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.


Posted in Digital Media, Guest Post and tagged , , .

Scott VanKirk is a serial entrepreneur. He spent two decades on the bleeding edge of computer programming as a consulting engineer. During that time, he developed online gaming software, websites and commodities trading systems. For the last five years, Scott ran a five-million dollar per year solar energy company, selling, designing, and installing photovoltaic or solar thermal systems. Scott has written six novels in the science fiction, children’s fantasy and urban fantasy genres.

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Matthew Turner

Very cool post, and the idea is a great one. It’s one of those things that could become huge but would need so many things going it’s way (mainly luck). It’s ultimately going up against the Amazon’s and Apple’s of the world, which is terrifying. 

Yet these things happen in forums all the time (a writer shows toa  critique, and maybe even gets someone to design their cover) so why could something with some actual structure behind it not work?

I for one would love it and it’s something you can only hope happens. Sign me up Scott 🙂

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

Scott VanKirk

Thanks Matt!  Just think Wikipedia VS.  Britannica

Caroline Gerardo

You need to add the computer web-builder who can write HTML5, the SEO expert to make the website nimble enough for topic search on a tablet or cell phone (not index searched), a publicist marketing expert who shouts gaming fun fabulous circus content to draw readers… and two million in start up funds. How can you interview each and every person involved as to the quality of thier work, the passion in their belly and the work ethic they demonstrate? If you don’t build a team of excellent people from the artist who does covers, editor who likes all genres etc… Read more »


Hi Caroline, If this were a standard business proposal, I would heartily agree with everything you’ve said, but what we want to tap into the enthusiasm and passion of the writers and readers.  Think more Wikipedia and YouTube than Amazon.  With proper crowdsourcing, the crowd itself becomes the source of talent, the guardians of quality and the marketing department – all in one

Steve Gaskin

This is spooky. I was working on just such an idea a few months back, in some areas with almost exactly the same implementation, but I abandoned it for one reason: no one should give away the rights to their work. Assume someone took a 5% share of the royalties to typeset a print version; they then have an interest if the author wanted to sign a print deal with a major. Contractually it’s a nightmare. I love the idea in principle – getting skilled creatives working together on a common goal – but I just can’t see a way… Read more »

Scott VanKirk

I’m not really thinking that the authors would give up their rights to anything.  If an author signs a deal with a major league agent/publisher then they are a great success for the site.    

Sen Sandip

The big issue is the marketing costs…publisher discounts are 40% to 50% that is the trade margin for physical books which have scalable volumes. … crowdsource could work perhaps only for e books

Scott VanKirk

I’m not sure that is true.  If we were to get 10% of the 500,000 aspiring authors excited and mildly involved in this, that is a pretty huge base for viral marketing.


This is great but as he says ‘the devil is in the details.’ I’m self-pubbing my debut novel, got really good praise from agents and other writers – reminds me of Oscar Wao, nice voice Curious Incident of Dog in the Nighttime, engaging writer – but no one wants to pick me up. This kind of thing could be great for an author like me. Let me know if anything develops and I’ll offer my services.

Scott VanKirk

Hey Juan, I feel your pain.  This is the refrain to our chorus.  There are a lot of details  which is one of the reasons for this blog.  I’d like to get a group of like-minded people to hammer this idea out.  I’m sure the final product would be different – and better – than the concept as it stands in my head now.


An interesting idea. Let me make sure I get this:  So if I’m a marketing / PR guy, and I want to participate, I have to find a writer whose book I want to promote.  How does that work? Do I have to scroll through a jungle of book proposals before I find the one I think will earn a buck?   I’m comparing this to Wikipedia’s system of finding articles that need to be written or edited — they’re a mess!  If I had to crawl through the same pile of junk to find one book I want to… Read more »

Irving Podolsky

I would love for this business model to work, especially since it would be working for me. But I’m still left wondering how would quality writing get pushed to the top of a pile of 10,000 stories. I know SOME would, and I think you explained it, but your promotion isn’t apparent to me yet.  I think most members of the organization would be writers as oppose to reviewers and editors. Maybe you could make a criteria that says: for every story you, as an author, want reviewed, you have to edit someone else’s piece.  There are two literary sites… Read more »

Jane Friedman

Here’s a project to check out that seems very similar to what Scott is proposing: http://www.libboo.com/

Steven Gaskin

Again, this is a great idea in principle, but by not giving away a share of the book rights, the author is asking individual contributors to work for a share of a non-guaranteed royalty. Any book project can achieve low sales – most do – which is fine, and it leaves it up to the contributors to back an author/leader in whom they have faith. It’s a gamble, but through feedback/reputation and research you can reduce the chance you’ll end up working for free. My concern, which I hinted at before, is what if an author hits the eMarket with… Read more »

Steven Gaskin

I don’t think they assign rights to the work (as confirmed buy Chris, below) but there seems to be a legal right to royalties earned by the contributors. As this all comes from the team leader’s (author’s) share, there shouldn’t be any issue when dealing with publishers, but it does mean that the contributors are entitled to their share of the author’s profit on that book in perpetuity. What if the author pulls the book from sale? As a contributor to the project with rights to royalties, does the editor have a say in that? How about if the editor… Read more »

Chris Libboo

Hi Steven, So here’s a typical way people use Libboo and what happens to the stuff that gets created. Someone with an idea starts a project (Team Leader, or Author). They can create this idea by themselves, or they can use our Team Wizard to construct a team from the community of Editors, Writers, Illustrators, Marketers (a really useful one!) etc. When the Author invites someone, they allocate a share of royalties – not copyright. This means the Author is free to make any decisions they like without seeking approval of others (including Libboo). So once the item is created,… Read more »

Steven Gaskin

It seems that the Libboo model relies to a certain extent upon good faith, which is a fair assumption, given that an author could get all of the work in, then cut and run to Amazon KDP with the finished product and no intention of paying out royalties as none are reported publicly, but this being the internet, the chances of doing it twice are slim to none. And there are clear benefits to staying within the Libboo ecosystem, as you gain reputation and access to higher rated collaborators. The area I could never hammer out to my satisfaction was… Read more »

Chris Libboo

Hi Steven, fantastic points! The whole ‘old model’ is broken. It simply doesn’t react to the way in which people want to create and consume content anymore. There’s a lot still to iron out – this is why the safest option is to have the Team Leader to own all copyright. With respect to ‘what is the incentive to be a team member?’ – well – lots actually and it’s the team-members who drive a lot of what we do. Being a Team Member makes you directly benefit from the success of the project. Also, as the project becomes more… Read more »

Chris Libboo

Hi Scott, It’s Chris from libboo here. Fantastic article and my word… it is pretty much Libboo in a nutshell. But with a crucial difference. We never take any ownership of the content that gets created on our site and everyone is free to use it elsewhere. You can take it down, move it around, share it, keep it private etc. Our only mission is to help content creators help other content creators. It wouldd be great great to chat in person. If youd like to, drop me a message at chris at libboo dot com. Oh and thanks for… Read more »

Orna Ross

very interesting Scott. Here’s another approach from a company making a splash here in the UK. http://unbound.co.uk/

Orna Ross

They are considering submissions from writing websites like  www.abctales.com andwww.jottify.com. and are looking at other ways…. I think there’s room for lots of different crowdsourcing models. Good luck!

David Mark Brown

As usual, I’m a bit late to the party. But this is an issue I’ve blogged (tongue in cheek) about for a while. I’m definately interested in the concept and have been struggling for a couple years to put together a team to help produce my brand of western dieselpunk. But the obvious problem has always been That I have had to rely on freelance help rather than a vested team of contributors. I’m working on my third novel now and have found some folk I like who are willing to work for a pretty small fee. But to expand… Read more »


[…] week I read articles from Jim Kukral and Scott Vankirk, both discussing the subject in their own way. I seriously recommend both posts because this is an […]


You nailed it Scott. I’ll be the first to join the crowd. And there could be millions of others. We all just want a way to express ourselves. To make a difference. To leave a mark.

King Hill

You nailed it Scott. I’ll be the first to join the crowd. And there could be millions of others. We all just want a way to express ourselves. To make a difference. To leave a mark.

[…] nicht eine Plattform wie Wikipedia für Autoren und Leser schaffen? So zumindest die Idee von Scott VanKirk,  der dieses Geschäftmodell in einem Blog skizziert hat. Zu sehen ist das in Ansätzen schon auf […]


Yes, this is going to happen. I just started a similar concept at http://www.activread.tumblr.com where READERS may interact with AUTHORS as a story is being written, chapter by chapter. I think the world is ready for this type of connection between the two.


[…] week I read articles from Jim Kukral and Scott Vankirk, both discussing the subject in their own way. I seriously recommend both posts because this is an […]


I love the idea of crowd sourced publishing. Is it sustainable though by finding collaborators who will choose books based on the best books? What do they have to lose if the company publishes poor quality books? The company will go belly up, but collaborators will not lose anything special.

[…] a published writer is easier today than ever before, although to become a successful published writer is a whole […]

[…] durch Selfpublishing-Plattformen noch durch etablierte Medienhäuser realisiert werden können. In A Model for Crowdsourced Publishing diskutiert er über ein Modell, dass sich in Frankreich längst durchgesetzt hat, für den Rest […]