Collaborative self-publishing?

Essays by Shalon Sims on education, creative writing and literacy

Collaborative self-publishing?

I recently read an interesting blog post about the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. regular publishing that really made me think long and hard about how self-publishing could be made more successful.   The answer that I came up with is a collaborative publishing platform.  I don’t think it has really been done yet, and definitely not in a truly collaborative way.

The problem with self-publishing, and the reason I wouldn’t consider it at this point in my life, is that self-published books haven’t passed the litmus test–they don’t go through the very long and tedious refinement and editing process that occurs when you submit your manuscript to numerous people in the publishing chain.

I myself am a member of, which is an online critiquing group that works on a collaborative principle: you must critique others’ writing to have your writing critiqued.  It works extraordinarily well, in my opinion, and it’s entirely free.

This same method could easily be applied to self-publishing.  For example, each member would be required to put in a certain amount of time and effort to edit AND market other author’s writings, which would not only improve the quality of the book, but would also offer access to all the members’ social networks.  The editing could be done just like a Wiki, with discussions and votes on certain edits, but still giving the author sole discretion to keep any specific edit.

During my research,  I found one writer who had created his own collaborative editing software for a book he was writing (about computer programming) and he stated that he had, on average, 1.7 comments per paragraph!  See his blogpost here.

Some sort of quality control and commitment policy would be necessary in order to ensure the continued success of the platform, but this could easily happen in a collaborative manner, rather than a gate-keeping one.  Voting here would again prove invaluable.

Obviously, the cost of publishing a real book would fall on the author, but there already exist printing houses that print on demand and ebooks are becoming more and more popular.  These two factors would allow the costs of self-publishing a book to remain quite low, until the book really took off, in which case it could be picked up by a regular publisher.

If anyone is interested in this concept, I’d be happy to hear from you.  I’d love to be part of something like this, or even work together with others to make it happen.

Some interesting links:

  • Publishing Collaborative says it’s collaborative but I really have no clue how or why they are using the term collaborative, when in fact they are selling a service as an end-product…  But, it is interesting, none-the-less.
  • Shared-pen truly is collaborative, and actually has the voting process that I mentioned, but it also shares the authorial rights with all who collaborate on the book, which I find odd and prohibitive.   Also, the website is very low-class and definitely doesn’t inspire confidence.
  • The Django Book is an amazing example of a comment system that really has most of the features that I think would be essential for a collaborative self-publishing platform.  Their book was written by and for web-developers, so it has some of the characteristic that make for a successful self-published book already (mainly a niche idea/community and an established network).
  • O’Reilly Labs has created what they call An Open Feedback Publishing System, which appears to be more for professional use, but the links on the page and the ideas they have are very interesting and would prove very useful for fiction publishing as well.
  • Fastpencil is a platform where you can invite your friends/family/collegues/peers to come and help you work on your book, and the service is free until you choose to publish with them.  It seems like a great idea and probably very helpful, but it’s not a true collaborative community, as they are still only offering products and services for a price, and not providing access to a community of people who are required and encouraged to collaborate with you for free, or for your effort in return.


2 Responses

  1. Hi Shalon, Just found your site, very interesting stuff. What I can’t find tho is how you make any money at this writing business, especially when you put your stuff up for free! Can you enlighten me? I’m a greenhorn, so…

    • Shalon says:

      Hi Ted, I definitely do not make any money from this site. I guess I could. I do get quite a bit of traffic, but I absolutely hate seeing ads on websites. Also, I have a real job. And I guess mostly, I write these posts because I want to keep all of the stuff I’m learning in one place. It’s a bit of a reference library for me.

      Hope you found something useful here!

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