Brave New Reader

The emergence of e-books and the resultant boom in self-publishing has changed the writing world. Some think this is a change for the better. Some worse. I am not really interested in getting into that right now. What I am curious about, and what no one seems to talk about, is the change it has had on the reading world.

When I was young, books were my salvation. I needed escape and books were there for me. I read them…don’t think I ever stopped mid-book…even if they were not that great. It didn’t matter. Once I had started a book, I felt compelled to finish it. I folded down the corners of my favorite pages. I wrote things in the margins. I drew pictures of birds (I was a bird freak). I made the books mine. To this day, the first thing I do with any book I get is write my name in it. It is mine. And I make it mine by the song lyrics I write on the blank pages, the passages I underline, etc.

The Indie publishing revolution and e-readers have certainly changed what it means to be a writer. But they have also changed what it means to be a reader. Sure, you can underline and mark passages in a Kindle, but I don’t ever do it. And there is a sterility there that I can’t deny. But I am still the same type of reader for the most part. Those coming of age with this technology…they read differently.

For one thing, it is easy to delete a book, download a new book, try a few pages, erase it, download a new book…all for free. When you checked a book out of the library or bought a book, you had a tangible ‘thing’ which you had made some sort of commitment to. Not so with my Kindle. It always looks the same no matter what book I’m reading.  I always use the same font, and I always keep it the same size.

I think people expect less from books, now. There are so many free books available.  Or .99 cent books.  $1.99 – you get my drift, that they become an easily disposable commodity. Both my novels are priced at $.3.99. They are both worth more than that, but the market dictates the price and readers seem  more willing to read a book that is not as good, but is free.

It occurred to me the other day that we are making books a whole lot more like TV. People flip the channel. They surf and watch one show until it gets boring and then move on to the next one. For those with an e-reader, books are becoming cheap and easy entertainment. Reading is less intimate.

A reviewer on Amazon had this to say about my latest novel, The Biker: “I have to hand it to the author: the Biker is a really good read–the type of read that will probably come to define the epub era.” I am not sure quite how to take this. Is this a compliment? Part of me likes that we have opened the doors for everyone who wants to write a book. A big part of me laments that I am quite likely a member of the last generation who will tackle a book like The Count of Monte Cristo. It is a wonderful book. One of the best ever written. The first 50 pages or so are misery. It is confusing, the names are similar; if it was on my Kindle, I might just move on and never look back. When I had the huge paperback in hand, there was something compelling me forward and I made it past the beginning until it got REALLY good.

A new type of writer is emerging. Don’t kid yourself, however, readers are changing, too. I would like to think it is for the better, since change is inevitable, but I fear it is not. I have to wonder how Mark Twain would wrap this post up. Inevitably, he would say something pithy and witty and memorable. But I don’t think people are all that big on memorable these days. So, I’ll end it like this. Writers and readers are changing. And I wish they weren’t.

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JD Mader is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and author of the novels JOE CAFÉ and THE BIKER. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and his blog:www.jdmader.com (and musical nonsense here: JD Mader).

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Author: JD Mader

JD Mader is an award winning short story writer and novelist. 'Joe Café' and 'The Biker' are out now, as well as 'Please, no eyes'. and the collaborative 'Bad Book'. Mader has been writing for half his life and has no plans on stopping any time soon. Learn more about JD Mader at his blog and his Amazon author page.

32 thoughts on “Brave New Reader”

  1. Now I'm thoroughly depressed. Thanks, Dan.

    I don't know. I want to find something to argue with but I'm not sure I can. I know that kids and young people in general still have amazing powers of concentration. Anyone who has a teenager who plays video games or World of Warcraft can't argue with that. And maybe a video game will become the next Count of Monte Cristo, who knows? They are becoming more complex, that's for sure. Narrative arcs, character development, the opportunity to be a part of the action even movies don't provide. And yet many of those same teenagers still read books. Many don't. Hmmm… damn you and your thought-provoking posts, Mader!

  2. As long as there are printed books available,I will always find a way to have my own in hand. Some of the traditions may be fading, but I don't they will every completely go away no matter how much technology changes. At least not while I'm still alive. :o)

  3. I wonder if we are in a transition period and the changes will take us away from traditional reading or if we will see both forms living peacefully side by side at some point and this is only the sorting out period. Certainly food for thought – and worry and, yes, even depression.

  4. Optimism JD –

    I am seeing books that I want to read instead of what a big distributor agent wants to read. Plus JD, you are on the top of my list of authors to read. I used to have LKH and others there. Now I have you and Zander, Konrath, and JR Rain.

    BTW another great thing about ebooks is that the writers are still willing to correspond to the readers. I was writing to JR about two years ago. We still write back and forth. The readers and writers are becoming one big family.

    Cyn

    1. Thank you for throwing a life raft into this sea of depression we have got brewing. 🙂 And thanks for the support. And I hope you're right!

      1. And I am honored that you plan to read my work. And good point about the big happy family…I hadn't thought of that, but that is in line with the comparisons Antrobus and I are always making to the punk rock revolution. The walls are being torn down…you can get on stage with the band if you want, so to speak. Thank you.

  5. I save my depression for my illness. Yes, that does remind me of the starting of the punk rock revolution (I am 50 lol). I find it exciting.

    Cyn

  6. I should note – excuse me for sticking my nose in again- that it also reminds me of the personal computer revolution that started to rev up in the 90s. Those were exciting days too. I used to be on the cutting edge of my computer hardware.

    Cyn

      1. Stick your nose in all you want. Just means more gruel for me at blogger feeding time. 😉

        You're right, it's exciting to be a part of something that is changing as we create it.

        graveyard graffiti this whole f%&cking city indeed!

  7. As I've aged, my love for reading hasn't diminished. I may represent a small niche, but my entrance into the world of reading ebooks has only expanded my experience. For one thing, the cost of the printed word has defied the old laws of supply and demand. As demand diminishes, the costs continue to rise. My bookcases are full to bursting with everything from serious historical tomes to pulp novels to Far Side compilations by Gary Larson. But, as I mentioned in another forum, as much as I still adore perusing the shelves of bookstores for hours I'm far more inclined to purchase the less-expensive Kindle version.

    Additionally, I've long known from my experience as a musician that the best experiences are often found in the realm of independent artists uncorrupted by the "experts" of the industry. My Kindle ownership has shown me that the most exciting new written works are also by such independent creative souls.

    Rather than increase the likelihood that I'll dispose of a book without finishing it, ebooks have expanded my base of favorite authors, given me greater control and broader spending power with my wallet, and allowed me to indulge my passion without becoming encumbered with swollen bookcases. I pray that print never becomes extinct, but I also give thanks that I lived long enough to dip into a virtually bottomless well each time I feel the slightest pinch of artistic thirst.

  8. I remember when television was expected to end reading, movies and intelligent life – and somehow those have survived half a century or so. Let's hope this is a brave new dawn of writing and reading, with indie authors striding the hills leading fluffy groups of readers to greener pastures. Baaaa! Follow me!

  9. I began writing full-time eight months ago. I'm all on board with the blogs, and facebook pages, and promotional aspects that are at writers fingertips today. But when I envision the novel I'm writing, I envision it with an embossed cover with crisp pages ready to be smudged with chocolate my reader is enjoying while browsing my words. I envision it peeking out of someones beach bag so passersby might stop and ask, "What are you reading?"

    Friends and family, in an attempt to be supportive I'm sure, keep telling me how excited they are that I'm writing and that, "You know, you can publish your own book and sell it for e-readers." That is true. But I worry that hardcovers and paperbacks will be the 8-tracks and cassettes of the past. It does make me sad.

    Personally, I prefer a tangible book but I admit that in a pinch, or when on the run, I will purchase and download a book to my touchpad. And I agree with Bruce…my kindle has allowed me to purchase more books than I otherwise might have on my budget and I found one author that I really enjoyed because she offered one of her books for free, which in turn led me to purchase more of hers.

    1. Totally know the feeling. 'Joe Cafe' is on ten thousand Kindles. But I am printing my new book, 'The Biker' on Createspace POD. I know it will be a losing proposition monetarily (I can't do the formatting), but there is a part of me that just wants to hold the damn thing. Silly, perhaps. But we writers generally are.

      1. I now have six of my books as PODs on CreateSpace. I thought it was silly, but there are still a lot of people who are buying only printed books. It felt really good to hold them.

        BTW I used to be a typesetter, so I formatted my own books. It took about 4-6 hours per book. The program I used was very similar to the typesetter program that I used in the late 70s.

        Cyn

        PS I thought about offering to format books for 100-150 dollars… but even though I enjoy doing it, it would take too much time away from my writing.

      2. First, thanks JD for your earlier comment. I don't find it silly to want to be in tangible print. My first goal in moving into the realm of e-publishing is to earn enough money and or notoriety to either be picked up by a book publisher or be able to afford my own print edition.

        In once sense, I'll cop to it being somewhat egotistical. The fantasy of sitting behind the table at a book signing or autographing a first edition for a loved one is compelling to me.

        In fact, here's the primary reason for it. Some years ago a retired chemistry professor moved to my town and, for a variety of reasons, we became acquainted and formed a friendship. I was visiting his home one afternoon and while he was elsewhere in the house I snooped his bookcase the way other nosy folks snoop medicine cabinets. I found an ancient copy of a book I'd owned as a small child. It was named, "The Wonderful World of Insects," by Al Gaul. He walked in the room and I told him that it was my favorite book as a little boy. His eyes welled up and it took him several minutes to explain to me that although his full name was Albro Gauliski, he went by Al Gaul when he wrote the book soon after college.

        We spent the next several hours talking about the "small world" we live in and the odds of such a meeting. I'll never forget his face as he realized how he had affected the life of a complete stranger and I'll never forget the awe I felt as the memories of reading that book flooded through me.

        Print is the true magic. Ebooks are a technological wonder that will allow my words to reach through the closed door of corporate publishing and reach people. But I don't see any way an ebook will ever touch two hearts the way that crumbled and yellow old kids bug book touched ours that afternoon.

        1. When I was nine years old my father took me to an old dentist for braces. My father refused to allow freezing and so it was an extremely painful procedure because he had to cut into my gums between my teeth. This kind dentist felt badly but had to obey my father. While I was in his waiting room I was perusing his bookshelf there. The dentist came out and saw me, asked if I liked books. I nodded yes shyly and he asked me which ones I was looking at. I pointed to a set of four with identical blue covers. He took them out and gave them to me. They were adult books, one by Daphne DuMaurier. One had a lot of dialect which made it difficult to read at that age but I struggled through. I never forgot that man and his kindness to a shy, abused, little girl. And I still cherish those books.

  10. Great post, JD… I'm excited by the new options. I adore printed books. Nothing smells like a new book and nothing is like the sound and feel of cracking open a new spine. Kindlegraphs are not the same as having a live author sign your book with a real pen. What excites me about ebooks is that we are making new readers. I personally know people who didn't care much for reading…until they got their Kindles or Nooks. Yes…there is an upside here…

    1. Laurie, you and your goddamn bright sides. That's part of the reason I love you. The other part…not appropriate here…Denver, behind the IHOP dumpster. I know you remember.

  11. Print is the true magic. Amen to that, Bruce.

    All my work is available in paperback, and yesterday, while seeing someone off at the airport, I showed my new release to a friend – they said, "Oh, wow … didn't know it was out already". I always feel great to be able to handle my own books. Holding a launch or a signing means having that feeling over and over.

    But I love it when my sales spike on Kindle… so there's lots of different feelings, and we can enjoy them all, if and when they happen for us.

    My new Camera Obscura has still to do its thing, but because of my promotions for it, my other two novels are really getting there. Amazing, that.

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