Once upon a time…
Wearing a mask into a bank meant you were up to something nefarious.
Checking out a printed library book didn't require an appointment.
Seeing your doctor was literal, not virtual.
Making sourdough bread was somehow mysterious and esoteric.
And once upon a time a book was a series of parchment sheets, lettered by hand, bound together between two boards with strong linen cord and kept safe from all but learned scholars. Their content was philosophical or scriptural. Back then, what passed for fiction was spoken-or sung-by troubadours or court jesters or storytellers.
So when did fiction begin to be written? Assemble three philologists and you'll probably get three different (and passionately held) opinions. So let's narrow it down. When did English fiction (as opposed to Spanish, or Russian or Greek) begin?
Was the first English novel Le Morte d'Arthur (1485)? Pilgrim's Progress (1678)? Robinson Crusoe (1719)? All were issued as books, although some first probably saw the light of day as series of pamphlets. They were series of paper sheets, printed by machine, bound between two (usually cloth- or leather-covered) thick, rigid boards.
Later those boards became thinner, and eventually limper. Paperback books were inexpensive (Jude remembers when most of them cost a quarter), and popular fiction took off.
The next evolutionary step was inevitable. When personal computers became generally available, ebooks were the next logical step. A few brave pioneers, like Ginny McBlain, dipped virtual toes in the electronic sea and spurred the evolution from paper to pixel. We asked Ginny what led her along that strange and new path. Here is what she told us:
E-books are commonplace now, but twenty-five years ago, when I first submitted to an e-publisher, I leaped into the unknown.
Opportunity first attracted me to e-publishing. My agent was unsuccessful in placing my romance novel with a New York publisher. A fellow author had tried something new. I was intrigued by the possibilities. What did I have to lose?
What I know about computers could fit on the head of a pencil eraser. In the beginning, I knew even less. I had no idea how the book would be published or how to market it. In February 1996, I received my first contract. The book was released in October of that year.
The web address was long and awkward. The book was formatted for PCs only. My friends with Macs couldn’t buy the book. Few wanted to sit at a computer to read. The price the publisher had to pay for encryption was so high that there was little profit for him and sales were low. But my foot was in the door.
And the industry had promise, although there was no viable portable reader. The Rocket e-Book was finally introduced. I got peculiar looks when I used it in public.You’re reading a book? On an electronic device?Weird.
My stories really don’t adhere to the accepted mold. E-Books are about great stories, not fitting manuscripts into prescribed boxes. The beauty of e-publishing is liberty to write your own way. One can mix genres and expect a long shelf life. Of the seven books I’ve written five are still available, years after their first release.
Improbable though it was, I became a pioneer in an industry that came of age when good readers were launched.