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Agile Publishing Model.

Wow! The last week has been truly memorable. The Digital Book World conference was incredibly exciting, with lots of new ideas. And the warm response to the announcement of the Agile Publishing Model (APM) and partnership with futurist David Houle was very encouraging—it looks like we’re on to something exciting here.

So let’s get started…

From all the comments and tweets following the announcement, the first big question has become clear: What exactly is this Agile Publishing Model and how does it work?

Well, part of the fun is that we all get to help answer that question. Here’s some background to get us going.

Where did “Agile” come from?

Agile isn’t a new idea. O’Reilly Media has been doing some really interesting work on this with some of their books. And Zeeen.com offers authors tools to help develop communities as they work on their book.

The term itself, obviously, comes from the software development industry, which has been using agile development models for a number of years.

Agile Publishing Model - Build Measure LearnIn tech, agile development means releasing iterative and incremental versions of a software product or website, getting input from your customer about that version, learning from that input, and then repeating the process until you reach an improved finished state.  More simply put, it is about “Build…measure…learn.”

So could this approach be applied to writing and publishing a book? Can you build a community around an author creating a book? Would it make a better book, a faster process? How would it work?

How It Could Work (A Work in Progress)

While the APM will be dynamic and changing, right now we see 6 initial guiding principles that could be useful as we start building the APM together.

1) It’s about creating a conversation between the author and reader.

How many times have you read a book and wished that it offered something else you were looking for?

In the APM, we’ll all be able to provide comments and feedback to the author as the book is created. David will be posting materials on an ongoing basis as he writes, asking us to discuss and give feedback on them together—refining ideas, making sure key topics aren’t missed, all with the goal of producing the best final book.

2) The author leads the content creation.

How is this different than crowd-sourced content or writing-by-committee? Right now, it seems different—the author still writes and drives the direction for the book, while the community provides some “thought-leadership” or guidance for the book as a whole or within a particular section. Whether this ultimately ends up closer to the current author model or the crowd-sourced approach, or something completely different yet, will be interesting to see.

3) The APM is useful for expert-based authors.

At the moment, the APM seems particularly useful for expert-based authors working in dynamic or rapidly changing environments. For example, David will be writing about society’s move from the Information Age into a new age, so he sees a lot of benefit in having a conversation as he writes the book, getting everyone’s viewpoint on current affairs and the pulse of changes we’re all experiencing.

The APM may not be suited for every genre or every author, though. Could the APM also be applied to fiction or other genres? We’ve been thinking about that too.

4) It’s about creating a partnership between the author and reader.

You’re only going to spend the time helping craft a book’s content if you believe in its message or are interested/immersed in the topic area, right? But creating the book is only the first step; then comes getting it out to the world.

In the APM, the plan is to release short ebooks to the general marketplace as sections are completed, giving us several opportunities to see the reactions of non-community members. So we’ll all get to participate in both roles—first providing our own feedback and then evaluating the feedback from others.

5) The author has support from the publisher.

You may ask: can’t this all be done by the author through regular social media channels? Perhaps, but it seems this process can be a big one to manage. For some authors it may not make sense to try to balance it all. So with the APM, the publisher will be providing a support team and resources, both technical and creative, as our group talks and grows. And then, after the book is finished and actually published, comes all the “normal” publishing marketing and sales (see here for a glimpse of all that involves).

6) The APM is a dynamic model that is open and receptive to change.

Like any start-up company or new business model, we believe the APM should be dynamic. These initial guidelines are a starting point, and the model will likely change as we move forward. So as we work together to develop the book, we’ll also give feedback to each other on different areas of the APM (access to iterative content, content pricing models, how to provide comments, etc.) and how they can work best.

So there you have it…

What do you think? Please share your thoughts and additional questions in the comments section below. And thanks for your interest!


+2 # Caela 2012-02-08 07:49
So, like fan-fiction only for profit?

Maybe I have a narrow view but I've always wondered, would readers tolerate their reading like comic books or TV, one chapter at a time?

And then I've dreamed of a better tomorrow...
-1 # John Maxwell 2012-02-13 14:57
Serialized novels are not new; Dickens was famously published a chapter at a time.
+2 # gregavila 2012-02-13 15:36

You are absolutely correct. Serialized novels have been around for quite some time.

In fact the Tales of the City books by Armistead Maupin are some of my favorites and were started as a serialized newspaper column.

As I noted, we are still working to see how the Agile Publishing Model might work for works of fiction.
-2 # gregavila 2012-02-08 17:50

Thanks for your question. We may have confused you a little bit. To us, fan-fiction is additional stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator.

All of the material we will be producing under the Agile Publishing Model will be original content created by the author. We will be looking for the community to serve as readers and reviewers of the content as it is created. Through this partnership the content may be shaped based on the reader’s feedback resulting in changes to the final product.

Your question of whether people will tolerate reading one chapter at a time will certainly be one of the assumptions tested here. We know that this has been done successfully before with other books. For example, The Long Tail by Chris Anderson was created based off of a series of blogs he had posted and discussed with his followers. So we do believe that it can be done successfully.


+2 # Chloë Filson 2012-02-21 21:42
Caela and all,

We who are interested in the agile publishing model could indeed learn a lot from the prolific and dedicated fan-fiction writing/reading community. Long works (of fiction, it is worth noting) are frequently published one chapter at a time, with reviewing happening all the while; new chapters often open with comments from the author(s) that usually include responses to reviews and comments. Certain FF websites are more committed to the editorial process than others and thus could also be sources of knowledge and unique experience; no doubt the admins and beta editors of Checkmated.com, for example, know a few things about the Web-based publication of long works. So there are certainly valuable parallels.

The Web-based publication of long narratives (such as fan fiction, Anderson's "The Long Tail", Fitzpatrick's "Planned Obsolescence", etc.) strikes me as the natural home of agile publishing, given the collaborative capabilities of Internet software and networks in general. I'm not sure how Agile can be applied in any satisfactory way to the print world (I admire the principles listed, but it isn't possible to make ongoing changes to blocks of bound paper). I suppose I'll just have to keep observing and learning.

+2 # george rosenbaum 2012-04-18 12:30
This aims to overcome the fact that blog comments do not create a community. By serializing the blogs and morphing commenters into editors, critics, contributors who can affect the contents of the blog (chapter) a community is created. The test, of course is whether you can convert passive readers into active editors/crticis/contributors. But whether or not the notion that blogs are serialized into a book that is given shape by a literary community of readers should create an initial footstep market (perhaps even free) which is encouraged/incentivized to to use social media to expand to a paying market while also eventually reaching the conventional book market in paper and e books. The trick will be to learn how to make it work. For fiction, the techniquest of improvisational theatre might work.
-2 # webmaster 2012-04-19 10:44

You are absolutely correct...blog comments do not create a community. The true challenge will indeed be taking readers of the content and turning them into active participants. You are also right on track with what we've been initially thinking on the community participation(f ree), then building the product and releasing it into the paying market.

We are just about getting ready to release the first set of content for Entering the Shift Age so it will definitely be more continued learning.

+2 # Del Coates 2012-05-03 23:16
The project I have in mind is a revised, 2nd edition of a previously published book. I wonder if the model would be suited to submitting the whole original ms for suggestions even about overall structure including sequence of chapters/topics.

+2 # Jane Cosby 2012-05-21 10:19
It is exciting to see the direction Sourcebooks is taking with publishing.

I signed up for the updates to the "Welcome to the Shift Age" process but found myself not really reading the chapters or following up on the emails I was receiving. At first I didn't understand why. I usually read books of this type and am very interested in the subject matter, which is why I signed up in the first place.

But I realized my attitude was "I will just wait for the complete book. I don't want to read it piece-by-piece."

That made me think maybe you are releasing the wrong content. What if you released the raw research that is feeding the book instead of the actual text of the book itself? This would trigger interest without giving the impression I won't need to bother with the book when it comes out.

As a reader, if I become interested in the research, I will definitely want to see how the author handles this research in the book and that will drive me to the finished product.

The other consideration is that maybe you are releasing chunks of the book that are too large. Reading 2-3 chapters at once is a big commitment on the part of the reader. I know I wasn't ready for that. But I would have read small pieces of text that were included in the email.

As far as triggering reader feedback, I think the raw research would do a good job of motivating people to suggest additional research. Their opinions of the published research would provide the author with new insights and thoughts.

This is just my response and could reflect more about my situation than anything else.
-1 # PeterLynch 2012-05-21 15:25
Very interesting. It leads me to wonder if the approach you describe might be a good one for ideas that are in the concept stage, to flesh out the idea and see how it develops into a book outline. That is, for this particular book we have been looking to develop/polish the chapters after they were written, which lends more to the 2-3 chapter approach.But it might be beneficial on future projects to have an early stage when the readers can get in on the research and concept aspects.
+2 # Brenda Struck 2012-06-21 14:30
I think this is a great idea - how many times have you purchased a book - only to be disappointed because a) it didn't give the depth you were looking for (in terms of research, basis for conclusions, etc.). As an avid book reader, I would definitely appreciate a process that, hopefully, results in a better presentation of what I am looking for.

I also think this would be a great model for serialized novels (of which I am a fan of) - as a reader, there has been many instances where I feel as though a new release is just a bit off, or the author ran out of steam, hit a hard deadline and had to just get it finished, etc. If you look at reader reviews on Amazon, you can see many comments that support this view.

In terms of Jane's comment above, I personally feel as though the whole point buying a research-based book is I don't want to a) find the research, b) drill through the research, and finally - but most importantly - c) interpret research that someone else is far more qualified to do.

I buy research-based books based on a level of trust in the qualifications of the author to do a) through c) above.
-2 # evolutionshift 2012-06-21 18:15
Thank you for your comments. I really can't comment on how best to read research. Most of the research that will be included in the book will be footnotes. I can't imagine reading pages of footnotes, not being able to read the text as well.
One thing we are trying to do with the APM is to allow people to just buy the sections they want. This will become clear when Part Four gets published in early August.


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