Monday, March 07, 2011

Witan Publishing's Sample Book

A lot of the inquires we've gotten for Witan have been essentially "What are these e-pub books going to look like?" Now we have an answer for you.

Our sample "book," Old English and Samwise Gamgee's Genealogy: Eden and the Unfallen Hobbit is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble for $1. If you don't have an e-reader but you want to see the book, you can download Kindle for PC (Amazon), Kindle for iPad (Amazon), Nook for PC (Barnes & Noble), Nook for iPad (Barnes & Noble), all sorts of apps to read it on your phone if you want.

In fact, the "book" itself is only about 15 pages long; it is truly designed to be a sample, which explains why something so short has a foreword almost as long as the main text, table of contents, dedication, etc. This sample was written, edited, and published by me, so it is the very definition of self-published, but fear not! Witan Publishing is not a vanity press; I have no plans to publish any more of my own work. We just needed something I wrote for the sample.

For those of you who buy it, please read the foreword, which is in my mind more important than the article itself. In the foreword I discuss the philosophy that led to the founding of Witan, and it will likely answer many of the questions people have regarding it.

Now that people have seen our sample, many have asked me if we would consider publishing new editions of 19th & early-20th century medieval scholarship that has fallen into public domain. Most of what is out there are so poorly-scanned and converted that they are basically unusable (for a good example of this, go look at the e-pub version of Albert S. Cook's A Concordance to Beowulf). Much of the remainder is more carefully converted, but doesn't really make use of the e-pub format, and so amounts to little more than a .pdf file.

The short answer is yes, but we don't have anything immediately in the pipeline. Since we would have to make major editorial interventions to make such texts work in the e-pub format (doing such things as converting footnotes to endnotes, etc.), we would also want an introduction by a new editor discussing the importance of the work, a new bibliography of the subsequent critical reception of the work, etc. In other words, we wouldn't simply want to slap up an old edition, we would want our new e-pub edition to be an homage to the work of our scholarly ancestors.

So, buy our sample book, read our sample book, and please give us feedback on it in the comments section below! We already see some things we'd like to improve on, but the feedback of interested readers is gold. Also, if you have something you'd like to see published, whether a work of your original scholarship or an edition of an older public domain work you'd like to see produced, please go to our Submit a Proposal page and, well, submit a proposal.

Also, don't forget to "like" Witan Publishing on Facebook, to keep up with our latest titles as they are produced, and Witan Publishing on Twitter as well.


  1. Duly 'like'd. :) It looks like a fascinating project, and definitely something I'll keep in mind!

  2. Ack, no, no, no, no! You don't charge people for a sample! That runs counter to the very idea of a sample. Would you offer a sample at a deli counter and then say, "that'll be $1, please"?

    People have questions and you are essentially charging them money for the answers. I know $1 is not a lot of money, but it's made worse by the fact that this is the same cost planned for your "real" books ("generally only a dollar or two"). Perhaps the explanation is that Amazon and B&N don't make it easy for you to set the price for this publication to $0, but if so, that's a problem and not an excuse.

    I would like to read your thoughts on the philosophy behind the founding of Witan, but I'm not going to pay for it. That's the kind of stuff that should be on the Witan website. Samples are to be given away, end of story. Otherwise, call it what it is: not a sample but your first published "book", and invite people give you their opinions of it on that basis.

  3. Jason,

    We discussed that very issue at length, but in the end there were several reasons we decided to charge the minimal amount: tracking the movement of money, testing the ways in which distributors "nickel & dime" authors, demonstrating to scholars new to e-readers how it works in practice, etc. It's been very effective so far in teaching us ways to protect the work of our scholars so that the authors of our first "real" book can be assured they will be properly compensated for their work.

    If you'd like to see the sample for free, we'll have a booth at the Congress at Kalamazoo where we'll have it (and perhaps a few of our other books if they're ready) on a variety of e-readers so you can examine how it works.

    Also, the Unlocked Wordhoard remains free and without advertisement. Although Witan Publishing will be charging, the Wordhoard will be available for all those unable or unwilling to buy an e-book.

  4. Scott, thanks for the reply. I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree. All the reasons you give for charging a fee for your sample book (even a minimal fee) are things I would suggest should have been figured out before the endeavor ever went public in the first place. Of course, I'm totally skeptical of e-books anyway. I like your idea of bringing medieval studies within range of a grad student's budget, but I am not at all convinced that e-books are the right way to do it.

  5. Nice post! Thanks for sharing!