Messing with Everyone

Twitter has its uses, eh? After tweeting some of my ridiculous schtick (I’ve been using Twitter as a sort of stream-o-consciousness platform, just riffing on whatever random topic comes to mind), this time concerning how I want everyone to send me their battered well-loved copies of my books in return for a pristine new copy. I’d encourage everyone to sign their used copies before sending them to me, and I’d start a little museum of the personalized copies of my books.  Sean Ferrell replied with an even better idea: Folks should send me their used copies and I send them a new copy with a different ending.

This is genius. We quickly sketched out a fantastic idea: Publishing a book that had many, many different subtle variations. Like, 250 different versions of the book. We’d tell no one. No announcement, no PR campaign. One person’s copy would have the hero dying in the end, another’s would have him live. Some would be almost identical except for different adjectives used throughout. The point is, we’d tell no one. Slowly, people would start to realize what we’d done.

This would be an amazing idea, a social experiment cum publishing stunt. But of course you’d need a publisher that doesn’t mind being a little ridiculous, and the brass balls to do it all with a straight face. Not to mention possibly invalidating your story completely if there are sixteen different endings and a basic admittance that it doesn’t matter what adjectives you use in that scene.

Still. . .I’m tempted.

Of course, you could do this much easier with an eBook, just serving up randomly selected files from a pool. Still, as Nick Mamatas pointed out on a recent SF Signal mind-Meld, eBooks are overpriced currently ($10 for a file I don’t even actually own, but only ‘license’? Jebus save us) and many are encumbered with DRM. So eBooks currently=Fail. Plus also too, doing this sort of thing with actual printed copies is so much more grand and epic. People could spend years trying to collect ’em all! And then think of the translations!

So, next time you’re reading one of my books, you might want to call up a friend and compare some pages. You never know.


  1. Damaso

    Just give the folks at Orbit a couple of shots of the moonshine I’m bringing back and I am sure they’ll agree to anything.

    You should pursue the eBook idea though. At Amazon you can redownload a book as many times as you want. Once you pay for it, you can download updated copies of the same book for no cost. You could put out a different ending every week or month or whatever…

  2. Dan Krokos

    Cool idea. But guaranteed to drive me insane.

  3. Lunch

    You would be a god if you did that and I wholeheartedly support this idea.

    Maybe though, you could just tell the special people who follow your blog how *many* versions there are? Cause I think it would drive me insane not knowing if I knew every possible ending.

  4. jsomers

    Lunch, the whole idea of this blog is to drive you insane. Muhahahaha!


  5. jsomers

    Dan, the whole idea of this blog is to drive you insane. Muhahahahaha!


  6. jsomers


    Amazon’s DRM is an abomination, so while my books are available on Kindle, I don’t think I’ll be buying one or encouraging others to just yet.

    To be honest, I’m not one of those writers who wants to update his books. I always consider a finished book finished. I don’t even re-write the unpublished ones frmo 10 years ago unless there’s a very good reason. If I don’t like the way a book turned out, I write a new book using the same themes and ideas, and try to get it right that time.


  7. Damaso

    So is Sony’s DRM. Look, for a decade Apple had DRM for iTunes and I don’t remember all this hue and cry about it. I think it sucks but let’s remember that it was Amazon who introduced DRM free downloadable music and pushed Apple to do the same, which they finally did.

    I believe that in a few years we won’t be having this conversation, books, like music will become DRM free, but remember how much of a fight the music industry put up? Well publishers are doing the same idiotic thing. Amazon has publicly said it wants DRM free books. I don’t think you should be discouraged from experimenting with an idea just because the tech is far from perfect.

    You could actually execute this idea with an ebook (say a short story priced at 99 cents). Meanwhile I don’t think any publisher is going to put the money behind publishing a dozen different versions of the same novel (and none publishes single short stories in book form do they?). If they do then I will line up to buy as many as I can afford…

  8. jsomers

    DRM in general is useless and counterproductive, agreed. I have never bought an iPod or used iTunes for that reason, though of course now Apple has indeed removed the DRM so my objection there has been removed. Amazon’s a corporation and they’re doing what’s in their best interests, not mine–I don’t demonize them (buy from Amazon all the time–yep, mainly music downloads these days). But just because they probably won’t be foisting broken, rights-damaged versions of books on us in a few years is no reason to spend money on broken, rights-damaged books *now*. When I buy a book I have the right to read it, read it to a friend, loan it out, resell it, burn it, make origami out of it, or eat it. When I have the right to do the same with an eBook of some kind, then I’m in.

    Thought frankly I still don’t dig eBooks purely on aesthetic grounds.

    As for my ridiculous idea, for some reason it doesn’t seem as cool with an eBook. Too easy, I think, for folks to gather and compare versions. The slow burn of people around the country/world slowly realizing what’s going on is what’s cool, for me. Getting the Hive Mind on it in a day ruins it, for me.

  9. Damaso

    But with an eBook you would have to keep downloading it, if you missed one (esp.with evil DRM) you *couldn’t* get the others making them even more rare from one point of view. I really hope you give it a shot, just for fun.

    I agree with you in many respects but just because something isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having. For me, writing from Slovakia at the moment, I couldn’t have read the fifteen books I have over the past two months without an eBook reader, nor would I have wanted to carry them around. Aesthetics are important but its the words, man, the wooords that make it special.

    BTW any word on a release date?

  10. jsomers


    Oh, I hear you on the obvious advantages of eBooks–in some ways, under some cricumstances, they beat old fashioned books hands down. On the other hand, I sure can wait for something to match up with my desires before I buy it, or even experiment with it. That’s just a personal decision, not meant as a comment on the rest of the world. We all make our decisions based on our own internal clocks.

    No specific release date that I know of. August is as close as we get.


  11. Lunch

    Personally, nothing beats reading a paperback. For individual articles, the internets work fine, but for a book? Mno. The Kindle is okay… But I’d miss the paper.

  12. Dave

    Hell, I think that’d be an awesome idea. I’d buy multiple copies just to see where they were different.

    Though I don’t want to send you my pre-loved copies. That’s just dirty, somehow. *insert emoticon here*

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