The Future of Writing – The Future of Editing

I sometimes lament about where the world of writing is going.  Often the word “handbasket” is thrown about, along with various places of supernatural heat and torment.

I have to comfort myself with the knowledge that the age of the novel is not coming to an end, it’s simply going through a transition period.  We’re just unfortunate enough to be in the teething stage and there isn’t a shot of whiskey in sight to rub on our gums.

Case in point – I came across an article the other day about how the people who deal with ISBNs are trying to get ISBNs assigned to each type of ebook out there, one ISBN per file format, even if the content is identical.  Here’s a different link that explains in more detail, and in the comments section you’ll see some of the concerns I have voiced.

Now, this doesn’t affect me personally (though I side with the small publishers on the issue, requiring separate ISBNs for identical products and only a format difference is ridiculous for many reasons) but it is indicative of the future.  Print isn’t dead, it’s becoming electronic.

When I went to Chapters the other day, it felt, well, sparse.  A whole section in the back has been closed off and is now being used for book storage, and the ground floor is full of the kind of remainder books I used to order all the time at Soho Books.  Hell, it felt like they were getting ready for a going out of business sale (shudder).

So all that makes me wonder where books are going.  Yeah, yeah, “print is dead” has been bandied about since the 80s, and obviously it’s not true.  It’ll never be dead, but it will be relegated to the same category as wall paintings, something you have a few of that are the absolute best and want a special copy of (not just a poster from HMV).  But day to day reading?  Someday it’ll all be e-books.

That’s a little depressing, I guess, given that I grew up thinking that print was the holy grail for a writer.  It’s validation, proof that you made it.  It’s your gold star, and I’m coming into the game when it feels like there is disturbing talk from the teachers about getting rid of the star system.  They still have them, but they’re trying to get you ready for the transition by awarding fewer of them.

Chances are they won’t phase them out till after I’m gone, but still, it’s as much about my perception of the future as the present.

But that’s what it is, right?  Perception.  A hundred years from now, it will seem perfectly normal for most books to be in an electronic format (probably with all kinds of holographic bells and whistles), with a special limited edition print run made for bestsellers for collectors.  The grail will change, but it’s still there.

I’ve now started on my editing project for Mundania, and given my previous rant it might seem a bit hypocritical, but I’m doing it on an e-book reader.

I’ve complained about my Sony Touch e-book reader in the past because of it’s one major flaw – the touch screen makes the e-paper less bright and less appealing to read.  But for the case of editing this flaw is vastly outweighed by the advantages.  I can do all the edits and side notes I’d normally do on a printout (300 pages worth) right on the screen, which not only saves on toner and paper, but I can take it with me anywhere.   Also the built in dictionary makes it easy (two taps) to look up a definition of any word if I need to.

In short, it’s more than earning its keep, even if I’d rather use Gillian’s to read a novel under ordinary circumstances.

But imagine what the future will bring… e-paper is already being developed in full colour, with full motion video, and all the while being like reading paper, not staring at a computer screen.

I wonder how that will change the way we read?