Thursday, May 5, 2011

E-Books: Why Today is a Good Day to Be A Writer

I was really surprised by the response to my Angry Mom post. Thank you for the stories you shared either in comments or in emails to me personally. It got me thinking...there's more to say about this topic. And there are more people who will want to read about it.

I couldn't think of a magazine I felt was right for a longer piece on anger and motherhood and truth be told, I didn't want to write a journalistic piece - something smart but distant, with lots of quotes and research to back up my thoughts. I wanted to keep the raw-ness and intimacy of the original piece. There just aren't many places for that. And I didn't want to write a whole book about it either. In my head, I shelved it.

But after talking to David, we decided I should write a longer version of the Angry Mom post and submit it as a Kindle Single. Think of it as being the size of a New Yorker article, more full but just as personal, a real story. This will be my first Kindle Single (if it is accepted)- my big toe in the water of self-publishing.

Many of you know that I've ghostwritten other people's books for years. Some of those have been self-published by vanity presses, some e-books, and some by traditional publishers. Back in the day - like last year - there was still a second rate status to self-publishing and all kinds of barriers for marketing and getting seen at the bookstore.

Self-publishing just didn't have the same rep, because it wasn't vetted by the New York gatekeepers. It didn't have their stamp of approval, which was proof the work must be good or at least of some professional and worthy quality. So many self-published books suffered from bad cover art, poor editing and a simple lack of professional writing ability and insight. It seemed only the unpublishable self-published. It had the mark of defeat.

Even last year as I spent nearly 11 months writing, re-writing and re-tooling the book proposal for my hopefully-insanely-funny memoir about cooking with four year olds in Lucy and Edie's East Harlem public school, I would never have even considered self-publishing. It would've been a step down, like going to the prom with a perfectly nice, pimpley-faced boy who rides a scooter and wears high-water pants. I wanted to go to prom with a quarterback.

That was four months ago. Now, everything has changed. All of a sudden, Lord help me, I love high-water pants.

I have a perfectly awesome agent - thanks to all the virtual pavement pounding I did last year and fellow writer Beth Lipton - and Cathy and I are at work on a Charcutepalooza Cookbook proposal that we hope will find a home somewhere. I don't want to say too much about that book project since we are in the middle of working on it and it doesn't just involve me - but we are stupidly excited about it, as we are about anything that has to do with meat, making meat and Charcutepalooza.

Still, nothing is the same in publishing and I can't shake the idea that big things are in the works for writers. Maybe I've been reading too much Joe Konrath - I now get it when people find you and love you immediately and start reading your blog backwards devouring every word, that is me with Joe Konrath - but it seems to me that for the first time since the invention of the printing press, good writers are no longer beholden to publishers.

This is fantastic news for writers who have some experience under their belts. These are the writers who have several discarded novels sitting in their drawers - what I mean by that, is that they've written a few book-length projects and know what goes into it. They have enough solid professional writing experience to know what is compelling storytelling and what isn't (most of the time anyway). They know they need good cover art and they are savvy enough to recognize it when they see it. They know they need a top notch copy editor to clean up their slog. They not only know how to use social media to sell their work and themselves, but they absolutely love it and would do it even if they didn't have anything to sell. They want to write a lot and connect with readers immediately. They don't want to wait around for the slow, mud-clogged wagon wheels of traditional publishing to give them a pat and a nod and venue.

I've decided to take the summer to finish the entire food memoir and publish it in the Fall as an e-book. (Thanks for all the nice comments here telling me you are looking forward to the book. Those comments helped me make this decision. They made a huge difference. Huge.) And I'm not settling. That boy on the scooter is looking pretty hot these days. Truth is, after these last few months I can't even imagine trying to sell this particular book to a traditional publisher.

How's that for a turn around?

As a writer, I am drawn to e-books. I want to connect with the audience faster. I want to take my chances finding my own audience. I trust that after four years here, I know who my readers are and what they, and new readers, will want to read from me. If I can't, well, I shouldn't be doing this. I want to make more money, share less of the returns, and have total say in what I'm putting out. I want to please only readers, not gatekeepers because if I focus on pleasing the readers, the gatekeepers will love me anyway. I want to work with good people - designers and editors - who will make my work better, at my own expense, and know that it's my vision, what I want to do. I know that also means some things won't fly sometimes, and I'll make some hideous mistakes, but I can live with that.

And Joe Konrath is right - there will still be gatekeepers. But it won't be publishers. It will be readers. The same people who find the best stuff amid hundreds of tedious cable channels and a plethora of internet-watching opportunities and lift up the ones who resonate. Not even the best, just the ones that speak to us where we are.

I do not think that print publishing is over, by the way. Nor can I say that I wouldn't publish a book with a traditional publisher. Our plan right now for The Charcutepalooza Cookbook is that it go with a traditional publisher. But that hasn't stopped us from thinking about apps and all kinds of accompanying technology. Publishing is just changing. Agents and publishers roles are changing. Writers roles are changing. Think about it - the field is wide open. Every good writer has a shot. You don't have to be The Pioneer Woman to write a well-received book. No offense against Ree, love her. But that is damned exciting stuff.

Sure, there is still luck and randomness and market savvy, and e-books will see their share of surprise bestsellers and un-predictable clunkers, but still, it is a good day to be a writer. You have more options than ever. Instead of spending time convincing publishers why you are worth it, producing blog stats and page after page of proof/bullshit that you can market a book and spending countless hours doing stunts to drive up your traffic, a process that actually takes longer than writing the book itself, you could just be out there writing/selling your book. You actually get to prove your worth by what you're writing/publishing and how you can move it through the market place.

Radical. Freeing. Revolutionary, I think.

And Oh My God, think about the Kindle Single - you don't even have to write a whole book for God's sake. You can submit a single essay, a long-form idea, a novella, a short story. Just make sure it is great, something people will want to devour. That's why I'm starting there with my Angry Mom piece. It'll be an experiment. My toe in the water. My first dance with the high-water pant guy. David is pushing me to finish it. I'll keep you posted.

Remember, it is a good day to be a writer.

xo YM



Warner (aka ntsc) said...

I haven't purchased a Kindle yet, but will, probably next week. And odds are that if you publish it I will buy it.

However I doubt I would buy an electronic cook book, I am not a neat cook and the output device would soon be covered with a fine coating of ground meat, flour, sugar, fruit, pepper and water. Problem there.

As said in theater, break a leg.

The Yummy Mummy said...

Warner -

You raise a great point. I wonder how people will feel about getting their cookbooks - the ones they really cook from - on a machine.

Great question.


Kate Hill said...

Kim, I am surprised and delighted that I am using my new Ipad everyday- from listen to NPR in my Gascon kitchen to looking up a standard recipe when my brain goes dead at dinner time. Yes, it gets a bit of duck fat on it, but hey, that's what kitchen towels are for. go for it.

The Yummy Mummy said...

Kate -

You really are the bridge between the traditional and the modern. I can see you in your 18th century French kitchen, chopping with an old cleaver and checking out your ipad for techniques and recipes. You are fearless.


Sharon Miro said...

This is great news--really great news. Good for you, good for all of us.

In 1970 my brother returned home from a devastating 6 months in New York, bloodied and unpublished. But unstoppable. He was then, and is still a poet, and now a publisher among many other things.

He sat for a long time-fiddling among the kitchen drawers, and then he wrote a book--just a little book on radios that you can build out of a bit of wire, and such.

He self-published that book in 1970-to do it he learned printing and binding, and more. He learned photography, and half tones and more.

That book still sells--STILL sells about 5000 copies a year.
He self published other books, also still selling, for other writers, and a few on his poetry.

Times have changed now and the e-book is the best example of how we can circumvent the dragons that have stood at the gates of traditional publishing.

I have been noodling with finishing a book that has been half written for 35 years. Your post has given me a real boost in the right direction.

Thank you

The Yummy Mummy said...

Sharon -

Your brother is an inspiration! What an amazing story!

And as for you, dust off that book, girl! There is no better time!


Paula said...

Good for you and best wishes on the completion over the summer.

You know, it doesn't matter *what you wear* to the prom or *who you go with*, whether you arrive in a limo or on a scooter. What truly matters is that you get there and you are closer to arriving at it than ever.

Yeah :)

merry jennifer said...

I'm so happy for you, Kim. I'll be one of the first to buy your book -- well, anything you write, really. No matter the format. Good luck this summer with the writing - and remember, I'm cheering you on from Florida.

CookiePie said...

Fantastic! Electronic, paper, traditional publisher, self-published -- I'm looking forward to all that you have to say, in whatever venues you want to say it.

Mairi@Toast said...

Totally inspiring!

Lynn said...

You go, girl! I'll gladly read you work in any format.
I love using my iPad as a reader, and I think you are right about the gatekeepers changing. But, it wiill take as much marketing savvy as talent to stand out in that new world.
Fingers crossed.

Christina @ Spoonfed said...

I've been a professional writer for 20 years, but have never wanted to write a book. Always thought it was too much hassle, hype and "platform" song-and-dance for too little payoff. But with this post, you may have singlehandedly changed my mind.

I started my journalism career in newspapers, loving the immediacy, instant feedback and feeling that what I did mattered. Then I switched to magazine freelancing. The freedom, flexibility, money -- all good. The longer lead times and distant readership -- not so good.

When I started blogging a year ago, it was like, wow, where have you been all my life? It's the immediacy of newspapers with the depth and freedom of magazines. And the reader engagement? Astonishing, soul-satisfying awesomeness.

And now you've captured exactly the reasons I've always avoided a book. And also the reasons that a book as you describe it could be a pretty fantastic thing. Especially that part about the readers, and knowing your audience and trusting that they'll seek and find the good stuff amid the stunning amount of crap.

So, thanks, Kim, for this.

BTW, there is a magazine that would be a good fit for the "Angry Mom" essay in its true, raw form: Brain, Child. But you'd be doing it for love, not money. And you already do the blog for that. So I still vote for the Kindle Single.

vicky weiss said...

I love my kobo (canadian version of the kindle) and I love my ipad. I am loving technology. Period.
Not long ago, I won a book and asked them to download me a copy vs. mailing me a hard copy. It was awesome.

Janis said...

You jump in there Missy. You jump with both feet. The older I get the more I am sure that one can do anything they want. Love you can do it.

Anonymous said...

Love reading your words in any form. I use my kindle because I can find almost anything that appeals to me. I love the accessibility of unknown authors instead of what publishers think "would sell". I use my iPad all the time to check out blogs and to cook from recipes that I have found.
Go for it Kim, you're talented and have a voice that needs to be heard.

Anonymous said...

I've resisted eBooks partly because I've worried about corporate control of information and partly because I am so attached to to the experience of holding a book and turning its pages. As I've been reading around lately, though, it seems there are many independent venues for self-publishing (and purchasing) and many writers are putting forward good arguments in favour of eBooks. Your post is one, here's another from Natalee Caple, in the National Post: