Sunday afternoon I had the privilege of giving a reading from my latest novel, The Storyteller’s Bracelet, at the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse in La Canada/Flintridge, CA. A major theme of this book is the horrors of the government-mandated Indian Schools in the late 1800s. Children and youth from Native tribes across the nation were forcibly removed from their families and placed in these schools, where they were stripped of their language and culture. These early Indian schools were a shameful time in American history, and one conveniently overlooked in most American history textbooks.
I managed to get through the reading fairly well, considering I have the flu (although my doctor assured me I was past the contagious stage; I would not have risked the health of others by giving a public reading while ill if I were contagious!). Then something happened that, in different circumstances, may have upset any author: I was upstaged.
But I didn’t mind. I wasn’t upstaged by another author stepping into my spotlight. I was upstaged by a machine, the Espresso Book Machine, or EBM, printing copies of The Storyteller’s Bracelet as we watched. IBM, the inventor of the EBM, cleverly encased the machine’s innards in lucite so authors and/or book buyers can watch the book be printed, bound, and glued in a matter of minutes—in the case of my book, about 10 minutes. The EBM has access to the files of more than 200,000 titles: some little-known titles by major publishers; some, like mine, titles by traditional but smaller presses, and some by self-published authors.
When the machine finished printing a copy of my book purchased by an event attendee, I looked at with an eagle eye (well, as much of an eagle eye as a person with the flu who has just talked for 45 minutes can muster up), comparing it to a copy provided by my publisher’s printer. The paper was slightly thinner, but not appreciably so; it was still better quality than some books I’ve purchased. The print was crisp and bright. The color on the cover was just as good as the publisher copy, but the cover stock was thinner. Overall, while I preferred the book from the publisher, the quality of the EBM book was as high or higher than many print books on the market today. I was just as proud to see my name on the EBM book as on the publisher edition.
EBMs are not everyday common items as of yet. The one at the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeeshop is the only one in the Los Angeles area. The next closest machine is in San Francisco, and there are machines in Seattle, Denver, and a handful of other locations around the country. (For the location of the EBM closest to you, click here). I think the technology is probably going to be most useful to self-published authors, especially authors of, say, family genealogies who want only enough print copies for family members. It also should prove useful to people looking for an rare titles; the bookstore employee who ran the machine said she knows you can print geology books written about obscure places, for example. I could see the machine being a great resource for keeping titles alive in perpetuity instead of letting them completely go out of print.
The Espresso Book Machine probably isn’t going to increase sales of my books substantially, because I have a traditional publisher and book placement in the major and usual venues, like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But no matter. Watching a copy of The Storyteller’s Bracelet emerge all warm and smelling of ink and paper (a smell only a true bibliophile can appreciate), made this author’s day. Anything else is just glue on the binding.