Ex-New York Times Writer Develops An App To Get Busy People Reading More

In Dickens’s day, serialized novels were all the rage. Rooster aims to revive that trend, making it easier than ever to find good books (and the time to read them).

In the age of abbrevs., sitting down to read a novel can feel like gearing up for a marathon, no matter how much you love books. The web seems to have rewired us to consume the written word in concise bites, not hefty tomes. And when we do decide to commit to a novel, the sheer number of books out there can make choosing one overwhelming.


Rooster, a new app, aims to solve these problems by redesigning the way we read fiction. “We have a very specific goal: get busy people reading more good fiction,” Jennifer Lee, Rooster cofounder and a former New York Times writer, tells Co.Design. “Our target audience is people who want to read more but feel they don’t have the time.”

Here’s how Rooster works: an editorial team of writers and avid readers selects two novels every month, pairing a contemporary work with a classic. The novels are serialized into chunks, the lengths of which are targeted at 15 to 20 minutes of reading time. Subscribers decide when they want each installment delivered to their mobile device–what time of day and how often. “It’s perfect for filling in-between time,” Lee says–while you’re commuting or waiting in line, for example. “It’s a better, more productive alternative to, say, browsing Twitter, playing Angry Birds, or texting.”

The founders say it’s the first app to serialize existing novels and curate them for readers in this way. But serialization itself goes way back: In the 1800s, Charles Dickens serialized his novels, publishing chapters in installments, like the literary equivalent of a TV series. Rooster is based on the premise that rejuvenating this serialized mode is the best way to help fiction survive in the digital age. They’re working with writers to produce original fiction written specifically for serialization on mobile devices. “Storytelling has always been shaped by the medium through which it’s communicated,” Lee says. The novel they’ve selected to debut the app, I Was Here, by Rachel Kadish, was written to be serialized. “The constraints of writing specifically for 15- to 20-minute long segments can actually be very liberating,” Lee says. “It makes you really focus on plot, and leave out anything extraneous. We like to tell writers to plotten things up.”

The app’s design aims to make reading one the phone as aesthetically pleasing as possible. “We believe publishing is a craft,” Lee says. “Everything from the prose to the book covers to the reading experience itself is crafted. We want the app to reflect that the people who built it see reading as an aesthetic experience.”


For now, Rooster is starting simply, offering just two serialized novels a month. But they hope to expand to other genres–science fiction and nonfiction, for example. They’re also planning to add a social element to the app, since their curated, two-books-a-month approach makes it a bit like a digital book club. “We know people like to talk to each other about the book they’re all reading at the same time,” Lee says. And the app makes it easier for readers to engage with authors, as it automatically links them to writers’ social media pages.

Subscribe to Rooster for $4.99 a month here.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.