When I published my first Kindle novel, some of my acquaintances bent over backwards to read it – even the self-confessed luddites. A few of them read it on laptop screens, even on smartphones. At least one was actually inspired to buy her first Kindle in order to get hold of it. Their support was as remarkable as it was touching.
Yet a few were unrepentant. Their message was, “Sorry, I’d love to read your book, but I can’t stand e-books. Let me know when it appears in paperback form.”
Initially, this reaction used to leave me completely bemused.
I found myself grumbling that either such people didn’t understand the vast gulf between aspirational self-publishing and getting published in print – and by implication the massive weight of expectation they were dumping on my shoulders – or else this was a coded message saying they wouldn’t give any credence to my book unless and until it was endorsed by the establishment publishing community.
In some ways I still feel that initial disappointment at their attitude, but I’ve reluctantly come to accept it. Some people really do find e-book technology daunting, and even if their objections are more aesthetic than practical, I have to admit I once felt like them.
When I bought my first Kindle, I expected to go into mourning for all the printed books I wouldn’t be buying in future. Every physical book has its own feel – the sheer heft, the font, the point size, the line spacing, the column height and width, the colour and texture of the paper, the smell, even the way the spine wrinkles (or doesn’t) as you progress. How could I live without all this differentiation?
Content, not form
However, in practice I found I didn’t really miss any of it. I wanted the content, not the form. After all, authors don’t make these choices; they’re down to the publisher or even the printer. They’re arbitrary. There’s nothing missing or deficient in an electronic version of a novel; it’s simply words coming out of the writer’s head and going into yours.
Apart from the obvious attraction of compactness, you get a book that always remembers where you’re up to, and where you can look up words you might not know in situ.
That doesn’t mean readers shouldn’t enjoy the idiosyncrasies of printed books, and I certainly see the benefits if it’s a picture book or a book where the design itself is an important element. I also admit it can be harder to jump around in a e-book, perhaps looking for the first instance of a character whose origins you’ve forgotten.
All I can say is that in the realm of novels, I found the transition to e-books more or less painless. There may be a few trade-offs, but to me there was no contest.
Why would I ever want to go back?