Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Dark Side

I am a writer and I have gone to the dark side.

What dark side?

E-publishing. Self-publishing. Both of these, rolled into one.

Yes, I intend to self-publish some e-books. Why? Well, for a start, I'm not particularly interested in the long and drawn-out process of finding an agent or publisher who will like me. I have a hard enough time getting regular people to like me. More importantly, I love to read e-books. So does John Birmingham, apparently.[1]

Don't get me wrong: I love the musty smell of a priceless tome filled with ornate words of wisdom just as much as the next girl—but not as much as I love my Kindle Touch 3G.

I haven't always been a Kindle user. My first e-book reader was a Sony Reader Pocket Edition, which I impulse bought from a vending machine in LAX. For my Australian readers, yes, you honestly can buy electronic goods out of Best Buy vending machines in America. You can also get your credit card skimmed, and if this happens, I hope you share my good fortune of having a bank that calls you about possible fraudulent transactions.

But I digress. I bought the Sony Reader at a time when my friends were singing the praises of their iPad Kindle Apps, and I did it for the e-ink display. I loaded my Reader with free books from Project Gutenberg (and the Australian site) and research papers that my employers found fascinating.

But, as with many overseas technology purchases, it didn't work quite as I had planned. The Reader Library application was great for syncing books between my computer and my Reader, but the Shop function only worked in North America. Years later, online shopping was made available from several Australian stores, but their ePub versions were still significantly more expensive than a Kindle e-book—anywhere from $3 to $10.

That's what prompted my move to Kindle. I made the transition gradually, first installing Kindle Apps on my iPhone and MacBook Pro, then updating the software on my HP Mini so I could use Kindle Cloud Reader. I bought a Kindle version of On Writing, then a few magazines, then…

I still resisted buying a Kindle, because I was hanging out for the Kindle Touch 3G, which wasn't yet shipping to Australia. New versions of the Kindle came out in Australia (at inflated prices—of course) and even the Kindle Fire could be shipped. I was infuriated when the Kindle Touch arrived, but only the wi-fi version.

A girl has needs. I needed free 3G so I could download my books when travelling, rather than using data roaming on my phone. I needed an e-ink display so my eyes wouldn't be strained. And I needed the touchscreen, for ease of selecting text. So I held out for as long as I could. And along came this article, which pointed me in the right direction. My Kindle Touch 3G arrived the next business day (albeit at an inflated price—of course).

I love it. I really do. I love jumping around the text, flicking forward and backward through pages or whole chapters. I love that it remembers where I'm up to in all my books and can quickly sync to the last page I read on my iPhone. I love highlighting interesting phrases and adding my own annotations. I love adjusting the display to suit the text and the conditions. I love its menus and the way I can one-touch download my books. I love the way it can download and play my Audible audiobooks (though I more frequently listen to them on my old iPod shuffle while running). I even love its accessories, such as the lighted leather cover that I ordered soon after.

Most of all, I love being able to look up words I don't know at the touch of a finger. Yes, I'm a writer. Yes, there are words I don't understand. My Kindle teaches me these words, and I add them to my vocabulary for future use. My Kindle is teaching me my own craft.

I've downloaded a few Kindle and PDF e-books on writing prompts, publishing and style. I even tried to get Ursula K. Le Guin's Steering the Craft, but it wasn't available. And there's the rub: sometimes there's no e-book, and I have to resort to a printed version. And as much as I poke at the words on the page, no definitions pop up.


[1] I know this because he wrote about it in 'The New Deal'. It was in the column section of Ampersand Magazine's Issue 5, 'Eleventh Hour', which I picked up today. I read a good chunk of it over a coffee, and when I got home I subscribed.

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