Nearly two years on from the last time he caught up with him for The Literary Platform, Neil Ayres catches up with developer Russell Quinn.
“I’m just interested in presenting good writing in the best way, and technology creates a lot more options for that.” Russell Quinn
Modern Renaissance man Russell Quinn appears to have gone full circle. He gave up life as a partner in a successful multinational agency (Spoiled Milk) to create freelance projects around the launch of the iPhone (McSweeney’s Small Chair app, The Creative Review Annual), then moved from Europe to San Francisco, having been brought in-house by McSweeney’s off the back of the impressive success of Small Chair. After a year with McSweeney’s, he’s now one third of Ying Horowitz & Quinn, a new publishing company set up with fellow McSweeney’s alumni Chris Ying and Eli Horowitz. So what drove this latest move?
Although it’s tempting to describe Ying Horowitz & Quinn as an agency, that isn’t exactly representative. The trio’s intentions are to work on a mix of client projects and self initiated ones.
“We founded Ying Horowitz & Quinn primarily as a low-risk place to experiment with new storytelling techniques,” says Quinn. “Chris, Eli and I all worked together at McSweeney’s and were independently thinking about our next steps, about future projects. It became clear that we had similar thoughts and that putting everything into one pile, so to speak, might be more economical than each branching out alone.”
Our somewhat unifying manifesto is that, while excited by the possibility of technology, we generally find enhanced ebooks, or whatever, to be disappointing, to be gimmicky, and to generally be too disconnected from proven storytelling methods.”
Quinn’s objections are ones that I share. If we’re honest, how much time do readers spend reading book apps, as opposed to enjoying all the bonus features included, which will generally sit outside of the reading experience itself.
Quinn goes on to say that, “It seems that publishing technology — some neat new thing that’s going to ‘change how people read’ — is often developed in isolation and then retrofitted onto out-of-copyright classics after the fact. It’s fun for fifteen minutes, and you see the potential, but it lacks the genuine artistry that forms a connection with the reader.”
“A good printed novel still captivates me in a magical way that The Future Book hasn’t.”
But Quinn, as is evident from his work, surely isn’t a traditional book purist?
“I don’t particularly romanticise the physical book, or lament its possible passing,” he agrees. “I’m just interested in presenting good writing in the best way, and technology creates a lot more options for that. The next few years are going to be exciting, and we want to be a part of the conversation.”
“Our approach is, rather than being technology-led, to focus on getting the material right first, to then develop the digital “packaging”, and then hopefully something useful in a wider context will fall out the other side. Technology resulting from production might be a snappier way of putting it.”
Publishers might be left asking themselves, but how will this work practically, especially for those looking to partner with the company.
“We’re still figuring out the creative process,” Quinn says. “But so far our projects have all sprung from internal ideas, sometimes with specific authors in mind, sometimes we’ve gone looking for collaborators. The actual creation of the text still largely follows a traditional editor-author relationship, with maybe a little more interfering from us.”
Interestingly, Quinn doesn’t see a distinction between print and digital projects, and there’s certainly no intention to throw everything in their creative arsenal at each project. The approach the company is adopting is much more considered than that.
“We don’t see either print or digital as being exclusive mediums, and are still excited to work with both. We have a number of print-based food publications in the works, so things are actually pretty balanced right now.”
The company’s first digital release will be The Silent History, a venture that Quinn describes as “…A fictional oral history of a new medical condition and a society’s reaction to it. It’s an expansive, sprawling narrative, partly told through daily serialisation and partly told through short, collaboratively-written, site-specific reports. The former will drive the main story arc, while the latter will require the reader to actually visit specific locations (street-corners, forests, riverbeds, and so on) to read additional short texts, which are entwined with the particularities of that environment.
The Silent History will be available for iOS devices sometime in the summer.
More at: www.yyyhhhqqq.com