Crowdsourcing a novel?

A little while ago now I attended the media140 conference in London, one of the subjects on the agenda was crowdsourcing and the work that Unilever have been doing with their Peperami brand on crowdsourcing ideas for campaigns (check out this article if you would like more info on the campaign: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/blog/2009/aug/25/unilever-peperami-advertising-crowdsourcing).

The Unilever Marketing Manager and a representative from Idea Bounty (the crowdsourcing firm contracted to run the campaign) spoke about how the aim was to get fresh ideas and perspectives from people already involved in the creative industry or possibly the advertising industry: freelancers, graduates, small agencies etc.

This got me thinking… Would it be possible to crowdsource a novel? The concept is slightly different from the Idea Bounty model but goes like this: there are lots of people out there (me included) who love to write and like the idea of writing a book, however most of them do not have the time or inclination to actually sit down and write a full 15-20 chapter 300+ page novel. However, writing a chapter: that might be far more appealing. So we do it like this: one person writes a first chapter, uses their imagination, it can be about anything they like, they post it on the web on a pre-designed blog or website… After Chapter 1 has been read then anyone can take it up and write a second chapter, from there others write a 3rd and so on until the story reaches a natural conclusion.

In my opinion this has 2 really exciting possibilities: firstly: the story could go anywhere, secondly the same story could separate into multiple threads going off on totally different tangents depending on the imagination of various writers, it would be a pure meritocracy with those threads people enjoy continuing and those that do not get traction dying off naturally. I am still germinating this idea in my mind but it could be an interesting online version of that old school game where you stand in a circle and each say a word that then forms a sentence and then a short story etc etc.

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3 responses to “Crowdsourcing a novel?

  1. I think the key hurdle to crowdsourcing a novel would be the adherence to a coherent plot. Fan fiction seems to work because it takes a pre-conceived world and adds characters, plots and details to it. So I’d imagine for a crowdsourced novel to work, the instigator would need to provide a plot-outline and character brief and let the great unwashed have at it. An established popular author might be able to pull it off, attracting contributions, acting as editor, moderating and assembling disparate submissions.

    On a slightly tangential note, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails instigated a pretty impressive instance of crowdsourcing. He made the raw footage shot professionally on a Nine Inch Nails tour available online. Fans self-organized to delegate and handle post-production; releasing a 2 hour HD, Dolby 5.1 sound mixed concert film on torrents and BluRay.

    Post-production is the most time-consuming and expensive aspect of live performance production. Irrespective of your opinion of the music, that’s a sterling example of crowdsourcing.

  2. Yeah, I’ve thought about this one too. I have so many books started but find it hard to continue the momentum, when things are changing everyday. I used to love Choose Your Own Adventure novels. That could work nicely too. You have several writers putting in their next section and whichever you choose, you get your own tailored end of story. Hey you work at 1000heads right? And used to work at Rainmaker? I am waiting to hear back from a second interview there to work on the Nokia account and have a good friend at Rainmaker. I saw your post on their website and checked you out! Well, ya never know, we might end up colleagues…

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