This week, Publishing Perspectives highlighted the publishing company Leanpub which offers ‘in-progress’ publishing services for self-published authors and publishers. In-progress publishing allows an author to publish their book chapter by chapter as they write in order to gather reader feedback and assess what is working and what could be changed in future chapters.
Leanpub’s creator, Peter Armstrong, urges authors not to write in ‘stealth mode’ and that in-progress publishing could change how we consume books to resemble how we watch TV: one episode at a time. He even asks us to imagine what popular books like Harry Potter would have been like had it been published a chapter at a time while being written – I can only imagine even more hype and overpriced chapters.
I think in-progress publishing is a terrific idea for nonfiction books because authors can gauge which chapters and subjects are most interesting to readers in their target market and then tailor their final publication to best suit their audience. For instance, an author writing about chicken farming might discover that their readers are devouring chapters about basic chicken caretaking and ignoring chapters about the biological evolution of the chicken; in this case, the author might decide to change their book to a beginner’s guide to chicken farming. This type of tailoring is particularly useful for authors interested in working with a traditional publisher because in-progress publishing allows them to refine their work and build a target market to prove to publishers that their title will sell well.
However, I think in-progress publishing would be disastrous for fiction. Too many voices can kill creativity for a fiction author (unless you’re someone like Charles Dickens who did publish in-progress). That’s why many tend to write, as Armstrong puts it, in ‘stealth mode’ – because they need the time and distance to allow their creativity to develop naturally on its own. Imagine if JK Rowling had published Harry Potter in-progress? Would readers’ outrage over Dobby’s death have convinced her to miraculously bring the character back to life in the next chapter? Wouldn’t that have drastically changed the book’s emotional poignancy and plot? In-progress publishing could be a slippery slope where authors begin catering to the whims of the masses and neglecting their own creative license. In my opinion, fiction authors should write for themselves. Hopefully a fan readership will grow, but not because they were pandered to by an author greedy for sales, but because the author was authentic and true to their work.