The Best Formats for Reading Different Types of Writing

I recently finished reading an ebook that is a mashup of prose and poetry. It began with a short chapter introducing a character, setting, and situation, followed by a lengthy section of poetry–a couple of dozen fairly short poems. This pattern was repeated four more times. The story continued in each of the subsequent chapters and came to a conclusion, but every chapter also included a thick layer of poetry.

This didn’t work for me at all. I was engaged by the story opening and wanted to read more. The poems were like a detour on a muddy road. I read only to get through them, which is not the way to read poetry. Why didn’t I read all the prose sections and then return to the poetry? Because the author deliberately arranged the writing in this particular way, so I read it as intended. If it had been a printed book, I may have flipped ahead, but it was an ebook. I don’t like jumping around in ebooks; it’s too much of a production compared to print.

I mention this reading experience because it made me think about the best vehicle for different types of writing. I also think about this when I’m reminded of Amazon KDP’s new option of publishing in hardcover as well as paperback. (By the way, I have no intention to publish any of my books in hardcover.)

So, what sort of writing is each format best suited for?

Hardcover Print

I think hardcover is best for works that will get a lot of use and be kept indefinitely, mostly books used for study or reference. This function is now largely performed on the internet, so the need for such books is diminishing.
I still use a few reference books. If I need to refresh my memory on pruning or planting something, I don’t want to fire up the computer or fiddle with my phone with garden-grubby hands. But the old hardcover books I’ve been using for decades are readily available, and robust enough to handle a bit of dirt. Another type of book that’s probably still in use is the cookbook, for similar reasons, except instead of dirt we have butter or batter.
And, I suppose, venerable tomes such as sacred books and eternal classics may be best enshrined in hardcover format, if only because they tend to be quite large.

Paperback Print

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

To me, this is the best form for much nonfiction and for poetry. Nonfiction with photographs, maps, tables, etc. isn’t well-served by the ebook format, but paperback usually works quite well. Many trad-pubbed books are published first as hardcovers, then as paperbacks. Paperback is perfect for poetry, especially those “slim volumes.” For the really slim, there are also chapbooks, which are a more fragile type of paperback. A small book is physically undemanding and may be dipped into when the mood takes one. Paperbacks are lighter than hardcovers, and congenial to handle, without hard surfaces and sharp corners.
When I find a novel I value enough that I want my own copy in print form, I buy it in paperback. That feels permanent, unlike electronic texts, which depend on technology. This is why I’ve published all the books I’ve written in print as well as ebook form.
Trade paperbacks” are now the standard for this format. They range in size from 5″x8″ to 6″x9″. Since the turn of the millennium, so called “mass-market” paperbacks (4.25″x7″), once popular for genre fiction, have largely given way to electronic format.

Ebook

Kindle e-reader

The format of choice for reading fiction (and some nonfiction) for entertainment and diversion. Hundreds of books can be loaded onto a small, lightweight device. Fonts can be adjusted and resized. Lighted screens permit reading in dark rooms. And nosy people can’t see what you’re reading. The only downsides are the need to recharge the battery and (in my opinion) the limited ability to page-flip and look back. Yes, you can do word searches, but that makes a simple process too much trouble to bother with in most cases.
I don’t think ebooks are the best format for poetry. Maybe because so many printed poetry books are beautifully designed, which adds to the reading experience. Also, one doesn’t tend to burn through volumes of poetry; it’s a more contemplative form of reading.
When I leave an ebook on a page for longer than the usual time it takes to read it, I’m always conscious of the invisible timer that will close the reader and require it to be turned on again to keep reading. It’s not a big deal, but somehow it imparts a feeling of urgency incompatible with reading poetry.

Audiobook

Photo by Sound On on Pexels.com

Here I admit to lack of experience. I don’t use audiobooks. To me, listening to an audiobook isn’t reading; it’s being read to. That can be a pleasant experience, with the addition of the listener being in control. You wouldn’t want to ask a person reading to you to repeat something, but with an audiobook, it’s just a matter of clicking a few buttons. (As with ebooks, though, going back, flipping ahead, or looking for something specific must be more complicated than with printed books.)
My perception is that listening to an audiobook must be slower than reading print. Slower, and yet more difficult to absorb because you can’t instantly reread a sentence or paragraph. Because of this, I think they may be a good way to enjoy books one knows and loves, especially if the reader’s voice and style are congenial.

Fellow readers, which formats do you prefer for different types of writing and different reading situations? Have you published your own books in hardcover or audiobook?

Featured image from Pexels.

37 comments

  1. I agree with you about reading poetry being a contemplative process. Many of my braille poetry books are bound in cloth (hardcover boards). Sadly the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) no longer sell books in hardback. All their books are now sold as paperbacks. The covers easily rip and the metal bindings frequently come away (unlike the cloth bound books which are much more robust and look nicer on my bookshelves).
    Most of my own published books are available in both Kindle and paperback (I think it is important to give readers a choice). Interestingly I’ve found that quite a few young readers (those in their teens and 20’s) enjoy reading paperbacks. I think this stems from them wanting a break from screens, and also from the instinctive desire to poccess something permanent, (they don’t regard e-books ain that way, and neither do I.
    E-books are great for blind readers such as myself as Kindle titles have text to speech enabled meaning that those who are unable to read print can hear the text read to them. The voice is robotic, however, I find that once becomes engrossed in a book the robotic voice is soon forgotten. However, I would still rather read poetry on the printed (or, in my case braille) page, or as an audio book (provided the audio is read well.
    Audio is great when enjoying a cup of coffee whilst relaxing in an armchair.
    Best wishes. Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for contributing your perspective, Kevin. Durability of books is certainly a factor. And yes, printed books are a relief from screens, which are inherently demanding. And I overlooked the point that audiobooks are another way to enjoy poetry.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t published my books in audio, although I plan to for a collection of short stories in the works. I don’t publish my books in hardcover; it would set the price too high. I don’t listen to audiobooks myself because my attention tends to wander and not being able to flip around would hinder my writing a review.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I prefer ebooks for the reasons you mentioned. Since I read poetry once in a while but not often, the disadvantages of an ebook for poetry are not that significant for me. I have not published anything in audiobook form, but I do not have a lot of novel-length books out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think larger format non-fiction books, like art books or coffee table books work best with hardcovers as they can be opened flat. Any book with illustrations work best in paper. Ebooks, and even tablets don’t do photos, illustrations, and even simple layouts well. I’m ordering my fiction from the library as ebooks, because I like the convenience of not having to drive down to the library to pick it up. That said, browsing is easier searching the shelves of real books, unless you have a good idea what you’re looking for. Reading in the dark is a nice feature of ebooks, but I have no great preference between ebooks and paper for fiction. I don’t listen to audiobooks. That said, I have all my books available as audiobooks on the Google Play Store. I only mention this because several commenters were thinking of making ebooks. Google converted the ebooks I had in their store into audiobooks for free using their text to speech technology, which is far from robotic — and with 30+ ratings, they are rated no different than the ebook versions. Just say’n. And finally, paper books, both soft and hard covers are furniture. A wall or two of books makes for a nice cozy room. Paper books are good companions, far better than a plastic ebook reader.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good points Chuck. Agreed that a shelf of books warms up a room, especially if they’re books one has read many times. Old paper pals.
      I’m sure computer narrated audiobooks will become more popular. As Kevin says, even a robotic voice is acceptable, and your experience has been positive.
      Thanks for adding your thoughts!

      Like

    1. Thanks, Jacqui! In this case, the book’s description didn’t mention that it contained long sections of poetry. It sounded like a novel, so that’s what I was expecting. Starting at the end (unless the rest of the book is a flashback) seems rather strange.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What are we, in the 16th Century? Burn your books.
    Yeah, AR glasses have yet to catch up, but when they do, we’ll be able to read anything anywhere. Tech/text/reference books will be a voice command away, “Ah, that’s how deep to plant amaryllis bulbs.”

    Audio books… So, libraries around the planet now offer such things — for free. I’ve been entranced with them for half a year now. My ElectricPals can connect, select, download and play any number of recent novels. And these things are not just some gruff author’s voice — these are full voice-actor productions; they’re plays-on-tape. You should give them a try.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m hanging onto my books, in case of some sort of apocalyptic electrical event, right? Reading by firelight might be a thing again.
      I just see audiobooks as too slow. Exceptions might be experiencing a book I’m already familiar with in a new way. And I do a lot of listening to stuff, since I get most of my news, current affairs, and music from radio. Not podcasts, not streaming, not playlists, but broadcasts over the airwaves.
      When there are a lot of choices, we get to pick and choose.

      Like

  6. Like many other areas in life, I’m fairly set in my ways. I’d prefer to read a paperback or hard-cover version when I can choose. That said, I’ve read more ebooks in the last two years than ever before. It’s convenient and cost-effective.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree with all of your preferences, Audrey. I do like paperbacks for the purpose of looking back, that’s hard to do with ebooks. And I do buy paperbacks of books that I love and want to keep on my shelf. I especially like the cost and instant availability of ebooks. I can buy a lot more and don’t have to buy bookcases by the month. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Audrey. This is an interesting one. Non-fiction, I’m tending to go for the Kindle versions these days. If I’m looking for a reference or a quote, I can find it quickly using the search functions rather than leafing through the pages. But for some reason, I don’t like reading fiction on a device. I’ll go for the paperback, and so much of my fiction comes from second hand places anyway, so tends to be picked up in that form, poetry too. The exceptions of course are novels published solely as ebooks. But there is something about the feel of a book in the hands, and the fact you never need to charge it up. I used to get a few copies of my novels printed in paperback to sit on my shelves, but it seemed every time I picked one up, I found a typo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point about the search function for nonfiction, Michael. And I also find paperbacks a relief from ebooks, although I use the latter quite a lot. And many of the printed books I own came from used bookstores, which I loved to poke around in decades ago. Typos in one’s own books are a nuisance. After all sorts of ructions in order to fix a few in one of my books, I resolved to proofread thoroughly before publishing, and then to live with any remaining errors.

      Like

  9. Like you, I prefer print books for research purposes, especially when I’m referring to the book more than once I like ebooks for genre fiction but I also appreciate print book versions. I haven’t read poetry in a while and can’t comment on how they appear to be in ebooks. I’ve only listened to one audiobook and it’s not my thing right now. Nor have I bought a hard copy in quite a while.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a fascinating post! I’ve never thought of attaching meaning to the different types of formats before, but you’re absolutely right about them. The Offspring looks up recipes on the phone, but I have to have my physical cookbooks.
    In general though, I don’t read print books anymore because you can’t adjust the size of the fonts. lol Ebooks all the way. Audio books are different. I don’t have /them/ because…I read fast. Audio books are unbearably slow – like watching an entire movie in slow motion. I’m sure they have their uses, but not for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Meeka! I’ve become more and more interested in the reading process since I started writing, and also since I started questioning some of the advice to writers I see. This post came out of that thinking. There may be more.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Great points. Starting from the hardcover, including the paperback, e-book and finally the audiobooks. It seemed like someone has put out my feelings in the best way possible! Loved reading it. It’s insightful and relatable to many points. 💯❣️

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I publish in both ebook format and print. To do otherwise is to limit my readership. 😀 … as for reading, because trad pub books are so bloody expensive, I’ll read an ebook, (for most everything these days) and if I REALLY like it, I’ll splurge and buy the print version … we all know by now, (or should) that when we ‘buy’ an ebook we’re only leasing it – which is fine but I want to be able to read my faves when I’m a hundred, and I doubt most of them will be still available digitally then … and I don’t want my faves, in the present, disappearing on the whim of someone else.

    Liked by 1 person

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