A couple of days ago, I read a blog post by romance author Melodee Aaron, entitled "Writing for the Future".
Melodee's thesis was that our writing is important, because the books we write today may become the classic literature of tomorrow. Where would our civilization be, she argues, without Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austen, Jules Verne? Our cultural achievements - literature, art, music - are every bit as valuable as our scientific ones.
Now, I'm always delighted to see someone defending the significance of fiction. However, the post left me in serious doubt. Perhaps her thesis holds true for authors a century - even a few decade - ago. With the advent of ebooks and the explosion of publishing, though, I think books have become ephemeral.
Will my work survive me? Of course I'd like to believe what I've written will still be read twenty, fifty, a hundred years in the future, because I've poured my heart and soul into my books. But what are the chances?
Electronic formats and media are subject to rapid change. Can you play a VHS video tape today? Can you read a 3 inch floppy disk? Some of my younger readers might never have even seen one. PDF, Epub, Mobi - I'll bet that ten years from now, nobody will use those file formats for books. Titles published in these formats will be orphaned, unless someone takes the time and effort to convert the content to whatever format replaces them. And let's be honest. Who's going to convert hundreds of thousands of stories about vampires and werewolves getting it on with one another?
What about print? That's how authors in the current canon have survived, their books physical artifacts to be treasured from one generation to the next. Indeed, one never knows where a hard copy volume will turn up. Someone is sell a first edition of Raw Silk (Black Lace, 1999) on Amazon for almost two hundred dollars, and a Blue Moon edition (2002) for nearly four hundred dollars. (Of course, if these volumes sell, I won't see a penny...!) So perhaps a few copies of my work will be preserved into the future, especially in a world where paper books have become rare and precious as the forests are destroyed. This doesn't give me much comfort, though, when I walk into a bookstore and see piles of brand new books discounted to nearly nothing because they haven't really sold.
I'd like to imagine I'll have readers in the future, but if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that the chances are slim. I need to focus on gaining readers now, today. Change is the only constant. Our books, like our lives, might disappear tomorrow.