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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


My Op-Ed and This Blog

I’m pleased to report that the New York Times is running an Op-Ed of mine today is a backstory to the piece, though, which relates to this blog and our world. As you’ll see, I write about the fact that all of the ballyhoo about the multimedia potential of ebooks and aps is meaningless unless we change how we deal with permissions. Permissions are those fees you need to pay if you use anything in your book (a lengthy quotation, any part of a poem or song lyric, an archival image — not to speak of animation, film, or audio in multimedia) that you did not create. I have nothing against requiring people to pay — after all I want to be paid if someone makes use of something I created — but right now fees are out of synch with print books, not to speak of their digital cousins.
      My Op-Ed is about that, with some suggestions for what we might do to fix the situation. I am certain that this issue is so present to my mind because I write and edit books for young readers, which means the books are illustrated. I’ve noticed that in the books we read for my men’s reading group I keep wanting more art. The authors work hard to create verbal portraits of wherever or whomever they are discussing — I admire their skill. But I keep thinking that the book would be, well, better if there were images with the words. And often if there are photos they are gathered in middle — as we used to do once upon a time in kids books. I know why they do that — it is much cheaper to add just 4, 8, or even 16 pages (thus 8, 16, or 32 sides) of high quality paper then to use better paper throughout, and also have to pay for a designer who considers the flow of text and art on each page. I understand that the lower cover price I pay for an adult paperback reflects their decision not to use art throughout. But I feel that the result is books that are not as good as they could or should be. I say that because I know what we, in kids books, do — the really lavish ways we use art with text to narrate.
     My frustration with adult non-fiction is all the more extreme in e-books, where — at least for now — they have not figured out how to use art in non-fiction at all, since readers of ebooks can change font sizes which means there cannot be one established layout. The real secret of e-books is that, for now, they are either designed for fiction that does not require art — or for new multimedia products that don’t depend on layout or archival materials. And again that is clear to me because we create books that work so well. I think its time that we speak up for our illustrated non-fiction — not as stepchildren, but as examples that the adult world could use as models for the marriage of text and art.


  1. david martin says:

    In your op-ed piece you mention “a Gutenberg moment”. Maybe your perspective represents the reality of things, people are more interested in new books by current day authors, but there is the Project Gutenberg. That is, thirty thousand books that are freely available from most of the best authors the world has ever known.

  2. Project Gutenberg is a useful (if also at times frustrating) resource, but an archive of public domain classics is a complement — not an alternative — to new works just as a museum the displays the accomplishments of earlier civilizations is not the same as living, creating, voting, and speaking today.

  3. Monica Edinger says:

    Congrats on the Op-Ed piece. I know you’ve written on the permission issue before — wasn’t there something a while back in SLJ? Very timely for so many reasons, the Ipad being just one of them.

  4. thanks, yes i did, but the Times reaches a different and wider audience