On Writing · Self-publishing

E-books & Self-Publishing – Your cliff edge or your lit tunnel?

I’ve been having a lot of conversations about self-publishing lately. Not just in my head either. With actual people – writers – who are standing on the edge of the ‘should-I-or-shouldn’t-I’ cliff.

In my world – the edge is definitely attached to a very high, very jagged, very scary looking cliff. Below is a deep black hole in which every once in a while a little book angel comes flying out and lands on my shoulder. She kinda looks like this:

image: http://www.ptreyesbooks.com/events/become-book-angel

I get several emails a day with blog posts about self-publishing, e-books, success stories of authors who’ve self published…and lately, I get so riled up reading them that I have to stop.


Well, here’s how I’m feeling about self-publishing – in this moment, on this day – and I make this point because things in the writing world are changing so rapidly (it feels this way to me anyway!), that I may read something tomorrow that makes me change my mind…Don’t worry, I’ll keep you up to speed on my mind-changing.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to reading. I love a book in my hands. I love smelling the ink and glue and printing machine love juices on the pages. I love books on shelves in my house, in books stores, in libraries. I love cracking spines. I love underlining lines or words that make my heart swoon. How does one do this with an electronic device in one’s hands – not a book?

I’m tactile. I like the feel of things – the sensory satisfaction of a book in my hands is very much a part of my reading experience. I love that I can cry on a paper page when I’m reading and not have to worry about wetting something electronic and ruining it. (Have you ever cried onto your Kobo or Kindle?)

I will never stop buying and reading actual, physical paper books as long as they are available for me to buy and read them. And I will never stop gifting them as well.

But everywhere I look, folks are reading on electronic devices. Including one such handsome human who reads beside me in bed. The hubby reads on his ipad every night. In fact, last night he read me the first two stories in David Sedaris’ new collection, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. I still loved the words. I was able to receive the words in a way that made me laugh and be joyful…How much does the experience of reading the words change when how the words are read changes?

For me this…jaunt into electronic everything runs into my psyche. It hits the core of my being because essentially technology is shifting how we communicate in general. This is not new news. But for someone like me whose formative years were spent reading paper books in front yards and back seats over summer vacations and late nights when I should have been doing homework…for someone like me who dialed on rotary phones, had penpals (still going for over 25 years, by the way – yes, still writing paper letters and mailing them to each other!), used encyclopedias in libraries when doing research…and who, my dear friends, read a paper book that lit the writing fire within me…well, my roots in old-fashioned face-to-face, paper-in-hands communication are a part of my blood, my being.

It is foreign to me to text and facebook and swipe my finger over a tiny screen – even though I do it every day. It is not instinctual. It is not organic. It is taught, learned and trained. And that’s weird to me on most days. I still have a land-line telephone that I use all the time. I still call people. I still use a paper phone book when I need a pizza number. I don’t think I’m old-school – I’m different school. And therein lies the distinction.

I have a degree in “Communication” Studies. No, I did not have a class in texting. In fact, although it’s been less than 15 years since I’ve graduated, when I was in university, 95% of us taking notes did so with pen and paper. The professor certainly did not post the notes on some internet webpage. Nope. No way. For me, seeing a classroom with laptops on each desk does something to my stomach that makes me feel…I’ll be honest, a little scared. And there are classrooms like this in my children’s elementary school. When I walked the halls this morning, there was art on the walls with words about texting. Jett (he’s gonna be 7 very soon) asked if he could have an ipod for his birthday. HELLS NO. A resounding hells no.

I feel like things are moving way too fast – including how quickly one can turn a page while reading a book. Even the word ‘book’ doesn’t seem to fit into this e-world. Why does this scare me? You know, I’m not quite sure. This is what I’m trying to figure out.

I think maybe the shift into ‘everyone can write a book and everyone is’ – oh, and by the way, everyone can self-publish a book, not get it printed, make it into an e-book, sell it on amazon and maybe make the best seller list – is something that scares me a bit. My mind is filled with visions of Hemingway writing as the dew runs into early morning at a bustling cafe in Paris or Judy Blume typing away on a typewriter a love story that would change my life. Visions of myself writing at a computer, printing out my manuscript and mailing it to agents and publishing companies in hopes of fulfilling a dream to get agented, get a book ‘deal’, and sell copies of my book so everyone has one in their homes….this dream doesn’t really ‘fit’ into the wobbly landscape that is the ‘literary’ world today. What would Hemingway do with a ‘smart phone’? I suppose I could email Judy Blume and ask her what she thinks about e-books….

What’s a writer to do? What am I supposed to do with  my dreams – that are rooted in a time very different, much more tactile, and much, much slower than the time that is ‘today’? I’m scared that because the landscape of the writing world is changing so much my dreams won’t fit into it – and that I’ll have to create new dreams…which can’t be that bad, but if it’s a dream that hasn’t come true yet…? What if I make and sell an e-book and it doesn’t sell? What if I self-publish my next collection of ‘mom stories’ and I don’t market it correctly and it doesn’t sell? What happens to ‘the writing’ when I’m spending hours establishing, cultivating and maintaining an ‘on-line’ presence about my writing life?

What happens to the writing? Is this not the quintessential question?

If the modes of communication change, if the book goes from paper to ‘e’, if the publisher goes from giant machine to singular person…what happens to the readers? What happens to the writers? What happens to the words?

People will never stop reading. We can guarantee that.

People will never stop writing. We can guarantee that.

These two constants will remain, right?

If Hemingway was alive today, he would still write like Hemingway. His writing passion, ability and gift would remain. Same with Albom, Fitzgerald, King, Blume, Roberts…(insert your favourite author’s name here)…the words still come out the same way, right?

So does it matter that readers are reading the words on something electronic versus something paper? Does it matter that the writer is selling you her words directly or that a a giant publisher is selling them to you? If the end product is the same – if the stories are still reaching YOU the reader, and the stories are still affecting you – does it really matter how you got them or where they came from?

As ‘the writer’ my answer is…it shouldn’t. It really shouldn’t…and yet…I just don’t know. I want the agent, the book deal, the movie deal, the book tour and I really want to be on George Stroumboulopoulos. Right there in that chair. (That rhymes.)

image credit

Part of me is terrified of all the work, money and time that self-publishing entails. Part of me doesn’t want to do this all alone. Part of me is tired of waiting for an agent to ‘love’ my work. And still part of me wishes I could stop thinking about all this jazz and get my ass in my chair to work on ‘the words’ of these stories that I keep dreaming will one day be the stories that everyone reads.

Here’s the story that got my head all woozy with self-publishing mayhem:

Hugh Howey – Self-publishing is the future – and great for writers

I can’t decide if this cliff is a friend in a new outfit I’ve never seen before and I can’t decide I like it or if they make one in my size or if this opportunity is truly a light at the end of a very long tunnel that I never really saw a glimmer of before?

Here are some of the articles/posts on self-publishing and e-books that I’ve been reading:

Nathan Bransford: In Future, Will Everyone be a Publisher?

Kristen Lamb – The Slow Death of The Old Paradigm Author

Kristen Lamb – Love Trumps Laws A Final Rebuttal to Turow

Nathan Bransford – Scott Turow and the (Supposed) Decline of the American Author

Scott Turow – The Slow Death of the American Author

Your thoughts?


7 thoughts on “E-books & Self-Publishing – Your cliff edge or your lit tunnel?

  1. Good post, Vanessa. Interesting stuff to mull over.

    I suppose Hemmingway would have done already with a smartphone. Especially his “extremely short story”: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” That would be even tweetable!

    I’m pretty open when it comes to delivery technology: paper, audio, e-books. And yet, I do appreciate paper books. I average over 100 books (of the audio, paper, ebook variety together) a year and less than 10% are ebooks. My ebook books tend to be ones that I read very slowly over the space of a year, waiting for the dentist and at other little short slices of life where my smartphone is the only thing easily at hand.

    I think self-publishing does change a lot of things, and the result is mixed, I think. It really depends what you do with it. There is a tricky tension between two things, I think: 1. In many ways, the message stands alone and writing is a constant thing regardless of the medium. 2. But, on the other hand, the medium does influence the message and how people receive it. So, part of me wants to say that writing will always be the same regardless of the medium used. However, there is an undoubtable ways in which the medium shapes the writer and reader.


    1. Thanks, Mark. And yes…the medium affects the message. I do believe though, that people aka ‘readers’ are changing their beliefs around books in general. They are not equating ‘big publishing house’ to ‘great book’ in such a black and white way. People are willing to ready everything – whether it’s self-published or not – and this is an overall ‘mind’ shift, I believe, that is changing the writing world. Also, those who have never written before can wake up and write, make an ebook, self-publish and become a bestseller. This never happened in the past…or at least not that I am aware of! I’m not sure what that means for the ‘craft’ of writing….some people write their whole lives and never get people to read…It’s tricky. Very tricky.


  2. Like you, I’m a traditionalist when it comes to books and publishing. Cannot get my head around e-publishing, much as I can’t get my head around touch-tone dialing. (I’m hoping I’ll figure out the latter soon though.) And I feel the same way about self-publishing – it would just take wah-HEY too much time away from the writing. So since I can’t as yet understand or function in the electronic world, I’m letting it go on without me. I’ll write using a pen and a keyboard. I’ll create works of terrible beauty. I will satisfy my soul in my art and find peace. And if the universe should someday deign to send me someone skilled in things digital to teach me how to work in that other world, I’ll listen and learn. Til then, it’s back to making black marks on paper. 🙂


    1. Penny-Anne,
      I think I’ll never lose my connection to paper and pen…and clacky keyboard. I can’t create any other way.


  3. I just need to begin with saying that I wrote a big whole reply to this and, being technically challenged, erased it when I tried to click back to the article you referenced by Hugh Howey!! That should tell you a bit about where I stand.

    Much like Penny-Ann, my comfort level with technology and the social media seems a far cry from what he and the others are saying it takes to be successful with self-publishing. However, that being said, I have been struggling myself with the best way to get my work out there. Sure, I’ve been doing some submitting the traditional way, and with some success, but I’m impatient! Hugh and the others make some damn good points.

    On the other hand, I could not for the life of me think about spending my life in front of a keyboard to do the on line self promotion. I write curled up with pen and spiral notebook usually, and hate the fact that I have to input these into the computer, because I type with my left index and my right middle fingers (what does that say?) and not very quickly. I cringe at the thought of checking my email in case there is something that will require a response (except of course for your posts Vanessa ;0))

    I won’t enter the debate about kindles and e verses print and bound books because I am an audio book fan! lol

    I would like to say to Penny-Ann here that it won’t matter what the medium, your work will take the world by storm! I am in love with every poem of yours that I read or hear you read. I hope that some day you will consider creating audio book versions of all of your work…but you must be the reader!!

    I love your work too Vanessa, but you know what I mean about Penny-Ann’s saints! You would do well to consider audio books as well, Ms Moth!


  4. Karen, you make me blush! I’m going to make you president of my fan club. Your first assignment – go get me a bunch of fans. I like the paper ones with mountain scenes painted on them – nothing can cool down a hot flash quicker than one of those babies. 🙂 Thank you for such kind words! And in fact I have been considering an audio-book, but sometime in the future. Right now, I need to write, write, write! Your support means so much to me Karen. Bless you!


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