Indie book writing and publishing offer the opportunity to experiment, to develop new kinds of writing with new tools. One of these new tools is Leanpub.
Traditionally, writers and publishers do their research and write and edit behind closed doors, only afterward releasing the results to the world. It’s worked that way since the days of scrolls and papyrus, and it is the way most of us are accustomed to working. But opening up the writing and editing process to public groups is now a possibility, and well worth considering for certain types of books.
Leanpub is an online service that allows authors to write, edit, publish and sell an eBook at the same time the book is available – can be read and feedback given – on line. The site describes it this way: “Leanpub lets you write in one source manuscript in plain text, using your favorite plain text writing tools, and with one click produce an ebook in PDF (for computers), EPUB (for iPad, iPhone and Nook, etc.) and MOBI (for Kindle) formats.” Frequent changes, additions and updates are allowed.
Writing on Leanpub is akin to writing a blog post in software like WordPress, with a text window and formatting options. It doesn’t have the design controls necessary to create print books, but it has most of the relevant tools for eBooks, which are what it produces. Use of the online tools is free. Books can be sold through Leanpub’s online store (authors get a 90 percent royalty, minus 50 cents, for books sold there) or through any other eBook retailer, like Smashwords or Kindle.
What’s particularly unusual about it is that, while you’re writing online, readers you invite or who just happen by can view your manuscript-in-progress, can offer editing advice and suggestions. It’s a way of crowdsourcing research and editing for your book, with immediate feedback that can be highly useful for certain kinds of writing.
Suppose, for example, you’re a writer of technical or scientific material in a fast-evolving field. The ability to make frequent changes and updates in your book, even updating from season to season or month to month, could be a big plus. Most of the books published through Leanpub so far are scientific and technical, with titles like “Software Architecture for Developers,” “Exploring ES6” and “Symfony Certification.” Books such as these benefit from getting regular online updates.
Certain types of fiction might benefit from instant feedback as well. Imagine writing a novel chapter by chapter, the way many 19th century authors like Dickens and Doyle did (or the way some bloggers do now). You could get immediate reader response and comment, making fiction writing interactive and possibly more profitable.
Leanpub offers a fresh marketing and sales option as well. Readers could be given the option to buy a book still in early stages, maybe at a reduced price, along with the chance to influence its development. This could be something like a Kickstarter project that allows contributors inside the writing and editing process. Buyers could become something like investors buying wine futures, offering both financing and advice.
The concept won’t work for everyone, even in technical or scientific areas. Technical writer Jurgen Appelo looked into Leanpub after several other writers suggested it, and he found too many issues. Its formatting options were too limited for many kinds of book production work, he said.
He also took issue with the kind of feedback Leanpub offers: “Continuous deployment of unfinished products is great for software, but not for movies, books, and music. Very few people I know want to read the same book more than once. Me neither! I want to read your book when it’s finished, not while you’re still working on it. Sure, iterating is crucial while you’re still seeking feedback from beta readers and proofreaders. But they are not the final audience!” He pointed out that he could get significant reader comment by using his blog, PDF files and the MailChimp email service for delivery.
Leanpub appears to be growing, however, and its website carries some arresting testimonials. “I earn more royalties from my books on Leanpub than I do with well established publishers or through Amazon (which I publish on thanks to Leanpub’s mobi conversion),” said one person. Another said, “Leanpub is a game changer for independent authors, removing the hassles associated with formatting, book production, and electronic sales, freeing up the time to do what we do best: write.”
It’s one more tool in the rapidly expanding Indie toolbox.
Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use BookWorks as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear every other week.