Here are some critical facts about the publishing business: 1) According to the Association of American Publishers, book sales in the United States fell almost 2% in 2009; 2) According to the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, newspaper circulation in the United States in 2009 dropped over 10%; 3) The venerable Washington Post ceased publishing its weekly Book World section, as did other major newspapers around the country; 4) Kirkus Reviews collapsed only to be rescued at the last minute by a passionate reader; 5) Publishers Weekly was jettisoned by Reed Business Information to its former publisher; 6) When newspapers introduce a “paywall” for online access to their content, the online traffic of “window shoppers” to newspaper sites is expected to plunge by the millions in the view of Rupert Murdoch; 7) Book imprints have been closed or merged at an unprecedented pace – the most recent being the closing of HarperStudio of Harper Collins, while famous standalone imprints like Doubleday are now part of bigger divisions; 8) Libraries across the nation are closing their doors or cutting their staff and slashing their acquisitions budgets because of State and local governmental budget deficits, according to the American Library Association; and, yet, 9) Sales of digital books were up over 175 % in 2009, according to the Association of American Publishers, but digital books only accounted for 3.3% of books sold as these are still early days in the Digital Book Revolution.
The publishing world is undergoing a revolutionary, disruptive period that is and will change the rules forever. How authors navigate the ever-changing gauntlet to reach readers is an art form still in development. How readers discover new books to read on their cool electronic devices is a process in evolution.
Out of this chaos, however, we see insightful, talented and personable authors who view these turbulent days as an opportunity. We chose for our profile, Steven Jay Griffel, because of his spirit, his sense of innovation and his willingness to embrace not only new technologies, but also old-style person-to-person communications. Although his debut novel entitled FORTY YEARS LATER was a digital first publication to the Amazon Kindle platform by the Schiller & Wells, Ltd. imprint of Stay Thirsty Publishing, it is his actions on the frontline of the digital book revolution that speak loudly to a new generation of pioneering authors willing to set out on an expedition to introduce their book and themselves to a reading public that is just beginning to become familiar with an unstoppable shift in reading from the physical book to the digital one.
Here are the facts:
1. In February 2010, Steven Jay contacted the Sharp Writ Book Awards, which did not include eligibility for books published originally as digital books, and persuaded the Smart Book Lovers organization with a worldwide membership to change their entry requirements:
“When Steven Griffel, the author of FORTY YEARS LATER, a book available exclusively on Kindle found that the prestigious Sharp Writ Book Awards were restricted to printed books, he immediately contacted Smart Book Lovers’s organizers to convince them to accept digital books. Smart Books Lovers eventually decided to offer a separate series of awards, the Sharp Writ Digital Book Awards for Kindle™, Nook™ and qualified .pdf books. The nominations for 2010 Sharp Writ Digital Book Awards are being accepted till April 15,” confirmed Adam Beslove, spokesman for Smart Book Lovers.
“Digitally published books on platforms and formats such as Kindle™, Nook™ and Adobe are rapidly growing in popularity,” Beslove continued, “and we want to acknowledge, include and review books published exclusively in digital format. The Sharp Writ Digital Book Awards are at the forefront in publishing technology; hence it is fitting and proper for us to recognize innovation and creativity in writing without limitations of format."
Even though Steven Jay broke new ground for the digital first publication of books, he took no part in the contest and did not enter his book for consideration. Paving the way for others was his goal.
2. Steven Jay embarked on a very personal approach to introducing himself and his work to the public. Doing something he had never done before, he began to book appearances at book club meetings in order to tell his story of becoming an author and answer questions from the club members about his book. His first book club meeting was in January, another in February and scheduling with four more clubs is underway. Making it personal, exposing oneself to one-to-one contact can be a risky business, especially since knowledgeable book club members can be an unforgiving audience if the work is not worthy of their time and money. Steven Jay took the risk and has been rewarded with comments like: “What other books can I read of yours?” to “Where else do you speak?” to “Do you teach? Can I take your class?”
3. Steven Jay launched a modest Facebook page in September 2008 with the help of his daughter Sarah. As a baby boomer, the power of social networking on the internet was a new concept for him. He really embraced the medium, however, when his book was released, and he established an avenue for fans and detractors to speak publicly to him via his Wall. In the past several months, his Facebook Wall has been alive with activity as readers have become aware of his book.
“I post ideas (often about FORTY YEARS LATER and the Digital Revolution) and enjoy the public's interaction. One can never know for sure where a public thread will go. I have had fiery FB debates on the issues of book v. digital; I have even fomented some intense Arab-Israeli/Jewish discussions. Yesterday, I posted something about Krakatoa - and how it influenced my career as an editor!” Steven Jay commented.
Although his book is not political in nature and not focused on Middle East conflicts, here is what one reader wrote to him on his public Facebook Wall:
I read your fun electronic book. I am very impressed with your abilities and imagination. In my opinion, it is perfect, exciting, and funny. I couldn't take my eyes off reading it. Congratulations and looking forward to read your next book.
FORTY YEARS LATER
by Steven Jay Griffel
Now I like to use some of Jill's Black Schwartz lines on you: Mr. Steven Jay Griffel, I am talking to you now as a human being with mind and heart; as an educator and editor. Please don't ever use the story of David and Goliath again in any of your writings. Also I ask you to advocate against using it by others. For long time the Jews have been correcting and educating others about how they like to be treated, and they are still demanding to remove and change all the literature that they find demeaning to their image and dignity. I am all for that, and I think all people should be respected and valued and honored, no mater what back ground they are from. But I see a double standard here. I notice that the Jews feel free to stereotype everybody and call anyone who is not a Jew Gentile and Goyim which mean dirty and degrading. Also the Palestinians had have been brutalized by the Jews since over 6 thousand years. The Jews want to take Palestine because they believe that their god Yahweh gave Palestine to them. David killed Goliath in the name of his god. The story of David and Goliath is as bad to the Palestinians as all the other discrimination literature that was written about the Jews. I am not blaming you for that story but I am blaming you for using it in your story. I think if you thought about it, and tried to see my point you would stop using it. Here, the Jews made the Pope deny what was put in the Bible that the blood of Jesus would be on the jews and their children and the children of their children. The Pope made the Modern Jews innocent of Jesus Blood. The Christians are trying hard to make up for hurting the Jews. But until when will the Jews keep persecuting the Palestinians? I think enough is enough, the Jews have to stop feeling entitled to the land of Palestine. Good Gods don't cause people to become enemies and sec them against each others and make them steel each other's lands.
I am not trying to de-jewing your story. You can be as Jew as you want but keep your hands off my land and my people, keep your god and belief to yourself. What your god tells should not involve me...
I think Jill Black Schwartz would be very proud of me:):)
My best regards and respect to you,
A Palestinian Woman”
And a comment from another reader of his book:
…[T]his kind of response is not unknown to me. I have experienced it over the years as a result of working with Palestinian and North African Musicians. I have heard their side of their personal stories and learned that there is more to the story than meets the eye or the history books.... The only answer is tolerance and acceptance. Still, as a writer, it must be thrilling to receive such an impassioned letter. It means you are indeed touching a nerve, and that is good.
Best from M.”
By using social networking, Steven Jay has opened the door to global interaction in a forum never before as easily possible, and his book has spurred spirited debates.
4. Although the climate at libraries is turning more grim by the day, Steven Jay has contacted several libraries in the New York City area to introduce the concept of a digital book author presenting at their institution. As the libraries transition to the use of digital book readers and the necessary infrastructure to enable them to lend digital books, both the Queens Library System and the New York Public Library system have expressed keen interest in Steven Jay presenting his work to reading groups. His efforts in breaking new ground will help pave the way for other authors who chose to embrace a digital first release of their work.
To further make his point, Steven Jay noted, “I am working on a new novel titled THE EX-CONVERT: what happens when a middle-aged publisher, writer, book collector collides with the Digital Age. No revolution is completely bloodless. There is always collateral damage.”
In sum, the world of publishing is changing at the speed of light, and those authors who embrace the change, utilize the tools of the internet, and are willing to put themselves in front of people, regardless of the compliments or criticisms, can get their message out and can find their audience. Although it is easier for the bestselling author or national newsmaker to find that audience, authors who have something to say and who say it well now have tools at hand like never before. As the disruption in the world of traditional publishing continues at breakneck pace, pioneering authors like Steven Jay Griffel are paving the way for the greatest democratization of ideas ever known.