I knew in a vague sort of way that ebooks collected data about my reading habits, but I wasn’t fully aware that “they” – whoever they are – can tell when we read, how quickly we do so, how often we stop, and if most readers stop at a particular portion of the book. It’s a scary thought that the publisher might suggest to an author that a portion of the book should be cut and a more exciting plot twist be inserted to keep people reading beyond the “boring bit.” From there, it isn’t too much of a step to books designed and written by readers.
It also raises the question of editing. It is done now, with both print and e-books, but what of the future? Odd words and phrases have always been changed on an editor’s say so, sometimes much more than that. But with ebooks, change will soon, if not now, be the work of moments. Open up your new book on an ereader and you could find you heroine’s name has changed from Pansy to Scarlet, or that your hero is an ex-SAS professional with a penetrating grey gaze rather than the cornflower blue you gave him. The difference will be that the editor has made the changes without consulting you first, and the changes may be far more wide-reaching than the ones I've quoted.
Musing on what might be normal in twenty years time, you can see that Publishers and Editors can only become more central in the book world of the future. But what of the agent? Perhaps those agents who see a bleak future ahead are the agents now offering to “edit” an author’s work - for a fee. You have to wonder if they have the required skills to do so. Some will, others won’t, but if the e-book market keeps growing, then editing and assisting an author to self-publish is a sure way of keeping one’s head above water.