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Twitter versus video versus books

It’s an awkward time to start a literary press, but it’s probably one of the best times too. Right now we’re in the middle of launching our inaugural list of digital books… But we keep hearing Twitter ticking away.

It’s mixed up, it’s crazy, it’s seductively random. It’s steady as a stopwatch, and yet it feels timeless at its most mundane. “On Amtrak traveling from Boston to New York.” “A perfect stranger is walking the 5th
floor carrying a cordless jigsaw.” “OED Word of the day: galaxy.” It’s a maddening stream of drivel and babble that’s also jammed with the sublime and cunning.

So we started a side project called “overheard recently,” a series of short videos that looks back on our feed, adds images and music, and reorders tweets in purposeful ways.

We’re aiming to underscore what makes Twitter exceptional – the occasional bon mot and accidental wisdom, but also the mind-bending collision of voices, the incredible randomness that flows by every day.

By slowing things down and adding a soundtrack along with clever visuals, we hope to evoke some of the wonder behind the stream.

Everyone knows the power of Twitter, as a political forum, as publicity tool, as a way to look busy on a crowded train. Twitter has also spawned a few novels, but I’ve yet to read one that reflects the feed experience, that celebrates the haphazard nature of the beast.

That’s something to revel in: you can choose who to follow, but you can’t really control what comes your way. And just like being in any public space, it takes artful effort to become immersed and engaged.

The texts in our videos are our favorite tweets, which we could easily retweet or recommend with a #ff. But we like the idea of re-directing the stream.

They’re meant to be a step or two removed, a commentary on what we’ve found compelling, a video mirror held up to our recent reading, mostly at book and art reviews. They’re also intended as an answer to hashtags, a beauty contest judged by hungry machines.

We stick to found images and borrowed sounds, via Creative Commons, in keeping with our reuse of tweets, also with attribution. Every now and then, we throw in a quote from elsewhere, just to keep things interesting. It’s tough to compete with the constant flow of Twitter, so we try to be as beautiful, as lyrical and as strange as we can be.

And we get our hands dirty. Self-promotion is part of this game. How would we look if we didn’t include our own Twitter address? It’s almost legitimizing, inserting our logo at the height of each video.

Some days it still feels like enemy territory. Twitter invites quick reading, it defies reflection, and it trains the mind to make unruly jumps. As book publishers, we’re supposed to be against at least some of that. But by taking a step back and doing some rearranging, we can point to the odd and fleeting epiphanies that otherwise come and go under the slippery scroll.

At the end of the day, we think the series complements our digital-first approach to book publishing. It’s also public evidence that we’re paying attention, we’re nimble fellows, and despite being newcomers, we’re comfortable in this literary space.

On Twitter, we’re at @outpost19, where feedback is always welcome. We also post the series on our site: We’re based in San Francisco and New York, and our inaugural list of fiction and non-fiction is coming to major online booksellers throughout the Fall.

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