If you’ve spent much time reading blogs you’ve probably come across at least a dozen bloggers who are self-publishing books, or creating e-books, or selling online courses, or even getting published in “old” media. I’ve seen a lot of all of these recently. I understand the desire to get published, whatever the media – it’s a validation of your writing ability and hopefully it has some financial benefit for you and whatever benefit you intended for your readers. Fame is probably not a huge factor. The number of book authors who break into public awareness is small, and growing smaller as the Internet and TV keep winning the battle over reading books (and magazines and papers) for “infotainment” – but at the same time I’m sure a minor book author is going to be far better known than a wildly successful e-book publisher.
I wonder whether getting published in traditional media (i.e. authoring a real book, with the low-tech ink and paper technique) is all that it’s cracked up to be. I suppose I’d be as thrilled as anyone to see my book in the store, but when I see some of the authors who have been published talk about the financial rewards, what I hear is this: you put in an extraordinary amount of effort to create a product, get an advance, then hope that the publishing company promotes your book well. Getting published a second time may rely more on their efforts than on the quality of your work.
Conversely, an e-book can be done at the drop of the hat and promoted as much or as little as the author wishes. The e-book is more or less pure profit, assuming you don’t hire a professional to design the layout or set up an affiliate scheme to promote it. I think the e-book “brand” has been degraded in the blog world a bit; many bloggers seem to simply bundle up 20 of their best posts and call it a book. Then again, why not? A traditional print author like Hunter S. Thompson, whom I admired, often would bundle up a bunch of magazine pieces and call it a book. Big deal, right? I have been disappointed in several e-books I’ve seen, and yet impressed by others. Regardless of quality, I’m willing to bet that only a tiny portion of web readers have ever done more than glance at an e-book, and most of the world has yet to ever see one.
The main motivation for getting in print – in the traditional way – is probably the family reunion factor. Aunt Sally, who’s always talking about how HER son already finished MED SCHOOL is not going to be impressed that you wrote an e-book … but she’ll probably shut up when she hears you have a book she has to see every time she passes it at the local Barnes and Noble. It’s not bad to want to be recognized as excelling in a certain field. I’m not sure when e-books will equal (let alone surpass) traditional books in this sense. Maybe when 10% of Americans have Kindle-like devices? 20%? I don’t really know.
Let’s hope that both e-books and traditional books keep coming, though. I like to read – a lot – and although blogs and various websites can be entertaining it’s a far different experience from reading a book, or even a well-written e-book. I’m sure I’ll give writing a book a shot at some point… if for no other reason than to keep Aunt Sally off my back next year.