Throughout much of history, authors have maintained a distance from readers, their experiences separated by both time and place. As novelist Paolo Coelho noted, writing is “a solitary experience.” The work of the author was often created in isolation—seemingly forged in the rarified air of their literary mountain before being handed down to the waiting masses.
Now, not so much.
Modern writers are encouraged to engage with their readers and, thanks to technology, have numerous possible channels to choose from. This makes the modern author more a reachable human, and less a remote mystic.
This may seem grievous to the lone wolf author who would prefer to remain isolated and mysterious. But the reality in our connected world is that readers expect a level of access to authors, and success in the literary world depends on it. In his editorial piece “The Aloof Author Is Dead, Long Live the Writer,” David DiSalvo of Forbes Magazine writes:
Technology has riddled the barriers between authors and readers full of holes. Ignoring the multiple ways readers can interface with writers isn’t an option — but more to the point, why would anyone want to ignore them? In the new economy, writers must build brands for themselves and maintain them over time. Every mode of interaction with readers offers opportunities to strengthen the brand.
As novelist and blogger Kate Pullinger described in her article “Connecting Readers to Writers: the only possible future of publishing,” “(T)he only important question left, really, is how to connect writers to readers. Any publisher who isn’t addressing this directly and urgently will be in trouble soon.”
While blogs and eBooks have begun providing a somewhat interactive experience, printed literature has remained in the same static place it has for centuries. After all, how can the ancient medium of paper provide a modern interactive experience?
Enter author Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
Amy is bending the world of print media towards truer interactivity by partnering with OneReach to use text-based audience participation. Written in a wry, memoir style, her new book Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal invites readers to actively join in the discussion.
At the beginning of the book, readers are encouraged to text “Hello” to a Chicago number (the author’s hometown). A cheery greeting comes back from the author, which sets up a relationship of sorts between author and reader.
At various intervals in the book, Amy prompts the reader to engage by using text inputs to the previously used number. Information either flows from the reader to the author (such as self-portraits and photos) or from the author to the reader (such as audio files of a poet reading his work). All of these inputs are then posted on the author’s website.
This unique immersive experience was done very intentionally. Amy Krouse Rosenthal says “the text-messaging aspect of the book, at the end of the day, is about connecting with people.” This human need for connection is well-documented and has even been recently called “as fundamental as our need for food and water” by neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman.
We are only just beginning to see this connection between author and reader. What OneReach has done is create an interactive and immersive experience that has been lacking up until now. Future writers may be able to construct an entirely new way of providing details or even compel an interaction with their story lines. The possibilities are limited only by the author’s imagination. Consider these:
• Choose Your Own Adventure books. Remember those? Also known as “gamebooks,” they used to let the reader choose different endings and options as they progressed through the pages of the book. How cool would it be to adapt that in a more technologically immersive way? A reader could text their choices and receive instructions for the next step in the story.
• Interactive mysteries. Readers would need to solve part of the mystery before getting a text with the next clue. This would make them almost a character in the story as they help to solve the crime.
• Immersive talk tracks. Imagine going on the Boston walking tour and getting texts showing images of what you’re looking at, but from the colonial period. Bot technology could also be used so you could ask questions about what you’re seeing and get a real-time answer.
• Scavenger hunts. Thanks to the proliferation of activities like Pokemon Go and geocaching, scavenging has never been more popular. Authors can include location-specific or theme-specific clues and readers can respond with the correct answer or upload an image of the item.
• Personalized books. When I was a child, one of my favorite books was a personalized one, where my own name had been included in the storyline. Admittedly, it was done with old technology, and looked like someone had just clumsily fed the template through a typewriter. That didn’t matter to me. I loved the idea that I was part of the story, and felt so very important! Using texts, an author could now give prompts for names, details, and image uploads, essentially having the reader build the story as they go. At the end, readers could even get a digital or printed copy of the story they created.
These are just a few ideas, limited only by the imagination of writers now and in the future. As culture changes, so must the authors and publishing companies operating within it. Although really, no matter how much technology changes, people are—as always—still just earnestly searching for connection. And a writer like Amy Krouse Rosenthal gives them just that.
Try it for yourself and let us know what you think!
Image courtesy of www.whoisamy.com, taken by Brooke Hummer