Why Literary Elite Finally Say Yes to E-Books

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

After stubbornly resisting conversion of their work into e-books, J. K. Rowling, Ray Bradbury, Judy Blume and, most recently, Thomas Pynchon, finally succumbed. What persuaded them?

Cynics will say they sold out, surrendering to the siren song of riches as e-sales exceed p-sales for a growing number of authors, giving an adrenalin boost to dwindling fortunes. Certainly the writer who does not respond positively to that song falls into Dr. Johnson’s classic characterization of “Blockhead”.

But is money their only motive? Did these men and women of the highest integrity simply sell their souls for a pot of lucre? Or was there some other reason they heeded the call to go digital?

A personal anecdote may shed light on why they did it. Over a decade ago the e-book company I founded, E-Reads, generated its very first royalty statements, and sales were modest indeed. I happened to be having lunch with one of the authors who had put her book into our program, and when she asked how her novel was selling, I embarrassedly produced her statement. “We sold one copy.”

She gazed at the statement, with its meager single-digit performance, for a long time. Then she looked up wistfully at me. “I wonder who that person is.”

I’ve never forgotten her response, for it brought home to me the true, the only, reason that writers write: to be read. The money, the royalties, the fortunes even, are undeniably wonderful byproducts. But ultimately the argument that clinches it for the holdouts is simple: You will reach more readers.

We need to be reminded, as I was that day, that writers write for love and would do it for nothing as long as someone – literally some one – were out there to read their work.

Details in After Long Resistance, Pynchon Allows Novels to Be Sold as E-Books by Julie Bosman in the New York Times.

Richard Curtis

2 thoughts on “Why Literary Elite Finally Say Yes to E-Books

  1. Evelyn Trimborn

    Yes, I remember those good old days as well; I got my first readers via ebook in 1996 and have never looked back. The excitement of anyone reading your book, even if you get a bad review, is encouraging enough to make you write more, to write even better. Of course the money helps, but it is being heard that counts.

    Since those heady days of my fiction being published in ebook format thanks to the incredible pioneer in this sphere, Joan Mullally, I have switched over to non-fiction and spent most of my time writing how-to titles for Eternal Spiral Books because of the number of people we can help all over the world through ebooks. Helping others makes it all worthwhile, even if it only ever sells one copy.

  2. Leigh Purtill

    I love that story! I too wonder about my readers every time I see a new review on Goodreads or Amazon. Who was he or she? What else do they read? What’s their background? And most importantly, what spoke to them in my book?



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