A skillful artist can make amazing things out of toothpicks and glue. Self-taught Wayne Kusy builds ships like the Titanic and Lusitania. His twenty-five feet long model of the Queen Mary required 814,000 toothpicks and nineteen gallons of wood glue. Patrick Acton’s representational work with matchsticks earned his sculpture gallery the title of “Iowa Tourism’s Attraction of the Year” in 2007 (check out his timely “Hogwarts” piece). And UK artist David Mach uses the business end of matchsticks to create a uniquely colorful take on this art form.
Each of these artists pulls together small scraps to make a much larger united whole. And apparently, that’s what San Francisco novelist Matt Stewart is doing as he publishes what he claims to be the first novel released 140 characters at a time through Twitter.
“The French Revolution” will require upwards of 3,700 tweets to get the entire book out, an effort that has earned him invaluable press for a writer struggling to get his work noticed. But only the novelty of the action merits coverage; in the end, 3,700 tweets do not aggregate into one piece in the same powerful way that 814,000 toothpicks aggregate into a twenty-five foot sculpture. There is no final product, nothing to hold, nothing to skim, nothing to quickly re-read to refresh your take on a character, at least, not without a great deal of cutting and pasting.
So the story here is not that publishers have discovered a new manner to distribute their work. Instead, it is yet another example of Clay Shirky’s theme of amateur empowerment through reducing the traditional cost of distribution, with the web usurping the role of the printing press for little to no transactional cost to Mr. Stewart.
Remarkable? Yes, rather. Sustainable? Not really.
One thought on “Yes, You Can Tweet a Novel! But Why?”
Living authors aren’t the only ones who can get in on the Twitter publishing fun. Why punish Homer just because he didn’t live in the age of the smart phone? In answer to a question apparently only they were asking, two University of Chicago freshmen, Emmett Rensin and Alex Aciman, are in the process of distilling classics like The Iliad down to no more than 20 tweets of 140 characters and calling it Twitterature. The project would appear a harmless, if geeky, stunt except it drew the attention of Penguin Books, who signed the two to a publishing contracts.
I congratulate the two on making readers of Cliff’s Notes feel like they are really doing their homework.