What does it mean to be an author in an e-world?

This week I became a published author. You might think: “Wow, that’s an amazing achievement!” But is it?

For many authors of a bygone era publication was the culmination of months if not years of hard work, submissions to publishers, rejections, re-writes, ruthless edits, layout meetings and intellectual, physical and emotional hard graft.

My book took me less than 20 hours to publish from conception to its appearance on the online bookstore. And that includes a 12-hour waiting period for it to be processed and published by Amazon.

I was sitting around my living room with my 2-year-old, just chatting away with her as you do, playing one of our favourite games: “And then what happened?” as I like to call it.

She says, “Mummy, once upon a time there is a dinosaur.”

“And then what happened?” I reply.

“He had a best friend who was a penguin,” she explains.

“And then what happened?” I ask.

You get the idea. And so did I – get an idea that is. I’m a writer by trade and I dabble in cartooning, so I decided to write her a book based on a few ideas from this game we just played. The result was New Friends (take a look if you like, it’s free till Monday).

It took me:

– 20 minutes to write the story
– 3 hours to do all the drawings
– Another 3 hours to scan them all in and place them on the page
– 20 minutes to sign up as a publisher on Amazon and submit my book
– And 12 hours for it to appear on the store.

That’s a total of 18 hours and 40 minutes. Eighteen hours and 40 minutes. Think about that. I mean, I’m not saying it’s the most amazing book in the world. I wrote it because it made my kid super happy, and I published it to see how the process worked and discover exactly how hard it would be. The answer is, it’s not hard at all.

In less than a day I wrote, illustrated, and published a book. So what does that mean about the quality of literature in the modern world? A 2-year-old vetted it. She was my only editor, the only pre-release critic. I created the entire thing from my living room using a MacBook Pro, Adobe InDesign, and a Canon MP630 scanner/printer. These are not fancy tools. Yes, I have InDesign training, but it’s not a hard program to learn.

If you sign up for the Kindle Direct Publishing program (where you agree to offer the digital rights to Kindle exclusively for 90 days) they’ll even help promote your book.

The barrier to entry for becoming a published “author” these days is almost non-existent.

If you’re a total technotard you could even use the free iBooks Author application provided by Apple to create a book for the iBookstore. It’s a lot more restrictive in terms of layout and presentation, but it still produces “professional” grade e-books, potentially in minutes. For details on why I am not an iBooks Author fan, see note* below this post.

On the other hand, the incredibly low barrier to entry means amazing works that might have really struggled to get published in the past – think A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy for example – can be pushed out for the public to decide on their brilliance (or lack thereof).

Either way, surely the extreme ease and complete lack of quality control for publishing e-books must alter the amount of respect that – for me at least – was always inherent in the title “author”. And how do I wade through the millions of available titles out there to find something a) “good”, and b) relevant to me? Reviews? Peer recommendations? How will my peers find anything of “value” themselves? I can’t help but think that if it purely comes down to “influencer marketing” and virality, we’re all doomed.

It’s a new world out there, kids, and I’m not really sure what that means for literature, for art. Oh wait, yes I do. It means Fifty Shades of Grey.

RACHAEL BOLTON

* Unfortunately iBooks Author is very frustrating to use if you have a specific desired outcome because: it forces you to use a very specific template, you can’t create a blank document and then just add pages, and if you do want to publish in the paid store you will need to apply for a US tax file number and then submit a US tax return for the rest of your natural life, as far as I can tell.

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