The novel scheme was explained to international publishers attending the Frankfurt Book Fair at a dinner arranged last night by Andrew Wylie, the literary agent nicknamed "The Jackal" on account of his penchant for luring top-selling authors such as Salman Rushdie and Ben Okri from rivals.
Esther Dyson, the as-yet unknown author in question, gave the assembled 125 representatives from 20 different countries a taste of her first book.
Release 2.0: Second Thoughts About The Digital Age will be written and published by next October. It will be published simultaneously in 20 languages and each book will contain the web site address. Seven months later, after the book has been "kicked around the place like a piece of software" by Internet users around the world, it will be rewritten, ready to be republished in June 1998.
"Release 2.1 will be a new book, based on Release 2.0 but different," Mr Wylie said yesterday. "It's very like releasing a novel and people saying, `Mr Amis, I don't like the way you presented these characters. I want you to grow this one and turn this one grey. Just as a software company revises its products to provide software users with a better product, so she [Ms Dyson] will revise the book. My God, we're going to provide reader satisfaction."
Ms Dyson, 45, described by the New York Times as "the most powerful woman in the Net-erati", could become the latest publishing sensation. Sources close to Mr Wylie expect worldwide advances outside the United States to total more than pounds 1m, a figure on a par with amounts secured for non-fiction books such as The Road Ahead by Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft Corporation. The prospect is not unimaginable, bearing in mind Mr Wylie's previous publishing feats (he recently made Martin Amis an estimated pounds 1.5m for his novel The Information), but it remains to be seen if he can call in the same sort of sum for an unknown writer.
Ms Dyson's 70,000-word book will be in the form of an extended essay and will explain the implications of the Internet for society and government. Ms Dyson has her own company in the US called EDventure, through which she publishes Release 1.0, the computer industry's leading chronicle of analysis and insight.
US rights to the book were bought a couple of weeks ago by the American publisher Broadway, for an undisclosed sum. The auction for the book will open at 8.55am today.Reuse content