I am admittedly a dinosaur. I wrote several of my early novels on a manual typewriter, a heavy all-metal thing that was called a portable simply because it came with a case – made of wood, no less – and could be carried with one (strong!) hand. It also was immediate death to any kind of manicure or nail polish. My father gave it to me and for that I treasure it and will never give it away, though I doubt that in these days I could depress the keys. I’m too spoiled to the modern ease of a computer keyboard that registers the slightest touch and doesn’t chip my nails.
Then, when I was a young woman, I saved my pennies and got an electric portable. Oh, that was heaven! I could type all day and the tips of my fingers wouldn’t go numb. Most of the time it didn’t even bother my nail polish. Of course, the motor sounded sort of like there was a big truck idling in the next room, but the lighter touch more than made up for that.
There were drawbacks. No spell-check. Cut and paste meant exactly that. You typed one (hopefully!) clean copy, then spent a mint having it photocopied. But that was true of manuals too, and at least my fingers didn’t ache. As much.
Fast forward to the computer era. This is nothing but pure magic. A light keyboard touch, vast amounts of storage that doesn’t mean several filing cabinets taking up floor space, spell-check, the ability to print as many copies as you like… the thought of such luxuries was a pipe dream in my young years and, a couple of centuries before that would probably have gotten someone burned at the stake.
If there is one thing I have learned, though, it is that there is no rose without a thorn, no Eden without its serpent. Yes, we have made the physical act of writing so much easier and the internet has placed the power of publishing in the hands of the masses. That is good and that is bad.
The good is that publishing and distribution are no longer in the iron grip of a small coterie with pretty much the power of professional life or death.
The bad is that pretty much all control and standards – and enforcement of those standards – are gone.
In the old days a book had to go through a pretty rigorous gauntlet of acceptance and then endure several rounds of editing, usually emerging better and stronger. Of course some bad books did make it through the system, but not many.
Now all it takes to publish a book is a computer and an internet connection. Any collection of half-baked ideas strung together with doubtful grammar, pathetic word choices, painfully bad spelling and an incoherent storyline can be put up as a book. And, what is worse, someone will buy it.
Is this totally a bad thing? I don’t think so. While this new world of digital self publishing gives professional, seasoned writers unprecedented control over their careers, it also creates a false sense of success for those unwilling to learn the correct protocols of good writing. I am sad for these ‘writers’ because they have just made it harder for themselves to build a legitimate career. Readers have long memories and the internet a longer one.
Another sad phenomenon of this revolution is that plagiarism is now so incredibly easy. Get a copy of a book, change the characters’ names, change the title, self publish and – voila! – instantly you are a published author with little work. Even if no one else notices the theft, though, the plagiarist – a pathetic creature at best – knows the work is not hers. I wonder what satisfaction she can have from it.
Writing a book is work. I know. I sold six books to recognized publishers last year and still am in the editing process on the last few. INHERITANCE OF SHADOWS, my modern gothic mystery, was released by Carina Press on Monday the 12th of March. It was a romp to write, but even when you’re enjoying the act of creation it is still work.
There are rules which must be followed if you wish to turn out a decent product. Far too often wanna-be writers confuse rules of construction with the stifling of creativity. It isn’t so. The purpose of writing on whatever kind of machine – quill pen to manual portable to the internet – is to convey thoughts and ideas, and for that there has to be a common, mutually acceptable ground between writer and reader. Creativity is wasted if the reader has no idea of what the writer is talking about or if the storyline is a chaotic, mis-spelled mishmash.
While the internet and self-publishing and the ease of writing on a computer have opened undreamed-of new vistas to writers, they have also removed the necessity of quality control. I, however, am an optimist. I feel that the good outweighs the bad, and the bad will eventually wither and die. Readers want quality books, and eventually that demand for quality will pretty much burn away the dreck.
Or perhaps before that happens the technology of writing will make another quantum leap and this entire discussion will seem quaint and old-fashioned. I just hope whatever it is, it won’t chip my manicure.
Janis Susan May is a seventh-generation Texan and a third-generation wordsmith who writes mysteries as Janis Patterson, romances and other things as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson. Formerly an actress and singer, a talent agent and Supervisor of Accessioning for a bio-genetic DNA testing lab, Janis has also been editor-in-chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups as well as many other things, including an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist. Janis married for the first time when most of her contemporaries were becoming grandmothers. Her husband, also an Egyptophile, even proposed in a moonlit garden near the Pyramids of Giza. Janis and her husband live in Texas with an assortment of rescued furbabies,
You can find Janis Susan May’s latest release, Inheritance of Shadows, at these sites:
For those of you who know me, this won’t come as a great surprise. Not even a mild one. I’m a TT – Techno Turd. I’m crap at this technology gig. I wish I was a TN – Techno Nerd.
But I’m not.
These two positions are in a constant state of flux, just as the continuous advancement of technology is. A TT can still become a TN by learning more, talking with others, and seeking out experts. A TN can become a TT, particularly when a new gizmo or gadget becomes available to the market, and they don’t adopt the new technology.
My novel, Viper’s Kiss, has some technical aspects to it. It involves Trojan Horse computer viruses, malware and spyware, surveillance technology, and (##beware, spoiler alert###) an invisible suit. It all sounds a little James Bond – but not as absurd as one would think. During the research for this novel, I was stunned to learn that there are universities actually investigating invisibility. I was also surprised to learn how sneakily creative hackers can be, and how prevalent they are. Suddenly, the fantastic becomes the possible, the just-around-the-corner innovation becomes the standard. Remember Captain Kirk touching his chest and saying “Beam me up, Scotty,” and Scotty would hear that command and, well, beam him up? Back then we called it Science Fiction. Now we call it Bluetooth.
But the one standout I’ve discovered with this novel is digital publishing. Viper’s Kiss is released through Harlequin’s Digital-First imprint, Carina Press. Viper’s Kiss is an e-book. Have you ever heard a TT try to explain to the uninitiated what an e-book is? Lots of hand gestures, lots of technical terms, such as thingamajig and whozeewhatsit, and then curiosity as we both figure out what I’m trying to say.
Anyway, an e-book is, to put it simply, a book in electronic format. You download it, read it off your computer or e-reader device of choice, as opposed to buying the hardcopy and reading the paper the words are printed on. (Notice, there was a slight shift for me there, from TT to TN. Okay, it was a tiny shift, but I’ll celebrate it!)
At the Romance Writers of Australia Conference there was a lot of talk about the Digital Age, a lot of it conflicting. It’s going to kill The Book, it’s the best/worst thing to hit publishing, booksellers will be the losers/winners, readers will have access to more books, better books, rubbish books; authors will lose out/win big –it’s the death of an age/the dawn of an age…
The one thing I have realised is that while there are fantastic Techno Nerds out there who understand the current technology and are benefiting from it – you only have to look at the quantity of e-reader devices that restrict sharing and limit reading and access to specific formats – but that’s a topic for another day! When it comes to what the future holds, we’re all Techno Turds. Nobody knows what effect the digital age will have on publishing, on writing, and, more importantly, on reading. But are we really at the ‘sink or swim’ stage? If we don’t embrace the technology and ride along with it, will we be left behind?
Bob Mayer mentions in his Write it Forward workshop (presented at the same conference), that anytime you react strongly and negatively to something, that’s your greatest defences at work, and your greatest defences are built around your weaknesses, your uncertainty and fear.
Face the fear, and work through it, Bob says.
Well, there are already a number of publishers doing just that. Harlequin, for one, with Carina Press. Avon have launched their digital imprint, Avon Impulse. Now Australia’s Pan MacMillan are about to launch their digital imprint, Momentum.
The key is to remember that all technology was new and frightening, at some point – for example; the telephone (yes, I realise those bills still make it frightening), medicine, electricity – I’m sure that Noah’s Ark was viewed with equal parts derision and fear, much like e-books. Well, wouldn’t you rather have been on the ark than watching it float past?
What do you think? How do you think e-books and digital publishing will effect reading, writing and publishing in the future?