When Dani met Rob Bell at a book signing, he said, "Thanks for reading," to which she responded, "thanks for writing," and walked over to a nearby park to cry.
At an Elizabeth Gilbert book signing, Elisha spent her entire time in line thinking up the perfect thing to say. When she got to the front, she burst into tears. "I just love your books so much," she said, and (barely) pulled herself together enough to take the photo below.
A book can change everything. It's like finding a message in a bottle at the edge of an ocean that was somehow meant for you. But until now, there hasn't been a great way to direct your appreciation back to the storyteller.
What is ReadThisNext?
ReadThisNext is an app for discovering new books — sort of like a bookstore in your pocket. Unlike social reading apps where you follow people you know to see what they are reading (ex. Goodreads), ReadThisNext provides "expert" recommendations — books are recommended to you by authors.
When you follow an author you'll get notified when they endorse, or "blurb" a book, or their own book is released. We want to foster the connection between readers and authors to give authors more control over how their books are discovered.
Because our book recommendations come from author blurbs, they are relevant, but unexpected, to recreate the serendipity of walking into a bookstore. We've found that a person's circle of friends isn't always the best indicator of what book you will enjoy. Many readers aren't dedicated to a single genre, and book tastes change over time.
We spent the last six months working with publishers to integrate their data feeds and adding blurbs to our database. Our web app allows users to view blurbs by book or author and follow authors to get updates on new books and blurbs.
Here is a short demo.
Bringing it to mobile
We're going to work with a designer to bring the experience to mobile in a way that makes sense on a touchscreen. Here are some ideas.
Why ReadThisNext matters
Books are not like other media. It takes most people a month or longer to read a book, versus 3 minutes or 3 hours for a song or movie, respectively. This means readers are extra vigilant in gauging the quality of a book before deciding to read it.
This is an interesting problem for authors and publishers. Some authors can build their audience over time (Gillian Flynn published two novels before massive hit Gone Girl) but for debut authors, no matter how wonderful the book is, it's hard to attract new readers, even with paid ads, when there's no name recognition. Plus, whether a book makes it to bestseller lists often determines its long-term success, and unless a book takes off in the first 2-3 weeks or with pre-sales, it won't make it to those bestseller lists.
This is why a blurb is so important and such a strong indicator — someone who understands what makes a good story and whose taste you enjoy has already read this book, and is telling you it's worth your time.
We've seen artists such as Beyonce drop new music with no prior promotion. We want authors to be able to have this kind of control over a new book — a network of dedicated readers who are eager to read something new based on the taste of an author they trust, and share books they enjoy with the community. By bringing authors and readers together, ReadThisNext has the potential to finally give authors control over how their books are discovered.
Why we're obsessed with author blurbs
Writers are also readers. In fact, if you've wanted to write a book, you've probably been advised to read A LOT. So, it's no surprise that someone who writes YA might also be reading other books in the category.
When it comes to blurbs, though, they are often requested either by the author, the publicist, or sometimes even the literary agent. Just because the blurbing author read the book before it was officially edited rather than picking it up off the shelf doesn't mean the recommendation is any less meaningful. We think the opposite. The author and publisher intentionally choose other authors to blurb because their work is similar, or will appeal to the same audience.
The text of the blurb itself is fun to read (authors are good writers, duh) but it's the connection between author <-> book <-> author that is a strong indicator of relevance.
A picture says a thousand words
Dani grew up going to bookstores. Not to buy books — to hang out with friends on a Thursday night. We'd wander around the display tables in the front, pick up what looked interesting, read the back cover. And we'd buy lots of books, because how can you not?
That experience was lost online, but book covers still say something about a book that a summary cannot match. In researching for ReadThisNext, Dani was shocked to find out that book cover artists actually read the entire book. A book cover isn't so much a marketing ploy as it is visual communication of what's inside. It gives you a sense of the book's subject matter as well as the emotional tone. A great book cover doesn't need to be pretty enough to hang on a wall, but it does need to give a hint of how you'll feel when you read the book.
Although people already share photos of books on other social networks — hashtags like #bookstagram, #vscobooks and just #books are some of our favorites on Instagram -- we thought it would be fun to get all the serious book lovers in one place.
Where the money will go
We're lucky that we've already built a web app. That means we just need to add another layer to make a native iOS app.
Dani's done about 97% of the web development work so far, and Elisha manages outreach and publisher relationships, so we need help specifically with design and iOS. We'll also need a developer to turn our existing app into an API so the functionality will work equally well in iOS and web, including mobile web — so Android users can use it too.
- iOS development firm $20,000 (development and maintenance after launch)
- Designer - $1,000
- Rails engineer - $2,000
- Server costs - $500-$1,000
- Kickstarter fees, costs - $1,250
"But a direct book endorsement from a best-selling author whose writing a reader admires is a bell-clanger. Or it’s a killer app – one that doesn’t require more exertion than a few clicks on a mobile device and comes with large, beautiful imagery." - Lou Fancher at SF Examiner
"It’s kind of like being in a book club, but with all your favorite authors. Which rules." - Emma Oulton at Bustle
Elisha Hartwig on 'The How The Why' - Blackhill Press
If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them: Publishing Gets Its Own Hackathon - The Atlantic
Dani Fankhauser, co-founder
Dani previously ran outreach at VC-backed mobile startup Flud, has been programming since 2010, and is a career journalist who was an editor at publications including Bustle and Mashable. She has an M.S. in journalism from Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and a B.A. in business administration from Point Loma University in San Diego.
Elisha Hartwig, co-founder
Elisha is a branded content editor and creator of #MashReads, Mashable's social book club. She's been a teacher in Spain and completed graduate studies at New York University's School of Professional Studies Center for Publishing.
Special thanks to Bianca Consunji for creating our video, and the following publishers for donating recent releases for our rewards:
Simon and Schuster
Grand Central Publishing
Random House Publishing Group
Risks and challenges
We're building a mobile application, with the possibility of also doing a book of the month club and a destination book club. Most of what we are building is transmitted digitally; but we do have a few rewards which will take time to ship. However, we are confident we have provided ourselves with enough time to fulfill all the rewards.
With our mobile app, the risks will come as we scale. As we onboard new users, costs for servers and storage will increase. We are dealing with this in two ways. The amount we are raising comes with a small cushion so that we can not only build the app, but maintain it for the first year after it is released. Secondly, we are releasing the app to Kickstarter supporters only first in order to scale and test the app before it is launched to a larger crowd. We want this product to be used and enjoyed for many years to come.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)