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Coliloquy: Choosing Your Own Adventure 21st-Century Style

By Dennis Abrams

As reported in The Atlantic by Betsy Morais, the guiding principle for Coliloquy, the new publishing startup launched by Lisa Rutherford and her co-founder Waynn Lue in January, is flexibility.

Most of the company’s editors, who work in the company’s offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto, are recent parents looking for the kind of work flexibility not often found in traditional publishing houses. And it’s that same flexibility comes in to play in the type of books that Coliloquy publishes as well, where narrative structure, process, and format are “all up for adjustment with every new title, and every last reader.”

Coliloquy offers a “choose-your-own-adventure model for the data tracking age.” Its books are made up of multiple “pathways,” designed to lead stories into differing and divergent plotlines. And while that aspect is very much old-school choose your own adventure, in this case, the choices that readers make are anonymously logged and then analyzed by both Coliloquy’s team and the authors themselves. For example, in one particular YA novel, will teen witch Lily catch Logan the warlock hiding under a rock? Readers said yes 52.8 percent of the time; while 47.2 percent decide against the meeting.

Holly McDowell, the author of the King Solomon’s Wives series, receives reader stats every Tuesday, letting her how her readers are voting, and then listing the different choice points and the percentage of voters who selected each one. And while authors such as McDowell welcome the feedback (readers of her first book were asked which city they wanted to hear about next – New Orleans came out on top with 30 percent of the vote), Coliloquy’s founders emphasize that this is not writing by committee or data driven literature. It is, instead, simply a tool to provide authors with helpful suggestions. “Are there places where she would be better off spending her time early on to keep her readers interested?”

Built through the Kindle Developer Program for active content, Coliloquy’s ten titles, each selling for less than five dollars, are currently available on Kindle, NOOK, Android-based devices, and in some cases, classic e-book format. Rutherford promises that they will soon integrate with the web, which will allow the incorporation of fan fiction into the original text of an erotica series — authorship will then depend on popular support.

Other series provide other options. In the romance series “Getting Dumped,” readers had three characters to pick from as a potential boyfriend for the protagonist. “Great Escapes,” an erotica series set in a B&B allows other options: Would the reader prefer a Latin, Southern, or gentlemanly suitor? An advanced version allows for even greater personalization on the part of the reader – giving the characters specific physical characteristics, setting the level of sexual explicitness — while a third choice, somewhat ironically, turns the choice over to the authors, meaning no customizations at all. (Interestingly, most readers, 64%, chose the most personalized and customized option – only 12% opted to leave it up to the author.)

All of which begs the question – is Coliloquy publishing books or a new variety of narrative episodic app? When asked that by The Atlantic, Rutherford simply replied, “I don’t know the answer to that yet.”

Read the entire article here.

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