i would like to recommend these people's writing, the twitter novel thing, the writing process

What’s so great about being first anyway?

MariekeA couple of days ago Marieke Hardy’s mobile book, “Vigilante Virgin”, began transmission. The project is being sponsored by Borders, who have called it “an Australian first”. Me, I’m a bit dubious. But let’s have a closer look at what they mean by “mobile book” first.

At 7am each weekday from October 12 to November 6, subscribers will receive, via an exclusive web link in an SMS, an exciting chapter of Marieke’s 20-part story.

From a technological perspective, what Marieke’s doing sounds quantitatively different from the cell phone/mobile phone novels that have had their most success in Japan, and which have been around since 2005. Those things are little java-based applications specifically intended to be used exclusively on mobile phones.

It sounds like what they’re talking about is a 20-part story on the web. The “mobile” bit really only comes into play because subscribers will get texted the web address of each new chapter. And most likely then access the page using the web browsers on their mobiles. I’m guessing you could probably access it via computer too.

If you take the question of delivery method out of the equation, then, what you’re left with is an online story told in installments. And there’s already been a few of those – one that readily springs to mind is Australian author Max Barry’s Machine Man, a subscription-based online story told in daily instalments, which has been going since March 2009.

There’s other online serial fiction out there too, like Joshua Allen’s Chokeville (currently on hiatus but well worth the wait), Gentleman Adventurer Othar Tryggvassen’s twitter feed, and the twitter novels Small Places, Russet and the now-defunct The Falcon Can Hear the Falconer. Oh, and I’m doing one too, via Twitter, called Aramis Fox, with an online story-so-far archive for those who came in late. And that’s just some of the ones I know about. There’s bound to be plenty more out there.

(To draw another comparison, “Vigilante Virgin” will cost readers 55 cents per instalment (which comes to $11.00 for the whole story), while Machine Man is free up to the first 43 instalments, and then $US6.95 for the rest of the story, which is expected to come in at around 200 instalments in total. The other ones I mentioned are all free.)

So. Not really a mobile phone novel, at least as the phrase is commonly understood, and not really an Australian first, either. I guess technically “Vigilante Virgin” might be the first password-protected Australian-authored online-story-in-instalments accessible via mobile-phone-delivered subscription. It’s not as sexy a phrase for the media release, but it’s possibly a bit more accurate.

There’s no crime in being the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota, even if there is a bigger one in Arkansas. The second-biggest (or even tenth-biggest) ball of twine is still a pretty damn big ball of twine, which is impressive enough in and of itself. You don’t need to go around telling everyone it’s the biggest in the country.

Seriously, the more people muck around with story-telling experiements like this, the more likely it is that something interesting and exciting will come out of it. Godspeed to all of my serial-fiction-writing colleagues.

13 thoughts on “What’s so great about being first anyway?”

  1. Interesting! I thought that it was a traditional cell phone novel model that The Age was using, not just texting out a web address. I was excited about a cell phone novel in Aus (not excited enough to sign up, obviously) and had wondered about the logistics of it – I think the cell phone novel is much easier/better in character-driven languages like Japanese because you can say so much more in much less space. I’m a bit underwhelmed now.

  2. I was kinda interested too, but $11 for a short story was just too much. It’s not quite as bad as the small print on the late night ty txt scams, but I’m not even sure if my crappy old mobile has enough space to accept a (hopefully) long text. It did allow the age to run multiple photos of Hardy on the front page – they really seem to be pushing her in general.

    Have there been any reviews of the story so far? As a piece of writing, rather than technological oddity?

    1. There’s a bit about it, and an excerpt, on Girl With A Satchel’s blog (and i can’t help pointing out the “worn/warn” typo in the extract – damn editor hat). Not clear on whether that’s the whole instalment or just a bit of it. If it’s the whole thing then we’re not even talking about a novel here – it’s just a short story, like you said, Paul.

  3. I think I read somewhere that the whole story is about 1400 words – definitely not a novel. And yeah, $11 for a short story does seem a bit expensive. Though I think I read on Hackpacker that it costs $5.50 all up?

  4. hackpacker got their numbers mixed up. According to the official signup page on the age’s website it’s 25c to sign up and 55c per instalment. That doesn’t take into account any mobile browsing fees that your phone company might charge, so it’s really more than $11.00 all up.

  5. I can image the meeting at the Age where some marketing people were tossing around ideas on how to utilise Marieke’s media profile and show how hip and up-to-the-minute The Age is -‘It’s all about synergy people!’
    That it’s delivered by text is the essential bit – that it’s a short story is just a coincidence. The extra revenue stream is the the really important bit.
    Wait until they start charging for her green guide column “delivered straight (and only) to your mobile”. Perhaps this is just a toe in the water of pay per article/click for premium content?

  6. Yep, the numbers were arse about. It is more like $11.25, which is more than curiousity money for most folks.
    I’m doing a review on it soon – both as technological oddity and as a piece of writing. Just waiting for there to be enough of it to not jump to too many conclusions.

      1. Think I’ll assemble my thoughts on hackpacker then maybe push it somewhere else. It’s a weird one because the serial nature of it makes me wonder when to talk about – at the end or as a work in progress? Trying to look at it as a work in progress, but also as a completed piece.
        Tech issues are a whole other bag. I’m trying to be forgiving as it’s a protoype, but you’re right – the txt to web is dumb. Are you subscribing BTW?

  7. not subscribing, no. i’d be more inclined to subscribe to Machine Man, which is great and v. funny (and cheaper), but i haven’t had the spare cash. perhaps this will be the prompt that I need. That first excerpt that Girl with a Satchel posted hasn’t really done anything to persuade

  8. The Age went ahead and published an edited version of the first five parts in the A2 section on Saturday. I’m not sure why it’s being published in print – kind of negates the reason to subscribe, but it does give it more publicity. They might be doing it as a teaser, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they go ahead and print the whole thing eventually. It easier to discuss if you’ve actually read it.

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