While at WorldCon last week I attended an unusual reading by Neil Gaiman. He wasn’t reading his own work but a short story by Cory Doctorow. I went because I’m a fan of both writers and I thought it would be fun. I didn’t expect it to be the most fascinating event of the weekend.
Before the reading began, Doctorow outlined his plans for With a Little Help, a book of short stories he’s self-publishing under the Creative Commons license using the Nine Inch Nails price point model.
What this means, essentially, is the book will be available in several formats at various prices. There’s a video presentation on Doctorow’s blog if you want more detail, although be warned the audio’s a bit rough. I had trouble catching some of it, but between my notes at the reading and the video, here are the various offerings as I understand them:
A free online version, donations welcome;
Print-On-Demand editions with your choice of five different covers designed by various artists, printed through Lulu.com;
A free audio version, stories recorded by voice actors and writer friends (the Neil Gaiman reading was recorded for this);
An audio CD;
A premium edition limited to 250 copies (leather-bound, hand-sewn, with end papers made from the original papers of other SF writers – Doctorow mentioned William Gibson); and
A hyper-premium $10,000 edition. I’m unsure on the details, but I gather that the person who bought this edition got to commission the only original story in the collection (the rest are reprints).
Why am I excited about this experiment?
One thing I learned at WorldCon is how hard it is to make a living as an SF/Fantasy writer. I’m not naive. I never thought it was easy. But I was surprised at how many good writers – writers with several published novels, writers whose names I recognized – still have day jobs.
It’s my dream to write fiction for a living. Given the current structure of the traditional publishing industry, my dream will be extremely difficult to achieve. So, I am very interested in seeing new publishing trends emerge. Obviously self-publishing isn’t new but few writers, especially fiction writers, have had real success going the self-publishing route. The success stories that are out there all seem to end with the author’s book being picked up by a major publishing house. I’m interested to see how well self-publishing works for an established writer like Doctorow.
Shane and I talked at length about the Nine Inch Nails price point model and how it could be applied to book publishing back when Ghosts I-IV was released. Shane’s developed some interesting ideas around this. If he gets around to blogging about them, I will post a link. It’s very cool to see some of his ideas coming to life in this publishing venture.
In the POD version of the book, Doctorow will be adding a monthly appendix with all the financials, including an analysis of what’s working and what’s not, what he thinks will work only for him (as an established writer with a solid fan base) and what he thinks can work for everyone.
As far as I’m concerned, that information alone is worth the purchase price.