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The Thrill of Paper

November 22, 2010

My career as a writer could best be summed up as – writing because I realised I could, writing for pleasure, writing as a crutch, writing to escape, writing because the voices wouldn’t leave me alone and now writing, to share. Part of the writing to share, is obviously publication.

In the past year I’ve had stories included in a number of anthologies in addition to c0-producing three short story anthologies  for the Chinese Whisperings imprint.

But amid all this very moderate success… there’s been no paper. Then something unexpected happened to me last week. A paperback arrived at my house. Crazy, I know!

The anthology 50 Stories for Pakistan is a charity anthology put together by Greg McQueen (of Big Bad Media and 100 Stories of Haiti) with a team of volunteer editors and authors. It’s a publication I’m so proud to be associated with… but it was more than that.

Holding the anthology in my hand, opening it, seeing my name, readingmy story in an actual book became an ecstasy of paper and ink… I never thought I would EVER say that. I wanted to kiss it, rub my cheek against it and have one of those totally over the top moments where I threw all the copies on my bed and rolled around on them.

Over the top – maybe, maybe not?

There is something about paper which makes writing real. Not just for the author but those around them, especially those who make the sacrifice along with the author.

Wednesday afternoon I dropped a copy in my bag to show off at school. I got there early and was able to announce I was published, and the book did the rounds.  These are the friends who listen to the every day travails of a rather odd professional life.  As school broke that day I was able to open the book and show my six year old son the story, and while it’s beyond his reading abilities right now, it made my time at the computer into something real and special to him.  He was almost as excited as me. Saturday I passed it around at the Brisbane NaNo Write-In.

Having a physical copy enables me to talk about the project, how proceeds go to the British Red Cross efforts in Pakistan and allows me to hit people up to buy a copy. I will keep a copy in my bag, passing it among friends and strangers alike, encouraging people to put their money where their mouth is. My goal is to sell 50 copies.

This is something digital publishing can’t quite emulate. I talk up all the projects I’m involved… but it’s hard to get people in the real world excited about something invisible. Yes, I have an iPhone and I’m forever pulling up book covers and websites in every day conversation, in addition to posting links/updates on Facebook and emailing,  but believe me, it’s NOT the same thing as handing over a book.

And that’s hard to admit as a digital publisher. It was one factor I really hadn’t thought about until Wednesday. A book release of any kind is exciting… but how much more exciting is it when you have it in your hand… not your hard drive? Perhaps it is different for those with eReaders. I don’t have one. My iPhone limps along as a very poor substitute… so perhaps there is something of the same thrill. I’m not sure.

This revelation of course, won’t stop me from continuing to produce digital works – after all there would be no Chinese Whisperings and definitely no eMergent Publishing without the freedom of the digital sphere… but it will speed the process of getting physical copies.

It will also push me to find cheaper and easier ways to obtain physical copies.

50 Stories for Pakistan is printed via Blurb.com. Print on demand or POD is a no up front cost alternative to bankrolling a print run. In print on demand the purchaser pays for the cost of printing, not the publisher. It’s a great stop gap measure between traditional and self publishing, digital and print.

But it’s not perfect. Postage remains prohibitive if you live outside of the United States and the actual cost of printing is more akin to boutique brewing, where the cost of the final product is more expensive than the commercially produced range because of the lack of economies of scale. However don’t let the cost put you off  – like boutique beer, part of the price is a higher quality product and the product you want, not what the big producer wants to create.

Ordering in bulk does brings the price of printing down, or at least does in the case of Blurb.com which gives a 10% discount for bulk orders (which start at orders of 10). They also have flat postage costs for three books.

As Print on Demand becomes more popular we can hope more outlets open and competition brings prices down. Lightning Source International announced several months ago of the opening of an Australian plant in June 2011, which is brilliant news for authors in my neck of the woods, who for so long have been treated like the poor third cousins to the rest of the literary community riding the benefits of technological innovation and advance.

In the mean time, I encourage writers and readers to embrace the literary equivalent of the ‘car pool’ – ‘postage pooling’. Join with other authors and readers in your location to lower the cost of postage and production. I will be ordering 50 copies of the Pakistan anthology and doing everything in my power to sell them all in my local area and beyond, embracing the economies of scale which come with a bulk purchase and postage.

While digital printing spans international boundaries, provides unprecedented publishing freedom, is instantaneous and convenient in terms of distribution, storage and portability, don’t ever underestimate the thrill and potential of paper!

Does a digital publishing credit carry the same oomph as a printed published credit? Or is there no distinction now? Is a publishing credit a publishing credit?

Jodi Cleghorn is close to screaming ‘does it really have to be this tough’… I’m already a diamond, right? Next week is good-bye from this phase of her Write Anthing life.  You can find more of Jodi’s musings, including daily updates of ‘The Lichtenberg Trust’ at Writing in Black and White or by following Twitter.
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