How Technology Will Re-define Writing

I'm 90% right 50% of the time.

Notwithstanding my many other predictions as to what the future may hold for authors, I do believe the writing is on the wall for changes that will impact the way we plan and market our books.

As e-reader device capabilities increase, so will the expectations as to what constitutes a book. It may be that the time approaches when a book is more than words. As the devices become more capable  multimedia platforms, it will change the way authors craft and develop books.

In the short term, I believe the principal opportunities here will be in the areas of greatly improved interactivity and video features.

Improved interactivity in e-reader devices can take several forms:

Book Club Feature
Imagine a feature that would allow the purchaser of a book to join a group of other readers who have recently purchased the same book and that could facilitate an interactive discussion. Book clubs are great because the chances are that people will have different takes on the book. Some will see things others missed. Some will find meanings, nuance, foreshadowing, and plot elements that eluded others. The result could be more enthusiasm and more thoughtful, balanced reviews for books.

What if there was a brief questionnaire at the end of your e-book? Just a few checkboxes to fill out asking about language, setting, characters, plot, dialogue, pacing, resolution. Suppose those items are then weighted and automatically translated into a star-rating of your book on every site where it is available. Perhaps the reader gets a bonus for filling it out—a discount on their next purchase, access to an author interview, or extras about the book. If readers did not have to go to so much trouble to write and post reviews, perhaps we’d get more reviews.

Wouldn’t it be nice for readers who like a book to be able to click one button at the end to subscribe to a notification for when the next book by that author is available? Maybe they get a discount when they subscribe. Maybe they want more than that though. Maybe they’d like to get the news feed from your blog or perhaps they’d like to follow you on Twitter or become a fan of your Facebook page. Wouldn’t it be convenient if they could do all that right from their e-readers before life gets in the way and they forget? Do you think your book tours and speaking engagements might be better attended if everyone who has a copy of your book and subscribed to you is notified in advance?

If a reader enjoys a book, it would be nice if they could press a button recommending that book to other friends—perhaps through an automatic interface with Facebook or Twitter. Maybe they’d like to recommend it to select friends or to everyone. The venues that sell your book will track these recommendations and make them available to you. It may even be that book recommendations will supplant star-ratings as a means of evaluating books. Wouldn’t you like your book to appear on a most recommended list?

Access to the author
Did you ever finish a book and wish you could ask the author a question? E-readers of the future may have the technological capability to facilitate a more interactive relationship between readers and authors. Could a reader type a question into an e-reader and have that sent directly to your e-mail, from where you could respond directly? Perhaps live chat forums could be scheduled wherein you could answer questions from a number of fans at once.

Enhanced video capability will introduce many new possibilities for authors as well:

Dynamic Cover art
Let’s face it, the static image of a book cover falls well short of exploiting the full potential of the digital medium. If billboards and roadsigns can be dynamic, so can your book cover. Maybe the cover art fades in and out with the pictures of different characters or scenes from the book. Why count on one single image to capture the eye of the browsing customer? Maybe your tag line alternates with review quotes. Since digital books don’t have full book covers like print books, perhaps buttons can be added to let the prospective browser choose to read the author bio, book description or a full list of reviews.

Chapter vignettes
In the olden days, some top-quality books had plates at the beginning of each chapter, a drawing or picture that encapsulated the essence of what was about to come. The digital age can bring that back and make it even better with short video vignettes before each chapter that do the same thing. What’s coming, the sword fight? The kiss? A hand turning a key? Give your reader a one second video clip to pique their interest.

Book Trailers for upcoming releases or other titles
Unless this is your first book, you might like a chance to show off some of your other titles. If you have trailers for those, why not give the reader an opportunity to see some of your first-class video trailers for other titles, or maybe one about to be released?

Book royalties are nice, but what if your book could make a little extra money on the side? If you could choose to advertise another book, a reading lamp, a new e-reader, or book retailer by simply adding a clickable image to the end of your book, would you do so? Maybe you’d get paid a set amount for the ad or maybe you’d be paid per click or by commission for purchases, but the opportunity will be there.

So, how might those things change the way you write? If the Florida Tourism Department or Harrah’s Casino or Disneyland were willing to buy a nice ad at the end of your book if you could somehow incorporate them into the book as well, would you do that? Might you choose settings or events for future books based on prospective ad interest? When you write each chapter, might you think first of the video vignette? Both pre-production and post-production times may be affected with the addition of new features. Will it affect the amount of time you already have to write, or will the new features free up some of the time you currently spend in marketing your work?

The systemic effects of such changes could be very important. These features will drive the cost of producing a digital book upward. Unless the author has the software and the technological know-how to do all this on his or her own, much more than just editing and cover design will come into play for the production of an eBook. Those costs will be passed on to the consumer. The result will be that even though these books will not be sold for 99 cents, they will sell. Books that do not offer these enhanced features will fade into obscurity, as will the authors who are unable to adapt.

None of this means the written word will become unimportant. Neither does it mean awful books won’t still be produced. It does mean that technology has put on her running shoes.  Whining about how it used to be will not change things one iota. Get ready to run along or be left behind.

*     *     *     *     *

Stephen Hise is an author and the Founder and Evil Mastermind of Indies Unlimited. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and his website:

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

34 thoughts on “How Technology Will Re-define Writing”

  1. When I see posts that start out like this one I typically react with a groan. This is because so many proceed to talk about turning a book into a poor excuse for a movie with an "enhanced ebook." If I wanted a movie, I'd watch a movie. But then I started reading your predictions and realized that along with the "movie" (cover art, chapter vignettes, and book trailers) you had much more.

    Some of these I think we've seen the first steps already being taken. Amazon allows a "rating" to be given as soon as you finish a book. (How or if it puts this to use at this point, I'm not sure.) There are some interfaces between Kindles and social networks. Somewhere I've seen (Barnes and Noble?) they allow ranking of a book in several categories in addition or in lieu of a full-fledged review. Amazon also notifies when new books from authors you've read are released. Goodreads does the same.

    Something else I realized is that most of these, if implemented correctly, would be optional. I could skip past the "movie." No one would be forced to participate in the book club. An old curmudgeon like myself could just read the book and wouldn't be forced to do anything more, but those who were interested in the enhanced content would have it available. (This assumes the chapter vingette or other enhancements don't contain a piece of the story not found elsewhere.)

    Ads is something that many think we'll see. Joe Konrath is one. Scott Nicholson was selling ads to be placed in the back of his books at one point. (I haven't heard how they've done or if he still is.) Many are predicting that in the future it will be selling ads where the majority of an author's income will come from. Some have gone so far as to predict that rather than the 99 cent book going away, that ads will drive the cost of books to free.

    It will be interesting to see how these predictions play out. Some of them are things we might see in the very near future. We're certainly living in interesting times where books are concerned.

    1. Very interesting thoughts, Al. Particularly is your notion that ad revenues may drive book prices down, making even free books profitable for authors.

      Thanks for your comments.

  2. This is something a lot of "books will be forever" shouters don't seem to get.

    Techology has ALWAYS affected content.

    There were no novels before the printing press.

    Paperbacks were a technology breakthrough, leading to whole new classes of book.

    The idea that a novel has to be 100,000 words is a financial limitation, created from technological limitations, not something inherent artistically or literarily in the form. At this point, an ebook cn be any length. I published a 10.000 word ebook this spring, and a 20 pager.

    There is a publisher called 40K books. Short stories sell for the same price online as collections of 5 best-selling novels.

    The more "instantaneous" books become, the more fluid they get to be.

    1. This is an excerpt from a paper I wrote on this for the Experimental Literature conference.

      The whole idea of interaction between format and content is easy to see with our Buckyvision rearview mirrors. But not largely remarked. Just as nobody likes to mention how much marginal fiction is supported by the mass market.

      It’s pretty obvious that pre-Gutenberg there weren’t people sitting around trying to figure out how to write “War and Peace”, or wondering how they could get his Gilgamesh thing out to the populace in time for Christmas. Anymore that there were stained glass artists wishing somebody would invent the Cathedral so they could have a place to hang this cool round window thing they’d been obsessed with lately. Easier to see, perhaps, that the architecture and stone-mason technology created a hole that artisans stepped up to fill.

      The advent of hyperlinks, and later blog serials solved my problem on how to express “Properties of Light”, which I’m still fooling with. It’s not like nobody ever did anything like that before: Hopscotch was published as a bunch of chapters printed on single pages, sold unbound in a box to be shuffled up and read in any order. But in that case there was no connection between the chapters at all. A data base full of chapters that can be called up in various order by different sorts of searches makes it possible…and much more. But I think that’s pretty rare. You look at most of the early “hyper novels” and they were more or less stunts, created to fulfill the potential and as clunky as “You choose the ending” books. Hypernovels that cry out to be hyper, rather than just hyped, are hard to come by. But what does our forwardview mirror suggest? If everybody is reading on the iPad, and used to fragmentary delivery, what might come forth.

      Format regression let-down can be seen everywhere one looks in these mercurial genres. Retrofitting is as useless as having “Madame Bovary” copied out on clay tablets, or Three Stooges Routines published as hardbacks.

  3. However…

    I was an early fan/freak of "extended technology" ebooks. I had ebooks with floating tag clouds. Had included videos before the Vook appeared. Loads of fun.

    If you want to see novels with videos and all the whizbang, just take a look at the online serial community, where writers like Dan Leo create sprawling works full of vids and music and hyperlinking that would take a year to read even they weren't still writing more.

    Or hell, even a more modest project like our "Mayan Calendar Girls"

    I've changed my mind on that. Here's why. Books are still distinct from videos and such, and will be as long as people enjoy reading, as a distinct activity different from watching movies or playing video games.

    The movement to collapse those divisions is getting nowhere, despite the fact that the technology has been here for years. If I could dd it, people who actually have a clue about that stuff could do it better. But Vooks aren't selling.

    And that's good for two reasons. First one is, that if it becomes the norm for "books" to have soundtracks and interactive video, we'll be right back where we were before the ebook revolution: writers won't be able to capitalize the high-tech necessary to be competitive so big publishers will once again have the capital upper hand/monopoly.

    Second, it's a move in a direction that is bad for readers (kind of moves toward extinction of readers, actually), bad for writers, and really bad for publishing companies.

    What that leads to is the bluring of lines between books, films, and video games. Sure a lot of people have Kindles. But a LOT more have Playstations and hand-held game platforms and iPhone apps.

    The more that books become visual and animated and interactive, the more they start competing with video games. And they will lose. Big time, slapdown, holocaust lose.

    Games like Halo or BioShock are already very close to the literary content of books for the same taste and age group. In fact, probably 90% of the indie ebooks in the adventure/horror genres are inferior to DioShock AS LITERATURE. I saw a movie consisting of 6 short stories drawn from Halo. Games are generating movies even faster than comic books.

    So "book" publishers would have to compete head-to-head with game makers. Who know a LOT more about how to do it. And are a young, vital, efficient industry on the rise, compared to a dysfunctional, failing industry saddled with legacy inefficiency and cluelessness.

    No contest.

    I run ads for other books in my ebooks.I published a graphic short story, 2o pages of art plates. I am using the "flicker" effect of Kindle with the art and will do more to use it for cool effects.

    But I'm still selling books, not interactive/multimedia/animated content. That's already being done, and being done way better.

    It's a dangerous path for publishing to pursue, and bodes ill for writers if it becomes standard.

    1. Lin, you are right about the technologies being available. I do not think they have been integrated and marketed successfully as a single platform yet, but that will likely come.

      You mention certain action-oriented video games as the progenitors of books and I see that as a positive. Those books sell, indicating the game alone is not enough, so I don't think these changes are all bad, nor do they portend the end of the written word.

      1. No, genitors of MOVIES. Like Mario Brothers and Max Payne and Resident Evil and Lara Croft and Bloodrayne and Street Fighter.

        I'm not aware of any books coming out of that field.

        The difference between animated, interactive ebooks and video games is pretty hard to nail down. And the closer book publishing gets to being the same thing, the more they risk becoming obsolete and irrelevant.

        Books don't need soundtracks for one thing. Absolutely, definitely don't need soundtracks.

        Whether they need videos (instead of just BEING videos) is to be determined

        I would sure hate to bet any money on a publisher coming up with some interactive visual musical whizbang book that would compete with BioShock.

        And if they did, BioShock would just bring in some more writers and artists and blow them away. It's their turf.

        1. The Splinter Cell books, sold under the aegis (though not necessarily written by Tom Clancy) are one example of books generated purely by video games.

          I think there are others, but the point is that people who play the games will be interested in those books because they like that world.

          People who like the books may be interested in also playing the games. It is a tremendous opportunity for technological platform cross-pollination, with a symbiotic relationship between various entertainment media.

          1. Is that how it works, for sure, though?

            Or are they just trying to grub up content for books, and sell like Star Wars "Fanfic".

            I have a really, really hard time seeing video games as a gateway to reading books.

            Graphic novels??? Maybe…

  4. Interesting predictions, all of them. Ultimately, they will be consumer-led, and writers will have to respond to that. There are going to ups and downs: I wouldn't relish the idea of a reader being able to send me a question halfway through one of my stories, to which the only answer would be "read on and you'll find out", and then get annoyed when I don't respond within five minutes because, e.g., I'm sleeping.

    In any case, books will die when implants finally come along and all "entertainment" is delivered in a drug-like fix direct into the brain. But with any luck I'll be pushing up daisys long before then.


    1. Chris, I would hope that the interactivity between the reader and the author would have some limitations. I already do not get enough sleep. I don't need people messaging me from their e-readers asking if I know Chris James. 🙂

      1. Stephen, I was wondering that very thing and was going to email you. DO you know Chris James?

        Poor Stephen: first Mader, then Antrobus then Rush…now James. Those messages will be coming in fast and furious!

  5. Hi Stephen,

    Super, interesting post. I would love to have the first five in my books. Except I do agree with Chris on your number 5 – access to the author. I wouldn't want a reader mad at me because I couldn't answer their question(s) right away due to time zones and what not.

    I could do without the Dynamic Cover Art feature, but the chapter viginettes I agree with Lin on that one. If I want to watch a movie, I'd do that instead of read a book. Books have to unique and different in my mind to keep the industry going. If we make mini movies within our books, then why not write the screen play for it in the first place and just make a movie? As a reader, I don't want to know what is going to happen in a chapter by watching a viginette first. If that feature were real, as a reader and an author I'd want it to where I could turn that feature off or offer it as an extra paid feature, because really, how much would it cost to make one for each chapter?

    Since book trailers are being made for books now anyway, then why not make one for next upcoming book? I can see that working and aren't we able to put links to our websites, where to purchase our next book, etc in them now so if people are not making trailers for their upcoming books as a link in their books now, I think they are missing out. I do not have trailers, do not know how to make them, but if they were simple and easy to do, then I might put them at the end of my book advertising the next one.

    As an author, if we could put ads in our books, I would entertain that feature as well. I don't believe any of them would change the way I write a book though.

    So Stephen, when are you going to implement at least the first five features for us? Sign me up.

    1. The first five are much more interesting possibilities to me, and I think to authors in general. The video integration has and will continue to happen, but may branch out even from there – especially in the epic fantasy genre, to include video games based on the book.

      I won't be inventing any of these though – not until after I get the laser death ray working.


  6. Here's my 2 cents:

    Many visionaries foresee enhancements, and they usually leap from the idea of print straight to that of video/film, from a static medium into a motion medium.

    I feel it makes so much more sense to make a sideways leap into Artwork. Art doesn't have to be confined to the book cover alone. Illustrations! Paintings between chapters. Photographs. With ebooks we are no longer confined to the color plate cluster in the middle of a book, images can be inserted anywhere we want. Maybe those medieval illustrators went overboard, but 2D imagery is the natural marriage partner for the word… as almost every magazine or journal out there has found out. Nonfiction books understand the principle. Why not other books too?

    I've put a lot of time into this avenue with my own poetry ebooks on

    I think the reason more authors haven't pursued this road is because it takes a lot of extra time. Visual artists don't necessarily move in writer's circles. It's quite expensive to hire one artist to custom illustrate an entire book. The alternative is to make individual agreements for pre-existing works of an array of artists, carefully selected as by an editor. Then you have to tread carefully through copyright issues!

    From personal experience, many artists are grateful for this unexpected offer to expose their work, this reaching across the aisle if you will…

    Will a reader be more impressed with genuine creative statements from real visual artists or with hyped video advertising interrupting their book? I know which one I'd rather read 🙂

    1. Good points, Russil. I do think books will become richer visually and that may mean more art of both static and dynamic varieties.

      I don't see that as necessarily detracting from what books are meant to be, but I do think it represents change that will require adaption.

    2. That makes a lot of sense, Russil. Illustration has been around books since the very start. In fact, there were images on walls and clay tablets before there were words. Writing is a descendant of pictograms. Hand inked bibles had artwork.

      A recent poll by Bowker, the ISBN providers showed that younger people are very strongly more into graphic novels than verbal novels.

      I'm working with an artist now, who is illustrating "The Invisible Man" for an ebook publication. He and his cartoon buddies have a lot of neat ideas of how this can work. I'm looking at a sort of "semi-graphic novel", where each page of two has a half-page plate, rather than every action drawn out.

      Trying to figure out how to do when I want vertical plates for print books and horizontal half-pages for ebooks.

      But many would say… oh, so you're just creating comic books for kids instead of real books. And there's something to that. And, just like with the video interactive stuff, if publishers run straight up against comic book companies for semi-graphic novels, they will lose because they aren't as good at it, and have too much dead wood and self-defeating culture.

        1. But Lin, in the book at your link (and admittedly Amazon only let me see the first three pages of actual content), there are, what? ten words total? You can tell a serious story that way, sure. But it seems to me that the art is driving the story, not the words.

          I admit that I never got the appeal of either comic books *or* graphic novels, though.

          1. That "look inside" thing is really weird.

            I've seen books that only show like one page of text, others show three chapters.

            I looked in one where the links on the table of contents would take you anywhere in the book… so you could read it for free if you wanted to.

            One thing, this is a 20 "page" book, so any sample will be pretty short.

          2. And, you're right, it's not a text novel, it's a collection of art plates.

            Any words are in the plates. But it very definitely tells a story.

            I was very pleased by the strong review from Grady Harp, who in addition to being a Hall of Fame reviewer, owns an art gallery.

  7. Technology has nowhere to go but up. Books have no choice but to follow in order to remain relevant in today's world. As terrible as that sounds, there's a modicum of truth in it. I think, anyway.

    As it stands now, the possibilities are endless. Although, I have to agree, I would rather not get a barrage of emails from readers that I couldn't answer right away because of time zones or want of sleep.

    That being said, why *not* make the books more interactive with artwork, deleted scenes, or character excerpts? Again, the possibilities are endless.

    The coolest thing I've seen thusfar was the Looking Glass Wars series, where the author came out with a soundtrack to match specific chapters in the book. Even if you weren't reading, you could listen to the CD and 'see' the book in your head. It gave a different dimension to what he wrote, and a unique signature to the series. A lot of authors have come out with websites pertaining to their stories, extending their world into an interactive medium (J.K. Rowling's Potterverse, Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century).

    However, I really do think I would want an 'off' button. I enjoy seeing the book as a movie in my head, rather than watching anything within the book. I'd rather have a commercial break that consisted of me flicking/turning the page than an actual commercial. I'm still a firm believer in one's own imagination as the most special thing about a book. There's how the author sees his/her book, and then there's how it's read. Each reader is unique, and the way they see the book is just as much so.

    That's not to say the author can't interject a few things here or there, but as a 'special features' type of thing. One that can be optioned by the reader.

    An option I've been toying with is a BBC-esque radio show for one of my books. An idea popping up from listening to THE BIG SLEEP one time too many. Of course, I'll have to write the book first, but the option is there thanks to technology.

    An author is only limited by their imagination and the amount of time available for the endeavour.

    1. That sounds like a great idea, RJ. And that whole audio/podcast market is hot.

      And I agree very much about our "imagination" comment. The reason people still read books instead of just listening to mp3's and watching movies is because of that. The "interaction" comes in putting their own clothing and set dressings for the story.

      It's probably the single most important thing about literature as an art, and people need to be careful about damaging or sidelining it or they are liable to just be training readers not to read.

    2. Excellent comment R.J. I prefer not to have the cover artist tell me what the characters look like as well, but the pictures and videos inside a book need not focus on the characters.

      I do believe that music and sound effects will begin to play a role as well. It will be interesting to see how those are integrated to best effect.

      1. I think the soundtrack thing kind of got killed off by Nick Cave's book.

        The big question would be like, Why listen to your music while reading, instead of my own? My kindle has an earphone jack and I can listen to jazz while I read if I want.

        I really don't like listening to music with words while I read. And if the book soundtrack doesn't have words, what's the point?

        And again, as an indie author, do you really like the idea that you might have to create musical soundtracks for your books?

        I saw a writer the other day who had an album of music "drawn from" or complimenting his book, but didn't suggest listening to it while reading. Sold separately as mp3

        The big thing about technology: it has to be appropriate and offer a benefit, rather than just a feature. I saw smell o vision touted as the future of films, seats shaking as a big deal. They were laughed out.

        3-D got laughed out the first time around, and now it seems like it's dying again after an initial whoop.

        My guess would be that books are for reading. By readers. And will stay that way. And that's not a bad thing.

        I'm not crazy about general ads in books (and the public isn't either) but include links and pics for other books I think would complement the one the reader purchased.

        And have links to join mailing lists for future books.

        Oddly, I have found that some of the whizzbang (like my 3 exe books, which are like websites but with more tricks) work better for shorts and poetry than for novels.

        The big tech gimmick I think is useful (other than hyperlinks for indexing and footnotes–I have two books with over a hundred internal links) is tooltips. Not yet supported by any readers. But being able to have the hovering cursor pop up text and images is really, really useful.

        Oddly nobody seems to care about that. They are all talking about videos and music.

        I'm working to finish a true hyper-novel, but that is slow, slow work. Obviously, a hypertext novel is of limited interest to most readers, but the next guy to come out with one could have the perfect book for it to really work with.

        1. True Lin. However, the soundtrack does not have to be a collection of songs, and the vignettes don't have to be video. The sound of a storm, crickets and frogs, shoes click-clacking down a sidewalk, a creaking door, a scream…

          (think old-fashioned radio theater) could be integrated into an e-book to great effect. If done well, it could provide a richer and more rewarding reading experience.

  8. If we follow music trends in this as well, then in a few years time there will be book purists who prefer the plain unadorned version of books – the equivalent of preferring vinyl over the whizz-bang delivery of CD & mp3. Perhaps. But I do like the thought of subtle sound effects…

    1. "If we follow music trends …"

      Or maybe the comparison is to music videos. Videos give you a lot of interpretation of the meaning of the song, not unlike some enhanced ebooks might. I think the vinyl to CD/MP3 comparison fits better when thinking of paper versus ebooks. That also fits the predictions many have made that in time paper will be a niche, not unlike vinyl.

  9. As a reader, I kind of like the idea of an illustration at the beginning of each chapter, like the pen-and-ink drawings I remember from books when I was younger. My initial reaction as an indie author, though, is, "How much am I gonna have to spend on stock photos for that?"

    On the other hand, if I can get a product placement deal…. 😉

  10. Hi, Stephen:

    Here's the presentation/performance I just gave at The Sorbonne in Paris at the &NOW Conference of Innovative Literature:

    Jaded Ibis is already publishing literary books-as-apps and interactive books. From the inception, our titles have included art and (externally) music by renowned or emerging visual artists and musicians. We're just now utilizing POD technologies to allow writers who use 2-D and 3-D images, videos, audios to publish "frames" to be completed by them after purchase.

    Our Think Tank* is exploring how to merge the best aspects of literary and visual art into Brain Computer Interface. (

    All best,

    Debra Di Blasi


    Jaded Ibis Productions / Jaded Ibis Press

    1. Hi Debra,

      I've followed you and Jaded Ibis for some time.

      I've been interested in this app thing for some time, as well. The impression I'm getting from the tech geeks is that ePub does all that apps can do and makes more sense.

      Problem with apps, to me, is that you can do webbased ones for like, free, but native apps are really expensive.

      Apparently ePub 3 will bring wonders and salvation to the world.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: