Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Forward to the Past

Clearly, the demise of the paper book—the one you can hold in your hands and turn the pages and even dog-ear the corners of the pages—is not at hand.

That may not be news to you, but it was to me.

I had read somewhere that most books now purchased are ebooks—specifically ebooks in the Kindle format, that is, ebooks sold by Amazon.

Not being a Luddite, I was willing to go along with this. To be clear, I was not wishing for the death of the hard copy tome. For years I made my living preparing pages for the printing press. I started at it long enough ago that the first shop I worked in—my hometown weekly newspaper—was still using hot metal type for some jobs. But the technology which, at that point, had barely changed since the days of Johannes Gutenberg was entering an era of change that would dwarf all the innovations of the previous four centuries. I learned to typeset with cold type, i.e. on a machine not unlike an electric typewriter which printed text directly on a galley. Later I would work on a machine that would print on a galley by exposing the text on photographic paper which then had to be developed with chemicals. The Seattle design company I later worked for would have a booming business in preparing its clients’ pages for the printing press. Just as quickly, though, that business dried up when the clients realized that they could do their own press prep on Apple Macintoshes using PageMaker.

Through all these changes, I prided myself on being nothing if not adaptable. So I was not fazed when ebooks appeared. In fact, for me they were a godsend. Not only was I running out of room on my shelves for physical books but traditional books were steadily becoming unreadable for me. I was developing cataracts, and I was having to resort to extremely bright lights and sometimes magnifying glasses to be able to read. But using apps to read books on an iPad solved the problem. I could make the text as large as necessary, and the backlighting ensured that the text was clear. Also, I could read in bed without any other light. And I could take a huge number of books with me conveniently wherever I went.

So I wasn’t shocked when I read that most new books being sold were ebooks. Yes, I would still have paper books that I had had for years and would keep and continue to cherish. But I wasn’t going to be reactionary about it. Yes, I felt bad about the quaint and attentive small bookstores that were already under assault by huge chain stores and now had to contend with a shift to online book shopping. But the future is the future. I wasn’t going to be the last guy driving a horse and buggy down the urban expressway.

So when I published Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, I did so in Kindle format. It was always in the plan to also put out an epub version to make it available as well to ebook readers other than the Kindle. But I considered a paperback version optional.

I knew that there would be some people who hadn’t made the transition to ebooks, but I wasn’t prepared for the number of people who contacted me and said that they would like to read my novel but that they would not be reading it until it was available as a physical book. More than one person posed a question that, frankly, hadn’t really occurred to me: How can one get an author’s autograph on an ebook?

So I have already begun working on a paperback edition of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead. Technically, the ebook was relatively easy to produce. The end product there was merely a computer file that could be viewed by Kindle devices and apps. My deliverable for a paperback book is somewhat more complicated. That will consist of PostScript files suitable for physical printing.

Suddenly those skills I had to develop for various employers and clients two or more decades ago have become newly relevant. And, yes, for all my embracing of the future, there will be no small amount satisfaction in finally holding in my own hands a physical book that I have written myself.

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