The Nighttime Novelist...accomplishes more in about 240 pages than a dozen other "how to write" or "craft your novel" books have ever done.

--Helen Gallagher/Blogcritics




Sunday, October 17, 2010

In Praise of the Impractical, Space-wasting, Tree-killing, Apartment-overtaking, Good Old Fashioned Physical Book

So there's a Kindle edition of my book, and if you're into such things--Kindles, my book--then I encourage you to download it (which you can do here). I've no doubt that the Kindle version is a fine version, and of course it contains all the lessons, advice, examples, quotes, and occasional goofy humor as the physical edition. I feel sure it'd be a worthwhile electronic investment on your part.

Now, that having been said, I'd like to say something that I hope won't negatively impact Kindle sales, or make the fine people at Writer's Digest upset with me, and that is to point out something I'm not sure the Kindle edition could get across:

The Nighttime Novelist
is a beautifully designed book.

This is, in fact, the first comment I get when someone first sees the book...not "Wow, you wrote a whole bunch of words" or "How did you become so insightful?" but an admiring, and well-deserved, "That's beautiful."

Credit doesn't go to me, of course, but to Terri Woesner, whose eye-popping design and vibrant use of color really make the book stand out visually. Add to this the cool fold-out Coffee Break sections, the hidden spiral binding, and the nice hardback presentation (with a lovely cover illustration by Andrew Bennecker) and you've got yourself something that doesn't look like anything else on the shelf.

Like I said, the people who see it for the first time spend a good bit of time just holding the book in their hands and flipping through and being impressed by the production. Which is what I did, too, the first time I saw it: held it in my hands for a while and then brought the book up to my nose for that new-book smell.

My intention in bringing all this up--in addition to praising and thanking everyone who had a role in putting the book out--was to raise the issue of ebooks and e-readers and such, as well as to point you to CNN's recent article "Will physical books be gone in five years?" or the Association of American Publishers' newly-released sales figures for August 2010 which show decreases in hardbacks, paperbacks, mass market editions, children's and YA books, etc., while noting that

E book sales for January-August 2010 represented $263 million, compared to $89.8 million from January-August 2009, representing an overall increase for the category of 193% over the same period last year.

But you know what? I don't think I want to get into all that.

Instead, I just want to make a quick point: It's very true that print books are, in a sense, just another content delivery system, a way of putting words in a particular order, and then putting those words into your hands. And it's furthermore true that print books are a somewhat clumsy content delivery system. My apartment's overrun with them, and every time I pack up my stuff to move, I joke that the Kindle is looking better and better. (It's one of those jokes that's kinda true.)

Nevertheless, books aren't only a content delivery system...they're also, or they can be, beautiful physical products. Works of art. An interface that in many ways can't be reproduced on a screen. Reading is a primarily visual experience, true, but it's also tactile, olfactory, auditory (e-readers have taken this last one into account and made a "page-turning" sound to go along with your finger-scroll, though it's not quite the same). And while I can see myself buying a Kindle one day--if Amazon wants to send me one, I'll be happy to blog about the experience--and while I can see the value in e-books in terms of delivery, storage, retrieval, and so on, when I come across a book that's well designed, which takes advantage of its physical presence and the things print can do that e-ink, cool as it is, can't, it reminds me that I fell in love not just with reading but with books. And even when I leave my brick-and-mortar bookstore empty-handed--maybe they didn't have exactly what I wanted, since their space is limited compared to an online bookstore--I never leave disgruntled or disappointed. I enjoy being around books, browsing them, picking them up and admiring them.

I don't think the above CNN article is right; I don't think physical books will ever become extinct. But if they do, then I'll know where I'll go browsing on Friday nights after dinner and a movie: to the book museum, where there's a coffee shop for your convenience just inside, and where the museum's curators encourage you to touch the exhibits, to take a book off the shelf, go sit down in a comfy chair and take a long, leisurely look.


  1. Write on! I'm in the process of reviewing "The Nighttime Novelist," and can endorse it as the most optimistic, energetic design I've even seen in a writing book.

    Bravo to you, to Terry Woesner, and Writer's Digest books, for investing in this colorful, captivating writer's companion.

    Helen Gallagher

  2. Thanks for those kind words, Helen!

    Terri and WD deserve every bit of praise they've received on the presentation...when those first images started coming my way, I was blown away by the wonderful work, and very, very proud.

    All the best!