Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Adventures in digital publishing

With the recent popularity of e-readers and smartphone reading apps, some writers have been having a lot of fun with the freedom and interactivity provided by the new technology. Here's three writers pushing the envelope on how books are published and how they're experienced.

I reviewed Reinhard Kleist's fantastic graphic novel biography of Johnny Cash, I See a Darkness, last month. Now Ave! Comics has put out a downloadable "soundtrack" edition for the iPhone and iPad. Along with the full novel, the app has a soundtrack feature which will search your music library for appropriate songs to fit the section you're reading. (And if you don't have the songs in your library already, it gives you the option of buying them through iTunes.) This is a really simple integration of words, pictures, and music that makes all three much more vivid.

The second book on our list is My Darklyng, written by Laura Moser and Lauren Mechling and serialized on Slate.com this summer. Natalie Pollock is a 10th-grade girl obsessed with a certain vampire series. From the moment Natalie tries out to be the next cover model for one of the Dark Shadows books, her fantasy turns into a nightmare replete with solicitous NYC models, dead squirrels, a psych ward, and little orange pills.

While the book was being serialized, Moser and Mechling worked hard to create an immersive world for their readers. Along with the central story, Natalie, her friends, and their fictional vampire writer Fiona St. Claire maintained Facebook and Twitter accounts, providing more details about their lives and clues to the goings on in the book.

And finally, science fiction writer Cory Doctorow is a strong advocate for liberalizing copyright laws. He's published his latest young adult novel, For the Win, as an ebook available for free under the creative commons license. (The traditional paper version of For the Win is also available for 17.99.) Set in the near future, For the Win is about young gold farmers fighting against sweat-shop like working conditions.

Under the creative commons license, readers aren't just allowed to share and remix copies of For the Win; they're actively encouraged to do so. Doctorow posts remixes and reader-made file conversions on his site.

Regarding the brave new world of digital publishing, Doctorow has said, "If I am going to be a writer, earning a living in the era of digital text, I need to understand where the opportunities are. They won't disappear, they'll just be different, and need to be recognized. In the last days of Vaudeville Theatre, they sued Marconi because radio was killing Vaudeville, where you had to pay to go into a relatively small room to listen to music and voice. But it didn't kill music, the outcome was a thousand times more music, making a thousand times more money, reaching a thousand times more people. But in the short term, there was panic. If digital text will result in hundreds more authors, with hundreds more novels, I need to be in the middle of eBooks. I need to be heavily engaged. All those people downloading my text is good news."

(Cross-posted on my blog.)


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1 comment:

aquafortis said...

I'm not sure how I'd feel about readers "remixing" my text. Doctorow seems like a brave, brave writer to go there.

Ironically, I've shamelessly cut and pasted found text from old books into art projects, so I guess my conscience isn't completely blemish-free. :)