What makes a book?
Not even a great book, necessarily, but a book in general. Is it, as we are taught as children, that it has a cover and a spine and a blurb and some pictures and a story that ends in happily ever after?
Maybe it’s that huge hardback that has all the pictures of different animals in the zoo, or the tellings of the church, or the one that gives you other words for the words you know?
Is it, as we’re taught at GCSE or A Level or at university, a conduit to the writer, a symbol of their life, a collection of images that mean something else, a hidden language to be discovered by the critic?
Nope…there’s actually only one thing that makes a book…
The words can be any way they wish, really. They can be piled up together as a huge manuscript, typed or handwritten, stapled or tied with string. They can be documents typed out over and over again, telling a story in perfect placement of word after word after word.
The words can be arranged in patterns like in poetry books, where white space tells it’s own story. They can be told in chapters weekly, sent straight to your inbox or collected from a comic book shop like a golden treasure.
All a book really needs to be a book is words.
Words on a page.
Or on a screen.
I am a digital first author. And we are tired of being told we’re not writing real books. Ebooks are real books. The medium you consume a book through does not define it.
Yes, sometimes it’s gorgeous to hold something in your hands, and we are oh-so glad when you say you would love to cherish this thing we wrote by putting it on a shelf, flicking the pages with your thumbs and dog earring the pages (well, I would, I know some people are against that sort of chicanery).
But publishing is a strange world. Believe me, I’ve had a physical book and it’s hard to sell. The world does not make us J K Rowlings. It does not make us Stephen Kings. Not every author you know is going to be a big time traditional author. Some of us are out here in the middle, just doing our thing and telling our tales.
Ebooks are truly extraordinary things. They have opened up a sphere for everyone to have accessible reading material – audio for those who struggle to see, or to read. Ebook readers help with bigger fonts and brighter screens. They especially help those of us who used to pack ten books for a seven day holiday and had to pay over the baggage allowance (Kindle, I shall be forever grateful).
I know we’re in a time of ‘reality’ and ‘alternate reality’, ‘online’ and ‘offline’, and for some people, things you can’t hold in your hand aren’t real to them. But much like other things you can’t hold in your hand (peace, love, wellbeing, the sound of waves, laughter, memories) they are in existence and bring us joy. There are books I know only by the voice of the person who read them to me, there are books I remember in my heart as stories that will stay with me, even though I don’t physically hold the book.
A book comes alive when it’s being read – it doesn’t need a dust jacket for that magic to happen.
This generation is less about ownership, and more about sharing and borrowing – we don’t buy albums, we stream them. We don’t buy movies, we stream them. And we have that with books too. As creators and consumers, we’re moving into a new era, and it’s gorgeous, it really is. It means so many more people can enjoy stories and access them. It means they’re affordable and shareable. Ebooks make shouting about that story you loved so much easier.
My books are real. They have words and characters and dialogue and punctuation and a whole heap of heart and soul in there. But even if they didn’t have half of that, even if they were just some words, in some sort of order, telling some sort of story, they would still make a book. Ebooks are not the sad little shadow behind the hardback Peter Pans. They’re out there flying too, zipping through the internet to that person who clicked because they just had to have it right now.
In the older days of publishing, being an author was about hardback and paperback, drinking warm wine in a bookshop for your launch, and squirrelling away in poverty for the sake of your art. Perhaps, if you were lucky, it was the Richard and Judy book club, or a huge advert on the tube that you could pose in front of.
Did any of that change the story? Did any of that change the fact that it was a book and people read it, and they liked it or they didn’t?
I am incredibly proud to be a digital first author, to create stories that are accessible and immediate and alive. Those stories exist in a screen that you can take anywhere with you – you can conjure my books at the touch of a button, whenever you like. You can find that line you loved send it to a friend a million miles away. You can sink deep into that story and find the author and tell them that it made you feel something.
And there’s nothing more real than that.