Friday, September 26, 2008

YouWriteOn publishes POD books for free

A few days ago, I received the following email from Arts Council sponsored peer review website, YouWriteOn. It reads as follows:

"Dear YouWriteOn member

Arts Council funded will publish the first 5,000 writers who contact us for Free - fiction and non fiction.

To participate follow these 2 steps:

1) Email, and inside your email add your name, address, telephone number, book title, genre, length of your book, and a synopsis up to 50 words
2) We will contact the first 5,000 people who email us by 31st October 2008. Your book will be ready to order by readers as a paperback by Christmas. Open to UK and US residents."

The email goes on to provide further details of previous successes that the site has launched (all fiction, since the site is for some inexplicable reason, closed to non fiction writers, as indeed all other peer review sites are, with the exception of Authonomy), and provide details of how this deal will work.

Books will be available to order direct through the YouWriteOn site, and members will be able to review them and contact each other in the same way as with other works downloaded on to the site. The authors will receive a 60 percent royalty for each copy sold, paid six monthly, as opposed to the usual 12 to 15 percent paid by commercial publishers. The books they say, will be the same quality as bookstore or 'trade' paperbacks, and the author will retain all rights to their work. It goes without saying that the books will not be lithographic, but print on demand.

The offer, which seems a good one, is open to UK and US residents only and the contract is non exclusive - what this means is that if you are made an offer from someone else, or have other reasons to withdraw the work from their site, then you can do without any further obligation.

While this offer is entirely free, the books do need to be in a publishable state, since here is the catch, no editing or proof reading is offered. While it is true that works that have been on the site for some time may have been subject to a form of proof reading on the part of the readers, who point out mistakes so that they can be corrected, this is not the same thing as a professional edit. I can already hear the battle cries of 'vanity press', and believe you me, certain sectors of the industry will seize on this as an excuse to use that term and be very derogatory indeed about the resultant books. It does make one wonder whether this is such a good deal or not. It does though do a lot to help raise POD's profile, and I have to say that in general, YouWriteOn are a very POD friendly bunch, offering US authors affected by the Amazon debacle earlier this year, the chance to advertise their books (once again fiction only) on the site for free.

On the other hand, it this that much different to what other POD providers offer, such as Authors OnLine Ltd? In some ways no, but in others, yes. Authors OnLine and other reputable print on demand providers (there are a few of them) have access to freelancers whose role is to edit and proof read (for a fee) works that they publish or put their name to. They also offer help with marketing (if you ask) that goes far beyond placing it on a website and asking people to review it. On the other hand, they are not as high profile as YouWriteOn, which attracts some heavyweight members, with the chance of being spotted and picked up by one of the big boys (or girls - and several authors have been).
Of course none of this is of any significance to the non fiction writer (and bear in mind that most print on demand books are non fiction, as indeed most books are in general - the market for fiction is small in comparison), since YouWriteOn do not publish such material on their site anyway, yet the free publishing offer does include non fiction. Maybe they are planning to open the site up to non fiction in the hopefully near future, I seem to remember them indicating that to me in an email, but the details are hazy.
The other catch is the relatively low, but nevertheless, competitive cover prices that they hope to set, of between £5.99 and £7.99. With print costs of around 1 penny per page, plus the cover this will not leave much left over to pay the author their royalties. Mind you, 60 percent is still more than the 12 to 15 percent that commercial publishers pay, although the site doesn't stipulate whether royalties are based on net prices (after print costs etc are taken off) or the actual cover price. I would need to see the contract to know that, and seeing as I have nothing to offer them, that might be difficult ...
This seems such a good offer, that it is pity I don't have anything suitable. Perhaps I should consider publishing this blog ... Would you be prepared to buy it in published form - answers in the comments section please ...

Since the books will not have an ISBN (unless you pay extra for one - essential in my opinion), they will not be available in book stores or via the usual Internet retailers (Amazon, etc). This will cost an additional £39.99 through a separate partnership with Legend Press.

If you wish to submit your work, simply email The offer is open to applicants of all nationalities.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The End of Book Publishing as we know it?

My next installment for today features several other articles sent to me via the lovely people at Book2Book. The first of these is a rather long article published in New York magazine entitled The End of Book Publishing as we Know It? The article is too long to detail in its entirety but it basically bemoans the state of the industry, and poses the question, is this the end of publishing as we know it, and can and will it evolve into something better? What that something better is is open to debate, and depends as always on your point of view.

From the authors point of view, it cannot really get much worse, but that depends again on who you are. If you are one of the select few who is guaranteed large advances and healthy sales for every book that you write, then you may not have much to worry about, since you have made your money, but for the majority who struggle to get a foothold at all, then serious changed need to be made, changes that will I hope benefit all, and not just those who actually sell the books.

In its heyday, whenever that was, publishing was a good industry to be working in, the author has a large variety of different houses to choose from, both large and small, and many different outlets for their work. Today things are somewhat different - most of those smaller publishers have since been swallowed up the large conglomerates - the big five publishers who collectively control around 75 percent of the market - in the UK as well as the US. It is the same with book sellers, with independents being forced out of business by the aggressive marketing of the chains and Internet retailers, most notably Amazon. The industry is no longer driven by talent, but by profit, and market forces - in other words, the book buying public, who demand higher and higher discounts. It is an endless and self perpetuating cycle - the more they get used to discounted book prices, the more they demand them, until it gets to the point that nothing is bought at full price. What this means to both author and publisher is less money in the coffers to a) promote new talent and b) spend on producing good quality books. No one is a winner, least of all the public themselves.

The biggest threat comes from the Internet, without a doubt. E-books and print on demand also play a role. Amazon has been busy expanding their share of the market and capitalising on these new trends, by buying up not just Booksurge, a large print on demand company, but also Shelfari, a social networking site, where members are encouraged to upload their book shelves and make recommendations to others. They also launched the Kindle reading device (in the United States only, although I am sure that will change) earlier this year. Editors and retailers fear with good reason that they bent on building an an inclusive publishing business where they control every aspect from sales to publication, with no middle men in sight. The first step began at the end of March when they announced that from now on, any print on demand companies based in the United States would have to use their own printer Booksurge, in order to be listed directly on This is the first step towards cutting out the middle men, and sceptics say in time, controlling the entire print on demand sector, which is increasingly used by not just self publishers, but also the larger houses to maintain their back lists, what is commonly referred to as the 'long tail'. Control this and you control the entire market. It is the same with the Kindle, why bother with HarperCollins, Borders Books etc when you can sell direct to the public via Amazon and have your books preloaded onto such a device? Certain books now are going straight to Kindle long before they are published as paper copies.

Amazon are also playing hard ball over terms with publishers. When Hachette Livre, the UK's largest publishing group refused to give into their demands for higher discounts, Amazon removed the BUY NEW button from its listings for all the company’s key books. Hachette’s CEO responded with an open letter, saying “Amazon seems each year to go from one publisher to another making increasing demands in order to achieve richer terms at our expense and sometimes at yours.” I know they feel, and the cynic in me says what the hell do they expect, for their have allowed other book sellers to get away with similar behaviour, demanding extortionate fees for prime placement and promotions) for far, far too long, at the expense of the small presses and self publishers who simply cannot compete.

The ultimate fear is that the Kindle could be a Trojan horse. At the moment, Amazon makes little or nothing at all on Kindle books. Pay $359 for the device and you can get e-books for $9.99. Publishers list those same e-books for $17.99, and as with paper copies, charge Amazon around half that price for the privilege. This means that Amazon make around $5 for each book, while the publishers make $9 (before overheads are taken off or taken into account).

The fear is that Amazon are doing what the supermarkets also do - offering a sweet deal now in order to undercut publishers later on. If they succeed in making e-books the dominant medium (and the signs are encouraging), then they will be in a position to pay publishers whatever they feel like, the same as they already trying to do with print on demand through the Booksurge debacle (see my posts about this on the archives from April of this year).

While some are playing a game of watch and wait, others are attempting to take matters into their own hands. HarperStudio and a few others are making ambitious plans. In February of this year, Bob Miller and Jane Friedman met at the bar of the Omni Berkshire hotel for one of their freewheeling chats. “How would you do it differently if you could start all over again,” Jane asked. Bob said that he’d try to reduce advances and returns, put out only a few books, and focus on cheap Internet marketing. “Why don’t you do that?” Jane asked, and within a week they had a deal.

Miller has worked out separate contracts with booksellers and authors - capping advances at $100,000 and reducing returns. Authors will contribute to their own pre-publication marketing.
Miller doesn’t wait for agent submissions, instead accosting writers at conferences, telling them how much more a writer can make under 50-50 profit-sharing. Of course the cynic in me says that all of this, noble as it sounds is really just another term for subsidy publishing, and why the hell shouldn't an author contribute to marketing - after all, whose book is it? When the contract is offered by a small unknown publisher is is subsidy or even worse, vanity publishing, but when the published in question is a large and respected one, then it is profit sharing ...

One unnamed indie publisher has gone a step further, expanding into print on demand, online subscriptions, and even considering a “salon” for loyal readers. He envisions a transition period of print on demand, followed by an era in which most books will be published electronically for next to nothing. High-priced, creatively designed hardcovers become will become limited edition collectors item - the vinyl of the future.

The transition will be hard - some publishers will transform, some will muddle through, and some will simply die. One things for sure; gone are the days when authors were paid in the millions, or even printed in the millions. The industry has to find a new way of being if it is survive.

Perhaps if we really want to turn things around we should listen to Sam Leith from The Telegraph, who states that reading makes you rich and better in bed.

Five reasons not to write a book

Each day I receive an e-newsletter called Book2Book which contains snippets from around the book world gleaned from various newspapers and blog sites, and each day I mean to write about what I read in those snippets. Each day though for the past 10 days I have failed to do so, mostly because I just didn't feel like writing. I have though been saving the best bits for when I did feel like writing, and so here goes.

The first installment for today comes from the blog site of one Penelope Trunk, otherwise known as the Brazen Careerist. Nothing wrong in that provided of course you do not step on other peoples toes to get there, and I have no reason whatsoever to think that Penelope has done. Her post, which is dated September 14th, is entitled 5 Reasons why you don't need to write a book, and I have to say that most of them, from my experience are very good compelling reasons, then again though, maybe not ...

They are as follows:

1. People who have a lot of ideas need a blog, not a book.
While it is true that a blog is more immediate, and possibly interactive, with better feedback, it all depends on what sort of ideas you have. Some subjects lend themselves better to blogs than others, while others lend themselves better to books, as it is easier to dip in and out of a book, and use it as a source of reference (provided of course that it has a decent index). Penelope does have a point though when she says that many people who think they have a ton of ideas that lend themselves to books actually have very few new ideas, yet it is also true that there is nothing new under the sun. It is important to find avenues for those ideas, sure, but blogging is not the only way to do this - you can also write articles for magazines and other peoples websites. Like I said, it all depends on what sort of ideas you have. I suspect that Penelope, like so many others I come across, may be falling into the same old trap of believing that everyone writes fiction...

2. A book is an outdated way to gain authority.
Maybe, it depends again on how hard you are prepared to work. I wouldn't say that Katie Price has any authority when it comes to horses, any more than Victoria Beckham when it comes to fashion, but that is just my opinion. Riding for many years, or being paid by posh designers to wear their frocks does not make you an expert, yet both of these ladies are seen as icons and people of authority.
In my genre it seems that in order to be seen as an authority and taken seriously, very much like in the world of work, one has to have a degree. It is true that I have not been to university, but with all the years of study I have done, I am sure that my combined qualifications would be at least the equivalent of a degree, heck the years I spent writing that book ought to count for something as well. Can I get taken seriously though, no, because I am not famous enough and don't have the right pieces of paper to prove what I have done. A book is not seen as enough, you have to know the right people, and get the qualification first before you start writing, and not use the writing as means to get qualified as I did.

3. Books lead to speaking careers, but speaking careers lead nowhere.
Books and speaking, in non fiction at least anyway are natural bed fellows, but each lasts as long as the other. To be successful at either, you need to keep churning them out, year in, year out. If you don't do this, then like Victoria Beckham's singing career, you are soon forgotten about.

4. You'll make more money flipping burgers [or selling electrical equipment] than writing a book.
Tell me about it! One read through this blog will confirm this simple truth, than any would be writer would be wise to take on board. Chances are that in today's climate you will have to pay to have your book published rather than the other way around. You will then spend the next 2-3 years justifying to everyone else your reasons for going this, while juggling career, kids (thankfully I don't have any) and a life (I do have both a career and a life, and contrary to popular belief, they are not the same thing).

5. When you're feeling lost, a book won't save you.
This is the one above all else that I can really relate to. A lot of my problems stemmed from the simple truth that I expected and hoped that my book would indeed save me, by providing me with not just a direction in life, but also something to define myself by. It did both of these for a while, but once published, the novelty began to wear off. I have had to learn the hard way that a book does not give you a direction in life - only you can do that. As Penelope says, a book is something you write in order to get you to where you're going. If you have nowhere to go, a book will ensure that you stay where you are: lost.

She goes on to say that people use books like they use law school. They think that if they have a piece of paper - a degree or a publishing contract, then people will respect them. If others respect them, then they can respect themselves. Self respect though comes from within, and should not be dependent on others vision of yourself (tell that to the faceless celebrities who continue to churn out endless tosh, or those who apply for Big Brother). No one can give you that vision, you have to find it for yourself.

I wish I had read this article when I first began to write, as she gives some very good advice. She says that most people who think they need a book deal probably need to answer the question: What will I be doing two years after that book? Do you really need the book to get where you want to go? Probably not. In my case though, I most definitely did, because I honestly cannot see that there was any other way for me to learn what I have done, and I have had some great fun along the way.

Despite the problems and the pitfalls, it was the right path for me, for it has forced me to take a long hard look at myself in way that nothing else could. When you hit rock bottom, as I have, one minute in the depths of despair and the next as high as kite, then this makes you question your motivations and who you are like nothing else can. The past two years since publication have forced me to re-evaluate my vision of who I thought I was, and change my perception of someone who was a victim to someone who is magnificent and shining success, and someone whose who does not need the approval of others to define herself in this way. That to me is infinitely more valuable than any amount of degrees or bits of paper, for I have learnt through the school of life. I may be a bit battered and bruised, but I have come up smiling and am confident and happy with who I am.

More, maybe, later on ...