I’ve just interviewed Russell Quinn for the second time for The Literary Platform, mainly concerning his thoughts around the storytelling opportunities that so far publishers have been missing when it comes to digital books.
I also asked him if he had any examples, as a reader/’experiencee’ of these types of ‘publications’, of work that has really stood out for or that he’s found inspiring? His answer illuminates the deficit of workable, reading-focused ideas coming from publishers today:
"Kind of not! I don’t know, there are some great non-fiction digital projects, but I always feel let down by the value of the literature on the fiction side."
Yesterday I conducted a very unscientific survey on Twitter, asking people which books made them cry. A large amount of retweets of the hashtag (#booksthatmakeyoucry) meant I got a great response.
According to Twitter, the top three books most likely to make you cry are:
1. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (I confess this one nearly got me.)
2. The Railway Children by E Nesbit
3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Time Traveler’s Wife received by far the most nominations. Her Fearful Symmetry, Niffenegger’s less successful follow-up, also almost left me in tears, but that was more to do with the fact that she ruined a perfectly good book with a ridiculous non sequitur of an ending. (If you’re thinking of reading this book, my advice would be to skip the last few pages.)
Fifty two more tearjerkers are listed below. I’ve not included books from anyone who nominated more than a couple unless the titles were also nominated by other readers, as I just assumed anyone nominating three or more books was likely to cry when a Roman got bashed on the head by Asterix and so wasn’t worth taking into consideration.
In addition to the genuine sob-fests, there were also tongue-in-cheek nominations for The Da Vinci Code, Man and Boy and Twilight, as well as a proper one for The Hunger Games, which I’ve chosen to ignore.
Concerning the list below, surprisingly, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen only got a single nomination each. (For a Christmas Carol and Persuasion respectively.) The Brontë’s performed well, as did Steinbeck and Salinger.
In no particular order, here are the other books to make you weep your socks off. Thanks for everyone on Twitter who responded.
The Gift by Carol Ann Duffy
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
Desert Flower by Waris Dirie
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Master by Colm Toibin
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell
Requiem for the East by Andreï Makine (my own nomination, which had me moist eyed on a packed train)
The clever people at arts-focused design studio Bureau for Visual Affairs have created Banquo, a website to visualise ‘Shakespeare’s digital heartbeat’, by aggregating online mentions of the Bard’s plays.
The site has been commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of the World Shakespeare Festival, which runs from April to November this year.
For my piece on how publishers are responding to digital, I spoke to gentleman publisher Scott Pack of HarperCollins/The Friday Project. Our conversation didn’t make it into the magazine piece, but I found what he had to say very relevant, so I’m posting it all here.
Booklish: Can you describe a little about what the process is at for deciding what books receive The Friday Project Treatment? Is your emphasis still on finding stuff online and turning it into a book?
Scott Pack: We do still look for stuff online but also accept traditional submissions as well. 90% of the manuscripts we are sent appear to be from people who have no idea as to the sort of things we publish, but that is the same for all publishers really. Essentially I am looking for books I love, simple as that. Our authors tend to be people who understand the digital market and are pretty active online but that isn’t always the case. I never know what the next book will be until I see it.
B: You published ‘In Praise of Savagery’ as an ebook six months before releasing a print edition. Did you see any effect on print sales from this?
SP: Not really, to be honest. It certainly increased overall sales but I am not sure it had any direct impact on the number of print copies we sold. What we did learn from the experiment is that the broadsheets won’t review anything if it is only available as an ebook.
B: That’s really disappointing and strikes me as a little disingenuous, if not snobby, on their part.
SP: One renowned reviewer loved Savagery and wanted to review it for a national paper but the literary editor there said he would not consider it unless there was a print edition. To be fair, he then ran a review when we released the print version but it did show how out of date the old boys’ network us nowadays, completely out of step with their readers who are devouring ebooks by the millions.
B: How do you view ebooks? As marketing tools, or products in their own right
SP: Oh, they are definitely products in their own right. Publishers pay authors for the rights to use the content they have created, in the past they have mainly turned this content into books. Now they can turn it into ebooks as well. Readers will, in the main, read a mixture of the two.
B: And what do you think the long term relationship between the physical book and its digital equivalent is likely to be?
SP: My guess is that publishers will end up using the ebooks to encourage print sales - pay £20 for this hardback and it comes with the digital version, for example.
B: Could you talk a little about Caroline Smailes’ new book, 99 Reasons Why? I’ve been impressed by the amount of publicity this has garnered, given the gimmick of having multiple endings strikes me as little more than a Choose Your Own Adventure for grown-ups. This is only available as an ebook, right? Wouldn’t it be a fairly simple process to include the multiple endings option in print? (In some respects, David Mitchell pulled off a similar trick with Number 9 Dream.)
SP: This was always imagined as a digital book. In fact, her [Caroline’s] last contract with us was for two print books and ‘one digital project’. We discussed what would make this digital project different and this is what we came up with. I remember the Chose Your Own Adventure books and would love to see them come out as ebooks, but they presented readers with choices throughout the narrative. 99 Reasons Why was never going to go down that route. Instead, we wanted to present the reader with options only once the bulk of the book had been completed. And The CYOA books didn’t come with a spinning wheel of fortune at the end, our iPad version does. Go us! We have never considered doing a print version, we have always seen it as an ebook.
B: Interesting (and in some ways encouraging) that as a publisher you’ve commissioned a book (as opposed to a multimedia app) solely for digital production. That seems to be breaking with the mould from what I’ve seen from other publishers, so well done and good luck with it. Could you describe how else your role varies from that of a traditional ‘paper’ editor you were before?
SP: Not at all really, I just have a few more things to do.
You can’t call yourself a book lover if you’re not also a regular visitor to Me And My Big Mouth, Scott’s book blog. You can also finding him tweeting ten to the dozen here.