Collaborative self-publishing?

Collaborative self publishing within a social network

I recently read an interesting blog post about the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. regular publishing that really made me think long and hard about how self-publishing could be made more successful.   The answer that I came up with is a collaborative publishing platform.  I don’t think it has really been done yet, and definitely not in a truly collaborative way.

The problem with self-publishing, and the reason I wouldn’t consider it at this point in my life, is that self-published books haven’t passed the litmus test–they don’t go through the very long and tedious refinement and editing process that occurs when you submit your manuscript to numerous people in the publishing chain.

I myself am a member of Critters.org, which is an online critiquing group that works on a collaborative principle: you must critique others’ writing to have your writing critiqued.  It works extraordinarily well, in my opinion, and it’s entirely free.

This same method could easily be applied to self-publishing.  For example, each member would be required to put in a certain amount of time and effort to edit AND market other author’s writings, which would not only improve the quality of the book, but would also offer access to all the members’ social networks.  The editing could be done just like a Wiki, with discussions and votes on certain edits, but still giving the author sole discretion to keep any specific edit.

During my research,  I found one writer who had created his own collaborative editing software for a book he was writing (about computer programming) and he stated that he had, on average, 1.7 comments per paragraph!  See his blogpost here.

Some sort of quality control and commitment policy would be necessary in order to ensure the continued success of the platform, but this could easily happen in a collaborative manner, rather than a gate-keeping one.  Voting here would again prove invaluable.

Obviously, the cost of publishing a real book would fall on the author, but there already exist printing houses that print on demand and ebooks are becoming more and more popular.  These two factors would allow the costs of self-publishing a book to remain quite low, until the book really took off, in which case it could be picked up by a regular publisher.

If anyone is interested in this concept, I’d be happy to hear from you.  I’d love to be part of something like this, or even work together with others to make it happen.

Some interesting links:

  • Publishing Collaborative says it’s collaborative but I really have no clue how or why they are using the term collaborative, when in fact they are selling a service as an end-product…  But, it is interesting, none-the-less.
  • Shared-pen truly is collaborative, and actually has the voting process that I mentioned, but it also shares the authorial rights with all who collaborate on the book, which I find odd and prohibitive.   Also, the website is very low-class and definitely doesn’t inspire confidence.
  • The Django Book is an amazing example of a comment system that really has most of the features that I think would be essential for a collaborative self-publishing platform.  Their book was written by and for web-developers, so it has some of the characteristic that make for a successful self-published book already (mainly a niche idea/community and an established network).
  • O’Reilly Labs has created what they call An Open Feedback Publishing System, which appears to be more for professional use, but the links on the page and the ideas they have are very interesting and would prove very useful for fiction publishing as well.
  • Fastpencil is a platform where you can invite your friends/family/collegues/peers to come and help you work on your book, and the service is free until you choose to publish with them.  It seems like a great idea and probably very helpful, but it’s not a true collaborative community, as they are still only offering products and services for a price, and not providing access to a community of people who are required and encouraged to collaborate with you for free, or for your effort in return.

6 Responses to Collaborative self-publishing?

  1. Shalon,

    I followed your link from the Critters Forum. I actually went to the forum with the idea of posting a very similar idea. The Publishing industry is going through a crisis right now. Every crisis offers opportunity. Legacy publishing only pays the author about 18% of the cost of a published book. Publishers have been taking advantage of authors for years. Now they are pulling back and only publishing known writers. That leaves new and midlist writers in the cold but it also stagnates the industry. No one wins.

    Writers can wait and see what happens. Eventually the system will work its way out, probably to our disadvantage…again. Or we can take the bull by the horns, creating a system, ourselves, that works for us.

    My idea was to work under the guild model which is similar to the way lawyers work. Experienced lawyers create a law office. They become the senior partners. They then recruit lawyer who just passed their Bar Exam and train them. Lawyers make some money from the cases they try, but most of the money goes toward the law firm and is distributed between the lawyers. The senior partner gets a greater percentage than the lower partners and apprentices but everyone gets a paycheck every month even though the average lawyer only tries about 1-2 cases a year.

    Authors could work with a similar structure. Let’s say 12 writers with similar style form a guild. They critique each others work and share advice and encouragement. When they vote to elevate a novel, pool their resources to hire an editor, book artist, etc. Self publish the book to Amazon but the proceeds go to the group in general. The author is then paid the lion’s share of the proceeds but some of the money is kept to reimburse the other authors who invested and to create a pool of money for the next writer. Eventually the group can hire a full time editor, and publicist. They work to create a web presence for everyone in the group.

    As the group becomes more skilled and has more publicity, readers come to the collective website for new books. Eventually there is a steady income for all the authors from everyone’s published books. They then work toward purchasing their own hard copy publishing equipment or contracting with a publisher.

    Eventually the initial members become financially stable enough and savvy enough to seek new writers. These writers and coached and helped until they rise to the level of the older writers. They are supported by the older writers until they get there but then a portion of their book sales goes to the older writers in the group, completing the cycle.

    The writers are in charge. They publish quality literature. The publisher, editor, web developer are consultants. Every wins.

    I am very interested in starting such a group and in discussing similar possibilities and ideas.

    • Shalon says:

      Hi T.P.
      Thanks for your comment! I wrote this post so long ago, I had almost forgotten about it. I think I’ve seen you around Critters–no?

      Well, it sounds like you have a very detailed idea of how your collective publishing platform would work and it seems really interesting. It’s quite a bit different from what I had in mind, which was collaborative in nature and not hierarchical. If anything, hierarchy was what I wanted to avoid. I imagined things to be quite like they are on critters, except for a lot more technology that would allow detailed wikis of edits and discussions about edits, within the actual document, and public, for all people working on the edits to see, discuss, argue about and even vote on. I saw this being a really large group–the larger the better–1000s of people, and all of it being quite anonymous, just like it is on Critters.

      My question to you is, who would be considered ‘experienced’? Does this imply someone who has already published a book, because that is the only definition of experienced that I would really accept. I wouldn’t consider someone my elder, in the writing world, just because they were ‘older’. If someone had been published, then I guess they wouldn’t need this collective though?

      In my opinion, this would only work if the ‘elders’ of this group were be elders by default, because they had set the group up, not because they were in some intangible way better, and certainly not because they were older. If anything, older people are more out of touch with what the modern world would pay for in a book than younger people are. New people to the group would automatically be ‘juniors, because they were new to the group and hadn’t paid their dues.

      I like your idea, and I think it could work, but I have reservations about the system you devised–in terms of the hierarchy. I think I would only participate in something so hierarchical if I truly admired the other writers in the group. Like, if I really felt they were super-skilled and their stories were to die for. Do you know what I mean?

      • Shalon,
        Thank you for the prompt reply!

        I would like to see if we couldn’t get more people involved in the discussion. Perhaps we could repost our conversation on the critters site as well. If you post your reply above, I’ll repost what I have below.

        I imagined things to be quite like they are on critters, except for a lot more technology that would allow detailed wikis of edits and discussions about edits, within the actual document, and public, for all people working on the edits to see, discuss, argue about and even vote on. I saw this being a really large group–the larger the better–1000s of people, and all of it being quite anonymous, just like it is on Critters.

        This is an interesting idea, but I’m still skeptical. Critiquing, good critiquing, is hard work. Often I don’t want to read the things I read on Critters. Rarely do I enjoy what I read there. The stories frequently have fatal flaws and then there is the syntax, sentence structure, etc. Reading carefully and pointing out the problem in a gentle fashion, AND coming up with a suggestion to improve the writer’s style is hard work. There are times writers can’t get one person on Critters to look at their work let alone thousands.

        I don’t think I could sort through thousands of comments on my work to make sense of them, and grow as a writer. If you submitted something to the web and just let it be edited in a Wiki, would it turn out better than what a gifted writer would write? Or would all the writing produced in that way eventually become sort of generic? I think they would tend toward the generic. Gifted writers surprise us and make us think new thoughts. A Wiki version of a novel is unlikely to achieve that.

        If anything, older people are more out of touch with what the modern world would pay for in a book than younger people are.

        Ouch. Little bit of an age discrimination problem don’t you think?

        Actually, I think I only used the word “older’ once in reference to people who had been in the guild longer than new comers. The assumption was that the people in the group had become successful, published authors. These would be the people who had developed skills that they could pass on. They would also offer some financial stability to new authors. Allowing them to write and learn the craft while financially supporting and guiding them. Right now, that is not an option for most budding writers. In return, the new authors give up a portion of the proceeds of their future work. Giving older authors security in their old age.

        At some point the new authors become the experienced writers in the guild and they will be expected to pass on their skills and knowledge, completing the cycle. Much like the ancient Masons of Medieval Europe.

        hierarchy was what I wanted to avoid.

        Being an anarchist, myself, I understand that sentiment. But I would point out that submission to a machine is less desirable than submission to a more knowledgeable person. If I put my work on a Wiki service, I am allowing the consensus to take it and do what it will. I am in a subordinate role there, too. The down side of that submission is that it is not as personal. If a more experienced writer critiques my work and says my pacing is off, then shows me what she means and how to fix it, I grow as a writer. It is still my decision to change my work or not. It is still my decision how to change my work. If a Wiki program sums the total of opinion and changes the work, do I learn anything? Do I grow? Is my next work better? Can I say more, make the reader feel more with my next work? I don’t think I would.

        I also realize that it takes about $2000-$3000 to publish a serious e-book and way more than that to publish and hard or soft copy run. How does your plan deal with the up front cost? Is there a plan to help new writers have time to write or are we forever doomed to the second job and midnight writing?

        We still live in a capitalist society, despite my wishes and perhaps yours. I want to see writers be able to have time to write in the system we have. Perhaps enough time to write and they can write about changing the whole system away from hierarchy all together

        TP.

      • Lucas Gramajo says:

        I love this idea. I’m a bit late to the post but I’ve PMed Shalon just now. I’m also a Critters member.

        I found another related link. Not really what we’re talking about, but getting closer.

        http://www.webook.com/

      • I’m no longer with Critters. I’ve moved over to Scribophile now.

        I love this link.This is close to what I had in mind, but with authors taking the lead, not agents. Being an anarchist, I still think those who do the work should own the work.

  2. Stephen Hu says:

    $author, great information! Learnt a lot from it….

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