Pete Hamill, Patriarch of Print, Goes Direct to Digital
By JULIE BOSMAN
Published: August 11, 2010
It makes perfect sense that Pete Hamill, 75 years old, chronicler of vintage New York City and newspaper tabloids and boozy Greenwich Village literary haunts, prefers print books to electronic.
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Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Pete Hamill’s book about immigration will skip print and come out only as an e-book.
Far more surprising is this: His next book will skip print altogether and be published only as an e-book.
“They Are Us,” a book about immigration in the United States, is tentatively scheduled for release in the fall by Little, Brown & Company, its first straight-to-e-book venture.
And yet Mr. Hamill, on the verge of becoming a digital publishing pioneer, admitted that he has never read an e-book.
“It’s all personal taste,” he said in an interview. “For me reading a book is what I like doing, curled up in a corner in a comfortable chair. But I don’t have any moral superiority. I don’t care, as long as people are reading.”
There are not many New York writers who have lived more exclusively, and more prominently, in print. Mr. Hamill has been a columnist for The Village Voice; a reporter for The New York Post, The Daily News and New York Newsday; an intrepid foreign correspondent covering Vietnam, Northern Ireland and Lebanon; and the editor of The News and The Post.
In between all the newspapering, Mr. Hamill has written 8 nonfiction books (“They Are Us” will be his ninth) and 10 novels. (The 11th, “Tabloid City,” will come out in the spring.) There were also two books of short stories, photography books for which he supplied the text and three books he edited for Library of America.
For years he has been gathering material for a book on immigration but was unsure when it would come together, or what it would look like. “I had a passion to do something about the immigration mess, for complicated reasons,” said Mr. Hamill, who has lived in Mexico and is the son of immigrants from Ireland. “It drives me nuts, and I want to write about it.”
As the immigration debate heated up this year, so did Mr. Hamill’s desire to get his thoughts down in a book. He is just finishing the reporting (a recent morning was spent covering a pro-immigration protest on the Brooklyn Bridge) and beginning to write so he can meet his Sept. 16 deadline. The book will be on the short side, about 40,000 or 50,000 words — not that length matters as much in digital form.
The idea for an e-book was first floated by Michael Pietsch, the publisher of Little, Brown, part of the Hachette Book Group, who read the proposal for a book about immigration that Mr. Hamill had sent him. Mr. Pietsch was keen to try publishing a book only in electronic form.
“It just occurred to me — we’re talking constantly about e-books and what we can do to publish lively books in that way,” Mr. Pietsch said. “And it hit me, this is a book we can take straight to e-book. It just felt like an e-book.”
One of the reasons was the timing. Mr. Hamill wanted to write a book that dealt largely with the politics of immigration, and with the midterm elections coming up in November, it hardly made sense to abide by a traditional, slower publishing schedule. Putting the book out in digital form saved at least six to eight weeks for typesetting, printing and distribution, not to mention the cost of paper. With any luck, the book could be out before the midterms, so that it could influence the debate, not follow it.
Mr. Pietsch threw the idea out to Mr. Hamill. “He said, ‘Let me come in and see an e-book,’ ” Mr. Pietsch said, chuckling. “God love him, Pete said yes before he even saw a device.”
When Mr. Hamill arrived at Little, Brown, Mr. Pietsch spread out an assortment of electronics — iPad, iPhone, Kindle and Sony Reader, all of which he carries with him every day — for Mr. Hamill to inspect.
Since then, Mr. Hamill said, he has been asking around for recommendations so that he can actually own an e-reader. He is leaning toward an iPad.
“They’re all strange objects,” he said. “But I have friends who swear by them. I have a friend who’s 86 and swears by them.”
Navigating the logistics of an e-book tour might be more complicated.
“Some things have occurred to me,” Mr. Hamill said. “Will there be a book signing?”