Well, I published my first book, an e-book, as part of my goal of publishing one book a month in 2013. (Should I call this my One Year, 12 Books project?) My short story, “Out There,” is available at Amazon as a Kindle book. I’ll write more about the process soon, but for now I’ll just say that the mechanics of publishing the book (i.e., formatting it for Kindle, etc.) took less time than I thought it would; Amazon provides a very useful tutorial on publishing Kindle books with a Mac. I set the price at $0.99. I considered making it free — after all, it’s a short story (and one that I wrote and published years ago) — but decided I might as well see what happens if I charge a buck for it.
And what’s the story like? Well, as the cover says, it’s “a short story about teenagers, a road trip, and the Jersey Devil.” I’d like to think it’s inspired by the work of T.C. Boyle and Junot Diaz. You can buy it at Amazon and read it on your Kindle, your phone, your computer, or your tablet.
This sounds crazy. I know it does. But it’s not as crazy as it sounds.
In fact, when I came up with the idea, I actually thought of it as “a book a day” (yes, that’s really, really crazy) or “a book a week” (pretty crazy too). By comparison, a book a month seems reasonable, do-able, and not entirely off-the-wall.
The impulse behind this? I want to see how far an indie writer/author/journalist can take things in this new world of books and book publishing. I’m fascinated with the changes in the industry (e-books, on-demand publishing, Kindle Singles, Blurb photo books, and so forth), and I want to jump into the fray. This is a way to jump-start my exploration of the changes in book publishing, to experiment with the technologies available and the new forms evolving, and to learn (and think) about the future of books.
What will these twelve books* be? I’m not sure yet, but I’ll share a few ideas to offer a sense of the possibilities.
Let me start with an easy one — easy, that is, in the sense that I could publish it in minutes. With the iPhone app Mosaic, you’re able to create and publish a photo book, composed of 20 images, and then tap a button and buy your book for $20. The finished product comes with a lovely die-cut cover. I tend to think of this as an “impulse book.”
Another might be a reprint of an out-of-print children’s book in the public domain, possibly with new illustrations. I’d like at least one, and maybe more (one prose, one photography?), of the books to use print-on-demand technologies, and this would be a candidate for using an on-demand printer.
Yet another would be based on the content at my mobile photography blog, What I See Now — in particular, a series of posts naming the top 100 iPhone photography apps. Plenty of journalists and bloggers are turning their writing into e-books, and this would be a chance to give that a whirl.
All of this raises a question: Is this devaluing, or undermining, the concept of the book? I certainly hope not. I don’t have any illusions about the amount of time, thought, and skill required to write and publish a book properly. I’ve done that — well, I’ve been part of the process (as an author) — and I know the expertise book publishers bring to the process in terms of editing, layout, design, and marketing. But it’s also clear that our notions about what a book is, about how they’re made, and of who controls the appartuses of their production are changing. All of that’s worth exploring, and this project is just that — an exploration of books and their future.
Though I don’t want this experiment to be all about the technology, I expect I’ll use a variety of formats, services, and tools along the way: iBooks Author, PDFs, Kindle, on-demand printers (such as Blurb and Lulu), and plenty of others. Along the way, I’ll document what I’m doing and blog about it, focusing, in particular, on the questions likely to arise from the process. What is a book? Should writers become publishers? Is it possible for an indie journalist to create a publishing imprint with an on-demand publisher? How can books effectively integrate video and other multimedia content? What are the obligations to update the content of e-books? What will become of handmade artists’ books in the age of on-demand printing?
What will the end result be? I expect I’ll learn a lot. Maybe I’ll end up with a number of books I like. Maybe I’ll create a publishing company. Who knows? Maybe there’s even a book in this.
* Why the asterisk? Why this footnote? Because, well, I want to make clear I’m defining “books” broadly for the purposes of this project. Truth be told, when I think of a book, I think of Atonement, of My Antonia, of In Cold Blood: works of prose requiring years of effort, thought, and breathless creativity. Yet our notions of books are changing, for better or worse, and it’s clear the idea of the book is far more flexible than it was just a few years ago.
I’ve been struggling with e-books lately. I keep thinking I should go ahead and join the e-book revolution, just as I have with music and photography and so much else, but I just can’t get into it. I have read e-books, but I still prefer traditional, printed books, for any number of reasons. Certainly one of them is their beauty as objects. That’s one of the reasons I love Leah Price’s book “Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books.” This is a beautiful book, and it’s about, in part, the beauty of books, and the writers who love them. The book puts the spotlight on the personal libraries of 13 novelists, with close-up photos of their shelves. Why do I love (printed) books? This book says it all.