I have a guest post today from a writer who is trying something very different indeed.
Most authors are loathe to share their work while it is in progress for the simple reason that the first draft is often quite different from the polished, finished work.
We often go through multiple drafts, get trusted readers to give their opinions, revise again, get them to read it again, revise further, work on it some more, and then submit it to an editor. Only after the editor’s suggestions have been navigated, and the manuscript has been proofed thoroughly, do we then allow the public to see it.
Even with all that intensive vetting and honing, we always feel nervous about how readers will view the work.
However, one writer is sharing his book as he is writing it. His name is Brett Henley, and I invited him along to explain why. Here’s Brett:
Content exclusivity – the bastard child of rejection – the aged influence that’s held writers in a vice grip for years, convinced that our best work is to be hoarded until the curtain parts and a publisher deems us worthy of sharing for mass consumption.
I’m advocating something entirely different, namely for writers to take this prolific beast of a writing process by the balls and share unfinished and unpolished work.
Because I believe that a community driven narrative, one that encourages authors to share their work WHILE writing a manuscript, could deeply strengthen a story and build a platform for independent success.
The DNA of a community publishing project
So what the hell am I talking about when I say “community-driven” narrative?
Let me break it down to the ideal scenario:
- Author releases raw excerpts from daily/weekly writing jaunts using an online vehicle (blog, twitter, FB, tumblr, podcast, etc.)
- Author cringes as community offers constructive feedback, both positive and not so.
- Author builds strong emotional connection with the community by sharing story and back story, but also by openly sharing the writing process itself, struggles and all.
- Author provides incubator for conversation by empowering community with tools that facilitate open sharing and contribution (being specific on where to share, how to share, tools for community-contributed content, etc.)
- Community becomes deeply invested in the process, helping new readers acclimate to the experience and becoming your most influential advocates within their own networks (hand them a flag and stand back as they wave it).
- Rinse and repeat.
In theory, this publishing model offers increased reader or audience control over the narrative experience, dubbing the “community” co-captain to the content creator.
There is a very real and raw sort of quality to the entire journey that provides a deeper sense of authenticity and a more personal connection with the writer.
If we’re talking ideal model, this would also lead to a stronger audience investment in the story’s success.
Not an expert, but a student
I started this journey with the simple intention of writing a novel. In the 11 months since inception, change has provided constant companionship. This process is still relatively naked to me, as much a “work-in-progress” as the book itself.
i am convicted is the story of the American prison system, in all it’s tentacled and antiquated glory, told from the perspective of a former prisoner who’s found redemption.
It’s consuming, too large at times to simply carve into page and poof, out pops a newborn word baby.
It started morphing and evolving almost immediately. During interviews, I was often distracted by the insertion of new ideas. There were moving images, songs, speaking tours, readings, educational curriculum, podcasts and a host of stuff constantly knifing its way in.
Wheels spun, neuroses at full force. I was hiding and hoarding at the same time I was sharing, a half-ass effort at involving a community in the process, too scripted to be real.
Then the comments came, the encouragement to let go of that last fingertip’s length of grip on the reigns. It still comes back now and again, that gentle tug to regain grip and run into hiding.
The community generally saves me from myself with comments like:
“The mixing will be interesting. As we see bits and pieces, they’re all in one or the other voice, so I’m curious how it will read all together.”
This comment prevented me from diving too deep into an idea to have the narration switch between 1st present and 3rd past in each chapter … it was okay in theory, not in application.
“I challenged my 4302 fb friends to join. Let me know whether they did or didn’t. I know there are many who just jawjack”
When traffic is slow and reactions are sparse – it’s comments like the above that help me crawl out of bed each day and keep fighting.
I originally intended this experiment to include only posting chapters excerpts as they’re written, as well as few photos and videos that would provide more in-depth context.
Now, I’m sharing my routines, my struggles, behind-the-scenes interviews and occasionally advice on managing the novel writing process, as well as full chapters as they’re completed.
I’m literally able to test drive concepts and get feedback before I settle on a definitive direction. Ultimately, the decision is still up to me, but to have an objective opinion that may clue me in on potentially debilitating choices is priceless.
There are more of us
I met a fellow writer during the 140 Conference NYC last June who had already tackled the concept of transparent publishing head on – what she lovingly refers to as “anti-stealth storytelling.”
Michelle Rae Anderson’s The Miracle in July is essentially an online memoir, launched in July of 2009 as a sort of genre-bending experiment – part Web serial, part interactive storytelling experience, part awesome.
She published one chapter per week over a 12 month-ish period, posting the entire manuscript to her site before self-publishing the first draft as an author-signed, 300+ page book. Each chapter of the digital serial is chock full of embedded media, from photos and videos to interactive maps related to the story.
She and I have talked often about “redefining” the model for authors, less in how we publish finished work (which writers like David, Joe Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, etc. are doing quite well on the indie side) and more in how we write AND how we build an audience for our work.
There are more of us out there that are releasing work as we create, some even quite commercially successful (see Machine Man by Max Berry for best example, who Michelle turned me on to).
I’m nowhere near the first to advocate a transparent writing process … and I can promise you that I certainly won’t be the last.
to be worthy of recognition – a final word to the wise
I doubt you’ll find legacy pubs who’ll advocate for transparent publishing (they have a hard enough time with indies going it alone). I imagine most would argue that writers absolutely NEED a publisher’s marketing repertoire to have a prayer and hope for success; most would also argue that a writers work should remain carefully hidden until we follow steps 1-1,011 to spit-shine our manuscripts for the literary conveyor belt.
I imagine publishers would also be afraid of this level of author transparency, simply because it further dilutes their control.
But this post isn’t about launching into another anti-legacy diatribe. It’s about writers taking control of the entire process through positive, open and beautiful movement.
So … if I can part a single, simple truth from my tiny window with a view, it’s this:
Don’t wait for the publishing world to catch up, and don’t rely on aged metholodologies for success.
Kick the doors down before they can be opened.
About Brett Henley
Brett is the author of i am convicted, a work-in-progress novel using a blog to transparently tell the story of Andy Dixon, an ex-felon who spent nearly three decades in the Tennessee prison system. You can join the conversation at i am convicted, Twitter and Facebook.
Brett is also working on two additional “in utero” pieces to be self-published in 2012 – a children’s book about the dangers of chasing perfection and a novella for the Kindle about a telepathic mustache …