A Model for Crowdsourced Publishing


Today’s guest post is by Scott Vankirk (@mightyscoo).

As much as we (aspiring authors) tend to get joy and satisfaction vilifying The System, 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), 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?

  • You would want it to be open and transparent.
  • You would design it to be self supporting.
  • 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 threefold:

  1. Publish and sell high-quality books
  2. Create a reviewing and classifying system
  3. 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 would have 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 might look something like this:

  • Writer: 65%
  • Website: 15% (to run site, promote books, print books)
  • Critiquer/Collaborator: up to 20% (agreed beforehand, and writer can also grant from their own percentage)
  • Editor: up to 20% (agreed beforehand, and writer can also grant from their own percentage)

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.

As people perform their roles, their reputation increases or decreases 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 fees for a book based upon the publishing team who worked on it.

A vital function for the site would be to make it easy to find books. People should be able to browse by author, editor, reviews, reviewers, ratings, genre, overall sales and by keywords.

Of course, the devil is in the details, but something along these lines might help increase the quality of self-published books. In addition, it allows everyone with a passion for it to possibly make a little cash on the side. It scales nicely, too. The dam is gone, the murk is cleared and the good fish can be easily spotted.

What do you think? Is it worth trying? Any glaring holes? Let’s discuss in the comments.


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