Write Byte

Electronic Publishing: Catch the Wave!

(March 4, 1998)


The Internet is beginning to change the face of publishing and the sale of books. Not only are there many on-line mega-bookstores, used book stores, and search services, but there is an immediacy of communication, along with the availability of authors to readers via Bulletin Boards, Newsgroups, Listservs, and E-mail.

Added to the mix has been the appearance of on-line publishers. I asked author Cynthia Lawrence aka Angelica Hart to explain electronic publishing. Whether or not this type of publishing gains wide acceptance is as yet unknown. Are there enough readers out there willing to sit at their computer and read a 300 page (equivalent) romance?

Let's see what Cynthia has to say:

Today, most of society takes computers for granted. They are in the work place, home, museums and schools. So, it is not surprising that electronic publishing has found its way to the Internet. In the beginning, universities and hospitals published papers, then encyclopedias, dictionaries and journals appeared, finally poetry and fiction. The later immediately caught the attention of writers not only as an additional outlet for their work, but as a market that would not restrict creativity. Unlike traditional publishers that have a determinable amount of books due to printing costs, electronic publishers have the ability to make multiple copies quickly and inexpensively. Compelled to acquire just what they know they can sell, the big houses just are not willing to take chances. This forces writers to conform and readers end up with the same formalized work offered up in different packaging.

Electronic publishing opens up a whole new world of artistry. Authors are not restricted to a particular word length, genre crossing is the norm rather than the exception, and characters do not have to fit a formalized mold. This new exciting medium has attracted both trade published and first time authors. Florence Moyer, who writes under her own name and as Hayley Gardner for Silhouette, believes that "electronic publishing will develop into a very viable market in the future." She is one of the many published authors who has joined EPIC, a new support group for professional writers to discuss the Internet markets as well as works in progress.

The most common misconception about electronic publishing is that it is not legitimate. However, just like houses that produce paperbacks and hardcover books, the World Wide Web has publishers who sell over the Internet either files that can be downloaded or disks that can be ordered. Their authors are professionals selected with as much discernment as any traditional publisher and earn royalties just as paper published writers.

For those environmentally aware, another obvious benefit is that no paper is involved except for the labels on Diskettes. "The product is sold only in demanded quantities - there are no returns from bookstores ending up in landfills. And a downloaded book read off screen involves no paper at all," says Marilyn Grall, author of NCP's Taming the Lion. This is one of the many reasons why electronic publications are quickly becoming popular. The technology saves time and costs and produces books that surpass the quality of traditional press print. According to Marko Ruban, a Computer Science major at Rutgers University, "The text print can be enlarged to any size, and therefore made more readable."

Some may feel they cannot curl up with an electronic book. However, computer aware people spend hours on line doing everything from paying bills to socializing in chat rooms, reading off the screen is the equivalent to watching TV. There are also laptops that are portable, and in the not too distant future 'readers' will be sold. In much the same way that you can cart around a CD player, you will be able to take your reader with you anywhere. An additional advantage is that you can take several books with you at once rather than just one or two because they take up too much space.

Independent book stores are just now starting to accept books on disk. For every paperback or hard bound book on a shelf, five to six disks can take its place. At every turn, the plus side to electronic publishing makes it difficult to ignore as a major competitor in the future marketplace.

As Ms. Grall states with succinct eloquence, "The other reason is innovation. Electronic publishers, by and large, are far more open to new, genre-stretching ideas than traditional publishers. They're also willing to give wonderful new authors a try, thus potentially putting a very big dent in the mid-list crisis. Electronic publishing is the wave of the future. Catch it. You won't be sorry."

Cynthia Lawrence aka Angelica Hart

Cynthia's Backlist:
Impetuous Heart/Reluctant Heart
The Gathering
(writing as Angelica Hart)

E-mail Cynthia
Read about AAR's e-book experiences in this issue of Laurie's News & Views