Q&A with WEbook President Sue Heilbronner


WEbook is a new Web-based platform that blends traditional writing workshops with Web 2.0 functionality. Authors and groups can use the site to develop manuscripts, novels, screenplays and other publishable content, and if their efforts are well received, the projects are published by WEbook.

In the following Q&A, WEbook president Sue Heilbronner offers further details on the company and its collaborative process.

How did WEbook start?

WEbook is the vision of Itai Kohavi, our founder and CEO. In addition to being a twice successful entrepreneur in the technology space, Itai is a twice-published author. When he “completed” his manuscript of his third project — certain that it was in good shape — he sent it to a few sharp friends for their feedback. The critiques he received were superb and comprehensive, but he realized that if he had the reactions and input throughout the writing process, he would have produced a far better written product in far less time. In addition, he would have enjoyed working together with friends and fellow writers. He looked online to see if anyone had created a cooperative publishing tool that would have met his needs. Finding nothing suitable, he conceived of WEbook, doing away with the age-old vision of the lonely author and embarking on a community-sourced content creation environment for book publishing.

Is the platform based on wikis? Blogs? Is it proprietary?

Our platform is proprietary and was built for this purpose. It is based in part on wikis, with additional focus on inline comments, inline ratings, and versioning.

How many people are currently participating in projects?

As of April 9, the day WEbook opened its public beta following the alpha, there are 750 registered users of WEbook. Many of the alpha users were recruited in to the process to help provide valuable feedback on the platform and prove that collaborative authoring works.

How are projects created and managed?

Projects are created by an instigator who has an idea for a new book, collection, story, screenplay, etc. That person, the “Project Leader,” has the ability to invite others to participate in the writing, give feedback, or both. She sets exposure level and permissions for the project when she establishes it. The Project Leader is charged with managing the project, but in many cases the work can take on a life of its own, with other writers or reactors moving it ahead at a rapid pace.

Are all projects public?

No. WEbook felt it was extremely important to balance the interests of writers — who feel very strongly about the ownership and protection of their written work — with the wish of WEbook to create a vibrant community. WEbook allows a project leader or author to make a project private. In doing so, she can be the only member of the project or elect to invite a few friends. A “private” project can stay that way so long as it stays under 35 people (not coincidentally the size of the largest possible creative writing class). At member number 36, the project is effectively a WEbook public project. Users are made aware of this when their project hits that limit, and there are implications of this decision within the Terms of Use and the rights allocation.

Do authors maintain copyright?

The Terms of Use for WEbook required some really new thinking, as the model doesn’t exist anywhere else on the Web, and we needed terms that departed in important ways from copyright law in order to make the process possible. Authors who work on private projects with fewer than 35 people retain rights throughout. Once they hit that 36th member, put their work into the public realm, or submit their work for contention as a published WEbook, WEbook takes a six-month option to publish. If WEbook does indeed publish a book, rights are transferred to WEbook, the publisher. If WEbook does not publish, rights revert to the author. That’s the simple version. The WEbook Terms of Use are more detailed. We’re also producing a short, snappy video to highlight key issues of this all-important topic.

What is the revenue split with authors?

Authors and substantial contributors receive a total combined royalty of 5 percent of net sales.

How are substantial contributors determined? Is it a quantifiable level (i.e. they posted x number of times)?

We use a formula to determine materiality. It has a few softer inputs beyond quantity, which constitute attempts to create a measure of quality and significance to the ultimate work. This is not fully refined, and we expect this algorithm to be a continually moving process as the site evolves. Ultimately, users will see a measure of how they stack up against the algorithm to give them motivation and transparency. We also are intrigued by the idea of giving authors marketing tools to motivate users to contribute to their projects. This might have royalty implications in the future.

Have you found certain topics that are suited for collaboration?

Our goal is to provide a platform that adapts and grows in the direction the community sets. Our first book is Pandora, a fictional thriller written by 17 authors and 17 other contributors and editors. We believe
a novel is the highest challenge for collaborative writing, and we took it with the alpha community to prove the concept and learn how writers could write together in the hardest scenario — a continuous work of fiction.

That said, we think the majority of the WEbook successes will fall into the category of non-fiction or fiction collections. Topics that resonate most with users and, presumably, with the reading public, will be those that are enhanced in coverage because they have input from a community. So, for example, we have a project on our site related to successes families have achieved at home with kids diagnosed on the Autism spectrum. On a far less serious note, there is a great collection of essays on 101 Things Every Guy Should Know How to Do and The First Year, a collection of harrowing essays from first-year teachers.

How will books be selected for publication?

The community will vote on projects that have been put into contention for publication.

How will voting be managed?

Voting will be done on the site. Ratings already occur there for in-progress works and submissions. You will need to be a member of the community to vote. The bar to join is low, joining is easy, and we feel that in order to give an important thumbs-up or down to a work, you should at least identify as a member of the community.

The community will be the overwhelming majority voice in what is selected for publishing. This makes sense, as we view the community as an ingrained base of potential buyers. That said, it would be disingenuous to say that WEbook will move ahead on 100 percent of their top selections or not move ahead on something that just missed the cut. We have strong writers on staff and in our adviser circle (mainly coming out of the alpha experience), and we intend to use them as an occasional input to ensure we’re on a good quality path for constantly improving the brand and the work we bring to the market out of the site community.

What formats will books be available in?

WEbook plans to leverage the full range of existing formats — paper books, ebooks, audiobooks — as well as delve into new potential formats, including mobile dissemination and unique, customizable downloads.

Will the books be made available through retailers?

Pandora will be available at Amazon.com, BN.com and other Ingram-related online retailers. As WEbook establishes critical mass, a following, and a brand, we will pursue favorable distribution opportunities with brick-and-mortar retailers.

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