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Thoughts on a community e-publishing service


So, the other day I was browsing Amazon for e-books, and I thought, these books are nice, but amateur writers are putting out stuff that's just as good. The only reason I'm not reading it is because it's typically scattered across the webs and in a myriad of formats that my cheap e-reader can't handle.

I spoke with some friends who write on the side, and was wondering if anyone there would be genuine interest in a website that allows writers to create writing projects and request assistance for volunteer editors to convert their works to e-pub or another open format. When done, the authors could release the works as published to the site index to allow the lazy browsing public (like myself) to easily access them. I'd prefer everything to be released under a creative commons or another license that precludes DRM, but am open to suggestions. Basically, I don't like the idea of the future of literature being captured by entirely by Amazon or the iTunes stores. It's nothing personal towards authors that have their works available there, but the notion of artificial scarcity forcing public libraries to have countdown-to-self-destructing style rentals of a digital file is a turn-off.

The site would provide versioned storage to help authors and editors collaborate, as well as build a community of writers using open source tools to publish electronically. I'd love to have a large enough base for users to create fanclubs around favorite writers and a donations system to reward author/editor teams. The last is especially interesting to me since a $1 donation straight to a writer can be equivalent to a $5 traditional e-book purchase where the author's contract only nets 20% of retail.

But it's all just a quick internet rant unless there's actual amateur writers and editors interested. How does it sound? Is there anything you folks would like to see (or not see) in such a site or am I solving a problem that doesn't exist? I have no desire to eliminate the existing amateur communities, only provide a new service to help writers get their works into e-book formats to reach the most consumers.

Thank you,


Smashwords converts to most major e-platforms for free as part of their no-cost service to publish including Nook and iBook. They only take a cut of sales for publishing it to major e-tailors for the author.

There are many other outlets who do similar and there probably will be more.

I'm also confused about "editors to convert their works"... editors don't convert works, they are either content editors and developers or copy editors. I think you are referring to format and preparation person/services.


I've come across Smashwords in my searching, and they seem to be the leader in online e-publishing. There's also Lulu who doesn't seem to be as popular (or as low cost) but has a prettier site. White these sites don't seem to provide is a community for each author. It's a one man band kind of thing. Also, there's nothing in between making a work free and enforcing a fee. As a reader, I'd like to be able to easily contribute back after reading great pieces.

I guess format preparation would be a better term. Most of my publishing experience was from a small college newspaper so our copy editors would often have a hand in the layout side of things. It wouldn't be exclusively that type of collaboration though. The typical work flow would be:

1. Author creates a new project
2. Author adds empty positions for content editors, technical editors, format preparation, co-writers, or others.
3. The site provides a collaboration space with version control tools.
4. When ready, the author changes the status of the project to published to allow the reading public to get access to the final files.

This way, authors can find people interested in taking an e-book past the boiler-plate release many of the e-publishers support without having to do it himself.
Sounds interesting, one thing though...

The ones who would be editing, formatting, etc. why would they want to do these professional services for free? Or would there be a bounty or other monetization/motivation?

As another thing, reputation or bidding? I could say I can do copy editing but I really can't or my work may be subpar. How to weed through the others that may want to contribute to find the good ones?


And how would there be a balance between those who want services and those who offer them? I can only imagine there being an onslaught of people who want everything done for them - possibly without having gone through as many rewrites themselves already... And hardly anyone willing to edit/format if they get nothing from it. Especially if there aren't standards of some kind.


As far as weeding out bad actors, we were thinking about a reputation system. There's obviously some issues with bootstrapping the system since there will be few reviews at first, but rating editors and authors the same way you'd rate books (1-5 stars and a note like "Worked well with my team and taught me about things I didn't know about myself" or "Smells like cabbage") would help authors decide who to invite into their project. Since all actions of the editing and release process are version controlled, it'd be fairly easy to sort out who's been subtly acting in malice and have them banned.

On the topic of professional services for free, we're hoping to catch a whiff of the esprit de open source. I know plenty of software developers or armchair hobbyists that lend their time to projects simply for the creative outlet and opportunity to see things before they're public. More pragmatically, we're looking into a donation system. When the project creator (typically an author) invites people into their project, they can offer them a percent share of the project. When the project is published donations received are doled according to the rates to the project contributors. This also helps authors attract better editors by adjusting the shared stakes. We can see some ways for abuse of this, and are open to any suggestions to refine the idea. We are also researching the details of sponsors for writing contests or a reader's pick rewards system.

I agree that finding the right balance of the different kinds of users would be difficult. I think it is partly mitigated by the fact that the effort for creating a boilerplate e-pub with open source tools is pretty low. Having copy-edited a little myself, it is no fun reading something that only makes sense to the author (well, it's sometimes fun, but not in a good way). That in itself should make it tougher for half-baked authors to find editors and encourage them to develop their drafts further. Since you catch more flies with honey, we'd like to have a running set of articles featuring some of the best drafts and highlighting what makes them superior. This community can be as much about learning as publishing in my opinion.

I'm open to any comments and suggestions.
Wow, that's contracts up the wazoo. Between the site and the author, the site and editors, and the editors and authors... not to mention selling via third parties and cutting people out.
You would pretty much need to be the sole publisher and retailer of ebooks for your authors to keep the accounting correct for share based fees.

I have had lots of dealings with the Open Source movement. Sure lots of projects out there are done by one man or small teams but the core, the important stuff is developed by people employed by RedHat, Canonical etc. for the purpose of writing software, so it is their job. Crowdsourcing isn't a panacea, it's a business model with all the monetization and expenses that comes with it.


I agree that coming up with a sane contracts model is an uphill battle as soon as money's involved. On top of that, it's very difficult to shift around small amounts of money without transaction fees piling up. With regards to selling through third parties, we are planning on requiring users to publish works under a creative commons license (likely No-Commercial) or similar license.

While it's true that much of the core contribution to enterprise ready open source projects comes from paid developers, the hobbyist community is alive and well.

I apologize if it came off the wrong way, but our goal isn't to form an e-publisher that crowd-sources the expensive stuff. We wanted to create a community with a straightforward system for getting help in areas you are not familiar with as well as providing a dynamic repository of public literature in a DRM-free, multiple-device-compatible format.

At this point we're mostly testing the waters to see if this would be useful to writers. We're volunteers (developers) as well and don't want to waste our time on something that nobody wants.
Which of the Creative Commons would you be using? As an author I would want attribution, no derivative works but I want to get paid every time someone acquires my book.

That's incompatible with Creative Commons if I remember rightly. Once someone else buys it they can then redistribute it maintaining attribution and as they acquired it, but without giving me one red cent, because of the license. It's the redistribution clause that makes the CC so useful for Open Source but not quite so useful for monetizing the actual work.

If I just wanted it out there then yes, but if I want to get paid then no. Correct me if I am wrong.

Edit: I am not saying it is a bad idea and there may be people who think it is genius, like figment.com but with content editors.
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Sashamerideth, I am not a lawyer, but you are correct in your evaluation of the license. You must receive attribution and others can create derivative works. However, others cannot redistribute your work (or derivatives) for commercial gain, and we are considering allowing the author to withhold the rights for non-commercial derivative works.

Being paid each time someone acquires your book is the difficult part. The thing is, we're not a huge company that wants to spend time researching DRM and enforcing copyright violations. We'd rather focus on giving writers tools and making reading easier. We feel that most types of DRM simply frustrate people trying to move media around legally, and that those dedicated to getting your work for free won't be stopped. Anything that must be seen by human eyes is decryptable. We'd rather create a culture where it is socially obligatory to donate directly to team's who's works you've enjoyed.

You are right in that this may not appeal to a large number of authors, especially professional writers, but for amateurs looking for help and a public outlet, we thought it might be appealing to have a support community with a formalized process for the drafting-editing-publishing process. It's sort of an if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em approach to digital piracy. An amateur work may not be able to enforce a $5 e-book price, but if it develops a fan-base, it has a conduit for monetary feedback.

I don't mind people saying if it's a good idea or a bad idea so long as they explain why because that gives us the chance to shape our project for the better. We recognized that our team of programmers with anecdotal writing and editing experience can't hope to understand the diverse needs and desires of Joe Everywriter which is why we appreciate any comments that help us understand.
Honestly I have one work in progress that I would trust to thus system. It isn't my greatest work but it is a fun soft and squishy science fiction jaunt.

If I can contribute in any way just drop me a PM, never know how I may be useful.


I think it's too early to say whether it's a good idea or not. Until the legal issues are decided on, and you can tell us how it'll all work, it's hard to make a decision.

Currently, as it stands, I wouldn't be interested (in the nicest way possible) simply because it doesn't seem possible - at least not in a way that's fair to the author and those who work on it. Basically it seems like you want to create a website where authors share their work for free (after somehow managing to get people to work for free on it for them) and simply because heaps of them will be in the one place, you'll generate a high enough tally of people who'll search and download in the one spot. ...Which most may not, as there doesn't seem to be a way to do any quality-control, and it'll soon get too convoluted of work that's not 'good enough'.
That could change after the idea has been worked on a lot more than it has - there doesn't seem to be enough ground work done as of yet.

And not that it matters too much to me, but saying people probably won't be paid every time someone gets their book? Most people would probably have issue with that, and stick to sites that already exist, such as Smashwords (that doesn't have DRM as far as I can tell - OR the DRM is done perfectly).

You need to be aware that as soon as someone makes their work available online, then 99.9% of the time it utterly locks them out from being published anywhere else. Yes there have been cases where an author has been so popular that a publisher wil go through the hard work of stripping their work (legally) from all search engines and hosting sites online, so they can then sell them... but this is a very, very rare thing.

To get people invested in your idea with that in mind, you'll have to come up with a site that's trustworthy, dependable and stable. Just remember - this is the work of someone who has spent years, and usually adores their novel like it's their child. You have to win their trust with that.
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Depending on where the feedback takes our features, the legal issues may not be a difficult as it seems. A system for splitting up donations is only as difficult as setting up the initial contracts, and we're looking at a few options where the accounting responsibility is not on our backs. This isn't a dodge: having a trusted name handling the movement of money grants us the good-faith of their financial system. Using a license like the Creative Commons is a fairly straightforward matter with legal standing.

Basically it seems like you want to create a website where authors share their work for free

(after somehow managing to get people to work for free on it for them)
We may have badly misjudged how interested other people would be in contributing. As it stands, many casual authors self edit and may only be looking for trivial touch-ups and packaging into a distributable electronic format. The open source world has communities that do just this since it's a relatively straightforward job most of the time and lets people say they had a hand in creating something. With a robust community, there is the talent for deeper interaction like copy editing. However, if these are simply chores and don't provide any sense of reward per unit of time, than there are existing sites that provide electronic self publishing and this concept may be fundamentally flawed.

and simply because heaps of them will be in the one place, you'll generate a high enough tally of people who'll search and download in the one spot. ...Which most may not, as there doesn't seem to be a way to do any quality-control, and it'll soon get too convoluted of work that's not 'good enough'.
Every web site allowing user contribution has quality problems. Our take on it was to use a relatively well proven system of user ratings to filter the cruft. Of course, if we have instances of repeated abuse of the system by users publishing intentionally malicious items (copy and pasting a lorem ipsum generator for example), we'd take action. Assuming a majority of good actors, we believe the less popular stuff will sink to the bottom. On top of that, we feel it can help give writers feedback and would encourage readers to review with constructive criticism.

You need to be aware that as soon as someone makes their work available online, then 99.9% of the time it utterly locks them out from being published anywhere else.
We were not aware of this and would be very interested in hearing more about it (will commence with the Google as well). It is true that if you publish a work under creative commons, it must remain under that license. I didn't know that it can prevent their future works from being taken up by a formal publisher.

Sashameredith, I believe that casual sci-fi work you mentioned is exactly the type of stuff for which we're looking. We of course understand that people that have invested many years and often a great deal of money into a novel may not find any appeal in our publishing model.
Thus one science fiction that I have in mind has already been posted in parts in the web in other forums under a pseudonym, though in first draft. My other stuff I want to hit real publishing houses with.


A point of interest. It seems this site exists: Pangurpad - an online thing like Google Documents where you can write your novel using any web browsers, from any computer... but that's not all.

This is what they do:
As we're very new the publishing system is evolving rapidly. Right now you can publish your story to our forums and receive ratings and reviews from your peers. Very soon (mid October) this will extend to embedding your story on your own website (sort of like the way you can put a youtube video on your a website), as well as producing PDFs formatted and styled to your specifications for either printing via createspace or LuLu, or in manuscript format for sending to a publisher.

By the end of November we're hoping to have a marketplace ready which will allow authors to sell their ebooks as well.

It also has forums to chat in.

So that's interesting. Seems like it's quite new as they're still letting people donate and be known as early supporters.


Looking at that now under yet another pseudonym. Looking incredibly new.

It's incredibly buggy. The coding in the profiles is problematic and on my work computer I have to log in again after every click. It seems like not every button shows while I'm at work either, so that's odd.

But, still, it's quite close to what's being suggested in this thread, so I thought I'd link to it for discussion.
starconstant said:
It's incredibly buggy. The coding in the profiles is problematic and on my work computer I have to log in again after every click. It seems like not every button shows while I'm at work either, so that's odd.

But, still, it's quite close to what's being suggested in this thread, so I thought I'd link to it for discussion.

Noticed that too... definitely very new!


It does look like could be useful, though I'm a little torn at how being able to embed your own work in your own website is considered an extended feature. I'll have to look into their licenses. I was having trouble with the site on Chrome as well, though I didn't see the login issue.

It seems the market is more crowded than we thought, and while none of them seem to be exactly what we planned, without a significant wow factor, we won't have the user-base to make it work. We're going to see if there's any refinements we can do to make this worthwhile, and I really appreciate the time you folks gave for discussing this with me.
Literotica has something similar to this idea.
Write, Volly editors, and online publishing.
Might wish to check into that.

It is an interesting site, Content aside, as it is mostly spank matterial :(

I used it for another work I did whtat was too Adult for other sites. The issues I ran into were I would send the work to the editor and they would reply "OK Cool, have it back to you in two weeks." And then they would vanish.

So that is something to keep in mind.
Now an option is to charge a Flat 99. cents for each download. Pay pal works wonderfuly FYI.
That way everyone gets a piece of the pie as it were. And it can be managed in such a way that the people who worked on the book get their $ once a week, month etc.
A download counter will help people manage their acount that way if there ever is a mistake it can be easily resolved.

Watermarks work well to help detour theives (I hear) IDK about that however. Disabling right click helps too. But yeah if they are really wishing to rip it off they will, that's just life.

Hope that helps a little bit.