If Reading was like watching Youtube: Reader Collaboration?

And heres part 2! I would like to air some thoughts of reader collaboration as I was inspired by the Book Summit panel. Last week I attended the Toronto Book Summit. This week I visited Wattpad’s head office in downtown Toronto so this topic is fresh on my mind.

To begin I would like to talk about Wattpad as a place for storytelling. This website/app is growing exponentially, allowing writers to experiment with their craft and gain feedback from readers. All for free too! Click Here to learn more about this company and their goals. I had the pleasure of visiting the creative team at Wattpad this week with my class, and was really moved by what they had to say about their mission as a company, and how they have single handedly boosted publishing markets around the world. 13502033_10157008621980366_3969319221039480251_nThat’s me on the very left!

Any way.. Reader Collaboration. Wattpad is not just a place for stories, its a form of social media. One of the best things about posting is the opportunity for feedback, constructive and supportive. But there is one thing that this feedback provides that is not quite expected. A community is born within a story. The same people are reading and writing, they become trusted by the author. The author may choose to act on the suggestions given in comments. The author may even entrust commenters with preliminary chapters, to act as an editorial voice. And, jokes may even form. Inside jokes maybe. The reading on Wattpad is an active experience.

If you could go back to one of your favourite books and write an active comment on it that you know the author would see what would you write?

Did I mention the holy Margaret Atwood writes on Wattpad? Here are her thoughts on the company: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jul/06/margaret-atwood-wattpad-online-writing

What does this reader collaboration mean? Is Wattpad the nicest place on the internet? (because they make a point to monitor their comments for negative comments and trolls) Does writing with a collaborative readership mean that the quality of the writing is changed? Dartmouth University has a study on reading and writing collaboratively. They believe that writing with a collaborative readership allows young writers to get a better sense of audience, and that the learning curve is smoother. Read more on this here. Writers do not agree on this unfortunately, and this clash in beliefs came forth at the reader collaboration panel at Book Summit. Hal from The Broken Pencil does not agree in inviting readers into his creative process. Tim Johnson from Wattpad believes that his book on Wattpad has benefited from his readers’ suggestions.

So I am going to repeat some earlier questions and ask some new ones. How is the role of reader changing if they have the ability to connect with the writer? What would you say if you knew the author was going to read your comment? How is this going to change the role of the author?

Im going to get theoretical here: If the readers of a book form a Public, interacting in rational discourse surrounding it, is Wattpad actually allowing these Publics to make a difference in what forms them? Am I making any sense? I’m going to be posing this question to the Publics expert Mike Epp when I see him next.

More on Publics Here.



Unprintable Books: Digital Storytelling with an Adult Audience

I’m Back!! With fresh information and opinion gained from the Toronto Book Summit too!

Recently I attended the Toronto Book Summit, where publishers and writers met to discuss the book market today, and the changes and advancements taking place. I personally attended two panels where the digital movement was at the forefront. “Digital Storytelling” and “Reader Collaboration”. In this post I am going to walk you through what I learned and what I think moving forward in the digital publishing world that isn’t just about ebooks. This will be part 1 of a 2 post discussion.

First off, we heard from author Kate Pullinger , a writer who has experience in both print and digital practices. She believes in the fluidity between books and the digital world, and has taken part in many experiments on how best to integrate the two successfully. In doing this she wants to create a hybrid form of literature.

Initially, Pullinger’s entrance into the digital world focused on collaborative fiction. In 2007 Penguin Publishers announced their first ever wikinovel a wiki where anyone could collaborate on the work entitled A Million Pengiuns. As one can imagine, this openness led to someone hacking the page, deleting all of the writing, and leaving a derogatory message in its place. After Penguin was able to revert the changes to the original, they were hacked again, and the hacker replaced every noun with the word “banana”. Needless to say the collaborative novel was not taken seriously.

A very successful foray into online collaborative fiction took place when Kate worked on a project called Letter to an Unknown Soldier. This project was a digital memorial that centred around a real, physical UK war memorial. Well-known authors were contracted to launch the memorial project by writing letters to the man depicted in the memorial. To follow, the project had an open call to any interested in submitting their own creative piece to be posted on this site. The project was a resounding success, receiving over 20,000 letters. Most likely to the serious subject matter, there was no hacking or negative interference. From the success of the memorial, a printed book was published, featuring a selection of stories submitted and Kate Pullinger’s introduction.

Since the success of the participatory digital memorial, Kate has moved onto a more educational and interactive platform. She now works on a project called Inanimate Alice. This project is published in episodes, where the user can travel through the character’s world, with locations giving information and dialogue to frame in a narrative. I have one major problem with this kind of storytelling. It is a video game. The narrative is not the focus, the tricks and software is. With the memorial project, the focus was on the letters themselves, and how they brought new perspectives and ideas to a popular concept and statue. The focus of Inanimate Alice is the travelling and design. The words that pop up on your screen do not really matter, they just give direction on what the user should do next.

Is this where we are headed? Does embracing new technology and movement away from the codex mean the narrative will take the backseat? That stories will not be taken seriously? Experimentation is necessary in adjusting to a new technological age but will this change what storytelling is? An expression of a narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end? If the success of the collaborative products becomes the focus, what will happen to our traditional view of the author?

Here’s an article that discusses these questions further and delves into the boundaries of storytelling:



Application Publishing for Kids

Technology is constantly in flux around us and is being used daily practices than ever before. It is being trusted to monitor, record, and maybe most importantly, to teach us. Along with technology being incorporated further into present day curriculum, tablets and cell phones are being utilized as sources of entertainment. This prevalence of electronics and technology in children’s lives are leading to a shift in apps. Companies are designing apps to be more educational, and more child directed.

One such company is Magic Ink Books. Magic Ink Books is a company formed by two families wanting to contribute to “the new generation of interactive children’s books.” MIB takes stories from the public domain, and recreates them in an app, creating an interactive reading experience for children.  The books include a feature that reads the book to them, as well as option for the child or their accompanying parents to read it themselves. The reader can even select whether they want a male or female narrator. Beyond this simple feature, the books are full of visual effects, secret animations, search and finds, sounds, and colouring pages. They are striving to create a new platform for children to be educated, and learn to love reading.

Books Magic Ink has recreated into apps include:

  • A Frog Prince
  • Cinderella
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  • The Night Before Christmas
  • Tinker Bell & Friends
  • The Little Mermaid’s Surprise

This company avoids the restriction of an Epub file, instead publishing the books in applications available in the App Store. There website even advertises opportunities to publish with them, saying, “You bring the text and artwork, we supply the rest, including narration, sound effects, and programming.”

Beyond this interesting company and publishing practice, I have to consider the implications. While the company’s motivation is honourable, and this could be a fantastic way to get children interested in storytelling–how does a paperback or printed text compare to a visually stimulating and interactive book that can read it for you? Will this create a lazy reader? Is the programming and publishing of a book into an app going to become more prominent? Magic Ink Books is not the only company producing these highly interactive reading experiences, and although Epub3 is providing more technology to be included in the books, does publishing in an app give the most versatility?

Finally, I am linking you to a list of “the best’ interactive book apps for kids, that include some interesting ones, including one that lets your child turn off the lights in the book, and one that is the “innovative update of the original tactile book.”

Before I end this week I am going to broach application publishing for adult content, is it possible? How can the interactive experience benefit the adult reader beyond fun and games. The Guardian writer Richard Lea discusses this in his article “What apps next? Publishers and developers embrace ‘unprintable’ fiction.” I’ll have more to say on this in my next post.