As e-reader adoption begins to wane and consumers buy more tablet computers, publishers are scrambling to provide the enhanced, innovative reading experiences readers are coming to expect. It’s not just about the straight-text ebook anymore.
Shuffle, a title from Tonto Books, exemplifies the best in innovative reading experiences. It won the Publishing Innovation Award for best ebook fiction from Digital Book World at this year’s Digital Book World Conference + Expo in New York. (See the rest of this year’s PIA winners here.)
The ebook is seven stories that can be read in any order the reader chooses – the order determines the plot and the ending. The ebook is accompanied by a website, Lulzlit.com, which purports to be for consortium of writers who created the project. The book was published as by the writer “James T. Raydel,” though the website says it’s “by Lulzlit writing as James T. Raydel.”
Shuffle was also a finalist in the transmedia category at the Publishing Innovation Awards.
We corresponded through email with the real writer (and digital producer) of Shuffle, UK-based Chris Rickaby, to learn more about this innovative project.
Digital Book World: What qualitative objectives did you seek to achieve when you started working on Shuffle? The award notwithstanding, are you satisfied you achieved this goal?
Chris Rickaby: As the Writer and Digital Producer on Shuffle and it’s broader cross-platform version Shuffle/Lulzlit my principal aim was to write, create and execute a novel that really embraced the opportunities that platforms like Amazon, iBooks, etc. offer in terms of structuring a narrative in a different way. As the project developed I kept trying to push boundaries so I started off with a book you could Shuffle and ended up creating an entire online fictional provenance for the pen-name James T. Raydel which spread out onto things like YouTube, Pinterest and Twitter. Because the book is essentially literary fiction and the wider project takes a very different approach to telling a story I felt it was important to try and win things like awards to give it credibility; so it was brilliant to get short-listed twice and then to win the best ebook fiction at the PIAs. My main aim was really just to have a vision of a very different way to structure a novel-narrative across multiple platforms and to make that happen; so once the book was published and all the different elements of Lulzlit were also in place I felt I had achieved my initial objective.
DBW: What quantitative objectives did you seek to achieve? Has awareness and sales of this project met your expectations?
CR: I’ve executed the project in stages. The last two years have been all about making it happen and targeting the awards. That done I’m now in the “let’s sell some books” bit of my strategy. I’m putting an enhanced SEO campaign in place and looking at more basic marketing stuff like price promotions, content giveaways, etc. Once I get to the end of this year I’ll know whether the awareness I’m starting to create and the SEO have delivered sales.
DBW: What in your opinion is the one thing that makes Shuffle unique and cool?
CR: I think there are lots of things about the project that are different. Shuffle is not the only novel you can shuffle, there’s BS Johnson’s The Unfortunates for one, but it’s the only one I’ve seen that let’s the reader take complete control of structure and, since the book is themed around probability and chance, the shuffle part of it actually resonates with the main theme of the book. If it didn’t there would have been no point in me doing it in the first place. The Lulzlit part contains lots of different things, seven writers and Ph.D. students tweeting for three months as a fictional fiction-collective on Twitter being just one of them, some fantastic illustrations from Richard Alderson being another.
DBW: If you had to do it all over again, is there anything you would have done differently? If so, what?
CR: Once you look back on creative projects you always start to see lots of things you would change and make better but in general it took such a massive effort to put the whole thing in place I’m just glad that I managed to do it. Doing it with more budget and more people to help would be the obvious thing but I’ve learned such a lot I will be able to use in the future, by doing most of it myself, that is has been well worth it.
DBW: As more people buy iPads and other tablets and publishers try to create more interesting content, what new things are you excited to see come out next year?
CR: I believe that the future of publishing lies in the comprehensive commercialization of collective fiction but I don’t think that’s going to happen next year. I hope not anyway because I have a business idea, in that particular area, that I’m planning to develop myself.
DBW: What else are you currently working on that we should be looking forward to?
CR: I’m 80% through the first draft of another novel called Letters to the Dead but it’s structured in a more traditional way. I thought I’d try A to B for a change and see what happens! I’ve also done some initial development on building a transmedia story world around an historical novel I’m planning called Veronese’s Dwarf.
Writer/Digital Producer: Chris Rickaby
Digital Designer: Jeffrey Yozwiak (Vook)
Editor: Caroline Smailes
Publisher: Tonto Books
Writer/Digital Producer: Chris Rickaby
Illustrator: Richard Alderson
Web Design: Ian Millen
Web Build: Phil Wright