Friday, December 7, 2007

Books and Future Shock

In reading my library journals yesterday, I came across a couple of interesting things. First, there's a group called The Institute for the Future of the Book. They introduce themselves this way in their mission statement: "The printed page is giving way to the networked screen. The Institute for the Future of the Book seeks to chronicle this shift, and impact its development in a positive direction." I laughed at their description of themselves as a "think-and-do tank" as opposed to a plain old think tank, meaning they're not only looking at talking about the future of the book, but they're actively involved in the changes.

As part of this, they've had several "networked books" authored through their site. This is a pretty new concept to me. These authors seek public response and input BEFORE they publish their book in its final form, so they can react to suggestions, include input, and change errors as part of the process.

One of the current projects is a book called The Googlization of Everything: How One Company is Disrupting Culture, Commerce, and Community...And Why We Should Worry. The author, Siva Vaidhyanathan, will literally be putting the book together online. He will share related articles and ideas, chapter headings, etc., and asked for public input--which will affect the final form of the book.

In an interview, Vaidhyanathan explained, "What I am after here is instant peer review. I want the readers of the blog to give me instant feedback and corrections on the claims I am making as I propose them. When I am all done with the manuscript, I want to have confidence that most of my claims and assessments have been tested among a very informed public. I am not allowing readers to alter my text. I am allowing them to comment on my text and argue with each other about the direction I am going in." (interviewed by Wendy Melillo, Adweek, October 15, 2007)

I think this is an excellent approach to writing nonfiction books. It makes sense to get as much input as possible during the writing process, before everything is more or less set in stone. But what about fiction, I wondered? I have vaguely heard of some fiction writers putting their novel online in the form of a blog or wiki as they write. It might not be bad to have reader input during the process--but would publishers then say the book has already been published and not be willing to accept it? The difference between a novel and the project that Vaidhyanathan is doing is that he isn't posting the actual book--just ideas, chapter headings, small excerpts, etc.

I'm interested to hear what you all think, especially as this might apply to fiction writing.