Category Archives: News

Penguin’s Little Writing Project

Penguin - We Tell StoriesPenguin has been doing the ‘let’s try something weird’ thing again, and they’ve created this little project called We Tell Stories. 6 authors, 6 stories, and 6 non-linear presentation styles. There’s a competition involved (presumably to up interest in the experiment), and each of the stories takes its inspiration from a classic. The first week’s story is inspired by The 39 Steps.

I am most interested in Penguin’s take on non-linearity: Penguin’s Digital Editor Jeremy Ettinghausen has in this post talked about how non-linearity just might be the presentation method of the future. And while his point about non-linear information-seeking in this age is valid, I don’t think it will translate to how stories play out – a beginning, a middle, and an end simply do not conform with a random bounce-bounce presentation of information. Stories are linear. We live our lives in a linear fashion. So, the presentation of a story has to be – more or less – linear.

However, I do believe a random bounce-bounce presentation of the events happening within a chapter (or, say, an hour in a 24 hour period) would work, though in the bigger picture the chapters (or hours) would be linear in nature.

On other sites: James Smythe has a wonderful post about the possible implications this move would have if it succeeds (or fails), and Lee is not impressed with the writing. I, on the other hand, think it to be a really good experiment to the presentation of fiction. There’s a lot more story here in than there ever was in Dreaming Methods (which read more like poetry than anything else), and the use of Google Maps as a visual aid to move the story along is just brilliant. Another plus point: We Write Stories does not use Flash.

Keep an eye on this. Week Two’s coming out, and I’d like to see how this particular presentation plays out.

Sunday, 16 March, 2008

The Friday Project: Out Of Business?

the_friday_project.gifIt appears so. The only blook publisher to have regularly put out blooks of quality seems to liquidating. The Telegraph reports HarperCollins to be the frontrunner in the bid for The Friday Project’s assets, while a Guardian article entitled ‘Industry majors seek option on ailing ‘blook’ publisher list‘ reports Random House has joined HarperCollins in talks regarding TFP.

“The group now has insufficient funds to continue to trade and the directors have a responsibility not to allow the group to incur further liabilities where there is significant uncertainty about the group’s ability to meet their liabilities as they fall due,” said Friday Project Media plc.

I’ve blogged about my experience with TFP, and I must say the feeling towards the company on the ground has been largely positive. Its model of publishing has been largely traditional, the only difference being its source material – which is from the Internet. Whatever happens, whoever succeeds in buying TFP’s list … one thing is clear: there will be no more new media publishers of TFP’s pedigree.

It is believed that HarperCollins intends to buy publishing rights to The Friday Project’s book titles. It also plans to use the company’s expertise in new media publishing to bolster its existing new media operations.

Which is a pity.

Saturday, 19 January, 2008

The Lemur

Lighted skyscraper at nightYou know that old suggestion that online fiction needs a famous author to kickstart the medium? This exact suggestion seems to have happened quite unintentionally: John Banville, writing under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, is posting up a serial entitled The Lemur over at the New York Times. They’ve put this up in their online version, naturally.

John Banville wrote The Sea, winner of the Man Booker Prize 2005. That should be enough to satisfy the literary snobs out there, though I’m not sure how the story is done (weekly? all completed and submitted, or created on the go?). I do think this will prove to be an interesting experiment – readers have The Lemur in their paper, which is physical, and there’s the online version on a popular site. It’s a lucky combination of elements, one that we don’t usually see for online fiction.

PS: As an aside I’d like to point out the elegant use of fonts and white space over at The Lemur, as well as the strategic pagination of the story. It’s not too long, not too short. Wonderful.

PPS: I’m buried under academic work at the moment, so updates in Novelr will come slow. Real life is a harsh mistress to serve. Forgive me.

Saturday, 9 June, 2007

Social Networking for Publishers

coin stackIt’s funny what you can find in your local papers if you look hard enough. I flipped through the Technology section of The Star yesterday and was surprised to find a Reuters piece on how social networks are helping publishers sell books.

Oh no … more Web 2.0 hype.

Faced with the challenge of marketing a book with a vulgarity in the title, publisher Rick Wolff turned to Internet blogs and social networking sites to spread the word about his latest business book.

Bookstores were scared of The No A**hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, so Rick Wolff sent emails by the bulkload to bloggers and readers.

There apparently is some serious regard for the power of the Internet: Wolff was invited to talk at a panel discussion on ‘the Internet in publishing’ at the BookExpo America trade fair. I’m regarding this as an early toe-dip into the uncharted waters of marketing books on the Internet … what I’m afraid of is that the market would be so saturated with bloggers screaming “read this book, read this book!”

But there are some interesting concepts mentioned by the article: for instance – Harper Collins Children’s Books used Myspace to promote a competition for teenagers to write successive chapters of a novella, which was then voted on by site visitors as the book progressed.

Oh, and apparently Harper Collins is a 26 year old male in Myspace.

I’m not entirely comfortable with publishers making headway into the online review sphere (remember that article about book reviewers being out of print?) – but then again there raises the question of just how influential are bloggers in selling books? I’m reminded uncomfortably of an annonymous comment in Critical Mass:

I find it interesting that a review of a book in the Sunday NY Times is often much more positive than a review of the same book in the Times week day arts section. Many reviews today sound like marketing instruments and you get the feeling, at least with respect to books from well-known authors, with well-connected publicists, that the reviewers are “bought off” or at least have bought into the hype. As a result, I am more likely to pay attention to a review of a book by an obscure author than of a Cormac McCarthy, a Jonathan Safran Forer etc.

One possible problem? Publishers using PayPerPost to get you to review their books. I shudder at the thought of that.

PS: the article mentions Shelfari, and states that 76% of users there would but their next book from site recommendations. Really now? We’ll see.

Thursday, 7 June, 2007

Collins Dictionary includes Blook!

There’s a funny little piece in Guardian Unlimited about a list of new entrants into the Collins dictionary:

Of course, they’re not new words exactly; rather, they’re words that have been flung at the proverbial brick wall so often over the last 10 years or so that they’ve stuck …

Because the vlog (an internet video journal), the blook (a blog that becomes a book, or vice versa) and the mobcast (an unholy aliance of podcast and mobile phone) are mounting such a determined challenge on the lamestream (traditional media), advances in IT provide a good chunk of the list.

Oh, and while you’re there check out whataboutery, camel toe, and waterboarding! One of which, by the way, is a form of torture.

Tuesday, 15 May, 2007

2007 Blooker Prize Winners!

Alright, and it’s finally out.

Overall Winner (and Non-Fiction winner)My War: Killing Time In Iraq by Colby Buzzell
Fiction WinnerThe Doorbells of Florence by Andrew Losowsky
Comics Winner Mom’s Cancer by Brian Fies

I can see why My War won, judging from the way the Iraq war is presented in the mainstream media these days – the whole idea of a US soldier running away to cyber cafes between shifts and blogging about such an experience is highly magnetic … indeed, almost guaranteed bestselling material.

Colby walks away with $10,000 in cash, and while he may be smiling away Paul Jones is quick to point out that his may be the last ‘open and frank military blog blook.’

I’ve talked about how Blooker prize winners are, in the end, amateurs, but while this year’s selection may not have improved from a literary point of view (don’t expect The God Of Small Things anytime soon) it has certainly presented an … alternative to what we usually get from the mainstream. The Doorbells of Florence are random pictures of doorbells accompanied by fictional stories of the people living behind them, and came about from a Flickr photo set, of all things.

momscancer_1.jpgMom’s Cancer is not unique, certainly (there are loads of worthy web comics out there), but it is the backstory that counts: the author’s mother contracts cancer … and he draws the comic throughout the period. I liked it, and it was a pity it was taken down from the web, due to copyright issues.

But in the end it’ll be Colby’s book that generates the most buzz.

“Buzzell never takes the easy route of painting Iraq in black and white tones. His account gives flesh-and-blood — and anger, scorn, bile, and unexpected humor — to the Iraq debacle. His delightfully profane account loses nothing in the transformation from blog to blook.’ – Arianna Huffington

Oh, and Nick Cohen’s remarks:

“Of all the books in the competition, ”˜My War’ is the one most likely to last. If, in 20 years time, people want to know what it was like to fight in Iraq, they can pick up ”˜My War’ and find out. It tells what it’s like to be a grunt fighting in the Sunni Triangle ”“ with more power and authority than the best ”˜embedded reporter’ could manage. It is something of a triumph for blogs over traditional media.”

Funny, he’s just talked about Colby Buzzell a few days ago.

Last, but not least, Colby’s words on getting published:

“After I tell them, “I don’t know”, I usually tell them to go start a blog. It’s what I did, and if you think about it a blog is the best and most affordable way for an absolute nobody with no formal journalism or writing education to be a published.”

How … simple. I can’t help but smile.

Thursday, 10 May, 2007

Arguments On Lulu (Sigh)

Nick Cohen recently wrote about Colby Buzzell and blooking in general, and the article’s lit off a firestorm about – strangely enough – Lulu.

The NHS blog doctor asks: ‘Why is the main-stream media so sniffy about Lulu?’, and then gives an answer:

Because they are frightened. They are in the same position as the typewriter industry a generation ago, or as the Roman Catholic Church was when, for a few moments, it took its mind off protecting paedophiles to resist the move to the vernacular. Heaven forbid that the general public should be allowed to make up their own mind about novels and the Bible.

How long will it be before a successful established author decides to cut out the middlemen and takes the next manuscript directly to Lulu? Watch the agents and publishers sweat when that happens.

But really now, Nick Cohen wasn’t all out against Lulu! He merely admits that blooking is, at this moment, a strictly amateur medium. I’ve written about this before, and talked about how we have yet to see any work of significant literary merit make it to the web. Yes, there is hope yet for the medium, but by saying we are teeming with quality right now is a tad ridiculous.

One comment did strike me while I was reading the Guardian Unlimted article:

MichaelBulley writes: Google works, after a fashion, for info: if I want to find info about sackbuts I type “sackbut” and sift through the results to get what I want and it usually works OK, but how am I going to use Google to find a good novel or a good poem that I’m as yet unaware of? The current conventions of established publishing houses may have faults that prevent some good works from seeing the light, but if I type “a good poem” in Google and hit the Enter key, is that going to do me much good?

It hits the nail right on the head: how are new readers going to find new blooks? It is a phenomenon in the publishing industry, yet nobody knows where to find one. I may be highlighting blooks in my Bookmarked! posts, and the Lulu Blooker Prize may be generating buzz, but think about it: none of these blooks are likely to be seen or bought in a bricks and mortar bookstore.

Hush about online shopping and The Long Tail: the majority of books are bought in real world bookstores (and usually on a whim, I must add), not online.

Well, if ‘a successful established author decides to cut out the middlemen and takes the next manuscript directly to Lulu’, we’d see a lot of revolution indeed.

Let’s hope that happens.

Update: I can’t not link to this article. It is brilliant!

Monday, 30 April, 2007

Gosh! A Thesis On Blog Fiction!

Amazing what writing a series can do to you. The last few days I’ve been completely out of tune with the world at large, and I even lost track of most of the blooks I read.

But on to the issue on hand: I’ve just come across Betsy Friedrich’s thesis on blog fiction … and I’m very impressed with it. So maybe as a reader I could’ve done without the first chapter (Definition of Terms), but it was a thesis, so it had to explain blogs to internet virgins academicians.
proffessor tiger
Highlights from each chapter:

Chapter 1 – Definition of Terms

Here Friedrich introduces blogs and the various forms of fictional blogging – according to her there is a distinct difference between serialized fiction and ‘blog fiction’. The first may use blogs as a medium through which fiction is written, the second utilizes all aspects of blogging – ‘feeds, comment forms and hyperlinks’.

Chapter 2 – Blog Fiction as Digital Media

Much of this chapter is used to point out how comments from readers and the interactivity of the blogging medium has helped shape blog fiction. An example of this:

At its peak Simon of Space received upwards of 75 comments on each post. Some were from new readers, but there was also a group of regular readers and posters … Their comments were often in response to one another, and many readers linked one another as a result of their meeting on the fictional blog comments section … readers were able to form a real community around a fictional text without ever interacting with one another in person.

(page 17, paragraph 2)

Another interesting point she brings up is the strange isolation of fictional blogs – almost all authors of blog fiction she interviewed did not read other fictional blogs, and in many cases were not aware of others. In an interview she conducted:

I’ve been writing a fictional blog since May ’06 and I’ve been struggling to find out if there’s a community or some sort of ‘hub’ for fiction bloggers out there. Unlike other areas (e.g. technology or politics), the whole fiction blogging world seems very small and very fractured. Sure, I’ve seen quite a few other fiction blogs in my travels but there’s no real conversation’ between them. In this respect they’re quite unlike the other blogs I’ve read. Unlike, say, a political blog where you’ll get a lot of instant feed back and links to and from your blog, fiction blogging seems to be quite an isolated and, at times, disheartening experience.

(page 19, blockquote 2)

In this view the Simon in Space‘s community was a rarity.

Chapter 3 – Novels and Blogs: A Historical and Structural Analysis

Then Friedrich takes us on a trek down history – comparing blog fiction to the 18th century novel. She shows us that the 19th century novel was epistolary – or delivered in the form of letter/diary entries, a echo of blog fiction today. The rest of the chapter is spent exploring the social impact blogging has on society, interspersed with social developments and changes in the 18th century.

Wednesday, 4 April, 2007

Sophie About To Be Released

Remember Sophie? That project under the Institute for the Future of the Book that was designed to replace PDFs once and for all? I wrote about it in February, and at long last there’s some news about the software.

The Institute’s blog states that an alpha version of Sophie will be released this week, which I can’t wait to get my grubby paws on. It should be very interesting to see how they’ve implemented the features they mentioned in their last press release.

A very rough roadmap for Sophie:

June — a more robust version of the current feature set

August — a special version of Sophie optimized for the OLPC (aka $100 laptop or XO) in time for the launch of the first six million machines

September — a beta version of Sophie 1.0 which will include the first pass at a Sophie (sic) reader

December — release of Sophie 1.0

I can’t wait for December. Find out more about Sophie here and here.

Saturday, 31 March, 2007

Unbound: The future of the Book and the Publishing Industry

Google organized Unbound sometime ago (the video is dated 8th March), and I thought I should share it over here – some of the snippets of speeches, especially Cory Doctorow’s and Seth Godin’s were particularly interesting. Oh, and watch for this line:

… where we discovered that the more content we put up on our own website; the more content we gave away the more books we sold.

Thursday, 29 March, 2007

Harry Potter Cover Revealed, Looks Cartoonish

Just a short post – the new covers for Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows has been released:

The children’s edition:

The adult edition (this sounds wrong):

As usual, the Bloomsbury cover trumps the Scholastic cover (this is me being biased – all my copies are from Bloomsbury) and I must say the web should be in a flurry of excitement soon, as the hype leading up to the very last book usually starts building up after the release of the covers.

I haven’t got the time to zoom in on each of the covers to see the summaries written, but here’s the source if you want to be embroiled in more Pottermania.


[Update on coverage]: BBC apparently asked members of the public about their opinion on the book 7 cover, and a lot of them complained about how ugly it is. Read it here.

Wednesday, 28 March, 2007

Why you will never get published (through traditional outlets) today

“Rich people may have finally found the way to heaven: a genetically engineered camel that would fit into the eye of a needle.”

To writers still aspiring to be taken up by one of the traditional publishing houses: our eye to writing heaven has just gotten smaller.

camel.jpgLet’s look at the odds working against authors wanting to publish a first novel:

There are hundreds of competent writing courses out there, which in turn raises the quality for submissions to publishers. Your writing, if beautiful, has to compete with hundreds of others who are more or less as good as, if not better than, yours.

So let’s look at the other factor in getting published: content. Or topic. Or what you write about. If you’re a novelist, the story you present in your first novel must be distinctive, fresh, and easily marketable. It is perhaps this last point that provides us with some worry – more and more marketing campaigns in the publishing industry have huge pictures of good looking authors to use while promoting their fiction – authors are sold next to their books.

Let’s talk about reading habits:

In a survey of 2,000 adults, a third had not bought a new book in the previous 12 months. 34% said they did not read books. (Expanding the Market, Book Marketing Ltd, 2004)

Whether they use the internet or not wasn’t asked, though I believe it should – the internet is primarily a text based medium where reading reigns supreme. Back to the topic at hand: less and less people are reading books, buying books, enjoying literature. There are a myriad of reasons, but let’s just step back and conclude that while book nuts are not shrinking dramatically, they’re not growing exponentially either.

But the number of books, content and writing out there are growing exponentially.

A lot of the above points are discussed and presented poignantly in a Guardian Unlimited article I’ve just finished consuming. The future looks bleak.

Before I became a journalist, I worked as a reader for Jonathan Cape and Chatto & Windus. I learnt that if it is true that everyone has a novel in them, most people would be best advised to keep it there.