Sunday, February 27, 2011

Case of the Missing Books

Amazon recently announced that Kindle e-book sales have nearly doubled that of hardcover book sales, and predicted that e-books will soon become the more popular format. I also heard Borders bookstore is closing. Luckily my favorite independent bookstores—Rakestraw in Danville, Bay Books in San Ramon, and Towne Center Books in Pleasanton—have weathered the Big Bookstore Takeover, but this book business is changing faster than a tweet from Ashton Kutcher.

At the sold-out San Francisco Writers Conference last weekend, many of the workshops offered e-publishing classes, such as “Publishing in Cyberspace,” “Finding Your Literary Tweet Spot,” and “How to Create a Book Trailer on YouTube that Will Get as Many Hits as ‘Laughing Baby’ and ‘Stupid Pets.’”

It seems as if everyone’s interested in e-books. I must confess, I have an e-reader, mainly because I bought the hardcover version of The Autobiography of Mark Twain—all five tons of it—then had to get an e-copy so I could lift it.

Frankly, I didn’t like the e-experience. The e-book gave me no sense of how much I’d read or had left to read, other than some meaningless e-page numbers. When I read a murder mystery, I like to know how many chapters remain so I can figure out who the killer is. Can’t do that when the last page suddenly jumps in front of my eyes and the author tells me the butler did it.

When I host a book signing at the local bookstore, I like to pass out tchotchkes—things like magnetic bookmarks or “crime scene” stickers for the book cover. I can’t do that with an e-book. No bookmarks are needed with an e-book, and stickers on the cover would just obscure the contents.

I can’t read an e-book in the bathtub because if I drop it in the water—and I will—the e-gadget is ruined. On the other hand, I can save a water-dipped book by drying it out with my hair dryer (even though it expands to twice its size.) With a real book, I can underline my favorite parts, but with an e-book, the screen would soon be completely black. And I can’t lend a great new e-book I’ve just read to a friend, because what if she drops it in the bathtub?

My newest mystery, HOW TO SURVIVE A KILLER SÉANCE, is set at the Winchester Mystery House, and features a story about bringing deceased Sarah Winchester back to life via 3-D technology. I’ve set up some book signings at my favorite bookstores—Rakestraw, Bay Books, Towne Center Books—where I plan to bribe readers with fancy magnetic bookmarks (they never fall out of place), mini-Ouija Board key chains (to answer all your questions), and CSI-style evidence bags (good for keeping your lunch safe in the community refrigerator at work).

Maybe I should retitle my newest book to HOW TO SURVIVE A KILLER BUSINESS. Like Sarah Winchester, who kept building her house in order to stay alive, I’m still writing books and trying to stay alive in this rapidly changing business. But if things continue the way they are, I have a feeling books may soon be restricted to 140 twitter characters, and we’ll be reading tweet-books like, “There’s a bird stuck in my study. Or am I going nuts?.” – E.A. Poe.

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