Okay, I'm coming pretty close now to having my free e-book ready to go. I've been grappling with the kind of stuff experienced copyeditors can do in their sleep--consistency of punctuation, formatting, and style--and if I know myself well, I know that soon I will have to just throw up my hands and put it out there.
This got me thinking, though. Unlike every other thing I have ever published in my entire life, what I put up for download doesn't have to be a definitive edition. Indeed, if a writer has sole control of a work, and the work can be updated and uploaded at will with a few mouse clicks, then is there really any justification for declaring it to be finished?
Well--sure. As I've written before (indeed, in an essay that will be in the e-book called "Limping To The Finish"), one declares things finished in order not to spend the rest of one's life agonizing over them. And readers, of course, don't want the novel they're reading to change as they read it (see Stanislaw Lem, "Vestrand's Extelopedia in 44 Magnetomes"); they want to enjoy a complete, fully realized work. At least most of them do. I do.
But as this work is a loose collection of incidental writing, a genre I intend to continue writing in, and which is unlikely to appeal to a print publisher, why should it be definitive? Indeed, it's as much like a piece of software as it is a book. I could update it occasionally in new editions--or I could update it constantly, with version numbers. If I want to keep thinking about it every day for the rest of my life, that is.
Which of course I don't. But I do like the version numbers idea. I doubt I am riding a wave that will destroy definitiveness forever, but I do think that some books, in this new format, will benefit from having looser standards for completion, perhaps mine among them.