How Technology is Saving Our Lives in Books

I spent the day recently at Springtime Tallahassee, a festival held annually in my newly adopted hometown to celebrate the beginning of spring (as if winter really arrives this far south!). I really enjoyed meeting the other writers who are members of the Tallahassee Writers Association, buying a couple of their books, and selling (and signing) my own. Many of these authors are “independently” published, either through small presses like Wild Women Writers, CyPress, self-publishers like iuniverse, or through hybrid presses like Wheatmark (my publisher). Our books target “small markets” (under 10,000 copies), a market abandoned by the large New York publishing houses.

It’s at Springtime Tallahassee, in the TWA booth, that I ran across Kate Kerr and her autobiography, Emergence. I don’t usually read biographies, let alone buy autobiographies. But, as I was chatting with Kate, she sparked my interest in her life growing up on a farm in the 1920s and 1930s. I bought her book. And I started reading it. And I discovered a gem. Kate wrote the book for her family, not for a mass market, and it includes a richness and texture that will enthrall anyone interested in the stuff of American life. Each time I pick it up, I find some new fascinating part of her personal journey that I can relate to my own (or my parents, or my grandparents). Whether she’s writing about the trials of her first marriage, working in a World War II airplane factory in Michigan (she was literally Kate the Riveter working on B-24 bombers), the anxiety of her son going off to Vietnam, her attending college for the first time at 38 years old (and then on to a Ph.D.), or discovering the love of her life well into middle age, each page has a slice of truth that is part of the mosaic of the American experience. There’s plenty of inspiration in these pages, but the real value is in her generosity as a writer to let us peek in, see, and experience it with her.

This is definitely not a book conventional New York publishers would pick up, or a literary agent would represent, in today’s market. But Kate’s book deserves, and hopefully one day will be read by, a wide audience. Its cover and layout are professional. The manuscript was well edited and proofread. The quality of the book is excellent.

Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, Kate’s book is in my hands because of the hundreds of independent and so-called “vanity presses” that have used technology to bring costs down far enough that I can afford to buy it. The cost of her book would have been north of $75 in the old(er) days of publishing, or, more likely, would not have been published at all even then. With modern print-on-demand technology, the print book is financially accessible to just about anyone with a job. The digital version, at $9.99, is accessible to just about anyone at all.

We don’t have St. Martins Press, Random House, Penguin, or any of the big presses to thank for this. We should be thanking amazon.com, Wheatmark, iuniverse, Cypress Press, and Wild Women Writers; they’re the ones that allow the Kates of the world to publish. They are the ones ensuring America’s literary tradition survives and prospers.

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One thought on “How Technology is Saving Our Lives in Books

  1. Donna Meredith

    I enjoyed this column and agree with the assertion that independent publishing is fulfilling an important role in modern literature. Not all of us want to write about vampires or serial killers–the subject of so many NY Times bestsellers these days.

    I am downloading Kate’s memoir today. You piqued my interest in her story.

    Reply

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