Sunday, March 14, 2010

Google Books, niche writers and living on royalties

I have been fussing about on Google Books. I am not sure I understand the site, but I figured out how to download old books in epub format and convert them for Kindle. I am reading Trollope at the moment--the Barchester novels--so I picked up a copy of The Way We Live Now. After running it through Calibre, it was formatted nicely for the Kindle. 

Being a fan of the gothic as well as the noir, I recently read Uncle Silas and enjoyed it thoroughly. The joy I got from Le Fanu's melodramatic horror sent me poking around for  gothics that I may have missed. At Google Books I picked up the delightfully named, The Suicide's Grave: Being the Private Memoirs & Confessions of a Justified Sinnerby James Hogg, and The Sister of St. Gothard by Elizabeth Cullen Brown. The good free stuff at the site is public domain, so browsing there is like wandering through a used book shop in which all the books are very old. The selection is hit and miss which gives me a bit of a thrill when I  find a gem. A dusty English book shop without the dust.

I found it interesting to type in the name of a gothic writer who would be lucky to have anything still in print--and if so, only by a publisher like Valencourt--to find out that the author was widely known and read in his or her day. The Google collection means average people like me can, without a trip to a major university, wander among those writers of bygone times whose books never made it onto the lists that currently constitute literature.  

With the advent of ebooks, Kindles, Ipads, blogs, ezines, print on demand and economic trouble in the old line publishing business, I tend to agree with the folks who argue that the old structure in which there are a small group of good writers--those who sell just enough but not too many books and get noticed by a lot of English professors--and a mass of hacks who cater to the unwashed masses, no longer works. Literary fiction has become just another genre with a small but dedicated audience. Today, every market is a niche market. If that is the case, who is to say there isn't a gold mine of niche writers in the public domain who got nudged out of print by being excluded from undergraduate reading lists, but nevertheless have a lot to offer a person like me who takes a lot of pleasure exploring unfashionable literary neighborhoods.

At the home front, The Duke of Morrison Street, is selling, but painfully slowly. I can tell I better be in the office tomorrow morning because I won't be living on my royalties. A lot of recovery folks read Malady Manor after reading The Duke, and liked it a little better. A friend and his wife read it. He told me that it made his wife cry and made him laugh. The Duke is fun. Malady Manor has a lot of humor, but is at its heart a serious novel.

I am keeping up on Oregon Elder Law, and tomorrow and putting on a training for a bunch of social service types on conflict resolution.