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The iPod and the cellphone and the YouTube that we know

May just be passing fancies
And in time may go
But the book is here to stay
Or not.  My editor tells me this is the last time the company will let her send me a marked manuscript.  After this, all corrections will be in an electronic file, and I will have to respond to them electronically.  
I write on a machine, I rewrite on a machine, but until I have a paper copy in front of me, I don’t see the infelicities of style, nor the flaws in the narrative arc.  I need paper to see where I am in a book, either as a reader, or as a writer.  Is this action appropriate at this physical point in the story?  I can’t tell in an electronic universe.
I think the blogosphere and 24 hour web news makes us sloppy as readers and as writers, and that going to a strictly electronic book will make books sloppier, less carefully written, less carefully edited.  
My editor  told me that I needed to learn to live in the present, not in the era of the illuminated manuscript.  
What about you?  Agree?  Disagree?  Am I a dinosaur , or someone with a valid point about the word on the page?
Sara Paretsky
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  • Long live dinosaurs!

    Well, of course you’re right Sara. (As long as you agree with me, you always will be…) I can understand your editor, because they will save something by doing this. Paper, time, etc. But you do need to look at things in a new place to see what is right and what doesn’t work. I feel even here on WordPress, I see some bad things I’ve written only when I have published my piece, because then it looks different, and mistakes pop out and tease me.

    I have read a couple of authors’ ‘manuscripts’ as Word documents, and the one I printed out on paper was far easier to read than the one I read on screen. The on-screen one only worked OK because it had been prepared to look like the printed page of the book, rather than a plain A4 sheet of paper.

    And it doesn’t help that I haven’t yet learned how to correct things in electronic documents. My son looked amazed when I told him. He emails me his university essays for me to look at, but I have to phone him back to discuss them, rather than mark them. I suppose one day I will learn how.

  • corkhead

    No doubt we old dinosaurs will all agree that the printed page is far superior to an electronic one. I value all the net has to offer (this blog being one) but I love to hold a book while I read it, feel the weight of the thing and see the way it’s been bound, printed etc.

    I’m re-reading “Night Watch” by Sarah Waters at present and I just love the whole persona of this Virago book (if it can have a persona!).

    It will be a very sad dayif/when we all have to switch on our pcs/i-pods, notebooks/mobile phones etc to read the next VI, Scarpetta, Kinsey Mulhone, Jane Rizoli etc.

  • Well, if you’re a dinosaur you’re not the only one. I don’t mind proof-reading or marking electronically, but it’s so much easier to get the full picture of the layout and all on paper!

  • bernadetteinoz

    There’s a book called THE MYTH OF THE PAPERLESS OFFICE that was written a few years ago but I think the central premise holds true – there are certain characteristics (what the authors call affordances) of paper that we humans need – we interact differently with information on the printed page than we do the electronic one and there are tactile elements that cannot be replaced by a screen. Not sure how you convince your editors of this though.

  • ab

    I agree 100 %. The inconvenience of reading online makes people less attentive. They read less, they read shorter articles in papers and they comprehend less.

    I’ve read news online for some time now, but am going back to buying the papers. I don’t want them to die. Books I’d never read electronically. Please stand your ground against the publisher!

  • Books should definitely have a proper cover and pages of a suitable size so you can enjoy keeping it in your two hands while reading it! No discussion about that 🙂
    After 25 years with computers, I do more and more on the screen, however. And I THINK I can proofread on the screen – but I don´t see 100 % of my errors.

  • I love the internet and the way it makes communication effortless. That said, books are made of paper and come between two covers. I like the idea of the Kindle (it’d be nice for when I go on vacation and could carry one Kindle instead of 6-10 books) but it doesn’t seem real.

    Speaking of books, when is the new one coming out? Is there a release date yet?

  • genny

    I agree with you. As a matter of fact, I’ve been printing out the chapters of “Alchemy” as you release them on the blog so I can savor the words.

    To me a good book is like a living organism. The words are the heart and soul, but the turning of the pages are the arteries that feed the heart and keep it beating. It’s the method by which the reader becomes emotionally connected to the story.

  • Pascale

    Not to mention Jane Austen’s “telltale compression of the pages” …
    Of course you’re right to be upset, Sara! No matter my personal preference, I feel that of all people the author should be given the choice. There is a physical aspect to writing, sensual almost, and it should be respected by those who are not involved in the actual creative process.

  • Electronic is fine for drafting, proofing, reworking. But there needs to come a time when the text is set, unalterable, final. That time does not come if the text never goes to paper.

  • roger

    Ms. Paretsky,
    You are quite right. Editing should always be done on paper. I have printed out entire manuscripts to work on and then plugged in the edits electronically. Paper has a quality that encourages the word to speak to the reader from the page. I’m completely in agreement with you.
    Thanks for writing,
    Roger

  • I coordinate editing of newsletters among several people in my office, and I find that some people really are able to work online, while others prefer paper. I try to offer the choice and distribute their preference. Of course you could try to print the electronic file yourself, but that’s cumbersome if you have to outsource it, and possibly a security issue. It seems that the publisher should be willing to make the investment to have it printed for you.

  • Robert Pruter

    I agree with you 100 percent. While I can work and edit my manuscript electronically, the final edit should be done on paper. One can only catch the manuscript problems and “infelicities of style” with a red pen and paper copy. Your editor is wrong, wrong, wrong.

  • I am a technogeek. I blog, I do FaceBook, Twitter (okay, there’s where I lose interest), Blackberry,do Internet Marketing, etc. and I totally agree with you.

    It is also harder, re: more inefficient, to do everything online where one’s mind needs to go into a different creative mode. The brain simply interacts with the media, and if we read online we interact with that media; when we read a piece of paper, we interact more in our mindspace. For that reason, Kindle interests me about as much as reading upside down.

    When I do translation, I always work from paper first. Somethings just work better on paper media. Our brains, after all, are analog, not digital.

  • mostlyanecdotal

    Yes, you’re a dinosaur, but a dinosaur that won’t go extinct during your lifetime.

  • Just whack her
    with your tail
    or better yet
    get Sara to do it
    in a whacking tale
    :>)

  • Cat

    This may sound silly, but…if it’s going to be sold on paper, shouldn’t it be considered on paper at some point in the pre-printing phase? As someone noted, we interact with different media differently. I usually want to =look= at paintings, but I nearly always want to =touch= sculpture 🙂

  • Bob

    I am 23. I do not consider myself a dinosaur and you are absolutely correct. There is something magical about an actual book that should not be tampered with.

  • Jan Forbes

    If I can’t hold a book in my hands, I can’t make the essential connection with the writer. Perhaps I’m too tactile, and some may say that this is pseudo psychic, but I really do need to feel in order to feel….and I certainly do “feel” Sara Paretsky in all her written works! There are times, also that I can smell the rain on hot summer streets…even taste the meal…all from touching with my mind while touching the paper!

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