I was born in the middle of the post war paperback boom, when more books were printed, sold and read than at any time before in history. Those rickety rotating pocket books stands were everywhere I went with my family: drugstores, bus stations, supermarkets, even barber shops. Those pulp covers fascinated me: lurid colors and vibrant composition – blazing guns, big breasted women in swooning peril, and a granite jawed hero going toe to toe with either a sneering villain or a tentacled monster.
The smell of those books was great too. I’d see them at rummage sales and flea markets and I had to riffle the already crumbling pages, smell the scent of decomposing cheap paper. I loved them.
Through the years books were always my friends. I was a book gypsy for Moe Moskowitz of Moe’s Books on Telegraph in Berkeley – he taught me to spot first editions and books of value at yard sales, then bring them to him and sell at a profit – he made his pile to be sure, but it was hardly an unpaid internship on my part. Eventually I became a book merchant in my own right buying low and selling high at the Alameda Penny Market – one of the craziest ‘thieves’ markets’ in history I’ll bet, coming in at a time when the hippies were segueing into the drug dealing culture, and when the Angels and the Black Panthers still dominated the East Bay subculture like the T Rexes in Jurassic Park.
Three years ago, my wife bought me a Kindle for our 10th anniversary. I was ambivalent at first, feeling almost like a cheating spouse. But the upshot is, having that Kindle is like owning the public library, and it’s enabled me to read some of the Classics I missed the first time around. My physical book library has diminished from five bookshelves to two – I still have my important volumes and my first editions, but my Kindle has probably saved some trees by now.
I probably would never have become aware of Kindle Direct publishing if my wife hadn’t bought me that Kindle. I’ve been writing for 16 years now. When I started, print was the only game in town, with Internet a strange new toy that wasn’t really involved with anything.
I had a word processor from the git go, so I could cut & paste on a screen – but you had to print out your script, then come up with the postage to physically mail it along with a self addressed stamped envelope, and then wait until hell froze over for an editorial response. I still have a box filled to overflowing with all the rejection slips I got back then.
I have three books out for the Kindle now. I have to do my own promo, and pimp myself hard enough to maybe bootstrap my own buzz – but you know what? You had to do that with the traditional publishers too, no one was going to spend a cent or a moment doing it for you.
There’s a ton of other writers putting out work on the Kindle – some decry the lack of any ‘gatekeepers,’ and the atrocious lack of editing many Kindle books display – but the big houses haven’t been doing a very good job of editing lately, that’s been in the author’s lap for a long time as well. And ‘gate keeping?’ For a long time, it seems like the big houses have been playing it safe and circling the wagons, pinning all their hopes to tried and true ‘brand name’ writers – the padlock on the ‘gate’ has been rusted shut to writers the likes of me.
I would have loved to be part of the mainstream book publishing experience during the NY houses’ heyday – but looks like it’s not to be. Trying to make a name in this new Amazon world feels like slam dancing in the mosh pit – but it’s the only real opportunity I see being offered these days. All you get is an equal chance to sink or swim, do or die – sounds pretty much like the American dream, doesn’t it?