FutureBook 2015: Judith Curr and 'Crave'

FutureBook 2015: Judith Curr and 'Crave'

Update: Following our story here (29th November), Simon & Schuster and Atria Books have officially announced (30 November) the launch of the Crave app (iOS initially, Android to follow. You can see the app site here, and learn more about it if you're joining us at FutureBook 2015 (4th December) when Judith Curr will brief us further. Our hashtag for the day is #FutureBook15 and the Crave app is on Twitter at @CraveRomanceApp.

"Out of that world"

"The digital revolution is really the touch point of all this," says Judith Curr. "Digital and the ebook revolution dictated that everybody wake up and smell the roses."

She'll join us Friday to talk about the fragrant potential of a new mobile app for people she calls "new readers": Crave.

Curr, the president and publisher of Simon & Schuster's Atria Publishing Group, appears on 4th December on a FutureBook 2015 panel titled "Writing the future: author-centric publishing."

Her fellow panelists are the military history author Simon Scarrow (Headline); Robert Caskie of literary agency Peters Fraser + Dunlop and its new publishing wing, Ipso Books; and Hannah MacDonald, author and founder of the independent publisher September Publishing.

All of them will be looking at ways that parts of the industry have moved beyond the fashionable lip service of recent years—"we do it all for our authors"—to find actionable approaches to the work that both leverage and support their writers' work with conscious intent.

What may strike some as surprising is that Curr, in her leadership of one of the Big Five's most ambitious and successful divisions, says that she could not have forged some of the digital paths she's traveling now without the engagement of self-published authors.

"Colleen Hoover is one of the very first self-published authors we signed up, one who came out of that world."

Texas-based YA and NA romance author Hoover self-published Slammed in 2012 and was so successful with it that Atria signed her as part of Curr's initiative to work with independent writers. The hunch paid off. At least 10 New York Times-charting titles later, Hoover's November 9 was on the Times' list again in its first week in print earlier this month.

Coming to a mobile device near you: 'Crave'

Had things gone exactly as Curr and company wanted, November 9 would have been published—on 9th November—in a new format, suitably pink for explication at The FutureBook. Technology being what it is, things weren't quite ready and the title, which obviously benefitted from a real-time calendar release date, launched on the 9th as a straightforward publication. But the title is the inaugural offering of a new mobile serial product that Curr's Atria is about to introduce.

At The FutureBook Conference, she'll be giving attendees a first glimpse of Crave, which is being developed in association with Ziv Navoth's interactive storytelling studio in New York, Paragraph 

Crave the app shares a name with the publisher's Crave: The 2015 Indie Author Sampler, and it samples, if you will, Curr's experimental spirit.

In the Crave app, subscribers will be sent small sections of books at regular intervals, text heavily but smoothly augmented by various inline embellishments including video. One thing distinctive about this product in its first outing—Hoover's November 9—is that an actor plays the male protagonist, and not necessarily in scenes from the book but in recorded and live social interaction.

Tyler Weaks may not be a household name from Hollywood yet, but his work as Ben in the Crave edition of November 9 will introduce him to Hoover's and Atria's loyal audience in a way the company promises is "intimate." Curr says there may even be cases in which Weaks makes live appearances as Ben.

The character Weaks plays, maybe ironically, is an aspiring writer who gets into a Same Time, Next Year-ish relationship with the female lead, Fallon. Perfectly structured for the Crave format,  November 9 is written in the voices of both characters, as they take turns contributing short chapters. They'll be delivered to subscribers as serial installments.

Engaging indies

Curr is becoming known as a trade publisher who capitalises and cultivates several elements of the way accomplished independent writers tend to work. She sees what she says are three kinds of authors whose work play into what she's doing today in leading Atria's broad range of offerings.

"The first is the self-publishing author," she says, "who becomes a trade author, or a 'hybrid author,' if you like. Then you have the new kind of author, a 'digital influencer.' They come out of YouTube, Vine, Instagram. And then there's the person who becomes both a publisher and book producer of sorts.

"These three kinds of new authors' work can be combined and play off each other in all sorts of ways. And these new authors then meet the new reader, who is the mobile reader. A part of the future book may well be something like Crave."

One of Curr's efforts in the producer-publisher realm might involve a BBC production, she says, to be viewed on mobile along with such text-based efforts like Hoover's.

And Curr is clear about the importance of the self-publishing mode of work as a key to potential development here: "Without the self-published author's ability to write to a very fast timetable and then having the experience of video and the power of books and video," this kind of work would be far harder to generate with what she terms "visual surprises," including call-outs to readers, who respond online to quick-votes. "We get the information," the data, when readers provide input requested by the content.

The app will offer a growing library of stories for subscribers as new material is placed. And as the approach develops, "there's no reason we can't do paparazzi shots in the street" with Weaks or other actors who are among the interactive components of the stories' delivery. "That's part of the idea. We might be able to help give some actors their starts in Crave."

Traditionalism and experimentation

"Unless your authors trust you and understand that you're doing everything to get them more readers," she says, the sort of approaches she's trying aren't feasible. "It won't matter how many ideas you have.

"Because self-published authors are aware that they're self-sufficient—and because they get what you do—they're more open. They haven't been in the traditional system and there aren't obstacles in the way" that come with some traditionalists' learned expectations.

"These authors are pioneers and have grown up in the digital space. We can use those tools quickly in a way we couldn't do" with someone whose reader-relationship isn't seated in the social-media space.

Curr likes to tell the example of cookbook author Rosanna Pansino, whose direct contact with her YouTube viewers and readership came in handy when someone in the Canadian market broke a release embargo on her book, The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook: Sweet Treats for the Geek in All of UsThe way the publisher found out about the broken embargo was that Pansino's online followers told her that they'd found the book. 

"Our author knew this before we did," she says with a laugh. "That's how well these writers know their readers."

'Many rooms in one house'

Curr's platform as a publisher is wide. And there's a poetic justification for the name she chose, Atria.

"It refers to many rooms in one house," Curr says as the head of one of Simon & Schuster's four major divisions. Atria comprises eight imprints.

And in the same week she speaks with us for this interview, Curr hosts another Atria author in New York—from a very different "room" in that "house," if you will: the Chilean-American Isabel Allende, whose new The Japanese Lover has been published to an eager reception from readers and critics.

With a catalog broader than some realise—and with a tradition of releasing books across many territories "on the same day and in the same edition," she says—Curr is adamant about her deliberate interest in a central stance for her writers. "We've already had to reprint November 9 twice," she says, and the Crave app hasn't even moved to market yet.

She notes that the authors most right for her style of working are those who not only have speed and know digital but who also "want to be educated" in what tech can do for them.

"Our biggest success was The Secret," Rhonda Byrne's 2007 book which began life the previous year as a documentary video. "It now has sold some 25 million copies worldwide. We bought the book and published it in six months. And that's when we became really aware of the online world."

Curr describes the process as "fishing in a blue pond. We like to go find a place that's less competitive" and take along writers willing to be flexible. It's how Curr says she can further both Atria's interests and those of the house's authors.

"We're bringing them into this new universe."