Sal Terranova and Camden Templeton are cousins separated by upbringing, the Atlantic Ocean, and a common language. Then fate (with help from a run of bad luck and a dead uncle) throws them together in the least likely of places: Texas. Exiled in this strange land, they must band together in order to save the family bookstore from financial ruin, from its own insane employees, and probably from themselves. This is the story of what happens when The Sopranos meets Fawlty a bookstore.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Print Still Matters

A few questions sometimes come up when I tell people about my plans for publishing The Last Word: “Why bother releasing a print copy? Isn't it easier to just release an e-book? Do we really still even need printed books?” In most cases this is a reaction to media stories on the death of print, all of which have proven to be completely inaccurate. Over the past year or more, sales of e-books have leveled off, while sales of printed books have remained fairly consistent. In other words, the two formats are coexisting quite nicely, thank you very much.

As to why I am taking the more difficult path of releasing The Last Word in print (there will be an e-book version as well), here are a few reasons:

1. Printed books provide a tactile experience. Music is heard, and films are both seen and heard, but books are experienced both visually and by touch. There is an aspect to the feel of books (the smooth glossy cover, the roughness and even smell of the paper) that provides a physical sensation that is both separate from and intimately linked to the story you are reading. We bond not only with the author (novels being the only art form that requires many hours of commitment on the part of the audience) but with the book itself.

2. Great novels, from War and Peace to The Shadow of the Wind were not meant to be read on a digital screen, no matter how much “like paper” they try to make that screen. Most of us spend our entire workday staring at a computer screen, plus additional hours in front of a computer, television, or iPhone after we get home; in fact, you're looking at screen right now. The last thing many readers want to do is spend even more time staring at a screen to read a book.

3. Books can be written in, dog-eared, loaned to friends, stuffed in your back pocket, browsed for on rainy afternoons, and then sold to a used bookshop for cash to buy yet more books. Try that with a Kindle.

4. Most readers (and we have always been remarkably few as percentage of the total population) like having a personal library. It may or may not contain highly collectible items like a signed Hemingway or first-edition Faulkner, but a bookcase loaded with books can be much more than a simple collection. It can serve as a timeline of our lives: the copy of Homer you read in the same college class as your future wife, that Robert Parker Spenser novel you read in the hospital waiting for your son to be born, that copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets you read to your daughters over a snowy weekend, or the biography of Somerset Maugham you discovered in a cool little shop in London. These are books you pass down through generations, even though they may have value only within the context of your own family. 

 5. Finally, on a more self-centered note I like the idea of holding the book I wrote in my hands, and putting it into other people's hands. I see my name on a screen every single day, from e-mails to work presentations to this blog. But seeing it on an actual book is something special. On a bookstore shelf I would fall somewhere between Wilkie Collins and Joseph Conrad...bookshelves make strange bedfellows.

I was initially against the very idea of e-books; like others I saw them as a threat to printed books, and as you can see I have a fondness for printed books. But in reality, e-books have been more blessing than curse. More people are reading, and more books are affordable to them. So I have buried the hatchet with e-books, but I still love printed books more. Which is why I'll go through the added work and expense to publish mine both ways.

The Last Word is coming...stay tuned.

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