It may or may not have come to your attention that Victoria Foyt’s latest literary creation Revealing Eden is the talk of the town. However, while we have recently witnessed the rewards reaped by successfully courting public opinion – Revealing Eden has tasted the other edge of that sword. Having been proclaimed, almost universally, as a naive and integrally racist piece of literature, Revealing Eden seems to have had exactly the opposite effect to that intended by its author. In fact, when short-story magazine Weird Tales published an extract of the book it resulted in many authors refusing to submit any more and may well have been the last straw in the magazine’s increasingly unsuccessful attempt to survive. However, this story has been covered in depth by a number of sources, type it into Google and you’ll see what I mean.
An issue that this controversy does raise (if it can be called such, few are on Foyt’s side) is the issue of the lone writer. Television, film, most factual books and even many online media are often the product of multiple authors, however Novels (and perhaps poetry) remain, stereo-typically, the domain of an isolated individual, typing madly away in a sealed room and producing the work only when it is finished. Admittedly, it’s not the only form of expression that is this way but it’s one of the few that can so easily be collaborated on. With the existence of resources like Google Documents and other real-time file sharing programs, 500 monkeys on 500 computers would certainly stand a better chance than their poor typewriter using ancestors. More importantly, one of those monkeys would be far less likely to finish a novel and self publish it to wide criticism and offense – one of the other monkeys would have spotted where they went wrong. This is technically referred to as crowdsourcing – the principle that you’re more likely to get the right answer based on mass wisdom. Of course there are exceptions to this but this doesn’t mean that prospective novels have to be put up for a vote by a panel (actually, that’s eerily similar to what does happen when an agency is considering taking someone on) but it does mean that it could be a far better idea to have writing teams.
This might seem far too corporate, far too divorced from the creative vision, and it might be. Maybe it’s best to allow the odd Revealing Eden to avoid squeezing out Animal Farm. On the other hand, in a recent debate on the future of the novel in Edinburgh – writers such as China Mieville argued that in this digital age, books could well become unavoidably collaborative – purist writers could find their works being ‘remixed’ by fans and have nothing to do about it. And he did not say that was a bad thing.
He and others also argued for a fixed salary for writers which would certainly mean a paycut for those at the top of the bestsellers list but would also allow many more writers to survive and write full-time. China argued that this would counteract what he called the “philistine thuggery of the market” which couldn’t tell good from bad. Not only would such a system be conducive to some kind of group authorship, he seems to argue that it would prevent ‘bad’ books selling just because their sales have reached critical mass while ‘good’ books are left unknown and on the shelves. Who is to say what counts as ‘bad’ and what counts as ‘good’ outside of sales figures I cannot say (although I must admit, I do think such an independent standard exists) but the fact remains that the digitizing of books is not only going to affect the streetside bookstores – it looks as though it could either facilitate the production of anything and a vicious increase in competition or result in a much more hospitable world, at least for burgeoning authors
You can read about the Revealing Eden criticism here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/aug/21/racism-row-novel-coals-pearls?intcmp=239
And about the Edinburgh conference here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/aug/21/china-mieville-novels-books-anti-piracy