As books shift from paper to screen, our constant online activities - Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and so on, are attaching themselves to the reading process. Much like how YouTube turned film into highly viral pieces that could be shared and commented on by viewers, books are beginning their own metamorphosis into sharable clips that compound with the responses, likes and tweets of each of its readers.
While concerns about copyright and author rights almost immediately come to mind, it is the author who has the most to gain in this new relationship between the novel and the Internet. The novelist who embraces the Internet and its social networks has an opportunity to reach enormous audiences by creating fans, friends and followers of them, not their work.
And there lies the crucial difference between eBooks and books. Online, writers are just as an integral part of their presence as the fictional characters and settings they have written. Successful eBook authors know this and maintain a constant contact with the online world.
When readers feel like they get to know you, they are more likely to remain loyal customers of your books. This is because the writer has become an online acquaintance, someone people feel like they have a relationship with. And as any author will tell you, it is those who know you who can be counted on to buy your book first.
Last week, Lori Culwell wrote an article for this paper that summarized social media as "the great equalizer that makes it possible for things ... to happen." Examples range from dissatisfied airline customers taking to Twitter and (successfully!) getting their money back to Justin Bieber and Graydon Chance, both of whom benefited from social networking platforms to move their videos through online crowds of teens looking for a new star.
On Wattpad, the social network for writers and readers where I work, there is a young writer, Abigail Gibbs, whose as yet uncompleted novel has been read 7.2 million times. Every week she uploads a chapter and within hours thousands of readers leave comments, ask questions and beg her to upload a new chapter soon. While I doubt she responds to each comment, Gibbs make an extraordinary effort to keep in touch with her readers. She has an active Facebook page, Twitter account and encourages readers to message her. Her constantly growing readership is turning in to read connect with her almost as much as they are to read what direction she is taking her story.
This synchronization between book and author is what separates ebooks from their paper counterpart. Every other medium; video, music, news, etc. has been drastically altered during the move online and books are no exception. Whatever device du jour we choose to read fiction on, the role of the author will only increase in value, both as a driver to fuel the bottom line and as an integral and indistinguishable part of the book itself.