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.
We were looking at a big-screen, high-def television display when my daughter-in-law commented, “all this, and people are watching more than ever on their tiny phone screens.”
I can’t turn my book into a twitter statement, but my first sentence better be a good one, followed by more good sentences. My readers have short attention spans, and I have to deliver in every paragraph to keep them engaged.
Whimsy and creativity and high prices. Got it. 😉 Is it the same principle “You get what you pay for” when picking up a book off the shelf or buying a pair of sneakers versus Nike? Thanks for encouraging us to keep reaching deeper into the jar of marbles to find the swirliest one to describe.
Make every word count, and use as many as you need.
You are speaking of reality. We don’t want to be ostriches with our heads buried in the sand, unaware of what’s happening around us, and we don’t want to be dinosaurs, unaware that we’ve got a new generation with new appetitites all around us. We do want to offer up the best writing we can with the best intentions, tools, skills, and writing that will hold the attention of the reading audience. Books live on because books are like good friends. They’re there when you need them and they speak life to us. Thanks for reminding us of the evolution historically and that writing well-written books is something that matters.
An awe-inspiring challenge! Thank you for this!
Lois Freeman Easley
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Dan, thanks for the challenge and the opportunity to make our words count.
As a new author “wannabe”, these words inspired me as I thought of transporting readers to a new level of understanding.
I feel challenged to engage my readers creatively yet also give my readers insights into their own beliefs and cultural norms.
Thank you for pushing me to a deeper level of writing.
“No pressure.” Dan, you are a master of understatement.
Your post is motivating, although it seems like a challenge and almost like a threat.
A threat? That’s why they call him Dangerous Dan.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
No pressure, huh, Dan? Adapt, and write better you say? 🙂 Everyone else is writing briefly, but this “hit too close to home” for me to just agree and move on. For 2 years I’ve volunteered at an after-school program in which I have sometimes had to decline helping K-5 children read the books they chose for their mandatory 20 minutes of reading aloud, because the themes or characters were things I believe that as a Christian, I should not put in my own mind. A very popular series one prolific author wrote for kids ages 7-11 has been described in a promo as “a brand new take on terror,” as if that were a good thing, and one of his books has the word “horrorland” in the title. At least one of them is about demon possession–which is portrayed as entertaining and interesting. For second graders. The kids have access to two whole big shelves of his series–dozens of books.
Even when kids choose generally esteemed “good” books, I find I must interrupt sometimes to remind them that the protagonist’s behaviors should not be copied when they lie, cheat, disobey and disrespect parents and others in authority, call stealing “borrowing,” etc.–all routinely portrayed as acceptable because they help the protagonist reach the goal.
I think we little realize how much spiritual warfare goes on with what we read. When we suspend our disbelief to enjoy fiction, we also suspend our Christian “filter.” We too easily set aside the Philippians 4 Principle of thinking on whatever things are pure, true, just, honest, and of good report. It grieves me that children are encouraged to read things that are spiritual poison, under the guise of “Well, at least they’re reading!” Writing to compete with that kind of allure is a LOT of pressure! Do you think we have enough imagination and skill to write books that appeal to young children and tweens whose school bookshelves are filled with horror fantasy, wizards and witchcraft, terror, demons and death? That’s exciting, attractive, desensitizing stuff! How do we compete? I hope God gifts writers who can write powerfully for GOOD and publishers will publish them. I’d love to be able for “my kids” to have two shelves of books like that!