E-Books and the Changing Writer

I’m reading an e-book, APE – Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book, by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch. It talks about how electronic communication is changing the face of publishing, especially for the writer.

Now, I’m a traditionalist when it comes to books. I like the feel of one in my hand and the subliminal sense of accomplishment as I turn each page. But it’s obvious that e-books offer many benefits hard copy books can’t compete with: convenience, instant access, less physical space, online dictionaries, and Internet connectivity.

I must confess there are times I turn to my Kindle before my bookcase. (Hey, I still wouldn’t have a Kindle if my daughter hadn’t given it to me as a Christmas present a couple of years ago.) Mostly this is for non-fiction and professional reading.

What really got me thinking, though, is Mr. Kawasaki’s repeated comment that traditional publishing and books will always be around for Annie Liebovitz-type coffee table books. I’m not so sure this will be true.

E-readers now are more computer tablets than the text-based offerings they used to be. This means photographs can be viewed in more detail. Not only that, we may see “e-readers” present illustrations in 3D format.

What could be even more exciting – for both the reader and the writer – is the interactivity this new wave of e-readers affords. Now, it is possible for readers to get involved with and even change the course of a story. This is a wonderful and scary prospect for writers.

How will this change writing? Well, writers may need to offer varying scenarios from which their readers can choose. Writers will need to change their perspective from omniscient storyteller to collaborative storyteller. The reader-writer relationship may become more like the storytelling game where one person starts it off and others pick it up along the way.

Even non-fiction writing may change. It may develop into shorter works whose subjects can be accessed on demand when the reader needs it. And the written information can be fused with video to increase the reader’s capability to process what she needs. We already see this on news websites.

This is all very interesting, but I see some drawbacks. The biggest one is the potential inability for readers to sustain their attention for long periods and process what they read.

We already see that, thanks to the Internet, most people are scanners these days instead of deep readers. They have access to more visuals like photos and videos. Writers, both fiction and non-fiction, already have adjusted to these shorter attention spans with briefer chapters and less description.

It will be very interesting to see where all this leads us. No matter what, there is no doubt writers will need to adapt.