Stranger Danger

We’re at an interesting point in techno-history. The internet has become a huge part of our lives, intertwined with our daily communications. As someone who works in a home office in Wyoming, the internet IS my place of business. I’m on the ‘net all day long with my colleagues in Boston, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Colorado, Florida, Virginia. We email. We IM. The internet allows us to shout over the virtual cubicle wall.

And my writing network is pretty much all virtual now. No one else in my small, remote town is writing the kind of thing that I am. The gals who are part of my online network form a daily, intimate part of my life also. We blog. We exchange Facebook comments.

It all feels very natural to me. But it’s easy to forget that ten years ago, I didn’t have this kind of virtual network. We had to fight the corporate policy to let us IM each other. Twenty years ago, I was using A-1 Mail on the university system in a DOS environment. I also have to remember that many people aren’t as comfortable online as the rest.

Uncomfortable and new mean scary. And sure, there are bizarre stories of stalking on the internet. Crazies meeting up. Perverts luring young girls and boys to bad ends. But I wonder what the real stats on that are?

My friend, Allison, is rooming with Liz and me at the RT Convention. In her post yesterday she called us strangers. Okay, her husband is in law enforcement, so he’s paranoid. He only sees the worst of humanity. But it’s so funny to me, because I hadn’t thought of her as a stranger. I suppose I could be someone other than who I appear to be online. Or she could. Liz, I’ve met in person, but did that really tell me anything more about her than I knew before? Liz has a sister — maybe she sent the sister to meet me, to masquerade for some kind of nefarious purpose. Maybe “Liz” is really some perverted male serial killer hoping to lure me to a hotel in Orlando, where I’ll meet my terrible fate.

Or Liz, Allison and I are all exactly who we say we are and we’ll have a great time in Florida. Which is more likely?

To E-Pub or Not to Be?

I didn’t post yesterday because I was on short time. After the workout, I grabbed breakfast, cleaned-up and headed down to Brighton, Colorado for the monthly meeting of the Colorado Romance Writers (CRW). I met up with Liz Pelletier in Ft. Collins and we drove the rest of the way together. Meeting Liz in person was great fun, since we’d only ever talked online, via the FFP loop (the Futuristic, Fantasy & Paranormal interest group of RWA).

The CRW folks welcomed me graciously and with great enthusiasm. Renee Hagar, who writes as Renee Knowles, and both writes and is an editor for Wild Rose Press, gave a workshop. Wild Rose Press is interesting because it’s an e-publisher. I confirmed with Renee that they have no bricks and mortar offices. The editors work out of their homes, books are published either electronically or via a print-on-demand service, probably through Amazon.

Wild Rose Press is an up and coming publisher for romance, which continues to be the hottest selling genre. And they have my full manuscript right now. It makes a writer like me feel torn. If Wild Rose Press will have me, how could I turn them down? Yet, electronic publishing still carries a stigma. RWA will not allow ebooks for consideration in the industry’s most prestigous award, the Rita — the romance equivalent of the Hugo or the Nebula. RWA’s stance is that the writer is not valued enough in e-publishing. When few writers make more than $1,000 on an e-book, RWA has a point. Those are hardly professional wages. To provide a contrast, ten years ago Redbook magazine paid me $3,000 for one essay, which was right about the “industry standard rate” of $1 per word.

E-publishing is clearly the future. As the big publishing houses tighten their belts — Houghton Mifflin Harcourt editors were recently told not to acquire new books — as printing materials grow more expensive and less acceptable in the Green Era, shipping and distribution grow more problematic, e-publishing is the answer to so many problems. E-book readers are becoming popular and affordable. And a younger generation is coming up without the resistance so many of us feel to reading electrons on a screen. I think there’s no denying that e-books will eventually lose their stigma and will be the primary, if not exclusive medium, for reading in the future.

And yet, the advent of the internet has clearly devalued the written word. Blogs such as this one, where I write for free, abound. Anyone can pay to have a book published. E-publishers can take risks on new authors because it costs them little investment — a double-edge sword for the writing world as it’s easier for a new author to get published and yet, it implies that the standards have lowered.

And the writing itself? Is inarguably cheaper. Never mind a writer being paid $1/word. From an e-publisher, she may be getting less than 50 cents per book. Which, of course, is better than no book at all.

What a brave new world, and what shall we make of it?