Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ebooks, Apps, and Collaboration

The fear of ebooks has recently been dwarfed by the growing fear of books as apps. Granted, there are a number of valid concerns, many of them economic. Yet, books as apps push the boundary of what a book is even further by their multimedia possibilities. In app form, does the book/literary content still hold the lion's share of a user's attention? Or is it an entry point into a world a multi-media related content. Can it be either?

Writing with apps in mind opens a whole world of cross-disciplinary opportunities. Collaboration with other creative genres has been difficult and limited simply by the nature of writing and reading. Graphic novels stand as the hallmark of co-op effort by allowing room for both the visual and written aspects to flourish. In most other cross-disciplinary efforts, writers tend to be on the sideline, cheering at someone else's game. It is hard to invert the process and make literary content the focal point of a collaborative effort. An app can center on literary content complemented by a selection hailing from other creative fields: musicians, game programmers, graphic designers, you name it.

We live in a remix culture; we love sampled music, fusion food, multimedia approaches. Apps give literary content a way to play in our remix culture as focus, not just a bonus.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Independent Publishers, Meet Your Audience. Lessons from Indie Labels

Ken Auletta's "thorough and thoughtful exploration into Kindle-iPad-publisher tensions leaves you with a lot to consider. As he traverses his way through the current e-book jungle, he details publishers' (non)relationship to their audience:

...It would take years for publishers to learn how to sell books directly to consumers. They do not market research, have little data on their customers and have no experience in direct retailing. With the possible exception of Harlequin Romance and Penguin paperbacks, readers have no particular association with any given publisher; in books, the author is the brand name. To attract consumers, publishers would have to build a single collaborative Web site to sell e-books, an idea that Jason Epstein, the fromer editorial director of Random House pushed for years without success.

It's an interesting point; publishers think of retailers, not readers, as their customers, thus many publishers never connect with their authors' audience. Whatever is left of a press's marketing department is devoted to authors without consideration for the company. Yet, independent publishers' potential to draw attention by their own merit is huge.

Perhaps the indie press should take note of their music label brethren. While Warner Music or EMI do not (possibly could not) create their own fans, there are intensely loyal followings for indie labels of every genre. Listeners identify with the indies for the point-of-view, personality and lifestyle that they stand for. Labels directly engage fans as well as form trust through the music they support. A label's fans will try out new artists, check out new releases, and attend record label tours because of the label as well as the musician. Heck, my sister loves Trojan Records so much she had its logo tattooed.

This type of inherent value and trust can be cultivated by indie publishers. Some are starting; more need to. After all, literary aficionados want ink too.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What e-reading means to writing: the iStory

In celebration of its forthcoming iPhone/iPad app, Narrative Magazine is heralding a new genre: the iStory. After indulging in several iStories, it seems that normal challenges of storytelling are greatly intensified inside the 150-word genre.

Challenge 1. Maintain the narrative. With such small space to convey a fully developed narratives, some texts slip into a territory that is more poetry than fiction. While lovely, these texts do not "give readers a strong sense of having read a full and complete story." Certainly, poetic texts have an (e)audience, much of which cross-pollinates with consumers of fiction, but their delivery as fiction to fiction readers could yield an unsatisfying experience, not because of the quality of work but due to a mismatch of text to reader.

Challenge 2. To detail or not to detail. This is not a genre for the descriptive. Too many details suffocate the story line, yet none at all may render a story limp, naked, or worst of all, generic. The potent use of thoughtful details is the strong suit of this genre. Timely, poignant details speak to an author's mastery of the craft. With one well-crafted line, the story suddenly blooms, and we understand Mark Twain's idea that "the difference between the almost right word and the right word...'tis the difference between the lightening bug and the lightning."

Challenge 3. The End. Perhaps the common issue is how to end...cleanly. Some closings are abrupt; others feel gimmicky (read M. Knight Shyamalan's expected twist). While opening and moving the iStory occur fairly successful, a natural close is tough to deliver. Tougher than normal. If this form fosters new techniques, I believe they will occur in this arena as authors look for effective ways to resolve and end a narrative.

Beyond singular creation and publication, the iStory brings new considerations to collecting work into a book. A writer who is organizing an iStories book/collection becomes akin to a poet. Both need to deeply consider the harmony/discord between pieces as a reader transitions from one to the next.

If 150 words still feels roomy or if you don't believe in its possibilities, consider Narrative Magazine's section of 6 word stories. I leave you with one written by the king of literary minimalism Ernest Hemingway: "For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Going Retro. What Internet Reading Means to Writing

This article has had me thinking about what internet reading could mean to the writing process. No one knows what the ultimate results will be, but what does seem to be happening is a revival of previously defunct forms of content delivery. Take the serialized story, for instance. While rumored to have survived in literary nooks and crannies, the serialized story essentially burned out after its heyday in 19th century magazines. Until now. In its new digital suit, the serialized story has returned to us.

Five Chapters is one such site that features quality short stories by breaking them into five parts and delivering them throughout the work week. This site differs from the typical e-reading hot spots in one critical way: it's incredibly quiet: no hyper-linked text, no advertisements, no blog roll. It is, rather, a zen-like reading corner of the Internet universe that presents just enough content for the average person to read comfortably online.

I subscribed to Five Chapters' feed to give the site a test drive, and I must say, I'm really happy with the results. The stories are loving-crafted with the kind of characters that follow you around after you click elsewhere. Having only heard of few of the 192 authors featured, I feel pretty good about myself after I read. This is simple (and, honestly, time-efficient) way to introduce yourself to writers that are normally drowned out by the buzz of big six advertising.

Dave Daley says he designs the content to fit into a lunch break, but, personally, I prefer to wait until the end of the day. Coming home to a new issue gives me that cozy, homey, Americana feeling that I've only glimpsed at in Norman Rockwell paintings. For me, it's a bit like coming home to the afternoon paper.

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