The Joys of Paper

Published by Banzai in the blog Banzai's blog. Views: 80

[Copied and pasted from my external blog. Please do take a look. I'm trying to update regularly, every few days or so]

I sent off a submission today. It was somewhat unusual, in that I had to print out the manuscript, and the cover letter, in physical paper form. And as I stood in the ridiculously long line at the post office, it occurred to me that even though it’s a rarity that I submit in this fashion (the only markets I submit to by post any more, are the stalwarts of British genre fiction Interzone and Black Static), I do quite like it.

There’s something exciting about having the manuscript physically in your hands, and putting it into the post box. A sense of finality in the act of submitting a story, which simply pressing the “Send” button on an email doesn’t provide.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand entirely why the submissions process has moved, en masse, to a virtual mechanism. It’s cheaper, quicker, and generally easier. The writer doesn’t have to pay to print out and then send their story to the editor. The editor doesn’t have to wade through endless wads of paper, and does not have to wait for the daily post each day to get the lay of the land, with new submissions. And whilst I don’t disagree with it, and am not against it, the shift to virtual sometimes deprives me of the satisfaction in seeing a finish product consigned to the higher powers for judgement.

Maybe I’m just being neurotic here, but it doesn’t seem to be limited to submissions. The same issue is relevant (to me, and I suspect, to others) when it comes to e-books. I’m not a fan, but equally not a foe to the concept, but I am undecided. Reading large amounts of text on a computer screen gives me a headache, which is part of the reason that I try to keep my blogs to around 500 or 600 words. Now, I’ve heard the arguments that e-readers don’t do that, because the screen isn’t backlit, and maybe that’s true. My main problem with the digitisation of literature is not that, nor is it the expense (I don’t care how much cheaper e-books are, I don’t have the money for a Kindle, and I certainly don’t have the money or the time for that no-longer-pocketsized iPod touch that Apple have been flogging).

My issue is the lack of something to hold onto. The lack of pages to turn. The lack of ink to come off on your fingers. The sterility of it. And I think that’s the sticking point for a lot of people. I remember a moment in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where Rupert Giles denounces digital information, on the basis that the obtaining of knowledge should be smelly. And he has a point. Laugh as much as you like, but I know that any of you recreational readers out there have revelled in that particular smell of a new book, or the musty aroma of an older book.

And I’m thinking, maybe this nostalgic yearning for literature in a physical form isn’t exclusive to strange individuals such as myself. Just look at vanity publishing. For all the arguments that will no doubt be thrown at me in favour of it, it is more difficult to make a success of than traditional publishing. But it can be a shortcut, for writers who long just to see their work in printed form. And if they just want to see their work in the world, why would people choose to pay for their novel to be printed by a vanity publisher, when they could post it online, on blogs like this one, for free? Perhaps it’s because of the innate satisfaction of holding a finished product in your hands. Physical. Tangible. Real.

However much of an advance, and however much more convenient, virtual alternatives might be, there will always be a particular joy that writers and readers find in ink and paper.
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