The other day, I got in an argument with my friend over a recent article about what a few start-ups were doing to nonfiction books.
Well, “argument” is being generous. More like four exhaustive Facebook posts written by two tired people who have the same opinion about things, but disagree to pass the time.
Anyway, my friend’s position was simple: the innovations by the start-ups were bad for literature, bad for readers, and, really… just bad.
My position was that the innovations were good. Because technology is good for books. I think it could usher in a Golden Age of Creativity if everyone stops crying about it.
Here’s what the start-ups were trying to do:
Turn nonfiction books into nonfiction postcards
Essentially, a lot of these start-ups were trying to make nonfiction books instantly gratifying. That means coming up with ideas like a “Pinterest” for parts of different books.
Basically, a big bulletin board of facts that was more or less floating within a context-less vacuum.
Other ideas were just about as non-bookish as they come, which clearly horrified the narrator:
During the conference, on Wednesday, Inkling announced it was launching a new “Content Discovery Platform,” which would draw searchers from Google into broken-off sections of a book. They’ve divided about four hundred titles into one hundred and fifty thousand indexed “cards,” as they’re called—hacked-up book parts organized into key topics. Readers who reach a card through Google can click around on a limited basis. From there, individual cards are available for purchase—and link out to the rest of the chapter, or the whole book. MacInnis explained this to the audience: “We delude them”—customers—“into believing that they’re in a book. They’re in a Web page.” There was a ripple of laughter, cut off by the moderator, who asked, expectantly, “But you want to sell them a book?” “We’ll sell them a book,” said MacInnis. “Or a cow. Or a monkey. We’ll sell them the content.”
This whole article followed in a similarly condescending vein (which echoed the tone of the this interview with self-published author Amanda Hocking), essentially narrated by a woman who clearly had her own feelings about the subject of eBooks.
Thus, I posted on my friend’s Facebook wall:
A provocation that led to this conversation:
I said, going a little more offensive:
I added this little caveat to end the debate. A caveat known as the truth:
Truth be told, I’m not sold on anything that’s happening to books, whether that’s the dramatic change in print books or the future of books in general.
But I believe that I have no choice but to believe.
The fact is that all writers are nervous people, as is so amazingly pointed out in Sam Byers’ series, “The End of the End of Everything: Fiction’s Fretful Futures,” which was referred to me by Virginia Review Quarterly editor Jane Friedman (via Twitter) after I wondered whether commercial eBooks are the only things that are going to sell in the future.
Byers’ thesis is:
“Novelists are very worried about the novel. The novel, you see, keeps dying.”
And, right now, we’re more or less terrified of technology.
But writers have to love technology
Technology isn’t going away.
Writers have to be recklessly, ruthlessly optimistic about these things. We don’t know what’s going to happen to print books over the coming years, but we can know with some degree of certainty that eBooks aren’t going away.
Once you accept the relationship between technology and books, you can start treating it as reality and adapting your artistic genius to what’s happening.
With so many creative tools at our fingertips, why can’t this be a Golden Age for Creativity? Because we’re afraid of those very tools?
We need to stop wasting all of our time worrying about it and start doing something with it.
If there’s one mission to my blog, it’s to put a positive spin on everything that’s happening at the busy crossroad between technology and the novel, even if I’m not sold on those concepts.
With that objective in mind, though, I’m free to explore this wild frontier.
Sure, there are probably lions and tigers and bears out there, but there are also miracles waiting to happen. Treasure to be had for the bold, experiences and lessons to be learned by the adventurous.
And, maybe, just maybe, a Golden Age where writers learn how to take literature to the next level, whatever anyone and everyone thinks that is.
1. Stop worrying about what technology is doing to books and start thinking about how you can use it to help you.
2. Technology is your friend because it has to be.
3. If you don’t adapt, it honestly doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.
4. Writing good stuff should still be the priority. Everything else is secondary. Write first, worry about how it will be read, received, distributed, and published later.
5. Creating your online author platform is a good way to experiment with how you can use online tools to enhance your book. If you’re interested in a little experimentation, you may want to learn a little bit more about my free guide about how you can use a blog to get people to read your creative stuff.