If you're reading this blog, you're probably relatively tech-savvy. But now that we're in the midst of holiday season, most of us are running into
the inevitable friends and relations who are threatened by new technology and maybe even hostile to the whole idea of e-books
and e-readers. Some of them are probably your grandparents.
Full disclosure here: I'm not a grandparent. I could be, if I hadn't neglected that interim step of having actual children. What I am is a Baby
Boomer: a person born between 1946 and 1964—the demographic known in
unenlightened circles as "old."
I'm also not naturally drawn to technology. My relationship
to most machines is the same as your cat's relationship to the vacuum cleaner:
Danger! MAKE IT STOP!
I've got some Boomer friends who think the e-reader is the spawn
of the devil. They say ebooks and self-publishing are robbing us of our
cultural heritage. I understand their fears. I worked in
bookstores for much of my life. Every time a bookstore goes out of business I
feel a sense of personal loss.
Plus I love being surrounded by tangible, hard-copy reading
material. My house looks like a library. Books are my best friends. (My mother
tells me that when I learned to read, I said, "now I'll never have to be lonely
again.") I don't think I'll ever
stop buying paper books. When I adore something I've read on my Kindle, I
sometimes buy it in paper too—so I can really "have" it.
Electronics can die and get glitchy—and nothing's more
infuriating when you're engrossed in a novel than to get that "low
battery" message plastered across the page.
Paper feels "real". You can touch it and hold it
and yes, sniff it. (Much fun is made of "book-sniffers" but
scientists say the smell
of old books is related to the smell of vanilla
, and stimulates a comfort
zone in your brain.) You can also keep a new paper book waiting on your night
stand and study the cover art, read the blurbs, and anticipate it in a way you
can't with a list of titles on your e-reader. Plus you can loan a beloved paper
book to as many friends as you like.
But I urge even my book-sniffing Boomer friends to welcome
the age of the e-book.
1) Learning new
technology keeps us young.
I have lots of Boomer friends who avoid technology. They may
use a computer for email and shopping, and they might even have a smart phone—but
they're mostly annoyed by all of it. Especially if they learned a bunch of tech stuff in the early '90s and now it's all different and their hard-earned knowledge is useless. Everything keeps changing too fast and they don't like it.
And let's face it, nothing says "geezer" like
complaining about "newfangled gadgets" and waxing nostalgic about the
good old days. All the hair dye, yoga, and kale smoothies in the world won't
make you seem vibrant and healthy if you have a negative attitude and a sour
expression on your face.
Besides, if you're a Boomer, you belong to a generation that
has always embraced change.
As Mark Penn said in his 2007 book Microtrends
, "Boomers reinvented youth in the 1960s and
economic success in the 1980s; they are not about to do their senior years by
someone else’s formula. According to a 2005 survey by Merrill Lynch, more than
3 in 4 boomers say they have no intention of seeking traditional
2) The e-book
revolution is ending age discrimination against older authors.
Traditional publishing has always dictated that young
authors are the most desirable. Even when I was in my forties, I was advised to
keep my age secret when querying, because publishers don't want to invest money
building a "brand name" for an author who doesn't have a potential
forty-year trajectory for churning out product.
But this attitude eliminates a huge number of
writers—especially writers with wisdom and life experience to share. As social
media guru Kristen Lamb says
. "A large percentage of writers have
waited until the kids are out of the home and out of college to begin pursuing
their dreams of being authors."
But ebooks and social media are changing all that. We now live in an age when there is infinite
"shelf" space, and "long
tail" niche marketing
New genres like Boomer Lit can appeal to specific demographics
now that every book published doesn’t have to be a potential blockbuster of one-size-fits-all
scope. And authors don't have to
self-publish if they write for a niche. The Big Five probably won't be
interested in a BoomerLit book unless it's written by Cher, but you can still
go the traditional route with a small or digital-only press.
3) Older readers get
to read books about their own issues.
For the past fifty years or so, traditional publishing has dictated
that female protagonists in popular fiction must be under thirty-five. Men can
be a little older, but the main characters have to be young people with young
problems. (Literary fiction can be about old guys with prostate issues, but usually
only if the author writes for the New Yorker
None of this is surprising, since the
"gatekeepers" of traditional publishing are mostly 22-year-old
interns at New York literary agencies.
(And I can't help wondering if some editors weren't scarred
by being forced to read Silas Marner
in high school. George Eliot's aged curmudgeon has a lot to answer for.)
Thing is: older people have more time to read. And most of
us are hungry for books that address our own life situations, not just who goes
to the prom with the hunky vampire.
As Kristen Lamb says, older authors are "writing
books they’d like to read: romance novels with a sixty-year-old
protagonist finding love, not a twenty-two-year-old….Now there are options.
Seventy is getting younger every day and the emerging e-commerce marketplace
doesn’t care how old we are or how many books we write."
4) E-readers offer
physical advantages to the older reader.
fonts. I'm getting to the stage where I can't read books with tiny fonts,
and I'd be much more comfortable with large-print books, if I weren't too
embarrassed to be seen reading them. With an e-reader, all it takes is the
click of a button to adjust the font to our own vision requirements.
- Lighter Weight. A friend told me she stopped enjoying reading hard-cover books a few years ago
because of arthritis in her hands. But she loves that e-readers are easy to hold
and getting lighter all the time. The new Nook GlowLight weighs only 6.2 ounces.
new books. When I finish a book I love, I get an empty feeling. I often
want to read another book by that author immediately, especially if it's the
next in a series. But as we age, getting out to a bookstore can be more of a
hassle. (And I stopped night driving when I realized it felt like driving by
Braille on dark winter nights.) With an e-reader, you can have the new book in
5) E-books have got
more people reading now than ever before.
People who might not go into a bookstore to procure
entertainment are now reading books on their phones, iPads and tablets. Ebooks
According to the Christian Science Monitor
average reader of e-books read an average of 24 books in the past 12 months
compared to 15 books for non e-book consumers."
And as Alex C. Madrigal wrote in the Atlantic
last year "Our collective memory of past is
astoundingly inaccurate. Not only has the number of people reading not declined
precipitously, it's actually gone up since the perceived golden age of American
6) Because of the new
paradigm, independent bookstores are making a comeback.
E-books are not killing indie bookstores. Big-box bookstores and their cozy deals with Big Publishing did that in the 1990s. Indies that survived are now having an increase in
sales, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Here are some ways e-books are actually helping independently-owned bookstores:
- Amazon is now selling devices and ebooks through indie bookstores with "Amazon Source".
- Kobo has been selling its e-readers through independent
bookstores for at least a year (If you listen to NPR in the US, you've heard their ads.)
- Now that the marketplace isn't a monopoly of the Big Five
and their cozy relationship with Big Box bookstores that sell advantageous
shelf space to the highest bidder, the small independent bookshop has a more level playing field.
- Newsletters like E-Book Bargains UK that advertise bargain e-books to
global markets also carry ads for indie bookstores.
7) Paper books aren't
Here are some of their findings:
- Four years of consumer data shows clearly that e-book
consumption has reached mainstream readers and has expanded well beyond early
adopter 'power readers,' but that physical books remain a popular format for
many consumers, especially in certain categories.
- Consumers are very interested in "bundling" print and digital
versions of a book, with 48% of survey respondents willing to pay more for bundles.
- Consumers do not distinguish between e-books published by
traditional houses and independently published options when making buying
The E-Age may seem scary to those of us who remember when the
most tech-heavy thing a writer had to do was change a typewriter ribbon, but
it's one of the best times in history to be a writer—or a reader—so we need to
learn to embrace the new technology.
What about you, Scriveners? Did you have to be dragged kicking and
screaming into the digital age? What advantages are you finding to reading
electronic books? Do you have friends and family who don't
And when you buy Grandma that e-reader, here's the perfect book to load on it. Only 99c on Amazon
for the holidays. Roxanna Britton, a biographical novel
, is the story of my own great, great grandmother, written by my 92-year-old mom, Dr. Shirley S. Allen.
My mom is in hospice now, and I'm here at her bedside. It makes her happy that her well-reviewed book will live on after she's gone.
Update: Shirley Seifried Allen died at 8:45 PM on Sunday evening, December 1st. As fierce and practical as her great-grandmother, my mom donated her body to the University of San Francisco Medical School and left large donations to the San Francisco Public Library and the Food Bank as well as many other charities. You can sign her Facebook page here.
I can't begin to say how very much I will miss her....Anne
"If you love historical novels about women "making it" in the mid-1800's, you will NOT want to miss this one! I loved EVERY minute of reading about "Sanny's" life and making her own way and place in a time when women were considered having less than the status of "slaves." I also loved this book because it shows how the status, influences, opinions and upbringings can make or break a family and its heritage...and just how influential the women are who guide each.
"This has become one of my all time favorite stories of "real" people. Ms. Allen's adept use of dialogue and her clear eye for drama and suspense kept me compulsively turning the pages. Her evocation of a bygone era, rich with descriptive details--the historical Chicago fire is one vivid example--is absolutely brilliant. I will never forget Sanny and her family, especially her struggle and her daughters' struggle to become individuals in a male dominated world. But it is family that triumphs in the end; and the need for it to survive resonates most deeply in my mind and heart. An excellent novel that I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys reading true stories about people who not only overcome adversity with grace and integrity but through strength of character also prevail. Well done, Ms. Shirley Allen!"...Ann Carbine Best
The Lascaux Prize for Short Fiction
: Stories may be previously published or unpublished. Length up to 10,000 words. Entry fee is $5, and authors may enter more than once.The editors will select a winner and nineteen additional finalists. The winner will receive $500 and publication in The Lascaux Review
. Both winner and finalists will earn the privilege of displaying a virtual medallion on blogs and websites. Deadline December 31, 2013.
Boomers: The Huffington Post's Huffpo50 is publishing short fiction!
The rules: You must be 50 or older to enter. Writers can submit only one story per year, and all pieces must be 5,000 words or less. Send your original submissions, as well as your contact details, to email@example.com
IN FICTION, NONFICTION, POETRY $20 fee (includes subscription). This is a biggie, well worth the fee. This venerable literary magazine has published the likes of John Updike, Raymond Carver and Billy Collins. Winners in each category receive $2,000
and publication. Submit up to 25 pages of prose or three poems. All entries considered for publication. Submissions accepted in the month of January 2014 only.
The Ladies Home Journal essay contest.
Theme: The Best Decision You Ever Made. First Prize is $3,000 and the chance to have your essay published in the Journal.
You're free to interpret the topic in whatever way you like. Essays will be judged on their emotional power, originality, and the quality of their prose. They should be no more than 2,000 words. More info and submission form on the website.
Dark Continents Publishing's Guns and Romances anthology
. They're looking for previously unpublished short fiction from 3500-9000 words. Any genre as long as there's a tough protagonist, weapons, and... at least one reference to music. Sounds interesting. Payment rate is a one-off of $20 per story plus a percentage of the ebook royalties. Publication estimated in late-2014. More info on the website. Closing date for submissions is February 28, 2014.
Labels: BoomerLit, Boomers, e-readers, holiday gifts for Grandma, independent bookstores, iPad, Kindle, Kristen Lamb, long tail marketing, Nook