A Million Penguins

February 1, 2007

This morning, Penguin announced the launch of A Million Penguins, a wikinovel project in association with De Montfort University.

Students from De Montfort’s MA in creative writing form the basis of the projected community of writers, which will edit and expand upon the short first chapter provided over a period of six weeks. (I think six weeks – the timescale is a little unclear. Rather sweetly, they’ve left lots of setup notes on their blog, such as the inspiration gained from this Lost fan wiki.) The students will also form the core moderators of the project, which should help prevent edit wars.

The project is another brainchild of Penguin’s Digital Publisher Jeremy Ettinghausen, who’s also behind Penguin’s extensive Second Life presence and other forward-thinking projects. Viking editor Jon (no surname given) will be guiding the project, acting as a regular editor, giving ideas on direction and revision. Knowing what editing one author’s work is like, I don’t envy the job of doing the same for a potentially massive authorbase (we need some new mass nouns here). He’s certainly open-minded about the end product, as long as it doesn’t turn out to be a “robotic – zombie – assassins – against – African – ninjas – in – space – narrated – by – a – Papal – Tiara type of thing”. Shame.

The Guardian obviously obviously got the wrong end of the stick as it reports that “Ettinghausen is emphatic that the experiment has not been set up by Penguin as an online literary Pop Idol,” and Editor John also stresses that “the wikinovel experiment is not a place to prove to Penguin we should publish your book.” This is clearly more in the spirit of the networked book (or, dare we say it, Booktwo’s own, terminally alpha projects), and it seems unlikely that Penguin will get a novel out of it that they would consider publishing in the mass market – “To be honest, we don’t know exactly what is going to happen or how this will turn out”- all the more kudos to them for trying it, then.

I’ll be keeping a regular eye on the project, and trying to make sense of it as it evolves. I’m still looking forward to the network novel that won’t play merely with authorship but with structure too; that explores the potential of technology to change not just how novels are written, but how they are read. In the end, the product of A Million Penguins is unlikely to look very different to a regular novel – but it’s a great place to start.

1 Comment

  1. […] A collaborative book. My favorite part is what they don’t want it to become… […]

    Pingback by The Digital Sextant » Blog Archive » Book 2 — February 8, 2007 @ 7:59 am

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