There Are Books… and There Are Books

Posted by: on Mar 19, 2012 | No Comments

The number of e-books has been growing over 100% in three consecutive years, with 117% in 2011. E-books are democratizing the jungle of greedy publishers and complacent writers.

When it comes to books and reading, I’m a wolverine. Since I mastered the skill of recognizing letters and making sense of written words, I’ve always been an avid reader, especially when I was a kid and spent longer time in the hospital. My poor dad had to get me at least 10 books from the library every week. When I was a teenager and later as a young addult, I preferred more of the difficult to digest literature like Thomas Mann, Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Grass – just to name a few.  To be honest, I actually don’t remember if I read those to impress others or to impress myself. Probably both.  Over several years my interest in reading faded to a low brain diet composed of some magazines, sometimes garnished with books on self-improvement and software manuals. Until… my husband Tony  gave me my best birthday present ever – a Kindle.

Ever since I’m reading – a lot! During my break at work, in the doctor’s office or at my hair stylist, during my pedicure or other places I’ve to wait — my Kindle is always with me. I never run out of books again without going to the bookstore or the library, and I never have to sell them again because I’m running out of storage.  However, my passion for reading has a downside: I’m a fast reader and buying all mainstream books from the New York Times bestseller list would bust my budget.

I decided to make a virtue out of necessity. Most books I’m reading are free downloads from Amazon, mostly written by indies, but from time to time they offer also free books from household name writers as teasers. This opened a whole new world for me. For one, being on the New York Times bestseller list says nothing – to me anyway – about the quality of a book. Only because a certain number of people decide to buy the book isn’t telling me anything about the writing style, the characters, the storyline and whether or not the writer is passionate or just assembling books by putting text modules together in order to fill the paper – pardon, screen – or even worse, hires ghost writers to write his books and publish them under his name.

My other pet peeve: publishers. The printed book market today is – and always was – about economy.  The numbers of book copies sold determine the success of a writer and hence the economical success of the publisher. Don’t fool yourself: publishing houses are in no way some altruistic philanthropists who do nothing else than searching for the next genius writer or the next Great American Novel, which by the way explains that I find most Great American Novels – as well as German to be fair – are quite expensive and look good in the bookshelf, but nothing else.

However, since e-books and e-book become more and more popular, this established oligarchy of writers and publishers is put on the test bench. A decade ago an ambitious writer who had been rejected by numerous publishers had only one other chance to gain stardom – if she was lucky and had enough money – to publish her book: self-publishing. This involved finding a good editor, an illustrator if necessary, somebody for the book design and layout, a printer and being your own marketing firm and public relations office all in one.

I dare to say that e-books will be the major player in years to come. All of the sudden “Der Arme Poet” (and this includes yours truly) has a real chance to publish her book at last – electronically.  Distribution is not a question anymore of getting book boxes from one warehouse to another but to find a distributor who let you sell your books on their Web sites by paying a small fee. Our writer is still responsible for marketing and public relations – but her work is out there in the wild word jungle competing for attention and not vegging out in a desk drawer or on a hard drive.

All in all I’ve read quite a good amount of free books I’ve downloaded from Amazon. Although there is something about the notion that freebies are – well, freebies and hence worthless, my overall experience can’t support this. Sure, I’ve had books I deleted after a few pages mainly because they didn’t meet my expectations. I fought my ways through books that were written so badly they wouldn’t have passes an ESL test – however, they taught me what I can do better and that’s why I finished them. The majority of my free books are good and fun entertainment of all sorts – urban myth, romantic comedy, sci-fi, thrillers, dramas, mysteries … not world literature, but  good enough to help me forgetting for an hour my tight office cubicle at work and diving into another, exciting world. Once in a while I even surprise myself not only by buying a book, which actually is or has been on the New York Times bestseller list – and liking it.

And then of course there are books that impress the hell out of me – as a reader and a writer. Those books I will introduce to you in my section Reading Chair.

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