Larry D. Sweazy is a commercial indexer and novelist. He writes a series of Westerns for Berkley Books featuring Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger. The series starts with Rattlesnake Season and continues with the fifth installment, The Coyote Tracker, forthcoming in August of 2012. Sweazy’s first mystery novel, The Devil’s Bones, was published by Five Star in March of 2012.
Long before I was a writer, I was a reader. A voracious reader. I picked my books because of cool, artistic covers that caught my eye, because of genre, because of a writer’s reputation, and countless other reasons that I’m probably not even aware of. The biggest reason I bought a book was, and is, a writer’s reputation. If I’d read one book by a certain writer and loved it, then I wanted more of the same—but different. Whether it’s an eBook, or a real book, that I’m buying, my criteria for the purchase hasn’t changed now that I’m a professional writer. But I’m not so sure that’s true of the world of books, at the moment, in 2012. It seems everything is changing, including books themselves.
I’ve bought countless books off the rack at the drugstore, online, at book stores, independents and chains, and in the end, after I’d read the book, it didn’t matter where I bought it. I have hundreds of books on my bookshelves. I can’t tell you by looking at them where they came from—but I can tell you whether they were good or not, whether they satisfied me, whether the stories took me away, whether I got my money’s worth.
Now my choices for eBooks are different. The locations are fewer, on one hand, but much easier to get to on the other. And eBooks change. If an author, or company, doesn’t think the book is selling as much as it should, the price changes, or the cover changes, one day it’s free, the next day, it’s not. Does the text change, too? Can I, as a reader, really trust the quality of the eBook? Everything changes with the press of a button, on a whim, or after a day or two of dissatisfaction of no sales, or the lack of blockbuster numbers. Really, it’s like a book is never finished now, like it’s OK to put a book out into the world as a beta test.
I can see the allure of the never-ending book as an author—we don’t think a book is ever finished. But as a reader, as a buyer? No. I’m sorry, I don’t see the allure of buying a book that’s never finished. I want to buy something that’s final. Done. Completed.
After a book is printed there are no second chances. Yes, there are second editions and beyond, but they’re announced on the cover. The buyer, the reader, wants to know what they are getting. If I buy an eBook by an author, read it, like it, comment on it, write an Amazon review, then two weeks later discover said author has completely changed the eBook to drive more sales…then I’ll remember that, and most likely, never buy another book by that author again. I’ll feel cheated.
Once an eBook is published it should stay published in its original form. Some books take time to find. The Internet and eBooks allow for that more than ever—if a book doesn’t change. So my advice to writers, traditional or self-published, is to publish your book when it’s finished and not before. I don’t want to read a first draft or a tenth draft. I want to read a book that is the writer’s best effort. I want to buy a book that has been published well. I want to read a book that’s done, that has a good-looking cover, professional editing, and a great story. It doesn’t matter where I buy the book (though there will be those that argue that it does—and they may be right, that’s just not the point of this posting). It does matter whether the book is finished or not. Final, completed, professionally published, no matter where it was published, or who published it.
I love buying books. A majority of readers are collectors of one sort or another. I have some books that I will take with me wherever I go, because I’ve been moved to tears by them, and changed and entertained by them. I want to keep those books close. To read again, to hold, if just for a moment, to recapture that moment… of completion. But if I feel like I’ve been had, just marketed to, sold a bill of goods, and bought an eBook that is ever-changing, well, I’ll leave that book behind. Or I’ll hit the delete button. That book will have no place in my collection, or my heart.