Monday, April 25, 2011

A weird publishing notion: endless morphs

First the background: when you self-publish a digital book, you have the odd ability to change the text anytime you want. Just replace the book for sale by uploading a revised version -- and that's that. The problem, of course, is that readers will end up with different versions of the book. While musing about this, I wondered if an author could embrace this capability to the Nth degree.

What if there could be a new kind of writer -- one who constantly alters his book? If you bought it last month, you would have a significantly different version than someone who bought it today. A writer could conceivably write only one book -- and then alter it for the rest of his life and call this process "art". Hopefully, a loyal cult of readers would buy the book over and over, thrilled by the changes.

With each different version the author could invite readers further into the book, sometimes by changing events but often simply by presenting different angles from which to view events familiar from prior versions. The reader's perceptions would change with each new version. In essence, the writer would not only be toying with his book but with his audience, over years and decades -- nicely, I hope. And the cult of loyal readers would in the end have gone on an extended artistic journey with the author. Sounds quite intimate, really.

With enough creativity, this could become a a viable (albeit exhausting) art form. As icing on the cake, I think it would be great fun if the writer kept no records of previous versions, believing the book to be only what it was at the moment. And of course, the moment wouldn't last. Maybe the genre could be called "active morph".

(And a wise author would always hold back the latest version, to be released in case of his death -- ideally, one year later. One must always be prepared.)

Fran Liebowitz would be all over this. Just think. She'd never have to write that next book.