Monday, June 6, 2011

The Cyber Swirl & G-Books

Okay, wish me luck. I’m about to take the plunge into cyberspace. My webpages were my first step. Now the ultimate: I am going to publish digital books and books printed on demand. 

Ah, is your comment.  A downward tone of disppointment? Or an upward one of interest?  I hope interest.

G-books (what I like to call paper and ink books after Gutenberg) are on the way out. E-books are going to take their place. And for those who still want the feel of paper, that marvelous creak when a book is first cracked open, there will be books printed on demand. 

Print-on-demand has been around for centuries. The Chinese invented the idea. Many western historians say that, although the Chinese invented movable type several centuries before Gutenberg, they never acted upon their invention, believing that it was the Chinese writing system of thousands of characters that held them back. Not so, methinks. The Chinese figured, why print up thousands of copies that have to be stored in a warehouse? Why tie up capital in paper? Instead, they had each page carved on blocks. All they had to do was store the blocks. When a customer came to buy the book, they printed it upon his request.

Now the computer and incredible printing machines have made print-on-demand a reality in the modern world. Whether even these print-on-demand books can compete with e-books is anyone’s guess. As contraptions like Kindle and Nook become sleeker and more versatile, as children take these things to bed as night-night comforts, g-books will gradually disappear until they are the thing of collectors, of artists, of those in love with the past.

I am not going to say that I like what’s happening. I am only going to say this: it is the new future.  Then I am going to ask: what will I like about this?

I guess the first thing I like is that I feel liberated. For one thing, I don’t need a publisher. For another, I can publish manuscripts that I don’t think will be big sellers but need to be printed anyway. Moreover, I can, with a little effort publish worldwide: that is, my books could simultaneously appear in French, Chinese, German, Spanish, you name it. Finally, I get to keep up to seventy per cent of the profits, maybe more. Surely beats the ten per cent I get from my publishers now.

So what’s on the negative side of this idea? Some big ones: I won’t have a big publisher behind me and I won’t be getting a hefty advance. I will have to do all the promotion, but then, what’s so different about that? For years, the publishers have been putting as little money as they can into my books. But the biggest negative is that I will have to totally believe in my manuscript before I commit my own money to turning it into a print-on-demand book or an e-book. Before, when I or my agent sold a contract, I felt like the manuscript was really worth it. After all, wasn’t a big publisher going to put money behind it? Now that added boost to my ego, that large pat on the back will be gone. 

So here’s my plan: 

1: I am going to do an e-book that has a print-on-demand component. 
2: I am going to come out with digital versions of some of my old books. Some of these digital versions will be translations.
3: I am going to try out some of my manuscripts as digital versions first. The cost is minimal. If they sell, I’ll consider having a print-on-demand component.

So what is the cost? This I have yet to determine. The cost of a digital version is practically free. That of a print-on-demand is perhaps as low at $200 or as much as $1000. I don’t know for certain, but I will keep you posted.

Of course, part of the reason that the costs are so low for me is that I can illustrate my own books and I can design them. I have learned these skills over the last fifteen years. For others, they will have to hire illustrators and designers.

I am surprised at the subject of today’s blog. It doesn’t seem to fit what I had intended to say, but then, today’s blog is part of the journey I mentioned. Just because I brought up digital books, doesn’t mean that the notions of what makes a good story and what makes a good illustration have gone away. On the contrary, these things become more vital than ever as cyberspace, like the middle of the Pacific Ocean, becomes a swirling mass of refuse.  Aloha.


  1. Ooh-la-la! Fascinating post, Jim. I wholly agree that the future belongs to ebooks and POD. Good luck with this new venture. Will be following your progress with great interest! Love your new blog, BTW. :)


  2. Aloha, e Jama! Thanks for your encouragement. Yes, I'm afraid the wave is crashing down on us. Btw, thanks for mentioning my website on your blog!