E-Books: The Next Front for Journalists in Transition

Over the weekend, I read a couple of blog posts that highlighted for me the shifting battlefront in the digital-media wars. Twitter is no longer a matter for debate among thinking journalists. Twitterland is settled, and the analog natives have either converted or consigned themselves to the dustbin of history. The next front is something quite different: e-books.

In response to a reader of his superb recent series of posts on why and how to use Twitter, Steve Buttry addressed the question of how to handle curmudgeonly journalists who continue to resist it. He gave two answers. First, he counseled patience: “we all learn and grow at different rates and in different ways.” Then he gave a franker and more satisfying answer: If by now journalists don’t want to be “part of the exciting digital future of journalism,” screw ‘em. “I won’t waste much time and energy,” he wrote, “on people who have decided not to join that future.”

The next new-media challenge for journalists, I suspect, will be a diametrically different area, covered by Carla King on MediaShift last Friday: E-books and self-publishing.

The resistance will not be so fierce. For print journalists, the ultra-short-form concept of publishing tiny bursts of copy over the course of a day was completely alien. But what journalist hasn’t thought at some point or another about going long-form and writing a book?

Realistically, though, it was only an option for the very few.  You needed luck, persistence, and a good agent to break into book publishing.

Now you only need a manuscript and an online publishing service.

So what’s stopping you?

Well, first, you may not know how to go about it. King’s post, the first of a three-part series, is a terrific place to start. I’d also recommend reading Joe Konrath’s blog “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing” (even though it’s aimed at fiction writers) and following Dan Blank and Porter Anderson on Twitter.

You might also think that you’re just not a book writer—articles are your forte. But as Jon Meacham is quoted as saying in a New York Times article on e-books, “‘the nature of a book is changing. . . . The line between articles and books is getting ever fuzzier.’” If you’ve ever bemoaned your article getting cut to fit into the space available, you’re a prime candidate for an e-book.

For many journalists, their entrée into book publishing may be initiated by their employer, as the Times article suggests: “Swiftly and at little cost, newspapers, magazines and sites like The Huffington Post are hunting for revenue by publishing their own version of e-books, either using brand-new content or repurposing material that they may have given away free in the past.”

But whether or not their employers give them a push, a case can be made that most journalists should consider self-publishing their own work. Will it make them a lot of money or lead to a more traditional book contract? Probably not. But a self-published e-book can be a tremendous tool for personal branding, and may one day become an expected item on a journalist’s resume.

Besides, who doesn’t want to say, “I wrote a book”?