Thursday, January 26, 2012

Crowdsourced publishing

I have a follow on post to this one titled Crowdsourced Publishing Take II take a look at that when you are finished with this one.

As much as we (aspiring authors) tend to get joy and satisfaction vilifying The System (see my earlier post ) the problem is not really the publishing houses nor the agents that feed them, nor their unhelpful rejection letters. The problem is the sheer number of us. Just about everyone has something to say, a story to tell. Even if you only count the good ones (like mine :), there are simply not enough publishing houses, or agents, to handle them.  Traditional publishing is the dam between the great lake of writers and the vast ocean of readers. 

With the advent of real opportunities in the self publishing world, (see John Locke or Amanda Hawking or Joe Konrath for details) that dam is starting to crack.  When it finally goes completely, there will be a deluge of books flooding the reader ocean. Pushing the metaphor to its breaking point, we are going get the standard bass, salmon and trout - even the ones stuck behind the dam before - but we will also get the catfish (some people like them) the crayfish (same) the bottom slugs (ick),  insect larvae, bits of branches (huh?), and rocks.  Don't forget the mud: this dam break is going to muddy the waters something fierce.   That's going to hamper our fishing for quite a while. If you can't tell if a book is a bass or a rock, you risk going hungry.  So the question is, how do you clear away the mud and bring the good fish to the top where they are easy pickings?

The answer is 'Crowdsourced Publishing'.  OK, so back to our tortured metaphor...  no? OK, we will drop the metaphor. Reality is metaphoric enough all by itself.  Wikipedia is the original, and the most stunningly successful, crowdsourced application to date.  Its store of knowledge is staggering.  It's even got a great definition of crowdsourcing.

So how would this crowdsourced publishing work?  First, you would want it to be open and transparent, second, you would design it to be self supporting, third, you would make it as inclusive as possible.  There should be tools available that will allow any of the hundreds of existing reading/writing/publishing sites to become affiliates with the ability to participate in the crowd.

The goal of this site would be 3-fold, publish and sell high-quality books, create a reviewing and classifying system, let people who help make a little bit of money.

This site would offer membership to anyone who wants one. Any member of this site has an opportunity to participate in the publishing pipeline in one or more roles.  The goal of all these roles is to get a story published. Each person that is involved with a book project will receive some of the revenues from the sale of these books.  The roles and their percentage of the revenues from a sale would look something like this:

Role                                                    Revenue %
Writer                                      base     70%
Critiquer/Collaborator            up to     20% (writer writer can grant from their 50% (agreed beforehand)
Editor  (copy or story)            up to    20% same as above.
Pr-release Reviewers  up to    05%
Post-release Reviewers           up to    10% (anyone who buys and review’s a book gets a discount on                                                                             their next purchase)   
Website                                   straight 15% (money to run site, promote books, publish paper books.
Reader                                     gets great books.

Each member of the website would register for the roles they are willing to perform.  Authors would  put together a team to perform all the necessary roles in the publishing process. All members of the team gain reputation points based upon book sales and upon grades awarded by other members of the team.  Reviewers are graded by book buyers based on the strength of their review and by the number of people who find their review helpful.

As people perform their roles, their reputation will increase or decrease accordingly.  This means that someone can have a high reputation as a critiquer but a low reputation as an editor.  The higher the reputation, the more in demand a person will become.  As time goes on, people will get better and better feels for a book based upon the publishing team who worked on it.

 To make it work I would expect that there would be ratings given to several aspects of a book.
These might include (-5 to 5):  plot, characters, editing, voice, accuracy of reviews.

A vital function for the site would be to make it easy to find books.  People can browse by author, editor, reviews, reviewers, ratings, genre, overall sales and by keywords.  This would allow people to browse through the book lists and find ones that they might like.  This alone would help the good books get publicity.  Then the website would use its 15% to pay for the upkeep, web-guys and publicity for the site and individual books.  It would also serve as a distributor to other sites and channels for the work.

There are details to be ironed out, but something along these lines would likely be a good way to increase the quality of self-published books and allow everyone to (maybe) make a little cash on the side.  It also scales nicely, the more members, the more people who will be willing to fulfill each role, the more books that could be published.   Bottleneck gone.

What do you think?  Is it worth trying?  Any glaring holes?  Let me know.


  1. There were a lot of comments posted on Jane Friedman's blog when it was placed there as a guest blog. You can see them at:

  2. I'm in. I like this idea. The ability to draw a team of people who already have a track record would be a huge draw to the new project maker.

    1. Alexander, that's great to hear. It looks like you've been working like this with the authors on your website. I checked out your site, unfortunately, it went down as I was exploring around. I would love to chat with you if you have some time.

      Meanwhile check out . I'd never heard of them before I wrote the blog, but the site they have created is uncannily close to what I have described. They suffer from a serious lack of the sort of community building features that they need to grow but it is thought provoking. My experiences there suggest that they need a hugely bigger group of people for this to work.

      While you're there you can take a look at a short story I wrote with input from another author on the site. A Curacao Dive It's entered into a contest there. :)