Friday, July 11, 2008

Guest Melissa Jones Discusses Revolutionary Writing/Publishing Website

Melissa Jones as her avatar Mojobot Helendale (yellow robot, back to camera) talks about at Athena Isle Writers meeting July 9, 2008

[2008/07/09 12:07] Alas Zerbino: First of all: Welcome to the kick-off of Athena Isle Writers in our new meeting location! Before we get started, I want to briefly introduce the Story Mountain Center for Writers on Athena Isle.
[2008/07/09 12:08] Alas Zerbino: It’s the brainchild of myself and SL resident Clarissa Tolsen. This is our first “official” event. Alas Zerbino: I invite you to touch one of the Story Mountain signs for a detailed notecard about Story Mountain and our plans for it.
[2008/07/09 12:08] Alas Zerbino: Feel free to talk to me after the meeting if you have questions or suggestions.
[2008/07/09 12:08] Alas Zerbino: Also, for details about our guest speaker, touch the poster hanging over the fireplace.
[2008/07/09 12:08] Alas Zerbino: Now for the “ground rules” for this meeting-- :)
[2008/07/09 12:08] Alas Zerbino: All communication will be in text chat.
[2008/07/09 12:09] Alas Zerbino: I’ll introduce the speaker and turn the “mic” over to her for opening comments.
[2008/07/09 12:09] Alas Zerbino: At any time after that, just jump in with questions. BUT: please type QUESTION (in full caps) in front of your question for our guest.
[2008/07/09 12:09] Alas Zerbino: It’s a lot easier to keep track of which questions still need answering when the chat lines start flying off the window!

[2008/07/09 12:10] Alas Zerbino: We’ve got a truly exciting topic today: what is this revolutionary online publishing/writing venture called (
[2008/07/09 12:10] Alas Zerbino: Melissa Jones, content manager for WEbook, is here to share the excitement.
[2008/07/09 12:10] Alas Zerbino: She also wrote two of the chapters in’s first novel: PANDORA, published earlier this year.
[2008/07/09 12:10] Alas Zerbino: Her Second Life avatar’s name is Mojobot Helendale.
[2008/07/09 12:10] Alas Zerbino: Welcome, Melissa/Mojobot! Tell us about WEbook.
[2008/07/09 12:11] Mojobot Helendale: Hi, everyone! Thanks for coming.
[2008/07/09 12:11] Mojobot Helendale: As Alas said, I work for, a start-up, internet-based publisher.
[2008/07/09 12:11] Mojobot Helendale: WEbook was the brainchild of Itai Kohavi, author and entrepreneur.
[2008/07/09 12:12] Mojobot Helendale: After writing his first novel,
[2008/07/09 12:13] Mojobot Helendale: Itai wondered if there might be a less lonely way for writers to work, and WEbook was born.
[2008/07/09 12:13] Mojobot Helendale: We're trying to combine the best aspects of social networking, digital media, crowd-sourcing, and American-Idol-style talent discovery...
[2008/07/09 12:14] Mojobot Helendale: to both create great content on our site...
[2008/07/09 12:14] Mojobot Helendale: and to select the very best content for publication as real, live paper books. (And some other kinds of books, too.)
[2008/07/09 12:14] Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: How did you get involved?
[2008/07/09 12:15] Mojobot Helendale: Pandora was WEbook's first novel -- it was written by 17 authors and 17 other contributors...
[2008/07/09 12:15] Mojobot Helendale: I found out about WEbook through the listserv of Columbia University's MFA writing program...
[2008/07/09 12:15] Mojobot Helendale: They were looking for writers to test out their collaborative writing platform, and I signed on.
[2008/07/09 12:16] Alas Zerbino: and the test obviously worked out!
[2008/07/09 12:16] Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: What are the most exciting results you’ve seen so far?
[2008/07/09 12:16] Mojobot Helendale: Yes -- we wrote Pandora in about 6 months, edited it in another 3, and then I got involved with helping the website grow beyond the initial test group
[2008/07/09 12:17] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, alas: We started with a handful of projects started by our staff in April, and we now have literally thousands of writing projects in progress on the site...
[2008/07/09 12:18] Raina Anatra: QUESTION: What was the collaborative process many writers on a fiction project?
[2008/07/09 12:18] Mojobot Helendale: There's a tremendous amount of energy around finding other writers and readers to help improve work.
[2008/07/09 12:18] Alas Zerbino: /good question, Raina
[2008/07/09 12:18] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Raina: A collaborative novel is really tough...
[2008/07/09 12:18] Mojobot Helendale: and we've since moved more towards non-fiction, anthologies of stories, and stuff like that...
[2008/07/09 12:19] Mojobot Helendale: It took a lot of coordination and patience to keep the whole group of 34 focused on Pandora...
[2008/07/09 12:19] Alas Zerbino: I'll bet!!
[2008/07/09 12:19] Mojobot Helendale: We divided the chapters, and wrote them out of sequence from a synopsis.
[2008/07/09 12:19] Mojobot Helendale: (Please excuse typos.)
[2008/07/09 12:19] Raina Anatra: I can only imagine! I collaborated once on a screenplay with one other person, and even that was difficult.
[2008/07/09 12:20] Elizabethy Bookmite: QUESTION: Is the novel plotted out in advance? By whom?
[2008/07/09 12:20] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Elizabeth: The original idea for the novel came from Itai the company's founder...
[2008/07/09 12:20] Mojobot Helendale: There was a rough synopsis, and we refined it as a group as we went.
[2008/07/09 12:21] Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: How did it compare to “writing in isolation”?
[2008/07/09 12:21] Mojobot Helendale: Today on WEbook, a writer can start a project and invite other writers, and it's up to him/her how much they want to plot in advance.
[2008/07/09 12:21] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Alas: A totally different bag, with benefits and drawbacks...
[2008/07/09 12:22] Mojobot Helendale: I was pushed to imagine scenes I would never write on my own...
[2008/07/09 12:22] Mojobot Helendale: And the deadlines were VERY motivating.
[2008/07/09 12:22] Alas Zerbino: I'll bet!
[2008/07/09 12:22] Elizabethy Bookmite: QUESTION: You collaborate in virtual meetings? You say you refined it as a group?
[2008/07/09 12:22] Mojobot Helendale: But you have to develop a lot of ego-control.
[2008/07/09 12:22] Alas Zerbino: lol
[2008/07/09 12:22] Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Why should writers be interested in WEbook? What can it offer them?
[2008/07/09 12:23] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Elizabeth: There was a lot of back-and-forth in chats and forums.
[2008/07/09 12:23] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Alas: WEbook is a great way to get published without going through the traditional publishing "machine."
[2008/07/09 12:23] Mojobot Helendale: Our publishing decisions are based on community voting.
[2008/07/09 12:24]Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Some people have said that picking a book to publish via popular vote will end up “dumbing down” the writing. What do you think about that?
[2008/07/09 12:24] Mojobot Helendale: So it's a wonderful way for relatively unknown writers to build up an audience and leverage that into publication.
[2008/07/09 12:24] Alas Zerbino: a writer's dream!
[2008/07/09 12:24] Elizabethy Bookmite: QUESTION: Does every contributing writer get a byline?
[2008/07/09 12:25] Raina Anatra: QUESTION: How does the community work? How do they see the works?
[2008/07/09 12:25] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Alas: Two things: 1. WEbook doesn't totally abdicate its role as editor and publisher.
[2008/07/09 12:25]Alas Zerbino: ahhhh..... good
[2008/07/09 12:25] Mojobot Helendale: We are committed to quality work, and we think community votes help us find that work.
[2008/07/09 12:25] Alas Zerbino: makes sense!
[2008/07/09 12:25] Mojobot Helendale: 2. We've seen that writers are pretty good at spotting good writing!
[2008/07/09 12:26] Alas Zerbino: :)
[2008/07/09 12:26] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Elizabeth: A byline and royalties.
[2008/07/09 12:27] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Raina: All the projects are displayed on WEbook's homepage. Users find projects they're interested in, and they can read, review, and, in some cases, contribute written submissions.
[2008/07/09 12:27] Mojobot Helendale: You can either get involved with a project in progress, or start your own.
[2008/07/09 12:27] Alas Zerbino: /the website is quite amazing:
[2008/07/09 12:28] Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: How many books does WEbook plan to publish this year? What genres?
[2008/07/09 12:28] Raina Anatra: I can't wait to look around! Do you often get writers who want to work together coming to your site?
[2008/07/09 12:28] Mojobot Helendale: The big thing we're working on now is better sorting and personalization -- since we have thousands of projects, we're working on ways to make it easier to find the RIGHT projects.
[2008/07/09 12:29] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Alas: We expect to publish 6-12 books, in a variety of genres.
[2008/07/09 12:29] Alas Zerbino: super!
[2008/07/09 12:29]Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: What about the issue of “first publication rights”? If a WEbook author makes her project “public,” is it then “published” in terms of copyright law so that publishers who only buy unpublished manuscripts would not buy the work?
[2008/07/09 12:30] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Raina: We see a lot of writers who are interested in working together!
[2008/07/09 12:30] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Alas: Nope...
[2008/07/09 12:30] Mojobot Helendale: Publishing a work on the site doesn't affect the author's ability to publish elsewhere...
[2008/07/09 12:31] Elizabethy Bookmite: QUESTION: By published, do you mean printed? or e-books? or just posted?
[2008/07/09 12:31] Mojobot Helendale: Our website is more of a "work space" than a publication portal...
[2008/07/09 12:31] Mojobot Helendale: Once we decide to publish something as a book (and right now we're doing paper books)...
[2008/07/09 12:31] Alas Zerbino: That's terrific, Mojobot. I know some writers who were concerned about that.
[2008/07/09 12:31] Mojobot Helendale: We offer writers a publishing contract...
[2008/07/09 12:32] Alas Zerbino: yes!
[2008/07/09 12:32] Mojobot Helendale: Until a contract is signed, the writer retains full control over the work.
[2008/07/09 12:32] Alas Zerbino: just like in "traditional" publishing.
[2008/07/09 12:32] Mojobot Helendale: Exactly, Alas. One of our few similarities with the "big Guys."
[2008/07/09 12:33] Alas Zerbino: lol
[2008/07/09 12:33] Mojobot Helendale: Any other questions?
[2008/07/09 12:34] Alas Zerbino: So, to follow up on Elizabethy's question, having something published involves a contract and distribution....
[2008/07/09 12:34] Raina Anatra: QUESTION: For those projects that you don't end up publishing, do you know what kind of success they've had elsewhere??
[2008/07/09 12:34] Alas Zerbino: while work in progress is not considered published because only members can see it, and only if the writer wants them to?
[2008/07/09 12:35] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Raina. We're really too young to know that. We've only been open to the public since April. And we're running our first voting cycle now.
[2008/07/09 12:35] Mojobot Helendale: Alas: That's not quite true...
[2008/07/09 12:35] Raina Anatra: LOL! Makes sense! Unless you can predict the future:)
[2008/07/09 12:36] Mojobot Helendale: Oh, yes it is, if by "members" you mean WEbook writers...
[2008/07/09 12:36] Mojobot Helendale: (I don't think of them as members for some reason.)
[2008/07/09 12:36] Alas Zerbino: that's what I mean -- you have to sign up for an account, right?
[2008/07/09 12:36] Alas Zerbino: (I didn't try to read any projects before signing up, so I don't know...)
[2008/07/09 12:36] Mojobot Helendale: Yes, work on the site is only visible to registered site users, and writers can also choose to make their work private so only they or a handful of invited friends can view it.
[2008/07/09 12:37] Alas Zerbino: "members" doesn't fit at all, does it? *grins sheepishly*
[2008/07/09 12:37] Raina Anatra: QUESTION: Is there a charge to be a member? Can anyone in the world join?
[2008/07/09 12:38] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Raina: No charge. Anyone over 13 is welcome to join -- under 18 with the permission of a guardian, of course.
[2008/07/09 12:38] Raina Anatra: Free is always good...LOL!

Photobucket[2008/07/09 12:39] Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: You’ve had literary fiction published in some pretty highly respected journals... have you heard any feedback from the “literary elite” about WEbook?
[2008/07/09 12:39] Mojobot Helendale: Can I get a quick show of hands -- how many fiction writers are in the group? Non-fiction? Poetry?
[2008/07/09 12:40] Devorah Corvale: fiction and poetry myself
[2008/07/09 12:40] Elizabethy Bookmite: non-fiction here.
[2008/07/09 12:40] Alas Zerbino: mostly fiction; some poetry; some nonfiction
[2008/07/09 12:40] Raina Anatra: Fiction, screenplays here
[2008/07/09 12:40] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Alas: That's a very interesting question...
[2008/07/09 12:40] Mojobot Helendale: ...The response is mixed, depending on people's openness to change...
[2008/07/09 12:40] Mojobot Helendale: Is that diplomatic enough for you? :-)
[2008/07/09 12:41] Alas Zerbino: LOL
[2008/07/09 12:41] Alas Zerbino: I get it! Not surprised!!
[2008/07/09 12:41] Elizabethy Bookmite: lol
[2008/07/09 12:41] Alas Zerbino: change is always change..... :)
[2008/07/09 12:41] Mojobot Helendale: Some established writers and publishers seem to feel that giving more power the "the people" is a bad thing...
[2008/07/09 12:42] Mojobot Helendale: Others find it really exciting.
[2008/07/09 12:42] Mojobot Helendale: Personally, I think there's enough room in the literary landscape for us all.
[2008/07/09 12:42] Alas Zerbino: Yes, I support that notion wholeheartedly!
[2008/07/09 12:42] Elizabethy Bookmite: hear, hear!
[2008/07/09 12:42] Raina Anatra: It feels to me like opening new alternatives like your site only expands the landscape...kind of like Second Life!
[2008/07/09 12:43] Devorah Corvale: yes, too much is controlled by the big publishers
[2008/07/09 12:43] Alas Zerbino: yes, Raina -- just what I was thinking
[2008/07/09 12:43] Mojobot Helendale: Good analogy, Raina!
[2008/07/09 12:43] Alas Zerbino: The fact that it was started by a writer gives it a lot of credibility, too
[2008/07/09 12:43] Raina Anatra: It still frustrates me no end that anything done online is still seen like the step-child of "real" publishing, but I've seen some of the most amazing works online...
[2008/07/09 12:44] Mojobot Helendale: Raina, I think that impression will change A LOT with time.
[2008/07/09 12:44] Raina Anatra: Woo-hoo!
[2008/07/09 12:44] Mojobot Helendale: It's already changed so much in the past few years...
[2008/07/09 12:44] Mojobot Helendale: There are lots of online journals that are considered perfectly "respectable" places to publish nowadays.
[2008/07/09 12:45] Elizabethy Bookmite: good point
[2008/07/09 12:45] Mojobot Helendale: And online journalism is replacing print journalism as we speak!
[2008/07/09 12:45] Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: Do you think this will take off, with other publishing companies going this route?
[2008/07/09 12:45] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER Alas: I do think publishing companies are in need of a shake up...
[2008/07/09 12:46] Alas Zerbino: LOL
[2008/07/09 12:46] Mojobot Helendale: ...and I can definitely imagine a world where publishers use models more like WEbook to help guide their publishing decisions.
[2008/07/09 12:46] Devorah Corvale: is there any other company like yours on the market?
[2008/07/09 12:47] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Devorah: Not exactly, as far as I know...
[2008/07/09 12:47] Mojobot Helendale: There are other places to write online...
[2008/07/09 12:48] Mojobot Helendale: and there are a few paper publishers that have a community-based online submission process...
[2008/07/09 12:48] Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: You talked about the voting cycle. How does that work?
[2008/07/09 12:48] Devorah Corvale: thank you for your time today. I must leave. Work calls!
[2008/07/09 12:48] Raina Anatra: Bye Devorah!
[2008/07/09 12:48] Mojobot Helendale: But I haven't seen anyone else doing quite what we do.
[2008/07/09 12:48] Mojobot Helendale: Bye, Devorah!
[2008/07/09 12:49] Alas Zerbino: Thanks, Devorah. The transcript will be up on the Athena Isle Writers Blog later this week...
[2008/07/09 12:49] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Alas: When a project leader decides a book is finished he or she can submit it for voting and publication...
[2008/07/09 12:49] Mojobot Helendale: We're accepting submissions of book-length manuscripts now through July 17...
[2008/07/09 12:50] Raina Anatra: QUESTION: How many cycles will you have during a year?
[2008/07/09 12:50] Mojobot Helendale: Starting July 18, WEbookers will vote on the projects in contention...
[2008/07/09 12:50] Mojobot Helendale: WEbook will review the highest-voted submissions and choose our published books from that pool.
[2008/07/09 12:50] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Raina. For the first year, we anticipate running about 4 voting cycles.
[2008/07/09 12:51] Mojobot Helendale: We may end up doing more as the site grows.
[2008/07/09 12:51] Alas Zerbino: One thing I really liked about WEbook is that it was started by WRITERS, not programmers who had a nifty idea. So the initial group of very talented writers kind of set a standard, I think.
[2008/07/09 12:51] Raina Anatra: That appeals to me too...
[2008/07/09 12:52] Mojobot Helendale: That's a good point. Our "test group"-- the people who wrote Pandora -- are all very serious writers, and our feedback really guided the development of the company from its infancy.
[2008/07/09 12:53] Mojobot Helendale: a lot of those writers have stuck around and form a core of great readers, reviewers, and writers on the site today!
[2008/07/09 12:53] Alas Zerbino: I was impressed by that, Mojobot.
[2008/07/09 12:54] Alas Zerbino: QUESTION: You also write the blog for WEbook -- how do you like doing that?
[2008/07/09 12:54] Mojobot Helendale: ANSWER, Alas: I'm so glad you asked...


[2008/07/09 12:54] Mojobot Helendale: The blog is hands down my favorite part of the job. I love it. (I'm a writer – of course I love it.)
[2008/07/09 12:54] Alas Zerbino: lol -- of course!
[2008/07/09 12:55] Alas Zerbino: WEbook’s blog (
[2008/07/09 12:55] Mojobot Helendale: Speaking of the blog...
[2008/07/09 12:55] Raina Anatra: Thanks, Alas, I'm going to check that out, too.
[2008/07/09 12:55] Alas Zerbino: I enjoyed reading it -- and that usually means the author enjoys writing it
[2008/07/09 12:55] Mojobot Helendale: I have a regular feature called WEbook Writing Wisdom...
[2008/07/09 12:56] Mojobot Helendale: and I'm always looking for guest submissions...
[2008/07/09 12:56] Mojobot Helendale: You can check out the blog to familiarize yourself with the kinds of tips I like...
[2008/07/09 12:56] Alas Zerbino: That's good to know -- there are a lot of writers in SL.
[2008/07/09 12:56] Mojobot Helendale: and e-mail me at if you have good ideas.
[2008/07/09 12:56] Elizabethy Bookmite: You'll probably hear from me at some point, then :)
[2008/07/09 12:56] Mojobot Helendale: Fantastic!
[2008/07/09 12:57] Alas Zerbino: By the way, everyone, Elizabethy is our guest for next week!
[2008/07/09 12:57] Alas Zerbino: I'm delighted she was able to join us this week, too.
[2008/07/09 12:57] Raina Anatra: Great, it's nice to meet you in advance, Elizabethy!
[2008/07/09 12:57] Elizabethy Bookmite: I hope you all come back and join us then as well!
[2008/07/09 12:57] Alas Zerbino: and what a great segue to a wrap up...

[2008/07/09 12:57] Alas Zerbino: Next Wednesday, July 16, our guest at the Athena Isle Writers meeting will be author Elizabeth Yarnell, who was rejected by a stack of publishers before independently publishing what became her best-selling, award-winning first book: GLORIOUS ONE-POT MEALS. She will talk about how authors can develop strategies to get free publicity and gain the attention of the media and online communities. Check out her blog at
[2008/07/09 12:58] Raina Anatra: Wonderful!
[2008/07/09 12:58] Alas Zerbino: Mojobot, our hour is coming to an end. Is there anything more you'd like to tell us as writers about writing and/or WEbook?
[2008/07/09 12:58] Elizabethy Bookmite: I'm looking forward to it!
[2008/07/09 12:58] JA Thespian: Alas, Thank you for inviting me. I enjoyed this experience
[2008/07/09 12:59] Mojobot Helendale: I'd encourage you all to make a special trip between July 18 and August 1 to vote!
[2008/07/09 12:59] Raina Anatra: Thank you, Mojobot...just hearing about your site has triggered a few juicy ideas in my head!
[2008/07/09 12:59] Alas Zerbino: You're welcome, JA!
[2008/07/09 12:59] Alas Zerbino: Yes, it's extremely exciting!
[2008/07/09 12:59] Elizabethy Bookmite: Thanks, Mojobot! This has been very interesting.
[2008/07/09 13:00] Alas Zerbino: The transcript of this session will be placed on the Athena Iles writers blog later this week:
[2008/07/09 13:00] Mojobot Helendale: Thanks to all for coming! It was great meeting you.
[2008/07/09 13:00] Liadona Rau: Thank you!
[2008/07/09 13:00] JA Thespian: Nice meeting you all.
[2008/07/09 13:00] Alas Zerbino: Oh, we're so pleased you came -- your information was terrific!
[2008/07/09 13:00] Alas Zerbino: Thank you so much!!
[2008/07/09 13:01] Mojobot Helendale: bye!
[2008/07/09 13:01] Alas Zerbino: and for the writers who were out in the sun today, the transcript will be great.