Business Section

Publishing Update

Hypertext Books

Publishing Update Written by Kathy Casper

What better way to spend a snowy Sunday afternoon than to curl up on the sofa with your laptop and read a good book? Somehow it's just not the same, you say? Well, I agree. But there are definite advantages to publishing (not just promoting or selling) books on-line.

The nonlinear nature of the Web offers unlimited potential for book-length works in all genres. The challenge to publishers is to retain the magic of the written word, to maintain the romance most avid readers engage in with books, yet harness the power and depth offered by the Web.

Pathfinder features a novel in progress written by Douglas Cooper, with interface design by Barry Deck. The novel, Delirium, first appeared in January 1995. It is graphic rich (which slows navigation substantially), with story lines presented in numbered installments. The main character, Ariel Price, appears in all four story lines, but there is no cross linking from one story line to another. Subheadings for each story line would be helpful, although it seems the author intends for the first sentence of each installment to be a "hook", since that is what is used to link to each section. Pathfinder provides a bulletin board section for readers to post messages to the author, and to comment on the book. One reader questioned the whole concept of hypertexting a novel, stating that the author knows best what order chapters should follow. As a reader who habitually jumps from chapter to chapter (and often reads the last chapter first!), I would have to disagree with that.

The Internet Business Gateway, published by Phoenix Systems Synectics, is well organized and much easier to navigate. The author, Sam Sternberg, provides two tables of contents - one that is very brief, and one that is very detailed. The detailed table of contents serves as an overview of the book, and gives the reader a good feel for the eventual scope of the work. The brief version is an efficient bookmark, which makes return visits convenient and fast.

Delirium capitalizes on two aspects of the Web successfully - interactive reader response and nonlinear presentation. The Internet Business Gateway maximizes the organizational and navigational attributes of cyberspace.

However, my quest was to find an on-line book that truly showcases the benefits of hypertexting for both the reader and the author. The Bob Book, does just that! The Bob Book, by David Rensin and Bill Zehme, is just the sort of book I really would curl up with my laptop to read. Entries in the table of contents link directly to a corresponding section, and the sections link to other sections, so the reader is drawn into the book and held raptly from one link to the next. Readers who are diehard traditionalists may read the book linearly, according to the authors' plan, by using the "page one" link at the bottom of the table of contents, then reading each section in order. More frenetic readers (like me!) may jump around to their hearts' content.

Although the Web presentation of The Bob Book is really an excerpt from the hardcover book published by Dell Publishing, the reader gets more than just a taste of the book. There is plenty of interactivity to engage the reader as well. The site offers a reader mailing list, premium items such as T-shirts, mugs and caps (still in the voting stage), and a preview for a sequel to The Bob Book with an invitation for reader participation. (Readers named "Bob", that is.) Of course ordering information is provided (after all, they want to sell books!), but even the commercial aspects of this site are tastefully done. The Bob Book, truly a hypertext showcase, is a featured selection of BookPlex, a part of the Gigaplex Web Magazine.

Other on-line books-in-progress: Doom Patrols - by Steven Shaviro
Where Am I? - by Shawn
Aeria Under the Ashes - by Gavin D. Inglis

On-line book resources: New Listings - from Carnegie Mellon University
The Electronic Library - from BookStacks Unlimited
The Writer's Gallery - from TVP, Inc.

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