computer-books-300x233In 2007, postmodern literary critic N. Katherine Hayles defined electronic literature (also known as digital literature) as literature that is “generally considered to exclude print literature that has been digitized” (e.g., e-books) and “is by contrast ‘digital born,’ a first-generation digital object created on a computer and (usually) meant to be read on a computer.” Wikipedia extends Hayles’ definition by contrasting electronic literature with e-books, pointing out that electronic literature may have elements that require computation: links, multi-media, animation or reader interaction (source).

[Note: From here on, I’ll refer to electronic literature as digital literature. This is both a personal preference and a reflection of the rapid advancements made in digital technologies since 2007, when Hayles published her definition.]

The publishing industry has seen a significant shift towards the digital in the last decade, and while many e-books still have an analog companion, there are an increasing number of authors (both those who have traditional contracts with a publisher and those who self-publish) who are producing born-digital novels and books that are never released in print format. There is also a rise in e-books with digital content – books that could be classified as digital literature, thanks to the inclusion of hyperlinks, videos and more.

From this rise in digital literature comes “click lit,” a term coined by Rosetta Books, an independent e-book publisher. Rosetta Books recently published a new e-book entitled Find Me I’m Yours. While this romantic comedy’s plot may sound familiar, its format takes interactive reading to a new level. The e-book is only one part of the story, which is supplemented by more than three dozen websites and online videos. Readers are actively encouraged to play a role in the story by visiting the various “custom-designed narrative platforms” and posting their own pictures, videos and stories.

“Click lit” turns the idea of reading on its head. Gone is the process of linear reading and in its place, a multimedia narrative that moves forwards, backwards, and sideways, changing every time a new reader experiences the story – and adds his or her own contributions. It’s a narrative that is constantly evolving.

So, what does “click lit” mean for digital literature and literary studies? How do you begin to analyze and study a story that is spread out over more than 30 websites? Is the e-book itself of primary importance, or do you have to consider it within the context of the digital world created by the publisher? How do you distinguish between content that may have been created by an author, and content added by a reader? Is one more legitimate than the other, or are both an integral part of the narrative?

As of right now, it seems to me that “click lit” raises more questions than it answers. Besides questions pertaining to the academic research of something like “click lit,” there are potential issues of feasibility. According to the New York Times, Rosetta Books’ latest publication took three years and $400K to develop – compare that to the cost and time of publishing a “regular” e-book or even a print book. There are also issues of commercialization, as some “click lit” books are also experimenting with product placement and sponsorship, further blurring the lines between what is literature and what is a paid advertisement.

As a lifelong avid reader and someone deeply interested in the future of digital literature, I plan to keep watching the “click lit” space to see how it does with other readers. It may be that “click lit” will resonate more with younger generations, those who have grown up in a digital world and have no trouble navigating a wide-spread multimedia narrative. There’s potential with “click lit” for sure, but what kind of potential? That remains to be seen.

Further Reading:

The Future of Multi-Platform Novels (“Though undeniably entertaining, a multi-media book takes away this sense of imagination, of wonder.”)

Click Lit (The Guardian)

The Future of the Book – CNN (“”This is how Millenials will consume all content one day. It’s going to start a revolution.”)

[Photo Credit: Book Riot]