I’m not speaking here of Hope Edwards, my almost-fourteen-year-old whose cute-and-quirky comic strip, The Adventures of Dough Girl, I’m formatting into a picture book for the iPad. I’ve mentioned her elsewhere and will speak further of her upcoming book in a future post. I mean her twin sister, who is also a writer but who hasn’t chosen a pen name yet, whom I will refer to here as “Daughter.”
I was taking Daughter to tennis practice this morning and I asked how her writing was coming along. She said, “Fine,” so I mentioned that, whenever she felt that she had a book ready, I could publish it as an electronic book for the Kindle, or the Nook, or the iPad.
Her reply set me back:
“I’m not going to publish it as an electronic book before I get it published as an actual book.”
Well, that was the end of our conversation about writing; we went on to other things until I dropped her off at practice.
Frankly, I was surprised at Daughter’s response, at her seeming to be put off by modern technology. After all, we are a fairly technological family. We have our share of computers and cell phones, with which we are all quite comfortable. My wife and children, especially, do Facebook and Gmail and texting and all of that. So, yes, I was surprised.
I was a little saddened, too, because her remark expresses the all-too-prevalent view that a mass of writing is not a legitimate book unless it is printed with ink on paper. To be fair, Daughter may be a “monster of my own making.” We have tried to instill in all of our children a certain reverence for books. They are to be treated with respect as physical objects of value—don’t tear the pages, don’t throw them around, keep them clean—but also respected for what they contain: exciting and enjoyable stories, and also important and useful information. What she said, about the two paths to publication available to a writer today, clearly shows the strength of the grip that the traditional one still has on many writers. She said, in effect:
“I’m not going to publish it myself before I convince someone else to legitimize it by publishing it for me.”
Now, there is something to be said for a certain degree of “legitimization,” at least in the form of proofreading and editing (and virtually all self-published books could use a much heavier dose of proofreading and editing than they have been getting lately), but to think that it’s not a real book until it exists as ink on paper is shooting yourself in the foot, because any form of publication is better than none at all.
As other people have pointed out, writers are not makers of books, they are tellers of stories, either true stories or made-up stories. Furthermore, merely creating the story is only the first half of storytelling; the story has to reach an audience, either by being read or heard, for the act of storytelling to be completed, and denying yourself the ability to reach that audience because you believe that you have to wait until someone else says, “yes, you are allowed to pass this story along to others,” is not merely foolish. It’s sad.
It’s foolish because of the financial (or quasi-financial) aspect of it all. If the story doesn’t get published, the author gets no return, either of actual money or of something else of value: prestige, name recognition, personal satisfaction, etc.
It’s sad because, if that someone—that keeper of the publishing gate—says “no,” all of the writer’s effort—all of the “blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” as it were—that it has taken to get to that point, where the story is ready to make its way out into the world and rise or fall on its own merits, all of it will have been wasted.
Because a story never published is, in effect, a story never written.