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From the Tech Desk
Squirl Maps Enables Authors to Map the Real-World Settings of Their Books
It’s standard, in a fantasy novel, to be greeted by a map of the fantasy world you’re about to enter as soon as you open the book. Great fantasy books have a real sense of place, thanks to the fact that authors work very hard to imagine every nuance and direction of the world they are sketching out in their heads. In books set in the real world, though, it’s not uncommon for authors to take their settings for granted. They don’t feel the need to focus on world building, because everyone already knows the world they’re writing about. At least, that’s the assumption, never mind the fact that a reader may no more have been to London than to Middle Earth. It’s up to authors to give their settings character and detail, whether they are fantastical are 100 percent real. That belief is clearly one of the driving forces behind Squirl, Inc., a Houston-based publishing startup that touts a mission of mapping “every setting from every book ever written.”
If the name Squirl sounds familiar, that’s probably because it’s not a 100 percent new platform. The company got its start in 2015 when it launched an iOS app of the same name. The Squirl app was and is essentially a literary travelogue. Readers can use the app to find books set near their current locations, or to get notified when they wander into notable “literary maps.” The app also connects readers with book excerpts that reference locations near them, and even lets users check in at famous literary locations. The app puts a fun little twist on book discovery by making it location-driven.
While the Squirl app has always been fun, it hasn’t necessarily had a practical use for authors, or for the book creation and marketing side of the equation. Instead, it mostly focused on literary classics, with a few contemporary titles mapped as well. New authors didn’t have a way to use the platform as a tool for mapping the settings in their books, or as a strategy for getting their titles into more discovery channels. At least, Squirl hasn’t offered those features until now.
In mid-October, Squirl, Inc. announced that it was adding a brand-new feature to its platform. Called Squirl Maps, the new functionality opens Squirl up to authors and publishers in exciting new ways. Any author whose book is set in the real world can use the Squirl Maps author tool to map the locations featured in the story. Specific landmarks, museums, restaurants, hotels, parks, or other spots that might figure into the plot of a book can easily be pinpointed and bound together into a map for a specific title.
The are a few different benefits to authors who decide to use Squirl Maps. First, it can act as a useful location research aid for writers seeking to make their settings as realistic as possible. We’ve all read a book where the characters somehow traversed 15 block of city streets in a page and a half worth of dialogue. By mapping book locations and helping authors visualize where those locations are in relation to one another, the Squirl Maps author tool could feasibly put an end to such location-related snafus.
Second, Squirl Maps can help bring readers into the world of the book. We can’t all have nicely illustrated maps in the front of our books for readers to consult. What we can all have, though, is a map on Squirl that can easily be shared with readers as a “story companion.” The entire Squirl platform is built on Google Maps, which not only means the system should be extremely intuitive to most readers, but also that it incorporates features such as street view. Readers can see where locations are on a map and step into those locations with 360-degree Google Maps views. The Squirl mapping tool also lets authors incorporate excerpts from their books that reference the locations in question, which helps tie the story and its map companion together more completely.
Finally, Squirl Maps offers a unique promotional opportunity for authors and their books. Titles added into the Squirl system automatically show up in the Squirl app, which means any reader can stumble upon any title depending on where they are and what sites they are visiting. In addition to displaying excerpts from books, Squirl Maps also incorporates links to purchase the book in question from Amazon. New maps also have a chance to win a spot on Squirl’s “featured section” for one week, which can enhance the visibility of a book on the platform even further.
Are you interested in giving Squirl a try—either as a reader, an author, or both? You can learn more about the technology at www.squirl.co.
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Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In addition to writing for IndependentPublisher.com, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at manningcr953 (at) gmail.com.