With Twitter, You Can Write A Book with Neil Gaiman

The BBC Audiobooks America folks have sent me a shiny press release today about a new Twitter-collaboration with Neil Gaiman that will result in an audio book:

This Halloween, BBC Audiobooks America (@BBCAA) is offering a treat for Twitter audiophiles: the chance to write a story with fantasy master Neil Gaiman. The New York Times bestselling author of The Graveyard Book and Twitter enthusiast (known as @neilhimself) will launch an original story-writing project on the popular social networking site October 13 at Noon EST.

Gaiman will tweet the first line of the story and fans can jump in and continue it with their own 140-character contributions. To participate, fans must log into Twitter (registration is free) and post in this format: @BBCAA Your Tweet Here #bbcawdio. Follow the story unfolding at #bbcawdio for minute-by-minute updates.

BBC Audiobooks America will compile the contributions of approximately one thousand tweets into a finished short story to be recorded by a professional narrator. The audiobook will be downloadable free at http://www.BBCAudiobooksAmerica.com/trade and also available as a digital download at iTunes and other audiobook retailers in time for the holidays

My reaction, word for word: “Huh. Okay.” I can understand this appealing to fans of writing experiments, and obviously to fans of Neil (himself!) but does this interest you personally? Would a Twitter-collaboration of fiction writing between romance authors and romance fans be interesting to you, especially if it were made available after editing as a free download in audio or text format? Or do you look at this type of thing and think, “Dude. Can I just buy books in novel form and move on already?”


Comments are Closed

  1. Kerensa says:

    Personally, I’m tired of all the gimmicks. Especially the ones like this that feel, er, too gimmicky. As in, no other purpose beyond attracting attention to themselves.

    Meh. I’ll pass, and focus instead on the authors who just go out and write good books.

  2. belldandelion says:

    My only question is why audio?  I can understand editing and releasing the finished product as an ebook but audio from Twitter?  That’s just a little too out-there.  I don’t tend to listen to audiobooks though – the only one I’ve ever listened to was when I cheated in hs on Voltaire’s Candide the night before the essay test was being given.

  3. AM says:

    “Dude. Can I just buy books in novel form and move on already?”

    I’m 2nd that thought.  How many romantic novels are awful with a predetermined plot, hundreds of hours of work, an editor (supposedly), and no time or character limitations?

    This is seem like the Internet version of the 1000 monkeys chained to typewriters thought experiment.  Without an infinite amount of time, I don’t see how they come up with anything but a pile of empty banana skins and monkey poo.  However, the project does seem like it has high camp potential.  The final version might be worth a read just for that.

  4. liz m says:

    My first thought is “who gets paid?” My second thought is gimmicky hack. If you put a canvas in the street and a thousand people splashed some paint on it, and Picasso signed it – is it a Picasso? (That’s the Kincaide question, isn’t it? Neil Gaiman, writer of light….)

    If it wasn’t being released commercially, then fine – a bunch of people want to have a blog game. As a profit enterprise? Nuh-uh. I’m out. Concept writing is fine – (see Geoff Ryman’s 253) but sideshow writing? I don’t even like people’s twitter feeds.

  5. liz m says:

    Can’t edit – need to piggyback myself – disclaimer – I get that the initial release is free – but the devil being in the details of the word ‘holiday release’ makes me think the subsequent copies won’t be.

  6. Gwynnyd says:

    Having read other collaborated-without-a-plan books – The Floating Admiral comes to mind – someone is going to have to force a plot on the chaos or it will be just unreadable. 

    My mind is croggling.  1000 tweets at 125 characters (140 less the necessary hash) is 125,000 characters or roughly… 20,000 words? Somewhere around there.  I hope Neil steps in every fifty tweets or so and drags it back to some semblance of whatever passes for “on track”.

      Pay for that?  Can I read a representative sample first?

  7. megalith says:

    Huh. I might be interested in it as a sort of one-time oddity. But I probably wouldn’t pay for something, even from a favorite romance author, if their only contribution was the first line of the story. The quality could end up being at best spotty and at worst like some of the moronic flame-wars one encounters.

    But, I freely admit I’ve never tweeted, so I’m not sure what the constraints are on the process. Perhaps the editing is meant to take care of quality issues?

    I do think a sort of progressive collaborative work between romance author(s) and readers would be fun to participate in or read.

  8. After seeing the first chapter of LESSONS IN FRENCH posted backwards in tweets (it was a sweet idea, Sourcebooks, but…) I would vote no.

  9. RStewie says:

    My first thought was that there would be so many at any given time it would become like some kind of Choose Your Own Adventure, but a lot more confusing.

    My second was that it would be very hilarious if SBTB did it with a Romance theme.

  10. megalith says:

    Er, sorry. What I meant was a progressive story wherein romance author(s) contribute to start the ball rolling, perhaps provide a rough plot, then someone else picks it up for the next scene and then back it goes to a professional. Something like that.

    On second thought, leave the writing to the pros. Maybe the romance author starts, then solicits ideas for where it goes from the readers or fans, and then another author writes, and then throw it open after a bit to the fans again?

    Yikes! The more I think about it the more of a mess I think that Gaiman project will be.

  11. Meggrs says:

    How does that even work? With potentially thousands of people tweeting in real time, even in response to a single hashtag topic, how do you get anything resembling a linear story out of a ton of people submitting ideas at once?

    Even with a massive amount of editing, this sounds extremely complicated.

  12. katiebabs says:

    I am surprised that some writers are getting publishing contracts on their 140 character books they pen.

  13. LG says:

    I can see how this might be fun as a participant (I’m a Gaiman fan myself, and I was all giddy when I got to meet him at a signing and hear him read a bit of Anansi Boys), but would I want to read or listen to the results?  No, not even with Gaiman’s name attached.  It’s nice press, and it’s got some of the fun of meeting an author (without the actual “meeting” part – which, on the plus side, means no money spent on transportation), but that’s about it.

  14. me, personally, I think it might be fun to follow on twitter, but I doubt I’d pay money for it.

  15. Stacey P. says:

    Considering how rapid-fire Twitter exchanges can get, I can’t see any way that it could stay on track without trying to fly apart when a dozen or more people are all posting at once. It might be a cool idea for a very SMALL group, with a rough plot already sketched out and a great deal of prior organization to make sure there’s not people typing over each other, but since it sounds pretty much like a public free-for-all? I’ll pass, I think. My head hurts just thinking about trying to follow it.

  16. April says:

    Eugh, Twitter.

    That was my entire comment.

  17. liz m says:

    Well, it will be a free for all. I think they’re planning to cherry pick tweets and assemble them into some form of narrative. Mad Libs gone techno or something.

  18. Lisa richards says:

    “This seems like the Internet version of the 1000 monkeys chained to typewriters thought experiment.  Without an infinite amount of time, I don’t see how they come up with anything but a pile of empty banana skins and monkey poo. ” So true.

    Jeez, it must be sad to have so little going on in your life, that you are reduced to monkey status.

  19. Rachel Aaron says:

    This looks like a Twitter version of the exquisite corpse, long time favorite of undergrad writing courses everywhere. It could be a lot of fun, but sadly I predict a lot of people trying to one up each other on cleverness showing off for Neil and end up not being very clever at all.

    Or maybe it could be a fantastic thought experiment and I’m just jaded. 😛

    As for the who gets paid question asked above, I bet it’s just a publicity thing thought up by someone in PR. No money, just free publicity and news coverage in exchange for a little time and a seed comment. Not a bad deal for anyone if you look at it from the publicity angle.

  20. Laurel says:

    I’m surprised at all the negative response. I’m a Gaiman fan and every account I’ve read indicates that he is an incredibly nice guy. This sounds like a way for him to connect to his fan base, never a bad idea.

    It’s just a fun project for people who want to participate. That’s who will want to read it. I probably won’t read it unless it turns out to be pretty good and generates some buzz, but I still think it’s a cool idea. Thousands of people who like Gaiman’s work get to feel involved.  Sort of like a thank you note to the fans, but way better than an “I just love you guys” post on a blog.

    wvs: before69. That should have come up on the Virginity Project post!

  21. Miri says:

    As much of a squealing Gaiman fangirl as I am.  I think I’m going to pass on this too. If he was doing it from his own website then i’d probably tune in. I’m just burnt on social networking sites. Too many strippers wanting me to see their web-cam.

  22. Wendy says:

    Gaiman fangirl and writer here, and I’m going to pass.

    I find it amusing as a writing experiment and Mr. Gaiman seems to like writing experiments, but I’m just not sure I can get on board with this.
    I agree with feeling that Twitter is too rapid-fire a format to make this into anything useful.  …and then if there has to be editing because nothing makes sense, you wind up with cranky fans. 

    I’ll be interested to see what comes of it and how Mr. Gaiman wrangles it though.

  23. Mina Kelly says:

    it’s a cute idea, but I can’t see it having any kind of coherence or plot by the end, not unless Gaiman is guiding it himself. With the number of potential twitterers involved it’s going to branch into multiple stories from the first tweet. How are the Beeb going to work out which tweet follows which? Or, as someone else postulated, are they just going to sift through the whole lot and construct a story out of whatever flows best?

    (and the only reason I can think for an audio book is the BBC don’t tend to put out much fiction in dead tree format – they do tons of podcasts, so they’re pretty much set for this).

    I think it’ll be fun, but I’m not sure there’ll be a story at the end!

  24. Been thinking about this.  Gaiman (love his books of course) is very big on web 2.0 and free content.  He pushes it very hard.  I think some of the—I wouldn’t call it negative, more like cynical—reaction is a real fear that somehow this is the way that fiction WILL go…to a cacaphony of free content.  I will admit to twinges of that fear myself, be they right or wrong.

    I mean, it’s hard to write a book.  But you get to “write a book” with Neil Gaiman.  Does this mean Gaiman isn’t writing his own books anymore?  Is this a book or is it just a fun gift for fans?  Who’s doing the work here of making this coherent?  Is anyone going to make it coherent?  Will coherency be the readers job, the way Twitter is?  Is it a way for a big author to make a splash without actually doing anything difficult or thoughtful himself?  Did the publicity dept think it up or did Gaiman?

    These are just random thoughts.  In the past there have been writing experiments similar to this, ppl writing in store windows with passersby contributing sentences.  They are not taken seriously, they are just artsy events. 

    I think what gives this more of an imprimatur of “the future,” whatever it may be, is the combo of Gaiman, Twitter and all the bleeding edge claims for what the social web will become and can do.

  25. Laurel says:

    Madlibs are great but no one has seriously suggested making one into a saleable novel. Ditto for a tweetbook. And certainly no one would have to buy it if somebody tried to put a price tag on it.

    Yep, it’s probably at least somewhat for publicity.

    Nope, I don’t see how they can possibly carve a decent story out of it. It will most likely read like a bad acid flashback.

    This is not an effort to take publishing in an entirely new direction, change the world, or come up with a prize winning novel. It’s for fun. And it will probably be fun for the people who participate. Which makes it free fun.

    And I’m always in favor of free fun that does not require a round of penicillin when you’re through.

  26. hazel says:

    I don’t know if anyone is still interested, as I realize this was a while ago, but I thought I would comment. As someone who discovered this via this blog and was involved with the process in it’s entirety (admittedly I’m a little baise) I have this to say.

    First, the audiobook will be free and edited considerably.

    Second, It was honestly one of the funnest times writing I’ve ever had. As for how it worked: everyone would submit a line or more and an editor would choose the next line and resubmit and the cycle would begin again. At times this could be frustrated when you disliked a certain line or plot point, but you could either get upset with it, or accept it and move on. This wasn’t a story where retconning was possible. It was frustrating when your brilliant sentence(s) wouldn’t fit into the twitter word limit, which required some fast thinking and creativity. And while at first it started out as a competition for the next line it quickly grew to something more then that. We started talking about the story, and making jokes, and congratulations behind the scenes. We became a little community.

    The final story was influence by Neil Gaiman (among other stories). It was hard not to be influenced by him considering the nature of the writers (neil gaiman fans mostly) and the opening line. Though we did try to steer it away from feeling like a bad retelling of an already written Neil Gaiman story (Which I think we managed). It also ended up ripe with cliches, awkward wording and plot holes/unanswered questions (like any other first draft written on the fly). We did try to address these problems as the story went on, but there was only so much one can do with twitter. This was made even more difficult because the story itself was limited in size (even though we ended up going over). There literally wasn’t enough room to go back and fix all the plot holes etc. But ultimately we were well aware we weren’t writing a masterpiece.

    However I like to think the story has potential to be an acceptable entry into published works, with a strong editing hand whose not afraid of some rewriting and plot dropping. (In a “Maybe not great, but not as bad as I thought it would be” way.)

    Will twitter become the few form of story writing? No. I am upset I got involved or ashamed of the outcome? While this wasn’t a story I would have written on my own, I’m very glad I was involved (so No). Do I know if anyone will care to read this besides those involved? I would guess only out of curiosity. But no matter if it started out as a gimmick it felt very real to us.

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