I may have mentioned this before, but...I love books. I own enough to stock my own branch library. I love everything about them...the smell of fresh print, the promises made by the jacket art (sometimes promises unfilled by the actual book), the weight of a story in my hands, my book marker showing me how much I've read, how much more I have to savor. As you can probably tell, reading is a whole-body experience for me.
I initially encountered electronic publishing in my first book contract, circa 1999. As I waded through 15 pages of 4 point print literary legalese I stumbled across the term "electronic rights." I had no idea what that might be, and made a note to ask my literary attorney about it. (Those of us without agents depend on literary attorneys to translate contracts into terms that we can understand.) When my attorney explained the concept of e-publishing, my first reaction was "Euw-w-w? A book on a computer screen? Gross!" My second thought was "Well, my books will never be electronic." I figured that such exotic publishing forays would be limited to blockbuster adult writers, like John Grisham, Nora Roberts, John Patterson. Maybe J.K. Rowling.
Never say never. As of last month, both of my middle grade novels, Jimmy's Stars and Yankee Girl, are available as e-books.
I love e-books.
What changed my mind? It certainly isn't the huge royalties I will receive from this new format. E-book royalties (like paperback reprint royalties) are considerably less than those of hardcover sales. No, I love e-books for several reasons.
1. Living in my own branch library is becoming physically impossible. For the last fifteen years, I have bought 98% of my reading material because I do not have access to a good library. Out of every ten books I read, only one or two are "keepers", something I will want to read again, or use in teaching. Even though I donate and giveaway books in a steady stream, I always have a box...or two...or three...by the back door, waiting to go somewhere.
2. In the last few years, e-book readers have become smaller, lighter and more affordable (still not cheap, though.) However. their convenience cannot be equaled. I travel a lot, and half my luggage weight used to be books. How much better to be able to stuff a couple of hundred books into my carry-on, via my Kindle?
3. E-books have been a godsend for my dyslexic daughter. Some readers and books are text-to-speech enabled. For someone whose pleasure reading had been restricted to what was available in an audio format, text-to-speech has allowed my daughter to read as much and as widely as she has always desired. In fact, I bought our first Kindle for her...and then got hooked on it myself.
Will e-books replace paper-and-ink? I sure hope not. Apart from the sensory pleasures of reading a physical book, some books are less practical in electronic format. I still use physical books for research. In reformatting for e-publishing, some books have illustrative material eliminated. I've also found it more time consuming to try to relocate a reference in an e-book than to page through an actual book. (And of course, you can't put sticky notes on an e-book!)
Even though some picture books are available electronically, I will continue to buy them as books. A picture book is an aesthetic whole. Story, illustrations, and page layout all work together to produce a
a single artistic vision. Books re-formatted for a tiny screen don't have the same resonance as they do in the original. There are writers and artists who are producing e-book originals. Perhaps their number will grow with wider readership.
However, when it comes to a parent-child bonding experience, nothing beats snuggling down with a book at bedtime. Then, after you leave the room, your child will sneak his e-reader from under his pillow, plug in the ear-phones, and read long, long into the night. (And he won't even need a flashlight!)
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman