6 August

Reading: Battenkill Books. “The Story Of Rose.”

by Jon Katz
The Perfect Day

I am a bit in shock about Monday, one of the memorable days of my writing life. The day began with a midnight book launch party online with nearly 9,000 friends and strangers from all over the world celebrating “The Story of Rose.”  We stayed up till nearly 3 a.m. waiting for Amazon and Barnes & Noble to release my first e-book. (Apple was first out of the gate, ll p.m.).  People reported their downloading progress and gave me chapter-by-chapter accounts of the book, live in real-time. Never was part of anything quite like it. It felt like a party. It was a party.  The morning turned strange when thousands of people find they couldn’t download the enhanced version of the book from Itunes or Amazon and  just about everyone of them let me know. These readers supported one another, shared information, made noise for me and my book just about everywhere,  guided one another. The best of the Internet, the best of the new kind of digital community.

Random House and Apple cleared the problems up by early afternoon and then the lovely reviews and messages came rolling in and the book really seemed to pick up steam. It was a bestseller almost everywhere. Now word-of-mouth becomes a big factor and we will see what happens. I love the book and am proud of it and excited about it. It is beautiful and heartfelt.

This long and wonderful day ended with a talk at the Battenkill Bookstore. It was ironic because nobody could buy my new book there ( all of my books can be pre-ordered from Connie – 518 677-2515) and I will sign them). I shared the podium with Connie Brooks, the owner, both of us talking about what the e-books mean for writing and bookstores. We were shocked by the crowd, a full house, standing room only. Red and Lenore went to work on the people who came and kept them loved and happy. It was Red’s first reading and he definitely gets the idea.

Connie talked about the growing power of Amazon over books and book prices, and about how e-books eat into her revenue, even as she understands why people buy them. She said she cannot compete with their low prices, and she wants bookstores to survive. E-books may threaten that. Amazon keeps pushing the price of books down, she said.

I talked about how publishing had changed, how hardcover book sales were declining, and how digital publishing was bringing all kinds of new people into book-buying and reading. I said I did not think I could afford to ignore the rise of e-books if I wanted to remain relevant as a writer. I talked about the leveling impact the Internet was having on traditional forms of culture – media, publishing, music, broadcasting. Traditional gatekeepers are outside of the gates. It was shocking to me, I said, to be writing a book that sells for $2.99, more than a cup of coffee in many places. But I understand the reasoning – lots of people, including new readers, will come to my work. It is a smart thing to do.

As many of you know,  I do not feel that books or story-telling is entering a dark age. The Internet is awash in blogs, stories, essays, stories. Writers are everywhere, telling the stories in so many new forms.  People who dislike e-books probably did not imagine themselves reading blogs every day. In many ways blogs are becoming a form of the new book – adventure, connection, community, memoir. More people are buying more books in different forms at lower prices than ever before. The struggles of bookstores is a part of the story, but not the whole story. And many bookstores, especially those that are willing to change are surviving and even, in some cases, prospering.  I said I was not about to give up being a writer because people preferred paper to other forms of reading text or did not wish to change. I spoke of my long-standing and passionate wish to create new kinds of books telling stories in a new way. “The Story of Rose” is one of those books. New structure, new kind of narrative, text, still and moving images.

I also talked about being committed to my paper books. I see no sign of them disappearing, my publisher believes they are important, and so do I. And “The Story Of Rose” has already triggered interest in my next paper book, “Dancing Dogs,” out September 25. Connie said she had a slew of orders from people reading my website and people who liked “Rose” and wanted more. E-books may well promote the larger and more expensive paper books. That already seems to be happening with me.   I imagine myself doing e-books and paperbooks. Writers, I said,  have suffered losses in revenue along with bookstores. But confronted with change, creative people get creative. I do not intend to be standing up in front of a crowd in a few years explaining that I am no longer a writer because I am loyal to paper and brick-and-mortar.

It was wonderful to kick off “The Story Of Rose” in my favorite bookstore, definitely a curious setting for an e-book.  Although many people seemed upset that I had chosen to write an e-book, the crowd was very warm and friendly and asked thoughtful and probing questions. I signed a bunch of paper books. There was no tension of any sort in the room, just people who love books trying to figure out the future.  I appreciate Connie’s graciousness. I am so grateful for Monday, and thanks to all of you for supporting this book so enthusiastically. I am lucky to have this community around me. I was so fortunate to have Rose by my side when I needed her so badly, and I am humbled to see how much people loved her.

I am tired – got only two or three hours of sleep today, but very happy, very excited. Wednesday is my birthday and my wondrous wife is taking me up in  balloon and then off to some hideaway for a day of quiet connection. I think this was my best day as a writer.  And I am nodding off, so to bed. See you tomorrow. I think this book is on the move.

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