So my three Prinstagram Tinybooks arrived, and they’re pretty adorable. And tiny. I knew they were just 1.7 by 1.5 inches, but until they arrived, I didn’t realize how small that would be. One very cool thing about them: They’ve got magnets inside. Yes, that’s right: You can put your book on the fridge.
I just love this video. With my 12 Books project, I’m trying to explore what it means to be a writer in the era of e-books and on-demand publishing, and this video really puts a spotlight on how things have changed.
For this month’s book for my 12 Books project, I tried something completely different (well, different from the short story I published as a Kindle book): a tiny photo book. With Printstagram, you’re able to select 24 of your Instagram photos, then get three copies of your book for $10. The books are small: just 1.7 by 1.5 inches. But for the price, it’s a pretty good deal.
Photo book printing has been around for years, but now it’s even more automated and simple. With Printstagram, you don’t even get your photos from your computer’s image collection; you just type in your Instagram login, and Printsagram grabs your images. It’s almost what I’ve come to think of as an “instant book.”
But here’s what’s interesting: It’s also got something in common with the artist’s book — books designed and printed by designers, illustrators, photographers, and other artists. They’re made independently, the print run is small, and they’re intended as works of art. Though I don’t plan on selling my little books, I could see how a photographer might print, say, 50 of these, then sign and inscribe them, and offer them at $10 a pop.
Just another interesting opportunity in the evolving world of the book.
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.