We've heard this question a few times and we're likely to hear it more in the coming weeks so let's address some of the reasoning behind the 24-Hour Book and what the hell we expect to achieve. There have been a couple of 24-Hour Books. The first was in 2009 and the most recent was this year, both organised from the UK and involving if:book London. Each project is different in its focus and end product, but the common thread between them is the use of the timeframe to demonstrate the capabilities and explore the possibilities of working in a digital environment. In every case, we’re hoping to produce something unique to its process, something that couldn’t be reproduced in a more traditional environment.
Our pithy reasons for doing this are “because we can” and “because it’ll be fun”. As slight as that sounds, in most cases that was enough convince some of Australia’s best writers to get involved. What we hope to achieve is an exploration of how a digital process informs and influences collaborative writing and editing in a combination of face-to-face and screen-to-screen.
There are really three collaborations taking place: author to author, author to editor, and book to audience. As we write, updates will be made accessible on the web, the audience will be able to see the work unfolding on screen and interact with it via comments. Comments and suggestions will be filtered back to the authors, potentially influencing the direction of the story.
The final product for the project will be available in both digital and print. By insisting on a print edition, we hope to remind everyone that digital and print is not an either/or prospect and that the same process can produce a text in whatever medium readers want.
The Book is a Data Set
Finally, because we’re using a database to store the work in progress, we hope to finish the project with a complete record of the book’s creation, from the first word of the first draft to the final edit before publication. We hope to be able to explore this data in more detail through the rest of the year, exploring how many ways a book’s data can be represented.
The Final Product
The book will freely available to read on the web and freely downloadable in digital formats for the 24 hours that follow the project. After that, it will make its way into the retail environment in both print and digital. Any income from the book will be evenly distributed between the writers and lead editor. If:book’s goals for the project are experimental, not commercial.
Collaboration and data is really at the centre of the project (the timeframe is really just a convenient way to get both). Digital and online writing tools are at heart collaborative tools. Every blogging platform is built to handle multiple authors and editors (our tech for the project is based on a blogging tool). Although collaborative writing often lies at the heart of other media like film, it’s relatively underexplored in narrative fiction. I suspect writers are far more gregarious than popular perception would have you believe. Writers love working together and bouncing ideas off each other and this is the kind of atmosphere we hope to generate.
In this case, the digital environment is merely a system to help us navigate a more traditional idea of collaboration: writers physically together and discussing their stories. Where digital really comes into its own is the ability for collaboration to go much much wider. Opening the text up as it unfolds allows us to seek feedback on the fly. Sure, we’ll have no filter and no idea whether such feedback will be constructive or even welcome, but hey that’s the web for you. Digital writing is expected to be flexible: bloggers respond to their readers, readers expect to be heard and acknowledged. Why should we be any different just because we’re writing in a different form?