Support this site

Friday, November 8, 2013

Guest Post from Boomer Lit Author Anne R. Allen

Why the E-Book Revolution is Great for Boomers

If you're reading this blog, you're probably pretty tech-savvy. But as we head into the holidays, we're going to run into the inevitable friends and relations who are hostile to the whole idea of social media, ebooks and e-readers.

I've got some Boomer friends who think the e-reader is robbing us of our cultural heritage. I understand where they're coming from. I worked in bookstores for much of my life. Every time a bookstore goes out of business I feel a sense of personal loss.

Plus I love being surrounded by tangible, hard-copy reading material. My house looks like a library. Books are my best friends. (My mother tells me that when I learned to read, I said, "Now I'll never have to be lonely again.")  I don't think I'll ever stop buying paper books. When I adore something I've read on my Kindle, I sometimes buy it in paper too—so I can really "have" it.

Electronics can die and get glitchy—and nothing's more infuriating when you're engrossed in a book than to get that "low battery" message plastered across the page.

Paper feels "real." You can touch it and hold it and yes, sniff it. (Much fun is made of "book-sniffers" but scientists say the smell of old books is related to the smell of vanilla, and stimulates a comfort zone in your brain.) You can also keep a new paper book waiting on your night stand and study the cover art, read the blurbs, and anticipate it in a way you can't with a list of titles on your e-reader. Plus you can loan a beloved paper book to as many friends as you like.

But I urge even my book-sniffing Boomer friends to welcome the age of the e-book.


1) Learning new technology keeps us young.

I know a lot of Boomers avoid technology. They may use a computer for email and shopping, and they might even have a smart phone—but they're mostly annoyed by all of it. The digital age confounds them and they're irritated by the rapid changes that are catapulting us into a scary new era.

Yes, change can be terrifying, but it's what keeps us alive. As Dylan said, "He who is not busy being born is busy dying."

There's scientific data to back this up. Doctors tell us that embracing the new keeps our brains active and healthy.

And let's face it, nothing says "geezer" like complaining about "newfangled gadgets" and waxing nostalgic about the good old days. All the hair dye, yoga, and kale smoothies in the world won't make you seem vibrant and healthy if you have a negative attitude and a sour expression on your face.

Besides, if you're a Boomer, you belong to a generation that has always embraced change.

As Mark Penn said in his 2007 book Microtrends, "Boomers reinvented youth in the 1960s and economic success in the 1980s; they are not about to do their senior years by someone else’s formula. According to a 2005 survey by Merrill Lynch, more than 3 in 4 boomers say they have no intention of seeking traditional retirement."  

2) The e-book revolution is ending age discrimination against older authors.

Traditional publishing has always dictated that young authors are the most desirable. Even when I was in my forties, I was advised to keep my age secret when querying, because publishers don't want to invest money building a "brand name" for an author who doesn't have a potential forty-year trajectory for churning out product.  

But this eliminates a huge number of writers—especially writers with wisdom and life experience to share. As social media guru Kristen Lamb says. "A large percentage of writers have waited until the kids are out of the home and out of college to begin pursuing their dreams of being authors."

But ebooks and social media are changing all that.  We now live in an age when there is infinite "shelf" space, and "long tail" niche marketing reigns in social media.

New genres like Boomer Lit can appeal to specific demographics now that every book published doesn’t have to be a potential blockbuster of one-size-fits-all scope. Whether you self-publish, go with a small traditional press or a digital press, you can find your niche market online.

3) Older readers get to read books about their own issues instead of endlessly reliving high school.

For some time now, traditional publishing has dictated that female protagonists in popular fiction have to be under thirty. Men can be a little older, but the main characters have to be young people with young problems.

Not surprising, since for the last few decades, the "gatekeepers" of traditional publishing have been 22-year-old interns at New York literary agencies.

(And I can't help wondering if some editors weren't scarred by being forced to read Silas Marner in high school. George Eliot's aged curmudgeon has a lot to answer for.)

Thing is: older people have more time to read. And most of us are hungry for books that address our own life situations, not just who's going to get to go to the prom with a hunky vampire.

As Kristen Lamb says, older authors are "writing books they’d like to read: romance novels with a sixty-year-old protagonist finding love, not a twenty-two-year-old….Now there are options. Seventy is getting younger every day and the emerging e-commerce marketplace doesn’t care how old we are or how many books we write."

4) E-readers offer physical advantages to the older reader.

·      Adjustable fonts. I'm getting to the stage where I can't read books with tiny fonts, and I'd be much more comfortable with large-print books, if I weren't too embarrassed to be seen reading them. With an e-reader, all it takes is the click of a button to adjust the font to our own vision requirements.

·      Lightweight. A friend told me she stopped enjoying reading hard-cover books a few years ago because of arthritis in her hands. But she loves that e-readers are easy to hold and getting lighter all the time. The new Nook GlowLight weighs only  6.2 ounces.

·      Immediate new books. When I finish a book I love, I get an empty feeling. I often want to read another book by that author immediately, especially if it's the next in a series. But as we age, getting out to a bookstore can be more of a hassle. (And I stopped night driving when I realized it felt like driving by Braille on dark winter nights.) With an e-reader, you can have the new book in minutes.

The E-Age may seem scary to those of us who remember when the most tech-heavy thing a writer had to do was change a typewriter ribbon, but it's one of the best times in history to be a writer—or a reader—so we need to learn to embrace the new technology.

What about you? Did you have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age? What advantages are you finding to reading electronic books? Do you have Luddite friends and family who don't "get" e-books?

About the Author
Anne R. Allen is the author of the bestselling Camilla Randall rom-com mystery series, including The Best Revenge, Ghostwriters in the Sky, Sherwood, Ltd, and No Place like Home. She's also the author of BoomerLit comedies Food of Love, the Gatsby Game and the upcoming Lady of the Lakewood Diner. She has collaborated with Catherine Ryan Hyde on a nonfiction book for writers, How to be a Writer in the E-Age: a Self-Help Guide.

Anne's blog, where she partners with NYT bestseller Ruth Harris was named one of Writer's Digest's Best 101 Websites for Writers. Anne and Ruth are collaborating on a BoomerLit two-fer due later this month, combining  Ruth's The Chanel Caper and Anne's The Gatsby Game.

Connect with Anne


  1. Anne, I agree on all points. Since most book buyers are 55 and over, I think they see the Boomer onslaught as someone that resonates with them. When I read a book, I never stop to ask the author's age. What I want is a seasoned story that provides insight into the human condition. And those who have lived long, fruitful lives are in the best position to write such stories.

  2. Anne—Love your post! Changing a typewriter ribbon was a messy business and carbon paper was another bane. Both left fingers more or less carbon-colored, never a good look!

    I'm excited about our BoomerLit two-fer and hope readers will be, too. I think of Chanel and Gatsby as chick lit for chicks who weren't born yesterday!

  3. Anne, you're preaching to the choir here. My house also looks like a library (a messy one) but 90% of my current reading in done on a tablet. My 87-year-old mother also likes her Kindle, although she counts on me to load it with books and drives to McDonald's to borrow wifi. It's nice to hear that the Kindle I'm enjoying is actually good for me.

  4. You highlight some very important points about publishing, ebooks and the boomer generation. I ,too, prefer holding a book to an electronic book but I like the ease of downloading books and holding a lightweight tablet. Both can be used for my favorite pastime--- reading.
    I also agree that learning new tasks and improving on computer skills is key to staying a part of the 21 century. We boomers are still creative and very much informed.

  5. Stephen--You're right that older people buy more books. Publishers have insisted that books be only about young people for far too long.

    Ruth--LOL I hated carbon paper. And you could never fix a typo! I like the additions to my list that you sent me in a Tweet: e-readers don't need a lot of dusting and you don't have to buy more bookshelves!

    Beth--I didn't know that McDonald's has wifi! Good to know. And how cool that your 87 yr old mom has a Kindle too.

    dreamlady--I have friends who refuse to even get a computer. When I talk to them it's like traveling back in time. And they tend to think and act like elderly people, even though some are younger than me.

  6. Fabulous Anne as always. When I worked as a clerk for MIT I did a little work on my fantasy world (just notes, not tales) and the desk had one of those memory typewriters. Back-space erase up to about a hundred characters or so- the stone age of word processing. We all thought it was like magic! I could go back and CHANGE what I'd written (within limits). I thought there would never be an improvement on that. Of course this was back when there was no better song on the radio than "She Blinded Me with Science"...

  7. I like to have the best of both worlds. I love my Kindle - so handy for reading when travelling, but I also love physical books - the smell, the touch, turning the pages. Strangely enough, I've found most of my 'boomer friends' have happily adapted to the new e-reading technology and it's my younger colleagues who prefer the print books.

    I also think your first point is very important - we have to keep embracing technological change as we get older. We are a generation that has grown up with and adapted to rapid change and just because you're getting older, it's no excuse to put your head in the sand and decide you don't want to be a part of it.

  8. This post perfectly describes it! Paper books are wonderful. I, too, live in a library here at home. But ebooks have made reading not only easier for Boomers (when they try it, they'll embrace it for all the reasons you state above) but for the writer who can appeal to a large base of readers who don't want to stay in high school forever.

  9. Trelkeny--MIT would provide a fabulous place to research alien life forms :-). I remember clearly the first time I was shown a word processor (by a Cal Poly professor.) It did indeed seem like magic when he pressed the backspace and the words disappeared! I was working as a proofreader for court documents at the time and I thought it might eliminate my job. Amazing how we can still make just as many typos with all this technology.

    Robin--I have some friends who are dedicated Luddites, and when I talk to them, it's like talking to people of an older generation. They're always talking about the "good old days" and don't seem to experience anything new. Interesting about younger people preferring paper. Maybe that's like the hipsters who have to listen to all their music on vinyl.

    Kris--That's the biggest plus for me: because of ebooks, even traditional publishers are paying more attention to the whole marketplace, not just high school stories and the love lives of 20--something New Yorkers.

  10. I got a Kindle Paperwhite for my 66th birthday and it was delivered today! Can't wait to check out the possibilities--and a lot of Boomer Lit books.

  11. Linda--Happy Birthday! I know you're going to love it. (No Place Like Home is going to be 99c for two more days.)