Category Archives: Publishing

Are digital books changing the way authors write?

Digital Books

A very balanced take on the way digital books are shaping the way books are read and written, in this article. For more than three years now I have been reading digital books and I read paper books only when digital books are unavailable (which rarely is the case these days). Initially I used to read e-books (even when I purchased them from Amazon in Kindle format) on my Samsung tab that was quite outdated. Seeing how much I read my wife motivated me to purchase the Kindle reader.

I read digital books more for the convenience and less for the supposedly positive impact that they have on the environment. The article above talks about how youngsters these days use the same device to read books as well is interact on social media and social networking websites and also use the same device for playing video games, music and movies. This sort of, takes away the exclusivity book reading demands. Book reading is supposed to create a totally different world, segregated from your surroundings. Is this possible with digital books with so much distraction going around? And how does it impact the way writers write, in order to capture as much attention as possible?

Any word in an ebook can invoke its own dictionary definition, simply by selecting it. If a passage in an ebook strikes you as cogent, beautiful or profound you can bet – once you’ve switched the highlight-sharing function on – hundreds of other people have already highlighted it. It’s a short hop from realising that to paying special attention to the highlighted bits – not out of laziness but as a wise learning strategy.

Where I see the problem is that books can be read in almost all the devices. Once you have purchased the Kindle book, for example, you can read it on a tablet, on an iPad, on a phone, on a computer and on a laptop and basically every device that has an operating system and the ability to connect to the Internet. In terms of sales, it must have been profitable for the publishers (as I mentioned above, I had started purchasing Kindle books much before I actually purchased the Kindle reader). But, books should be read on a device that only makes you read books. There should be no distraction. In fact I’m sure, this is how gadgets like Kindle reader were born – to create a digital space where only books are the consumption. There is no social networking. There are no phone calls. There is no instant messaging. There is no notification area. There are no message bubbles. Just pages and pages of the book you’re reading.

Every medium changes the way literature is written and read. This has been going on since the time immemorial. Even before digital books, the way people wrote and read was constantly changing. Just see the way writers like Dickens and Dostoevsky wrote and the way contemporary writers write. Writing styles change. Reading patterns change. This is an ongoing process. Instead of resisting it, we should embrace it, both as writers and as readers.

Having said that, I would insist that there must be separate devices for reading books, just for reading books.

You will actually be able to consume books

Book Capsules

Recently I came across an article (I’ve lost the link) that talked about the near-future possibility of you being able to “swallow” information, such as books, theories, research papers, and even stories and novels, as pills and capsules, instead of having to go through them page by page.

It may seem quite far-fetched at this moment, but in terms of biology there is nothing extraordinary in this possibility. Brain, after all, stores information by arranging and rearranging brain cells and imprinting electro-magnetic impulses. There are already hellucinogenic drugs that can alter out perception of reality. What if the information can be sent through our blood streams instead of using sensory inputs? Artificial limbs can already tell whether the fingers are touching different temperature and different sensations. People can reach orgasm via cyber sex. This is not the issue.

I’m just wondering, do we read books for the experience, or get the information into our brains? Is knowledge just about knowing, or is it a collection of our physical and emotional expepriences that we go through while acquiring that knowledge?

The article said you will be able to learn a language by popping a capsule or you will be able to read War and Peace by simply taking a pill. This basically means that along with printed and digital versions, you may also get “capsule” versions of the books.

Of course people have different notions of what an experience is. More and more people are preferring digital books (Kindle, Nook, Play Books) despite the fact we all miss that feel of holding an actual book, feeling and smelling its pages. You can carry an entire library in your palm and I’m pretty sure within the foreseable future the concept of visiting libraries and scouring through books is going to be a thing of the past and in fact, we may no longer have the book shelves in our homes and offices. This is natural, evolutionary process, whether we like it or not.

People read books for two reasons: to entertain themselves, and to educate or inform themselves. You can’t entertain yourself by suddenly coming to know of the contents of an entertaining book. Suddenly knowing Mcbeth isn’t the same as reading its lines individually, halting for thinking, engaging in mental debate and feeling the anguish of the characters. The Mcbeth capsule may simply reveal the story to you, it even may make it easier to recall certain pessages and dialogs, but it doesn’t make you a part of the story, which is why we normally read stories. We develop an empathy, or an aversion towards characters and circumstances when we need a novel or a play, that won’t be there is we simply swallow it.

What makes a book successful?

Yesterday I was having lunch with one of my oldest clients who has also become a very good friend. We were talking about how publishing a book has always been very difficult and why every aspiring author needs to build his or her own brand as well as his or her own platform to build an audience. He casually asked, “Exactly what makes a book successful?”

Frankly it is a difficult question, because there is no magic formula. Why was 50 Shades of Grey a raging success despite the fact that 80 percent of the readers of the book have acknowledged that they never actually finished reading it? Even the erotica is not that great. So why?

You can pinpoint some reasons that are quite conventional in their logic. For instance the author of 50 Shades of Grey perhaps published his entire book in the form of blog posts before the book was actually published using the traditional publishing medium – hardcover and paperback (I might be wrong but I have read about this at many places). The author had already built up an audience that was quite eager to read the book. This is where she must have gotten the initial thrust that proved to be quite crucial for the success of the book. After that it was all perhaps word-of-mouth. Soon it became a social thing to claim that I’m reading “50 Shades of Grey”, especially among certain female groups. It is this initial thrust the writer who isn’t successful, is lacking.

Is it always the writing? In most of the cases, yes, but as we have seen in the case of 50 Shades of Grey, it doesn’t always have to be like that. The book should offer what the reader is looking for. Whether it is fantasy, intrigue, horror, romance or some non-fiction topic that teaches you something, the reader must feel that he or she is not simply wasting money and time by investing in the book. People read books for entertainment as well as learning. If your book provides that it is surely to succeed.

In many cases the name also matters. There are many celebrities who write books (well, most of these books are not written by them but by ghostwriters) because they know that the books will sell. Quality still matters. If the book is total crap, only the first few will buy it and then the sales as well as the readership will taper. So even if it is ghostwritten, it needs to be a good read, but it doesn’t have to be exceptional. People will read it for the sheer pleasure of reading their favorite celebrity.

So how does a writer who is neither a celebrity nor a renowned person make sure that his or her book becomes successful? Again, there is no secret formula. Assuming your writing is worth reading, try to become as known as possible. As Gay Kawasaki and Shawn Welch have written in their book APE — Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: publish on your own if you can and then build a platform for yourself so that you can maximize your expense and effort on traditional marketing. They say that although, for the contemporary writer, publishing is quite easy, the toughest part is selling it. That is why aside from being a writer, you always have to be a publisher and an entrepreneur who can sell his or her book as a business product.

Building a platform is not as easy as these two authors – who are already well established on the web – claim, but it is certainly achievable provided you give yourself enough time. Build it gradually. Publish a blog. Interact with people on social networking websites. Participate in writing contests. Write for local newspapers and magazines. The basic idea is, more and more people should be aware of your existence, preferably, as a writer.

Glorifying 47 rejections and why it is all right

Here is a New York Times article that encourages you to go on writing no matter how many times you face rejection from traditional publishers. Then it gives you an example of a writer whose novel was rejected 47 times and once it was published, it was included in the “Booker Long List”.

Donal Ryan, a civil servant from Limerick, Ireland, wrote two novels. He sent them to agents and publishers and got back 47 rejections over three years. Finally an intern at Lilliput Press in Dublin fished “The Thing About December” out of the slush pile. Around the same time, an editor at Doubleday Ireland took interest in “The Spinning Heart.” Suddenly Mr. Ryan had a two-book deal, and from there his fortunes only improved. The Booker Foundation announced last week that “The Spinning Heart” had made the cut for the Man Booker Prize long list.

I totally agree and disagree with the underlying premise of the article: Yes, you should go on writing no matter how many rejections you face and if you want to succeed as a writer, there is no alternative to relentless striving. Nobody doubts that.

But then it says that you totally have to depend upon the whims of the publishing houses. It doesn’t just say that, it actually romanticizes this state of affairs:

These stories hearten struggling writers and everyone else who struggles too. They allow us to believe that our luck could change at any moment; that if we persevere beyond the point of reason and perhaps good taste, we may finally succeed.

The article also shows its bias towards self-publishing:

These stories, finally, tell us that a healthy book industry is a diverse one, in which it’s possible for a talented author to knock on several doors before resorting to self-publishing. The more gatekeepers, the better the odds for the next Donal Ryan.

Self-publishing, whether you go for the conventional, hardcover or paperback, or digital publishing, empowers the writers. Publishing no longer lurks in the realms of vicissitudes. If you have a ready novel or a ready book, you can get published within a couple of weeks or months, and if you want to publish your book digitally, you can publish it within hours. What is wrong in that? Who cares if most of it is below par? Besides, who decides what is below par?

As publishing becomes more and more accessible and, more importantly, affordable, writers of all hues and flavors are going to publish themselves without much hindrance. The same thing happened when the printing press was invented and improvised. Suddenly printing and reading became affordable. Great classics were published, and so was lots of pornography.

What about rejections? Don’t they make you strive harder? They do, but they can also kill your spirit. And if they say that you probably don’t have a writing spirit if it can be killed by rejections, this is all rubbish. If there is some tool available that can help you save time so that you can fully focus on your craft, what’s wrong in that? Why do you have to make it a matter of blood and sweat in order to be a writing genius? Less than 1% of the books being written all over the world actually get to be published. Isn’t it a great waste of talent and hard work?

On the other hand, if you can self publish, even if your book doesn’t do well, at least you know that people didn’t like it because maybe, you didn’t put much effort. Without being published, how can you ever find that out?

Digital publishing doesn’t mean easy success

Recently in a blog post titled “Why digital publishing is the future” I agreed with writers and authors who follow the conventional publishing path that it is much more difficult to get published, and then be successful when you get your book published and marketed via traditional publishing simply because everything is so random. Unless you are an unknown writer, nobody gives a damn if you’re the next J.R.R. Tolkien. If they miss your manuscript, well, too bad.

To that extent, digital publishing has this massive positive aspect. Almost everybody can get published. The problem is, digital publishing, being easy, doesn’t also mean that it can bring you success. Success, just like anything else in the world depends on how well you have written, how interesting your story is, how many people know that you have published, how easy and affordable downloading your e-book is, what sort of name you have earned for yourself, how much success your earlier work has tasted and still, a good sprinkling of serendipity. Even the capricious reading preferences of people may affect the final tally. For instance, who would’ve thought that the writer of 50 Shades of Gray would become a cult figure? Success can be chaotic, unless you have a step-by-step plan and you really know what you are doing.

These success attributes don’t need to manifest in a particular order and there can be multiple variations. For instance, even if you haven’t published a single book or a short story yet, but you manage a successful blog and your audience loves you, then there is a good chance your digital book will sell like hot cakes. Even if you don’t have a blog, but you have vibrant Facebook presence, or Google Plus, or even Twitter, you will experience great success. Mind you, having thousands of followers on twitter or any of such social networking platforms doesn’t automatically make you successful. You should be constantly interacting with people and there should be lots of people liking you or respecting you.

So even if you are thinking of publishing your book on Amazon.com start building a platform, and an audience for yourself. This may take lots of effort, just the way writers these days need to do marketing in traditional publishing.