The Reality of E-Publishing: Facebook Edition

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I finally joined Facebook two months ago, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

To be precise, I was placed on Facebook by the publicity department of my new publisher, Random House. They set up my account and told me to make “friends” while maintaining a personal page and an “Author Page,” and to promote my new work at every opportunity. I have been striving to do this, but it isn’t easy. Self-promotion has never come naturally to me, and a lot of other writers on Facebook are quick to slam people who use Facebook for what they consider to be “crass, commercial self-aggrandizing”–even though it is often our publishers who insist on it. But, truth be told, that isn’t my main problem.

My problem is this: It seems that we in the writing community are divided. Some of us represent traditional publishing, the usual hardcover/paperback deals with a side of ebook and audio. Others–newer, younger names among us–are pushing a new agenda, that of “ebook only.” Electronic publishing is the wave of the future, they tell us. Old-fashioned printed books will soon be obsolete, traditional publishing is a thing of the past, rules the universe, and Jeff Bezos is our new deity. The ranks of these two points of view, as far as I can see, are about equal in size and volume. And nowhere is that volume more voluminous than on Facebook.

Here is my problem with that: I had no choice in the matter, and I speak for many of your fellow authors.

Let me clarify. I am a professional writer who published six novels back in the 1990s. They were published by legitimate publishing houses, members of the so-called “Big 6” (now known as the “Big 5”). My works have been translated into several languages, in fifteen foreign countries. One of them was made into a major motion picture, and two others were optioned for filming. I am a professional, professionally recognized author, and I am one of many.

A Penny for the Han#13A688DRecently, I returned to publishing after a fourteen year absence. I decided to try my luck with a new novel, so I found a new agent and reentered the publishing marketplace. What I found was an industry in turmoil, torn between two ways of doing things: print v. electronics. My agent submitted my manuscript everywhere, and it was politely rejected by one and all until about a year ago, when an editor at Alibi, Random House’s new ebook-only line of mysteries, made an offer on it. It was the first and only offer my agent received. After much agonizing, I agreed to accept this offer. For the first time in my career, my new novel would not be a “book” at all–it would be electronic-only. A Penny for the Hangman was published on October 7, available only as an ebook.

Meanwhile, back on Facebook, posts are arriving daily, thick and fast, arguing the relative merits of “print” v. “cyber.” Long, smug articles are being written that delineate the many advantages one form allegedly holds over the other. “Traditionalists” are slamming the “New Wave” of electronic authors, and vice versa. “Statistics Prove That Print Books Are Better!” “Statistics Prove That Print Books Are Dead!” “Statistics Prove That Ebooks Are The New Reality!” And on and on.

For me, and for many other professional writers, there is only one new reality: the contracts we are being offered. I took the only thing available to me, and I don’t regret the choice. I don’t own an e-reader. I don’t even own a cell phone. I am a traditionalist through and through, a lover of paper and dust jackets and libraries lined with burgeoning shelves. But, as with so many others, I want to be published, and electronic publishing turned out to be my only option.

To all the authors on both sides of the argument, I have a request. Please bear my story in mind the next time you blithely post your opinions about the future of our industry on Facebook. Some of us are simply trying to scratch out a meager living. The good old days when I received hard/soft deals and lavish advances are gone, and I speak for many others. In today’s economy, we don’t have all the choices that are still available to only a few of our more prominent colleagues, and we can’t order the publishers to present our work in hardcover, or even paperback. We take what we can get. That is the new reality of publishing. It is my reality.

Please “like” me on Facebook—and I mean that in more ways than one. Thank you.

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