Just an ebook

“It’s just an ebook,”  she said with sweet self-deprecation and some regret.

Of course, the writer was apologizing for having gone through an indie publisher online, rather than spending years working through agents, a Big Five New York publisher and the long process of editing, rewriting to the editor’s wishes, then waiting for design, typesetting, shipping to bookstores, etc, all to end up with no control over the product and what amounts (for new authors, at least) to very nearly a single-digit percentage of the profits.

I was at a writers group meeting when I heard this.  I had a hard time not jumping across the table.

“It’s not JUST an ebook!  You’ve published a book.”

Ebooks — people buy them and hold them and read them and love them, and discuss them and recommend them and even loan them to their friends.  They are made up of the words, sweat, genius, joy and tears of the writer who had the vision and the dream, just as much as anything pounded out on paper.

To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a writer who was vilified by many readers and worshiped by others—a book is a book is a book.

Do we – nowadays – consider an electric car “just a car”?  As in, it shouldn’t be taken seriously?  Not like a gas-guzzling, climate-destroying, wallet-raping real car?  The price is the same, usually a heck of a lot more, (unlike, say, an ebook).  They’re made up mostly of the same parts, driven the same way, and they get you from point A to point B.  Would Chevrolet say that the Bolt is “just a car”?  Or would they say that it’s just as good as any other car – or even better?

Many people at the turn of the twentieth century believed that no cars should be taken seriously.  After all, they were just a weird bit of flash-in-the-pan technological silliness, whereas anyone who was worth anything drove a nice, quiet horse and carriage.

People came out to the fields to watch the new technology called airplanes, and they laughed.  Everyone knew that air flight was for the birds, so to speak.  Why bother, when it only took several weeks or months to take a train or a boat?  And that’s so much more gentile, dah-ling.

No one believed “movies” would ever be watched by serious citizens or acted in by real actors – after all, if you had an ounce of self-respect, you went to the theatah.  And once movies caught on and became respectable, who on earth would bother with a stupid little technological experiment called television?

Do you have a newspaper subscription?  Do you consider CNN.com and Twitter notifications foolishness?  Why not wait and get the story on your doorstep twenty-four hours later?

It used to be that writers were pressed to apologize if what they wrote was just a mystery or science fiction or a love story.  We now have crime novels that are considered Golden Age ‘classics’ of literature and science fiction that has won prestigious awards.  ‘Romeo and Juliet’ anyone?  I have it on ebook, and before that, I had a hardback copy – gasp!  It wasn’t on parchment written with a quill pen.  Is it, then, “just a play”?  And while people still pay lip service to ‘serious books’, romance novels are eagerly snapped up to the tune of millions of dollars a month.  A MONTH.

Oh.  That’s right.  If you want to make a lot of money, then you’re “just” a hack.  And if it’s not made of dead trees, it’s “just” a book.  And if you want to reach those millions of readers who prefer technology or appreciate convenience or simply can’t afford what the Big Five publishers are charging for paper, does that mean you are “just” a writer?

Come to think of it, what’s wrong with that?

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