App promises good book tips from respected authors

Elisha Hartwig and Dani Fankhauser are the creators of ReadThisNext. (Courtesy Hollis Wansley)

A common question asked of authors by people at bookstore signings and other literary events is: “What are you reading?”

Sure, there are “If you like this, you’ll like that” recommendations with postage-size jacket images on Amazon, or friends’ preferred reading posts on Goodreads and similar sites.

But a direct book endorsement from a best-selling author whose writing a reader admires is a bell-clanger. Or it’s a killer app – one that doesn’t require more exertion than a few clicks on a mobile device and comes with large, beautiful imagery, which is what ReadThisNext aims to become.

Co-founders Dani Fankhauser and Elisha Hartwig have launched a Kickstarter campaign (running through July 17) for their project, which will rip author blurbs — those chatty one-liners from Author A endorsing Author B’s new release — straight off the printed page and onto a mobile platform.

“I started this because I grew up wandering around in bookstores and picking up books and reading about them,” says Fankhauser, a North Beach resident who recently moved to San Francisco from New York City.

She adds, “A lot of people don’t have friends who’ll give them good recommendations. These will actually be really, really good books.”

Fankhauser says shopping online for books isn’t fun for a number of reasons: jacket images are small and uninspiring, and book titles or covers don’t link directly to author information or that author’s favorite books.

In an era of ease, “advice from the experts — writers — is just too darn hard to access,” she says.

ReadThisNext has secured support in the form of donated reward books for early Kickstarter investors from publishers including Simon and Schuster, Little Brown, Doubleday, Ecco, Random House Publishing Group and others. And Bay Area-based author Molly Antopol is participating: coffee with her in San Francisco has been offered for $750; a handwritten and personalized reading list from her is $100.

Fankhauser – who says her personal reading preferences range from chick lit to Chuck Palahniuk to John Grisham to whatever her business partner tells her “because she has excellent taste” – and Hartwig are starting with a focus on literary fiction, a category including lesser-known but talented authors who might lack big promotional backing. A blurb from a well-known author can give them a much-needed bump.

“There are definitely people in the industry who’re excited about the idea of blurbs,” says Fankhauser. “Authors are loving the idea and readers respond especially to having it all organized in one place.”

The ReadThisNext app will be free and ad supported when it comes out in October.

Fankhauser says she and Hartwig envision future expansion will allow add ons, such as favorite bookstore staff picks arriving in email alerts, and more categories.

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