Monday, May 28, 2012

"Dead Trees?" Technically, yeah, but c'mon....

Dead trees.
I love electronic publishing.  I have found friends, and readers, on continents I may never visit.  I have found fans for my work in other countries, such as England, India, Australia, Germany, Russia, Italy, Sri Lanka and others.
And I pump my fist in a "Right on!"when the stars of the self-publishing firmament hold forth, the Joe Konraths, the Kris Ruschs, the Dean Wesley Smiths, and so forth.
And yet...
Ack!  There it is again! 
The insult to all paper books that dare to continue to exist in this world.  DEAD TREES. 

Why does the phrase irk me so much?
Perhaps because of the sheer sneering un-necessaryness of it.
And because it reminds me of the SCRAP OF CLOTH argument from an earlier era.
Back in the late 1980s, there was a tempest-in-a-teapot over flag burning.  In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that a guy who had been arrested for burning the American flag outside the Republican convention in 1984 (these cases take longer to work their way through the system in real life than they do in t.v. dramas) had been engaging in free speech.

Then politicians sanctimoniously got into the act.
They tried several times to pass an amendment to the U. S. Constitution banning flag burning.  (The Supreme Court ruled that the arrest of the guy in 1984 had been unconstitutional, as it violated first amendment freedom of speech.  If the amendment was part of the constitution, that little inconvenience would be taken care of).
The hypocrisy of these politicians, who were letting any number of important problems fester for lack of attention, was disgusting.
But, they drew a counter-reaction from the liberal spectrum of American opinion which was, in some ways, even more revolting.
Thus began the "scrap of cloth."
Numerous prominent people began talking about how the American flag was just a "scrap of cloth," and that people should not be prosecuted for burning it.  Scrap of cloth this, scrap of cloth that.
That's my flag, man!

I would never burn the American flag. But I don't believe that attempts to ban flag desecration are just.
I was personally disgusted by the flag burners.  But prosecuting them for visually expressing their opinion would do genuine harm to America. 

If it was constitutionally protected, the nutty conservatives wanted to simply amend the constitution to lessen free speech protection.
Meanwhile, the nutty liberals responded by talking about a scrap of cloth. 
That was a terrible ploy, guys.  Basically, you were saying that the flag wasn't worth anything as a symbol.
Oh yes it was.  And is.
So now we come to the Dead Trees.
I love the smell of books.  I love the feel of paper.  I love old covers with outdated covers (like bloated lettering and bad hair in book covers from the 1970s).
But I also love what electronic distribution has done for me, both as a reader and as a writer.
I love that I can read books that are out of copyright for free.  I love the ability to research (my undergrad years would have been a hell of a lot easier if the internet hadn't been in protean form back then!).
And, I love having fans, and new friends, from all over the world.
So, I am for the electronic world.  And I know it will only continue to grow and grow as the devices get easier on the eyes, cheaper, and more durable.
But please don't refer to my old books as dead trees.
Or … well, actually go ahead. 

After all, I do believe in freedom of speech.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Vanishing Contributor's Copy

Let me take this opportunity to lovingly pat my old carriage horse before she goes out to pasture.

Let me change the vacuum tubes in my radio so I can listen to some of the biggest stars broadcasting out of New York.

Let me....  Nah, you know this is all metaphor.  I'm talking about contributors' copies.

When I used to page through Writer's Market, before there was an internet (okay, now there's a genuine reference to a memory of a time gone by), I used to calculate how much I would make, based on the market's rate (big mistake to focus on that, but that's a subject for another post).  Whatever market listing I was perusing often said this: ". . . And one contributor's copy."  Or 2 or 3.  Sometimes they just said "Pays one contributor's copy."  Not the princely $.05 per word (which has not budged a single penny as the definition of professional payment in decades -- another topic for another day.)

Fast forward to present day. 

Now, I'm getting contributors' copies along with payment.

Feels good.


In the electronic age...

What do contributors' copies actually mean?

(Mean spiritually, that is, not to get too heavy on you.)

I got three contributor's copies when my story "Two Dwarves and Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs" was published by EQMM.  They arrived by regular mail inside a thick, loose-fitting plastic bag.  Felt nice.

More recently, my flash fiction piece, "What is the Difference between Optometrists and Ophthalmologists?" was published in the anthology Flush Fiction, the first all-fiction book by the publishers of the long- running Bathroom Reader books.

(If you remember Jeff Goldblum's People magazine writer from The Big Chill, you know how long each of the stories takes to read.)

Two contributor's copies.

My story.  My name.  First page, even.


I have placed three flash fiction pieces with the estimable Every Day Fiction, an online journal.  You read the story on the web, or you subscribe to the kindle version, or you can sign up to get it emailed to you.  No paper.

And, in recent months, I have self-published my own short works online.  No paper.  and each story with its own cover, designed by me.  One of them with a blurb from a friend who is a novelist (and who would not blurb it unless it was good -- that was our deal.)

So, I've got online work that is more easily accessible, versus printed work that is far less accesible.

Whence now, O thrill of the contributor's copy?

Does print represent professional validation? 

Not necessarily.  My three stories in Every Day Fiction went through a team of wonderful Canadian editors and first readers.  They have always provided thoughtful feedback even on stories they rejected.  (Am I selling them short by attributing their niceness to their Canadian-ness?  Probably. Being Canadian never lent class to Seth Rogen.)

There's something comforting about paper, its permanency.  But those electrons that can be zapped anywhere on Earth… 

It's two different things.

I think that in the long run, print publishing will be dead.  The killer app will be a cheap reader that you can spill orange juice on without ruining it.  Then it will take the place of the breakfast paper.

So, I will be watching for the orange juice-proof e-reader. 

Then I will know that sample copies are at their twilight.  Until then, I will pinch the spine of Flush Fiction in my left hand, flip the pages with my right thumb, hold it up to my nose, and inhale the smell of success.