Publishers should let the reader into the creative process and look to incubate start-ups in publishing to provide competition to Amazon, according to speakers at the FutureBook Innovation Workshop, run yesterday (5th July) in association with the Literary Platform.
Jeff Norton, founder of Awesome, described how he brought younger readers into the process of writing Alienated, a YA title about a human boy at the high school for aliens at Area 51. Norton said he had been inspired by Pixar’s creative development model of continually assembling the story and seeking feedback. "This is the 'secret sauce' behind Pixar's success. Other industries do this, it seems crazy to me that publishers do not. Readers are users, they want to be involved," he said.
Norton used a group of over 100 young readers to provide feedback on individual chapters, and story progression. He also ran a competition open to school children to illustrate a yearbook entry for the Groom Lake High School aliens. Norton said the development process had dramatically improved the book. "The manuscript is much better than expected. In fact I am embarrassed by the document we originally took out to publishers."
Norton admitted that this open process might not suit all authors: "a lot of authors will say 'no way in hell', and you really need an author to take the lead on this kind of project." While he said it would be difficult to "institutionalise" it, he could see a publisher setting up an infrastructure that enabled individual authors to slot into a framework that would help them generate feedback from readers.
Paul Bennun, creative director of Somethin' Else, advised against taking a "focus group" approach to new innovative projects, but he said creatives should share the project with users during its development, watch their reactions and listen to what they say. Don't ask people what they want but do lots of research, make stuff and show it to people, then repeat until it works, he said.
The conference also addressed the question of how to innovate in a world controlled by big groups such as Amazon and Apple. Peter Collingridge, who presented his Bookseer project, said a "credible threat to Amazon exists in start-up scene", but that many start-ups in the book business were struggling to work with publishers. "They are all finding it hard to work with publishers: they are incredibly slow to take things up."
Collingridge said that no single publisher could compete with Amazon, but that they could set aside funds in order to incubate start-ups.
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