Behind the Scenes

How is a community novel project organized? We are documenting our process on this page to give you a behind the scenes look at the community novel project 2013.

Watch a one hour webinar with Miranda Ericsson and Lissa Staley on NCompass Live from July 2014. The archive recording is available.


SPOILER ALERT: The Behind the Scenes page may sometimes reveal information about the plot of the book before it is published online. That’s the risk you take when you look behind the scenes.

get involved request for participants January 2013

This request for participants helped identify writers who would want to be part of the 2013 Community Novel project. It was distributed at the library’s Book Launch for the 2012 Community Novel project in September 2012 and at National Novel Writing Events in 2012.


request for participants in Library News event listing January 2013

This was the advertisement in the Library News to invite participants to the organizational meeting for the 2013 Community Novel Project. Ten authors attended the meeting and about a dozen writers sent emails in advance to express interest.

Interest Sheet for CNP 2013 How do you choose unpublished fiction writers for a Community Novel Project, especially if you all just meeting each other for the first time? We used this interest sheet to find out more about people’s writing background, and to gather the information we would need to help narrow down our author pool if we had too many writers wanting to contribute.

whiteboard from organizational meeting 1 26 2013

In a one hour meeting, 10 authors discussed how the Community Novel Project could be improved in 2013, what roles people could fill to make the project a success and then discussed possible ideas for a premise for the group’s novel. Six ideas were discussed, with some ideas being ruled out as too hard to write consistently across many authors, too well-developed, or not fully formed.

premise white board from January 26 2013 meeting

Eventually the group decided to work with an idea from Aimee, and using the white board to develop the details, we talked through the basic facts of the two main characters, addressing point of view, how the two characters are connected initially, and their ages/birthdates. The idea to use an episodic story format came from George, and everyone in the meeting contributed during this discussion, particularly when we discussed whether we felt like we could each write a chapter of this premise. We purposefully did not develop the story further, so that the creative contribution from each individual author could be maximized.

master calendar 2013

This calendar was the first attempt to plan the 2013 Community Novel Project. Writing, editing and publishing a book is one big project with many (MANY!) smaller deadlines. If you know the date of the Book Launch Party, you can work backwards from there. If you have an organizational meeting scheduled, you can work forward. Notice the skip week between every few chapter deadlines? We hope not to have emergencies but we plan some time for them just in case. Writing begins a few months before publishing, but toward the end of writing, the publishing date has crept much closer, and the final chapter is due only two weeks before we plan to submit the completed manuscript to the printer. This calendar was made with the confidence of a team in their second year of a project. For a first year project, plan on MUCH more time for preparing the final manuscript for publication.

assignment of copyright form

An individual assignment of copyright form was signed by each author and a library representative.

preorder form

2013 preorder form. Anyone can place an advanced order for Speak Easy at a special advanced price of $5 per copy. In 2012, some authors preordered extra copies and got them autographed for friends and family. Because the actual printing cost of the novel cannot be determined until the number of pages is finalized, the preorder cost is an estimate and any amount collected in excess of the printing cost is used to help offset the cost of the free copy provided for each contributing author. The cost of the book at the Book Launch Party can be set after the actual cost of printing and shipping is known.

2013 planning calendar graphic

From the Organizational Meeting to the Book Launch, a colorful calendar of the small deadlines for Writing, Editing, Online Publishing, Formating for Printing, and more, that will help a large group of writers reach our goal of a completed community novel.


Download the master planning calendar

Community novel 2013 planning calendar View the 10 page pdf to see how dozens of smaller deadlines work together to help us reach our goal.

Download the Author Information form

Besides their contributed chapter, what information do organizers need from participants? This Author information form, which we sent by email to participants, requests the most pertinent information including contact information, and brief bio and picture. Two things we learned from the 2012 Community Novel Project were to find out how everyone wants to be credited in print, and identify authors who are more willing or comfortable speaking to the media or appearing in television interviews, so that you are prepared for those requests.

passing forward to the next author

People are busy. Their inboxes are full of shiny advertisements. Their lives are full of distractions. Contributing a chapter to the community novel is just one small part of their time. Targeted reminders before, during and after a writer’s week to write their chapter help engage them in the project without overwheming everyone involved with constant updates. Since so many of the deadlines are short-term, and the next parts of the project are dependent on what comes before, restating the deadlines makes it more convenient for people to remember what needs to be accomplished next. And work encouragement into everything you do. That’s the point of the community novel, to encourage writers to accomplish something together.

Collaborative Editing using a wiki

We wanted to involve as many community members as were interested in helping to copy-edit the community novel. But we didn’t want to burden anyone with trying to reconcile everyone’s suggested changes into one document. And we knew that everyone wouldn’t have access to the same programs for word processing. We decided that a wiki might be our answer. We also needed a wiki that could maintain some formatting, like italics, during the editing process.

The library’s web developer, Nathan Pauley, chose a free open source software called DokuWiki. Our wiki software is installed on a library server.  MediaWiki is the well known Wikipedia software, but we chose Dokuwiki because it doesn’t require a database, just a webserver that supports PHP. As an extra step, we added a password on the web server to the site to prevent the public from reading the chapters early. See the wiki at We also created accounts for all of the copy editors. This limits the wiki editing access to a select group of editors and the wiki software tracks who is changing what on the chapters.

To be able to take the Word documents from the authors and put them into the wiki software while maintaining formatting, we took these steps with each chapter:

  1. Within Word, use Find and Replace to remove any extra tabs (^t). Remove extra paragraphs (^p) if needed.
  2. Save the word document as Web, filtered.
  3. Open that file in notepad, where all of the HTML formatting is displayed along with the text.
  4. Select and copy from the first <p> tag before the first sentence to the last </p> tag after the last sentence of the text, avoiding the extraneous formatting at the top and bottom.
  5. Paste into the top window of HTML2Dokuwiki.exe program. Copy out what is at the bottom.
  6. Paste that into a new page of the wiki.

Collaborative Editing – Updates

We changed to communicating editors and deadlines and making our notes on each chapter and keeping discussion about that chapter’s editing at the top of the page on the wiki.

We added sections for:

  • BLURB: We need a 1-2 sentence summary/teaser/blurb for each chapter, for marketing and advertising the chapters. The blurb should NOT totally give away what is about to happen in that chapter, but should interest someone in reading it and tell who the main characters in that chapter are, etc.
  • Chapter information: Copy-editors: ShaMecha, Ginger, Sarah, Paul, Michelle + anyone else who has acccess and wants to help
    Deadline: May 5th
  • Comments/Discussion/Questions about Chapter 8: Please add your notes here as you edit:

Editors can communicate about each chapter in a convenient location, right at the top of the chapter they are editing. When the chapter is exported for publication, we add a clear note at the top to indicate that, and provide a Project Organizer  email address to send further comments/corrections, as a just-in-case.

 Audiobook Version

We hope that making the community novel available as an audiobook makes it more accessible to our community. Our audiobook version is being recorded into GarageBand on an iMac by a community volunteer, Sandi Sauvage, who also volunteers for the AudioReader program. It is uploaded weekly with each new chapter to a new libsyn account which was set up for the short term to host these weekly editions until September. At the conclusion of the novel, we will edit one complete audiobook and release it (and archive it) using the library’s regular libsyn account for podcasting, which is for the podcast HUSH. The weekly episodes are being released through iTunes as well as made available for download on the weekly blog post about the new chapter. Listeners can subscribe to the SpeakEasy podcast at iTunes: . The library’s experienced podcaster Thad Hartman provided technical assistance in recording, editing, uploading and setting up the libsyn and iTunes accounts.

Checking out the eBook Version

We had hoped to make the final ebook version available on the virtual bookshelves of our library’s ebook service through Overdrive, but our Overdrive representative informed us that it is not currently an option to add local content to a library’s Overdrive collection.

The State Library of Kansas provides ebooks for Kansans through the 3M Cloud LIbrary service. With that platform, they also cannot load individual files/titles.

We will be able to make the files downloadable through our own website at the Community Novel SpeakEasy page, but we would prefer that readers could find the book alongside our other ebook and downloadable audiobook fiction options.

Publishing ebook chapters

After each chapter is approved by the editors and the deadline for editing is past, we copy and paste the text into Word, and add some basic formatting including a 0.25″ first line indent for paragraphs. To the beginning of that basic chapter text, we add a standard intro page about the book. At the end, we add the author’s biography statement and their author interview if available. That document is saved as a PDF to create a printable version of the chapter for the website. That same document is saved as the Word format “Web, Filtered” to begin the process of creating the ePub and Mobi versions.

The open source software Calibre can convert documents to ePub and Mobi (along with many other input and output file types).

Calibre allows us to add metadata including Cover Art, author, title, series information, publisher, publication date and comments.

calibre metadata for SpeakEasy

Calibre allows us to add metadata including Cover Art, author, title, series information, publisher, publication date and comments.

To publish the chapter on the library website, we include a standard intro, then links to the chapter in all available formats for download (including PDF, ePub, Mobi, mp3) and then the complete text of the chapter for reading.

Example of Chapter 4 serialized online at

In this example of Chapter 4 serialized online at, a brief overview of the project is provided in a bulleted list for anyone linked directly to an interior chapter of the novel. The links to downoad the chapter in various formats are next, along with a link to instructions for transferring to ereaders. Below an embedded player for the audiobook is the link to the mp3 file and the iTunes feed. Finally, the chapter itself appears.



Behind the Scenes Author Interviews

One popular feature added in 2013 to this project has been soliciting and publishing the behind the scenes author interviews. We send out the interview questions after the authors complete their chapters, and then prepare and publish them the same week that their chapter is published. Anecdotally, several readers have reported enjoying the interviews almost as much as reading the story. Since this project is about the collaboration of local authors to create fictional content together, not just the fictional work that is output, these interviews give the local authors a greater platform for self-expression about their own experiences as writers and their thoughts on this project. The interviews let the readers get to know the authors, as well.

Promotion through social networking

Each week, in addition to publishing the new chapter and the author interview on the library’s website, the content has been distributed through the library’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. This helps readers share or retweet the story to their own friends and followers and also reminds readers that a new chapter is available through some of the social networking platforms they use to access Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library information. Readers may be more inclined to share feedback on social media sites than directly on the library website, it is too early (4.30.2013) to tell for the overall project if that trend will continue.

Promotion through local media

Project Organizer Lissa Staley and Chapter 1 author Aimee Gross appeared together for a 3.5 minute segment of the local WIBW 4pm live news show as Ralph Hipp’s guest to talk about the project on Tuesday, April 23, 2013.

Unexpected challenges

This year, we had an author decide not to use their real name or to provide a photo/bio after submitting their chapter. We also don’t have an author interview to correspond to that chapter. We do have a signed copyright form from the author. Because we had already moved forward and the next sections of the book were written, the chapter needed to stay in the book even without the rest of the support materials. We are using an author-provided pseudonym and a graphic of a writing quill and vague one-line biography for that chapter’s attribution.  With a project involving so many creative contributors, and such a fast-moving deadline to keep the story-writing progressing, these situations may happen. Be prepared to be as flexible and firm as your project deadlines will allow. If you have advertised a project completion date or publication schedule, you already know that “the show must go on” so always be looking for solutions that will work for both individuals and the group.

2013 Resources for Writers

2013 Community Novel Project Self-Editing, Grammar, Punctuation and Style Guidelines (2 page PDF)
Writers and copy-editors can use these guidelines to refer to while editing chapters of the community novel project. This is a work in progress and as the editorial team finds more examples we will include them here. These guidelines are meant to give us all a central place to refer when editing, NOT to be a list of everything that we must have perfect in our first drafts. This is a community project and the creativity, skills and experience for writing, editing and publishing fiction are not always found all in the same person. We all have a role to play in this project. Please send suggestions for this list of guidelines to

Outline for 50,000 word novel of 20 chapters (2 page PDF)
NOTE: This outline is a VERY general outline for fiction to move a story through 20 chapters.
Within the Community Novel Project, it is used to give writers a general idea of what point we are at in the story, NOT to dictate exactly what has to happen during a particular chapter. As the story is written, we may stray a bit from this outline, which is okay. Eventually we need to reach the end of the book though, so try to move it along and help out the writers who come after you with what they need to accomplish also. Please send suggestions to improve this general fiction outline to

Community novel 2013 planning calendar (10 page PDF)
From the Organizational Meeting to the Book Launch, a colorful calendar of the small deadlines for Writing, Editing, Online Publishing, Formating for Printing, and more, that will help a large group of writers reach our goal of a completed community novel.

Post-Writing Interview Questions (1 page PDF)
We want to document the writer’s experience so that readers can enjoy the behind-the-scenes creation process, in addition to reading the actual novel as it develops. Your responses may be published online to help promote your chapter and the Community Novel Project. Interview questions are optional, but please return them within two weeks of your chapter edits so they can be prepared for publication.