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Good news/bad news from the web

15 September 2008

The Internet is profoundly affecting what is happening in the staid old world of books. Two bestselling authors have waded in recently, as web threats and opportunities change the way books are written, published and sold.

Stephenie Meyer has brought her bestselling Midnight series (see News Review 18 August) to an abrupt end because her work in progress was pirated and made available online. The author explained her view in a letter to fans on her website:

'I did not want my readers to experience Midnight Sun before it was completed, edited and published. I think it is important for everybody to understand that what happened was a huge violation of my rights as an author, not to mention as a human being. Unfortunately, with the internet, it is easy for people to obtain and share items that do not legally belong to them. No matter how this is done, it is still dishonest.

So where does this leave Midnight Sun? My first feeling was that there was no way to continue. Writing isn't like math; in math, two plus two always equals four no matter what your mood is like. With writing, the way you feel changes everything. If I tried to write Midnight Sun now, in my current frame of mind, James (a vampire tracking Bella) would probably win and all the Cullens would die, which wouldn't dovetail too well with the original story.'

Fortunately the other big Internet news is more positive. In a groundbreaking move, the UK's Daily Telegraph will serialise Alexander McCall Smith's new novel, Corduroy Mansions, online. Author of the highly successful No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, featuring his character Precious Ramotse, McCall's books are sold in more than 40 languages.

A new chapter of the novel will appear each weekday, starting on 15 September and running for 20 weeks, and it will be available by email. Daily Telegraph readers will be invited to make plot suggestions as the story unfolds, and there will be a daily download of a podcast read by actor Andrew Sachs. The story follows the fortunes of a group of neighbours who live in the Pimlico area of London and it will be a novel of character, enlivened no doubt by McCall Smith's trademark light humorous touch.

This seems a brilliant way of involving readers and is a great coup for the Telegraph, which has always had good book pages but is not known for being in the vanguard of new technology. The Internet is a great equaliser though and offers a wealth of opportunities for writers, whether well-known or completely unknown, to reach readers.

Stephenie Meyer's site

Corduroy Mansions on the Daily Telegraph site