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National Read an E-Book Week runs to March 14.
“I Have Read the Future,” declared the headline of a 1999 Slate piece that lauded the Rocket eBook. In it, author Jacob Weisberg argued that next Darwinian transition in publishing was imminent.
But while major publishing houses are suffering sliding sales and have axed jobs, e-books have been a perennial Next Big Thing—except to authors without name recognition or comfy advances who’ve taken cues not from Slate but from indie musicians. “I’ve seen bands do this for a decade,” says Don Carr, a press secretary and Washington City Paper contributor.
Carr self-published his satirical novel Psaurian as an e-book after agents wouldn’t bite. “After a while, you say: ‘Fuck it. I’ll do it on my own,’” he says.
David Rothman understands the sentiment. Since the late 1970s, he’s been shopping The Solomon Scandals, a thriller that’s been rebuffed by publishing houses large and small. “It’s no longer like the F. Scott [Fitzgerald] days, when Maxwell Perkins decided what books to publish. Now it’s the MBAs,” Rothman says.
Rothman went on to write six nonfiction books, many of them about computers and digital publishing. In 1992, he founded TeleRead, a Web site dedicated to lobbying for digital library systems. And this January, the final draft of the book Rothman banged out on a Nixon-era IBM Selectric finally hit streets—Twilight Times released the book in both electronic and paperback formats.
Quintin Peterson, an officer with the D.C. Police Department’s Public Information Office, has followed a similar approach for his novels and short stories. Peterson, who was anthologized in the 2006 George Pelacanos–edited D.C. Noir, self-published his first novel, SIN, in 2000.
Since then, he’s self-published a second novel and achieved modest success with some Amazon Shorts, stories that people who own the company’s Kindle e-book reader can get for 49 cents apiece. His first effort, “A Dark Place,” made the list’s Top 100.
“There’s not much money in it,” Peterson says. “But it’s not about the money—it’s about making sure that you get read.”
“E-books allow me to be optimistic about publishing,” Carr says. Electronic publishing, he says, “makes me want to keep writing more books.”
Here, some works by local authors that you can read without causing a single tree to fall.