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Publishing: Change is Here

Publishing: Change is Here

I went to the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles a few weeks ago looking for answers because I had a dilemma. The new iPad seemed perfect for the type of book I'd written - the true story of a boy from the projects who'd stolen a bus after Hurricane Katrina and driven his neighbors to safety. I had photos of the route he and I had retraced together, links to newscasts of the event, video footage of the devastation the storm brought to the Gulf coast, beautiful satellite images of the hurricane's path - all pieces of the story that could only be told in an e-book. The problem was that I'd found an agent - a really good one at Trident Media - who was shopping the book for a print version with publishers. Would I lose my agent if I self-published? Was I impatiently selling my talents short by "jumping the gun" and uploading my book to Amazon on my own? 

At the conference several pieces of information came together that convinced me my instincts to upload my book were good. First, I talked with agents and writers who agreed with me that although publishers claim to want multicultural non-fiction, my book would be a tough sell. The latest controversy over publishers printing white characters on the covers of books with black protagonists certainly seems telling. And we've become so narrow in our definition of "non-fiction" that we have trouble including narratives written in an engaging style in the category. (Even the term "non-fiction" seems negative - like it's somehow inferior to fiction - a fiction "wannabe". Why not "true stories" instead?) Secondly, I listened to leaders in the publishing industry suggest that SCBWI establish an arm that would become a "clearing house" for self-publishing authors - a vetting agency to help readers find good books that had not made it through traditional gatekeepers in the ferociously competitive climate brought about by a stagnant economy and an uncertain future for publishers worried about the effect of digital books on their business. I realized that the stigma against self-publishing would soon be gone as more authors took their careers into their own hands in a digital world. And I realized there were two more aspects of the new model that really appealed to me:

1.I could launch my Katrina story in time for the five year anniversary of the storm in just a few short weeks - a process that would take a year and a half or more with traditional publishing.
2.I really liked the idea of readers as gatekeepers. In spite of some folks' worries that the new model of authors publishing online will bring thousands of poorly written books for us to wade through to find a good one, I knew that the same word-of-mouth process (personal recommendations, online reviews, etc.) will help us find good books - just as we find them in giant book stores full of books that don't interest us.

So here it is - my announcement that tomorrow I'll launch my book online - in time for the Five Year Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on August 29. It's called Last Bus Out, and I hope you'll download the free sample that will be available on Amazon. It's really easy to load the free Kindle app onto your computer, phone, or Blackberry. (PC's or Macs are actually preferable because Apple's refusal to acknowledge Flash will hinder your iPhone's ability to play the videos; and your Kindle will only show the photos in black-and-white - a real shame.) If you like the sample, I hope you'll read the book. Courtney's story is compelling; he's a great kid who's managed to make something of his life in the face of poverty and neglect. His took bold action that he knew could land him in jail - while government officials posed for cameras. It's time. It's time for Courtney's story to find readers. I hope you'll be one.

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Posted in August, 2010