Okay, this should completely exhaust my ingenious idea quota for the millenium, because I had a helluva good one tonight at the Boston meet-up. Kate Tilton brought up the unfortunate number of self-published books she’s read lately that had a ton of potential but were rife with distracting typos. And like a lightning bolt striking me in the brain (or maybe it was the one beer), I saw the next Kindle update, a magnificent Kindle update. By marrying Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature and cloud storage, we would get the wikified e-book.
Here’s how it works: A reader is zipping along through their latest download. They come across a typo, or what they perceive to be a mistake in the book. Using the already-built-in highlight feature and on-screen keyboard, they mark this mistake and type in their suggestion for a fix, refinement, or improvement. They can even mark what kind of suggestion it is, like “typo”. Here’s the ingenious part: The author can pull up the current e-book on their computer and see all the track changes. They can view “all readers”, sort the track changes by date, by type, by reader, and so on. If they agree with the mistake and fix, they click a button, and the change is made. That change then propagates to the Kindle store, meaning the next person won’t see the mistake.
Here’s the next awesome bit: Any reader who suggested the fix automatically gets points (if multiple readers offered the same suggestion, they all get points). These points go toward buying e-books. This rewards the early-adopters who help clean up works as they read them, and it ensures that subsequent readers purchase cleaner material.
Now, this in no way would be a substitute for sound editorial practices on the part of the author. I don’t think readers will tolerate rough drafts being published, and they shouldn’t be expected to. But mistakes happen, both in self-published and traditionally published books. Readers have pointed out to me that the Random House UK edition of WOOL has a mistake in the header in a later chapter. What we are creating here is one more step in quality control, and why not? We have the technology to make it happen. Why not have a system that rewards those who happen to spot errors? Why not have a system that improves the user experience for future readers?
This sort of thing is already going on, but the process is laborious. I get emails about typos, and I know readers who notify publishers about typos. This allows the process to happen right there in the e-reader device, and it makes it simple and painless for the author to accept or deny a tracked change and implement the change inside the uploaded e-book. It’s the wisdom of the crowds applied to literature. It’s the wikification of novels. I expect you would have a reading subset that bought books close to release and took pride in the number of their suggestions that were accepted. Rank these readers the way reviewers get ranked. And let them enjoy the free e-books they pile up as reward.
That beer has totally worn off, and this still seems like a brilliant idea. Uncle Jeff, are you listening?