“Rapid Reads . . . aims to have excellent writing, great stories, well-known authors, all the things we value in longer fiction, but in a shorter, more accessible form.” | Q&A with Ruth Linka of the Rapid Reads program at Orca Books

 A few weeks ago I received a copy of Rick Blechta’s The Boom Room from Orca Books Rapid Reads series. (Link to Review) It was my first introduction to the series which has simple plots and easy language. The concept intrigued me so I decided to learn more about the program. Noted book publisher Ruth Linka took the time to answer a few questions for me.

 

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1) The Rapid Reads website states: In our increasingly fast-paced world we believe there is a need for well-written, well-told books that can be read in one sitting. Could you expand on that a bit? Explain why you see a ‘need’ for this type of book.

 
A: I think there is a bit of a trend to short fiction, with a few things having played a role, or answering this need: Byliner, the CBC prize for short stories, and Little Fiction magazine are just a few examples. And, then of course we’ve seen Lynn Coady’s short story collection win the Giller and Alice Munro win the Nobel Prize. Perhaps there’s a renaissance in short fiction? I hope so. But beyond that are people habits. Reading on our phones, our electronic devices, on the subway, in the coffee line up, in between the many things we do. Long fiction is still going strong (i.e. Luminaries) but in some ways it competes for our attention and I wonder if people read different types of materials depending on how much time they have, what device (including the printed book!) they are using and how much attention they can give it.
 
All of this is part of the thinking for Rapid Reads, which aims to have excellent writing, great stories, well-known authors, all the things we value in longer fiction, but in a shorter, more accessible form. 


2) How many authors are now involved with the Rapid Reads series in total? How do writers like writing for the series? Is it easy or hard for them to keep the simple format?

A: We have just over 20 authors in print, and a number of new ones coming up including Linda L. Richards, Brian Harvey and Gail Anderson-Dargatz. The writers seem to like the write for the series, sometimes using it to explore an idea or a plot that wouldn’t work in a longer novel. Some of the authors find it easier than others. I think it’s a great exercise in any event, forcing the writer to keep their word count down to around 20,000 and still create characters with depth and a story that is compelling.

3) How has the series been received so far? How many years has it been in existence?

A: The series was launched in 2010 and so far there response has been very positive, both to individual titles and to the series concepts as well.

4) There are reading guides for each of the novels written. What exactly is included in each of the guides?

A: The reading guide gives some practical information, such as the reading level, a summary, and discussion questions. It’s targeted mainly at educators who use this kind of thing to prompt discussion or provide ideas for assignments. Orca does reading guides for all of our books so the option is there for the books to be used in a classroom or a library. For Rapid Reads the educators might be working with people where English is not their first language, or where there are some literacy challenges.

5) It has been my experience when trying to help people who have purchased e-readers that find they get easily confused by technology involved and end up going back to printed books. Are you planning to keep the series in printed form or are you planning to do e-reader versions?

A: We do both. We have no plans to discontinue the print edition but we release the ebook at the same time as the print edition letting the reader chose whatever format suits them.

6) The website talks about books being written between a “2.0 and 4.5 reading level.” Could you explain what exactly that means?

A: The reading level is calculated based on the average number of sentences and syllables per hundred words.  These averages are plotted onto a graph: the intersection of the average number of sentences and the average number of syllables determines the reading level.

 
 
7) Will you be using social media at all for readers to interact with you? What formats will you be using? I saw the Pinterest page just now and I was wondering if you plan to use that more often now.
A: We use social media a bit already, it has been part of my goal since arriving at Orca to do more on this front. I think Twitter will offer some opportunities to connect with readers, authors and educators. We will also continue to use Facebook and Pinterest. We also consistently do Goodreads giveaways and encourage our authors to be there. And, other places like 49th Shelf. Many of the authors have their own website and blogs. And, beyond that, we’re planning an update to the Rapid Reads website.

8) The website states that there is an interest with adults who are looking for a quick read. Is there a market for that type of reader?

A: I think so. Both in terms of what I said above about reading in different situations where we can’t always access a long novel.

9) Have the authors done any public readings or participated in any book club readings? If so, what was the experience like for them?

A: Yes, there have been some events for the authors. The response has been positive – often the authors have loyal readers with whom they connect. I’d like to work on doing a bit more of this sort of thing, for instance in Fall 2014 Gail Anderson-Dargatz has her first Rapid Reads coming out, the first in a series featuring journalist and sleuth Claire Abbott. Gail will be doing a series of library appearances in BC. It will be good to see what the libraries think of them and go forward with that information.

10) Have book reviewers looked at the books being published under the Rapid-Reads banner? If yes, have the reviews been favorable?

A: I’ve pasted a few reviews on the series below:
 

“[Rapid Reads] feature memorable main characters and tightly woven plots that grab and hold the reader’s interest. Sentences are short, vocabulary is basic, and the novels can be read in an hour or two. They are perfect for mature reluctant readers, ESL learners, or anyone who enjoys a good story.”VOYA

 
“The Rapid Reads series for adults is designed for reluctant or low-literacy readers and features low page counts, swiftly moving plots, short chapters, and uncomplicated language and sentence structure. Even avid readers, though, may enjoy losing themselves in the accessible stories, many of which feature underrepresented voices in fiction. Each title hooks readers with a dramatic start… With rare voices and taut suspense, these titles provide accessible choices for struggling and strong readers alike.” —Booklist
“Rapid Reads are…a welcome change from the much less engaging novels that until recently were all that was available for reluctant readers and teen and adult English language learners…Readers can relate to the well-written stories…They also look and read like a typical adult paperback. There is no stigma to reading them. These books help encourage students to read for enjoyment.”Aimee Jeffrey, literacy librarian at Kitchener Public Library
“The idea behind Rapid Reads…is so simple it’s hard to believe no other Canadian firm thought of it before: to provide reluctant readers with entertaining subject matter they can connect with…”Quill & Quire

“Ever start a book and then put it down for so long that when you pick it up again, you have to reread the beginning? Ever take a book out of the library and discover it’s due back before you’ve flipped it open? I’m guilty on both counts. I’ve read gorgeous books in fits and starts, all the while knowing that I’m missing out – that the book is not getting the attention it deserves, that  its beauty is betrayed by the cracking of its cadence.
What can I say? Life interferes with good books. Orca Book Publishers recognizes this and offers rewarding alternatives for those pressed for time, and for those pressed for interest. Reluctant readers, young people reading below their grade level, newcomers who are learning English as a second language. You can hand them a classic and hope it enthrals, but 300 pages and a dictionary later, odds are you’ve lost them. Better, perhaps, to offer a quick and entertaining book that will help the reader gain confidence and go on to the next novel.”—The Coastal Spectator
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Link to the Orca Books – Rapid Reads website
 
 
 
 

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