What does the reader want?
The first thing you’ll be told by most people in publishing is that readers don’t like change. They like what is familiar, what can be understood easily and doesn’t scare them. Which is possibly true. What is certainly true is that entrenched interests don’t like change. They like what is familiar, what can be understood easily and doesn’t scare them. It’s worth saying that a position of conservativism here isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Industries have been around a lot longer than you and I based on entirely that foundation—not rocking the boat is a safe, steady path. But, if we’re going to extend the metaphor, the water is getting choppy, and there are big fish out there just waiting to be caught.
Readers do like what is familiar. They like to be told a story—a little while after her death, a Susan Sontag essay addressed this point[^1]; she remarks that ‘A novel is not a set of proposals, or a list, or a collection of agendas, or an (open-ended, revisable) itinerary. It is the journey itself—made, experienced and completed’[^2]. However, as the title of this book suggests, digital stories are not necessarily novels, and that’s a critical distinction. If we persist in thinking of them as a novelistic form, in creating them that way and assessing them against the requirements of the conventional novel (much more about this later), then we’re going to get nowhere, very very quickly. A better course of action might be to ask ourselves why we write, and why we’re interested in what writing on a digital platform might be?
Why do we write?
To communicate an idea. To tell a story. To explain the world.
Because we can’t not write.
- Why write for digital? You have your reasons. Avoiding the utopian ideal. Build on things we understand.
- What is a digital book? Cheating. What it isn't. Public and private. Purpose.
- Agrippa. Blast from the past. Scarcity. Form and content. Everything is connected.
- Choose your own adventure. Why not. Lowest common denominator. Contexts. Avoiding remediation.
[^1]: It’s not available at the Guardian website anymore, but here’s a cheeky link.
[^2]: The whole essay is sublime, perfect and a genuinely must-read for anyone thinking of writing for new platforms and audiences. Know what the territory is, and address it. Especially if you think you can do better.