Should eBook authors write about current events?



For years, back in the day when people thought books were things made of paper, agents often told their authors not to write about current events or popular trends.

The reason for this was simple.  By the time a writer submitted a manuscript to an agent, who shopped it to a publisher, who edited it and got it ready for publication, the current event would be a distant memory of a long ago time. Two years from submission to publication was an ordinary time frame.

Digital publishing has collapsed this timeline.  Now a writer can finish a book, have it edited, formatted and up for sale in a matter of weeks.

So does the old advice still hold?   

I don’t think so.

Digital publishing doesn’t just change the way books are delivered, it opens up new types of time-sensitive content.

We all know the old adage that nothing is as useless as yesterday’s newspaper.

Now authors have an opportunity to take things straight out of the headlines and write books about them before the new wears off the news.

This presents an interesting challenge to writers.  The subject matter of long form fiction, such as novels and novellas, is supposed to invoke universal human themes, ideas that are timeless. When an author throws current events into the mix, he ups the ante.  If he wants his book to garner attention for months or years to come, he must write quality work that endures.

In a sense, digital publishing turns authors into interpreters of actual events in  fictional form before those events have fully played out.  

This is something of a middle ground between traditional long form fiction and serials.  In a serial, the author has the opportunity to keep up with events as they transpire and mold the story as more information becomes available.  He doesn’t have that option if he has written the whole book using an actual event as the underpinning.

I suppose my point here is that under the old model, an author might draw from a recent story in the news and have the chance to play with variations on the theme as he reflected on the event and its aftermath. Now authors can be focused more on the feelings the event generates as it is unfolding. To put it another way, a writer used to build suspense by using a real-life event as a starting point but constructing a new, fictional  superstructure on it.  Now neither the author nor the reader know how the real-life story may end. It is like writing about a  murder investigation that is still underway.

So, should digital authors spin their tales around current events?  Do readers want that sort of immediacy in their fiction?  What do you think?

(Some people think Stephen Woodfin’s legal thriller Next Best Hope is about current events.)

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