“Provocative” Publisher Creates Book That Lets You Talk Back To The Characters

So in the interest of supporting unique publishing methods and ideas, I thought it might be interesting to talk about Verdant Books and something they’re calling an “interactive novel.” Now my idea of an interactive novel is Choose Your Own Adventure, but this is something fairly unique.

Ok. Here’s the premise:

Hiram and Sibyl Eisenberg have fallen head over heels in love with Leif and Laura Wrightson. Leif and Laura return all the same passion for Sibyl and Hiram, yet all four remain committed to their spouses. What to do? The year is 1971, the place is California, and what never before seemed possible is suddenly irresistible. Camping on the shores of Fallen Lake in the high Sierra, one night they begin a new direction in their lives and those of their children, turning two marriages into one.

Yeah, you read that right. Old Hiram and Sibyl are watching Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s. Hot stuff, right? So here’s where things get really weird. The author, Laird Harrison, is going to update a blog featuring the characters talking about things important to the story. Now, to be clear, I think this is the worst implementation of interactive function I’ve ever seen (especially since all of the “blog posts” (did they have blogs in the 1970s?) are password protected). But here’s what I’m really concerned with.

So it’s going to get easier and easier to publish books. It’s already ridiculously easy, but soon everyone with an idea and dial-up will be able to upload an epub. There will be some good books and some terrible books and there will be varying methods for marketing these books, from the traditional display ad on Amazon to gimmicks like the one above. I do see the value in a sort of “meet-the-author” kind of website where you ask the author questions about his stuff and I do expect publishers to create more and more of this gimmickry in order to sell bits to an audience that is already wildly distracted, but I worry that, like the site that was going to sell soundtracks to books, this is a Bad Idea (TM).

There are ways to change the monetization systems around the distribution of long-form writing. Selling 10,000 word articles about Afganistan for 99 cents a pop is a great model to bring monetary incentive back into reporting and journalism as well as non-fiction writing and editing. We are fast approaching a time when the devices we use to read books will be far more distracting than they even are today. I, for one, always intend to open iBooks or the Kindle reader on my iPad and instead check Twitter and email. It’s a sad, sad day when I long for a standalone, e-ink Kindle over a fully-featured Kindle Fire because I want to read more.

So anything that will pull me out of the book experience is a negative, anything that keeps me reading is a positive. Gimmickry and “viral efforts” work maybe once in a thousand times. Good writing works every time. So let’s hear it for old Hiram and Sibyl and their blog and here’s hoping Harrison sells a few books. But I’d really like to raise a glass to good writing. It will save publishing, even if the publishers thwart it at every turn.