This week is National Book Week here in South Africa. With literacy levels always an issue in my lovely country, there have been many campaigns to address the lack of, simply put, readers. However, it’s not just about literacy levels anymore because even our reading population show a lack of interest in reading and buying books. In fact only a measly 1 percent of our population buy books. Well, a part from it being a huge concern to writers like me, who are about to enter the world of book selling and hopefully would love to make a living from my love of writing, this also begs the question as to how this will impact the future generation.
Reading, especially reading of literary works is crucial in developing critical, reflective thinkers. Fiction provides an opportunity to see the world through the eyes of the characters, experience different contexts, develop empathy and provide understanding for challenges, consequences and decision making.
But it seems we are blindsided to these benefits. With the internet providing an endless supply of information, whether correct or incorrect, people would rather be online than fulfilled by the pages of a good read. The exponential growth of all things technological have attracted different interests like gaming, gossip and trend watching. Rather scroll through the latest news of a favourite celeb, or Instagram your lunchbox, or keep abreast of breaking news, than read a book. Why not? It’s information at our fingertips as well as convenient and easy entertainment.
So all this got me thinking, how can we use these new interests to encourage reading? I sent this question into Twittersphere. And one response made sense.
Encourage more writers and you’ll have more readers. Of course!
Platforms like Wattpad, have been around for years encouraging writers to publish their creative writing free of charge.
I have also, a few years ago contributed a short story or two to this platform. It’s simple to do and your work gets out there to every corner of the world. I have, through the various clubs been invited to read other contributor’s works, and the ages, levels and style range vastly. At first I was appalled. Honestly. It grated on my nerves that there were pieces that neglected most grammatical rules, any sort of writing framework or provided no satisfaction of a proper story line. One word to one page paragraphs, incorrect sentence structure, based heavily on social media language, with little regard for the beauty of words, phrases or the art of description… I cringed at every piece I read. And what surprised me was that these pieces attracted a large readership. Yes, yes, I know writers have creative licence but still… And then it hit me, perhaps this is the breakthrough. This new type of writer is attracting the new type of reader. Language has evolved through the ages, and I don’t know if I’m ready to embrace it in the direction it is heading now, but I think it is an inevitability. I’m open to the fact that we should do all we can to encourage reading and book buying, and accepting new styles might be a way forward. However, there’s more we can do.
Here are some of my suggestions:
- Graphic novels – hugely popular, an evolved comic book and indeed a favourite among young and old but especially the reader who prefers a more visual experience.
- Now this might be asking for too much but perhaps game developers and designers could publish the narrative of the game. If they can make movies along the broad narrative of the game (Angry Birds, Warcraft and Tomb Raider, there could be more, not sure) then they can put it in book version too.
- Although I was not too keen on it at first, the short novel has grown on me. Especially when I realized that Ernest Hemingway had written a six-word novel when challenged. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Bold, punchy, says so much more, and from a literary genius. So if this is the future of novel-writing, I love it. Wow! Can you imagine how many novels I could publish if I were to adopt this style?
Now, how about you, what are your ideas to encourage more readers, boost book sales and thereby help me carve a living out of this passion for writing?