Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How reading eBooks instead of paper books has changed my reading habits

I recently posted a description of how I became a convert to eBooks to our sailing blog, Voyage of the Play Actor.  Reading eBooks instead of paper books has changed how I read, as well as what I read.  My basic taste in books hasn't changed, but the advent of self-published eBooks and the republication as eBooks of  paper books that enjoyed a limited life because they weren't commercially successful has opened a much broader selection of material for voracious readers.  The availability of books that didn't come through the filter of the traditional agent/publisher/bookstore screen has been a revelation. 

I've always suspected that many good books weren't published, and my experience over the past two years confirms that.  I got especially interested in this when I self-published a novel several months ago.  I had written the book about 8 or 9 years ago, and I made some limited attempts to interest agents back then, but my life on a sailboat made all of the required printing, copying, and mailing difficult, so I put the manuscript in a plastic bag in a dry spot on the boat and forgot about it.  After several years and thousands of miles under sail, I got wrapped up in reading eBooks.  Then I discovered how easy it has become to self-publish.  I dug out the old manuscript, rewrote it 15 times, (really, all those years gave me some objectivity) and published it as an eBook and a print on demand paperback.  I had enough sales and positive reader reactions to encourage me to keep trying.  I've since published a non-fiction book and a short story, and I began specifically looking for self-published material to read myself.

The traditional publishing process clearly rejects some poorly written books, although a lot of them do make it through the traditional screening process, and some become successful, simply because they are available through the established market channels.  The market for books comprises many readers, and their tastes are not as predictable as we like to think.  Self-publishing, though, has the potential to eliminate any screening, and the sometimes-dubious editorial benefits of screening.  The quality of the editing, even in books from the large publishers, has declined significantly over recent years.  We appear to have a generation of editors who learned grammar from television and consistently misuse I and me, as well as failing to understand the use of the subjunctive mood in conditionals.  Even though they may not be great, they do keep out some of the more egregious errors, which are to be found in a fair number of obviously unedited self-published works.

There are many self-published books that far surpass the quality of the traditional "best sellers," in terms of grammar, style, and content.  There are numerous books that tell compelling stories, if you can overlook the grammatical errors.  There are some that are written by authors with a good command of the language, but no ability to tell a story, and there are a few that just make no sense whatsoever.  As a writer, I find myself wading through all of them, because they all offer valuable lessons on the craft of writing, and most of them are enjoyable to read, at least on some level.

I believe that the world is enriched by the ready availability of eBooks from outside the mainstream of publishing.  What do you think?