Frank Fiore – Novelist & Screenwriter

August 9, 2010

Dismissing the Myth Reading is a Solitary Endeavor

Filed under: Frank Remarks,On Writing — Frank Fiore @ 10:12 AM

A recent article in the LA Times dismisses the myth that reading is a solitary endeavor.

More than 550 years after Johannes Gutenberg printed 180 copies of the Bible on paper and vellum, new technologies as revolutionary as the printing press are changing the concept of a book and what it means to be literate. Sound, animation and the ability to connect to the Internet have created the notion of a living book that can establish an entirely new kind of relationship with readers.

I’ve been posting on the recent advantage to book reading that current technology offers the reader. These books are called t-books or tansmedia books.

As electronic reading devices evolve and proliferate, books are increasingly able to talk to readers, quiz them on their grasp of the material, play videos to illustrate a point or connect them with a community of fellow readers. The same technology allows readers to reach out to authors, provide instant reaction and even become creative collaborators, influencing plot developments and the writer’s use of dramatic devices.
If the upheaval in the music industry over the last decade is any guide, the closing of more bookstores and a decreasing demand for physical books will force authors and their publishers to find new ways to profit from their work.

t-books can even bring new life to old books.

“The Master of Rampling Gate,” a novella by Anne Rice published in 1991 as a paperback, illustrates some of the possibilities. The work tells the story of a brother and sister who inherit a remote mansion occupied by the undead.

The out-of-print title was given new life in March, when it was reissued in digital form by Vook, an Alameda, Calif., start-up that sells titles for the iPad and iPhone. As a $4.99 application sold through Apple’s iTunes store, “The Master of Rampling Gate” comes with video interviews with Rice and others. Rice speaks about her inspiration for her works and about the Gothic genre in which she writes.

Within the text are links to Web pages that elaborate on events and places in the story — a description of the Mayfair neighborhood in London where the protagonists live or a history of the Black Death plague, which plays a key role in the fourth chapter.

“For me, this is a way to communicate with my readers, establish a connection with them and build a community around them,” Rice said in an interview.

Digital technology is also transforming reading from a famously solitary experience into a social one.

The newest generation of readers — the texting, chatting, YouTubing kids for whom the term “offline” sounds quaint — has run circles around the fusty publishing process, keeping its favorite stories alive online long after they’re done reading the books.

At online fan communities for popular fantasy series like “Harry Potter” and “Twilight,” young enthusiasts collaborate on new story lines involving monsters, ghosts and secret crushes.

Fans in other forums, blogs and chat rooms weave alternative endings or side plots for their favorite works. One site,, features hundreds of short stories based on a series of young adult novels by Scott Westerfeld called “Uglies.”

“They’re extending the world by creating new characters,” Westerfeld said. “That’s what good readers do. They take apart the narrative engine and, examining the different parts, they ask how things could have been different.” Authors are pulled into the scene by fans who barrage them with e-mail to share their reactions, ask how plots came about and glean hints of what will happen in the next novel.

The publishing of books are changing radically and swiftly. This means that publsihers will have to change the way the publish books and support their authors in creating the new t-books.

To quote Chris Matney publisher of TrapDoor Books:

I disagree with the premise that the barrier to entry is lowered for self-published authors – the cost of making videos and doing the coding necessary for this new generation of t-bookS is well beyond the means of most individual authors. That said, I am hoping that the viral nature of the technology will allow undiscovered authors to get noticed and break the stranglehold of formulaic “blockbusters” that the big six publishers seem to be fixated on publishing.

This is the future. What do you think?


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