I made kind of an off-hand tweet about this Galley Cat post with some publishing predictions, and someone said they wanted to see my analysis, so now they’re paying the price! The most interesting of the predictions to me were that 95% of books would be read on screens within the next ten years [something I would be in favor of but which I find unlikely, given an informal survey I conducted, i.e. based on conversations I've had on the subway with people who interrupt my reading to say, "Woah, is that one of those Kindle things? What's it like?" This conversation invariably ends with the other person saying, "I don't know, it looks cool, but I don't think I could give up paper books."] and that all authors will be “indie authors.” I’m not sure what this means. I think it means that indie publishers will start to take a lot of the market share away from the big publishers.
Coincidentally, I had dinner with my mother last night, and this came up in conversation. We are both publishing industry vets; I still work in the industry (albeit in academic publishing, which is an entirely different market), she’s basically retired. My mom worked at a bunch of the big houses, though, so I feel she has some insight. And we came to similar conclusions. The current advance-paying model of publishing is unsustainable. I read recently that only a very small percentage of books earn back their advances. Paying a 7-figure advance for a book penned by a celebrity, for example, seems like a big gamble for an industry already struggling.
And don’t even get me started on delaying ebooks to give hardcovers a chance to sell. When I mentioned this to my mom, she said, “That’s stupid, they’re different markets.” Exactly! I rarely buy hardcovers. Most of the hardcovers I own were purchased at used book stores or the bargain table at Barnes & Noble, you know? So even if I were not an ebook reader, it’s unlikely I’d buy the stupid hardcover. But I am an ebook reader, and there have been a number of times recently where I’ve followed a link to an interesting-looking book and thought, “Oh, not available in ebook? Guess I’m not buying it.” I mean, take my anecdotal arguments with a grain of salt, I guess, but I can’t be the only reader who thinks this way.
Although, this also ignores the fact that half the reason I wanted to own an ebook reader to begin with was that about half the books I purchase these days come from the epubs, and reading on my laptop is not as fun or portable as you’d think. Well, and also, once I realized that I could desire a book and then have it in my hands in less than a minute, I was drunk with power.
Anyway! So then NPR has this article about how ebooks will change reading and writing. So let’s pull it apart.
Apart from Twitter books and cell phone novels, Grossman, who is also a novelist, says the real challenge for writers is electronic-book readers like the Kindle. He says the increasingly popular devices force people to read books in a different way.
“They scroll and scroll and scroll. You don’t have this business of handling pages and turning them and savoring them.” Grossman says that particular function of the e-book leads to a certain kind of reading and writing: “Very forward moving, very fast narrative … and likewise you don’t tend to linger on the language. When you are seeing a word or a sentence on the screen, you tend to go through it, you extract the data, and you move on.”
Oh, where to start. Here’s the thing. I like paper books. I own a whole lot of them. I went into publishing in the first place because I love books. I like how they smell, I like how paper feels, I find the process by which they are put together fascinating. I also live in an apartment with limited space.
I would say my reading experience is not markedly different on the Kindle. Just because the words are on a screen doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate lovely prose when I see it. I still get lost in a book the same way I used to with paper books. I don’t see why or how books would have to be different, content-wise, in the ebook era. (And, infuriatingly, the NPR article talks about Twitter, makes the argument that authors will have to write pulp in order to be successful, and then ends. Um, what?)
Smart Bitch Sarah makes the argument that a book has to hook her in the first 30 pages or she’s moving onto the next thing in the queue, but I personally am this way with paper books, too. Sarah goes on to talk about single-purpose ebook readers like the Kindle and the flaws therein, which I think is a separate blog post. (I keep seeing buzz about the Apple Tablet and think “Ooh, shiny!” and I sometimes wish the web browser on the Kindle were less clunky, but I like that eInk is easy on the eyes and the Kindle fits in my purse. The Kindle certainly has flaws, but it gets the job done while I wait for the Next Big Thing.)
While we’re talking about publishing trends, there’s the Katie Roiphe essay that’s getting a lot of buzz. Honestly, I feel out of my element here. I have a lit degree and normally love this kind of analysis, but my focus was primarily on women writers. I’ve read almost all of the authors mentioned, and I’ve seen lots of reactions to the article today (everything from, “Well, of course heterosexual novelists have issues with sex; talking about sex and emotion is perceived as feminine and/or gay” to “ooh, pink infographics” to “Roiphe kind of has a point” to “why is Roiphe publishing her college term paper?”) but I still have no conclusion, just thought the essay was interesting.
Finally, via this Queerty post, I discovered this article on writing gay characters. My favorite bit is the “avoid at all costs” section. I read the list of cliches to avoid and thought, “Wow, this is basically the first season of Queer as Folk.” Bonus: there’s a list of recommended books at the end.