THE BLOG

The Book Gathers Dust: Independent Book Production and Digital Publishing

07/02/2014 16:21 GMT | Updated 08/04/2014 10:59 BST

The book gathers dust. I won't claim to understand much of the world of printing, binding, editing, typesetting, graphic design (etc.) - the processes necessary to publish a 'real-life' book - but their end is inevitable: the book will gather dust out on the shelf, next to hundreds of its cousins suffering the same fate.

For me - crucially - this is of no concern. This is not a problem or an obstacle for the book, nor a suggestion to its demise. Fundamentally, the book gathering dust is its own defence and its reason for being.

My first published fiction work - sixteen compiled short stories - will begin its dust collection in February 2014. As the writer, I cannot stress enough the personal significance of the work being printed as a real, heavy, tactile book. During the drafting and editing process, I frequently referred to my tablet reader to test out the material; to remove myself from the tapping production tools and to read as if each piece was finished. The laptop and keyboard represented the "work in progress". Too many emails hastily thrown together; too many scatterfire flashes of ideas for future stories; too many research articles scrolled through and skimmed because they looked too long. The laptop was tethered inextricably to the creative process, the tablet to rough semblances of completion. The book, however, was the first real and meaningful promise that I had contributed something (however modest) to the written word.

Again, there are several further links in the chain: as I write this essay, shortly before the publication date, my book is finished and delivered. It was lovingly designed and set and persuaded into physical press by my publishers Wounded Wolf Press (I have a lot to thank them for). I played only an onlooker's role during their hard work and long hours, but we concluded with an artefact that physically, tangibly is. I argue that this helps the reader as much as it satisfies my own creative ambitions. My book will gather dust on the shelf, but in doing so it remains extended through time for the dust to be shaken off. I would much rather information gathers dust on my shelf than gathers dust in my memory.

There is part of me that considers the argument itself superfluous. Of course a real, heavy, tactile publication of written text is still appealing in 2014. Of course the convenience of e-readers, tablets and laptops is no competition for the satisfying beauty of ink, page and sleeve art. I could even go further: the popularity of transportable technology and the digitisation of media has even pushed the physical publication further towards contemporary necessity. The book gives us the antidote. The book tears our gaze from the computer screen and our fingers from the keyboard. It has a sense of completion, of finality, of significance that fleetingly transient digital information can't match. Where data in the social media galaxy becomes obsolete almost as soon as the "publish" button has been clicked, to wrest control of that same term back from the GUI accords at least a comparative reverence and honesty to the text. Where historically the published book represented collective information or shared memory, it is now one of few opportunities for daily, accessible escape from collective misinformation and shared banality. The published book is not only important aesthetically, but as a rare and treasurable window into antiquity in a house whose floors and walls are sleepless with new broadcast.

I have no doubt, for example, that few readers will bookmark this article and revisit. Almost immediately after its "publication", this essay will vanish. And I don't particularly object to this. As far as I can tell, I'm not introducing new ideas in this piece. I'm stating my own beliefs. If they became indelibly etched into the canon of literature, it would be a lot more difficult to change them, which of course is the most dangerous and damaging facet of beliefs. Further, and at the risk of sounding like a televised tech commercial: I can access information as quickly as I can click on it; I can browse weighty concepts condensed to 140 characters with option to explore or discard, depending on my inclination; I can read news from the world over, narrowed through filtered lenses of whichever political, religious or moral movement I wish to represent incoming truth. And it can't gather dust.

But at the other end of the information scale, my book - and the works of my peers, influences, idols, rivals, Danielle Steele and so on - can sit happily under a greying protective sheath of dead skin and pollen and cobwebs, forever rewarding the reader with their availability and their consistency, forever unable to display ads, forever disconnected from "connections", forever completed. I'm thankful for the dust.

Devourings, James Vella's first short story collection, is published by Wounded Wolf Press on February 17th, priced £6.99 (plus postage). Order your copy here.

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