Short Reads: The Rooster Crows, Very Briefly

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

10 March 2014 iStock_000024437016Small photog Grytsaj texted starter image

Table of Contents

  1. Our Live #EtherIssue Chat is Wednesday
  2. Before the Cock Crows, Quickly…
  3. “Frictionless Fiction”
  4. Last Week’s Topic: Literary Agents of Change

Our Live #EtherIssue Chat is Wednesday

Publishing Perspectives Editor in Chief Edward Nawotka and I will host a live Twitter chat on this week’s Ether topic(s) at 11 a.m. ET / 8 a.m. PT—and that’s 3 p.m. London GMT, not our usual 4 p.m. Why? Because for three weeks, the States is only four hours behind London, as we’ve already shifted to Daylight Saving Time. Much of Europe will make the change to DST on Sunday March 30.

We’ll use the hashtag #EtherIssue as we do weekly. Join us and watch for @PubPerspectives and @Porter_Anderson on Twitter.

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Before the Cock Crows, Quickly…

By Porter Anderson

Rooster, from the team that created Plympton and DailyLit, wants you to read in "the small breaks you get throughout your day."

Rooster, from the team that created Plympton and DailyLit, is designed to let you read in “the small breaks you get throughout your day.”

Not that there’s ever been a contradictory moment in the digital transition for the industry! the industry! of course.

Still.

If you listen to one side of the biz these days, you’ll hear that long-form is the way, the truth, and the light, and that he or she who subscribes to Byliner shall have good reading material forever in handy collections. There’s also Longreads, Longform, and so forth.

While we’re on long-form, there’s also the venerable Electric Literature, in the blog of which you can read Connor Ferguson‘s Have You Read the #AmtrakResidency’s Fine Print? It explains why you should read the official terms of application for those wildly popular writerly Amtrak Residencies, in case you’re hankering to try for one. It’s not even a long read.

But on the other side, we have the short-read entourage. If one more person announces that Dickens worked in serial form, I’m probably going to have to be physically restrained. We know. In fact, we’ve known all along. Don’t tell us again that Dickens did serials, okay? Okay.

The Dickensian divvying-up of work into a serially released tale is part of the scriptural underpinning of the short-read crowd. While Camp Long-Form is mounting masterful drones about the joys of deep reads and rich narrative immersion, the Don’t Blink squad presents a pizzicato counterpoint, talking to us (very fast) about how the “chunking” of bigger works into small pieces is the pathway to our fragmented future.

Citia logoFor years now, Linda Holliday and her colleagues at Citia, for example, have been developing a platform that “takes your content and lets you create smart-card units that, alone or in a collection, work on all screens.” There’s a good description here about how Citia’s “cards” are used to facilitate multi-format usage and sales.

InklingAnd, of course, San Francisco’s Inkling, led by Matt MacInnis  presents a way to sell content in portions. Easiest way to explain it is to show you the page on which John Batdorff’s Black and White: From Snapshots to Great Shots is being sold a chapter at a time with a free chapter near the center of the book.

PlymptonAnother of the entries in the shorter-read/serial side has been Plympton. Yael Goldstein Love and Jennifer 8. Lee  began producing serials in that startup as the Kindle Serials program opened in 2012. Dena Croog wrote about the Plympton effort here in Publishing Perspectives in E-Serials as the “Third Layer” in the Publishing World.

Love and Lee are also behind DailyLit.

DailyLitThat one, according to its site’s information, “lets you read literary classics and great new fiction in short installments that you can pick up and put down anytime.” It delivers those short installments by email. (For an interesting, quick look at just how clever Lee can be at getting what’s needed to move a project forward, see Ed Nawotka’s Attracting Publishing Programming Talent on the Cheap here at Publishing Perspectives.)

It’s probably significant that the DailyLit logo has a rooster on it.

Because Rooster is the latest offering from Lee and Love.

We created Rooster, a curated reading service for your smartphone, in part to see just where that medium can take us. Some truly excellent digital storytelling experiments have already paved the way. The Silent History showed us what storytelling native to the smartphone could be — fresh, evolving, perfectly fitted to the phone. Device 6 showed how visuals and sounds could become as important to the tone of a story as the words themselves.

That’s Lee, who I hope will be hanging with me again at London Book Fair’s Publishing for Digital Minds conference with more of the skinny on this new development.

In Introducing Rooster: Bite-Sized Literature Delivered to Your Phone at Digital Book World’s Expert Publishing Blog, she explains that what Rooster does, going a step beyond DailyLit, is get the literature out of your inbox.

Rooster is an app—currently only for iOS, alas, so we Androidal types are impatiently waiting.

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“Frictionless Fiction”

Rooster-Logo-VerticalWhen Lee describes the thinking behind Rooster, you hear the sort of reader-care ethos that underlies much of what she and Love tend to do. Lee writes:

First, our editorial team curates and recommends great books for you. These are books we love, and we are sharing them with you in the tradition of the great hand-selling of independent bookstores….

Second, the books we share come in to you small installments that can be read in the small breaks you get throughout your day — whether on a commute or waiting on line at the supermarket.

Third, we push the installments to you at a schedule which is convenient to you: whether it’s every day before work or on weekend evenings.

It goes live today in the Apple app store and, as Lee and Love’s work frequently does, Rooster gives us a chance to ask some important questions. In many cases, we simply don’t have the answers yet. But even asking them can help define the transitions we’re seeing not only in publishing and marketing but also in reading and writing.

From ReadRooster.com

From ReadRooster.com

For example, in Serial Novels: Modern Torture or the Best Way To Read Fiction? at Huffington PostMaya Rodale writes about Rooster this way:

With the serial format, it all comes down to anticipation. There is something wonderful about gluttonously devouring a novel in one sitting. But there is something just as special (or agonizing) as waiting for the next installment of a riveting story and discussing every twist and turn as they happen with other readers. Part of why we turn to fiction is the emotional rush that a great story provides. Love it or hate it, the serial format enhances that awesome sense of anticipation.

And in New Rooster app crows about good books, young and old at the Washington Post, Ron Charles writes, after mentioning Dickens, of course:

For its debut this month, Rooster offers Herman Melville’s “Billy Budd” and a literary thriller called “I Was Here,” written specifically for Rooster’s serialized format by Rachel Kadish.

Yael Goldstein Love

Yael Goldstein Love

It turns out that Rooster will offer not only classics (Charles notes that Billy Budd is unlikely “to melt down the Apple app store”) but also new work for which the company will pay a small advance and what Love calls “a generous revenue share.” As Charles writes:

Next month, Rooster will deliver “The Mind-Body Problem,” a 1983 novel by the philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein and “The Kreutzer Sonata,” by Tolstoy. HOTorNOT this is not. But give the team credit for bringing some tech-wizardry to intellectual fiction.

While the original Plympton program seems very quiet these days and while DailyLit’s inboxed limitations are presumably to be supplanted by Rooster’s cockier app-iness, there’s also some interesting money on this latest iteration from the Lee-Love team. Charles writes:

Some Web-savvy people have put their money behind it, including Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit; Joshua Schachter, founder of Delicious; Adam Goldstein, CEO of Hipmunk; Andrew McCollum, co-founder of Facebook; Charlie Cheever, co-founder of Quora; and James Hong, co-founder of HOTorNOT.

Lee’s own article has a compelling point to make, in that she positions the advent of this new effort squarely in the reading-vs-the-rest-of-the-distractions reality that occasionally catches up even with people who think inside publishing all day long. The real competition, we sometimes remember, is not between genre and literary people, nor between self-publishing and traditionally publishing people, but between literature and Everything Else.

Jennifer 8. Lee

Jennifer 8. Lee

Here’s Lee:

The way we see it, the most important thing we can do for the reading economy is to create an audience of eager readers who want high-quality fiction. Our hope is that instead of procrastinating on Facebook or playing Angry Birds, people will turn to Rooster to pass their free time. So far, the idea has struck a chord with readers, who have called it ”frictionless fiction” and a “more enriching use of subway time.” If we can use this “frictionless fiction” to turn some non-readers into readers, everyone in the reading economy stands to benefit.

And in that light, you understand what Keith Wagstaff at NBC News is writing in Serial Novels Get Second Life With Smartphones, Tablets. Once he drives by Dickens’ house, of course, he points to Love and Lee’s interest in classics and literary fiction. And he has an interesting quote from Love about how “Novelists are afraid of being seen as not serious, or cheapening what they are doing, so there is hesitancy toward entering what can be seen as airport bookstore territory.”

From SpritzInc.com

From SpritzInc.com

As quickly as things are moving these days for writers, there may not be a lot of standing on ceremony for authors who might have a chance to write for Rooster.

And with Spritz working on its new proprietary speed-reading app that may get you up to 500 words per minute or higher (I confess, as an “industry reader,” I’m intrigued), you might start seeing a morsel of Tolstoy from Lee and Love as pretty spacious stuff when it lands on your iPhone as the cock crows.

We who use Android await our app. And meanwhile, let’s look at a few questions of the most fundamental kind we might use to spur our live #EtherIssue chat on Wednesday.

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Wednesday’s #EtherIs­sue at 11 a.m. ET / 3 p.m. GMT

Please give these questions a bit of thought, and join us:

  • What do you think of turning longer works into short “chunks,” the 15-minute segments Lee talks about Rooster providing?
  • Is there any chance that reading this way is “damaging” to the deeper reading experience we like to associate with books?
  • Is this trend inevitable? In fact, should authors plan for it and think in Dan-Brown-short chapters from the get-go these days?
  • If you’re a self-publisher, have you considered trying to sell in very short segments like this, yourself?
  • And is Rooster the kind of experiment you’d like to try writing for, working with experienced serial-format specialists like Love and Lee?

We’d love your input on Wednesday at 11 a.m. Eastern, 8 a.m. Pacific, 3 p.m. GMT on hashtag #EtherIssue — see you then.

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Last Week’s Topic: Literary Agents of Change

As you’ll recall, our lead last week — London Author Fair’s Debut: Change Agents — was triggered by the newly inaugurated London Author Fair produced by Gareth Howard and Hayley Radford of Authoright at Covent Garden’s Hospital Club.

Our live Twitter #EtherIssue discussion was tagged to that conference’s special panel, Agents of Change, in which I had the pleasure to chair a conversation with Andrew Lownie of Lownie Literary; Oliver Munson of AM Heath; Hellie Ogden of Janklow and Nesbitt; and Gordon Wise of Curtis Brown.

As we opened our live #EtherIssue conversation, in fact, the folks at London Author Fair were quick to point out how congenial and constructive the conversation with the agents had been onstage in London.

And when I kicked things off by wondering aloud (OK, tweeting) that one problem agents might face is unrealistic expectations from writers, author James Scott Bell was right there:

Self-published author Victoria Noe frequently has been in touch about the idea of expanding author-career engagement for agents:

And author Roz Morris polled the group, revealing that we had a rich mix of authors and experiences.

To the going wisdom that authors might do well to self-publish first and demonstrate the viability of their material in the marketplace, Dan Holloway had some qualms about how that might go:

Howard, however, reminded us that he’d had a good experience doing just that (and when self-publishing was still quite rare, in 2004):

Typical ideas of agents as being brusque, uncaring, impersonal types came up, of course:

And writer Camille LaGuire agreed that expectations of “validation” by agents may be, in part, the responsibility of authors.

One of the chief complaints around agents, of course, is always that they might like new material but don’t know how to market it to the right editors, the implication being that they’re risk-averse and unwilling to try to rock the boat of publishing’s norms.

Laurie McLean got a lot of agreement from her suggestion that authors will all by hybrid (both self-publishing and traditionally publishing) soon.

Matching that widening work range, Michael Jones tweeted, should indicate that authors are, as Noe had suggested, going to need much broader career perspective from agents than before.

Author Mark Edwards pointed out that even in self-publishing—especially through White Glove service provided only to agents by Amazon—his experience of being agented has been important:

London agent Juliet Mushens gave us an idea of just what email and electronic querying has meant for her operation:

And overall, we kept returning to this concept of the agent becoming a more broadly enabling figure in an author’s career—the term “partner” came up a few times, as in less gatekeeping, more partnering.

Above all, as in so many elements of the digital dynamic in publishing, we seemed to be talking about less rigid structures and more approaches fit-to-purpose for the author’s needs, case-by-case basis and singular developments arranged to handle the specific exigencies of one career or another. As writer Pam Stucky put it:

And do join us Wednesday at 11 a.m. Eastern, 3 p.m. GMT

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Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, a 32-year journalist with several newspapers and three networks of CNN, as well as a producer posted to the Rome headquarters of the United Nations’ World Food Programme. His Issues on the Ether column appears here at Publishing Perspectives on Tuesdays, followed by an #EtherIssue live discussion on Twitter on Wednesdays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is read on Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com, and he is a regular contributor to WriterUnboxed.com. He writes the Porter Anderson Meets column weekly for The Bookseller‘s Friday magazine in London with a live #PorterMeets Twitter interview with a newsmaker on Mondays. More about him is at PorterAnderson.com. Find him at Google+


Main image – iStockphoto: Grytsaj

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He is also co-owner and editor with Jane Friedman of The Hot Sheet, the newsletter for trade and indie authors. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, at London's The Bookseller. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.