Recently, I spoke with Rajeev Balasubramanyan about his new novel, Starstruck, and in doing so found out about the exciting digital publisher, The Pigeonhole. I love the idea of returning to the serialisation of novels for the digital age and providing an experience around them, so spoke to the founder and editor, Anna Hughes, to find out more about it.
Anna, can you tell us what inspired the idea of serialising novels and providing other content around them?
The Pigeon’s foundations were formed from a desire to bridge the yawning gap between authors and their readers. The plan was to use the dynamism of a digital launch to offer authors a fresh new platform from which to shout about their works and, really, themselves. The serialisation bit actually came from my business partner Jacob. His original pitch to me, over many drinks and a sketch on a napkin, was Dickens done digitally. I was sold. The idea of using delayed gratification to create an online water cooler moment around books, one championed by the great man of English Literature, such an idea.
In today’s world, we are doing so much more. Dickens changed the way that people read books, by giving literature to the everyman. He made printed stories accessible and relevant. Now we are using the same method to help people fit their reading back into their lives, no matter how busy you might be.
Serialisation to an app means that your book is ready for you whenever and wherever you have the time to read, because really, when are you ever without your phone?
The extra content was merely another device to introduce a writer to their audience. What’s evolved from that is multi-media to give a fully rounded look at the book, as well as offering little talking points and rewards for finishing a stave.
How do you recognise when a book will work well as a serial?
I’m not convinced that all books can or should be serialised. The key to what we do is curation. Non-fiction has long been popular on our site. I suspect this is largely because people are used to reading non-fiction on their phones. We love doing it; it lends itself so well to extra content and discussion. We’ve published a wide range from classics such as Art of War, to commissioned travelogues and 3-minute summaries of top non-fiction books in partnership with Blinkist.
When it comes to fiction, we are open to everything, just so long as there is a strong narrative drive and brilliant storytelling. Short stories are obviously a dream for us to publish, and a pet-passion of mine. As is genre fiction. We recently launched a disappearing book with Head of Zeus. Every day for two weeks we released a new stave of Stefan Ahnhem’s extraordinary thriller – Victim Without a Face – and at 5am the next day, we’d steal it away. The readers went crazy with their comments. By the end of the serialisation we had readers yabbering away at each other, and the author as well, it was a joy to see.
You’ve created a global community of readers and writers – can you tell us a bit about how it works for both the authors you work with and the readers that have joined the community?
We began life working directly with authors as a digital publishing platform, though in the two years since our Beta book, we have grown into a support arm for authors and their publishers. The Pigeon’s aim it to make as much noise as we can for all the books on our site, to create a mobile readership and to craft a space for writers to meet their readers and discuss ideas through the pages of a book. We also want to help publishers to understand their market by providing granular data on the demographics behind any launch through our site.
From a reader’s perspective it is all about providing beautifully written books, delivered in a way that can fit into any lifestyle, anywhere; it’s about building a community of people who are brought together through their love of literature; it’s about offering an innovative way to discover hidden meaning in what they are reading, and finally to meet their heroes.
What kind of stories are you looking for if writers are thinking of submitting to you?
At the moment we are collecting submissions for a hugely ambitious project that we’re launching alongside the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love. From September 1 st our readers will have a little bit of love delivered to them every day in the form of a letter. Our Letters on Love series is going to explore the true nature of this most important of emotions. But we are looking at all themes, all shapes, all colours and sizes that it comes in. The hetero-normative backbone of our society is so passé.
What’s coming up from Pigeonhole over the next few months?
The more publishers and agents we work with, the more diverse and exciting our list becomes. Next month we’ve got our first ever YA novel from Hungarian sensation A.O. Esther and Lost Souls, a story of lovelorn angels. Following that is The Sacred Combe by Thomas Maloney, an exceptional literary debut around a troubled family history within a mysterious country house. In July we’re working with Vagabond Voices to serialise Redlegs, Chris Dolan’s brilliant modern classic set in 19th century colonial Barbados. Then in October we’re launching Home with Valeria Huerta and Niki Barbery-Bleyleben. Our concept of home, our sense of place and belonging within a family, within a community, provides us with our orientation unto the world that we inhabit; this series of essays explores the theory behind place and its purpose in our lives.
We also have a made-for- digital project coming up. We’re currently pulling together a little game of Pass the Pigeon. The idea is that we publish a chapter and every week a new author is chosen to write the next one. Though the direction will be crowd-sourced by the readers. Can’t wait to get that one started. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Thanks so much for coming, Anna. It’s great to have discovered the Pigeon and I’m really looking forward to seeing these stories and projects.