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I'm writing a detective story set halfway between San Francisco and the internet. And the more people who reserve a copy, the better each one will be!
I'm writing a detective story set halfway between San Francisco and the internet. And the more people who reserve a copy, the better each one will be!
570 backers pledged $13,942 to help bring this project to life.

Bigger than Obama? We need ninjas, and lots of 'em

Hello! New backers: welcome! Folks who have been here from the start: Wow, can you believe this is update fifteen?

Exciting times, with five days to go! The agenda: First, a note on the new phase I'm unveiling this week. Second, a writing update.
SO, I JUST NOTICED SOMETHING. On the list of the most popular Kickstarter projects of all time—ranked by number of backers—this project is number two! The only crew bigger than ours is Designing Obama. That's... pretty amazing. (Again, that's in terms of number of backers, not number of dollars—but if you ask me, that's the metric to care about.)

Now listen. I don't know if it's possible to beat that project. We're talking about, on one hand, Barack Obama, the most famous person in the entire world; and on the other, Annabel Scheme, a fictional character that approximately no one has ever heard of.

And yet. We're not that far away, you know?

So here's what I'm going to do. The DIGITAL PACK is now obsolete, and the new pledge in town is the ULTIMATE NINJA ALLY PACK. It's getting a new price: $1.
My goal, for the next five days, is to get as many backers into the tent as I can, and if they're all ULTIMATE NINJA ALLIES, that's awesome. It's just a dollar to get a slick digital copy of a brand new book in your inbox—and, way more importantly, only a dollar to signal that you think this is a cool way to do things.

Only a dollar to... be bigger than... Obama?

(If you're an existing DIGITAL PACK backer, good news: you just got a free upgrade to PHYSICAL PACK. No reward dilution here.)

If you've ever considered blogging about this, posting a Facebook update about this, emailing a friend about this: now's the time, with just five days remaining. Besides the personal benefit of getting a book, digitally or physically—a significant benefit, I assure you—I think there's a collective benefit to all saying together: "There is a different way to do this. And it's the real deal, not a novelty. Just look at us here." It sets a precedent and creates a case-study for other writers, and other communities, who want to work this way.

On to business! Let's talk about writing and real-time feedback.
I FINISHED THE MANUSCRIPT ON FRIDAY. This doesn't mean it's 100% done. What it means is that, for the first time, I had a coherent draft, start to finish, with no gaps. I burned through an inkjet cartridge and delivered copies in gold envelopes to my friends (and trusted first readers) Aaron, Andrew, Kiyash, and Matt. It looked like this:

My favorite kind of feedback, especially for writing like this, is what I call "real-time feedback." At Poynter they say it like this: "Make me a movie of your reading." The idea is to pay close attention to your reaction in the moment: Are you getting bored? Or are you in the flow, words running together, almost disappearing on the page? Where are the speed bumps? Where do you smile or laugh out loud? Where does your suspension of disbelief come crashing down?

You take note of this right there on the manuscript itself, as you're reading; it's easier to do it with pen and paper than on a computer. It's like the flight data recorder in the cockpit; it shows the inspector (me) where there was turbulence, where you went off course, where you (gulp) crashed.

These real-time reactions—the fruits of first encounter—are impossible to recreate or simulate after a story has become familiar. And I think they're the most important reactions. It's one thing if you finish my story and think to yourself, "hmm, the structure of the middle part was a little wonky" or "that character was kinda flat." It's another if you don't finish my story at all. I put real priority on the real-time experience of reading. Everything else is a bonus level.

So, my first readers have already started to deliver some of this feedback, and I have to say: Wow. I've never doubted the value of other eyes and other minds, but this is a stronger reaffirmation than I expected. Their notes are like a drug—no exaggeration. My brain feels suddenly capable of new things. I don't think that's an illusion.

So the next five days of editing and reengineering are going to be, if possible, even more insane than the many days of writing and raw imagining so far. There is a lot I want to do—a lot to improve. And I'm meeting with Andrew and Kiyash tonight, so I'm bracing myself for another dose of this drug, this real-time feedback crack.
One more quick meta note: I do plan to talk a lot more about the writing process—about things I didn't expect, things I learned, especially re: writing something of this length—but I'm going to save that for after October 31. It will take time and words to do it right, and all of my time and words are allocated, at this moment, to Annabel Scheme.
Next update: a peek at the manuscript; a dramatic reading (really this time); more news on the CC remix catalyst; argh too much to write about!


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    1. Missing avatar

      Shaun Phillips on

      @James: Love the Darwin margins link. However, I think that Marginalia journal is not what you think it is. It says it's for medieval research, mostly on literature, not necessarily focusing on the margins themselves (?). If I'm wrong at a quick look of it, my bad.

    2. rmagahiz on

      Perhaps there should be a super-donor level where one receives a facsimile of the original manuscript (the "holograph") complete with burrito bits. It would be a boon for scholars of the future as well.

    3. James Jacobs on

      Love the idea of getting a peak at Robin's margins. btw Shaun, there's a whole academic discipline about researching the marginalia. check out the journal of marginalia:

      And Darwin's digital marginalia:

      Is there a margin muse in your library book?
      Daniel Kalder
      Guardian, 28 July 2009

    4. Missing avatar

      Shaun Phillips on

      @Robin's idea of pics of an edited manuscript got me thinking:
      As someone who often has to go back to paper field notes when the digital data fails me (even someone who's as strong of a supporter of "paper-free" as I am), the hand-scrawled messages on the margins are sometimes the most informative. I recently pulled out some of my old undergrad notebooks and journal articles and noticed the same pattern on those. I wonder if this "margin-living" is something only a few people do, what kind of people, how recent of a trend (if it is a trend), etc?

      I think a cool bonus you could send out would be a full version (or maybe your favorite edits) showing the hand-scribbled notes. Might be informative to us as readers to see the thought process. However, I definitely understand if that's a little too close to the source to show off.

    5. mikeho on

      I think ya gotta auction off the first-reader copies after Oct 31st.... at least preserve them as the zeroth edition print.

    6. Offbeatmammal on

      it's getting closer! I think your "readers in waiting" are almost as excited as you!

      I've waited for the release of traditional books / movies / music before with the occasional peak into the process (William Gibson for example did a great job of teasing and telling during the writing of "Spook Country") but this is the most involved I think I've ever felt by the process as much as the result

    7. Robin Sloan Creator on

      @Saheli: I think I'm going to take some snaps of an edited, written-on manuscript, too. I always like images like that -- digital documents as physical objects, with wrinkles, ink stains, and little blobs of burrito.

    8. Missing avatar

      deleted on

      The author of this comment has been deleted.

    9. Dylan Beadle on

      Beta testing the story to fix the bugs - very cool!
      Off to help reinvent writing and publishing by getting more backers!

    10. Robert Baruch on

      Congratulations on finishing the manuscript! (balloons fall from the ceiling)

    11. Saheli on

      I love the manuscript shot--the ultimate teaser. Is this a genre? I can't think of any "traditional" author who would post such a shot--maybe Gaiman, but I think now he writes in long hand.

      <i> Their notes are like a drug—no exaggeration. </i>

      Awesome. So true.