#TwitterFiction Festival, March 12–16, Offers Super Short Stories

Anthony Marra exploring the erotic inner life of Downton Abbey’s upstanding Mr. Bates, Elizabeth Fremantle writing from the perspective of Anne Boleyn’s dog, Brad Meltzer and A.J. Jacobs co-writing a story whose characters argue about the last words they’ll utter, and TFF LOGOGabrielle Zevin impersonating a former best-selling author struggling to figure out Twitter—these are some of the leading authors joining in the second #TwitterFiction Festival, March 12–16. Over the five-day, ’round-the-clock event, participants will use such Twitter-tailored tools as parody, crowdsourcing, images, multiple characters/handles, and the overlap between short narrative and poetry to tell distinctively different stories in 140-character bursts.

Altogether 24 authors have agreed to participate, and they’ll be joined by 23 winners of an open competition that encouraged anyone to submit entries over a one-month period, with a select group of editors and publicists serving as the judges. Winners include both neophytes and established authors like Katie Fforde, who limns an exasperated young woman live-tweeting her 20th blind date.

The result is an engaging lineup that takes in every genre and often exhibits a smart use of the visual—imagine soliciting photos for a crowdsourced film noir tale. “Showcase participants from 11 different countries…will tweet their stories in English, Spanish and Italian. Participating writers include everyone from journalists, to authors, to bloggers, to poets, novices and everyone in between,” says Andrew Fitzgerald, Media Partnerships at Twitter. In addition, anyone with a story to tell can leap in with the hashtag #TwitterFiction, making the festival truly all-embracing. To track who’s invited, who’s a winner, and who’s a jump-on-board writer, check  the schedule.

This year’s festival expands on the first one, held in November 2012 and encompassing 29 showcased projects and more than 25,000 tweets. Now, Twitter has entered into a partnership with Penguin Random House and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) to put on a bigger, more ambitious event. (The official media sponsor is USA Today.) Explains Christine McNamara, Vice President and Director of Partnerships at Random House, “We had already been building relationships with media like Twitter, trying to get closer to platforms that we use and our authors use. Anything that is good for books and reading is good for authors and publishers, and we are working with AAP and Twitter to bring the festival to the next level.”

Twitter and Penguin Random House jointly approached the AAP with the aim of getting more publishers involved, and for AAP Vice President Tina Jordan the festival was a perfect fit: “Anything celebrating storytelling is great for our member publishers, and to have any of their authors represented is exciting—it’s at the top of our minds as a service organization.” Jordan sees the festival as another effective way that the AAP can “put its imprint on authors tweeting to their fans,” and she’s quick to point out that while Penguin Random House established the infrastructure facilitating publisher participation, an impressive range of publishers—from big names like Hachette and Simon & Schuster to independents like Quirk and Harlequin—volunteered authors for the project.

For authors, says McNamara, the festival is “a fun and innovative way to respond to fans and to try something new.” They can cement their fan base, find new readers, and experiment in an environment that regards risk taking as the norm. New writers, whether competition winners or on-the-spot participants, also have the opportunity to find readers—and perhaps a publisher—of their own, and publishers can promote authors already in the fold as they look for new ones. Authors and publishers both aim to afford readers a wealth of entertaining and inventive writing as they discover what social media can do. And what’s in it for libraries?

“This program promotes all good things—in real-time—from community engagement and collaboration to creative appreciation and inspired storytelling,” explains Miriam Tulaio, Assistant Director, Selection, BookOps, the shared library technical services organization serving the Brooklyn Public Library and the New York Public Library (NYPL). “Library users of all ages actively participate in these types of activities both onsite and online.” The NYPL, which hosted two events during the first festival, will support this year’s festival through posts on social media, and McNamara can envision other library uses. “It could serve as a lesson in how to use platforms in all kinds of ways, and I can even see a school library doing a round robin in a classroom,” she offers. “And of course it’s a great tool for making people excited about fiction in general.”

The festival launches March 12 with #TwitterFiction Festival Live!, an evening of on-stage performances from R.L. Stine, Dave Hill, and a slew of other authors and hosted by author/comedienne Sara Barron. The event, at Subculture NYC in New York City and to be livestreamed globally, is meant as yet another way of showing how social media can work to promote literature and reading. Once the festival is over, organizers hope that the urge to tweet fiction will continue, with the hashtag taking on a life of its own. For now, the schedule allows eager readers to filter the offerings by invited author/contest winner, time of day, and genre and to further sort by time, date, and title, with adjustments for time zones built in. It’s a big fiction party, and everyone’s invited.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.