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Offbeat – 27 April 2012

Professional print publishing is an odyssey for which I don’t have time. Either you are a Dan Brown or a JK Rowling, or you don’t get published.

After a couple of years of procrastination, I am finally a published author. Admittedly, I had to do it myself with a Kindle e-book on Amazon, but I can say I am a published author. Now, all I have to do is convince you to buy it.
My book, ‘The Writing is on the Coffee Cup’ is a collection of 50 of these columns, many of the ones that I reread and said to myself, “Gosh! Did you write that?”
I think that qualifies the book as pretty good. Are you convinced yet?
I’ll stop the sales spiel here and empower you a bit. You don’t need a Kindle. You can read Amazon books with most devices. Free Kindle reading software is available for most computers and many mobile devices. All you have to do is go to Amazon’s Kindle store and click the appropriate link. The world of e-books is at your fingertips. Especially mine. It’s called’The Writing is on the Coffee Cup. It also has an attractive cover design in grey and light orange.
The Kindle format is incredibly handy for writers. Professional print publishing is an odyssey for which I don’t have time. Either you are a Dan Brown or a JK Rowling, or you don’t get published.
The print route begins with hundreds of letters to agents. After a while you realise that you aren’t Dan Brown, and they don’t want to represent you unless there is a huge amount of money in it for them, so you give that up.
Your next option is self publishing. You have two options. You can pay for a vanity press and publish your own books at a horrendous price to yourself, or you can go the same route without the vanity services and just get it printed. I chose the latter and gave up after about a week of trying to get the file format correct. Now I know that it is a good thing I did.
I spent a long time deciding whether or not to start reading e-book formats. I finally stumbled upon the free Kindle app for PC and started downloading from Project Gutenberg and manybooks.net. This led me into a realm of Kindle books, many of which are offered for free, by authors who want to write and have suddenly discovered that they don’t need print publishing.
Print publishing is in the process of becoming a thing of the past. Firstly, by publishing straight to Kindle format, or by using an editor and then publishing straight to Kindle, e-books can be offered cheaper by authors. In fact, there is a rising tide of anger at print publishers because they sell Kindle books at the same or a similar rate to print editions and because they still offer a lower royalty.
Secondly, the new best price break on any book is US$2,99 which is substantially cheaper than anything available on the shelves. If you are in Namibia, note that Amazon adds a US$2 surcharge on everything here, except the free books. This means that a read goes for the price of about four beers, not two-and-a-bit.
I now have an almost endless stream of new reading matter delivered to my PC. Given my preference for metaphysical horror stories and their scarcity in print, this verges on Nirvana.
The amazing selection at little or no cost is great news for readers everywhere, but not such good news for beloved bookshops. Even if publishers reduce their markups on print, reducing profits to bookshops as well, it will still be almost impossible to compete with instant availability of books on the web. This is confirmed by the reported closure of bookshops across the world as Amazon becomes more and more pervasive.
Everything changes and the economy of the thing is inexorable. As readers adapt, bookshops will have to change their forms as well, shifting away from mainstream media. One answer lies in looking at what they actually sell. Books are treasured for thought and entertainment. To keep that intellectual strand alive, booksellers need to ask what else provides thought going and what else provides entertainment outside of the drudgery of the franchises. What are the intellectual treasures and how can they be shared?
It’s sad, but it is in the process of happening.

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