Thinking large

I have to admit, I have no idea where I found this link. I saved this post to the “Reading List” in Safari earlier in the week, but didn’t save the place I linked from, so I apologize for the lack of credit!
No matter where I found it, it’s a piece worth reading. As I know I’ve mentioned on the blog before, I think we all need to expand our minds when it comes to the e-book revolution. With better and cheaper tablet technology flooding the market, there’s more opportunity to create products that take advantage of the power and connectivity of those devices. While many of the ideas in the post interest me, the one that strikes me as most achievable and productive in the short term is continuously updating content. It made me think of a book like Game Change, and how that could have been a regularly-updating book as it was being written. In fact, I’d be willing to pay quite a bit if Heilemann and Halperin were to cover the upcoming election in a similar way, but with new content being delivered as the race unfolds. I’d still want something more comprehensive and reflective after the fact, but why couldn’t the book be both? The technology is certainly there.
I think it could work for fiction, too. There are a few authors to whom I’d pay a handsome amount for a continuously updating story. How about a novel fed to readers in serialized chunks, but delivered as the author writes it, not just doled out slowly once the book is written. An author and editor could agree on an outline and number of chapters, but each chapter would be delivered, edited, and then automatically uploaded to readers as it was written. Not only would it be unique, but it would also encourage readers to read along at the pace the story is delivered, opening up great social networking possibilities as readers discuss the latest twists and turns.
I’m so excited about the possibilities for publishing and books, and I’m even more excited to be a part of it. Are you enjoying the ride?

16 Responses to Thinking large

  1. Hillsy says:

    Didn’t Brandon Sanderson do something like that with WarBreaker? Actually, they were first drafts as it was written and then updated edits as they were completed…but, well, it has kinda been done.

    I’ll be very surprised, what with e-books and the pricing “race to the bottom” that appears to be going on, if we don’t see the return of the serialised or episodic style of story writing. Kind of like a TV series when compared to the polished *wallop* of a blockbuster film.

    I mean if I thought I could get an audience for it, I’d definately consider producing, say, a 10000 word novella each month for 99cents with the same characters, self-contained but tracing a larger arc through the series.

    • Michael says:

      There’s nothing new under the sun, as they say. The emerging technology just makes these things that much easier, which always gets me excited.


      • Hillsy says:

        Sorry Michael, just read it back and realised the tone was a bit snappy…I was more just tipping a fact out of my brain…=0)

        But yeah I agree the new tech will open up a whole new way of doing things….listened to a podcast when they were talking about interactive books with videos and commentary to explain things further if the reader wants to (although the concensus was it would only work for certain types of fiction). Interesting times.

  2. I’m not really sure if I want to read someone’s rambling, unedited first draft. And how much would I have to pay? $.99 seems to be the lowest price… but that adds up quick if you’re reading chapters. I’m not paying $30 for a rambling first draft for SURE.

    • Michael says:

      For fiction, it wouldn’t be rambling or unedited. My vision is definitely for an edited project, just one that is edited first in conceit, then chapter-by-chapter, as opposed to as a whole.

      As for paying for it, why not pay one fee up front instead of by chapter?


  3. NoMinutesHate says:

    I’m pretty sure that’s what Stephen King did with Green Mile, writing and publishing a new installment about once a month. Yes, if that were done today people would break Twitter when each new installment came out, but it would have to be THAT good (and from a name THAT big didn’t hurt). I wonder if the writer would feel pressure to adjust the story based on the reaction from the social network.

  4. Max Barry did something similar with his latest, Machine Man. Over the course of nine months, he sent out a page a day to his subscribers, 5 days a week. He eventually went on to publish the finished work, but I loved opening up my inbox every day with a new page from him. It kept me engaged in the book.

  5. Richard says:

    For me, writing is not a sequential process. I write scenes out of order. Not sure I’d want to read the climax of a novel before the beginning! I think many writers create in layers, not chapters.

  6. Catherine Whitney says:

    I agree with you about big-picture thinking, but I don’t like the Game Change example. In non-fiction we have to ask what distinguishes a book from an article from a column from a blog. I’ve written in most formats, and writing a non-fiction book–yes, self-contained–is a challenge unlike any other. The idea of providing running updates leaves me cold; isn’t that what blogs and articles are for? I’m always willing to put together a new intro or epilogue, but the soul of the book is stable.

  7. Emily says:


    Of course you no doubt picked up the link from a secondary source, but the link itself takes a reader to the primary source — a WordPress blog titled “A New Kind of Book; Principles & Practices” by Peter Meyers.

    His “About” page tells it all —

    As for the expansion of what constitutes a book, I don’t think the current technology or presentation platform has even begun to touch the potential.

    For me, a retired writer, with a tilt toward technology, I am creating a vBook — a little item that combines original material, video, audio, original art images, text and still photos. It’s my little experiment to discover if I can package a 20 page publication with a mini-DVD in a way that could be marketed on a book-store shelf as well as downloaded from online.

    Of course, I am not the only one doing this. I’ve seen a similar concept posted on those sites where creative types seek funding for their project. I think what distinguishes my attempt from some of those, is my long career in non-fiction publishing and professional writing. Hopefully I will be able to manage my metaphors, and sentence structure in a unified manner and avoid some of the really, really, armature mistakes one sees online.

    OK — this may be more than you wanted to know — but there it is. The world of books is enlarging as never before. There are no historic precedents for what we have before us now. Unfortunately, it will unfold in full after I’m gone and I do so want to see where it goes! I am haunted by a Kurt Vonnegut quote, “I ask myself about the present, how wide it is, how deep and how much of it is mine to keep.”

  8. AudryT says:

    The truth is, most prose stories used to be serials. Newspapers put out many of the great “novelists” in regular installments for on-going serializations until a story had either exhausted itself or wrapped up as the author originally planned for it to. Dumas, Dickens…many of the writers whose words we worship had to write on the spur of the moment, turn in chapters on a weekly or monthly basis, and work to intense, year-long schedules that we ourselves are mostly unfamiliar with. Both great art and entertainment for the masses have been produced this way. It’s about time we got back to this form of storytelling, now that we have the best tool ever made for serials (the internet) readily available to everyone.

    Quite a few people are already experimenting with serial prose formats — largely on their own, since the big six in publishing are taking so damn long to get around to it. If publishers (and agents) want to be a part of the inevitable shift toward serialization, they need to get off their asses and do more than one or two “experimental” projects at a time, find more than one “experimental” author to support at a time. They need to have imprints dedicated entirely to serialization, fully staffed with both veteran editors and new talent that is willing to push experimentation to its edge. They also need to avoid the temptation to do everything “in-house” by hiring staff writers to handle the load or functioning in the way book packagers like Alloy do, owning the whole property, rather than having the author own it. Have a contract that benefits everyone, yes, but if publishers try to own everything writers create online, writers will quickly decide they don’t need publishers at all — whether or not that’s true.

    I have always written stories of a serial nature, and I spent the early years of my life trying to force my natural tendencies into the “novel” box by writing stories that were x-words long, followed expected novel templates from opening to denoument, and could fit under convenient genre labels in stores. But now, I don’t see the point. If an idea works as a novel, then I will certainly write it as one, but if an idea is born to be on-going, with loads of chapter cliffhangers and built on an open-ended plot, why try to fit that star-shaped peg into a boring, round hole? These days, if my work is a serial, I plan it as a serial, and write it in an episodic format, even though I know there is nowhere to submit it yet, and no appealing way to monetize it.

    There are plenty of writers like me who are looking for a publisher to work with on our projects. We are serious, career writers who prefer to work in a professional environment that will improve and polish our work. But where are the publishers publicly promoting aggressive, company-wide efforts to procure and distribute serials? Seriously, we can put “serial” e-books on Amazon this instant if we want, but we can’t submit serial proposals to the big six for serious consideration?

    Tell your peers in publishing that many of us would rather not self-publish our serials (or, at least, not the ones that would benefit from being worked on by a professional team), but we WOULD like to make a living, and have careers, before we become old ladies, so if they would kindly get off their duffs and take action, we would love to bring our work to them and begin the serialization revolution on a massive scale.

    And please tell them, if they don’t do it, one of these lovely indie/small publishers will do it, faster and better, and dominate the market before they ever have the chance to.

  9. Rowan says:

    Speaking from a writer’s point-of-view, even though I write linearly I still go back and rewrite the first part of the story a number of times before I’m done. Serializing would not suit the way I work.

    I think we’ll get a lot more serials in future. I’m reading one now. It’s in ten parts, with a new part each month. It’s up to part eight, and I’m starting to wish that I’d waited until all the parts were available because I like to read the whole story in one go.

    This writer, incidentally, wrote the whole thing before it was serialized.

    However, I did pay $30 for the whole ten, which even at 200,000+ words (which I’m thinking it is), is a lot more than I’d pay for a book of the same.

  10. Emily says:

    OK — This is a BIG topic!

    So here goes round #2.

    Not just writers — but the market must be considered too.

    Contemplate this: A friend of mine who owned an extremely profitable ‘pay-phone’ business went broke in the 1990s because of the rise of cell phones.

    The foundation for cell phone communication now exists in Africa, South America, Asia, — world wide in other words.

    If cell phones, can eReaders be far behind?

    The market for humans telling each other stories began in the Ice Age and probably sooner, but we have some terrific Cave Art dating many thousands of years ago. What was that all about? Art for art’s sake? Hardly.

    Those old guys were telling stories.

    Stories will not fade from human domains — paper and print may fade — but stories will go on — and the digital market place is expanding geometrically.

  11. Kaitlyne says:

    I think the biggest problem with serializing is that it requires an author capable of writing not only in order, but without making any major changes at all in the course of the book.

    I know a lot of people could probably pull that off, but there have been too many times where something early on ends up creating a plot hole in the end and needs to be rewritten, or where I discover that there need to be scenes added. Characters that aren’t fully developed, plot points that need more explanation, etc.

    That sort of thing can be easily edited once the entire book is finished, but that’s not possible if the first parts have already been released to readers. From a quality perspective, I think I’d rather wait until the entire book could be viewed as a whole and flaws corrected.

  12. I tend to take this from the writer’s perspective and agree with Richard, Rowan, and Kaitlyne: if you don’t write stories in a linear fashion, the serialized book idea is not for you. Since I don’t, the idea of being pressured by the market to work that way frankly horrifies me. I frequently don’t know what a novel is about before I’ve reached the end, and then rewrite front-to-back to create the illusion that I knew where I was going all along. I also don’t like sharing chapters along the way because I really don’t want input at that point, because input is as likely to kill my enthusiasm for a project as spur it on. Plus, I don’t need my head filled with a bunch of competing notions of where the story “should go.” And yes, in grade school, I rarely did well in “plays well with others.”

    That all said, I’m also a little perplexed at where the attraction of reading a serialized novel would be from a reader’s perspective. Who enjoys coming to the end of a really engaging chapter (perhaps with a cliffhanger ending) and thinks, “Thank God I can’t just keep going.” That might be enjoyable for some in the SM crowd, but I don’t see it being real popular in the “I want it now” world we live in.

    The bottom line: to each his/her own, just don’t make me do something I don’t want to.

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