Writers Need to Catch Up

04/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Jim Randel Founder, The Skinny On book series and Street Smarts

In the last 5 years the means by which the written word can be delivered to readers have evolved at a pace unlike anything we have experienced in the last several hundred years.

Today a reader can not only access the written word on his or her mobile laptop (old hat) but also cell phones, Kindles, Sony e-readers, and I-pads. Who knows what's next. (Avatar would suggest words floating in space.)

As a result, reader's expectations as to the format and content of word delivery (writing) have changed:

1. Attention spans are painfully short. Readers appreciate writers who understand that "less is more." As said by Blaire Pascal in the 17th century, at the end of a long letter to his friend, "I am sorry for the length of this letter; it would have been much shorter if I had more time."

2. The internet has heightened the desire for specific information, fast and furious. The internet is a meeting place of gazillions of words generally organized by topic. When someone wants information, they go online. They Google the topic of interest. They retrieve the information they seek ... and they move on. No time for exposition, examples or build-ups. Just give me the bottom line. In and out. A staccato reading experience.

3. The online reading experience includes lot of visual (and audio) stimulation.
Line after line of just text is totally boring to the electronic-age reader. Short, punchy sentences. Lots of visual and maybe audio. Stimulate or perish!

4. The delivery of text on a printed page does not break the same way on electronic readers.
In preparing the printed page, the publisher can end sentences and paragraphs at the end of a page. Thus, the reader hits a natural break when turning a page. But, on electronic readers - e.g., the cell phone or Kindle - the page break often does not mesh with the screen size. Therefore the reading experience can be unnatural - scrolling or clicking in the middle of thoughts.

5. Electronic-age readers are changing up the alphabet. Our 26-letter alphabet has worked for about 5,000 years. Time for change. Texting and twittering writers and readers are creating a shorthand language that works just fine.

My point? 99% of what writers are producing today is rooted in a style and format that has been around since Ben Franklin. But, the "same old, same old" is not going to work anymore. Some writers and publishers get it. I applaud Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. I congratulate Yen Publishing for its 350,000 copy first-run graphic book, Twilight: Part I. (Yes, I understand this is Stephanie Meyers but still, most first runs of graphic novels are about 20,000 copies.) Some writers and publishers are experimenting at the edges. Others will start doing so.

Like most posts, mine is self-serving. For one year now, my company, RAND Publishing, has been producing illustrated (stick people), narrative (with dialogue) non-fiction works about topics of personal and financial achievement. Our sentences are short, ditto our paragraphs. Our mantra is "less is more." Our content is presented in individual cels - sized to fit the screens of electronic devices (from cell phones to I-Pads) so to create a comfortable reading experience. In June of last year we won a prestigious book award and our readership is growing daily. Maybe we take off, maybe not. But this much I am sure about: writers and publishers who ignore the incredible changes taking place in the reader community do so at their peril.

Jim Randel is the founder of The Skinny On book series. See