I recently blogged about the incredibly tiresome things people say when they discover you write, read or work in romance. One of the comments, by the hilarious Scarlett Parrish, made me laugh like a drain:
I get similar comments because I’m epublished. “Oh, not real books then?” (Even though the majority are in print too, but my publishers are digital-first.) With one woman, I took her coffee cup off her and when she protested, I told her she wasn’t drinking coffee or sitting on my invisible sofa in my house that isn’t there because the books I used to pay for them with fake money don’t exist.
I now can’t wait for the next similar comment so I can do this too.
I love ebooks. I love being able to have the book I want in twenty seconds. I love free sampling. I love carrying 5000 books with me, and getting hold of long out-of-print stuff instantly, where a physical copy would require a trip to the British Library. I love swapping books with author friends and sending them as prizes.
And I hate piles of books. Really hate them. That thing people say about the smell of real books? Hahaha no. Go to a book warehouse some day: you’ll need two showers to feel clean again. At the publisher where I work, doors are kept open with books, in boxes as doorstops or splayed to serve as wedges. I use the fruit of someone’s hard work and invention to hold up my monitor.
I don’t accept that ebooks aren’t real, because nothing about a printed book is real either. Paper, glue, ink and dust. Show me a book and I can approximate the gsm of the paper, critique the show-through, note that the perfect binding is shonky and put a cost on the cover treatment. Show me a story, and I respond to the phrase that sticks, and the thought that haunts, and the insight that changed how I see the world, and the character that’s more real to me than the person three feet away.
What I love about writing is the plaiting of plots, the picking out of themes, the build up and turn on a pivotal moment. The way an idea expands to fill the space, like insulation foam. The tweet or email from someone who read my story and loved it. The review comment that shows someone really understood what I was trying to do, and that for them at least, I did it right. That’s what matters. None of it depends on the delivery method. (Obviously, now and again you get a printed book that is a thing of physical beauty, with integrated art, ingenious biding, careful production values. But really, mostly, it’s product.)
This same morning that I was snorting with laughter over Scarlett’s comment, I received a box of print copies of my first book, The Magpie Lord. Which, I will admit, I was hugely looking forward to getting. They’re lovely, and I’m delighted to have them, and they will be super-useful for the stuff you can’t do electronically, like signings. I will definitely not be using them to adjust my monitor.
The funny thing was, when I signed the contract, my first, maybe 18 months ago, I was desperate to be in print. It really mattered to me that I could say ‘E first, print later.’ I felt more like a real author knowing there would be print. And now I have them, and holding them was nice, but it actually confirmed for me that I don’t need print copies to feel like a proper author. I was a proper author the moment that someone paid for a thing I wrote*, and I remain a proper author while people invest their time and hard-earned cash in reading my stories. The rest is window dressing.
* Your definition of ‘proper author’ may be different to mine, and I wouldn’t argue, but I’ve served twenty years in publishing. Venal comes as standard.
KJ Charles is the author of The Magpie Lord, a Romantic Times Top Pick for September 2014 and shortly to be available in print. Her most recent book is Think of England, available electronically. She has nothing currently available in parchment.