Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
It’s no secret that social media, digital technology, and self-publishing capabilities have, arguably, enabled authors and readers to become closer than ever. But just how far are authors willing to go to form valuable relationships with their readers?
Well, at least one writer, Sylvia Hartmann, is willing to pull back the curtains and show the nuts and bolts of her writing to anyone who is interested in taking a peek. According to a GalleyCat post published on September 5, this UK author will be using Google Docs to let readers watch her write her novel, live. This means that readers will be able to see every keystroke happening in real time. The first session began on Wednesday, September 12 at 9 a.m. UK time (or 4 a.m. ET here in the states). Here is a snippet from Hartmann’s press release:
Through this project, readers engage with this process of writing & editing in real-time, literally collaborating as the magic unfolds. Alongside Silvia Hartmann’s main readership, this will be an interesting project for budding authors, literature students and all those who are fascinated by the processes of creative writing.
The author has also already begun accepting suggestions for the title, with a signed copy of the completed first edition book as a prize for the winner. This project is expected to take between 4 to 8 weeks to complete, depending on the final word count.
As the press release notes, various self-publishing options provide authors with different tools to get their work into the hands of the reader. In this case, Hartmann has chosen to let her readers watch her create, no holds barred, and even make suggestions along the way. Rather than relying on the opinion of a single editor, Hartmann will be listening to the crowdsourced opinions of her fans.
I’m no novelist, but I am a perfectionist. Just the thought of letting other people watch me as I work through the gnarls and tangles of my own brain has me nearly breaking out in hives. But Sylvia Hartmann welcomes the opportunity, stating that “[s]ome authors plan their manuscripts in advance, but my stories tend to have a life of their own and I look forward to seeing what unfolds with everybody else!” I don’t think everyone would be a good candidate for this approach, but I have to applaud Hartmann for her bravery. Though there is no way to ever know the answer, I am curious to know how much this collaborative, voyeuristic approach will potentially shape, and ultimately influence, the end project in comparison to what she would have written behind closed “doors.” And, will readers be as captivated by the story even after knowing the behind-the-scenes workflow? (I cannot help but think of the famous quote from the Wizard of Oz: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”)
As the GalleyCat piece notes, several other authors have been utilizing polls and reader feedback to help guide their creative processes and form personal relationships with their readers. Startup digital publishers like Coliloquy use a choose-your-own adventure approach in their active fiction selections, often encouraging readers to vote for plot developments in subsequent “episodes.” Other authors have aimed to get readers involved by asking them to help choose or create their final book cover designs.
In many ways, it’s exciting to see authors involve their readers in the creative process. Do you think using these technologies is a good way for authors to connect and engage with their readers? Or does it smell too gimmicky to you?