Open source your novel
Novels should be born free
If you write you probably think that writing is something that should be done in isolation, in a cabin in the woods, and, if possible, smelling rotten apples. Nobody should ever know about what you’ve done, until that demigod, the agent, receives that most precious of objects, the manuscript, and anoints you with the wreath of a publishing contract with a book publisher.
I am sorry to tell you, that’s not gonna happen. Yes, it has happened and will happen all over again, for you, and yes, for you, you champ! But not for the rest of us. The tired, the poor and the huddled masses of persons typing happily away at their word processor. If you want to publish something, you’ll have to publish it yourself. Which means that all the things described above will have to be done by yourself.
You are talking about you, don’t you? Because I’m writing the Great American Novel and I’m gonna get me a contract with one of the Two Big Publishing Houses.
Yeah, right. While you’re waiting for their FedEx contract, let me go back a few years, to the eighties. You weren’t born back them, but I was and also Richard Stallman, who started to free software from what we could call the software publishing houses. He talked about four freedoms, but it also meant that the software writer could control the whole process of creation, from inception to distribution. In fact, he asserted that control by giving freedoms to users, including the freedom to copy, change, and distribute changes with it.
Please bear with me here.
Copy, change and distribute my very own novel, which I wrote in the dark while I was smelling salted cod? What the blazing hell are you talking about?
It so happens I’m precisely talking about that. But please bear with me here.
Free software didn’t really take off until some guy called Linus Torvalds came and created a whole operating system called Linux. And it was free. Not only it was free, it was friggin’ great. And an operating system is not a short story. It’s not a novella. It’s a whole friggin’ Freedom meets The Pale King. So why would anybody want to write something and give it for free? Not only for free, but so that anybody could modify, change, distribute it and call it funny names like Mageia or Ubuntu? Maybe he couldn’t find a publisher. But maybe, just maybe, he wanted people to learn from what he had done, and also build on that; also spot its errors and fix them (hey, it’s free as in freedom, you can as well give back) and build on it to create the Greatestest American Encyclopedia Profusely Illustrated (Director’s Cut). And also he wanted to be loved and create a good thing, even if it’s not only your own. Well, it kinda is, but it’s also been changed and maybe even improved by others so it becomes a collective work. Or rather, a collective Work of Art.
Wait, you’re talking about that creative commons thing, right?
Yes, but not only. Many excellent writers, the Corys, the Strosses, out there, publish their stuff with a Creative Commons licence. It’s not exactly open source: they publish it with a CC license when they’re finished and when it’s already too late to ask for collaborators to help you with the process or even do it as peers. What I’m talking about is writing an open source novel from scratch (as I’m doing with Hoborg and some other guys have done out there) and invite people to share from the very beginning. To not write in the dark, but in full light (and minus the salted cod). To engage people from the beginning to help you with their tools, their fixes, their ideas, their criticism, their piece of research that can help you go forward, their paragraphs and whole chapters and their distribution and publishing as a collaborative work.
You want people to put their dirty hands in my novel? Why would I want to do that again? I don’t even want them to read until they pay for it! Not even know I’m doing anything even remotely related to writing! I’m fact, if they ask I use to tell them I’m picking my nose. So as they keep theirs off me. Did you like that? I know, I’m great, that’s why I’m a writer
There are many reasons why, but I’m giving you just two: quality and productivity. The traditional publishing method guarantees that even if the product is not great, it’s at least typo free. The best way to guarantee that is engage readers and have them when they want and if they want, do it for you (you might eventually do it yourself, but if you don’t open your novel, you can’t go around publishing autographed books when it gets published to have people copy-edit them). And given the actual publishing environment, becoming ramen profitable is impossible if you devote days on end to write all your stuff. Best way is to write stuff in collaboration (using GitHub maybe), same way movie and sitcom scripts are doing right now (minus the freedom), letting everybody play by its skills, one is good at dialogues, another good at characters, another good at cranking lines out or creating cliffhangers.
Change in industry implies change of production methods. And writing is very much like developing software; the open source movement and methodology helped the software community create great things; it will help writers too; it’s helping me already. You will eventually find out that’s true. But until you do, you might as well start learning the tools.