The Art of the Ebook

The future of the ebook is bound up with the way authorship evolves.  The most powerful communication comes from the unconscious minds of a creative person, and there are two parts to the creative process — the inspiration and the editing.

Great ideas come in flashes: capricious, unpredictable. They exist in the unconscious mind long before they break through to the surface where we can look them in the face. These are the sudden insights when we recognize in an instant something we’ve known for a long time but never could form into an intelligible thought. But these flashes of genius tend to be diamonds in the rough; it takes a lot of cutting and polishing before they become real gems. That’s the editing process — an often grueling regimen of refining, clarifying, taking an idea or image and making it a more intense and perfect version of itself. The first part comes from the creative Right Brain; the editing involves more of the technical Left Brain.

A medium can’t reach its full potential for powerful communication until the Right Brain becomes familiar enough with it that it acquires a certain effortlessness. This requires an understanding of highly technical material by minds that also have a powerful creative Right Brain. This takes time. You can’t rush the Right Brain.

With ebooks the level of technical knowledge involved is both large and constantly changing. And most of our best creative minds haven’t had time to digest even the basic technical elements of the medium to the point where the Right Brain has access to imagine and dream in an ebookish way. (Could Alfred Hitchcock have mastered HTML? And if he could, what would he have done with it?)

Certain media are so technically complex that no single person can obtain enough technical knowledge to be a sole creator of powerful communication. The idea of a committee writing a great poem is absurd. But you don’t cast large bronze statues or make movies alone. Complex ebooks fit into this category.

Still, even in these technology-dominated media, the best works tend to come from a single creative mind with a powerful vision. Michelangelo didn’t paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel alone. The Godfather is the result of a large team of collaborators. The Guggenheim Museum…you get my point. But the thing that makes these works stand out as unique and powerful is the way in which the technical aspects of the medium were subservient to the creative vision of the person we credit with what we now call a work of art. In each case the collaborators necessarily included highly skilled experts, but the only indispensable person in the process was the one who created the vision the others fulfilled.

What this means, for those of us who see ebooks as a medium with the potential to take its place beside novels and cinema as a powerful and unique way of communicating, is that we must focus on two important elements. The first is finding ways of getting creative minds up to speed on the possibilities of the medium so that our ebook Dickenses and Picassos can emerge. The books of Liz Castro and the development of iBooks Author are examples of attempts to do this. Liz makes technical aspects of ebook creation easier, but still not easy enough for most Right Brain dominant people. iBooks Author lets a non-technical person create a multi-touch ebook, but with limitations, and it’s still intimidating to a lot of artist types. Both these are steps in the right direction, but are there other ways to speed up the process of getting the creative people on board?

The second important aspect is to create ways of communicating between Left Brain technowizards and Right Brain artists to build teams that can achieve that delicate balance where the technology serves the creative impulse rather than dominating and dictating to it.

For the foreseeable future ebooks will remain a medium dominated by technology, so the most successful ebook creators will be those who can bring creative communicators and artistic minds into the mix through inculcating them with a wide variety of ebook experiences and developing collaborations to allow close cooperation between Left and Right hemispheres.