You have to admit that physical books have a certain sensuality to them—that warm paper smell, that swishing sound when you flip them open, the crease where you dog-eared a page because you couldn’t find your bookmark or a spare post-it note. I know that when I was a kid, I always imagined holding one of those glorious paper blocks with my name on the cover. To be honest, I still do that, but one has to acknowledge that publishing has changed. It’s been said that e-books will eventually make paper publishing obsolete, and though I’m of the belief that paper books will never die out—phones and computers and tablets are expensive, and, let’s be honest, they just don’t smell as nice when you hold them to your face—it’s still important to recognize that availability and affordability make e-books a powerful force on the literary market.
Now I know that I just said e-books require pricey equipment to access, but I’m not talking about accessibility, I’m talking about availability. (And to be fair, most people today have access to either a computer or a smart phone, meaning that accessibility isn’t as rough as I’ve made it out to be, at least not for members of the middle class.) For authors who are looking to publish, availability might influence their choice of medium, especially when one considers the fact that paper books are basically ticking clocks. As soon as a physical book stops selling, production ceases and it disappears from bookstores. That means there’s a very limited time frame during which physical books are either discovered or sidelined (in the case of the latter, permanently). On the other hand, when an e-book stops selling it doesn’t just disappear from the Internet. As a result, digitally published books maintain their chances of becoming popular far longer than physically published books, although the sheer number of e-books available means that the competition can be brutal. Still, understanding how long a book will be available to potential readers is one of many things to consider as one prepares to publish their work.
Here’s another cool fact about publishing nowadays: it’s dominated by small presses and self-published books. That means that you don’t have to stress about getting your book picked up by a big-name company if you want to find readers. Sure, it would be really cool to publish with Random House or Harper Collins, but Akashic and Tin House and Coffee House Press are all wonderful indie powerhouses that could bring your book into the mainstream without asking you to sell yourself to said mainstream. And if you’ve got social media skill and you’re willing to make the time commitment, publishing on your own isn’t the black mark that it was ten years ago. Yeah, it helps to have a team of people who know what they’re doing market your book with you, but the Internet is at your fingertips, sites like Blurb offer free book making software, and Amazon may devalue literature by pricing e-books at ever lowering prices, but at least you’ll have an unlimited window of discovery. Just don’t quit your day job… yet.