publishing

Daniel Dalton on Creatavist and multimodal story-telling

Look! An interview! With me!

I had an extended phone chat with the lovely Stephanie of Read In A Single Sitting recently, about digital storytelling platform Creatavist, and how multimedia devices can enhance stories, not replace them.

She’s now distilled my rant into readable form. Have a read!

In praise of Creatavist

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Creatavist is a digital publishing platform from the team that brought us long form non-fiction publisher/app The Atavist.

I managed to swing myself an invite to the Beta version, and last week I used the platform to publish a short story.

I’m not easily impressed (something to do with copious amounts of self-loathing) but I’ve been running round like a giddy schoolgirl all week telling everyone who will listen how great Creatavist is. Let me explain why.

The platform allows content creators - writers, photographers, filmmakers - to easily publish multimedia stories for apps, ebooks, and the web.

Their tagline is ‘Storytelling without limits’ and after playing with the software for five minutes it’s easy to see why. Firstly, It’s simple to use.

Secondly; the finished product looks pretty fucking spiffy.

Originally designed for The Atavist team to produce their multimedia-enhanced e-singles and long reads, the tool allows creators to easily embed audio, video and text into an ebook.

With non-fiction the advantages of this are clear; making additional information available to the reader - extended video footage, interviews and appendices - without affecting the main narrative. 

Now with Creatavist (see what they did there?) the team have made their in-house publishing tool available to the individual user, opening up the platform to content creators from multiple storytelling disciplines.

For me, it provided the opportunity to experiment with multimedia to enhance fiction, rather than non-fiction. It’s an opportunity to tell a richer story, to enhance the experience of the reader.

Imagine a character in your story finds a map. With Creatavist you can easily upload an image of that map, and then embed it on the word 'map’. Users can then choose to click the word to see it for themselves. 

Or let’s say a character is discussing a real world event. Perhaps a news story. Why not embed a video of the news report to let your reader learn more about it, to give those unfamiliar with the story the chance to catch up.

You could commissioning a soundtrack to play in the background, or just drunkenly sob into the microphone so the reader knows exactly how miserable/drunk you were when you wrote it. Yay art!

I used the enhanced features to add an audio file to each chapter, so you can choose to listen to me read the story in my Northern English accent if you wish (I’m no Neil Gaiman, but by all accounts I did a serviceable job). 

The story I chose to test on Creatvist was a short I’d previously made available on my blog, expanded and re-edited for this new outing.

The character is a personal trainer, and talks quite technically about exercise and the body. When I first wrote the story back in 2004, I added footnotes, letting the narrator speak directly to the reader to explain certain terminology.

I cut the footnotes in later drafts, but for this version I decided to bring them back, albeit in multimedia form.

For example, when the narrator references a particular exercise, you can click the term and see a YouTube video of some equally ridiculous personal trainer demonstrating the exercise.

When he references an article he’s reading or a makes a particular topical statement, you can click to see a sidebar and read the relating news article in full.

Fun fact: I trawled back through the Googles to find the actual news items I’d read when first researching the story back in 2004. 

And that’s not all Creatavist does. You can upload multiple cover images so it appears correctly on all devices, you specify Twitter and Facebook sharing links and copy, you can add ISBNs and customise the metadata.

Hell, if you’re so inclined and have the know-how, you can specify custom CSS for your book, should you need particular pages or passages to appear in a certain way. 

Once I was done with my story, I selected the formats I’d like to generate and with a single click of the 'publish’ button, my story was available to read on the web through my own Creatavist homepage, through their app, and to download as .epub and .mobi files so I could put the short on iTunes, Amazon, Kobo and more.

What I did was quite basic, really. Very soon people will be using this platform with all manner of auto-magical techno-wizardry to create amazing, unique multimedia stories.

Creatavist is a work in progress. There are optimisations yet to make - hence why the platform is currently in Beta - but apart from a few minor adjustments there is nothing I need as an individual that it doesn’t provide.

Essentially Creatavist changes everything, and it changes nothing.

For the individual user it makes creating and publishing your own ebooks effortless and with a much greater scope and scale, but at the same time, you still need a great story to tell.

Creatavist gives you the tools to enhance what is already there, but it can’t spit-shine shit.

As storytellers we’re standing on the crest of some grandiose and overused metaphor, with tools like this giving us new ways to communicate with readers.

But more than ever we need to remember why we tell stories in the first place. Just like 3D and CGI at the cinema, we risk losing our stories and our readers under the flabby gut of unnecessary gimmicks. 

Done well, in moderation and with imagination, we can use technology like this to expand our stories and delight audiences.

Stories began life being spoken around fires, and purists will argue that that’s all we need, the story; not the bells and whistles. 

But back in the day (a Wednesday I believe), someone artistic type decided to start drawing those stories onto the walls of caves.

Another bright spark decided to write those stories down on animal skins and tree bark and eventually paper.

A chap with a dream and a tool shed invented a printing press. Someone else a word processor. We got photographs and celluloid film and projectors. We got an internet and ereaders and Twitter.

We will always tell stories, but they way in which we tell them will grow and change and evolve.

I’m excited about the opportunity presented by Creatavist. I hope you will be too. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

You can read my short story here, or read more about Creatavist here.

Cut The Bullshit & Promote Yourself

Let’s be honest. Chances are you’re never going to make it.

And by ‘make it’, I mean, 'hit that level of literary fame where your name alone will shift 100,000 copies of whatever guff you vomited up this month’.

Some writers are middle of the road enough to reach this level in their lifetimes, but this probably won’t be you. Chin up.

The only guarantee in this poorly-timed punchline of a profession is that if you want anything out of it you’ll have to work hard.

And you’ll have to keep working hard.

There are no passes, no exceptions. Finished writing your book? Woopy-doo. Got a book deal? Fuck you.

You have to keep working hard. 

It isn’t enough to be a writer alone. Everyone is a writer, and most of them are better than you. And at least as misguided. 

It’s not enough because this is a vague new world, with more content, more noise, more static than ever before.

You need to make yourself visible, you need to cut through. Relying on a publisher or an agent or the barely legible prose of your latest abomination to do the work for you is setting yourself up to be wholly ignored. 

You have to cut the bullshit and promote yourself.

You’re a publisher. You’re a PR. You’re a marketing department. You’re customer services. You are the street team, the evangelist and the fangirl. 

Whether you’re self-published or you have a team of reasonably trained, mostly alcoholic professionals in your corner, this still applies. Why? Because you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.

You’re just a name on a mediocre manuscript in a slushpile full of mediocre manuscripts. If you do get published, chances are the’re not going to make any money off you, so you’ve got to show them that you’re a good investment.

You’ve got to add value to your brand. Yes, you’re a brand. No, that doesn’t mean you get to talk about yourself in the third person.

Actually, while we’re here - you should log into Twitter, Goodreads, and especially fucking LinkedIn and re-write that bio in the first person. Right now. Third person is not for talking about yourself. Ever. Stop that shit, you look ridiculous.

Back to my point - the assholes don’t care about you. They buy whatever the supermarkets buy in bulk and discount at a loss. The way to make people care is to build an audience on your own.

Talk to your readers. Talk about your process, share tips, ask for advice. Start the conversation. Get yourself on Facebook and Twitter. And in the name of all that is sensible get yourself a Tumblr. 

Build your audience, and suddenly you have value beyond your words alone. You know you’re a good writer, you’ve put your words on paper - this is half the battle. The other half is making yourself a viable publishing option.

Of course, there are no guarantees. But keep working hard and promoting yourself and you’re only going to help your cause.

Even if you do get published, even if you write a bestseller and you sell the film rights and someone throws a meaningless award at you, you still need to talk to your readers, to manage your brand, to build your audience.

Look at writers like Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis. Acclaimed, bestselling authors both, and still both leverage social media to help promote themselves and engage with their readers.

They don’t have to, but they understand the importance of not resting on their laurels and continuing to work hard. And both are enjoying far wider recognition as a result.

As a writer, you wouldn’t trust anyone to write your words for you. In the same way, you should be the one promoting your words. The words you worked for so long to craft. The words you bled for.

There are no valid arguments. Just cut the bullshit and promote yourself.

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Why you should buy a copy of The Sensualist by Daniel Torday

Ever heard of Daniel Torday? Nope, me neither. At least I hadn’t, until I happened upon the website of independent publisher Nouvella books.

This was back in February. Since then I’ve spoken to him a couple of times on Twitter. He’s nice. The head of Creative Writing at a college in Pennsylvania, he’s published short fiction in Esquire, Harvard Review and Fifty-two Stories.

As a bonus, his name is Daniel. This is currency in my world.

All of this is pleasant, sure, but none of these things compelled me to buy his first book, The Sensualist, Nouvella’s latest novella (see what they did there!)

Before I explain why, here’s a little bit more about the novella;

Raised in Baltimore in the ‘90s, 17-year-old Samuel Gerson is ready to be rid of his high school baseball team, his protective upbringing, and the tight-knit Jewish community in which he’s spent his whole life.

But when he befriends enigmatic Dmitri Zilber, a recent Russian Jewish immigrant who is obsessed with the works of Dostoevsky, Samuel’s world begins to shift.

In the wake of his grandfather’s suicide, as his life increasingly entangles with that of Dmitri and his beautiful sister Yelizaveta, it sets in motion a series of events that culminates in a disturbing act of violence.

A quietly devastating portrait of late adolescence, The Sensualist examines the culture we inherit as it collides with the one we create.

Sounds good right? Yes. But again, this is not what convinced me to hand over some of my easily earned, plentiful cash.

The answer to that question sits with the publisher, Nouvella Books, and their business model.

From their website;

Nouvella is an independent publisher dedicated to novellas by emerging authors. Established in 2011, Nouvella utilizes the LAUNCH program, wherein the reading community can invest in the career of an emerging author.

During LAUNCH week, readers purchase a share in the author. For every share purchased, the patron will receive a limited edition, hand-signed copy of the novella and a letter from the author.

The first edition run of each novella is limited to 500-600 copies. The books are small, designed to fit in your back pocket or your purse, to take with you wherever you go.

Four hundred are available during the author’s LAUNCH week, and the remaining books will be available at select bookstores and events.

After the first edition runs out, the book will be available electronically directly on the site and through various ebook distributors.

Our aim is to find writers that we believe have a bright and dedicated future in front of them, and who have not yet signed with a major publisher.

The reason I purchased a copy of The Sensualist is that I believe in Nouvella Books.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in Daniel Torday also. Having read some of his short fiction, and from the description of the novella, I’m certain it will be an exceptional read - I just find what Nouvella is doing so compelling, that I was sold on The Sensualist before I knew anything about it.

On the surface, Nouvella is similar to Kickstarter - crowd funding projects. Yet Nouvella have done their diligence, spending countless hours reading literary journals and blogs in search of unique voices.

The difference is that Nouvella believe in their authors. They have to. They rest their entire business model on one author at a time. They aren’t looking for sensationalism or easy sales. They believe in the quality of thier product.

And it’s for this reason I believe in Nouvella.

If you’d like to invest in both the career of an emerging author, and a visionary publishing company, you can buy The Sensualist launch package for $16.50 (US dollars. Includes shipping) until midnight on April 16th.

Are you a fan of the LAUNCH publishing model? Leave a comment below!