Sara Banerji, author of Cobweb Walking, writes about her experience with digital publishing.
I have been amazed, from the start, by all this sentimentality for paper books…‘I love the smell of old paper’, ‘I wouldn’t enjoy reading unless I could turn the pages’, ‘I want to have the feel of a book in my hands’. Even my twelve year old granddaughter talked like this until I gave her a Kindle. People must have said all the same things when paper was invented…. ‘I love the smell and feel of vellum and wouldn’t dream of reading on this newfangled paper stuff.’ I bet when they started writing on vellum people went moaning on about how they longed for the smell of clay and to be able to feel the scratch of the cuniform! They wrote on bark and leaves before that, and I expect there will be hankering for the electronic publishing we have now when the next thing comes along.
For the first time good and bad writers can share their stories and ideas with the world. For the first time your book can be read round the world almost overnight.
I wrote my first novels on the same manual typewriter on which my mother, Ann Mary Fielding, had written her four best-selling books. My mother wrote her books all through the Second World War, while running a huge house and looking after three children. She wrote at night, after we’d gone to bed. We would listen to her shouting thrilling new swear words each time the keys got locked together.
I resisted grimly when my husband, Ranjit, suggested I change over to using a word processor. So one day the beast confiscated my typewriter and put a Dragon word processor in its place. For anyone too young to remember, this was a machine for playing games, with word processing added as a sort of after-thought. For days I struggled with the volume on which that machine depended. It worked on an audio tape. I lost and garbled a load of work. I lost the whole of The Teaplanter’s Daughter and wore black for a week.
Yet oh my goodness, how glad I am for this glorious new technology now! I first felt the excitement of being an author offered the possibilities of e-books when Borders brought out the Iliad reading machine. I got someone from Borders to come and tell us about it at one of my literary luncheons. I got even more excited when I heard about the Kindle. I got my family to buy me one for my birthday the moment it became available in the UK.
To me reading on the Kindle is marvelous! How could anyone object to being able to change the size of the font in a moment, finish a good book in bed or on the train, and instantly buy another? Then, joy, oh joy, to be able to put my own book onto it, inspired by the success of Amanda Hocking and John Locke. I put on three novels that have, so far, been unpublished. They had done the rounds, received ‘rave rejections’ (‘absolutely love this book but we aren’t going to publish it’) and now, instead of lying as sad and forgotten manuscripts in a drawer, were as available to the world as Dickens, Shakespeare and the Bible. Now they are being published by Bloomsbury! The same the process was enormous fun, totally free, and astonishingly easy. I sold twelve!
I have been teaching mature students at Oxford University for twelve years, and about four years ago I began urging them to embrace e-book publishing. Their reaction was usually a mixture of dismay and contempt. Some students who were trying, unsuccessfully, to find a publisher or even an agent for their work, said that having their work brought out as an e-book would feel like failure. ‘You are mistaken,’ I told them. The truth is that no matter how much you dislike electronic publishing, it’s coming and writers will miss out if they choose not to take advantage it. The train is coming whether you like it or not, so get on board or be left standing at the station.
Now here I am in what feels like a wonderful place. Bloomsbury Reader is re-issuing the first six of my nine published novels as e-books, and although it was thrilling and profitable when each came out originally with Victor Gollancz, Transworld and Harper Collins, something new is happening. We authors are emerging from our shells like newly hatched birds, ready to fly into an unknown future (and maybe fortune!).
Find Sara’s books on our website.
All our ebooks are available for £2.99 until 15th October in celebration of our first birthday last month on amazon.co.uk!