Gary Whitta, a screenwriter known for Book of Eli and his work on the upcoming 2016 Star Wars movie, is busy promoting his first novel. Abomination, a medieval fantasy with “magic, monsters, a heroic knight with a tragic secret, and a headstrong young woman on a vengeful quest,” is slated for release in May.

So which publishing house picked up this famous screenwriter’s debut novel? It wasn’t one of the Big Five publishers, but an innovative new publishing start-up hoping to find a middle path between the institutions of traditional publishing and the unfettered chaos of self-publishing.

Inkshares attempts to democratize the publishing process by combining crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, and professional editorial backing to bring us books that are more responsive to what readers want. iDigitalTimes spoke with Inkshares CEO Jeremy Thomas to find out what this new publishing model can offer readers.

Inkshares Publishing

Understanding Inkshares first requires understanding the current chaos in the self-publishing scene. As anyone who has waded into self-published books on Amazon or Smashwords, there is an incalculable amount of material out there. The vast majority of it slapdash, poorly edited, poorly written, or all three at once; what self-published author Chuck Wendig calls “the self-publishing shit volcano.” At the same time, genuinely new voices and books with immense crowd-appeal can come from self-published authors ignored by traditional publishing. 

“I think we are probably more appealing to people who are considering self-publishing than people who are looking at book deals,” Thomas explains.

So the trick becomes how to tackle the problem of quality, without losing the diversity of voices found in the self-publishing world. Thomas describes it as solving the “access problem.” Inkshares took a page from crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter to find its solution. 

An Inkshares book begins with a proposal pitching an author’s book to potential readers. According to Thomas, many Inkshares authors “had really crappy experiences with their publishers and are just fed up,” but are still looking for the “value-added services provided by a traditional publisher.”

With Inkshares they have to earn it by the approbation of fellow readers. Once a hurdle is cleared, typically around 1,000 copies pre-ordered, then the proposal page becomes a sales page where readers can pre-order the book and interact with the author as the upcoming book is developed.

Inkshares offers “50 percent of gross revenue for printed books and 70 percent for ebooks,” which is significantly higher than traditional publishing but lower than self-publishing pathways like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). 

Thomas hopes to attract more self-published authors to Inkshares with “full developmental editing and full copy editing,” but is well aware that Inkshares has to prove itself worthwhile to a defensive self-publishing scene. Thomas described a recent attempt to reach out to self-published authors on a popular KDP forum as “eye opening” because of the anger that ensued.

“There’s a lot of distrust," Thomas said. "A lot of people are using KDP because they’re against ‘the man.’ In that forum we are viewed as the man.” 

Ultimately, Thomas believes, it will come down to good books.

“I always thought we came across as pretty author friendly," he said. "How do we convince people that’s true? That’s primarily the problem, these things we say that we do, well no one really believes it. If we attract people like Gary Whitta, or Daniel Wallace… we do that a couple times and all the sudden people are like, ‘wow, okay, these other people who I’ve heard of are choosing to go with Inkshares, so maybe there’s something there.’”

So what are some of the promising Inkshares books that could prove the viability of the Inkshares model?

Herb: Mastering the Art of Cooking with Cannabis

The biggest Inkscape hit yet has been Herb: Mastering the Art of Cooking with Cannabis.

“It’s from the guys behind TheStonersCookbook.com, which is the largest culinary cannabis blog in the world,” Thomas said, explaining its appeal. 

Herb hopes to bring high production values to a cannabis cookbook with photography and attention to detail to rival recent cook book success stories like Modernist Cuisine. Herb is the flagship in what Thomas hopes will be an expansion of the Inkshares model into brick-and-mortar bookstores:

“Our distributor is so excited for this book," Thomas said. "They have every reason to believe it will sell really well, in bookstores and places like Urban Outfitters.”

Abomination by Gary Whitta

Abomination represents a major push into genre publishing, a staple of the self-publishing scene. Thomas hopes the success of Abomination will bring a new wave science fiction to Inkshares:

“Gary’s presence and his success in Inkshares has actually drawn a bunch of sci-fi writers to start projects… which is really awesome,” Thomas said.

Slim and the Beast by Samuél L. Barrantes

inkshares book The cover for Slim and the Beast. Inkshares

Thomas highlighted this novel as a great example of how Inkshares can support literary work for niche audiences.

“What’s amazing is he doesn’t have much of a career presence at all, or a social media presence. But he hustled man and he sold about 10,000 dollars of his book and we pushed it out. For us it’s great to see that we have the platform to launch guys like Samuél L. Barrantes and make him known in the literary world,” he said.

The Cat’s Pajamas by Daniel Wallace

While many of Inkshares authors come from self-publishing or are new to publishing, Daniel Wallace is a good example of an established author trying out a new way of publishing. Best known for his novel, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions (and yes, the basis for the Tim Burton movie of the same name), Daniel Wallace is now publishing, The Cat’s Pajamas, an illustrated children’s book through Inkshares.

The Future of Inkshares Publishing

There are countless other projects to be found on the Inkshares website, including sci-fi analysisapiarist memoirs, science poetry and Oz fantasy. Most offer a sample chapter.

While Thomas is banking on the Inkshares hits to prove the Inkshares publishing model, pointing out that, “if we can get 10 Daniel Wallaces or Gary Whittas, then I think we’re going to see a lot more organic contributions and book projects.” But it’s after a string of hits that Inkshares will be able to try out truly interesting new ways to unite readers and writers. 

The Inkshares focus on developing an audience before publication will soon extend into integrated avenues for writers and readers to interact throughout the writing process.

“We’ve just rolled out features where people can highlight excerpts or texts in a chapter and say whether they like it or not,” Thomas explained, before launching into a description of the future: “Imagine a Google Docs type experience where you’ve got a bunch of people marking up a chapter and leaving comments. All of it with the aims of improving the piece.”