August 10, 2010

Good grief, Pat Conroy.

Blog, as an author, publisher and reader, I do keep up fairly well with the book biz. And I just read something I find utterly baffling. I'd love to have our readers provide their responses to this situation so I can see if my own opinions are way off base.

So here's the thing: an author I've enjoyed a lot in the past, Pat Conroy, admitted that he hasn't a clue about ebooks. The 64-year-old author of such wonderful books as The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini said:

"I was at a signing in Georgia, and a guy came up to me with a Kindle and he pressed a button and there it was, my book (South of Broad). I'm a complete ignoramus when it comes to everything about the Internet. I kept noticing people in planes and shops were reading these things. I couldn't understand these instruments. I didn't know what they were." (Full story here.)

A part of me says, "Look, to each his own; not every author approaches his career like you do, ducky," But a part of me says, "How can someone be oblivious to something so significant to his career?"

The irony of this is intensified by the fact that I have been busy the past week publishing a novel I wrote some 20 years ago in formats for Kindle, nook, Kobo, etc. I've been publishing ebooks myself for five years now, ever since my publisher went out of business and I took back my backlist. But in the past I've published in pdf and lit formats, and learning to create ebooks for the latest technologies required no small effort on my part.

I hardly expect every author to have this depth of understanding of the technology. What I would expect is that Pat Conroy might be interested enough in the business to have tried the ebook experience once or twice, or talked to his agent to see if his titles were being sold that way in a manner that was bringing him the income he ought to expect from this revenue channel.

They were not, as Conroy's astute agent eventually pointed out to him. At least she was paying attention. I suppose you could say that it's her job, so he needn't worry about it, but to me that's a bit of a copout.

It's important to me to understand the reading experience that my fans have in whatever way they interface with my writing. It's one thing to read a book in paperback form, another to read it on your desktop computer (say, in html), another to read it on a handheld device like a Blackberry, and another to read it on a dedicated ereader like a Kindle. My readers experience my books in all these ways, and certainly there are formatting, bookblock, and even cover design issues that one considers when making books for these different media. Sure, these are publishing issues rather than author issues, but shouldn't the author care as well?

A part of my says, "Look, ducky, the guy's old fashioned. A lot of people are. It's not a crime." But a part of me says, "Quit calling me 'ducky.'" No, seriously, a part of me says, "Pat Conroy is only ten years older than me! He's 20 years younger than my dad, who spends hours every day on the Internet!"

It's no crime to be old fashioned, but you also can't use it as an excuse. Can you imagine a musical artist, even someone contemporary to Pat Conroy like Linda Ronstadt, Jimmy Buffett, Dolly Parton or Cher, saying "I just don't understand these iPods of today. You mean people can download my songs from Amazon? What's Amazon?" Even if your preference is to listen to vinyl, you are going to give new technologies their due and have at least a basic understanding of what they are.

And I'll grant that Pat Conroy "accepts" that some people read ebooks. Conversely, I'm not about to tell him (or anyone) to stop reading books on paper. I truly am a live-and-let-live kind of girl. But as an author, I'm fascinated by storytelling, the reading process, the many and varied ways in which authors interact with their fans, and everything having to do with books. These days, a whole lot of that involves technology. Sure, an author can choose to ignore all that. Well, one lucky enough to be established with a big, traditional publisher can, but I ought to mention that's a business model that is losing more money every year and not long for this world. But anyone else in the writing business simply must have a care for how s/he is affected by things like Amazon, the nook, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc.

There's a point when "old fashioned" ceases being a charming and endearing quality and starts to come across as laziness or even self-centeredness. Give me a guy like Stephen King (only two years younger than Mr. Conroy) who embraced the coming of the ebook and uses technology in creative and exciting ways. Do you think that has made him more approachable to readers? You bet it has.

To me that's not only good marketing, it also shows respect for your readership. It indicates that an author cares not only about how s/he reads books and appreciates them, but how each and every one of his or her readers do.

That's the kind of author I try to be. I'm just sayin', Blog. Opinions, anyone?


  1. Hi Diana,

    I can somewhat understand the reticence of some authors to explore new venues of publishing. It's no different than anyone else who is unsure enough (or stubborn) to make changes with the possibility of failure. Easier to stick with what you know than step out of the safety zone for some people. I think in the long run that always brings unwanted trouble, but to each their own.

    What bothers me is that he didn't check to find out how and/or what he is gaining or losing. It may be the agent's job to keep track of that stuff, but it's the author's job to follow-up with the agent. Ask questions. The agent may be your best friend, but he or she is human -- therefore can make mistakes, or worse, betray you. There are quite a few people paying big for following their brokers blindly without asking questions.

    Yve (yvensong)

  2. Good points all, Yve! I really don't expect everyone who writes books to be tech-savvy--people have all different skill sets. But at the same time, if it's relevant to what you do, you should at least have a basic understanding. As much as many authors wish all they had to do was write books, the reality is that there are other aspects to the career for which you have to take some responsibility.