In 2020 I re-read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and as I went through it I recapped it for T. It’s an epistolary novel, which means it’s made up of letters, diaries, telegrams, newspaper clippings, and so forth. Every part of the novel has a date, and the whole story happens between May 3 and November 10. Trudy and I realized as we went through the book: you could almost slow down and read this book in real-time, experiencing the novel with the characters.
So: I set up a free email newsletter to do this! Dracula Daily. I did most of the setup one Saturday in January, and then actually shared it around April. So this year in 2021, I’ve been emailing the text of the book out every day (or at least, on the days when it happens). It’s almost done now, so I’ll recap the FAQ here and then some thoughts about the process.
Q. When does it start?
A. The first entry is on May 3. That’s when the first email is sent.
Q. When does it end?
A. The last entry is November 7.
Q. You’re going to email the whole book?
A. Yes, in small bits at a time. Some days there is a lot of activity, some days just a few sentences, and many days nothing at all. You’ll only get an email when there’s action taking place that day.
Q. It’s free?
A. It’s free.
OK, actually there are more FAQ at Dracula Daily, but you get the idea.
Now that this time-boxed project is almost over, I can reflect on it a bit. It was mostly auto-pilot; a bit of work to carve up the book into the appropriate chunks, but once that was done it was a matter of just copy-and-pasting the text into scheduled emails. They go out on a schedule, and the only real creative work is coming up with a cute subject line for the day.
As far as onboarding goes, it’s obviously hamstrung by its own structure. For the best experience, you needed to know about it before it starts and sign up before May 3. The later you join, the worse your experience is, as you’d have more book to catch up on. It’s actually sort of built to not go viral. I suppose I could do this every year, but… I don’t suppose people will actually want to read Dracula every year!
As usual I have little desire to and/or am incompetent at promoting stuff. SO while this got a some nice shares on twitter, and a post on Gizmodo(the Australian version, which exists!), it never got any serious attention. But the small attention on it was overwhelmingly positive, and the feedback I got on the process was really rewarding. A little more than 1600 people signed up, which felt like a lot. And it got lots of compliments on twitter and via email.
But the big reward was talking about a book with so many people! I’ve gotten lots of email replies and activity on twitter. It’s fun to talk about the day’s events in the story. Just starting a weird online book club has been its own reward.