Melissa Steele on the Future of Books


Melissa Steele responded by email to TWR‘s standard set of five questions on this subject.

1) We all know that Dan Brown and his ilk can sell product in any form, ebook, pbook or otherwise. But what do you think will be the impact of e-books on literary publishing in the near term?

I think the near-term impact of ebooks on literary publishing will be negative for writers and publishers.  It is already hard enough for publishers to stay afloat and for authors to make a living. Ebooks  will be good for mass market bestsellers and for obscure or self-published books on either end of the scale but for literary authors who sell some books but not millions of them,  their books, e or otherwise,  will be less prominent and they will have a harder time selling them.

2) How will your role as a writer change as a result of the increasing adoption of ebooks and ezines?

I don’t write for glory  and like the vast majority of Canadian literary writers, I don’t make anything like my whole living from writing, so I doubt that ebooks and ezines will change my approach to the craft much.   As a short story writer, I hold a small hope that as our collective attention span continues to decrease, the short story will be elevated as a literary form but who really knows?

3) Do you use or have you tried using an e-reader? What is your impression of them?

I have used an e-reader and I like it fine, especially for magazines and newspapers.  I still prefer hard-copy for books, and imagine that is true of most people of my generation– so I think the death of the book is a ways off but there is no reason that e-books can’t replace books eventually and I think they will.

4)  How do you think the McLuhanism that equates medium with message will apply to ebooks? That is, will artistic forms such as the novel, the short story, and the poem actually change because of the new delivery media, including e-readers, iPhones etc.? What about the impact of so-called enhanced books that include video and music?

I think that video games and texting both have an effect on how we use language.  Video games are creating a generation of plot obsessed young writers with very little language acuity. Texting is altering our sense of pace in sentences and therefore in stories.  Writers are becoming impatient with long sentences and with linkages that connect clauses within sentences.  The result is an acceptance of fragments in place of complete sentences and a lot of shorthand listing rather than Henry James-style complex and intricate and to my ear beautiful sentences.  English has always been a harsh language with a practical emphasis (as opposed to French or Spanish which are more lilting).  I think our language is becoming that much harsher because of  the way we compose text messages and email.

5) In what ways will paper books change in the next few years because of ebooks?

I think there will be fewer paper books and books will become more like artifacts or sentimental objects.  We already see books like  Anne Carson’s Nox that are both art object and text.  As we mourn the death of books, we are  creating more and more elaborate and beautiful  books as a way of emphasizing the power of not just the text, but the physical container for that text.

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Melissa Steele

MELISSA STEELE was the Winnipeg Public Library's Writer-in-Residence for 2010-2011. Her 2007 short fiction collection, Beautiful Girl Thumb, won the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction. Melissa is also the author of Donut Shop Lovers (1999). She is currently completing a third collection of stories.