With a Little Help: an Experiment in Publishing by Cory Doctorow

Apr 7, 2011

Experimental sci-fi author Cory Doctorow’s new project is a self-published, print-on-demand collection of short stories called With a Little Help: an Experiment in Publishing.  The stories revolve around technology; its impacts, its misuses, and its efforts to one day take control.

Not only are the stories brilliant, his process is intriguing: readers are able to go into an online system where you can report typos and other errors on his website, www.craphound.com.  Doctorow then uses the tips to fix the errors and credit the specific reader who caught them in subsequent print runs… truly inspired!  He’s effectively drawn the reader into the evolution of the book and made it truly participatory. 

Given the recent news that publisher Harper-Collins has begun restricting library e-books to 26 checkouts before the content disappears (and libraries must repurchase the same title if others want to read), this sort of authorial innovation is desperately needed.  Doctorow’s fiction is accessible, entertaining, and discussion-worthy – but the way in which he is distributing his work places technology’s ability to work both for and against readers at the heart of both his prose and his practice. 

Doctorow’s literary agent, Russell Galen, provides the book’s afterword, admitting that they are not sure how an agent should or could be paid for such a project.  Of the current e-publishing world, Galen says “It’s a business model that enables only a tiny fraction of authors to make even a modest living, while employees of publishing houses enjoy solid middle class lives with salaries, health care, pensions, and expense accounts… Bad as that model is, we’ll soon look back at it as a Golden Age, because the future will be worse… Those of us who work on the business side of writing have always tried to think of new ways for writers to make money, but now that quest has taken on a new desperation.” (p.354) 

 Doctorow shares details of his project in a series of articles for Publisher’s Weekly.

Reviewed by Helen H.
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