At some point every writer confronts the trend of readers who would rather consume 140 characters in social media than 140 pages of words.
Social media and smart phones change everything in our world and their impact on book reading and writing is substantial.
At the same time social media and smart phones have made people closer and more accessible than ever before, they also allow others to retreat into a virtual world of posting and texting which requires little actual personal contact.
I won’t quote all the research and try to decipher the full social, political and even spiritual impact of short-form communication, since you can read about all this on your own.
Instead, I want to make a rather simple point today with the desire to create more hope than despair for authors.
All short form electronic communication is simply a new kind of media. In the last 100 years, society navigated from books, newspapers and print magazines to films, radio, television, internet and now social media and smart phones. Each time a new media appeared, the previously existing media didn’t disappear, they simply adapted to the new world of multiple choices.
It is no different today. All of the above media still exist, but certainly not the same as they were in the past. They all are forced to adapt every day to new realities.
How do books adapt to the current multiple choice, personalized and customized media?
They adapt by placing more pressure on authors (and publishers) to create better books, with purpose, capturing and maintaining attention through excellent writing, which sparks the imagination or spurs a reader to action.
Powerful messages presented in a whimsical and interesting manner.
Stories which transport the reader to another place and time through imaginative writing.
Content the reader really wants to read.
The way to compete in a cluttered world is through creativity. And honestly, it has always been this way.
Choose any form of media and you will find the same development arc. A new kind of media is initially used simply because it is new, then it is used for a time because it provides a way to consume content like no other.
Eventually, another media type shows up and requires all the same things of those which came before and the cycle begins again.
Magazines were going to destroy books. Television was going to destroy radio. The internet was going to destroy television.
But all media has a place, just a different place than it held a generation earlier.
Books are the oldest of current media and needed to navigate the appearance and growth of other print and electronic media, multiple times before.
Every time a threat appears to a form of media, the best response is to rely on the creativity of those who create the content on that media. It’s almost never a “dollars and cents” solution.
Certain categories of books seem doomed to extinction, until a creative author comes up with a concept which grows the entire category. For books, it’s always great writing which readers want, which causes the resurgence.
In the Christian publishing space, it is a little more complicated with the actual Creator inspiring the creativity, but the general concept is the same…media is transformed by creativity.
So, what would a response be to the apparent growing addiction to shorter reading material?
I am not convinced it is to simply write shorter.
Using the “race to the bottom” principle from marketing guru Seth Godin, which he uses in context of lowest price as a sole-motivator for selling something, trying to compete with Twitter by making books shorter and shorter seems like the same kind of competition which no one will win.
Instead, the response for authors is to write with great imagination, creativity, or even whimsy. Fiction readers want to be transported. Non-fiction readers want to be informed and inspired. All readers want their imaginations stretched.
So, authors, it’s up to you. No pressure.