Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Print Snobs and E-bullies

Sandra Parshall

It was inevitable, human nature being what it is. The so-called e-book revolution is already bringing out the worst in some writers, dividing them into two equally unpleasant categories: print book snobs and e-bullies.

Not all writers are taking defensive/offensive stances, but plenty are pouring their emotions into angry, insulting internet postings.

The print book snobs are unmovable in their convictions:

Only a stack of paper bound between covers can be called a Book.
E-books are merely an additional source of income from works that have first been properly vetted and produced by A Real Publisher.
People who go straight to digital are doing so because their work is amateurish and unreadable and no Real Publisher will touch it.

On the other side, the e-bullies respond in equally nasty terms:

Writers published in print are fools clinging to a dying format.
Any writer who gives a slice of profits to a publisher and an agent is an idiot.
A writer who hands over production and sale of her/his work to a publishing company is lazy, stupid, or both.
Any writer who really tries can make a lot more money from e-books than print books.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I’m sick of this argument already.

E-books are transforming the way we view publishing, no doubt about it. I respect anyone who can make money from e-books without first becoming a bestseller in traditional book form. (Right now, the print and e-book bestseller lists are virtual mirrors of one another.) To me, a book in e-format is as much a book as one in print form. A “book” is the words, not the platform on which those words are brought to readers. I hope every novel I ever publish will be available to readers as an e-book. I believe e-books will help many midlist authors find an audience and keep them from giving up on their writing.

On the other hand, I am passionate about printed books. Love the smell of them, the feel of them, the beauty of them. I have shelf after shelf filled with books I may never open again after the initial reading. I keep them because they’re beautiful, and because they represent gateways into other worlds. I love libraries for the same reason, and one of the most thrilling moments of my life was seeing my first novel in a library.

I understand why people become defensive and downright nasty when their choices are challenged. I don’t understand why anyone assumes the right to challenge another person’s choices.

All writers are struggling to understand the changes sweeping through the publishing world. Why can’t we respect each other, support each other, and walk into the future hand in hand?


Lelia said...

Sandy, as a diehard print fan, it has taken me quite a while to come to terms with the ebook world, but I have finally accepted the fact that I can't escape it. Eventually, I will buy an ebook reader. It will complement my print obsession, though, not replace it. The twain SHALL meet in my case.


paullamb said...

I still love books, even though I've read more than a few on my Kindle. The universe is changing, and it's a little sad to see the uncertainty of it making people act like fools.

Dru said...

Even though I have an e-reader, I prefer to read my printed book. We can embrace both.

Toni L.P. Kelner said...

Yay Sandra!!!! Would that more people would realize that there's no reason to fight, and every reason to learn from each side.

Lonnie Cruse said...

When I first came into this business (author beating on doors in order to be published) some authors were snobby about publishers. IF you were published by a small publisher (be they up and coming or not) you were no one. Said authors didn't want to know you, appear on a panel with you, acknowledge your very existence, etc.

Now it appears that these opinions have moved to include e-publishing. Sigh. They best get over it. E-publishing and e-readers are here to stay.

I, too, prefer to hold a "real" book, but my e-reader helps me try new-to-me authors without having to buy and store a print book. Saves trees, but I guess word hasn't gotten out on that. Sigh.

Janet C said...

Yes, the book is the words, the story, the characters not the format. I love my traditional format books, but I love my ereader books, too. I can go on vacation without an extra bag. I also listen to audio books when I go for walks. As long as I have a book in whatever format, I'm happy. I don't understand the controversy.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Though I've been e-pubbed for over 10 years--yes, I have--I still love regular books. I'm not going to do all the work to e-pub myself, that's why I'm sticking to my publishers who do the work for me, and they do a print book too.


Sandra Parshall said...

Lonnie, I've certainly been on the receiving end of prejudice against small presses. But some of the best crime fiction -- especially noir -- is being published by small presses!

I don't know why anyone's success has to depend on making others feel like failures.

Polly said...

And talking movies will never make it. That's what they said way back when. E-books are just another source of reading for readers and writing for writers. As a writer who recently sold two novels to an e-book publisher, I say what's the big deal? Why must there be only one format for reading books? There's room for both, and readers and writers are the winners.

Geraldine Evans said...

Sandy, I must admit I was drawn to ereaders and was only holding back for want of someone willing to buy me one. :-( However, eventually my husband got me a kindle for Christmas 2010 and I love it. Although I look forward still to receiving the latest copy of my print books, I also enjoy tracking my sales and deciding on things like pricing and cover, things I have never had any say over in the print versions.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Speaking from my experience as a reviewer (not from my experience as an author in print and e-book) the sad truth is that there is a lot of very poor books being e-published by folks. While there are legitimate books out there, there is no question that E-books are the new way to do the vanity/self publish thing and avoid the higher fees those companies charge as well as the stigma they provide.

It is the reality of the situation facing professional reviewers today. It is not surprising that some, on both sides, have become locked into their positions.

It should concern authors that readers have become aware of this problem and are starting to adjust their buying habits accordingly.

Marilynn said...

Because people are naturally contentious. When I taught the history of terrorism, I used to say that conservatives were afraid of change, and progressives embraced it as the only thing having value. That was when the leading terrorist group was the leftist Red Brigades. Today we have Al Qaeda, which wants to live in the 14th century.

The changes in the publishing world are scary. Lord knows, they scare me! The fight over eBooks is between people frightened of change and those who are nervously moving into what they regard as the future.

Kindle will never provide us with the sensuous feel and smell of a new book. Pity. Maybe they could design an app.

carl brookins said...

Hmmm, Sandy, I wonder who you are corresponding with. I'm just not seeing this so much. Oh, sure there are a few writers out there on either side, who are feeling so vulnerable they have to lash out, but just back from Love Is Murder, where the convivial mingling was excellent. My advice, avoid those whose only purpose seems to be to complain or act superior.

Sandra Parshall said...

Carl, you must be hanging out in a more civil corner of the mystery world than I'm in. :-) I hear entirely too much griping on both sides.

Tony Burton said...


I hear the same sort of thing. And you know, I think it comes into play whenever there is something revolutionary, or evolutionary, in the world of publishing. As Lonnie pointed out, for a while it was the size of the publisher that created either stigma or pride. Then, and to some extent still, it has to do with how books are printed: either print-on-demand or via offset press. Now it's ebook vice printed book of any description.

I wrote a blog post some months ago about this sort of thing, but dealing with the contention between traditional publishers and print-on-demand publishers. It seems that there will always be people who believe that THEIR way is the ONLY way, and to hell with the rest!

And yes, I'm sick to death of it, too. I've almost stopped commenting on certain forums simply because of all the hooplah and ruckus that goes on about the topic. NO particular way of publishing, or getting published, is a guarantee of success or failure. It simply doesn't work that way.

Why not just let people publish the way they want, and work on writing and promoting our own stuff?

Julia Buckley said...

Great post. I love print books, I love e-books. I read, and write, both. Can't we all just get along?


Sandra Parshall said...

This feels like a kind of class warfare to me -- same as the big publisher vs. small publisher divide. Good writers can be found anywhere, and the quality of the writing is all that matters to me.

June Shaw said...

You are so right, Sandy. A book is a book is a book. I am enjoying the evolution. How great to see books in as many forms as possible.

SandyT said...

Guess bias is part of society's thread, no matter how hard we try to eradicate it. There was a time only writers published in hard cover were "legitimate." Then mass market was accepted when certain organizations realized they needed more members. I was hoping, Sandy, that the traditional published vs self-published bias was replaced with print vs ebook but all it did was shift or expand the bias. Thought we left the "my dad is bigger than your dad" argument in grade school. All of my books are in print and ebook. I, too, love the feel and smell of a book. If Santa ever sees fit to bring me a Nook or Kindle I'll probably still buy books.

Linda Pendleton said...

We can have both--print and ebook, whether we are an author or a reader. Createspace has made self-publishing very easy and for $39 we have full online distribution for POD books and a decent royalty. And then there is Kindle and Smashwords.

We have choices. Although I have been e-publishing for a decade, I also have most of my books available in print.

jenny milchman said...

Your balanced perspective is exactly what the reading world needs--and the world in general, I dare say.

I am pretty diehard print myself--then again, I'm someone who doesn't even have a cell phone--but I respect each person's right to read however s/he likes, and am glad for the new opening e readers will give both to writers and readers who have trouble reading in print.

Thanks for the post.

Ellis Vidler said...

I love them both. I read more print books at home and more e-books when I'm out. I'm delighted to have the choice. I think we're fortunate to have them and never have to run out of reading material.

Simon Wood said...

Nicely said, Sandra.

I not sure why there is 'side taking' over print books vs ebooks. It's a choice over format, not story. It's like arguing over whether you take the bus or the train to get to work.

But we do live in antagonistic times where people are willing to demonize anyone who disagrees with them.

Kaye George said...

I'm SO lucky to be experiencing the best of both these worlds: paperback and ebook; self-published and press published. Since I'm straddling the line, I can't take sides!

Thanks for the thoughtful post, Sandy.