Liars Club

Burning Question: How Will e-books affect novels, writing and writers?

by Merry Jones on December 10, 2010

in Liars Club Philly,The Writing Life,The Writing Process

Actually, though I worry about a lot of things, the effect of  ebooks on novels, writers and writing isn’t one of them.

As long as there have been societies, there have been stories.  Myths.  Legends.  Fables.    Tales of danger, daring, caution, morality, adventure and love.

For a long time, these stories were handed down by word of mouth.  Some were drawn on the walls of caves.  Or carved into tablets.  Eventually, somebody invented papyrus or other forms of paper.  Then a guy invented a printing press.  A typewriter.  An electric typewriter.  A word processor.  And so on.  Whoosh–Technology zoomed on.

Through it all, stories survived.  In fact, they thrived.

Now, the means by which stories move from writer to reader is changing once again.  Publishing companies, which have traditionally selected the manuscripts that make it to print, are no longer firmly in control.  For better or worse, their roles are changing. These days, anyone with a computer can self-publish a book for very little money, then sell it on-line via companies like Amazon or print copies on-demand or have the work downloaded to Kindle and the like.  Once again, technology is changing the ways that stories reach people.

Some readers resist and resent these changes.  They like the feel of a book in their hands, the smell of paper, ink and glue.  They like dusty tomes lining their shelves, tangible and visible, ready to be picked up and browsed by the fireplace on snowy winter evenings.  To many, books represent more than just the stories they contain.  They represent comfort.  Culture.  A sense of refinement, tradition and permanence.

But newer generations don’t necessarily share those associations with paper books.  When Grandma and Grandpa pass away, how many grandchildren will hang onto the faded and crumbling volumes loading their shelves?  What are the grandkids to do with them?  Box them up for further decay?  Put them in the attic to collect cobwebs?  Certainly, they aren’t going to read them—They’re too dusty and, anyway, new mold-free copies are available on–line.  Once-treasured old tomes get donated to Books Behind Bars or similar charities, and bags full get dumped in landfills.  Shakespeare, Milton, Hemingway, Thoreau—It doesn’t matter.  In the end, no matter what is printed on it, paper rots.

Digital books, on the other hand, don’t.  Nor do they amass dust and take up half the house and require the attention of future generations.  A book on Kindle or Nook might not feel or smell like an actual book.  But in its non-intrusive space-saving non-rotting easily-stored paperless way, it might prove to be more permanent than its paper ancestors.  Although the soft or hardware which brings it forth might become obsolete before the download is complete.

Personally, as a reader, I still prefer paper books.  And, as a writer, I get a thrill at holding a book with my name on it.  But, for me, the process of telling a story remains unchanged, and it’s of little concern to me how that story reaches its audience.  What matters is that it does, in fact, reach it.  As long as people continue to read and are informed, entertained, enlightened and moved by literature, I don’t care if books are printed on paper or downloaded to an electronic reader.  Or even drawn on the walls of a cave.

Merry Jones is the author of eleven books, including the Zoe Hayes mystery series (THE NANNY MURDERS, THE RIVER KILLINGS, THE DEADLY NEIGHBORS, THE BORROWED AND BLUE MURDERS) as well as humor books, including I LOVE HIM, BUT… and non-fiction, including BIRTHMOTHERS: Women Who Gave Up Babies for Adoption Tell Their Stories.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt December 14, 2010 at 5:18 pm

I could not agree more. I just inherited the archival records for one of the local academic associations to which I belong and the records are falling apart and almost unreadable. I am currently keeping similar records electronically, and they would seem to be more permanent. As for books– I too am old fashioned and like the feel of paper and print, but it is the information that counts the most and I am willing to settle for a prose on line. However, only short essays or short stories on line please– the human eye has not yet adapted to staring at a CRT for the time it normally takes to read a full fledged book.

Richard February 3, 2011 at 12:06 am

Story is everything. I love books, and my Dad’s complete set of first edition Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan books have a prominent spot in my living room. But as a writer trying to break through, I like the promise of electronic publishing, where you can publish your work on Amazon Kindle or Smashwords and have it distributed to all the major bookstores catalogs. Of course, you still need to be able to pen a page-turning tale, have it edited, and develop a fan base. But eliminating the middle man, taking more of the profit, getting your work “out-there” in something less than a year – that’s the appeal of electronic publishing.

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