Will e-books change the shape of writing?

The other day, I was reading the paper (which I do from time to time) and I saw an article discussing e-books and the way they are changing writing.

This made me pause for a second. I have read countless articles debating and discussing the effect the e-book revolution has had on the publishing industry, but what about the effect it has had or is having on the subject matter.

The ability to self publish has meant that getting work out there is easier than ever before. I will not talk about books not being ready or people expecting fame for fortune from the very first hour, and would rather ask you to assume, for the rest of this post, that all books publishing in this way are actually ready for publication.

I will save my views on this article until the very end, and am rather presenting the argument that was raised for your deliberation first.

Now that we can upload a book whenever we ‘want’, have we ever stopped to ask if the shape of a novel is changing as a result. Sure, the boundaries between genres is blurred, and a writers ability to move freely between genres is certain more pertinent today then in years gone by, but what about the end product.

Is it all too easy for a writer to create a book of around 50,000 words, and call it a novel? It’s over the standard novella limit of 40,000 so it much be ok right? Is that a novel? or is it merely the basic idea.

Indie writers are delving deep into ‘craft’ books, and learning all the right phrases and approaches to writing a story, but is the overall development still the same? Are writers really pushing themselves to the edges of creativity? I know that many are, but let’s not look at genre specific items, but rather writing as a whole.

Is it not too tempting nowadays to see that acceptable word limit, round off the story line and edit it, without considering the addition of an extra plot line that could be woven into the background?

The other point this article (which I for the life of me cannot find anymore) made is about chapters. Do writers still use cliffhangers at the end of their chapters, to hook readers and get them eager to find out what happens next? Is the chapter structure of a book the same as it was ten years ago, or twenty?

I can tell you, that this article, was part of a speech given by a traditionally published author at an awards ceremony. I don’t know about you, but it almost came across as if she was afraid of e-books and the surge of new writing talent available. She does raise an interesting point on book length, but to lay the blame or the suggestion of blame at the feet of e-books seems all too easy. Maybe it is the demands of an ever changing world that have lead to certain genres shortening their lengths. It certainly isn’t a problem with writers being lazy or not wanting to go the extra mile.

On chapters I cannot really comment. I mean I have read books with and with cliffhanger chapter endings, and you know what, not all books need them.. All in all, the points raise in the article were interesting but should not have been aimed towards ebooks or indie publishers, but rather at the ever changing shape of fiction. I mean, is it fair to blame indie writers for the changing way of biography writing? Or to say the new branch of biography writing that tells the true story weaved around a light tale of fiction? No, it is merely… evolution.

E-readers, and e-books are a different read to a physical book. That I truly believe. It is neither a good nor a bad, but rather a change, and who are we to standing in the face of change.

So I ask you, have you noticed books changing over the years? What do you thin is the biggest change in fiction since you were a child reading books and now as an adult, writing them. (and yes, I know, we still a read a lot today, but you see what I mean.)

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13 thoughts on “Will e-books change the shape of writing?

  1. As far as word count goes I think the end result is exactly opposite, In the past word counts have been pretty standardized according to genre. A lot of that has to do with printing cost and the page count/size of the end product. Romance novels are mostly read by women and have traditionally been sold as slim trade paperbacks (which will fit easily in your purse so you can read on the go.) Consequently they have had lower word counts, 60,000 or so. Science fiction fans like longer books, but there comes a point where a print book is unwieldy.
    Now authors, particularly the indie crowd are far more focused on story telling. The story should be whatever length you need to tell it properly. If it runs a mere 40,000 words, publish it as a novella for 99 cents. If your sci-fi opus runs 250,000 words, so be it. If you look at word counts on a site like Smashwords you’ll find a huge range. As a writer I find it very liberating.

    1. i agree with you there Rachel, I have often looked around Smashwords and seen novels heading towards 200,000 words. I would agree that the e-book allows a great range in word lengths. This was what annoyed me with the article though. The shape of books are changing, that much is clear, but as you say, the freedom offered by ebooks is something that I think we will see a lot more ‘mainstream’ authors using in the coming years.

      Obviously, we are still talking in a theoretical world where all published e-books are well written. I was gifted a book from Smashwords that was 200,000 words but clearly a first draft and upload kind of package.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. It is appreciated.

  2. I have to agree – one of the biggest changes I’ve noticed is in the variety of wordcounts out there now. Not that I check wordcounts but when you download an ebook you can tell by the file size how long it’s going to be. I’ve always loved big, meaty books so I have no problem with big and given the low prices being asked for indie books a short length is no longer an issue either.

    Once we get the quality issue sorted out somehow – god knows how – I believe traditionally published writers may just have something to worry about.

    1. I think they will too Andrea. I too am in favor of meaty novels, but only if it is fitting to the story. When I wrote my first book, I looked around and was told you should never make your debut novel more than 100,000 words. That was fine for me, but for some stories, that is not enough for half. Now at least authors can write the books they want to write.

      1. Couldn’t agree more Alex. Some storylines just have to be big, some end naturally at 100K and others are just perfect at novella size. Bram Stoker’s Summer Sublet is definitely one of the latter. So yes, arbitrary wordcounts just don’t make sense – or at least not from a pure story telling perspective.

  3. I definitely agree with the wordcount thing. Indie eBooks are taking a much wider range of lengths. I’m all for this, so long as the wordcount is set to suit the story. Until some point in the 1920s, I think it’s true to say that what we’d classify today as novellas outsold novels, and had always done so. I’m seeing a comeback for the novella and I’m all for that.

    The other thing I’m seeing with self-published authors is a much firmer emphasis on story versus style. At its worst, that’s another way of saying poor writing, but at its best it’s putting emphasis in books precisely where I want to see it. I’ll always forgive clunky styling in favour of an exciting story. Let’s face it, I’ve had a lot of practice because I enjoy ‘golden age’ science fiction from 40s-60s (which were usually very short novels, even those not stitch-ups of short stories). They were sometimes poorly written in technique but that never stopped me enjoying them.

    1. I agree, that if the story is good you can forgive errors in style, while, if the roles were reversed, great style cannot rescue a poor story. That is an interesting point about the resurgence of novellas and the role they played back at the start of the 1900’s.

      Thanks a lot for dropping by and commenting.

  4. Interesting stuff and great food for thought. What I see as changes in books since I was a child (back in the “grey ages,” i.e. 1950s and 1960s) – adult fiction books are much more violent now (and I’m not saying that is a good or bad thing, just pointing it out) and the topics covered are much more wide-ranged. For children’s books, much better variety than back in my day when it was Trixie Belden, The Bobbsey Twins, Dick and Jane, etc. For today, think Harry Potter. The other good thing is that many young people’s books, such as the Harry Potter ones, are now crossing into a wider range of ages for readers.

    As for e-books and print books – at least with e-books, more kids are now reading. And trade publishers are now publishing both versions, including my publisher Blue Denim Press. I think trade publishers have to go both ways to stay in business – but that is another story.

    1. True Sharon, creative freedom and the range of accepted expression has certainly has widened over recent years. I’m with you as being undecided on whether the overall impact is good or bad.

      I have a Kindle, and I love it, but it will never stop me from bying real books. I guess I use it more as a trial. I buy the kindle edition, if I love the book, I’ll buy the ‘real’ version of it. No amount of technology will preplace that book small, and the satisfaction of holding it in your hands and turning that last page/

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