Ebooks in 2012? Definitely my year. Not because my sales rocketed and I could at last afford that place in the Bahamas. Not in terms of discovering new gems or genres or uncovering writers I hadn’t come across before (although I did find lots of pleasures in those areas), but for three entirely personal reasons.
First, a surprise Xmas gift last year was an iPad from my son. Apart from the fact that it more or less does for me everything that servants at Buck House do for Prince Charles (well, apart from the nasty personal hygiene things and the toothpaste-tube-squeezing stuff), it also added the pleasure of a much better reading experience than my Kindle. That’s not to knock the Kindle – on the contrary, it’s an excellent device – but for me, the iPad is better.
Second, I was invited to join Authors Electric. I already had friends among its members and had read several of their books, so I knew it was a serious, professional outfit with a commitment to quality. (Mind you, if I’d written too many sentences like that, reeking as it does of PR-speak, they’d probably have reconsidered and withdrawn the invitation.) With the publishing world in such disarray and writers and readers alike being faced with confusing and contradictory advice about how and where to shop, it was great to be part of a collective with confidence in what they were all doing and distinct ideas about what could be achieved independently of traditional publishing models. And they weren’t just theorising about it, they were producing the books to prove it.
There’s no genre tyranny in the group, no recipe for ‘literature’ or ‘other’; nor is there any hard evangelising for the electronic form over print. Ebooks are simply a medium which has brought more freedom to writers and more choice to readers. The corporate world still tries to dictate our tastes but with less success than hitherto; nowadays, it’s writers – of all hues and talents – who are setting agendas, and the members of Authors Electric are serious about the business.
The third reason is that it’s been a real hands-on experience. In the spring, my USA-based publisher had to close down and so there was the possibility of many of my books becoming unavailable. In the old days, that would have meant doing the rounds of agents and publishers again, piling up rejection slips, having to respond to questions which didn’t ask ‘Are your books any good?’ but ‘Do they sell?’ But now, I could simply publish them all myself. It’s hard to convey just how liberating that is. OK, I’ve been writing books for decades but, especially in the early days, I was never sure whether they’d be read by anyone other than my partner, family and friends. Now I know that, at the end of the process, there will be a book, it’ll be listed on Amazon and, if I choose, available in print, too.
Then, this morning I received an email which highlighted the downside of being independent. I’ve written five non-fiction books for Pearson Education – all print editions – and this was a note from the new marketing executive for my area of ‘expertise’. She was simply introducing herself but also asking for a mugshot to use in a new campaign to push the titles. So it’s nice to send off a photo and sit back knowing that someone else, with the necessary expertise, will be working to get my books sold. For an indie self-publisher, there’s no such luxury. I have to do that too and frankly I’m rubbish at it. It takes up time that I’d rather spend on new books. But we all have to do it and if that’s the price we have to pay for our independence, it’s dirt cheap.
I think my books are terrific and, if there were a God, he’d make sure I got that Bahamas pad. But I’m also my own marketing executive so I need to set a realistic goal for 2013. Maybe the down payment on a new shed.