If you travel a lot for business like I do, you know the scenario. You’re in some vast airport or train station, bored out of your skull, waiting for a connection. Like some corporate hermit crab, you are dragging half your office with you: paperwork, your computer, your cell phone, maybe presentation materials and samples, and on top of that you’ve got your bag with clothes, toiletries, and creature comfort items. You don’t want to hit the bar at 10:00 AM, and your really really don’t need any of the fatty fast foods offered in most concourses. What you would dearly love to do is just shut the place out, settle down with a good book, and lose yourself in it for the next two hours.
The trouble is, that 1072 page New York Times Bestseller that you just got in the travel store weighs more than your laptop, and set you back nearly forty bucks. If you’re like me and read incessantly on trips, three or four of these monsters along with your other stuff constitutes an exercise program.
But several months ago I was on a flight out of Miami, settling into my seat to read–a slim volume from a small press someone had loaned me, perfect length for the flight–, when I happened to glance over at the laptop in front of the guy next to me. It was open and displaying text and hard to miss.
Okay, so I was nosy. But what I realized I was seeing were the opening lines of the book I was reading.
“Excuse me,” I said, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but are you the author?” and I held up the little book.
He just laughed. “No, I just wanted something to read, so I downloaded it in the airport. Pretty good, don’t you think?”
Turns out that, just like downloading music for you Ipod or mp3 player, you can download text to read. The download fees, since the publishers don’t have to go to the trouble of producing and shipping books, are a tiny fraction of the cost of hardcopy works, and there are downloadable formats available for laptops, pda’s, even, in some cases, cell phones. Looking at the two other
novels I’d brought with me–a collected weight approximating that of a boat anchor–I was intrigued.
That evening at the hotel I booted up and began to explore the world of literary downloads. Turns out many if not most of the major publishers offer downloadable copies of their works, most in .pdf format, some in custom reader formats designed to stop file sharing and duplication. I managed to find online copies of the two monsters I was toting for about four bucks each, donated the hardcopy novels to a coffeehouse near the hotel, and began my career as a literary downloader.
The conviences are manifold. I have to carry my laptop with me anyway, and since text files are small, I can take a nearly unlimited supply of reading material. Don’t like what you’re reading? The downloads are inexpensive enough that you don’t feel badly about deleting them and downloading something else.
Then, looking on the web for something to read at yet another airport, I discovered the small presses. Wow! One of the new developments of the Internet has been the growth of online small press operations, usually specializing in a handfull of authors, but handling all of their works. When the works become successful, the big boys pick them up and crank them out, but until then, there is an entire sea of brilliant writing, many times available only on the web. Moreover, you’re not limited to novel length works. Novellas, Novelettes, Short Stories, Poetry Collections, all are available for download for pocket change. I’ve taken to timing my reading by my trips, so I downloaded a spooky novelette for Halloween from Wild Shore Press (www.wildshorepress.com) which was exactly the length I needed for my flight to LAX, and a wonderful short story from Chippewa Press (www.chippewapublishing.com) for my layover in Denver on the way back, all without lugging books around.
There are a number of sites that can give you an intro into the world of the literary download. Preditors and Editors, a wonderful site for writers, has a large list of small publishers, most of which have downloadable works (www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/). Since many of the small presses contract with publish on demand companies for hardcopy of their works, many of these printing companies have full listings and downloads available at their sites from many different presses (try http://www.lulu.com/,) and there are scores of online magazines and journals available for easy download.
So if you see this girl at the airport, engrossed in her computer, it might be me. The world of the literary download has saved my back, my time, and a lot of my money, and has opened me up to a whole world of new writing. Give it a whirl!