Writing for the Internet
Because of today’s technological advances and concern for our natural resources, people are adapting to a paperless lifestyle and are turning to a different forum for their content. Unlike papered media, content is now instant and interchangeable. And the demographic of those turning to the internet for their information will continue to grow. If you have made the decision to write an e-book or a paper book (dubbed p-book), consider the points covered in this article and weigh up carefully the direction in which you wish it to take.
Remember the frenzy that surrounded the release of a Harry Potter book? Bookstores opened at midnight, thousands of fans waited in line to become the first on their block with the new adventure, online booksellers were swamped with orders. Millions of people eager to have that treasured printed book. But if the Harry Potter book had been released as an e-book then that craze may never have happened, at least not in the same way. The book would have been available instantly – obtainable in the time it takes to download – and in the comfort of the reader’s own home. No midnight openings for stores, no queues, and no next-day shipping for online booksellers. And possibly the media would’ve had to find something else to talk about for five or ten minutes.
Although some people still resist the change, it appears that e-books are here to stay. What writer wouldn’t have enjoyed the success of Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet with over 500,000 downloads. Of course the eagerness to obtain this e-publication in the first 24 hours (approximately 400,000 downloads) caused the server to overload and there were additional issues relating to the encryption. It was a significant leap for e-publishing, propelled because a famous author published it in this format. Now many publishers have established e-book divisions and online bookstores have made space on their sites to handle e-books.
E-books have a number of advantages over its paper relation. The posing question is whether e-books outweigh the intimacy shared between reader and its tree-born companion. The ultimate challenge, as is usually the case with the transition from old to new, has to do with getting used to the change. In relative terms, typewriters replaced longhand as the preferred way of writing. Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi was the first typewritten manuscript. By the late 1980s, a number of writers had abandoned their typewriters for word processors.
There are people who still write longhand, they feel more connected to their writing, but many are now comfortable with the flashing cursor and cut-and-paste convenience options of their computers. And e-publishing has established itself as the preferred method of publishing.
Electronic or Paper
From a practical viewpoint, the storage capacity of e-books makes it easy on both business and leisure travellers. No more carrying around volumes of company reports, public manuals, or the five novels you’ve packed and planned to read on your next holiday.
The most attractive quality of e-books is their versatility. E-books have searchable highlights, making it easier for you to relocate important sections you’ve marked. You can take notes without running out of margin space. An electronic dictionary allows you to click on a word and get its definition. E-books can also be read in the dark. Finally, as mentioned earlier, you can download an e-book in seconds – and there are no shipping fees.
Many avid readers still say they prefer the feel of a book in their hands while they are reading. They get lost in another world between the pages. And while they may have tried reading an e-book, it simply doesn’t have the same emotional impact for them.
It’s a special time when parents read stories to their children, turning each page, allowing the children to explore the pictures and absorb the story. It turns into a learning tool as parents ask their children to find things within the illustrations or question what they think will happen next.
The Future Of E-Books
Opinions on the future of e-books vary. Some authors and publishers are anti-e-books, but there are those that welcome the technological advances. Some concern is over devices with small screens, which requires lots of squinting and scrolling. E-book readers are much more like paper books in terms of font size, but reading them can be like looking at a computer monitor for great lengths of time. Nevertheless, the technology continues to improve.
Predictions are never easy, but there is a likelihood e-books will become the dominant way to read, and the paper version will become a rarity. Many newspapers and magazines already have e-versions of their information that appears in the printed issues, and they are aware of the binding cost to produce the same information in a physical form and the distribution costs and difficulties. It’s unlikely paper publishing will disappear entirely, despite some people’s opinions. Children’s books have made a comeback in the printed version and there will be other readers who enjoy the feel of a book while they read instead of the glare of a computer screen. Of course, a hundred years from now, things will be different and the printed book may be bought as an antique. Readers’ desire to experience a good story will remain despite the format it’s presented in.
To E-Publish …
Below are some points in favour of online publishing:
- E-books can be published without the costs associated with traditional publishers.
- It can be almost instantaneous to publish, and without the need to print copies, bind them and distribute them, meaning quicker recognition.
- Technology is forever moving forward so, at the very least, e-publishing needs to be accepted as an alternate forum.
- Writers have more freedom and are not bound to the whims of traditional publishers.
Or Not To E-Publish
Below are some points in favour of traditional publishing:
- Like music, e-books can be easily downloaded or copied repeatedly. There is no profit for the writer if one person buys it and then allows, for instance, 10 friends to copy or download it for free. Those piracy laws are there for a reason.
- Not all readers think to search the internet for a good book.
- Many booklovers prefer to wander the aisles of stores who sell books soaking up the unique aroma of the printed form rather than purchasing a story online.
- The possibility of plagiarism is compounded with the ability to ‘cut and paste’, which is readily available on any computer.
- There would be no traditional advances from royalties normally associated with a published book through a publishing house.
- Parents will often purchase a book for their children while browsing in a shop or supermarket. When passing books lined up on a shelf, a child will visually acknowledge a book of interest, which can encourage reading.
Generally speaking, when writing for the internet, there are three crucial differences: Audience, Format, and Lifespan. It’s important to consider each of these key differences.
A writer must consider the audience. When it comes to the paper version or electronic, the basics won’t change in regards to identifying who the primary targeted audience is, but there are some huge differences in other areas.
Most people, once they have bought a magazine or newspaper, are likely to give each page a cursory read before setting the item aside. Not so with online. When writing for the internet you must always keep in mind your reader can leave with a click of a button. People don’t have a lot of time to waste, so you must remain on target and focused at all times. If the writer doesn’t deliver good content then the reader will simply go elsewhere – and fast.
Another important point when writing for the internet is that many online readers are skimmers. They scan your copy quickly before committing themselves to reading the entire thing. It’s important to write clearly and concisely. Use punchy headlines and subheadings, as well as solid introductions and conclusions, as these are key points for skimmers.
Don’t try to mimic traditional print documents. Writing for the internet requires different strategies. One of the most important is the entry point. A search engine may deliver readers to any point of your information. If you have written coherent and cohesive content, then those readers might consider a more thorough read. It’s best to break longer pieces into several stand-alone sections that can work together as a whole or as separate documents.
While the apparent lifespan of many electronic documents appears to be short-lived, it’s not necessarily the case. Printed newspaper and magazine articles are current for a day, week or the month of their publication, so while it’s important as a writer to be fresh and current, keep in mind that your reader may access your words from the internet at some undetermined point in the future. Therefore, try not to be too topical (unless there is a specific reason for this), as you may severely date your article in the process.
Luckily, we are in a period where the decision to publish online or use traditional publishing tactics is up to the individual. So why not use both mediums for different work depending on the purpose and desired outcome.