The Underwriting / Online Serial
Beginning on March 5, 2014, a new episode of The Underwriting, a satirical corporate thriller about the IPO of a dating app, was released each Wednesday at midnight Eastern Standard Time. Episodes took about 30 minutes to read and were free for 24 hours in the browser.
Most readers read at lunchtime or in the late afternoon. To avert the attention of interrupting bosses, an Escape button in the upper right corner of the site was provided with a screensaver that looked like work, but was in fact content related to the book, like the IPO’s financial model or one of the character’s food diaries, as well as a weekly email from me to someone with a large twitter following.
For those who missed the free window or lacked ample downtime at the office, episodes could be purchased in kindle, tablet, and audio formats for $1.50. The audio books were particularly popular, and, if I can brag for a second, exceptionally well done, thanks to the contributions of actors Ranjani Brow, Justin Shenkarow, Eddie Ruiz, William Calvert, Ashley Peldon, and Julio de Pietro who read as the six characters through whose points of view the story is told.
People who purchased the episodes got extra perks from our weekly brand sponsors — things like discounts on workout classes from GoRecess, free shave kits from Harry’s, and deals at HotelTonight. All the brands were selected as highly relevant to the world within The Underwriting, and the ever-talented Brooke Botsford worked with company marketing teams to design webpages to showcase how a character might use the brand’s product.
I wrote the manuscript for The Underwriting in the summer of 2013. I’d just quit my job at J.P. Morgan and moved to London for four months, where I camped out in the [generously offered] spare bedrooms of friends across the city and settled into life on my own schedule. One weekend at a Giles Peterson music festival, I had this thought that it would be nice to have musical accompaniment to the story, and convinced my two favorite DJ-cum-consultants, Si Domone and Hayden Wood, to mix weekly playlists that followed the emotional tenor of each episode. They linked up with their friends at MixCloud to get it streamed through the site, and another friend, the gallerist Alexandra Warder, found the immensely talented artist Catherine Parsonages to create album covers for each.
Si introduced me to Dom Hammond, the extraordinary vocalist who was also doing the post-corporate-explore-your-passion thing. He read the draft and composed a title theme song, “Looking Glass”.
There are a lot of characters and scene locations in The Underwriting. To make all of that easier to follow, I made business card bios, and a Pinterest map that called out all the locations in each week’s episode.
Given it’s about an IPO, there’s a lot of finance speak in the story. To explain it, I hit up one of my favorite business school classmates, Nick Hungerford, founder & CEO of NUTMEG, a personal finance website that was just then taking off in London. He generously supplied weekly finance tutorials to guide readers through concepts discussed each week, from the IPO process to how options work.
When I got back to New York, work got going on the website. John Crepezzi masterminded the tech, while the immensely talented Meredith Flynn ran around with Brooke Botsford and me, snapping photos of New York and San Francisco scenery to create our visual aesthetic.
Finally, Aram Rappaport and Windward Entertainment took my book trailer script and made it sing with this whopper of a video trailer, and we were off to the races.
Twelve weeks is at once a very short and very long time, and Brooke Botsford and I filled it by going a little wild with the stealth marketing. Given The Underwriting is about a location-based dating app, it made sense we should have tinder accounts for our characters, so we did that. The rule was we had to mention the website within three flirts. It didn’t always go so well, but it was always a riot.
At week six, we offered a “binge” viewing period where all episodes to date were free for 48 hours. To promote that, we did some book readings but we also spray-chalked the The Underwriting logo outside investment banks in midtown. It was fun, and went well… until it didn’t. Luckily Jarrett McGovern turned the whole thing into a video.
In the midst of all of this, I got connected to Sloan Harris at ICM, who saw me through the experiment before getting the manuscript to Tara Singh-Carlson at Penguin Random House. Tara ultimately acquired the 12 episodes and helped me turn them into a bona fide novel, to be released on May 26, 2015. Meanwhile, twenty foreign publishers picked up the rights, and two of them — Bokfabriken in Sweden and Luitingh-Sijthoff in the Netherlands — ran with the serialization, much to my delight.
My first conception of The Underwriting, way back in 2010, was as a television series, and so I was more than a little thrilled when Endemol/Shine caught wind of it and picked up the TV rights, with whom I’m currently writing the pilot for its silver screen adaptation.
Now that it’s said and done, I feel very convinced of business models that test stories online before adapting them into traditional media, of the opportunity technology and social media present to expand storytelling beyond the page, and of the need for more smart-but-not hard fiction that explores and articulates the experience of the 25-40 year old urban professional. But most of all, I feel grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to play and experiment in this world, and really, really excited to do it again. For updates on what’s to come, sign up for the email list at the top of this page, or follow me on Instagram @xxmichellemiller.