The Book, Reimagined

Short Editions vending machine dispenses a story. Image:

I’ve become rather notorious for reading the latest sensation, the must-read pick of the season, a good ten to fifteen years after everyone else does. I could try to convince you that I do this on purpose, in order to savor the story after the furor has diminished, in order to make my own judgments, but that would be a lie. I’m simply slow to get around to the buzz books.

The most recent on my late-to-the-party list is Margaret’s Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, hailed as “the first great novel of the new millennium,” which proves exactly how later I came to it. Atwood is brilliant—you already know that. In The Blind Assassin, she reimages the novel by embedding a story within a story within a story. She intersperses period-style news clippings, seeding many of them at the beginning, the result being that it’s only after thirty-plus pages that we attach to a narrator and a voice.

Could you or I get away with opening a book that way? Not likely. When she penned The Blind Assassin, Atwood already had proven herself in the industry. She had (and has) a substantial following, and therefore publishers are willing to trust her to her readers. She also proved her chops with traditional storylines, as in The Handmaid’s Tale, perhaps her most well-known title, proving the adage that you need to know the rules in order to break them.

As authors reimagine the book, so do publishers. In a two-part series recently published in the IBPA Independent, I explored the ways in which new technologies are nudging us to think differently about these packages we call books. E-books are old news, my friends. Vending machines now dispense short stories. Response-friendly formats on platforms such as Wattpad and Medium are playing a larger role in digital publishing. Mobile devices allow stories to be told in nonlinear ways.

By reimagining the book, authors and publishers enjoy opportunities to collaborate in exciting ways. Peter Brantley of the University of California, Davis, predicts that in the future, e-books and other digital publications will function as well-designed websites; after all, he points out, the Kindle is actually a small, thin linux computer. Who knew?

Through platforms such as Leanpub, Gumroad, and Patreon, authors can satisfy fans with serial versions of their work—and fans can participate in the development, encouraging and energizing authors. Meanwhile, working groups of publishers continue to refine digital publishing standards.

For the writer, all of this translates to possibility. “When more authors and publishers realize and leverage the exhilarating freedom of digital publishing, we’ll see wilder experiments, startling moments of brilliance, and mass audiences where no one ever expected to find them,” says publishing expert Josh Brody.

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the author co-op Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse is the author of seventeen books. Among her most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest, and What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion, as well as Wealth Woman: Kate Carmack and the Klondike Race for Gold. Visit to read the full content of “Updates from the Digital Frontier” and “Breaking Out of the Box.”