Critical Mass

Adventures in E-Reading: Guest Post from L. Lee Lowe

By L. Lee Lowe

Here is the latest in our second series of guest posts on the next decade in book culture here (read the first  here). Our question: How are you handling the rise of the e-book? Are you reading on Kindle, the Sony Reader, the Vook, have you reserved an iPad?  Are you buying e-books? Reading e-galleys? And how's it working out for you? Let us know your quibbles, quirks, happy and not so happy adventures in e-reading. Here's a response from L. Lee Lowe.

Let’s be blunt: writers who self-publish online are failures, right? I reckon nine out of ten of you—no, 99 out of 100—are thinking, yeah, too right, though a few may be inclined to be magnanimous and a few more may even have a friend or two, at the very minimum a Facebook friend, who has posted a poem at her blog, added a fiction page to his website.

 We’re all writers now. We blog, we tweet, we comment, we text: we write incessantly and almost, it seems, obsessively. What used to be village gossip is now global, and if half of what we write is fiction, nothing much has changed. Who hasn’t thought to turn the latest office debacle into a blog post into a great story? Somebody, somewhere is going to read it. All it takes is an internet connection.

Stigma and oversaturation: two major obstacles for an indie e-writer. The surprising thing is, I like it just fine this way. A place of quiet amid the digital noise. Since when do writers need to be superstars? To work in obscurity means to work without the usual writerly constraints—no editors, no marketing edicts, no book tours or festivals, no YouTube book trailers, no hardscrabble for fame, fortune or blurbs. No reviews from NBCC critics either, but it’s a fair trade-off. Unlike our literary icons, I don’t have to pretend not to mind the bad reviews. I get to own my flaws. I get to write.

And readers get to read. The global reach of e-fiction is astonishing, whether read online or downloaded as an e-book (I recommend the multiple-format ecosystem of Feedbooks for both reader and writer). A quick look at today’s stats from my website shows visitors from Singapore, Turkey, China, the Philippines, Yemen, Canada, the U.K., India, Vietnam, Mexico, South Africa, Iran, the U.S., Russia, Australia, Pakistan, Syria, Nigeria, Lithuania, and more. Only a minority of writers can hope to walk into a bookshop and find their latest paperback on display in so many countries. Having lived for nearly two decades in Africa, I appreciate that some readers who download my fiction to their cell phones may never have access to a bookshop.

Most discussions about the e-book focus on its commercial potential, often as a corollary to concerns about the future of publishing. Maybe it’s time for writers to stop thinking in terms of contracts and advances and royalties; in terms of payment. Validation takes many forms, and the real promise of the e-book lies in its empowerment of the writer. Independence is money in the bank.