Rethinking Agile Publishing

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Over the past 6 months, through my work with Aerbook and Zen of Technology, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the process of publishing.  Traditionally, the consumer interacted with authors well after the book was written, in the form of buying the finished book and occasionally writing to the author.  Sure, there were author signings, but I’ve never been able to get in a few words with an author at such an event.

The web changed things a bit – for the higher-sales authors.  Through personal blogs, GoodReads, and even Amazon comments, authors were able to engage with their audience.  While a few progressive authors and small publishers attempted to embrace early-engagement publishing, few met with success.  (I would technically say that 50 Shades of Grey went through this publishing process.)

Not Everything is as it Seems
I’ll be honest, I stumbled into my conclusion with great serendipity.  Despite my technical background, I’ve always loved writing, and have written quite a few short stories, produced a comic book/webcomic series, and even proposed to my wife by writing her a book.  I haven’t written more than a blog post or technical specifications document in years, so I decided to create a story-telling experiment called “Story Tag.”  The premise was simple – you start a story, then e-mail it to a bunch of writer-friends who continue the story, and respond back.  As the individual stories progress they will most certainly diverge more and more from that initial few paragraphs.  I was excited. 

It flopped…  Sort of…
I sent my story to 16 different people – all writers or lovers of stories.  Beyond a few “this is cool, I’ll respond later,” I actually got zero responses.  After a week, I decided to open it up to twitter.  I got a few retweets and after sending out a few more e-mails, I finally got my first response.

A few e-mails later, the story had head, a body, arms, and legs – and it was off.

Shared Epic Was Born
Five months of back-and-forth between myself and two other authors – Gabs Roman and Andrea Corbin, had produced the beginning of an exciting suspense novel with a bit of science fiction.  While the story itself is quite fun (you can download it for free today through Friday here), I realized that there was something bigger here. That something bigger is SharedEpic.com. Shared Epic is a framework for engagement storytelling and determining interest for larger publishing investment.  

The rules of a Shared Epic are simple:
1) There must be at least two authors
2) The authors must take turns writing parts of the story
3) The story must be publicly viewable and allow for commenting

For #3, we are using a Google Doc (you can see ours here).  We have a website set up, so that if you start your own Shared Epic, we can help share it with the world.

Crowd-sourcing Agile
Shared Epic provides incentives to authors to keep writing.  Having other authors who both rely on you and are encouraging you to write more, is one motivation.  The other is knowing that your document is public and seeing public comments.  Writers who wish to write for the love of writing can do so, but writers looking to write for commercial purposes can quickly and easily gauge if readers are enjoying their content and if it is worth continuing.  Personally, I’d rather know that my book has no audience after writing 5,000 words, than after 50,000 words.  

Once the book is complete, the document can be made private, cleaned up, then turned into an ebook or print book for sale.  The authors have an audience to sell it to, and if a traditional publisher wanted to provide additional assistance, the metrics for engagement and potential audience are clear.

Not for Everyone – But Everyone Can Do It
While the Shared Epic process may not be for everyone – many authors may prefer to work alone or do not wish to make their writing public until it is complete – there are no limitations to who can participate in a Shared Epic.  You could have a story with 100 authors, and all they need is access to the internet to write.  The software is readily available and free within Google Docs.  Also – with the SharedEpic.com portal, it makes it easy for readers who enjoy reading pre-completed material to find new stories to engage with.

Engaging with Traditional Publishing
This process is not just for debut authors – it can be for an established author who is looking to engage with his or her readership, or simply looking to experiment a bit.  In fact, authors could even charge existing readers to take place in such an experience.  Many readers may be willing to pay to get inside of an author’s head, comment on their work while it is being written, and get early access to content.

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