By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Washingtonpost.com is publishing fiction for the first time, serializing the debut novel of Post Business section reporter David Hilzenrath.
The book, "Jezebel's Tomb," is a thriller set in the present-day Middle East. It features a journalist who investigates a bombing and tries to track down a mysterious 2,000-year-old document that may hold a dangerous secret. It is a biblical mystery reminiscent of "The Da Vinci Code."
The entire text of the 412-page book will be serialized on the Web site ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/jezebelstomb) each Monday and Thursday. The first installment is currently online.
In a deal with digital publisher Lulu Inc., readers can buy paperback copies of the novel, which will be printed on demand, one at a time, for $18.95. Revenue will be split among Lulu, Hilzenrath and Washingtonpost.com. The Web site also will sell advertising with the serial, splitting the revenue with Hilzenrath.
Hilzenrath researched the novel in the United States and the Middle East over 10 years and completed a draft in early 2003. After he was turned down by publishers repeatedly in 2005, "a light bulb went on," said Hilzenrath, 41, a 19-year Post veteran. "There's a better way: Use the power of the Web for promotion and the power of on-demand publishing to reduce the upfront cost," he said.
For The Post's Web site, the venture is its first foray into fiction. A news site, Washingtonpost.com publishes articles that have been printed in The Post, Slate magazine (also owned by The Washington Post Co.), wire service articles and other forms of nonfiction journalism. But newspaper Web sites increasingly are publishing content not traditionally thought of as journalism in an attempt to lure more users, such as hosting discussion groups and posting pictures of readers' children.
Washingtonpost.com Executive Editor Jim Brady called the experiment an "intriguing notion" and said the novel clearly would be labeled as fiction, to differentiate it from the site's journalism.
Several well-known novels, such as Charles Dickens's "A Tale of Two Cities" and Tom Wolfe's "The Bonfire of the Vanities," began life in serial form. Slate published a serial novel last year.
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