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Saturday, March 19, 2011

First Person: Jonathan Fournier on e-publishing

Production photo from The Boy and the Wrapper

The Growing E-Book Industry and Why We Should Be Part of It
The benefits are immediate. You have a product easily available online.
by Jonathan Fournier

As some of you may have heard, I recently had my one-act Christmas romantic comedy, The Boy and the Wrapper, published… well self-published… as an e-book. After working on it for 2+ years and watching it play to enthusiastic audiences at the last Montreal Fringe Festival, I knew that putting it into a form where it could be discovered by a wider audience would be the next logical step. I did briefly entertain the notion of sending it around to publishers, but it’s very intimidating; first having to pick out the few publishers among North American publishers who accept plays, then coming to the sad realization that no one would want to publish a single one-act (40 page) play… you’d have to wait for them to want to make an anthology. I decided pretty quickly to go it alone and the booming “e-book” market makes that all too easy to do.

Once you’re confident that you’ve done everything you had to, submitting the book is as simple as a click of the mouse.

Now, I’m not writing this article just to plug The Boy and the Wrapper (though, of course that’s a bonus), I’m writing it to encourage other local writers to consider taking the leap and publishing their work online. There have been some great Montreal-born shows in the past few years and their scripts are completely inaccessible to the world outside of Montreal. Theatre-lovers are being denied the chance to read great works of art and the writers are denying themselves the chance to get wider recognition for their work. I dream of a not-so-distant future where all of our work is accessible (and, with a little luck, profiting) online and people from other theatre communities are reading them and saying “Hey, these Montrealers are coming up with some interesting stuff.”

It’ll take a few weeks for the book to be shipped to the bigger retailers (Apple, Sony, Barnes & Noble, etc.), but good things are worth waiting for.

The process is very simple, I used’s e-book conversion service to convert my script into an e-book format (I believe there are other similar service providers, but Smashwords is the one I know and trust, so that is the one I’ll refer to). Creating an account on the Smashwords website is completely free and, once you have an account, you are welcome to submit any book or script you have for e-book conversion, which is again completely free. All that’s required of you is a few hours of prep work: there are some simple guidelines regarding fonts, margins, letter sizes, etc. to adhere to (if you don’t follow them, you’ll end up with one ugly e-book). You’ll also have to add some legal text to the front. A cover image and an ISBN number are not immediately necessary, but you’ll need to attach them if you want the book to go to Apple and other big retailers. Once you’re confident that you’ve done everything you had to, submitting the book is as simple as a click of the mouse. If the book does not have any obvious formatting errors in it, it will quickly become available to read/buy on the Smashwords website. You’ll have a link for your book and a link to your “Author’s page”; all you need to start marketing. It’ll take a few weeks for the book to be shipped to the bigger retailers (Apple, Sony, Barnes & Noble, etc.), but good things are worth waiting for. The online book industry is increasing in size every year and the new generation of portable technology designed for reading will only cause the trend to rise even more over the next few years. It just makes sense for us to take advantage of it.
I’ve enjoyed the journey of online self-publishing. To the writers reading this, I ask: “what do you have to lose?”

The benefits are immediate. You have a product easily available online. You have links to your book and to a promotional page about yourself that you can use for marketing/portfolio purposes. Your “Googleability” increases dramatically. You can download your play not just on your computers, but on just about any smart-phone, e-reading device, iPod, etc. Plus, it just feels good knowing that you’re a (self-)published author. As for the downsides… there aren’t any big ones. You set your own price for your work. You retain the rights to your work and can still choose to have it printed if you want. The one thing about the whole process of online publishing that I would consider a minor downside, is that you don’t have the same control over how the pages look (compared to the control you have in a printed book; i.e. the pages of an e-book look different on a big screen computer and on an iPod, and there’s not much you can do about that).
I’ve enjoyed the journey of online self-publishing. To the writers reading this, I ask: “what do you have to lose?” I say there’s nothing to lose. I view online publishing as a world of opportunities that we haven’t dared to look in before now. If you’re curious as to what the finished product might look like, check out The Boy and the Wrapper or any other play that you might find while browsing books online.

With all that said, I’d like to take this time to formally challenge the playwrights of Montreal to make their work accessible online. I’d be happy to answer any questions anyone has about the topic. I’d also be happy to give hands-on help to anyone who is interested, but feels overwhelmed by the process. We’re always debating about ways to increase awareness of our talented theatre industry. Well, in my opinion, embracing modern technology and using it publicize our work is a good way to start.

To download Jonathan Fournier's The Boy and the Wrapper, click here.

Barbara Ford will be returning with her Saturday column, Ford's Focus, soon.


  1. Although I applaud the initiative of e-publishing, one should never be afraid to approach publishers because they are "intimidating". You have a play. They publish plays. It makes sense that you would approach them. And having received hundreds of rejection slips, I can assure you that the worst thing they will ever say is "No."

    As a side remark, it should be noted that publishers and editors serve a vital function that is being erased in the world of e-publishing - namely that they provide an outside eye to read and evaluate an author's work. Authors (myself included) are not always the best judge of their own material. An outside eye is crucial in clarifying the artist's intention. As a result of e-publishing, two things are happening:

    1) Self-published work usually displays a need for editing, if not technical mistakes (grammar / spelling)

    2) the Internet is being bombarded by below average work (this is not including "The Boy and the Wrapper", a play which I very much enjoyed)

    The most obvious benefit of e-publishing is that it avoids the gun shy publishing industry, who are reluctant to take on unknown writers - especially after the closure of several publishers, such as Key Porter books. And Jonathan, in this article, is doing the other thing that self-published authors need to do: promote, promote, promote. A publishing house has a whole marketing team at their disposal; the self-published author must never be afraid to tread in some waters.

  2. I agree with Joel about being intimidated by publishers, however my adoration of e-publishing as both reader and writer is complete. My experience as a writer is anecdotal but, from talking to other writers, not unique. Many, many publishers are losing writers simply because they treat them shabbily and it is with a certain amount of schadenfreude that I see many drowning in the ebook explosion. Even our sainted local publishers permit themselves bad behaviour; one (which no longer exists - huzzah!) sent me a rejection by scibbling "no thanks" on my submission letter. Another, here, received the book, held it for a year, said nothing and when contacted did not respond at all - and it's been a year since that second contact. They publish very good books, you all know them, but they're assholes. My own publisher, Talon, is a gem.

    As for mistakes and bad lit, Joel - I am now reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - the archetypal one-joke novel and it is loaded with typos, not even to the level of a freshman exercise. I have read mountains of indie books on my Kindle and, yes, much of it is crap but the revelations are to be found everywhere - Jack Kilborn's hair-raising stories spring immediately to mind and genre fiction - read: gay - you wouldn't find anywhere else. (And, of course, there's the brilliant A Dog's Blog, available for the kindle...)

  3. One more thing: It costs nothing to self-publish for the various devices unlike print so you literally, as Jonathan says, have nothing to lose.

  4. I wouldn't say you have "nothing" to lose: most theatre companies, contests and festivals that specialize in new work will not consider a play that has been published - and this includes e-published. Ironically, by e-publishing, you may be limiting your chances at getting the show produced. For "The Boy and the Wrapper", e-publishing may have been the right choice - but the same cannot be said for every show.

  5. Hey,

    First off, thanks for the well thought-out comments.

    I certainly didn't mean to vilify print publishers. Looking back, "intimidating" probably was a weak word choice .If you want your book in print, under a big publisher's name go for it. I chose to circumvent all the rejection letters (and, even worse, the waiting for rejection letters), by choosing e-publishing, which to me is much more efficient and has less barriers along the way. As a side note to this, Smashwords only has the "e-publishing rights" to your work. If I'd ever want to self-print or find an interested publisher, I can still choose to have the book printed.

    I totally agree about the internet being flooded with mediocre content. As ChsrPo says though, there are always gems to discover and with the industry growing like it is, I believe more readers are willing to look for gems (though I plan to help things along in that respect by doing some promotion for the play). And I certainly don't recommend author's just putting up the first draft they've written; "The Boy and the Wrapper" was published after two years of handing the script out and seeing people's reactions to it. Of course, I recommend other hopeful writers are that careful too.

    About contests: Yep, publishing does stop The Boy and the Wrapper from being eligible for most contests, and I do feel a twinge of regret because of that on occasion. However, a great many contests also don't allow previously produced work either. Its chance of winning a contest dramatically went down as soon as I put it up at the Fringe Festival. You make a valid point though, publishing and entering contests are two different roads for playwrights and you can't take both of them. I believe in the long run that the play being available for all to see is more useful than a contest win, which is why I chose the road I did with this play.

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