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Publishing a Story One Tweet at a Time

The New Yorker is serializing Pulitzer-Prize winning author Jennifer Egan’s latest short story, “Black Box,” through Twitter.

Egan’s 8,500 word story is being sent out over the course of ten nights, 60 tweets per night. The spy thriller that takes a character from the novel A Visit from the Goon Squad and puts her in 2030s where she becomes a volunteer spy who goes on a mission involving some dangerous men. The short story is a mental log of her mission.

As New Yorker Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman explained, “So that just lent itself to this kind of staccato format, where each line is an instruction.”

The idea for sending the story out via Twitter came from Egan, Treisman said. “Before she even started writing the story, she’d been thinking about the idea of writing a story that could make use of Twitter.” Egan explained the distribution idea after Treisman first read the story.

Treisman thought it was an exciting idea and a way to experiment with “what can be done with fiction in our day and age.”

In a New Yorker web post, Egan said serialization in Twitter is a rich idea “because of the intimacy of reaching people through their phones, and because of the odd poetry that can happen in 140 characters.”

Treisman says the response has been great, but acknowledges all the reviews haven't been glowing. There have been some complaints that the tweets aren’t coming fast enough and some people just prefer stories in page form.

The short story will be published in next week’s issue and the tweets are also being published on the magazine’s web site.

It’s unclear if the magazine will try this type of distribution again. The form of Egan’s story fits with Twitter’s 140 character tweet limits. Not all stories do.

“It was so inherent to the nature of the story and I can’t imagine taking a story that’s been written in regular long paragraphs and chopping it up like this.” Treisman explained. “This is the way [Egan] wrote it, with this idea in mind. You wouldn’t want to impose that on a story that wasn’t written for that purpose.”

You can follow the story through @NyerFiction. It started on Thursday and runs through next Saturday.