Emerging Writers Enter the Digital Spotlight
Almost two months ago now, I finally stepped into the next era in reading and literature when I purchased my first eInk digital reader, the Sony Reader Touch. I was waiting for a wide variety of devices to become available in Australia as well as a wide variety of books, but I suppose you could still call me an early adopter.
I was interested in the format and getting into digital reading from the perspective of a reader but also as an emerging writer. Whilst Australia still has a little way to go for the mainstream reader, the current climate provides opportunities for the emerging writer to get in first.
Aside from loading friend’s eBooks and short fiction onto the Sony Reader, I wanted to load the books I was currently reading, was planning to read or resume reading again. They’re a variety of Australian and international writers published by both big and smaller publishers. I was disappointed to find that none of them were available, either at all or just in Australia.
The lack of eBooks available in Australia remains a problem and it’s definitely a barrier to people switching over. If I can’t get the book I want to read as an eBook, I’m forced to still read the printed version. The most frustrating barrier is when the book is available as an eBook online but restricted to only certain territories, usually the US. You really do question why a publisher would prevent someone from honestly paying for the book.
There are numerous reasons why certain books are unavailable digitally in Australia I found out after asking several publishers. Either it’s outstanding digital licensing agreements either for Australian territorial rights or at all – or to my surprise, just waiting for the books to be converted into the right formats. So a lot of publishers are on the way. This is welcome news.
For readers, there is still a while away before you can just load pretty much any book you could have bought in a bookshop onto a digital device such as my Sony Reader. For the emerging writer though, the ability to quickly and easily release your own work digitally provides a chance to experiment in ways that were basically financially out of reach for most of us when print had a monopoly on publishing.
Services like Smashwords.com provide avenues where a writer can easily format their writing in a word document and upload it to be converted into formats to be sold. They can be easily distributed for devices such as the Sony Reader, Kindle or iPad and iPhone.
I’ve experimented a bit with the service, releasing a collection of old writings as a bit of a sample. I wanted to replicate the experience where up-and-coming bands playing at local pubs sold copies of demos to spread the word and raise money. Digital publishing allows me to do that with little risk. The same could be said for print-on-demand technology.
I feel we have a bit more of an even playing field than we would in a bookstore, aside from the obvious factors of marketing and popularity. With many of the bigger names still waiting to be released into the digital world, there’s a kind of gap there for us to get in and see if we can get a bit of attention.
My collection is in the same catalogue on the iBookStore as Stephen King’s collection. I’d never imagine my little self-published eBook could do the same in a real bookstore.
There are of course ramifications to the risk. Does releasing a self-published collection devalue me as a writer or even the average quality of eBooks as a whole? The question is yet to be tested.
In an environment that’s unsure and quickly changing, these are questions worth testing. Whilst bigger publishers drag their feet, emerging writers have little lose when taking the spotlight.
Benjamin Solah is an emerging writer who coined his own genre, Marxist Horror. Aside from writing, he’s involved in political activism, performance poetry and blogging. His thoughts on digital publishing among other things can be found on his blog, Benjamin Solah, Marxist Horror Writer. His collection, Sanity Juxtaposed, can be found on Smashwords.com or the iBookStore.