I have a friend who has been working on a big adult nonfiction books for years. He is a good writer so he is hoping to reach the general reader, the history buff who is not an academic, even though he is writing about a vast topic that spans centuries. Recently he got the bad news that his publisher wants him to cut a heft chunk of the book. Apparently in the adult world the terrible combination of increasing paper costs and declining sales is putting on the crunch on exactly the kind of book my friend writes. One idea he’s considered is moving the substantial backmatter in the book on to the web. His problem is not exactly the same as ours — and yet it points to the very strange and uncertain place we are all in with regard to our notes, citations, and in general backmatter.
In one way the adult publisher sounded so frozen and silly to me — aren’t they, I wondered, planning to do an ebook version? In E-land there is no printing cost at all. The publisher seems to be bailing out the sinking ship of print, when the e-luxury liner is right there, waiting for it. Now while I read about the booming adult e-book market all the time, I have not looked carefully at what kind of books do well in e-land. Maybe history books are lagging behind mysteries or romance. Though Marina is reading an academic history book on our IPod and she loves it — after neither of us could stand reading Freedom that way. And I know that even if the e-version of a history book can be of any length, my friend would upset if there were no print copies — so the e-answer is only a partial answer.
But even aside from the trevails of adult publishing, where should our notes go, and what should they be. As many of you may know, the World Wide Web was created by Tim Berners-Lee so that you could click through from an article citation to the actual other document. That concept is the genetics of the Web. Some part of me thinks we would be better off if our citations lived in an environment where our readers could follow our research trail at the click of a mouse. And I also assume that soon enough many if not all of the at least middle grade and high school books we write will exist in eform as well as print — as downloads to Smart Boards, for example. So e-citations is just anticipating the next format for our books. And yet in print I love going back and forth between page and notes — I always have one marker in the back and one in the front, so I can follow both trails at the same time — the narrative and how the author constructed it. A book without that support would feel naked, cut off, to me.
I will go on with this on Wednesday, but here are the options: print book with footnotes on the page; print book with notes in back’ print book with notes on the web; ebook with citations embedded in the running text; and then, what I’ll discuss next time, the websphere — the web-capsule — I’ll explain soon.