Why I Write eBooks

Admit it, you still want a copy of your writing you can hold in your hand.

The eBook revolution has arrived, and most of the reading and writing I’ve been doing for the past year has been geared toward eBooks. I think for many writers the eBook is a fallback or a trial run. Our vision of true success in the publishing world takes time to change. Even for myself, I think it would be great if the fractal book got a print run, one on expensive glossy pages with rich color and fixed formatting. The fractal book is the first book I’ve written where there has been no physical artifact. At every stage from drafting through multiple revisions there has never been a full printing of the book.

Every project prior to the fractal book has been printed as I wrote it. It was the reward for a good night’s work, and a way of seeing my progress beyond word counts. I could feel the weight of it and know that I had created something. This is a hard feeling to give up.

But the fractal book was different from the beginning. Most of the great books on fractals were written twenty years ago, and the few that are available as eBooks are prohibitively expensive ($40-$70). Very few of those books include program code and those that do are using programming languages twenty years out of date. Fewer still seem interested in generating image files you can take with you, as opposed to just drawing on the screen. As someone who loves this topic, there is a whole generation of people who might never learn about this work beyond buying a cool app for their phone.

Convincing a publisher to publish a book about fractals from an enthusiast programmer seems an almost impossible task, and may not be the best approach in the first place. Right now, fractals are kind of a niche topic, and niche topics are well suited to eBooks. Since I wrote my “Fractals You Can Draw” posts over a year ago, there has been a steady trickle of traffic to those posts every single day. This is a market spread around the country, around the world even, but one that might be hard to target with a physical book.

And print books are expensive. A good printing of this book would cost at least $30 to the final consumer, possibly more given the extensive color gallery. As someone who grew up on Half-Price Books and libraries, this price will never sit right with me. Doubly so for novels. How John Grisham (or Grisham’s publisher rather) can charge $25 for his latest book I think I’ll never understand. So in a way I’ve been primed for eBooks even before they really existed, and I think they should be cheap.

Sing it with me: five … five dollar … five dollar fractals.

I think we should embrace eBooks as a medium and try to create specifically for it, rather than using it as a publishing choice of last resort. Creating an eBook for the Kindle with hundreds of pictures and equations may not have been the wisest place to start, but it has shown me the medium has a lot of potential and room for growth. We can make eBooks into something we can be just as proud to have created as a physical book. And the more we do, the more we can shape eReading to be all the things we loved about reading physical books and more.

Have you made the jump wholeheartedly to eBooks, or are you still on the fence?


Filed under Books + Publishing, Internal Debate 42, Writing

4 responses to “Why I Write eBooks

  1. Chuck

    From the point of view of a reader – I have jumped the fence and made a new home for myself. But I admit there is a small percentage of books that I feel belong on paper. So go forward Ben – blaze a new trail – I know you will have good company along the way.

  2. I still straddle both mediums. Especially when you travel and do events, it’s good to have physical books on hand you can sell instead of handing out download cards or telling them to get it on their kindle or smartphone. You also reach a broader audience. Not everyone has a kindle or smart device to read from, so you exclude those who don’t from you eliminate the physical option. Plus, like you said, there’s a sense of satisfaction of holding a hard copy of your work and feeling the product of those countless hours. 😉

    But I also agree eBooks shouldn’t be considered a last resort. They are a growing market, and definitely worth jumping into. With the ease of eBook printing, the high royalty value, and the instant availability with minimal investment, there are some great advantages.

  3. AK

    I still need to hold my book in my hand. And I admit that I need the validation of a publisher’s buying into my work. I barely accept reading books on e-readers. I prefer the paperback. I’m a science fiction writer. I work in an ever-changing highly technical field. And I’m a total luddite about books.

  4. Oh, you are right and you are right. I feel inexplicably devoted to books; their weight, their smell, the ability to flip through the pages, and I even love having stacks of them around my home. BUT! I have no aversion to ebooks. I don’t read a screen, but listen incessantly to mp3s of books. The reader could be performing from a hardcopy or from a screen – makes no difference to me. Electronic files (documents or audio) are unarguably accessible, and isn’t that what we writers really want: reader access?

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