Recently, I spent an awesome long weekend at the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Summer Conference. Four days of chatting, listening, and dancing with a thousand other people who are used to spending our days in our caves perfecting sentences and sketches. This is a group of people who know that picture books are usually 32 pages, people who nod with understanding when you say YA or MG, people who always always have a pen on them. In other words… it’s heaven.
But what really thrilled me about this year’s conference was how many people were talking excitedly about the changing medium of books. E-books, cross-platform storytelling, and the future of publishing was on everyone’s minds and here’s what I took away from the discussions.
Technology is evolving in a direction that will allow us to tell stories in ways we haven’t even begun to imagine. Websites and enhanced ebooks allow us, as writers and illustrators, to stretch outside the boundaries of pictures and pages. A story can be expanded by creating maps, back stories, and world-building on a website. Characters can exist alongside kids on myspace and facebook and twitter and all the newest interwebs. Author interviews and other innovations can make ebooks a valuable and interesting way to read.
More than that… these things are cheap compared to printed and bound books, and much more in the author’s control. And while fewer gatekeepers might mean lower quality, it also means experimentation, creativity, and (not to sound overdramatic) revolution!
In Jon Scieszka’s talk about telling stories across multiple media formats, he showed numbers for how much time kids spend consuming media. While some people were shocked at the high numbers, I realized that I, myself, usually spent more than the average kid on computers, video games, and listening to music. And that doesn’t upset me. As Jon Scieszka (the former Ambassador for Children’s Literature, no less) said, our job is not to stop kids from using technology, but to teach them how to filter it. How to be media literate.
This summer, for the first time in the writing world, I heard more excitement than fear. More creativity than condemnation. And that set my brain whirling and my heart racing. This is an amazing time to be a writer. For the first time in hundreds of years, books are changing. And we’re the ones writing the story.