies of your book (and some awful publishers like PublishAmerica don’t let this happen so be careful and as Chandler warns, make sure you know what you’re signing) by running a large print run at your expense and keeping the copies, you get to keep all of the profits if you sell them. That means that the harder you work to promote and sell the more direct fiscal benefits you see. In the world of publishing houses, they reap the financial benefits of your promotions (aside from meager royalties) and you only reap the benefits of a book thoroughly sold which increases your odds of being published again – a noble gain, no doubt.

On the flip side of all of this are two issues that I see. Number one: you’re not really published in an elitist way and your book is probably not all over Barnes and Noble bookshelves. And number two: you could pay more money up front and not really get paid by a publishing house. There are other issues but these are two that I see.

At the very least, before self publishing read your contract carefully and make sure you’re not getting into a mess you can’t get out of – or at least get out of with your book.

What do you think about self publishing? Are you self published? Was it a good or bad experience? Are there other pros and cons that I didn’t talk about that you think should be brought up?

Status Report: San Fran is great and I’m loving the city. This was our first day apartment hunting and we’ve seen some stuff we liked. We feared the worst before beginning but think that we’ve found some great things and are not worried about working out a positive situation. We are staying in a friend’s apartment 30 minutes outside of the city (Sunnyvale) and it’s quite nice. His car is a great bonus for apartment hunting. Cyrus, the cat, did not have a great trip in and was pretty upset all through the night (disoriented, still a bit drugged, upset by the move) but today he seems pretty normal and his usual self. Tomorrow we check out more apartments – I’ll let you know how it goes.

Topical Tuesdays: Beta Readers and Why We Need Them (plus South Park)

This week’s Topical Tuesdays topic is beta readers, those friends and family who are the first people to lay their eyes on your script and tell you what they think. How many should you have? When should you use them? And how to know when to disregard their advice.

I have a rule when it comes to writing anything that I ever plan on letting anyone else see (note: this, funny enough, does not apply to my blog). That rule is that it must be seen by someone else’s eyes before I submit it in any official capacity. So I take one person who I can trust and who will be brutally honest with me (nine times out of ten it’s Kush) and I ask him (or her) to read it and give me feedback. It’s important, I contend, to ask very nicely. You’re not doing anyone any favors letting them see early editions of your work. You’re asking for a huge favor. Now, to me, these people are just editors, but apparently they have a special name: beta readers.

The answer, then, is yes: I think beta readers are incredibly important and absolutely necessary to great writing. As amazing as you could make something – and I have no doubt that some people out there can write some pretty incredible stuff on their own – an extra pair of eyes, an extra brain, whatever, is so necessary. Imagine working on a project. Yes, some people work better alone but there’s a reason companies organize in teams and great businesses are so often started by two people. Two brains work seven times as well as one alone. A beta reader can function in a similar way. No, you need not write together but to have a trusted secondary person read for you and give you honest feedback can expand, help and complement your book in some amazing ways.

For The Zen of South Park I have Kush read every chapter when I’m done editing it myself (which takes a while) and then after I do all that I think I should to it based on his comments I give it to (what I guess is) a gamma reader – another person I trust to read chapters at random. After fixing it at that point I give it to a professional in the subject matter that it’s about (remember my nonfiction book has chapters on each religion as well as other religious topics), and then I go back over it again after all that. Not until then can a chapter even begin to be done. I know it may sound excessive but these people are my team, my front lines, my editors and without them I couldn’t even begin to put together so quality a piece. I think editing is of the utmost importance.

There are no great writers. Only great editors.

What do you think? Do you use beta readers? Am I going overboard? Have you been an editor before? I do love editing other people’s work – I think it’s a great way to work on my own writing.

For more on this subject check out Chandler’s Fumbling with Fiction.

South Park tonight: The episode “Spooky Fish” will be on tonight. It is honestly a great and hilarious episode (how many aren’t?). This is the second season Halloween episode and tacitly deals with notions of the Occult and magic. The idea of vortexes and parallel universes and disrupted Indian souls – though they may seem purely silly – do indicate an acknowledgment on South Park‘s part of non-conventional elements of religion and they’re worth paying attention to…especially you Wicca fans out there.

Topical Tuesdays: E-books, Kindle and Books Not on Paper

As many of you know, on Tuesdays, Chandler and I each take on an issue relevant to the writing and publishing world and discuss it. You are invited to comment on both of our blogs with your own thoughts and to blog about the topic and send us links to what you wrote.

This week’s topic is, as the subject line would indicate, e-books, Amazon’s Kindle and basically, the fact that many books and publishing are moving to formats that are not ink on paper. How do I feel about this? Well, it’s a mixed bag, to be sure.

On the one hand, reading is reading and whether it is facts or fiction, stats or imagined tales, history or futuristic sci-fi, it’s valuable for the information contained in those words to be in our heads (unless it’s, say, Nazi propaganda or something, though even that has its place in a history class). They work our brains and imaginations no matter how they get in there: visually, orally, through Braille, sign language or ESP. Stories are good, facts are great and both are fantastic. Should it really matter if we’re holding a book open in our hands and running our eyes across ink blots on pulp? No, probably not. Running our eyes across zeros and ones on liquid gel or iPhone screens or Kindles from Amazon (a handheld device into which full length books are purchased and downloaded) probably ends up with about the same results. But there are two issues to consider (actually plenty more but two that I will raise): the wonder of discovering something in a book and the effects on the publishing industry.

In my experience, it is exhilarating to discover something in the actual pages of an original book. Allow me to elaborate. When I wrote my thesis, which can be read online at http://repository.upenn.edu/curej/10/, I had two options for doing research on eighteenth century Unitarian writings: 1. I could read the scanned versions of the books online at a repository for like books or 2. Fly to England and look at original copies of these texts in the British Library. Well, after a scholarship that allowed me to pursue the research, the decision became obvious. I went to England and read these books for information that no one had before and wrote my thesis, partially inspired by my experiences reading the original published texts of these eighteenth century brilliants. I even opened the handwritten sermons of eighteenth century Unitarian ministers and saw the words they crossed out and what they chose to say instead. Of course, that could suck for many, but for me it was a great experience, and I think that in the world of research, the experience of sitting in the archives and pouring over old texts is very important.

On the other hand, that anyone has the ability to research what I did because the material is available online is incredible! Many (i.e. enough) of these amazing books were online and anyone could have done what I did. It would have been less enjoyable looking at them on a screen and because of a variety of other factors I probably found more relevant materials but people could still enjoy these books because they’re online. More importantly, the information will not be lost as quickly: though a fire or time could destroy the original texts, they are now online forever (presumably). That’s a great thing.

The second issue is the effects on the publishing world. More people, through online publishing, have the ability to get their books out there because the publishing industry – which is picky, slow, cumbersome and elitist – is kept out of it. So, while we as readers may have more crap to filter through, potentially, everyone gets a chance, which means that more people can be discovered.

This also coincides nicely with the Long Tail theory of Chris Anderson, who explains that 1/3 or more of the market today, in books, music and movies, due to the democratization of instruments and the low/no-cost availability of them because of digitizing everything, is in the long tail of products – that is, those things that aren’t mainstream hits. That is, if there are 10,000 books worth publishing and they sell 6 million copies, and another 90,000 not worth publishers’ time but that get out there online, 3 million copies of those 90,000 books will still get sold, and even though it’s way more books our there, if it doesn’t cost anything because they’re digital, that’s still a third of the books sold getting rejected by traditional publishers and making up 90% of the available material (numbers are invented though they scale). That’s incredible and ebooks and Kindle are playing their parts in this expanding marketplace and the democratization of instruments and access. I think this is wonderful and if it happens to force the publishing world (as well as Hollywood and the music industry) to rethink its approach to who gets made then great. Sure, it could shake things up for a while but ultimately, just because things have been done one way forever doesn’t mean it’s right. Tradition is not sacred – especially not in business. Innovation is king, and if ebooks are changing things, rock on.

How do you feel about ebooks’ effects on the publishing industry? Do you disagree with me? Why? How about the democratization of instruments? Pro or con? Do you like books in your hand or do you mind reading from a screen? Love to hear what you think!

And don’t forget to check out Chandler’s thoughts at chandlermariecraig.wordpress.com.

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