Online literary publisher Electric Literature has launched the first episode of Star Witness, a new seven-part story by novelist Joe Meno, on Recommended Reading, EL’s weekly online fiction magazine.
Electric Literature executive director Halimah Marcus said Star Witness is part of EL’s ongoing experiments with distributing literature in the digital age, as well an effort to attract new paying sustaining members. For $5 a month sustaining members receive access to Recommended Reading that includes members-only content.
The first episode of Star Witness was published yesterday, August 16, and the additional episodes will appear online on Friday over the next six weeks. The story is available to read for free online but sustaining members also receive access to an audiobook version of each episode. Content offered on Recommended Reading is available for free for a month before going behind a paywall. RR currently offers about 270 works of fiction, including short stories and novel excerpts.
Described by Marcus as “part Carson McCullers, part Raymond Chandler,” Star Witness is the story of the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a young girl, and that of Shelly, a 19 year-old girl determined to solve it. Meno is the author of the bestselling novels The Boy Detective Fails and Hairstyles of the Damned.
“We’re always experimenting,” Marcus told PW, who compared Star Witness and RR to web streaming services like Hulu and HBO as well as the popular Serial podcast. “We’re all trying figure out how to use the delayed pleasure and anticipation of serialization,” she said.
More practically, she acknowledged, Star Witness is an ongoing effort to grow EL’s paying memberships (currently about 375 sustaining members). EL is hosted on Medium, the online publishing platform, and readers can also subscribe to EL for regular updates on new free content.
Marcus said the online site also uses print publication and crowdfunding to raise funds. EL used Kickstarter to raise $40,000 to fund the publication of Paper Cuts, a “rude” literary card game, sold via the Electric Literature Store. The site is also seeking a conventional publishing partner to release an expanded print version of The Bodega Project, an online collection of essays by local writers that explore the role these neighborhood stores play in New York City.
“We go after grants, partnerships and donations. The $5 a month sustaining memberships make a huge difference, “ Marcus said. “All our writers are paid so we need to find ways to entice people to support their work.”