Nov. 18, 2013
The extraordinarily gifted Ros Barber, PhD — author of the award-winning novel, The Marlowe Papers, and Shakespeare authorship agnostic without equal – has turned her hand to techno-pub with a vengeance, and the first fruits of her labor will be offered to the public next week.
Barber recently released a video promo for Shakespeare: The Evidence on YouTube (see video below); and on November 17, she announced on her Ros Barber website that November 26, 2013 is the release date for the “first chunk” of her new book. Barber said:
Shakespeare: The Evidence is the first book on the Shakespeare authorship question to gather together all the evidence, arguments and counter-arguments for and against Shakespeare’s authorship. It will be in the form of a searchable, hyperlinked e-book, available in all e-book formats, and published in installments via the Leanpub platform. . . . I hope it will be of interest not just those already involved in the Question, but of those who would like to understand better exactly why Shakespeare’s authorship of the works attributed to him has been challenged openly for over 150 years.
Barber credits the Shakespearean Authorship Trust for their support of her work and has committed to returning 50-percent of royalties to that UK organization. She will speak at the SAT conference, Much Ado about Italy, November 24, 2013 at The Globe in London. [For info on the conference, see below.]
Barber recently talked to SOF about Shakespeare: The Evidence.
SOF: Can you tell me if the ebook has an established price? The Leanpub page asked what I would be willing to pay and somewhere I think I saw a suggested price of $20. Has a price for the book been determined?
RB: Leanpub encourages its authors to participate in a pay-what-you-choose system. The suggested price at launch will be $20 but those on low incomes, or indeed, those who are curious about but not committed to the authorship question, will be more likely to buy the book if there is a lower minimum price ($15). Those who understand what a useful resource the book will be, and want to help the project progress faster can pay more. Since I first began work on the book and set up the page at leanpub.com/shakespeare six months ago, people have pledged how much they’d be willing to pay for it. The highest amount pledged so far was $50 and the average is $22. Essentially, the more money that comes in, the more time I will be able to give to working on the project.
SOF: I have never heard of this publishing model.
RB: As to Leanpub – no, I hadn’t heard of it either before a computer programmer friend of mine (with whom I was discussing the idea of the book) suggested it to me. It seems perfect for this project: the flexible pricing, the potential for reader involvement, and the ability to begin to get the work out there as it is written, rather than waiting goodness-knows-how-long for the whole book to be complete. How else to make it truly comprehensive and be sure that it hasn’t missed a single trick? Plus, should I at some stage feel the book is genuinely complete and comprehensive (at least to that point in time) there is always the option of taking it into a print edition, even of selling it to a traditional publisher. I think the phrase you use is a reasonable way of characterizing Leanpub. It’s a whole new publishing model – like an e-version of the old Dickens serialisation model but with reader interaction, and including a purpose-built, social-media-connected platform which puts authors in control. The average pledge, by the way, has just gone up by another dollar. Amazing how fun it all is.
SOF: Can you tell me what the role of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust has played in bringing the book out?
RB: The Shakespearean Authorship Trust provided seed funding of £5000 to allow me to work on the book in these early months. Hopefully once the book is for sale, it will become self-funding, and I have also pledged to give 50% of e-book royalties back to the SAT. Leanpub royalty rates are generous (around 90%) which means when you buy the book, nearly all of your money will go directly towards funding the project.
SOF: How long have you been working on this project?
RB: I started gathering the data for it when I was working on my PhD, seven years ago. But although I intended from the start to write some kind of book coming out of my doctoral research, I initially found it hard to structure: the body of evidence connected to the authorship question is both vast and complex. In summer 2012 the idea of a comprehensive book combining research from all viewpoints arose, and I wondered about getting others involved in it, but couldn’t work out where to start. Then, in January 2013, as part of the publicity surrounding my novel The Marlowe Papers I was invited to discuss the authorship question with Prof Stanley Wells and Dr Paul Edmondson of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust at a live event in Stratford-upon-Avon (and, subsequently, a global webcast). [See Note below.] Although I know the arguments pretty well, I wanted to be sure I was completely ready for any point or question that might be thrown at me. I asked a knowledgeable friend to play devil’s advocate and fire questions at me in a series of Skype sessions, allowing me to identify weaknesses in the authorship argument. I then started to prepared bullet-point crib-sheets on each item of evidence, preparing counter-arguments for each argument. Very early on in the process I realised “this is it, this is the book.”
SOF: Are you working in collaboration with others?
RB: Yes. The authorship question is too huge a field to attempt to do something like this alone, and there is always more to learn. One of the many virtues of the Leanpub ‘instalment’ publishing system is that you invite readers to help you make it the best book it can be. I have no doubt I will make errors (not least typos), which I will ask readers to help me correct; but more than that, I will be inviting submissions of evidence, arguments and counter-arguments I may have missed. There are many extremely knowledgeable people out there who can strengthen the non-Stratfordian case. Each monthly instalment will not only contain new entries but will correct and enhance existing ones. I will insist on it being candidate-neutral – this book is not advancing the cause of any one alternative author, being focused only on whether Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. But evidence and arguments that have arisen from the work of Oxfordians, Marlovians, Baconians and others will all be included and examined, so long as they are not of the ‘door-closing’ (i.e. this is the only alternative author) variety.
SOF: How many instalments you do anticipate producing?
RB: It’s hard to say, and obviously depends very much on how much time I am able to spend on it each month; I also teach (currently at Goldsmiths College, University of London) and am working on my second novel, Devotion (nothing to do with the authorship question, but equally contentious). In addition, I’m not clear at this stage how long it will take me to write up all the evidence items of which I’m currently aware, let alone any new ones that arise. I intend to keep publishing updated editions until there is literally nothing else to cover. It is possible, of course, that such a point may never arise. There are so many discoveries yet to be made, and new evidence surfaces every year. Once bought, though, the resource is yours for life, and I imagine it will be substantially complete in two to three years.
SOF: I see in the publication materials that you describe yourself as a Shakespeare authorship “agnostic”. Do you care to comment further on this topic?
RB: I come from a Marlovian perspective but see value in non-Stratfordian arguments of all stripes. I have read a great deal of Oxfordian and Baconian research, as well as some from the camps of Derby, Sidney, and Rutland. I’m not yet caught up on Nevill. However I find there is always some new snippet that is worth having and adding in to the big picture. I cannot say for certain who wrote the works of Shakespeare; the case for all the candidates (including Shakespeare of Stratford) is circumstantial. What is becoming clear as I absorb more and more on this topic, is that there is not a single, simple answer. It seems likely that a number of those who have been suggested as authors were indeed involved in some capacity. To be anything other than agnostic in such a complex sea of evidence seems to me to be risking getting a vast quantity of egg on one’s face!
. . .
Ros Barber @rosbarber Ros Barber has a PhD in English Literature, the second in the world to focus exclusively on the Shakespeare Authorship Question. Her background is in science and IT. A prizewinning author, her debut novel The Marlowe Papers (Sceptre 2012, St Martin’s Press 2013) was winner (in manuscript form) of the Hoffman Prize 2011, long-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) 2013, and winner of the both the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Authors’ Club First Novel Award 2013. She has published scholarly articles on the Shakespeare authorship question in the journals Rethinking History and Critical Survey. In the absence of hard evidence for any candidate (including the traditional one), she is agnostic on the issue of Shakespeare’s authorship. She is Director of Research for the Shakespearean Authorship Trust, a Visiting Research Fellow in English at the University of Sussex and part-time Lecturer in the English & Comparative Literature Department of Goldsmiths, University of London.
Note: A full-text of this event, “Proving Shakespeare” web-based seminar held May 1, 2013, is available at http://rosbarber.com/proving-shakespeare-webinar-transcript/
Date: Sunday 24 November 2013
Time: 11:00 – 18:00 (Tea and coffee available from 10:30)
Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe, Bankside, London, SE1.
Tickets: £40 (including tea and coffee)
Booking: Shakespeare’s Globe Box Office: Tel: 020 7401 9919