Picador will innovate in literary publishing by bringing out The Kills, a series of four full-length digital novels by film-maker Richard House, in quick succession in early 2013.
The books will later be published as a single 1,000- to 1,200-page hardback. Publisher Paul Baggaley, who acquired world rights in the project from agent Tony Peake, said it was a work comparable in ambition to Roberto Bolaño's 2666 and will be submitted for the literary prizes.
Baggaley said: "It's a really unusual and complicated project, which is some of the fun, but also a challenge to explain. The novels are a standard length, 80,000 to 90,000 words each, and we are publishing them monthly from January to April next year. That will be followed by a single volume physical edition in June or July.
"The digital publishing could be seen as a marketing opportunity for the physical book, but the e-books will contain lots of additional material—films, blogs, fake Wikipedia entries—and the idea is to see them as published works in themselves."
Three of the four digital novels—titled Sutler, The Massive and The Hit—cover the same location and characters, though each is told by different characters in the story. It is a thriller tale set in Iraq in a place called Camp Liberty, a city being constructed by the West as reparation for the war. It sits on top of "burn pits" where the detritus of war, including human bodies, has been buried. As the sequence opens, main character Sutler is escaping an explosion and going on the run after being framed for a missing $50m.
The third novel in the series, The Kill, is a crime novel set in Italy concerning two brothers who abduct and torture an American tourist. The Kill also exists as a book that is being read by different characters within the other novels in the sequence. "The Kill is told in the voices of five characters, and when we publish that novel digitally, it will be possible to read it either chronologically or via each character's voice in turn." Baggaley said.
The hardback is likely to be priced at £20, and pricing for the digital novels is yet to be decided. "It will not be an app but an enhanced e-book that you can read on any device," Baggaley said. "In an ideal world we'd like to offer a package so that if you buy the physical book you can have the e-book free. Whether there will be a mechanism to do that in nine months' time we don't know."
Baggaley said the project was an experiment being handled in a "collaborative" fashion between publisher and author. Japanese rights to The Kills were sold just ahead of the Frankfurt Book Fair.