Last year, Jennifer Egan, a novelist and short story writer, won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her book A Visit From the Goon Squad. Now, Egan, whose work has appeared in a number of illustrious publications including Harper's and The New York Times, is publishing an original short story that she wrote for The New Yorker — on Twitter. The magazine will release the 8,500 words of "Black Box" one tweet at a time, on its @NYerFiction feed. How will this work? Is it a terrible idea? Here, a brief guide:
How will the story-tweeting work?
The New Yorker began publishing "Black Box" Thursday night on its @NYerFiction Twitter handle. One tweet per minute was sent between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., and will continue for 10 nights during that same hour until Egan's entire 8,500 word story is published entirely. Each night, The New Yorker will recap the tweets in a post on its website, and the entire thing will be published in the magazine's upcoming science fiction issue. Read Thursday night's recap here.
Has Egan used Twitter to publish stories before?
Nope. Oddly enough, Egan doesn't even like Twitter. Before "Black Box," she had only tweeted four times and hated the experience: "I felt tongue tied. It seemed phony. I felt really self-conscious."
Then why is she doing this?
I had "been wondering about how to write fiction whose structure would lend itself to serialization on Twitter," Egan writes at The New Yorker. The appeal is the "intimacy of reaching people through their phones, and... the odd poetry that can happen in a hundred and forty characters." "Black Box" is a story centered around one of the characters from A Visit From the Goon Squad, and will essentially be a "running scroll of a spy keeping a log of her current mission," says The New York Times.
Is it a good idea?
I'm on the fence, says Zach Dionne at New York. "Tweets en masse can be suuuper annoying," obnoxiously clogging your newsfeed. Yet Goon Squad's famous chapter presented entirely as a PowerPoint slideshow was one of the novel's "most subtly heartbreaking and observant," proving that Egan can be exceedingly effective when she breaks the mold. Plus, says David Barr Kirtley at Wired, Egan says she spent much of this past year polishing her 140-character sentences, "which certainly isn't something you can say about most of what appears on Twitter." I'm not sold, says Leslie Horn at Gizmodo. Not only is this "absolutely the most awful way to read a story," but the tweets are rendered pointless by their subsequent aggregation in a blog post and eventual publication in The New Yorker, which will both be more pleasurable reading experiences.
Are authors doing this?
While "serializing a story on Twitter is still pretty novel," says Kirtley, the practice of publishing stories in "tantalizing chunks" stretches all the way back to the 19th century when readers would crowd on docks waiting for the next installment of a Charles Dickens novel.
How will this affect the publishing industry?
This kind of "crowdsourced, serialized storytelling might someday replace traditional publishing," says Kirtley. Currently, authors tackle the arduous process of writing and publishing a novel without any notion of its appeal to readers. This method would allow authors to collaborate with their readers on early stages of their writing, "letting audience demand dictate which stories, if any, make it to book length."