Some time ago I posted a piece by Chad Taylor, a freelancer for Kirkus Reviews and a purveyor of fine tweets (attracting the likes of such literati as Susan Orlean and Caroline Leavitt) on why Twitter is actually a good thing for writers. Here’s his take on the fuss over e-books, self-publishing, and the demise of publishing as we know it:
Writing is a romantic endeavor. The problem is that too often writers romanticize the wrong things. A decade ago print journalists howled about the rise of bloggers as if they were pillaging Huns. Today, many novelists and other writers lament the death of print newspapers and the rise of the e-book because it’s a different model than the one we’ve grown up with. But times change. Technology changes. Almost always, I would say, for the better.
Three thousand years ago Plato told everyone who would listen that this newfangled thing called an “alphabet” was going to be the death of storytelling. Why would anyone remember stories, he asked, when you could just “write them down”? Plato — with all his ageless brilliance and wisdom — was so caught up in what the new technology would take away that he never bothered to consider what advantages it might bring. In a similar way, our generation rails against the advent of digital printing and e-books because it changes the things we’re comfortable with: the weight of a bound book in your hand; writing annotations in margins; passing a physical copy from one person to the next. James Gleick refers to this as “a lack of imagination in the face of new technology.”
E-printing and digital distribution allows for direct, intimate contact between author and reader. Why buy a copy of a book from Barnes & Noble, then stand in line for hours to get it signed at a formal event, when I can download a copy for half the price from Amazon, then talk to the author directly about it via Twitter, Facebook or email? Removing the cost of paper-and-glue publishing will also eliminate the need for an author to give 70% of each sale to Random House. Bad news for Random House; great news for anyone who’s ever tried to feed his or her family writing novels.
Computers have made the act of writing more immediate, more visceral and accessible to everyone. It’s easier to write and edit on a word processor than to bang a manuscript out on a typewriter, and the act of sharing a draft with other people requires an email or thumb drive, not a trip to Kinko’s, unwieldy boxes, and an unreliable postal service. It allows writers to easily interact with other writers and receive feedback instantly on what we’re doing. It enables us to meet and share with people we’d never have dreamed of interacting with even 10 years ago.
The bottom line is this: Social media allows us to intimately connect with people looking for exactly what we’re offering, sell directly to the people who most want to pay for our art, and hear firsthand how what we do matters to the people who most appreciate it. And that’s a good thing.