The Day the Book Found Me

Integrity means sticking to your principles. It means honoring what is right and true in your soul. I have long been a supporter of the independent book store, choosing City Lights Books in San Francisco, or Copperfields in Napa and Petaluma, Book Soup, or Reader's Books or any one of the hundreds of small book stores sprinkled throughout Northern California to Amazon books and Barnes and Noble, preferring actual print books to e-books and e-readers of the Kindle, Nook, Ipad variety; so to sign a publishing contract for my novella Ghost Notes, with a company that solely produces e-books, felt like I had compromised my principles.

I have nothing against e-books. Their speed is fantastic. My dislike is aesthetic. I don't like holding an electronic device to read a book. I don't like their perceived interactivity. I like holding a real book, curling up with a real book, writing notes in the margins with my pencil in a real book, dog-earing a real book. After I've finished with a real book, it should look like it's been through a war--its spine cracked, coffee or wine or cigarette stains decorating the pages. For me, and I suspect for millions of others, this is one of the sensual appeals of a book. I don't begrudge others who enjoy e-books. To each his own. 

One of the joys of buying a real book is the process of discovery. I enter a bookstore, sometimes without a clear mind as to what I want or need, and as I peruse the shelves, my eyes gliding over authors' names and titles, I select certain books with appealing jackets or author reputation of quality (prizes won), or return to those classics of literature I haven't yet read.

 I will roam the sections--Fiction might take me to Philosophy,  New Releases to Cooking, Gardening to Music, Art and Architecture to Poetry, and so on. I will peruse the tables of discounted books, skim the short synopses, open the flap of a hard cover and read author bios, look at credentials. enter a book at random and read a sentence or a paragraph. If the style seems compelling, the voice distinct, I might read a whole chapter. 

Some inner voice will tell me I need this book, or it will tell me to move on. Having discovered a few of my favorite authors this way--Paul Harding, for one, Ethan Canin another--this process of discovery restores to me the book buying magic. Sometimes, I'll admit, the book I buy might languish on my shelves for months, even years, before I pick it up again. When I do, it returns me to that day the book found me. 

What I always knew was one day was this: I would find my own work sitting on the shelves of my favorite independent booksellers for some young writer/reader to come along and discover me. It's impossible to replicate that feeling in the virtual e-book world. How do you do that? How do you recreate the magic of a book choosing you? 

On to a bigger point. I like owning things. I like collecting things. There is great value in seeing your trove of LP records (when there was such a thing), tiers of cassette tapes, VHS's, then CD's and DVD's. I like seeing the shelves of my library fill up with books, each with a history of how I discovered it and where, when. It speaks to who I was when I bought it, and who I am now. We are made and unmade by the things we own and display, for they represent our values. Nowadays, the modern digital world forces a choice upon us, security, convenience, expediency, immediate gratification to randomness, inconvenience, slowness, delayed gratification. Not much of a choice is it? Or is it. The latter set speaks to our wholeness, our humanity; the former to our sense of incompleteness. 

Even as I had signed my publication contract with an e-book company, I felt wrong about it, as if I had compromised my integrity as a writer and reader. So, last week I cancelled my publishing contract with so-called publishing company Haus of Millian. The company markets itself as an "independent publishing company, producing gorgeously stylized electronic books." The books, two to date, are both either penned by, or jointly penned by, its sole "indentured servant", a woman with more identities than a Batman villain. I knew something was amiss. I could go on about her incessant Twittering, Facebook updating, tailgate parties, trips to Las Vegas to roam the sushi bars, etc. when she should have been working on my book, but that would be to belabor the point. In retrospect, the constant stalling--no publication date, no book trailer (as promised), no consultation on book cover design, layout (as promised), etc. added up to a set of broken promises I could not deal with.

So I sacrificed my goal of being a published writer, delayed my immediate gratification of seeing my book in digital form, to the traditional publication route. The road is long and hard, but I believe in my strengths as a writer, believe in my voice, believe in my integrity and can honestly say Never again! 

Ideally the combination of traditional book publishing and e-book publishing seems the right mix, one which I will pursue for the future. My novella, Ghost Notes, has already been finalist for the SFWP 2013 Fiction Awards and semifinalist for the Faulkner Society's 2013 Fiction Awards, so there is hope that an agent and publisher will find my work compelling enough to turn it into a book for a reader to discover on the shelf of their local bookstore. 

Nothing would please me more than connecting with people on a visceral level. Nothing would please me more than having some reader dog ear my book, write in its margins, underline a sentence or a paragraph, use the book and abuse the book, interact with my work as I have done with so many others. This process personalizes the book: it makes my work also theirs.  

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