I admit to being pretty rigid in my thinking about writing and books over the years. For one thing, I knew I only wanted to be published in print, because, being a devote lover of books, I could never imagine reading digital books. There’s something about the feel of the paper in my hands, the smell of the ink tickling my nose. That’s what it takes to be a real book.
Plus, I admit it, I felt that digital books (at least those not simultaneously in print) must be...less well written. After all, if a big New York publisher hadn’t wanted to buy them, that had to be the reason, right? (Don’t shoot me for my stupidity! Just keep reading.)
In late 2009, when Harlequin announced their new digital-first imprint, Carina Press, I didn’t give it much thought. But I have a healthy respect for Harlequin. The more I heard about Carina Press, the more I became intrigued. They would be able to publish books print publishers wouldn’t. They would take risks in genres that print publishers couldn’t.
Most of all, though, Harlequin had a reputation to uphold, so they wouldn’t publish subpar books. It kind of shook up my closely held prejudice about the “lack of quality” of e-books.
As I read about the plans for Carina, a thought began to form. Years ago, my favorite of all the books I’ve written, The Kiss Test, had been systematically rejected by every print publisher we submitted to. Because it was Chick Lit. With a strong romantic storyline, but Chick Lit nonetheless. And I was a little late to the game. Chick Lit was dying a slow death due to overpopulation, and I had missed out.
I’d mourned when I had to desert that book. I loved the main characters, Margo and Chris, like they were my best friends. Giving up on that book meant I’d never see them in print, never share their laughter and joy with readers. It was a loss. Of course, after that, I’d gone on to publish Venus Envy and Venus Guy Trap, but The Kiss Test remained holding a big chunk of my heart.
With the creation of Carina Press, I started to wonder if perhaps The Kiss Test still had a shot. They mentioned specifically that they would accept Chick Lit submissions.
But in order to find out, I had to change my thinking about what a real book was. If I submitted The Kiss Test and they purchased it and sold it as an e-book, would it be any less of a book to me than it would if it had been in print? I really wasn’t sure I could set aside my preconceived notions, but decided to give it a chance.
They bought it.
While I was thrilled to death that my favorite book would be read by actual readers, I still had to adjust my thinking. Which meant, gasp, actually reading some e-books. And, I felt it was important to get the whole experience...so I bought a Sony eReader.
Here’s where I humbly apologize to every e-published author out there for my unfounded prejudice. You’d think I know better, since I’m often critical of people putting down the romance genre when they’ve never cracked the spine of a romance novel in their lives. I’d never read an e-book so what right did I have to be judgmental?
First of all I discovered reading on an eReader wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, the ability to enlarge the font size when I read in dim light in bed at night, had my poor old eyes sending me a thank you note. It was easy to carry multiple books and, in fact, I could borrow books from the library with my particular reader.
Since Carina Press hadn’t started publication yet, I read books that I’d wanted to get in print in e-book form instead. They felt safe...because I knew they were edited and were of great quality. After all they were also in print.
About the same time Carina Press published their first books, I got my editorial letter for The Kiss Test. Let me just say, I was put through edits as rigorously with this e-book-to-be as I was with either of my two prior print books. And copy-edits. And galleys. There was no perceivable difference in the way this book was edited compared to the “real” books I’d already published.
Now that Carina Press books were available, I started to explore. These were the first books I’d purchased that were in e-book only form...you know, the ones I had predetermined couldn’t possibly be of as good a quality as regular books.
I was wrong. Oh, so wrong.
What I discovered was books that were creative and different -- historicals that took place during the French Revolution or within Native American communities, fun romantic comedies featuring families I wanted to belong to, urban fantasies I have no idea why weren’t in print but that I was so glad were now available for me to read. Every one of those e-book was a new joyful discovery!
Every one of those e-books was making me eat my prior words.
And when The Kiss Test came out last October, I downloaded a copy for my own eReader, just to remind myself that, yes, e-books are real books, too. Loved by readers just as much as print books. (In fact, I’ve received more praise in reviews for The Kiss Test than I ever received for either of my other books.)
I think this experience was just the beginning for me. Since then, I’ve realized I really need to be more open to new writing/publishing/reading experiences. There’s a whole world to explore out there that I might miss out on if I’m not.
Shannon McKelden is the author of three humorous women’s fiction novels, including her latest, The Kiss Test, a digital book from Carina Press. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, where she writes and runs the website TheHappyWriter.com.