"I get reader stats every Tuesday, telling me how readers are voting," said Holly McDowell, the author of Coliloquy's King Solomon's Wives series. "I get
an email and it lists the different choice points and the percentage of voters who chose each one. It also tells me how many people have gotten to the end
of the book. And it tells me how many have gone back to read other options."
Open-ended as it may be, Coliloquy also stands to gain from the harsh scrutiny of data, and the clear editorial directions indicated by the numbers.
Readers of McDowell's first book were asked which city they wanted to hear about next; of five choices, New Orleans came out on top with about 30 percent of the
vote. "And that was awesome feedback for me," McDowell said. She focused on New Orleans in her second installment, which will be out soon. "And actually,
now more of the votes have come in, and Chicago is pulling ahead," she added. "But that just means I'll have to work Chicago in."
Coliloquy's founders want to emphasize that this is not writing by committee or data driving literature. Rather, they say, this is a tool providing authors
with helpful suggestions. They are trying to determine -- in a manner well known among start-ups, if not in the publishing world at large -- "Are there places where she would be better off spending her time early on to keep her readers interested."
When I asked Heidi Kling, the author of the Spellspinners of Melas County ebooks, about how statistics have informed her writing, she said, "For me it hasn't
affected the series too much in regard to me changing things in response to the data, because I find that readers choose my own choices." But, she went on,
"if something came that's sort of alarming -- like 95 percent went this way, and 5 percent went the other way," then, she explained, "I would listen to that."
She added, "I definitely feel like I'm writing a book. I feel like these could easily be print editions--they just wouldn't have these jaunts one way
or the other way."
In fact, Rutherford told me, they may release "the best performing pathways in the print versions of the books." And "when we have had discussions with
TV and film, they've also been very interested to see the data."
But when I asked her if Coliloquy is really in the business of publishing books at all -- as opposed to a kind of narrative, episodic app -- she replied, "I
don't know the answer to that yet."
"I don't consider it a book really," McDowell said of her own writing for Coliloquy. "I consider it a story."
In 2010, after Rutherford had sold Twofish, a virtual payment platform, and Lue sold his social media marketing start-up, Unwrap, the two friends started an email chain that began: "LET'S DO SOMETHING AWESOME!" With that opening line, over the next several months, "we really got interested in this idea of narrative and gaming," Rutherford said. With that opening line, Rutherford said, "we really got interested in this idea of narrative and gaming." They started
by developing a web-based interface, and Rutherford began writing the first test stories. They tried a bunch different genres and structural formulas to
figure out "where is the largest market, and what types of engagement mechanics do those types of readers respond to." They honed in on young adult,
romance, and adventure. The early data set up the parameters for Coliloquy's business.