Valley author Daniel Pinkwater has been letting Web readers
take a peek at his new book for free—and now is waiting to
see how it will affect sales
a time when many creators seem to be spending as much time
blocking their products from showing up early on the Internet
as they do creating new work, children’s-book author (and
frequent National Public Radio guest) Daniel Pinkwater has
been doing the unthinkable: willingly turning over his new
novel, beginning well before it was published, to the online
audience at no charge.
just couldn’t wait a year to find out what people think of
this book—I wanted them to start reading it now,” says Pinkwater
of his decision to begin posting the unedited manuscript of
The Neddiad, his just-published novel, on his Web site,
www.pink water.com, nearly a year before its print release
When the first chapter went online in August 2006, The
Neddiad’s tale of a young boy crossing the country with
a host of quirky companions created an Internet phenomenon
of sorts, with many identifying Pinkwater as one of—if not
the only—author to present a version of his work online at
no charge after securing a publishing deal. Nearly a year
later, the adventures of the Neddiad’s young hero,
Neddie Wentworthstein, are nearing the halfway point on Pinkwater’s
homepage, while the fully-edited-and-refined print version
of The Neddiad hit bookstore shelves on April 23. Pinkwater
has promised to continue releasing the rest of the manuscript
online at no charge, one chapter each week, until Neddie’s
According to Pinkwater, The Neddiad represents the
best of his long list of published novels—in fact, he believes
that it’s his best work since his first book, Lizard Music.
It was this quality that prompted him to venture from the
standard marketing strategies and, in a moment of inspiration,
ask publisher Houghton Mifflin if he could try to drum up
attention for the book by posting the manuscript online, unedited
and in the same form he turned it in.
didn’t really want it to get missed,” says Pinkwater of spur-of-the-moment
request. “Most books have a very short window to get noticed—maybe
a week, maybe less. Maybe if there isn’t any review, there
is no window at all.”
Pinkwater says he was pleasantly surprised by the “extremely,
extremely nice” response from the publisher. However, he made
sure to have the first chapter posted as soon as he received
approval to do so, in order to avoid any opportunity to reconsider.
have been crediting me with all kinds of viral marketing strategy
and being smarter than I am,” laughs Pinkwater of the attention
he’s received lately. “I’ve been getting invited to speak
in prestigious venues and people are treating me like a good
writer —which might be their mistake, I don’t know.”
The book has been on sale now for less than two weeks, so
the jury is still out on whether this grand experiment was
a success. If nothing else, it has been a learning experience
for everyone involved —including the readers.
I like so much about this presentation of The Neddiad
is the mixture of text, images, oral storytelling, and—most
of all—this forum, which is as close to the sort of exchanges
that might occur if we readers were all sitting with the author
in the flesh as he read/told us his story,” wrote one member
of The Neddiad’s online forum in a message thread devoted
to one of the chapters. “Very, very cool indeed!”
For Pinkwater, the back-and-forth communication fostered by
posting The Neddiad online has been one of his favorite
outcomes of the endeavor thus far. And while adults—including
Pinkwater himself—have become the most active participants
on The Neddiad’s message boards, the forum has also
played host to discussion among many of the book’s intended
initial posts were all from people who were around 14—and
very impressive they were,” says Pinkwater.
In addition to providing a forum for chapter-by-chapter discussion
of the book, the decision to post The Neddiad manuscript
online has opened the door for some new opportunities—and
amplified some old frustrations.
In December, Pinkwater offered up a holiday bonus for readers
by recording himself reading the chapter released that week
and posting the audio file online for readers to download.
The recording was so well received on the forums that it prompted
Pinkwater to agree to do a full audio version of the book.
But the online experience hasn’t been all roses for Pinkwater.
Along with receiving some complaints from readers who felt
they were being “teased” by the incremental release of the
book, Pinkwater discovered that offering up his unedited manuscript
to the online audience has increased many of the little annoyances
a writer endures while moving a book from concept to bookstore
you hand someone a manuscript, I don’t care who it is—your
sister, your best friend, whatever—they just take out a pencil
and start making corrections,” says Pinkwater of the forum
posts and emails regularly popping up from readers who point
out typos, grammar concerns and such in the online version
of The Neddiad.
Despite regular reassurances from Pinkwater that the online
version of The Neddiad is an unedited manuscript and
that the final print version was subjected to several rounds
of editing by professionals many months ago, readers continue
to offer up their suggestions for improving the novel.
In the end, though, Pinkwater says he’s well aware of the
fleeting nature of Internet fame—and knows that no matter
how things go with The Neddiad, he’ll likely need to
find another new and different way to let people know about
his next book. In the ever-evolving online world, this week’s
new marketing strategy tends to be tomorrow’s old news.
conscious of the fact that we’re in the first five minutes
of an information revolution and we don’t really know where
it’s going and what it’s going to be,” says Pinkwater. “In
general, I’m optimistic about it and I just really want to
see what happens.”