The Coming Battle of E-Readers

Okay, so now we know where the e-book is going. Ever upward.

To have predicted that twelve years ago, when I had all my novels reversed from major publishers and launched all my writings in e-books and print-on-demand, was a no-brainer. People thought I was mad. No brownie points required. It was a slam-dunk. Publishers, authors, retailers, the whole kit and caboodle of the book industry were asleep at the switch.

Even when I introduced the first reader on the planet in 2007, from SONY, the audience at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics show was spotty and indifferent. In fact, everywhere I went to evangelize the concept the reception was always cool.

So here we are, five years later, with the Kindle in the dominant e-book position, the Nook positioned for the coming battle for market share, and SONY being re-constituted to join the fray while the legacy publishers mull their future moves. Anyone who didn't see it coming was either brain dead or too busy in the basement counting their money.

I don't claim any supernatural insight. I was merely pursuing my own agenda based on the handwriting that was visible on the wall for all to see.

The fact is that my dirty little secret was to try to improve the prospects for the likes of myself, a dedicated author of mainstream novels. You know the kind. Those written by committed, passionate, novelists to whom the written word is as sacred as a painter's brush stroke and notes dancing in a composer's brain.

We, who persist in this undertaking, always seem to be fighting a perpetual war, battling to reconcile popularity with personal fulfillment and fame with obscurity, often fighting valiantly to preserve the form itself, which, arguably, has had a mere 200-odd-year history, according to literary scholars. Perhaps that is true in a purely commercial sense, although I've always dated the kind of storytelling encased in the novel form as being as old as those illustrated stories found on the walls of ancient caves.

The question for my fellow practitioners and me is how to preserve and enhance the so-called mainstream novel, meaning the stand-alone, one-off novel, the kind that your English high school teacher assigned for book reports. I mean no disrespect to genre novelists whose talents, creativity, and ingenuity need no defense and are an important adjunct to popular culture and mass entertainment.

Perhaps there is an element of snobbery in such distinctions, but all serious readers of fiction should understand my definition, especially if they are among that hardy band of questers among us who know the mysterious value of storytelling in providing insight to furthering our understanding of what it means to be human.

And so the question that has always loomed in my mind is how the serious author of novels can get his or her work "discovered," read, talked about, and, perhaps, bought. I'm afraid that outcome is harder to predict than the inevitable rise of the e-book phenomenon.

After all, e-books are merely a method of obtaining content through a machine. They have some inherent advantages for the reader over the printed books. They are, above all, convenient, quick to obtain, less costly (or should be), easily portable and provide a reading experience that arguably approximates the experience of reading a printed book. They provide a different tactile and olfactory experience than one gets from a paper book but that is based in large part on age, nostalgia and memory. Today's youth, inculcated with the tactile experience of the machine from the age of two or earlier, share no such nostalgic recollection.

There are thousands of categories that e-books support, running the gamut from instruction to politics and every thing in between and beyond. Works of the imagination, meaning fiction, cover numerous genres aimed to specific reader requirements. The so-called mainstream novel, the work I have labored to define, is the toughest category to monetize, especially in today's environment, which tempts creative writers to replicate and attracts the self-published.

The mainstream novel is also challenging to the author, who must be branded as a serious contributor in order to attain enough status to attract interest and sales where outlets for recognition and discoverability are shrinking.

While it was easy to make a prediction about the future of e-books it is no simple matter to predict the fate of the serious novelist in the ever-accelerating rough and tumble world of e-books. I suspect that most authors in this category will have to shoulder the task of relying on themselves to publicize, advertise, promote, and project his or her authorial name and titles, whether his or her books are published by a traditional publisher or via self-publishing. Authors of this material will either have to learn how to promote their own works or risk the ultimate curse of artistic endeavor... obscurity and dismissal.

Numerous ways to handle this daunting task have popped up on the net and I have no way of knowing their efficacy, although I caution those who enlist such services to check out those who have experienced them before hiring.

As for me, with my latest novel The Serpent's Bite, due out in September, I am undertaking a massive and very expensive experiment to test some creative aspects of the marketplace. Since the action of the novel takes place on a trek in the American wilderness and deals with a father's attempt to win back the love of his two estranged adult children, I am slicing and dicing the innards of the novel to plant my flag in the Internet turf within those categories in an attempt to harvest readers.

Naturally, the story in the novel will have to ride the waves of the mysterious tides of word of mouth and to run the gauntlet of the drawn swords of numerous critics to attain any traction in a traditionally skeptical environment. But the objective of my campaign will be above all, discoverability.

I hope to share my experiences with other novelists currently baffled, frustrated and confounded as they troll the angry seas for readers.

Download a free copy of Warren Adler's Trans Siberian Express.

Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections. His books are published in 25 languages worldwide and several have been adapted to movies, including "The War of the Roses" and "Random Hearts."