We all know how the internet has changed our lives. Memes are now a part of our daily e-routine, we are much more visually sophisticated than ever, and of course, getting out of a planned commitment is so much easier now when you can message ten minutes before you are supposed to meet to say you “aren’t feeling so good”.
Everybody knows that the internet has changed the way we write and publish. Old news. But how the online world has changed novels themselves – how and why they are written, who they are written for, and what they are written about – remains largely undiscussed.
So here are five ways the internet has changed novels:
Twenty years ago, publishing your own writing was the modern day equivalent of Apple’s terms and conditions on every new iPhone update; it was guaranteed to never be read by anyone. Ever.
Today, with the likes of FanFiction, AO3, and WordPress, self-publishing is literally at the push of a button. Amazon reaps a catalogue of thousands of books that are self-published, and even has a detailed guide on how to publish your own work through their affiliates.
Without the constraints of praying for a publisher to take pity on you, writers are not only able to control their works and the way they are presented more than ever, but they can receive instant feedback and even upload works chapter by chapter. Twins Harry and Matilda have not only self-published their own novel online, but have also used Instagram to upload the narrative in stages:
2. Quantity vs quality
Obviously, easier means of publishing creates more novels on the market than ever before. And self-publishing often directly correlates with works that are not edited thoroughly (if at all). With an influx of novels available online – both for purchase and as free downloads – the average intelligence level of novels themselves has been brought down.
Perhaps there are just as many clever novels being produced as there ever have been in number – or perhaps there are even more with literacy levels continuously on the rise – but the sheer quantity of what is available online means the weight is nearly all on the side of the badly written. And with so many novels finding a receptive audience irrespective of their quality, how do we define what a successful novel is?
3. Tunnel vision
Much like Facebook’s algorithm which filters your news feed so you see more of the kinds of things you usually read/click/like (yep, Facebook is Big Brother. It knows everything) and less of the things you don’t interact with, the number of novels in this online world means that there is more to read on any topic you are interested in.
Love the story of Anne Boleyn? You can literally find thousands of books on her life – and countless re-imaginings of her life – online. Pride and Prejudice your favourite book? Amazon Prime is full of adaptations that can let you stay in Elizabeth and Darcy’s world every night for the rest of your life if you want to.
The point is, now that there is so much more of everything, you are more likely to get stuck in certain fields (especially when you become addicted to stories like me) and therefore, you read less on other topics.
This is an obvious one. Before the internet, book sales and newspaper reviews were all an author had to judge the reception of their novel by. Paid reviewers had a much more dominant voice than they do today. Nowadays, where everybody feels entitled to a voice, a novel’s Goodreads page is inevitably filled with reviews from scathing to glittering (begging the question: how is one supposed to use Goodreads?). The likes of FanFiction and free iBooks also means that even the most basic writing has a responsive audience.
Like how the printing press made novels accessible to the poor, the internet has made all forms of writing readily available to anybody with a computer worldwide. It isn’t just access to such a wide array of novels at the click of a button, but the ability to access so many of the same type of novel, that has changed the landscape of novel writing.
Stay tuned for more blog posts where I will delve into these ideas more deeply!
Featured image: Digital illustration: Lucy O’Rourke.