Coliloquy Makes Romance E-Books A Two-Way Conversation

Right now, most e-books look an awful lot like their print counterparts, but startups like just-launched Coliloquy want to change that.

In the past few months, other companies including Findings, Readmill, and Subtext have experimented with adding annotations and other social features to e-books. Coliloquy co-founder Lisa Rutherford said she wants to go further. What if, for example, you could tell Twilight author Stephenie Meyer that Edward is a sap, and Bella should choose Jacob instead?

“If you take away all the constraints of traditional publishing, would [writers] tell stories in a different way?” Rutherford said. “We want to really reimagine how authors think about it.”

In practice, that means working with authors to add interactivity and personalization, but not going overboard. Rutherford said she doesn’t want the technology to be a gimmick — the books should be interactive, but they’re not going to be as game-like as of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, and underneath it all there has to be a good story.

The company has signed up Heidi R. Kling (author of the forthcoming young adult romance Sea), Kira Snyder (whose TV credits include Alphas and Eureka), Liz Maverick (What a Girl Wants), and Tawna Fenske (Making Waves) as its launch partners, and they’re all starting romance series written specifically for Coliloquy. They can create multiple viewpoints for a single scene, or multiple plot paths through each book. They can poll their readers to decide the outcome of future volumes, i.e., which heartthrob the heroine will end up with. And they can reward readers for participating with extra content.

The company came out of the Kindle Developer Program for Active Content, and for now Rutherford said it’s focusing on Kindle devices. The titles will be priced similarly to other e-books, Rutherford said, though there will eventually be options to subscribe to an entire series too.

The company’s founders both come from a tech background—Rutherford was president of virtual economy startup Twofish and an advisor to social media and gaming companies through Elodie Partners, while her co-founder Waynn Lue was a founder of social media company Unwrap. (Years ago, he also worked with me at The Stanford Daily.)

But what about, say, iPad owners who prefer science fiction to romance? Rutherford said the company plans to add new genres and is also considering new devices.