Saturday, April 27, 2024

Are people buying and reading fewer books?

© Images and Video: Prashant C. Trikannad

Is buying and reading books a declining art form and a cultural tradition?  

It certainly appears to be the case in this digital age where, I assume, people are reading ebooks (if not paper books) and listening to audiobooks and podcasts. Ebooks are more accessible and convenient to read.

As we do at every opportunity, my wife and I recently visited a book sale close to our place in suburban Mumbai. Under a large shamiana (or tent), there were hundreds of thousands of books, mostly paperbacks in near-mint condition and lined neatly in rows, their spines with titles facing up. As book exhibitions went, this one was quite impressive. The collection ranged from classic literature to contemporary bestsellers, and everything in between.

Except for one thing.

The books seemed to be merely on display rather than for sale — during our visit there were mostly casual browsers who sauntered in more out of curiosity than a genuine interest in purchasing books. They would leave after a few minutes and make their way to the other attractions like the colourful handlooms and handicrafts in the adjoining tents.

For over a decade now, the only people I have been discussing books with are my family members and online friends who blog about the fascinating books they read. Almost no one in my circle of acquaintances seem to be reading books. If they do, then I don't hear about it often.

Here are five reasons why people are probably no longer buying or reading books as much as they used to.

  • Digital media, in the form of social media, smartphones and streaming services, are more entertaining and provide quick, short-term diversions for leisure.
  • There has been a decline in reading culture, particularly among younger generations, possibly due to a reduced exposure to books within their families and in daily life. My wife and I, like so many of our generation, grew up among books and they have stayed with us into adulthood.
  • People frequently tell me they don't have the time to read owing to their busy schedules, constant multitasking and tedious commute.
  • The attention economy — the digitally-driven information overload — is also likely creating attention deficit as people seem to be struggling to focus on long-form content, such as books. Conversely, social media posts, videos and stories that last only minutes are more appealing and engaging.
  • Physical books are perceived as less accessible and more expensive compared to ebooks, particularly in places where bookstores and libraries are scarce. Indeed, bookshops and even secondhand bookstalls are disappearing. Besides, not everyone can afford to purchase books regularly.

While book sales may be declining because people are either not buying books or reading fewer books every year, they are still engaging with various forms of online content including social media posts, articles, blogs and webzines.

This means that books are still around, only our reading habits and preferences have changed. It also means that my wife and I have book fairs almost entirely to ourselves. And that's not such a bad thing, after all.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

5 steps to writing engaging content

Image: Adapted from the movie Mr. Bean's Holiday.

First, the writer's oath (all my own work).

"I swear by the almighty dictionary, the thesaurus and the style guides that whatever I write shall be original, clear and accurate, and reflect my best efforts to communicate effectively and in a way that informs and entertains my readers."

Now to get down to the brass tacks of writing.

Metaphorically speaking, writing is like building blocks. Just as kids stack or connect the blocks to create something, in writing, I organise my ideas into words to craft a compelling story.

Here's how I make it happen (most of the time).

I start by jotting down my thoughts or make a rough outline of my story, leadership article or blog post.

Once the outline is ready, I write out the first draft incorporating my ideas, adding and subtracting and adding as I do.

Next, I review the draft as critically as I can, rewriting entire sentences and passages if I have to.

I then check the draft (or rather recheck) grammar including tenses and punctuation, complex words, better synonyms, clich├ęs, flow and sentence formation, making it as concise and impactful as possible.

Lastly, I play around with the headline options, which sometimes takes me nearly as long as the first draft.  

Am I satisfied with the outcome? Sometimes yes, but mostly no. Because I know I can create more engaging content with the building blocks of writing. Why settle for a house when I can build a palace?

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

12 famous authors on how to write better

As a journalist many years ago, I was intrigued by the writing process and referred to writing guides such as The Economist Style Guide, The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, and The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers. These helped me to hone my writing skills as a news reporter and editor.

Now, as a content writer and blogger, I have widened my reading of books on the art of writing. I frequently read, and occasionally collect, books on writing by masters of the craft including Hemingway, Margaret Atwood, Elmore Leonard, Annie Dillard, Stephen King, William Zinsser, Francine Prose, Ray Bradbury and others. All these authors, with their unique writing ideas and styles, influence my own creative writing projects.

Together, the style guides and writing books inspire me to write — and write better; especially when I experience blank-page syndrome. They render the task of writing less frustrating and painful and more satisfying and fulfilling, making storytelling a joyful venture.

Here are twelve quotes from some of the writing books in my collection, their authors imparting wisdom drawn from their individual writing experience.

"Examine every word you put on paper. You'll find a surprising number that don't serve any purpose."
— William Zinsser, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

"You become a writer by writing. There is no other way. So do it. Do it more. Do it again. Do it better. Fail. Fail better."
— Margaret Atwood, On Writers and Writing

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."
— Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere."
— Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life

"For the first thing a writer should be is - excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms. Without such vigour, he might as well be out picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it would be better for his health."
— Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

"One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."
— Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

"Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it's raining, but the feeling of being rained upon."
— Sol Stein, Stein On Writing

"Writers learn their craft, above all, from the work of other writers. From reading."
— Marie Arana, The Writing Life: Writers On How They Think And Work

"Do you know what a mandible is? Your dentist does. She uses that word every day. So if you are writing a story just for your dentist, use mandible. But if you are writing for everybody else, use the more familiar word, jaw."
— Gary Provost, 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing

"Before you begin the writing, be sure you know the purpose or mission or objective of every piece of content that you write. What are you trying to achieve? What information, exactly, are you trying to communicate? And why should your audience care?"
— Ann Handley, Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content

"Don't let jargon and acronyms bloat your prose - keep it simple and clear."
— Benjamin Dreyer, Dreyer's English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

"You can't just come out and say what you have to say. That's what people do on airplanes, when a man plops down next to you in the aisle seat of your flight to New York, spills peanuts all over the place (back when the cheapskate airlines at least gave you peanuts), and tells you about what his boss did to him the day before. You know how your eyes glaze over when you hear a story like that? That's because of the way he's telling his story. You need a good way to tell your story."
— Adair Lara, Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Writing Essays and Memoirs for Love and for Money