For about fifteen years now, writing books has been an essential part of my life. But this summer I started to rethink what it really means to publish a book.
This year well-established authors like John Edgar Wideman began to do something radical: they started working directly with eBook sellers like Kindle and Lulu. I was reminded of the early days of blogging. Blogging presented a new way to publish an article. A writer could get an idea, create a piece of whatever length the idea demanded, and publish it with the press of a button. I started blogging myself, and have done so ever since. But I didn't give up writing those conventional articles; blogs simply opened up a niche that didn't exist before.
This year eBooks began opening yet another niche. I would never bother reading a 30,000 word blog post. An article of that length would be too long for a magazine, and too short for a traditional book editor. The numbers just don't make sense for either industry. But if you're an author with an ill-fitting piece of writing you think is good -- good enough that people might want to buy it -- you can just publish it yourself and put your hunch to the test. No warehouse required.
EBooks have also been changing the experience of reading, not just writing. This summer, my wife and I spent a few days on Appledore Island in the Gulf of Maine. There's a marine biology laboratory there that transmits a powerful wireless signal across the island. My wife brought her iPhone and used her Kindle app to download a novel. Surrounded by herring gulls on a beach, she'd finish one novel and then crave another. With a tap of a finger, she had one. Day after day, she devoured books by the sea. Now I can see how 35 million titles have been downloaded to iPads over the past few months.