Web 2.0 for the Novel

A dear friend mourned the recent passing of President John F. Kennedy’s close confidant and speechwriter Ted Sorensen. “He wrote my favorite book,” she said.

Which one? I asked.

She couldn’t remember the title. But I was missing the point – it wasn’t a book she actually read. It was simply a large hardcover of size and heft that had become a useful blunt instrument around the house when she needed to bash something and a hammer wasn’t available or appropriate.

Books, I was reminded, are quite solid objects.

Not so with digital books. In the emerging e-books world, books and the stories they contain aren’t even static – the text can be changed or updated in an instant. When my latest novel, The Sower, was published last year, the first release was as a digital book, and at the time I made the point of saying how this created a new possibility for authors. Once committed to the printed page, our words were locked. Digital books offered a key to get back inside.

Now I’ve done exactly that with a new digital edition of my novel, The Sower 2.0. I’m told it’s the first version 2 of a novel.

It’s not that I’ve had second thoughts about the first time I wrote the book. The message of the novel is the same, as are the characters, the themes, and the overall story arc. These took years to conceive, and I have not changed my mind.

But the novel has always been set in an alternative version of the present day. It’s a thriller about a manmade supervirus. Instead of killing people, the virus cures all diseases. But there’s a hitch. The only way the virus cure can be passed to others is through sex.

This sets off the ultimate battle of the current culture wars. That’s what drove me to release the first edition last year as an e-book. Digital publishing meant I could work on the novel right up until the hour of publication, making it as topical as the day’s news. With print publishing, a book must typically be completed two years before it reaches readers.

So nearly 18 months after The Sower was first released, my intention was to go into the novel and update all those references to current events so they would be refreshed for late 2010.

Once I got back inside the book, however, I let my imagination run a little wild. I began looking and scenes and wondering – what if I played one crisis a bit differently? What if I moved a different confrontation elsewhere?

These “what if?” questions quickly led me to realize that I wasn’t dealing in a scenario where any change would require a costly new print run. I had the freedom to do anything I desired.

So I ended up reimagining the entire novel, similar to how a film might be re-released in a “director’s cut” edition. There’s a new opening, and what was originally a 30 chapter novel is now 40 chapters – and yet the book overall is shorter.

The new edition of The Sower also allowed me a coming out of sorts. Version 2.0 notes both my pen name, Kemble Scott, and my real name, Scott James. Although not a secret identity, I’ve always written fiction under the pseudonym. But since the first edition was released, I’ve started contributing a weekly column to The New York Times and The Bay Citizen. In the spirit of transparency, which is important in the world of journalism, I’ve now put it all out there.

And for The Sower 2.0’s initial release on Scribd, the book is enhanced with a true advanced web experience – the new reading technology Apture. This allows readers to learn more about aspects of the novel by highlighting a word or phrase. Pop-up windows bring in videos, photos, maps and articles with additional information, all without leaving the text of the novel. It’s an opportunity for a deeper reading experience, while remaining in the story.

Should novels be treated this way?

In a time when audiences have taken the creativity of others for sampling, mash-ups, and reinvention, there’s no reason why authors can’t take some of the same liberties with their own work. This digital era makes this remarkably easy to do.

Of course, there are those of us who still love printed books. So the hardcover edition of The Sower from Numina Press remains for sale for those who prefer to read the book in printed form. It is available in stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, including The Booksmith, Books Inc., A Great Good Place for Books, and A Different Light…plus online everywhere else in the world.

And having the hardcover is important for folks like my friend – she wouldn’t dare hammer anything around the house with a Kindle!


About the Author:

Scott James writes a weekly column that appears in The New York Times and The Bay Citizen. In the world of fiction, he is known by the pen name Kemble Scott, and is the author of the bestselling novels SoMa and The Sower.


  1. Tim Kay November 12, 2010 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    So “Apture” can essentially google any word while inside your book. The coup here is that readers aren’t opening a new window and are less likely to forget what they started out reading, but it’s still a tangent that takes them out of the story.

    People read online, engaged in ways that have never been possible before, but few of them read fiction in that way. We can use the new technology to tell stories in totally new ways, but digital publishing is still trying to find that potential. This kind of thing is pushing us along the path, but it’s hard for anyone to see where that path is going.

  2. Franklin Hunten July 25, 2018 at 7:34 am - Reply

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