Sarah Dearing on the Future of Books


Sarah Dearing sent us a doc file with her answers to the TWR questions on April 19.

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?

1.  With distribution barriers removed and production costs reduced, literary publishing should be flourishing in electronic form.  If it isn’t, then it’s time to look more critically at why readers aren’t interested.

2.  Consumers will resoundingly reject the idea of paying the same price for an ebook as a printed one, particularly to try something new and more challenging.

3.  The need for effective marketing will become more acute.

4.  Printed versions will take on a totemic aspect, so there will be some pressure to produce more beautiful books worthy of that quality of production.

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

I’m considering what additional elements might add value to the electronic experience of my work from a curatorial, rather than marketing, perspective. The casual, acceptable reference to all forms of culture delivered via the internet as “content” has a dangerous and diminishing effect.  I believe it’s my responsibility as a writer to counter the notion that all content is equal.

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

I’ve only used an e-reader superficially to test the experience and, while it was acceptable, I spend too many hours reading text on a screen. Printed books provide essential breaks from that. I tend to skim when reading on a screen (see below), so it’s not appealing to me.  That said, if I were to spend prolonged time outside Toronto again, I would definitely get one. The benefit of universal access would outweigh the limitations.

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?

Succinct writing will regain favour, particularly for the next generation of readers accustomed to sentences containing 140 characters or less.  Tweeting is an interesting exercise in disciplined, nuanced, writing.  Some writers use Twitter very effectively and I predict those who do will, whether consciously or not, apply the style to their work.

Research is suggesting we use different parts of our brain for reading text on a screen and printed text. Other studies conclude the tactile, or materialistic, experience of books affects how our brains process the words.  I know for certain that I’m less focused when reading on a screen and remember less: what researchers call shallow reading.  It warrants further study and if ebooks continue to be the dominant delivery method, writers must seriously consider the implication on matters of craft and adapt accordingly.  This isn’t to suggest shallow writing; there’s plenty of that already.

I am optimistic about enhanced ebooks, but writers need to be vigilant that they don’t merely include marketing gimmicks. I can think of several writers whose work I appreciated more after hearing them read it aloud.  A short clip of such authors embedded in an ebook would positively impact how their readers approach their work.  The key will be for writers to ensure the additional elements actually enhance the work. I don’t think I’m great at reading my own work aloud, so that wouldn’t be something I’d include. A thoughtful interview would be more effective. A friend is currently writing an original song to include in an enhanced ebook version of my new novel, but there’s a significant relevance for its inclusion.

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

The tactile experience of reading a book is still very important, particularly for a great or complex book (as per above). Paper books will have to be more deliberately, or consciously, physical.  David Mitchell’s Thousand Autumns is a perfect example.  The visually pleasing jacket cover is thick and slightly textured, the pages ragged, high-quality stock.  It was a reading experience that would have been diminished delivered on a screen.  So, paper books will need to provide the best possible tactile and visual experience.  To maintain relevance, they will need to be beautiful objects in addition to great reads.

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Sarah Dearing

Sarah Dearing's third novel, The Art of Sufficient Conclusions, will be published by Enfield & Wizenty this fall. She has won the Joseph S. Stauffer Prize for promising young writers and the City of Toronto Book Award.