When iPad hit the streets, a new kind of laptop, toy, e-mail reader, glorified iPod Touch, and video viewer was born. It also created several new authors, who'd been looking for a home in traditional print media for years. Many of these writers are talented and innovative but couldn't force their way through the formidable barriers put up by New York publishers in this era of low economic expectations.
One writer, Steven Jay Griffel of Queens, N.Y., has hit digital gold twice — published by iPad and Kindle. Although he's wanted to be a novelist his entire life, he's hit that brick wall many a writer knows all too well. Well acquainted with rejection letters and negative phone calls from agents, he took a practical job as an editor for children's books. Meanwhile he sent out his own manuscripts on free hours. Still, he wasn't getting anywhere as a an author.
"I worked for 35 years before my first novel was published," Griffel said. "During those years, I saw colleagues — even friends — get published, and I was certainly jealous. But because I married young and became a father in my twenties, I was largely removed from those social scenes that might have piqued and exacerbated my jealousy. I did my work, I raised my kids, and I wrote. I finished my first novel about 20 years ago. It was something of a coming-of-age tale."
No one wanted that. They wanted sex, and fast living, and if memory serves, Harold Robbins. Remember him? Not great literature, but it sold. It was enough to leave any serous writer thinking he or she had missed the boat. Why not give up?
"I never gave up hope, except for Lent. (An easy sacrifice for a Jewish novelist.) But I never gave the belief that my writing was strong."
Armed with this self-confidence, he came across an ad from Schiller and Wells, Ltd, an arm of Stay Thirsty Media, looking for writers. Instead of turning away as some traditional writers might, Griffel was intrigued.
"First thing I did was Google the company to check its credibility. Bingo! First link I saw was an article in Publishers Weekly: Stay Thirsty Lures Veteran Writers. The article described how Stay Thirsty Media was able to sign three award-winning novelists, who, despite their critical successes and dedicated readership, could no longer get a contract from traditional publishers. I submitted Forty Years Later and it was accepted."
Forty Years Later was published as a Kindle book, audio book, and now on iPad. His novel is not yet part of Apple's database, but it is available on the iPad, iPod, iPhone, and most Macs and PCs via the Kindle app. It's been quite a wild ride. Yet, it was only a few years ago that an author wouldn't be so forthcoming about having an e-book published. That's because a great deal of e-books were pretty horrid, full of misspellings and bad grammar, awful plots and bad prose. Early e-books gave the whole enterprise a bad name. Then some self-publishers began printing anything anyone would send them. Soon reviewers refused to look at this material. Not all of it was bad, but decent prose was in the minority. It looked as if virtual books, such as those Kindle was about to offer, were going to suffer the same fate. What saved the Kindle books, and iPad books by extension?
"Anyone with chutzpah and a few bucks (could) self-publish and post an e-book online. Vanity presses, PODs, and e-books are welcoming, uncritical opportunities for writers. Many writers who avail themselves of those choices are very talented, but most are not, and e-books have long been associated with second-class talent."
Economics have turned that around. New York publishers have discovered themselves backed into a financial dilemma by cost over-runs, while e-publishers enjoy fewer problems with overhead. The public likes the lower prices, too.
"Not only are e-books now publicly sanctioned, they are in the ascendancy. While traditional media are foundering, e-book popularity is increasing exponentially."
Griffel's book is about a romance sparked at the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969. A love relationship from that time is rekindled a generation later, with surprising results. Most techno-savvy kids, heck, most techno-savvy adults weren't born then, but a lot of Baby Boomers were around. How does Griffel get Boomers, said to be shy about technology, to read his book?
"I meet with a lot of resistance. My trump card is that content rules and Forty Years Later is a great read (or so I'm told.)!"
Some books languish in Amazon's virtual basement only to spring to life overnight when a Kindle version becomes available. Now that New York Publishers are scrambling, agents are putting "do not disturb" signs on their doors, and major bookstore chains are in Chapter 11, people must be demanding more for their money.
"I see e-books as revitalizing old titles and providing myriad ways to reach more readers. … (they are) less of a gamble for some publishers. Although developmental and marketing costs are about the same, e-publishers do not incur the heavy costs of printing, manufacturing, warehousing, shipping, etc."
They are also more green — and that resonates with a lot of people these days.
I reviewed a book here on Blogcritics completely on an iPod Touch. It was remarkably clear and easy to read. Plus, no matter where i was — the doctor's office, grocery store, waiting for the subway — I always had something to read. It's really a revolution. Do people tell Griffel the same thing?
"One of my first readers read my book on his iPhone while flying from LA to NYC. During the flight he sent me this text message: "Reading Forty Years Later at forty thousand feet. Love it!"
Next, Griffel is working on a book about an antiquarian who loves old books but must deal with the virtual book reality. Sounds familiar to any author who's ever dreamed of an old-fashioned booksigning in a cozy bookstore. Now the store's out of business and the great words are in pixels.
"It was a dream of mine to publish a traditional book, but that didn't happen. Thank God. For if it had, the odds are that after my 15 minutes of fame were over, my book would have been relegated to the store's dusty back shelves; soon after, to the warehouse; soon after that, what remained of my stock would have been remaindered or turned into pulp.
"It's a new dawn. A digital dawn."
Griffel, when not pounding the keyboard, pounds the court playing tennis and plans to write about tennis in the future. He has a wife and two grown daughters.