Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Are We Entering An Era Of Frankenbooks?

When I was in high school 30 years ago, I wrote a term paper about how an author can write a book and publish it, but then spend his entire life editing and rewriting that book. some writers may never publish their book, but will continually tweak it. Today’s technology would easily allow for editing and revising an existing book and it seems more authors are taking advantage of that.

All non-fiction books certainly can be updated, revised, expanded, condensed, and altered with the stroke of a button.  Over time they would need to be changed in order to remain accurate and relevant at the least, or cutting-edge at the most.  But what happens when we over-tinker and start changing books as often as some bored individuals take to cosmetic surgery just for the heck of it?

Most authors, out of pride or creative compulsion, are never fully satisfied with their work, like chefs who complain about how their own cooking needs a little more or less of something.  But eventually, a book can be carved up beyond recognition.

So, will books start to change so often or come to have so many incarnations that when  you say you read book X and I say I read it too we may come to discover we had two largely different experiences? What if we start changing fiction? Imagine if a book has one ending this year, a different one next year?

Hollywood loves to remake movies or issue sequels, so they already show us how this will play out. When one discusses a movie, he or she now has to specify if it’s the original, the remake, the foreign adaptation, the sequel, etc.  Some won’t even know other versions exist and just assume what they saw is the only version.

Books today can change in a number of ways.  First, books can be revised overnight when published electronically.  Second, books can be enhanced, with visuals such as maps, photos, videos, Web site links, etc.  Third, when books are reprinted one can change the cover, the title, the price, the page count, the sequence of material, etc.  Authors and publishers can correct flaws or address things critics found fault with.  But they can also create Frankenbooks, an unnatural meddling with a book’s soul.

It would be bad enough if authors initiate the altering of their works when a scalpel approach isn’t needed, but what defense do authors have when a publisher begins altering an author’s work without the author’s blessing or even participation?

Whenever I meet self-published authors I often advise how they can re-issue their book so they can list it as new or revised and get a second crack at the news media they missed the first time around.  Some authors will make significant changes, others may merely add a few chapters and not  take a red pen to the original text.  They are hoping to find a wider readership with these changes, as the first edition may only have been read by a thousand or fewer people.  But what happens when best-sellers get manipulated, too fast, too often?

There was a movie, maybe 10-15 years ago. I can’t recall its name. It was a sci-fi film about how every night, at midnight, the city experiences a time out, where some small change is made to it, unknown to its citizens.  Eventually, people forget that something changed and little by little people can’t even make their way out of the city.  It had become an entirely different place. Is that happening with books today?  Will we eventually come to not recognize our cultural and literary landscape?

The evolution of the book continues onward.  Change’s pace exceeds our understanding of it.  The ramifications of what we do now will not be clear for years to come, for the context in which they occur shifts too quickly for the observer to absorb.

One day, books will edit themselves.  Computer programs will tag the words and know which parts could be up for revision.  A human would merely plug in new data, based on the computer’s prompts.  Similar to how our computers know to change the time or a calendar date on their own, they will know that a book’s words will need changing.  Any sentence with a number, a date, or a statistic will be the first to go.  Next, the computer will freely substitute synonyms for other words.  If it can spell-check how, it will word-change tomorrow.

It could be the copyright page will soon say Google and not an author’s name.  But change isn’t bad and the idea of revising books is a good thing; I I just hope it’s done responsibly, consistently, and not at  a pace that leaves yesterday in the dust.

Brian Feinblum is the chief marketing officer of Planned Television Arts (www.plannedtvarts.com) but the views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and are personal and do not reflect the official viewpoints of PTA. You can read his blog (http://www.bookmarketingbuzzblog.blogspot.com/) and follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com

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