I follow e-reader developments more or less everyday; it's always in the news I have delivered to my inbox, like Publishers Lunch and Shelf Awareness. I have a Kindle (third generation) and I’m quite pleased with it, even though I still do the bulk of my reading on paper.
Even though I like my Kindle, the first place I go in an electronics store is the e-reader section. Every time, I hope some model will have launched quietly and will jump up and surprise me with my dearest e-reader wish: a touch screen with a notepad program compatible with Word that will convert my handwriting to type when I synch up the documents.
Before you laugh me off, let me explain. I write my novels by hand. All 350,000 words of them. And though I tend to type my short stories, when I get stuck on them I start writing in my notebook, even if it’s in the middle of a sentence. It always helps. I’ve been using the same mechanical pencil to write with for fourteen years. Yes, years. I only ever came close to losing it once, in a hostel in France, and I nearly gave myself a heart attack until I realized that it was safely in my bag. But I'd retire my trusty pencil to write directly on an e-ink screen.
Because of course, once I’ve written my entire novel by hand it needs to be typed. I type 80 words a minute, but it still takes time—anywhere from weeks to months, depending on how much time I have to devote to it. And while I’m typing I don’t write, because the act of typing is enough. I dream of a day when a Kindle-sized device that feels more or less like paper and can be held in one hand will let me write on it, then send my pages of handwriting to a handwriting recognition program, which will then turn it into Times New Roman. When I get tired of writing, or when I get stuck on a scene, I could switch to an e-book (or one of my Kindle games) with a flip of a button. I could look up a word in the dictionary to make sure I’m using it right immediately, rather than trying to remember to look it up later. My e-reader device (believe me, I'd switch my loyalty to any brand that makes my dream a reality in seconds) would never leave my side.
Most media attention is focused, rightly, on what readers want in an e-reader. But considering how few Americans read more than 2 books a year, who are these elusive readers? My bet is that they’re mostly writers—or people who’d like to write. So what if the question was turned slightly to become, “what do writers want in e-readers?”
As both a writer and a reader (I read upwards of 35 books a year), I want my e-reader to tell me the time in some unobtrusive manner, so I don’t have to look at my watch. I want it to have a better way of showing me how far I’ve read through a book than the silly progress bar. I want my book covers to be shown as screensavers—but I also want an option to turn that feature off for certain books (because I don’t want ugly covers on my Kindle, either. I’ve been known to wake my Kindle up whenever it stops on Emily Dickinson, then turn it off again to get a different screensaver, because I think her portrait is creepy).
But I'd throw all those wishes away—hell, I'd even throw away my beloved Kindle games—for a touch-screen e-reader equipped with a stylus and handwriting recognition.