Books, book-writing and book-publishing at ScienceOnline2010

There will be, at ScienceOnline2010, at least two sessions dedicated to books and book publishing - From Blog to Book: Using Blogs and Social Networks to Develop Your Professional Writing and Writing for more than glory: Proposals and Pitches that Pay - as well as several others that will at least mention books as vehicles for distributing scientific information, popularization of science, or science education.

This got me thinking....about ways that the Web is changing the world of the book. I can think of three aspects of this:

1) Changes in the process of writing a book

It may not be a matter, these days, of sitting at your typewritter every morning and typing. The process may go, perhaps byt not necessarily for everyone, somewhwat along these lines. Or it can be shorter - from blog post to magazine article to book.

Bloggers like Tom and John and Brian routinely use their blogs to post parts of their future books, expose them to feedback and criticism they can use to refine their work. While others (for example) may blog about related topics, but derive their book material from their earlier research rather than blog posts.

2) Changes in the format and form of a book

For example, check out this recent article (and an interesting comment thread) by Michael Hyatt about the way eReaders will change the format of the book.

Or some a little older, but also very thought-provoking articles about the ways Web and eReaders will change the form and format of the book: by Tim O'Reilly and by Steven Johnson.

Then think of writers who were born half a century or more too early, and had to make experimental books while constrained by the limits of paper and print. For example recently deceased Milorad PaviÄ - imagine how easy it would have been for him to write and publish his books (and perhaps some even crazier ones) if he wrote with a Kindle in mind:

Though PaviÄ's novels can be enjoyed by reading them cover-to-cover, among his stated goals are a desire to write novels with unusual forms and to make the reader a more active participant than is usual. In an interview published in 1998, PaviÄ said:

"I have tried my best to eliminate or to destroy the beginning and the end of my novels. The Inner Side of the Wind, for example, has two beginnings. You start reading this book from the side you want. In Dictionary of the Khazars you can start with whatever story you want. But writing it, you have to keep in mind that every entry has to be read before and after every other entry in the book. I managed to avoid, at least until now, the old way of reading, which means reading from the classical beginning to the classical end."[1]

To achieve these ends, he used a number of unconventional techniques in order to introduce nonlinearity into his works:

* Dictionary of the Khazars takes the form of three cross-referenced encyclopaedias of the Khazar people. The book was published in a "male" and "female" version, which differ in only a brief, critical passage.
* Landscape Painted With Tea mixes the forms of novel and crossword puzzle.
* Inner Side of the Wind -- which tells the story of Hero and Leander -- can be read back to front, each section telling one character's version of the story.
* Last Love in Constantinople has chapters numbered after tarot cards; the reader is invited to use a tarot deck to determine the order in which the chapters can be read.
* Unique Item has one hundred different endings and the reader can choose one.

Thte Web makes these experiments easy.

3) Changes in the way books are pitched, sold and delivered to the readers.

A number of bloggers have recently got book deals, or have self-published. Today, it is still deemed more respectable to get published by Houghton-Mifflin than by But how long will that situation last?

Just think of the Long Tail phenomenon and how some self-published books became popular and sold well, or led to an offer by a traditional publisher to republish (self-publishing does not hurt one's chances of getting a traditional publisher, quite the opposite) . I know that a number of bloggers whose essays were published in Open Laboratory anthologies included that in their CVs. It counts for something, at least in some academic domains.

And there is (or was) such a thing as Blooker Prize for the best blog-to-book self-publishing efforts.

There are a number of ways to self-publish a book. Or to scan existing books from paper to digital. Or to print out any book you want - from digital to paper.

And if you write a book and self-publish (or even publish with a traditional house) you may need to do the pitching and marketing yourself.

The book promotion tours, at least those organized by publishers, appear to be a thing of the past.

These are just a bunch of interesting links, as a food for thought. Then bring those thoughts to these sessions at ScienceOnline2010 and can start right here in the comments.

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I love writing and reading books. I love the notion that people can make things up in their mind and then make them real on a page, for the pleasure or utility of someone else. One of my favorite mentor on learning how to write a book is Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul.