Much like many other authors these days, Jeff Gomez, a published novelist and nonfiction author in addition to working as v-p, online consumer sales and marketing, at Penguin USA, decided to self-publish his new book. Beside Myself is a quirky novel with a protagonist named Jeff Gomez who discovers at least two other characters also named Jeff Gomez who move mysteriously in and out of his life. However, unlike other self-publishers, Gomez is an experienced digital publishing professional, and his new novel is actually an app designed to put interactive technology to work as a literary storytelling device.
Gomez self-published his new novel in November as an app, designed and produced in collaboration with Scroll Motion, a digital technology firm originally known for designing e-books for the iPhone and now focused on offering its technology as a platform for developing a broad range of B2B interactive content. The book can be purchased in the Apple app store for $6.99. Gomez is also the author of two novels (Our Noise, 1995, and Geniuses of Crack, 1997, both Touchstone) and the nonfiction work, Print Is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age (2009, Palgrave).
While he is fascinated by the transformation of the publishing industry, and books themselves, by technology, he told PW he is also focused on storytelling and how to use technology as a narrative vehicle. “I wanted to try and steer the conversation on technology back to telling stories and the development of the novel,” he said, during a phone interview. But he acknowledged that the speed to publication and authorial control offered by digital publishing also attracted him. Although he has published three books, he said he doesn’t have an agent, and that “speed was more important than anything. I didn’t want to go through the conventional publishing process; get an agent, submit a manuscript, wait for the publisher. And I can do all the digital interdisciplinary stuff, social media and digital marketing, myself.”
What he’s done is create a Rubik’s Cube of a literary puzzle that allows the reader to change the order of the book’s “chapters,” send e-mail to characters in the book, get a response, and much more. Beside Myself is told through three narrators, all named Jeff Gomez, and over the course of the novel they appear to represent the author Jeff Gomez at various stages of his life, each Jeff Gomez intersecting with the others to both comic and cryptic emotional effect. Readers can choose which of the narrators they want to follow, jump from one narrator’s account to the other, or push a button and read the book the old-fashioned way.
The effect is a kind of literary Russian roulette, in which the reader spins a virtual dial and Gomez’s three-part narrative can deliver a dizzying and engaging succession of literary points of view. Gomez pointed to authors like Paul Auster and works such as Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar for literary inspiration as well as “gamefication,” the process of adding video-game features to the book, noting that the digital novel gives the reader “choices, and choices have consequences,” a theme that also runs through Beside Myself.
The technology also offers instant global distribution. “There have been downloads in Chile, the U.K., and Canada,” he said. “You get mentioned on Twitter, and the world will find your book.” Of course there are drawbacks to the app/novel, he said, like “no galleys. It’s tough to get a galley to reviewers who can capture the impact of the digital book,” although he said the book has received a review on Kirkus and he expects more reviews after the first of the year. He’s also selling a limited number of print copies of Beside Myself through his Web site. “I’m still a print guy. I collect physical things. I buy vinyl records and real books. I like having physical things around.” And while he skipped traditional publishing, he was quick to acknowledge, “I’d be happy to talk with a conventional publisher about the book.”
But he’s most fascinated by all the things that can be done in a digital novel. “It’s the next step toward removing the boundaries of storytelling,” he said, adding, “We live with and work on computers all the time and there are things you can do with digital technology that you can’t do in a print book,” emphasizing that “the book exists to house the novel, not the other way around.”