I’m pleased to say that Ted of YWO did get back to me quickly with an answer to my query on the 5000 deal, and I’m not the only one who’s been raising questions on the site. In brief, it seems like this is pretty much a ploy by YWO to increase its membership and its profile generally, and , to be fair, YWO always did intend to offer a self-publishing platform. Ted doesn’t answer the question of ‘why self-publish’ but strictly speaking I don’t suppose he has to. I think there are times when self-publishing makes sense, but right now I’m with another YWO member sho says,
‘I’d love my novel to be published, but what kind of feeling would it give me if I could only say that the sole reason it was published is because I answered an e-mail quickly and could drum up £40? I’d like to think it got published because it was good.’
For my question and Ted’s full answer, please read on.
Just curious to know more about this deal which (despite being a member) I missed completely until alerted by various blogs. Now I’m wondering why it’s being offered and how it ties in with YWO/Arts Council ideals. The Top 10 is something for members to aspire to – we have to earn a place through good reviews and (presumably) writing we have worked to improve. Giving a POD offer to the first 5000 (regardless of ratings?) doesn’t seem to back this up. If we take up the offer, is it any different to doing P.O.D. off our own bat?
Please enlighten me if I have misunderstood the deal.
Good questions. There’s quite a few different aims. One is trying to give added opportunity to those writers that, as you mention, have worked hard at their writing on YouWriteOn and been rated highly by their peers and, in many cases, the site’s literary professionals. Achieving real success through ‘alternative’ print on demand (POD) is very hard, achieving success through mainstream publishing success is harder still. It can happen with POD though, like with Bufflehead Sisters two book deal with Penguin. We had tried agents for this novel, but without success, so it was an alternative that proved successful after Patti’s hard working developing her story. It adds additional opportunity. Writers success through POD may be large, medium, small, or none, but there is the opportunity to explore and find out what it will be. For example, Barry Nugent getting his POD book Fallen Heroes into several Waterstones including Europes largest bookstore, and doing signings, or David Milnes reaching readers on a Neil Diamond website with his novel The Ghost of Neil Diamond. POD can be a reality check for a writer, it can also add extra interest, fun, and allow writing to reach readers they may not have previously reached.
There is also the other side, as you comment, that the offer being open to all goes against the central premise of the site, which is based on chart merit through peer and professional feedback and hard work by writers refining and developing work. What we have found though is that by offering publishing to ‘5,000’ instead of, for example, the top 20 each month, is that we have reached a lot further by opening it up to everyone who wishes to apply. This has led to a lot of new people joining, who may not have heard about the site and we hope they may benefit from a feedback avenue they may previously not have considered. So opening this to everyone enables us to work with the central premise of the site and encourage more people to get feedback to develop stories. Some may, some may not.
I think what makes us different, practically, is that we will aim at more marketable prices, as POD can be overpriced. For example, we are selling Bufflehead Sisters, 300 pages, at £6.49. We also recently undercut the largest POD operation by offering a writer a better retail price for his book than they offering the writer, and the writer opted to print with us. So practically speaking, this is a retail operation, we are aware we are ‘in competition’ with others and will look at what we can do better than them, or where they are doing better than us.
We also have something different in that we have a lot of leading agent and publisher affiliates who work with us. This doesn’t mean that they will look any closer at a story just because it is published with us, they won’t, a story’s individual merit will always be the most important point. But we will be able to explore different ways to offer things that other POD operators can’t through this and our system, for example, through monitoring sales made which, along with site peer and professional feedback for some stories, may add to helping to make the case for some writers when referring stories to affiliated literary professionals. Also, for example, on a practical level writers will be able to add a link from their story excerpt here to their completed novels for sale to interested readers.
There are many additional things we can do through the system, as it stands and with other new ideas we plan to introduce. This is what we hope will make us different, and we will continue to be very active in exploring and introducing features that aren’t available elsewhere.
7 thoughts on “The story from YWO”
I have read both the blog above and Ted Smith’s reply. I’m the author a book Ted mentions – The Ghost of Neil Diamond – which was published by YWO/Legend Press, and they made a wonderful job of it. More on that later. The opening chapters of this book topped the YWO charts in June last year. Besides that achievement – which is not to be belittled, because some reviewers on that site damn you because they have read nothing, and know nothing – besides getting to the top of the heap on YWO, I have also had a couple of short stories published. From cold. No contacts. No nepotism. Back in the nineties Constable published a collection for The London Magazine, and my story won a favourable review in the TLS, no less, from a Booker nominee. Since then I have also had a couple of agents interested in my novels, but I failed to make the changes they wanted and they dropped me. They were right to do so, and I’ve benefited from that, because the books they turned down are in far better shape now than they were then. The point is that the success at ywo, the published stories and the interest of agents should be evidence enough that my writing isn’t trash – I know I can write publishable fiction.
Which I hope entititles me to say that, when talking about POD publishing and self-publishing, you have to get away from the old Vanity Publishing label and the prejudices that come with it. If Vanity Publishers still exist, times must be hard. Vanity Publishers were shysters who said a mug’s book was marvellous, printed so many copies for the mug, dumped them on the mug’s doorstep and fleeced the mug for several thousand pounds. Technology, thank the Lord, has taken them out the game. I only paid YWO/Legend Press 400 pounds. The book is beautiful – it exceeded my expectations. Definition and colour of the cover is exactly as I wanted, and typsetting and paper quality are of professional standard. This, of course, is probably more to do with the power of technology that the printer´s earnest dedication to my particular book. Ywo/Legend Press have made the book available through all the online outlets – all the Amazons, Blackwells, W.H.Smith, Waterstones, Washington Post, Word Power, Everywhere. I retained control of the publication throughout, I retain all the rights, and now I retain control of all the marketing.
Here’s the clincher. Since it came on the market I have advertised my book in The London Magazine, on the online Bookslut magazine, and in Private Eye. Places where I know there are people who are interested in reading beyond the mainstream and the backlist, and who, hopefully, may give my book a try. Vain hope? No. I wrote to Jessa Crispin at Bookslut and she has let me send in a copy for review. Maybe she’ll hate it, maybe they’ll never get around to reading it – but they did leave the door open. I’ve spent more money – and far, far more time and effort, than any publisher would have spent on marketing my book. But has it sold a copy? Well, sorry to disappoint the cynics, but yes, it has. It’s early days, but I reckon it must be selling at the rate of about a copy a day. The highest it has been in the Amazon.co.uk charts is 17,000 something out of 22 million. It’s also fallen to 200,000 something. And it may fall much further, of course. On the US chart it’s in the 500-600 thousands and has had a high of 187,000. http://www.fonerbooks.com offers a sales analysis of these figures and that’s where I get the copy a day average. I’m optimistic that’s pessimistic. But here’s another number that counts. I have also recorded the sales chart rankings of two other books published summer 2008 by small independents, and another book self-published through ywo. One book from an independent, published just a month before mine, is down in the 1,200,000 s of Amazon.co.uk and hasn’t sold a single copy in the US – that is, it hasn’t even entered the chart. The publisher has done nothing to promote this book apart from send out review copies. Hopeless strategy. Hopeless results. I would feel so frustrated and helpless if I were that author, constantly ringing up the publisher and asking her/him to do something, always in that humiliating, supplicatory position. And the publisher has already moved on of course, is dealing with so many others. Any manual on book marketing these days says Rule No One is – use the author! Get the author to do the marketing. Get the author to go out and sell! Well, since you’re going to do your own marketing anyway – why not pay 400 quid and do everything yourself, and retain total control and cut out all middlemen?
If the book is good, it will find it’s own way. Oh yes it will. People want and need original writing, new characters. But first you have to get the book out there. Then market it. The truth is – uncomfortable for some, perhaps – that it has never been easier to find your readership, if there really is a readership.
Vanity publishing was always a mug’s game. Now, sending off endless enquiries and packages to agents and publishers – and waiting, waiting, waiting, and waiting again – is a mug’s game.
Happy to publish your comment to redress some of the very negative stuff going around at the moment re self-publishing (and I apologise for momentarily confusing it in the last post with vanity publishing which I know is something different). I also congratulate you on your success, esp with YWO – no mean feat! I have no problems with self-publishing or with anyone who succeeds at it. I have considered it myself (have also had some writing successes of my own) and will continue to do so. But your comment aslo shows the commitment to sellng and marketing needed by the author which I don’t think always comes across in the way POD services are advertised. I also felt that th ecurrent 5000 deal on YWO was insufficently explained in the first instance. And it was never advertised to me (a current member) but used, I think, to bring in new blood without encouraging them to work their way up through the gruelling review process.
But congrats on your undeniable success, and best of luck with the book!
Ali B – thanks for your reply. I have to add quickly that I won’t consider my book a success until I know a few hundred perfect strangers have bought it and have some indication that a few enjoyed it! Until then, I’ve still failed – i.e. I haven’t found a readership. But The Ghost of Neil Diamond has only been out 5 weeks. It’s early days. I am going to publish my next – The Ghost of Someone Else – with the other 4,999 youwriteon titles, and have just paid for the worldwide distribution service. The simple truth is that, before anything can happen, the book must exist.
It’s very interesting to read YWO’s attempts to justify this particular scheme, but I’m still unhappy with the terms of the contract, and would still advise anyone against submitting their work. I’ve blogged about it three times, and am in an ongoing discussion about it on a writers’ board, and have yet to be convinced otherwise.
Thanks for sending me the link to this, Ali.
Hi Jane – have decided to leave YWO and all who sail in her to stew (in a mixed metaphor) for the time being.
Did you try my links suggestion – any joy?
Ali, I’ve not had a chance to try to sort those links out yet, but will soon: they infuriate me!
Have you looked at Zoetrope, or Absolute Write? They both have areas for critique and discussion, and the work and comments are usually of quite a high standard.
Thanks for the suggestions. I’m lucky enough to be in a ‘real live’ writers’ group (Bristol Women Writers) which is my main source of critical feedback, but sometimes it’s good to try a new audience!