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A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn’s Love-Hate Affair with E-Books

"Never say never," is an adage I ascribe to but have ignored for way too many years. E-books are my latest reminder that I am a slow learner.

My first take on e-books was that they can't be held or smelled or slid from a shelf. I sniffed in disgust. “What, no dusty fingers? No deliciously tattered dust covers? No turned-back corners and margin notes?”

In my mind, the books you could "have and hold until death do us part" were the only authentic books. I could not get over attitudes sculpted in granite decades before that "e" was not a prefix for anything, but especially not a book. I had published several “real” books in just a few years, some self published. Some traditionally published. I had gained a lot of experience in the new world of publishing and lots of expertise in promoting.

Obviously e-books could not have any real value if they couldn't offer even one of the tangible benefits I valued. My stupidity was showing. Soon I learned how valuable e-books can be for promoting one's "real" books. With several other authors I collaborated on three promotional e-books, meaning my fellow authors and I gave them away free. Now, that was something that could appeal to my little marketing heart.

That these efforts at promotion with e-books were so successful should have opened my mind to all the e-book possibilities. The limitations of traditional publishing should have also nudged me into becoming a fan of e-books. One of those limitations is that regular books published by traditional presses go out of print so quickly. The shelf life of a carton of pasteurized milk can be longer than the time a bookstore will give a new author to prove herself. I learned this when Waldenbooks, a chain that had been very good to me by sponsoring more than thirty of my book signings, gave me the jolting news: I had contacted one of them to see if they still had some copies of my novel This Is the Place because I would be interviewed about Utah and the Elizabeth Smart case on a morning radio station in their area. "No, we're out," the voice on the phone said.

"If you'll order a few more of them, I could mention your store during the radio interview."

"Oh, I'm sorry, but we don't order any books over 90 days old."

I was astounded. Too stunned to note that I must, then, be in very good company and that their stores must be very short on titles by Dickens and Dostoevsky as well as Howard-Johnson.

Sometime after that, my publisher came to my rescue. They started a new "E-Library" featuring their best-selling titles and both of mine were among them. Imagine that. New life for two books that—just like people and fine wine—don't get older, only better. Now both This Is the Place and Harkening are out of print and available only as used books on Amazon. Mmmmm. What do you think I’m going to do with them now I have those contracts back in my grubby little hands?

I can't promise I'll "never say never again," but I'm certain that when I do (I told you I was a slow learner), those words will not be used in conjunction with e-anything, but especially not e-books. I am a convert, pure and simple. I’m even saving Amazon gift certificates to buy a Kindle. Gasp!

It hasn’t escaped me that the happiest people on my American flights are those who bring their own Godiva chocolates and their e-book readers. My Kindle will come in handy when I travel. I can even carry copies of all my own books in it.

But no, I’m not giving up on “The Real Thing,” as Coke says. I have way too many of them stashed on special shelves built to preserve my collection of classics and old high school and university texts. I even have a shelf of books my name appears in. As a quote. Because I’ve given the author an endorsement. Or because I’ve written a foreword for them. And, if any author of one of these dares to offer me “only” an e-book copy, I will be bold enough to tell them about that shelf and how I wouldn’t dream of not having their book displayed proudly on it. That’s surely something one can’t do with an e-book.

Tips and Tidbits

(Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a Tidbit that will help authors write or promote better. She will also include a Tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.)

A Tip for Writers: :

Since blogging became popular, everyone is a writer. People who haven’t thought about homonyms for years are brushing up on them. And on tip offs to wordiness. And on grammar. And some people are publishing what they write—easily. Find help with all things writing or publishing at

A Tip for Readers' Tip: Magdalena Ball and I have written the Celebration Series of poetry chapbooks including one for Mother’s day. Yes, they are available as slim paperbacks ($12.95) so folks can give them as gifts, but they’re also available as e-books., She Wore Emerald Then: Reflections on Motherhood is available in time for Mother’s Day 2011.

2011 Past Columns


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