It’s funny, how our books are like children to us. So often, writing a book is likened to the process of giving birth (a highly romanticized notion of birthing, too, if you ask me…) and publishing is like sending our innocent youth out into the world to make or break themselves. Author John Locke sees each of his novels as “employees,” earning as much revenue as they can, but then he’s a salesman by career, perhaps bringing his children into the family business?
Mine are more like teenagers, alternately shy and recalcitrant, idealistic, and entirely independent of anything I might want to do with them.
Recently, I formatted an e-book for a client to be published on the Amazon Kindle. I sent a proof off to him and waited for his response. In short order, I heard back:
Oh my GOD!
This is freakin’ beautiful!
And I realized I was present at a birth. I love my job!
In this era of e-books and print-on-demand, it’s easy to feel as if our children are slipping away from us.
As an author publishing my first book, I paid excruciating detail to the visual design and physical feel of the book. I self-published using a traditional print shop because I wanted as much control as possible over my “baby,” and I wanted to put each copy lovingly into its box or envelope with my own hands and send it off personally to its new owner. When I received my books from the printer and discovered they all had standard glossy covers instead of the soft matte finish I had requested – not unlike our children making new and different choices for themselves – well, I adapted.
Now my baby is growing up and being read as an e-book, and I am preparing to adapt again and republish the print version with a print-on-demand company. I find myself asking, “What will the quality be? How will the cover come out? Will they ship these books to customers on time?” And I wonder what it’s like to read and own this book on a Kindle, where it has no separate physical identity from any other book or idea?
Curiously, it is a pattern among some book buyers, now, to purchase both the e-book AND a print copy. When asked about this, they say, “I liked the book, and now I want to own it.” Somehow, having the book on their Kindle or IPad or Nook, to read whenever they want, isn’t the same as owning it.
Books are simply a way of solidifying ideas, fixing them “in print,” and transmitting them to others. As a reader, is it really important that these groupings of ideas have a unique physical form? Do we need to literally hold on to them?
Publishing, like life, has become a flow, and it gives us authors lots of room to play. Why not try on a new format or two like a new suit of clothes? Why not let our ideas ebb and flow and live their own lives in the world, however that turns out to be? Life isn’t about holding on or staying the same.
Live in the moment! And if all our books end up lost somewhere in the cloud? Well, according to my friends and family, that’s where I live anyway… In the end, the hopes I have for any book and its author are the same as I have for any child. To grow into a life of peace and joy, to never stop playing, and to help create the kind of world in which they want to live. Oh… and to have their contribution outlive the blanket they were born in.