Shouting Loud or Talking Differently

It seems as if we're living these days with a kind of Philip Pullmanesque daemon fixed by our sides. Except this isn't a svelte animal reflection of our inner characteristics, more a ubiquitous digital umbilical cord. I mean, how many of us now walk out of the door without a device of some kind keeping our minds oxygenated by the world?

Our lives are handily and portably stored, available at a touch. On phones, kindles, tablets. Friends, family, contacts. A digital diary of what we did, of what we're going to do. Photos, films - all of it in hi-res, hi-def. We carry this with us, pretty much anywhere, all of the time. It is as if we can't truly experience life and the world around us, unless we do so vicariously via our digital daemon. Included within this rich source of information, are books.

Books are no longer exclusively tactile entities, to be picked up and handled. They are blended in as part of the digital wallpaper. A book is not chosen from a shelf of other books. A book is selected from a screen that contains a stultifying array of social media, and quite literally anything on the world-wide web, available at the press of a finger.

Books are no longer exclusively tactile entities, to be picked up and handled. They are blended in as part of the digital wallpaper

Those at the forefront of this new reading experience are children. Though, of course, this is entirely natural to them, is all they've ever known. The argument goes that surely it is better for children to read something, anything, than nothing at all. And indeed, 'better' for the wider population. Yet if the only way people will read is via a digital device, is this a sign that the true reading experience has gone down the toilet?

I can't help feeling that to be an author in this noisy world, is utterly different to how it was even five years ago. It is impossible not to be thinking about how your words will compete on the digital shelf, and this feels somewhat incongruous to the art of writing itself. Potential readers have so much else to attract and dilute their attention.

Are writers having to shout louder, talk differently, to be heard?

Paul Mason wrote recently in the Guardian about how ebooks are changing the way we read, and the way novelists write:

I remember reading novels because the life within them was more exciting, the characters more attractive, the freedom more exhilarating than anything in the reality around me, which seemed stultifying, parochial and enclosed.

To a kid reading Pynchon on a Galaxy 6 this summer, it has to compete with Snapchat and Tinder, plus movies, games and music. Sure, that kid can no longer see what other people are reading on the beach – whether its Proust or 50 Shades – but they can see in great detail what people in their social network are recommending. Life itself has become more immersive. That's what writers are really up against.

Jennifer Maloney writes in the Wall Street Journal about the rise of phone reading, to the extent that publishers are now having to think about how a book will be read on a smaller screen:

The rise of phone reading is pushing publishers to rethink the way books are designed, marketed and sold with smaller screens in mind. It's also prompting concern about whether deep, concentrated thinking is possible amid the ringing, buzzing and alerts that come with phones.

To engage readers, publishers are now experimenting with ways to make the mobile-reading experience better. They are designing book jackets with smartphone screens in mind. (Handwritten scripts or small fonts may not be legible.) They are customizing their marketing materials—email blasts, Facebook posts and websites—to be read on phones. And some are trying to catch people on the go, offering free access to e-books in airports, hotels and trains.

As a reader, tonight I shall read a novel on my Kindle. Which is handy, because it's backlit, and I can make the text larger for my ageing eyesight. But I deliberately only have books on it, to preserve a virtual bookshelf. No email or www functionality, other than the ability to buy more books. I am as easily distracted as the next person. I want my reading experience to remain unsullied, in whichever format it presents itself, digital bells and whistles not withstanding.

As a writer, I am slightly uneasy as to how it's possible to be heard amongst all the noise.

Don't forget to check out last week's digital morsels on W&P:

Monday's Inspirational piece by K M Lockwood
Tuesday's eclectic collection from SCBWI blog-writers, foraged by Nick
Wednesday's onomatopoeic proof-reading tips from Catriona
Friday's Illustration Feature from Alex Wilson, talking about his experience illustrating for Storytime magazine
Saturday's celebration of Claire Barker's publishing success

Nancy Saunders is the Editor of W&P. You can find some of her short stories here, and on Twitter @nancyesaunders


  1. I don't think shouting louder is a technique that most people can benefit from, unless they have a big marketing budget behind them. But being different and independently-minded is something we can all harness, and I think that finding your niche and steadily expanding it is a reasonable strategy in a fragmented, distracted world.

  2. Thanks for this thought provoking comment. Will the children's market move more towards short stories, I wonder?

  3. The biggest noises certainly aren't the best writers, maybe especially with a big marketing budget. But I'm not sure it's an 'either/or' situation: my view is that e-books will bring a new dawn of beautifully produced books, with heft. Picture books remain gorgeous examples for younger readers.

  4. Thank you for your thoughts, folks. No doubt there will be room for all niches and voices, and many exciting formats that we've never seen before. I guess it's more the fear of losing the truly immersive story, that it may become drowned out by a shorter format, purely because this is all the reader can cope with.


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.