Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Excitement of What’s Coming Around the Bend in Publishing

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

blog12I visited my parents a couple of weeks ago during my children’s spring break. We also helped them to clean out their attic. (It’s hard not to take advantage of having a hale and hearty 15 year old boy in the house.)

One of the things that was uncovered up there was my father’s electric typewriter. He was an English teacher and typed quite a bit, so it was a pretty nice model. My daughter was completely enchanted by it and asked if we could take it home (she’d been asking about my typewriter, but it’s definitely gotten buried somewhere in a closet or our own attic.)

Amazingly, my parents still had an ink cartridge for the typewriter in a desk and headed right to it, and handed it over to my daughter. (My head exploded just a bit at this….had to wonder what else they’ve held onto!) We drove back home to North Carolina and my daughter immediately asked for me to show her how to work the typewriter….but I was already busy unpacking us and cooking supper.

The next day she asked me again to show it to her…..but I was cooking Easter dinner (seems to have been a good deal of cooking lately.) I was a little impatient, I’ll admit, and told her I was sure she could figure it out. This is a ten year old who spends a great deal of time on the computer, understands social media, and is a fair little typist at 45 wpm.

And she had, y’all, no clue.

She couldn’t figure out where to roll the paper in on the roller, where to line it up on the little silver ruler on the typewriter, where to stick the ink cartridge in. That she had to hit return for the thing to go to the next line (no word wrap on typewriters). And---there was no way for her to correct her mistakes, either.

But put her with any cell phone and she intuitively interacts with the device—enlarging pictures and text on the screen by that reverse-pinch that this generation has down perfectly.

The fact that I thought the typewriter would be intuitive to a lifelong, very experienced computer user (a computer native) who’d never seen a typewriter and the fact that it really wasn’t to someone born in 2001, just goes to show how fast and far and quickly everything has changed. It illustrated to me how fast the world changed. At 41, my life is evenly divided between life on a typewriter and life on a computer.

What does the computer revolution mean for writers? It means that we can write faster. That writing is easier. It means we have the luxury of creating horrible first drafts…deleting or rearranging text is easy. It was the first step toward today’s proliferation of writers and the large number of books that many writers have written.

Recently, I’ve noticed amazing changes in both the television and music industries (which have also been impacted by the changes in technology.)

HBO now offers an online subscription service to provide online viewing. They’ve enhanced older episodes to identify in the sidebar each new character who comes onstage--giving their picture and a paragraph explaining their connection to the protagonist and the storyline.

In the music industry, independent musicians who previously would never have been able to attract a following without signing with a major label are now able to reach audiences directly. Their singles are sold through venues like Amazon and have the potential of reaching the millions that songs by the mainstream artists do.

General wisdom states that writers should simply keep writing as much as their schedule allows and focus on writing the best books possible. I think this is still the best approach. But I think we need to also start mulling over a little bit some out-of-the-box approaches that can be better utilized by the new technology…as we start moving into the future.

Things like extras (enhanced books)

Alternate endings for books is something I’m seeing more of lately. I actually love the idea of having different killers for a mystery. I change my murderer enough for this to be an easy thing to write.

Casts of characters could provide a useful reader reference if we’ve written in a large cast.

Interviews with the authors can provide readers with a behind the scenes look at the novel’s creation.

Chapter teasers from upcoming releases—this makes a tremendous amount of sense from a marketing perspective and provides the author with a firm deadline that he might not otherwise have with a self-published book.

Down the road (honestly, probably not too much farther down the road) we’ll have to think about other aspects of these extras—maybe music, mp3 clips (recorded interview, for instance), forums (social commentary on our books—while actually reading our books), picture slideshows/video, related articles…

I’m not mentioning this to scare anyone. But I think that the more open we are to this change, the better we might adapt (and ultimately profit) as these changes start happening.

When I was busily striking the keys of my typewriter while writing essays in high school, I’d have been overwhelmed if you’d talked to me about Skype and Facebook and Twitter. I’d have been overwhelmed even at basic word processing — icons for underlining and bolding? Font choices and font size? Things that are intuitive now were once completely confusing.

What I think this means to me is that I’m going to try to change my still old-fashioned notions of what a book is. It means I’ll be adjusting my parameters for “creative.” It means realizing that, in this new age of reading, writers will have to not only be creative with words but with marketing and effects.

But the most important thing, as always, will be the story we give our readers. The packaging can be slick and interactive, but it won’t mean a thing if the readers don’t care about our story.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

To me, the future seems full of promise and excitement for writers. We just have to be open to it. What do you see, though, when you look ahead?