Friday, September 20, 2013

E-Books, Promise and Curse

by Gary

Not so much now what with CDs, iPods and so forth, but back in the day, before radio, a tradition was born over a century ago in Cuban and other Latin American cigar factories.  Rows of workers would be smoking their product while they hand rolled choice Cohibas at tables. On a platform to be heard sitting in a chair there’d be a reader.  From the tribuna, the platform, El Lector read from the newspaper, a political tract, a novel, a non-fiction book, poetry, the script from the opera or maybe even the funnies.  These men, and sometimes women, were educated, they could read and speak Spanish and English and read to the illiterate but not ignorant cigar rollers who not only wanted to break up the monotony of their job, but be entertained and informed.  Tey wanted stories.
As Stephen King has observed, books as the delivery system might be endangered, but story and talent are why we read them.  The cigar roller, the Prius mechanic and the dental hygienist still want their stories.  Sure, video games that cost $200 million to produce such as the just released bang and bigger bang Grand Theft Auto V, slated to earn a cool billion, is impossible to go toe-to-toe with in the arena.  Hell a poor bastard was stabbed and hit with a brick by a group of teenagers for his copy of the game after waiting hours in line to buy it in London.  But even game players read – okay, maybe not prose but I do know they read comics and graphic novels and some of that crowd reads prose. 
El Lector at the cigar factory.
Ii's without a doubt damn harder now more than ever to get attention for our books and short stories.  There’s even computer software churning out news articles and composing music fer Christsakes.  But with respect to my fellow blogger Vicki Delany, I don’t think more writers means less readers.  It means stepping up our game as writers and seeking out new readers with the tools we’ve been provided.  I don’t we have to mean pander, we have to write the stories we want to tell from crime and mystery stories, chick lit to new pulp – stories the recreate the style of the pulps from the 1930s.  For as Alan Orloff, one of my other fellow suppliers of content if you will to our Criminal Minds site noted yesterday, this is the best and worst of times as Dickens penned.
Unless you have the good fortune to become a brand onto oneself or create that break our
character(s), like the aforementioned Messrs. King and Dickens, it’s hard out here for a novel writer.  But e-books mean you don’t have to go through the usual hurdles at traditional publishing houses, and you can experiment with length, style, content and approach. 
A writer has to write, has to get the story out of them or they’d go crazy.  We have to as Sue Ann from this site stated in her comment, keep our feet planted on both sides of the virtual and “real” dividing line to cover our bases.  But for certain you can’t simply write into a vacuum.  For practical reasons, like needing to eat and keep the lights on, we all want to build our readership be it via e-books (long form and novellas), webserials, phone serials (all the rage in Japan recently), print-on-demand, limited editors, collector’s editions, fan fiction (50 Shades of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!), hybrid cyber books, swag such as a music tract derived from the book, podcast interviews, and on and on.   Sure, it’s work getting your work noticed among the great sea of low and high culture, of how to spend, in the words of science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, your beer money. 
I don’t tweet but the new era of book promotions means there are people who do the social media bit. But if getting others to hawk my wares play out, the day might well come where I’m sitting in El Lector’s seat, reading others’ work and my own to the rows of neural netted androids toiling in the cybernetic factory.  They are only mechanical torsos built into the desks where they put together everything from iPhones to e-cigars, but I’ll fulfill my roll of storyteller, puffing away on a actual maduro cigar – gladly.     


Alan Orloff said...

Well put. People need their stories!

LMaddox said...

Bravo Mr. Phillips! Reading, cigars, seems like a shot of bourbon should be part of the equation.

Gary Phillips said...

A good cigar improves any situation -- well almost.