the news frontier

The Kickstarter Chronicles

Fiction, in serialized and small forms
September 28, 2012

Each week, dozens of journalistic endeavors turn to Kickstarter for funding. Pitching media projects to this online community brings another meaning to the concept “public interest journalism”; success depends on how intrigued people are by the pitch. From the hugely popular to the barely noticed, CJR’s Kickstarter Chronicles is a look through some of these journalistic proposals.

Amazon’s announcement about its updated line of Kindles earlier this month wasn’t just about hardware. The company also announced “Kindle Serials,” stories published in automatically updated installments. Kindle Serials launched with eight titles for purchase. Three of them were published by Plympton, an e-publishing house founded by novelist Yael Goldstein Love and former New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee. Plympton aims to produce serialized versions of its fiction offerings.

Serialized fiction is not a new concept — as Lee points out, many of the great novels of the 19th century first appeared in episodic form, and new media have often used serializations to create demand, encourage audience engagement, and establish the form (film, radio, and television, for instance, all relied on serials in their early days). Lee thinks digital readers are no different in that regard. They are, of course, different in many others. They “blow apart the economics of printing and distributing,” Lee says, and many legacy publishing houses would probably agree. But Lee doesn’t see that as a bad thing — digital readers lower the bar for getting one’s work out there. At the same time, they raise the bar of creativity because there’s much less, monetarily, to lose and therefore less risk involved to try something new or different.

Lee hopes that serialized fiction on digital readers will allow for much greater reader engagement and interaction; authors can create a “living book,” as she describes it, possibly tailoring the story according to reader reactions. Plympton’s Kickstarter campaign hopes to raise at least $30,000, which will be used to pay writers, copy editors, designers, and marketing for both Plympton’s titles and Plympton itself — enough, Lee believes, to get Plympton up and running now that Kindle Serials has created a distribution arm for its content. With nearly $28,000 raised at time of publication, it looks like Plympton will make it.

Deadline is October 9 at 10:15 p.m.

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In 2007, Robert Chaplin “published” the smallest book in the world, according to Guinness World Records: Teeny Ted from Turnip Town, written by Chaplin’s brother Malcolm Douglas Chaplin, consists of 30 “pages” etched into a 70 x 100 micrometer space on the surface of a microchip. To try to give you some sense of just how small this is, a micrometer is one thousandth of a millimeter, and all 30 pages lined up in a six by five page grid could fit in the cross-section of a human hair. In summary: this is much smaller than those “your name on a grain of rice” necklaces I keep buying at the mall.

The book was created using all kinds of science equipment in a lab at Canada’s Simon Fraser University. Robert Chaplin designed the book, about a man named Teeny Ted and his turnip-related adventures. Now Chaplin wants to raise enough money to publish a “large print” version of the world’s smallest book; one that’s slightly cheaper to produce than the $15,000-$20,000 it was reported to cost to create the original (“suffice to say, it was expensive to produce,” Chaplin cryptically wrote in an email to CJR when asked for the exact number) and accessible to people who don’t own the scanning electron microscope necessary to read it. He’s asking for $17,000 to self-publish the book, which will include the original Teeny Ted story (with images from the nano-book) next to typography and illustrations designed for a more conventionally-sized book (Chaplin has written and illustrated several picture books of his own). Chaplin says he also hopes to include an entertaining explanation of scale: “from light years to nanometers.”

And if you do happen to own a scanning electron microscope and have $10,000 to donate to Chaplin’s campaign, the only copy of the teeny-tiny edition of Teeny Ted can be yours as a backer reward. “The lucky genius who chooses this award will understand the value of its provenance,” Chaplin says.

Deadline is October 18 at 3:54 p.m.

Sara Morrison is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @saramorrison.