Friday, 17 October 2008

YouWriteOn Publishing: What’s In It For The Writer?

Following yesterday’s post about the cost of publishing with YouWriteOn, I’ve been asked how writers can work out for themselves whether or not this is a good deal.

Because we don't know how YouWriteOn will define the "printing costs" it mentions in its contract we don’t yet know what share of the revenue will be used as a basis for royalty calculations; and we don't know where YouWriteOn will set its retail prices. This makes it impossible to provide an exact breakdown: but I can make some rough comparisons.

Last year, I put a small book together using Lulu. The book was text-only and 28,000 words long, which came to about 110 pages: Lulu’s printing costs came to £3.92 per copy. I’ll set a cover price of £5.99, and will assume that YouWriteOn isn’t going to ramp up its printing costs over the actual figures.

I shall now play around a little with the numbers with the help of my lovely assistant (who is aged 13 and is top of his year in maths, clever boy). As you read along, though, do remember that longer books will have higher printing costs; and if YouWriteOn sets its printing costs higher, or its retail prices lower, the returns on its scheme will be lowered significantly.

Let’s start with the cost of the ISBN, because this seems to have tempted quite a lot of you. An ISBN costs £39.95 if you publish through YouWriteOn compared to £105.75 if you buy your own block of ten ISBNs direct from the UK ISBN agency (you can’t buy ISBNs singly). YouWriteOn does offer an immediate saving of £65.80 over self-publishing if you are only interested in publishing one book: but in return, you’re paying 40% of all future profits on the book to YouWriteOn.

A printing cost of £3.92 and a cover price of £5.99 leaves £2.07 potential profit, of which I would receive 60% (£1.24), with 40% (83p) going to YouWriteOn. If I published the book myself, I would receive 100% of that £2.07.

Using YouWriteOn, I’d have to sell 33 copies of the book to bring in £40.92, which would recoup the cost of the ISBN and get me into profit by a whole 97p; by publishing the book myself, I’d have to sell 52 copies to earn back the cost of the ISBN and bring me a very slightly larger £1.89 profit.

If I published more than one book, though, things get a little more interesting. By going through YouWriteOn I’d still have to sell 33 copies of each and every book in order to recoup that initial cost, because YouWriteOn offers a per-book price only, whereas by buying that block of ten ISBNs my break-even point is reduced. By publishing two books myself, the break-even point comes at 26 copies each; by publishing three books myself, that break-even point comes after I’ve sold 18 copies of each of the books.

After that break-even point is passed, each book published by YouWriteOn will still only earn me a royalty of 60% of income after they’ve deducted their printing costs, whereas I’d keep 100% of it from each book I self-published. In the projections that follow, I’ve deducted the cost of the ISBNs for the sake of simplicity.

If I sold 75 copies of a single title through YouWriteOn I’d earn £53.05, but by publishing it myself I’d bring in £49.50: in this instance, YouWriteOn is a better option by a narrow margin of £3.55.

If I sold 75 copies each of two books through YouWriteOn I’d earn £106.10, but by selling 75 copies each of two self-published books I’d earn £204.75. In this instance, self-publishing is a better option by a rather nice margin of £98.65.

If I sold 100 copies of a single title through YouWriteOn I’d earn £84.05, but by publishing it myself I’d bring in £101.25. In this instance, self-publishing is a better option by a margin of £17.20.

If I sold 100 copies of two books through YouWriteOn I’d earn £168.10, but by selling 100 copies each of two self-published books I’d earn £308.25. In this instance, self-publishing is a better option by a very nice margin of £140.15.

Remember that this model is based on a smallish book with low comparable printing costs, and I’ve assumed that YouWriteOn is going to price the books fairly, and not ramp up those undefined “printing costs”. A legitimately self-published book has a much better chance of getting into the bookshops than those which go through the YouWriteOn scheme, because of the problems with discounts that I outlined in my post yesterday. And very few self-published books sell as many as 75 copies, without these obstacles in their way.


Background Artist said...

Thanks very much for all this info Jane.

i apologise for being an offensive dickhead now and again, but i have never submitted to a publisher, and my primary form of work being poetry, i came to the conclusion a while back, that for 90% of us, the figures sold make it more or less all just vanity anyway and there is a certain power one has after not submitting, or rather not allowing anyone to *reject* you, as poetry is different from fiction, in the sense that because it is more or less a vanity masked as top end intellectual pursuit; there are actually editors who couldn't give a stuff if you were the next shakespeare in verse (and i am thinking of one very high profile poet here, not me) eds will actually penalise you, love to *reject* any manuscript you send in, just so they can settle petty scores, which in the poetry world, trust me -- Eliot was known as The Pope Of Russell Square who poets trembled when approaching in the flesh - is more than most due to mental illness and poetry being kissing cousins..

but now we have got to the meat and two veg of it, you have let me see far deeper than i would have done of this debate were not happening.

you are correct of course about the printing cost thing, as this could be the mechanism that makes it a poor do if the costs end up a large part of the pricing of the units; and i still have two weeks to submit my manuscript.

the poetry is all there, and now it is just whacking in the relevant prose, which i only thought of doing last week, as even if i do not end up publishing my first book this way, it has been a very valuable psychic doorway to total belief as an artist that my work will sell, and if not that it's quality cannot be faulted by any other so called expert on poetry.

The main thing this has going for it, is the fact it only takes 30 days to dissolve the contract entirely, so there are no messy strands if for some fluke one's book becomes a best seller, and also i was drawn to it because of the straightforward and transparent lingo, no legaleeze and it is only the printing costs point which is stopping me from knowing the exact financial set up of cost and return per unit.

At the mo i am thinking, just get the book together, send it in and if it is not to my advantage when it does appear financially and yr concerns are proven as you suggest they may, then it is no skin of my nose to dissolve the contract.

Indeed the publicity and marketing i think are perhaps more important, letting ppl know about it, and not having any spin docs in res at my bedsit, i have to think outside the box and rather than apologise for not being picked by mick schmidt or neil astley or chris, due to the fact of never having a manuscript submitted to the top men -- just have a laugh and look at it as, well what's 40 quid?

ok i might get a poor do if the worst comes worst, but i would be happy to pay 1000 quid for the intellectual insight this little as yet costless exercise in furthering one's eloquence has wrought within.

and surely that is the whole point of what we do as writers? Tp become eloquent, and in these days of total spin where some bore is always being spun up by a wealthy backed crew of pro log rollers, there is capital in the common man living in a bedsit in Dublin, claiming outrageous things about what his learning has lead to (all true) and is clearly speaking honestly and not in any publisher's pocket?


desmond boreds

Anonymous said...

Hi Jane, wondering if you saw this on Writer Beware:

"Ah, but there's just one little detail missing from this rosy picture: what the 60% is calculated on. If you assumed cover price, guess again. According to YWO's publishing contract (also obtained by Writer Beware), royalties are paid on net, with net defined as "after printing costs." So your royalty will be a lot less than 60% of retail--or even, very possibly, 60% of wholesale. In fact, since the contract doesn't specify how much will be deducted for printing, you actually have no idea what your royalty will be."

Jane Smith said...

Anonymous, yes, I did read that particular part: Writer Beware is a dependable source, and I rate it highly. I just didn't see the point in duplicating their work, especially when I linked to their piece in my original post.

Meanwhile, I'd appreciate it if you could post using your name next time--not that I refuse to allow anonymous postings, it just adds more weight to your opinion if you admit to who you are.

(Do email me if you'd like--my address is on my front page.)

Annie Wicking said...

From what I understand is if a book sells for £6.99 in the real world of publishing the writer get the grand sum of 12p if the supermarket sells them for £3.99 it 6p
So to publish and sell your own book must to some people seem to be the best idea. Though, I kind of guess that most haven't really look into what that might entail.

As I have said already some people are just happy to see a book cover with their name on the front.

I just hope for their sake it spelt correctly.

Best wishes,

Background Artist said...

i read on wiki that Lulu authors not resident in the states, are also liable for a 30% tax on their royalties and:

In September 2006, Lulu came under criticism for changing the terms of its global distribution package and incurring a price rise of around 70% on all books sold in the United Kingdom...and...unlike most publishers, does not accept returns of unsold books from bookstores. In addition, the wholesale discount is much smaller than most bookstores are accustomed to — as little as 5% at typical quantities of less than a hundred. These facts may make it difficult for authors to have their books carried in bookstores..

from what i gather, the profit-split after printing costs is 80% to the author and 20% for Lulu, so

£5.99 - £3.92 =

£2.07 / 100 = £.0207 x 80 =

£1.65.6 is the 80% cut of profit

less 30% tax =

£1.162 = 56% (roughly) of the original £2.07, less than youwriteon, which is -

£1.242 - a whopping 8 pence more per unit, 2 pence more than the supermarket royalty of one book according to Wicking.

But it also says at the wiki Lulu article that to get the book in England will cost the consumer 70% than in America, effectively pricing itself out the domestic market if one is a writer in the green and pleasant land.

So far, and i mean no disrepect to jane or anyone else who is fearful that this may not be the sweet and light revolution it purports, the only stumbling block on not embracing this seemingly too good to be true deal, is the fact we do not know the exact figures, and really if it is a blatant rip off and some ludicrously transparent not yet stated premier phone-rate of 50 quid a minute type of con is going to transpire, where the authors are all going to feel cheated -- which is what i sense from the nay sayers is the possible outcome of their fears -- then all that is lost is £40.

So, worst case, it's a con and we immediately dissolve the contract, and thirty days later are in the same position we started, a night down the pub or a cheap meal for two down. There are no hidden rip offs which mean the rights to publish our work has been stolen from us and really, even if this was the case, i would view it as a great success personally, as for 40 quid, i got to go through the exercise, a trial run, of self-publishing my first book, went from not knowing to knowing how it works, by experience.

And Anne makes a very good point which i feel has been overlooked, ignored, but which is more pertinent to what will happen in the real changing topography of publishing, that self publishing is like any technology, mobile phones, computers etc, in that -- as a business, a reality of commerce, we would be an idiot to think it is just going to disappear and everyone go back or carry on with the old way of submit - accept - or as in 99% of cases -- Reject.

The kernel of this is not about *quality* but changing the whole structure from one in which at the mo, we have people who work in publishing, speaking as though the biz is something akin to a top fashion designers art gallery, whereby incredibly important aesthetic decisions are entrusted into the minds of a very few select people who the whole tradition of English letters, invest them with the courtly decorums and modes of behaviour which started in the time of Tudor England and Caxton and which was revolutionary, but still rigidly controlled by the state, and the state being a one person executive body with a two page title instead of plain old mister Tudor as Copper Nose henry 8 was known in his day by the ppl immediately after he died -- meant this model of publishing which meant that everything in print had to be approved by one person who of course aint gonna say, look pal, i wanna get rid of someone for selfish reasons, so find some bullshit that paints the innocent as the devil and me the head cutter who can kill on a whim, as some saint protecting the very ppl i am terrorising as moi -- but instead we got, how dare you, how dare you offend the Nation's temporal god, spirit and out, reject head off, all that crap was how it began...and we can say i am a dickhead, but it is true, and though clearly one cannot be shot now for submitting a not very well written book, the fundemental principles are the same, in that you submit and await your fate from on high.

The bottom line is, this self-publishing is only ever going to be more and more commercially viable and the short history of IT, we see that exponentially the leaps double ever quicker until now, more has changed in the last 50 yrs than the last 10,000 accrued and what with the current whatever's going on in the world, it looks like fundamental never before seen changes are afoot across the board, and it is not unreasonable to suppose, that will include the publishing business becoming as accesible to the author as other IT stuff like mobile phones and computers became, first costing millions and only NASA and movie studios could afford, and now anyone with a camera, phone and PC, can make their own movies and be seen by the world on the net, the price reduced by 1000's of percent in ten yrs, so why not publishing?

Let me draw an analogy. Up till two months ago with phone company meteor here in ireland, to go on the net was 2 quid a minute or summat prohibitive, and two months ago, they made it ten cent a day, all day to go online with yr phone.

And self-publishing, surely, the one's who know what they are doing, like me, like lots of people who just write and ignore the experts telling us how only they can publish, we get to where we want to be, not through getting picked by a third party who likes what we write, in the prfect scenario, but us being human, there are also, sadly lots of non-quality control reasons why ppl get selected by pickers. it could be they fancy them, seriously it happens, a middle aged publisher, single, married, whatever, fancies an attractive young wo/man who writes poetry or prose, might even be the reaons s/he got into publishing, like actors will admit they got into acting to meet the opposite sex.

they might pick them as part of some mad game of the mind, power reasons, a publisher with two hundred in their stable they built from scratch, and now have a large slice of the market, telling everyone it is all about quality, the old king and queen routine, one person treated like a god.

love and peace

thanks very much jane, i will understand if you wanna take this off, as it is very long, but hey, i'm a bore addicted to finding eloquence within and this is only a few hundred words, a practice aside from the day job of becoming the best writer i can, to be a real bard..

gra agus siochain

Jane Smith said...

Background Artist wrote, "So, worst case, it's a con and we immediately dissolve the contract, and thirty days later are in the same position we started"

That's a very common misconception.

We wouldn't be in the same position that we were when we started, because we'd have given those precious first rights to the scheme and so would be very unlikely to find another publisher for the book--as I explained in my first piece about this scheme.

There might be tax implications for UK residents using Lulu: but they could always use Lightning Source, or another UK-based POD service.

BA, I'm glad that you are interested enough to have another go at posting here but do you think you might try to edit your comments down a bit? There's a difference between eloquence and waffling...!

Jane Smith said...

Annie, those royalties you give are not typical of those given to agented writers. My latest book gives me 8% of cover price (£4.99) on all copies sold: which is about 40p per copy. The selling price doesn't affect the royalties I receive because the contract states "cover price" not "selling price". And yes, self-publishing can seem more lucrative: it is if you measure it on a per-copy basis. But the huge difference in numbers sold means that mainstream publishing is almost always a better option.

Background Artist said...

First rights?

"The Author grants to the Publisher the non-exclusive, worldwide license to publish the Work in print. The Author retains sole and exclusive worldwide copyright and all rights including moral rights to the Work in all formats and editions.

The publisher has no first rights. It is very simple, the author can dissolve the contract at any time and for any reason which means exactly what it says. This contract is the easiest one i have ever read and no commerical law judge in England would uphold a claim by this company that they held any right to publish what the author submitted, if the author dissolved the contract.

As i said, you are overlooking the obvious fact. This is not Publishing in the usual 12 - 15 percent sense a firm with lots of experience and tradition of having 85% less printing costs, of the deal/s they do with individuals, many of whom have no clue about the legalities of what they are getting into when they send of to the fairy godfathers and dons of Russell Square, bar what gossip and bullshit they glean, and as traditionally it has been such a massively one sided relationship of 85 to 15 in favour of the corporations with very expensive clever lawyers and small print buried in very binding - what is to most - gobble dee gook the publisher will naturally say is industry standard stuff, like the workers in India getting sweat shop wages -- with all due respect Jane, the fundamental plank of yr argument (on a financial basis) is absurd in the extreme.

To suggest that an 85 - 15 split is good for the author, is clearly wrong, and your theory that because

"the huge difference in numbers sold means that mainstream publishing is almost always a better option" rests on the central plank that the benifits of the PR these organisations can offer, outweighs the 35% imbalance between a 50/50 relationship.

This is like saying, if Faber published my poetry, then i stand more of a chance of selling 67% of the poetry sold in the UK, just because Heaney uses them to disseminate his texts. A sort of, if i stand next to someone who sells, so will i, which is just wishful thinking Jane.

As for Lulu and Lighting Source, the NY Times reckons Xlibris is the best bet for self publishing, as they offer 25% and a sliding scale of packages, and their books the highest material quality, and at the forefront of self publishing according to the experts.

What do you think of this outfit?

You seem very very committed to proving a negative here, that taking a 40 quid punt, a clearly sensible idea for anyone with something of quality to sell, is somehow a very foolish thing to be doing. It doesn't stack up. You do not address the very important information your advocation of Lulu did not inform us of, and made clearly wrong financial calculations in regards to an authors dealings with Lulu, which is a bit off really, as you are not giving the readers an accurate breakdown, which they will not thank you for when they dioscover the 30% tax and the fact that to buy the book in England costs 70% more than you lead them to believe and which they would not have discovered if they took you on good faith, and it is lucvky for you i am here voluntarily offering this information.

I really don't get yr problem with this deal, you are wrong about the first rights, do not tell the reader of the full facts of Lulu, and your only hope of the nightmare you seem to want to happen for self publishing through youwriteon, hinges on pure conjecture, that this man Ted is dishonourable in some way, when the truth is, you're the one whose blotted yr copy book with the first time authors seeking advice, which if i wanted to have a bigger laugh than i already am capable of, could start using the language you do about Ted, that Jane should not be taken at face value, as she has given us wrong information, and compounded it in the most disingeneous way, by slagging of a person making heraclian efforts to publish 5000 new authors and give them 60% royalties, you who get 12, are moaning about with no proof that yr - what amounts to - fears -have any substance in fact.

This is a disgrace.


des bores

Jane Smith said...

Background Artist wrote, "The publisher has no first rights. It is very simple, the author can dissolve the contract at any time and for any reason which means exactly what it says."

You misunderstand how rights work. First rights are used up the first time a book is published: so for YWO to say that the authors retain all rights is misleading. The authors retain copyright to their work: but by publishing through this, or any other scheme, those precious first rights are gone and CANNOT be returned, no matter how reputable the publisher concerned.

Please keep your comments shorter and more respectful from now on, BA, or I'm going to have to start deleting them. Again.

Sally Zigmond said...

I'm afraid BA is typical of so many uninformed writers who believe that there's some 'clique' of agents and publishers who are hell bent on keeping ordinary decent folk with huge talent from being published, although quite what Henry VIII has to do with it is a mystery to me and to anyone else but BA, I should imagine.

However, BA's wonderfully discursive posts show exactly why one person's avowed 'right' to dump their ill-formed opinions on others isn't necessarily a good thing (and rarely read either.)

The publisher who liked my novel enough to agree to publish it is not based anywhere near London and reads everything that drops through his letterbox. He chooses on merit but he also needs to feed his family. And as for this secret Masonic-type cabal of velvet-robed Tudors who wouldn't know Shakespearean merit if it dropped a codpiece at their feet, it is a mirage, conflated from nothing more than bitterness and envy.

The truth is that stuff worth publishing gets published and that which isn't isn't. Okay, sometimes something wonderful slips the net. No system is perfect but it doesn't happen very often which is why it makes the headlines.

And I don't think, nor does Jane, I don't suppose, believe that the YWO '5,000 books ready for Christmas' scheme is crooked.

It's merely that writers deserve better and it is available, as Jane keeps telling us. Self-publish by all means (although I'd rather be unpublished than self-published) but do it the best and most cost effective way possible and always remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Annie Wicking said...

As I have said, two of my writer friends have had their work read by both agents and publishers. They have traveled down the routes traveled by all new writers. They are both very intelligent men who have made their own choice to take up the offer made by youwriteon. No one has told them they will be best selling authors by Christmas.

I've chatted, by phone, with both of them about trying to take the main stream route once again. This is the route they've already tried for many years without success. They have edited their books until they have reached the point where they are happy with it and still they're no nearer reaching their goal.

What's wrong with my friends fulfilling their own wish to see their books in print. It's their choice, no one has con these two men, I can assure you.

If anything they can't understand why I'm not jumping at the chance. They both say I'm too dedicated to getting my work accepted the old fashion way but they respect my choice as I do theirs.

If your cards are on the table and you are fully aware of what's being offered and you've made your own choice, I don't see what the problem is with self-publishing.

It's no different from when Charles Dickens or any other great writers in the early days set out to write. When an artist paints a picture and hangs it on the rails in the local park and someone comes along and buys it. No one says that is wrong and he should've gone to a gallery or an agent to sell his/her work.

Why can't writers do the same? You are removing people's rights to make their own choices.

Best wishes,

Sally Zigmond said...

No-one, least of all Jane and I, are telling people not to self-publish. If you re-read what we've said carefully you will see that.

Self-publishing is absolutely fine as long as you know what you're doing and what is the likely outcome. Publishing with YWO ISN'T self-publishing. You can tell whether a book is self-published because the publishers name and address printed inside is that of the author. No-one else's.

All I am trying to do (I can't speak for Jane although I have a sneaky suspicion she thinks the same)is to point out that there are far better ways of doing so than taking up the YWO5,000 books by Christmas project, which is flawed. It must be if you do the maths (or do the math, as they say over the pond.) And I don't just mean the amount of money you will make. I'm talking of the physical impossibility of creating 5,000 different books in that time that aren't riddled with errors.

That's all.

Jane Smith said...

Exactly, Sally. There's nothing wrong with self-publishing so long as you realise what the limitations of it are. But there are far better ways to do it than this one, which is very deeply flawed.

Jane Smith said...

I have now deleted two more posts. They were identical: but one came from my pet troll, Background Artist, while the other came from a Suzan Abrams, who I've not met before.

They were both rambling and insulting, and contained an attempt to sell Background Artist's books. However, there were a couple of useful points raised so I'll quote them here.

There was a long discussion of the tax implications and royalty structures involved in using Lulu. It containted a good few errors, and implied that writers who used Lulu would incur a tax liability which would put them at a disadvantage against those writers who used YWO. It did not allow that YWO writers would also incur a tax liability, which would cancel out that supposed disadvantage.

In relation to the first rights issue that I highlighted, BA wrote:

"You fail to cite an authority to back up yr claim on this, and i would be very grateful if you could do so please."

You could contact the Society of Authors and ask them their view; or you could read just about any writers' guide to the matter. Any guide with authority will confirm my view.

"Jane, i am assuming you are not a barrister specialising in publishing law and have not been in front of any judge in court, and - if this is the case - yr position is not one i can put the fullest of faith in as a serious expert who has succesfully or otherwise tested yr theories out in the real legal world."

Ah, I'm rumbled. Well, as you have no faith in me, I suggest you stop reading my blog and find someone else to poke at. All future posts of yours will be deleted, no matter what you write.

Sally Zigmond said...

With regard to first rights, as well as the Society of Authors (who have a legal team) all anyone has to do is contact any agent or publisher and ask if they'll consider a book that has already been published.

Before I get jumped on, there are very rare exceptions but they are so rare that they needn't be part of the equation.

And the excellent Behler Blog that I found thanks to Jane (there's a link on Jane's main page)is very clear on the matter.

I find it so frustrating that people will argue that black is white and dry is wet when all they have to do is look, listen and learn from people who know from the inside.

Annie Wicking said...

I'm glad we all agree that the choice is down to the writer at the end of the day.

What I found to be the biggest flaw with the YWO offer (I know all the fact because I was chosen to be one of 5000 in the offer) was that no one actually read your book. You were told how to send your book via the net, down to the page setting.

If you didn't, whatever mistake or flaw would then appear in the final copy.

I just felt the whole project would be a complete waste of time.

The small publisher who's interested in my novel sends your book at least eight times backwards and forward between you and them to make sure your book is up to a high standard before they will publish it.

The simple fact that they have read the book in the first place and sent me feedback, which can help me improve my novel before I have it published, shows that the route I'm taking is the best one for my novel.

I do find this blog interesting and the comments helpful.

As long as new writers arm themselves with as much information as they can, at the end of the day the choice is theirs and so to are their mistakes. If they don't, they can't come back and say why didn't anyone tell me.

Best wishes,

Suzan Abrams said...

Dear Jane Smith,

As regards what you've written here, which I was shocked to read:

but one came from my pet troll, Background Artist, while the other came from a Suzan Abrams, who I've not met before.

They were both rambling and insulting, and contained an attempt to sell Background Artist's books.

I have no idea who you are from Adam, no idea what you stand for and don't find your blog wrangling about money issues from publishing particularly interesting.

As regarding the comment above which you wrote, my fair idea is that Desmond Swords (Background Artist) who lives in a flat in the same building as me in Dublin - and we are friends - borrowed my laptop with my name on blogger not yet signed off. That would explain why my name appeared here and I think he deleted it immediately. They are simply duplicate copies. You will find one comment no different from the other.

I have no interest in selling anything to you.
I was also surprised at your abruptness on my blog in wanting to know who my publisher was. This with no courtesy at all. Are you going to do an immediate run-down as well to find out just how much I've been cheated on when it comes to royalties? Surely you have better things to do.

Please clear my name of what you wrote that has no bearing on anything you said and appears false and wrongly miscontrued. I would appreciate if you did this immediately.

Jane Smith said...

Suzan, sorry for the delay in putting up your comments: I'm a little snowed under with comments right now, so yours has taken more time than it should have.

Thanks for that explanation. I was wondering what had happened there. Although in your case I’d be more angry with Background Artist than with me: he’s posted potentially libellous material in your name, which could have caused you a great deal of trouble. All I did was delete it, to limit any subsequent damage.

As we both have pointed out, the two comments I referred to were identical. As I’ve stated already, I don’t know who you are: just that one copy of those two identical comments came from Background Artist, and one from you. I have email notifications from Blogger for both posts, which show this quite clearly.

The text which was submitted to my blog, using your Blogger identity, contained a lot of rambling; quite a few insulting remarks; a discussion of the issue that we’re meant to be discussing here; and a potentially libellous comment or two. It did, however, raise a couple of interesting points which I felt added to the discussion. I can’t allow libellous comments to stand, because that would imply my collaboration in a libellous act: consequently I deleted both comments, but referred back to them in order to address the points of value.

I then visited your blog and read a little about your book, and found the premise intriguing. I was speaking with an editor recently who is keen to acquire more books of this type in the UK, and thought you might like an introduction: but a lot depends on its original publication. Which is why I asked the question I did. I meant nothing underhand, and it’s a shame that you’ve reached the conclusions that you have.

Suzan Abrams said...

Hello Jane,

I've read your comment and yes, I can understand now what you're saying and where you're coming from.

About the rambling. It definitely didn't come from me but Des but I can see now how you would have got confused. He was using my laptop at the time and I had no idea what he was writing. :-)

If I may say something on his behalf, Des can normally get intense about his poetry and he definitely doesn't mean any harm. I'm sure he likes reading what you have to say, otherwise he wouldn't be here. His bark is always worse than his bite. He just gets too intense about his beliefs and sometimes carried away. About what he wrote, today. I think he told me that too and I was positively shocked on your behalf. Don't worry about it Jane. It's just that he probably got protective about me although I did tell him that he had no right to say such a thing. It was something so trivial.

On my part, I suppose I got a bit upset when I saw your first description of me. That's why I couldn't understand why you would come over to talk. I apologize for any insolence on my part. You're most welcome on my blog anytime, I believe I could learn a lot from you, will read you if you don't mind and hope that we can be friends. :-)

with best wishes.

Jane Smith said...

Suzan, you're welcome here despite your initial misunderstanding.

"Des can normally get intense about his poetry and he definitely doesn't mean any harm."

What Des doesn't seem to realise is that every rambling post he puts up makes him look more and more foolish, and damages his reputation further. Although I've never felt anything more than mildly irritated by him, I'm certainly not going to allow any more of his comments here.

R.R.Jones said...

The figures you show on this post are exactly what I tried to find out, without success.
Whatever, the scheme is history now anyway.

Richie D said...

This is fast becoming even more entertaining than Boston Legal--my fave TV series at the moment.

Well done Jane on constructing a blog that is not only informative, but also provides great soap opera entertainment in the comments pages!

Seriously, though good luck Suzan--checked out your blog and Malaysian Ghost Tales sounds great.

Paul said...

Okay, here are some facts, such as they are.

Jane, your figures for comparing Lulu with any UK based self publishing scheme, including YWO fail to take into account postage and import taxes.

Postage costs are available on the Lulu site, so I won't detail them here, only to say they ain't cheap!

Import taxes are random and will depend on the courier (FEXEX or DHL or whomever) deciding if your parcel is for commercial gain. If they decide it is (100 books sent from a commercial address will probably trigger a 'yes'), then tax will be calculated on the cover price plus an administration tax levied by the courier. These charges are extortionately high.

You can of course try to get the money back, but you will have to go to Customs and Excise in order to do that.

Which brings us to the next point. If you earn royalties in the US you can be stopped 30% tax, which you can try to claim back. Or you can apply for a Tax Identification number and claim an exclusion for royalties. This doesn't mean you don't have to pay tax, it just means you pay it in this country and not in the US.

Printing via YWO or any other self publishing company (such as Lulu) means the first printing rights have been used up. Another publishing company can now only have the second publishing rights. This will prove a problem to you if you have a work of art that will only appeal to a select (small) audience. Publishers won't want second dibs on this. However, if you have something Brad Pitt might have expressed an interest in, then I think you will find the publishing company in question will "find away" around this problem!

Money talks!

These are the facts as they stand. The following is my opinion.

There has been a lot of uncomfortable and unconstructive arguments about the YWO offer. Those who want to use it (me included) have been perhaps a little blinded by the downfalls, those that seek to "protect" writers from it have been almost evangelical in trying to stop it going ahead.

In the end, the only group being affected by this are those writers trying to make a go of books that publishers don't want. The only people being damaged by negative publicity are those people both groups profess to protect.

There should in the end be less talk of rights and wrongs and costs, somewhere along the line there should also be the freedom of these people to publish their books as they see fit. be that YWO or any other publishing house.

All I ask is that this is kept in perspective and that negative feelings towards the scheme are kept to a minimum so as not to damage any potential sales of the authors involved.

Jane Smith said...

Paul, your analysis is useful, and you make some good points. You're right about the taxes and so on that UK writers are going to incurr if they use Lulu: but if they use Lightning Source's Milton Keynes facility then that won't apply, and they won't pay anything.

However, as I write this, I realise I've not factored in any percentage that LS or Lulu would take from that royalty, which would reduce the income: my bad. But the fact remains that writers will make more money per book by self-publishing with Lulu, Lightning Source, or any other POD outfit, than they will with YWO: and they'll have far more chance of getting the resulting books into bookshops because of the problem with writers' discounts and royalties on copies they buy themselves.

I am keen to warn writers against this because I'm convinced it's a bad deal for them; I'd be just as keen to warn them away from any other bad deal because after all, that is what this blog is for. I really want to see writers succeed at writing, and this isn't the best way to go about it: but please don't think that I've got anything against the writers involved.

I don't think that my comments, or those of anyone else who have blogged against this scheme, will damage the fortunes of the writers involved. Will someone decide to not buy one of the books because they've read my blog? I doubt it: mostly because the market for these books will be the friends and families of the writers involved, who are unlikely to listen to me rather than to their author-relative.

I really hope that some of the writers involved enjoy great success as a result of publishing through YWO: I wish them all luck. But I fear they're going to need a lot more than luck to do well out of it, and it might well end up proving a costly mistake.

(Incidentally, no one who has decided to go ahead with the scheme has so far explained to me why it's a better choice than self-publishing their book direct through a POD company: if anyone would care to have a crack at that, I'm listening.)

Paul said...

It's simple. It's an event. It had a timelimit, it drove people to acheive the end result of self publishing. Some of us need a carrot or a stick to get there.

This provided a bit of both. If you need more explination, you are looking too deply.

As for money making, I'm not totaly sure how you get from 39.99 for and ISBN to "costly mistake".

We both know that most writers will not expect to sell 20 copies, let alone 100, unless they have some charity drive going with which to guearentee sales. Without it, most will try to sell to friends and realtives, or more likely, they will give them away as Christmas presents. Less than 0.1% will make significant sales and even less than that will pique the interest of any publishers or agents.

Given all that, I don't believe your comments or any other negative blog will affect sales because I don't really expect the majorty to make any real sales, but what your message of "this is a vanity publish scheme" might install is the doubt into any agent that comes across a YWO book. If they have read your blog, they may be predudiced from the start.

That would be shame, wouldn't it? Even for the 0.1%!

Jane Smith said...

Paul, I don't think agents will need to read my blog or anyone else's to recognise the YWO scheme books as vanity published: that's going to be all too evident. And that's what's going to put them off considering the books, regardless of any comments I have made.

What's really going to put them off that 0.1% though is that they'll have already been published, and so those first rights will have gone. That's a crucial thing for most publishers, and one which many people outside of publishing don't seem to recognise or appreciate.

Paul said...

I think you fail to give people credit for enough inteligence.

I've tried all agents and all publishers. I have a feeling that among the 5,000, I am not alone, I don't believe I will make money from it and I think other adults competing in this know this too.

I think my question to you would be, why do you care so much what other people (adults) are doing?

So what if YWO is vanity publishing. Are you saying that Lulu is not? Either way the writer pays for the book to be produced. How much, and who does it will not change that basic fact!

Jane Smith said...

Paul, you might want to read the first-ever post I put up on this blog. That'll explain to you why I get so irked when I read about people being misled about how publishing really works.

Lulu and Lightning Source both provide self-publishing services, rather than being vanity presses. There's a difference, which I've explained in other blog posts: you might find it useful to read some of my other posts, rather than focussing entirely on YWO.

And despite my asking repeatedly, no one has yet even attempted to explain to me how YWO is a better option than self-publishing. Do you feel able to tackle that point? I'm still interested to hear.

Paul said...

Jane that point has been explained to you many times, but you just keep batting it away with "but there are other alternatives"...

Look, let me break it down for you. What car do you drive? An economic one? Does every one you know do the same? If not, why not?

It's free choice. We all live in a free country, we all get to choose our own private path to hell, we all get to do what we want, or not do what we want in most cases.

I looked at Lule a number of times, then I got busy with this that and the other and my book was never published. I looked at Lightening Source, and although there website isn't as friendly as Lulu's, I still was interested, but I got busy with....

And so on until YWO said, "hey want your book published, then get that finished MS to me by the end of October if you want it out by christmas..."

It was a big carrot and an even bigger stick. If you don't understand the implications of either on the human race as a whole, you need to ask yourself how much you really know about people.

As for the definition of vanity press... I think its a stretch to call YWO vanity and not call Lulu that... Look at the price of most Lulu books on Amazon... Would you call that a comptetive price? Some unknown author for 8.99 and a Stephen King for 5.99?

Any kind of self publishing is vanity publishing. No matter how you dress it up, what technology you use, if you go to a printer and say "hey publish this for me" you are publishing it yourself and to me, that is the deffintation of vanity.

You might disagree, but that is your right in a democracy.

To sumerise: The reason I went with YWO is because I faniced doing it. Nothing more complex than that. Just like smoking, drinking and having a flutter on the horses, none of that makes sense, until you remember that you are a long time dead!

Jane Smith said...

So, to summarise, Paul, you chose to publish with YWO because it was the first place to ask you to send your book in.

You didn't take any time to check whether or not it was the best in any way: you don't care whether or not it showed potential for good sales or marketing, was cost-effective, prestigious, author-friendly, reliable, or favourable in any other way because, to quote, "you are a long time dead": and yet you have plenty of time to make comments here which are borderline insulting, and yet which still don't answer my question. Which was:

How is publishing with YWO a better option than self-publishing?

I realise you think you've answered it, but you haven't: you've told me, a couple of times now, why you went for the scheme--because they asked you. But you've not told me how it's a better choice than self-publishing, and I'd really like to hear your answer to that one.

Your "deffintation" of vanity publishing doesn't correspond to the industry standard, or to the one that's accepted most widely: if you click on the "vanity publishing" label on this blog you'll find information on that.

And meanwhile I'd like to ask you to send me a cheque for £10,000 because you seem happy to respond positively to such suggestions and I could have a really great time with the money.

Paul said...

Oh dear Jane, that's really mud slinging now. Basically in that last paragraph you are condescendingly calling me an idiot. Nice.

If you read my post, you would have seen that I considered Lulu first, but rejected it because of the high postage and possible import tax problems. I also looked as some others and didn't see anything I like. I've been approached now by several so called agents who wanted 5k up front to "market" my book and one "publisher" who wanted 1.5k to publish and distribute my book.

So, it seems as though I haven't sent it off to the first one that asked, or even the first one I considered. That's you assumption, an insulting one, and one I feel is beneath the tone of this argument.

Sad that we get to the mud slinging so quickly!

But I tell you what, let me know where to send the 10k cheque and I'll think about it, mind you, with no money in my account right now, you might find it hard to cash...

Meanwhile, our definition of vanity publishing will have to differ. You might not like that, or indeed agree with it, but it’s a free country, so I'm afraid you will have to put up with it.

Oh and thanks for highlighting my spelling mistake. I'm sure that made you feel superiour!

Jane Smith said...

Paul, I’m sorry that this comment of yours hasn’t appeared sooner—I’ve only just realised it was waiting to be approved. My fault.

I did read your post: you wrote, “I looked at Lule [sic] a number of times, then I got busy with this that and the other and my book was never published”, which reads to me as if you considered Lulu and then got bored with it—not that you rejected it as a possibility.

The agents and publishers you describe are clearly scam agents and vanity publishers: mainstream ones never ask for money, but instead pay you. You might not like my definition of a vanity publisher, but your comments certainly imply that you share my opinion of them.

And yes, it was petty of me to highlight one of your spelling errors, although it certainly didn’t make me feel “superiour”. You're meant to be a professional, published writer and should do better.

Your place in this scheme actually makes me feel a little sad: you were kind enough to send me your manuscript before you submitted it to YouWriteOn and although I only read the first couple of thousand words, I felt it showed definite commercial potential—as I told you at the time. It did need a little more work, though, which you were not prepared to do. In fact, you became so repeatedly rude and abusive towards me after I suggested making a few changes that I’ve now had to block your email address. So before you accuse me of mudslinging, you might want to re-read those emails you sent me, and wonder if they really were appropriate.

Paul said...

Blocked my email address? A little over the top wouldn't you say as I have no intention of sending you any more emails. Clearly you really do need to get over yourself!

And just for the record, I sent 2 emails, which I don't think counts as being repeatedly rude and abusive. It's sad that you feel the need to paint me so black on your own blog and to repeatdily make me look stupid by highlighting any typos I make.

Tell me Jane, why do you do this? Is it that I don't believe in you? Is that what anouys you? Is that I don't show you any respect?

Actually, forget it. Don't bother publishing this response as I won't bother coming back to your site, lest I be accused of more wrong doings!

Really. You should be ashamed of yourself! Your reaction gives other woman a bad name!

Jane Smith said...

“I won't bother coming back to your site”


“And just for the record, I sent 2 emails, which I don't think counts as being repeatedly rude and abusive.”

I’ve got four of those two emails from you in my inbox, one received after I asked you quite clearly not to email me again. As I then blocked your email address all others will have been deleted without me seeing them, so I cannot confirm how many more you might have sent.

Just to prove my point about your rudeness, here are a couple of highlights from those emails you sent:

“What a diverse life you must lead to be so perfect to criticise others.”

Because you would never stoop so low to criticise anyone, right?

“stop being so bloody bitchy”

This in response to my taking time to review a piece of your work, and giving it a fair amount of praise. Honestly, Paul, you go too far: a thank-you would have been enough.

“Really. You should be ashamed of yourself! Your reaction gives other woman a bad name!”

Which other woman would that be, then?

Go away, Paul Ekert. I’ve been more courteous to you than you deserve, and all further comments you make here will be deleted.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jane,
I came across your blog while googling 'Is youwriteon a waste of time?'.
My own experience of publishing with Lightning Source under my own imprint is that it is a surprisingly economical way to side-step the major problem- namely a high cost per copy to the writer (p&p incl.)- with Lulu, Xlibris, Youwriteon and other such ventures.
This is a serious issue because once you publish, you need to send out at least twenty or thirty copies for review. True, mainstream magazines are likely to dump your book straight in the bin- unless your press release has a topical tie-in- but, you may choose to send review copies to the top Amazon reviewers, or literary bloggers, in your genre thus giving them a vested interest in talking you up (after all, they now own a first edition!)
You also, probably, want to keep a few copies for yourself, or to distribute to friends.
Neighborhood bookstores- or other venues where your book might sell because of the 'local connection'- will also need an inventory supplied on a 'sale or return' basis.
On this analysis, it is likely that even a Johhny-no-friends is likely to need a 100 copies (Lightning Source's minimum order is 50) right off the bat.
Thus, the crucial question is 'what is the cost per copy to the author?' My calculations (for 100 to 300,000 word paperbacks) is that Lightning Source is one third the price of its nearest competitor. However, for high price books (perhaps on technical topics with a niche market in America)this may not be a clinching issue.
Of course, in mainstream publishing- in which cost per copy is much lower- the book's price to the author is scarcely worth bothering about since the publisher is doing all the promotion and carrying the entire marketing risk.
The Youwriteon formula could work if it creates a community likely to buy the titles published and if this generates a viral marketing effect. From my experience on the site, I think- in certain rare cases- this might actually occur. After doing a a couple of dozen 'assignment' reviews of unreadable tosh, tears of pleasure surge to one's eyes the moment one is faced with anything half-way readable. One might click to purchase such an author's work out of sheer gratitude.
The problem, of course,as more and more writers come onto the site, is that you are going to get a sort of adverse selection, a Gresham's Law whereby bad coinage drives out good. In other words, Youwriteon as a community will be killed off by its own success.
This is not to say it's business model is flawed. It has high value added services like 'professional critiques' etc. on offer. Being Grant funded, it can even break-even on printing costs publishing utter rubbish. However, the writer of that rubbish (I am thinking of myself here) can not then afford to promote it or seek to generate a little income by it.
The big disadvantage to Lightning Source is that it requires a higher standard of D.T.P, on the part of the author, for the submission. This means the novice has a steep learning curve struggling with Quark and Adobe for a couple of weeks. The advantage is this higher standard is reflected in the finished product.
I'd hoped to do some community publishing myself as a way of helping those without even my rudimentary D.T.P skills to self-publish at a cost to themselves of a couple of hundred pounds for (depending on book length) 50 to a 100 copies.
To add value, I thought to concentrate on polyglot books (featuring non English scripts) and graphic novels or other illustrated texts because in this instance Lightning Source is actually cheaper than conventional publishing on a per copy basis.
I'm sorry for the long post which, I now belatedly realise, might not have been about anything you might be interested in.
Good luck with the writing!
Vivek Iyer

Anonymous said...

Dear Jane,
Mulling things over, another thought came to my mind about the utility of self-publishing- what possible purpose it might serve given that far from flattering anyone's vanity- at least in this age of P.O.D- it is a masochistic exercise in public humiliation.
Now, if it is the case that the globalisation of the book trade tends to homogenize tastes, and if, moreover, cinema rather than literature has the vanguard role in challenging outdated Social mores- then, it follows, there might be some Social utility in nourishing a vigorous self-publishing sector where literary experimentation can be carried on without imposing a cost upon tax funded Institutions of higher learning or National Literature Development initiatives.
However, for this to work, there would need to be a critical audience for experimental literature. Can such an audience be created on a peer review forum like Youwriteon? Surely not, if the aim is to produce a bland simulacrum of a pre-existent commercial genre. The danger here is that self publishing ceases to be about experimentation, stops concerning itself with truth, but becomes a second tier 'amatuer sport'- in other words, a game of let's pretend. What's wrong with that, you might ask? Well, the next step would be to create a vocal constituency for meretricious tripe which ultimately would feed back into the publishing industry.
Such a feedback loop has led to the ossification of many literary traditions in the past.
The Western novel- even into the 1960's- was able to reinvent itself and maintain its vanguard role because of the intimate dialectic between the experimental fringe and the commercially viable hub.
Since then genre novels have displaced the experimental sector in terms of driving change in mainstream literature. However, the vitality of genre literature is now threatened by the blockbuster syndrome- the possibility of vast wealth from cinema & computer game tie-ins.
If apprentice authors stop seeing their writing as an investigation of truth, rather than a short cut to vast wealth, the Western novel may go the way of the Persian Ghazal or the Japanese Haiku- empty of epiphany, it becomes a mere ceremony of imitation in which all take a hand and from which none benefit.

The question that perplexes me is how to create a community for self published authors which does not concentrate on how to escape our second class status but which embraces and helps make fruitful the extra freedom this industry offers us.
Any suggestions gratefully received.
Vivek Iyer

Rene Isaiah as Penny Manning said...

Hi, Ms. Smith--May I call you Jane?

Thank you for your informative article. I came across your blog via a Google query on YouWriteOn. I registered today but had a niggling suspicion that YWO is a vanity publisher of some sort. Another query proved my suspicions right. I do, however, desperately need whatever feedback I can get on my novel whose rough draft is near completion. Is there any real benefit in my going any further (i.e, submitting a chapter for review)? Is POD the sole or bottom line reason that YWO exists--to simply lure people into their self-publishing world? because I'm not particularly interested in that route. I want to follow a traditional publishing route.

While I don't expect you to answer my every question (actually, I'm kind of lying :>}...), I would appreciate whatever sage advice you have to offer or, perhaps, recommend another site that is an avenue for new writers to receive useful critique. By the way, in case it's not obvious, I'm from the States, but my book is set in the West Country. I've yet to put into place all of its 18th century verbage and setting.

My email, if needed is: I thank you in advance and wish you and yours an exciting, profitable and peaceful New Year!

Jane Smith said...

Vivek—there’s a lot for me to address there! For the sake of brevity I’ll only address some of your comments, as you’ve already argued your points quite clearly.

“The Youwriteon formula could work if it creates a community likely to buy the titles published and if this generates a viral marketing effect.”

The problem is that YouWriteOn is marketed towards writers, not readers. I doubt that anyone joins the site hoping to discover a brilliant new writer: people join it in the hope that they, and their talent, will be discovered via the professional critiques. And those writers aren’t likely to buy many of the books that YWO publishes unless they have their own name on the cover.

“I'd hoped to do some community publishing myself as a way of helping those without even my rudimentary D.T.P skills to self-publish at a cost to themselves of a couple of hundred pounds for (depending on book length) 50 to a 100 copies.”

Be careful: without knowing more, it sounds to me like you’re veering perilously close to vanity publishing there.

“The danger here is that self publishing ceases to be about experimentation, stops concerning itself with truth, but becomes a second tier 'amatuer sport'- in other words, a game of let's pretend.”

That’s pretty much what most self-publishing is—writers whose work isn’t good enough to be published insisting that it is. I wish it were otherwise, but the majority of self-published and vanity-published books are dreadful. There’s no editorial control or selection, and so no quality control either.

“The question that perplexes me is how to create a community for self published authors which does not concentrate on how to escape our second class status but which embraces and helps make fruitful the extra freedom this industry offers us.”

The problem is that doing so would necessitate the majority of self-published authors admitting their work wasn’t really good enough to be published, or good enough to attract a reasonable readership, and few are going to do that. The few who are good enough to succeed would be likely to do so by eventually attracting mainstream publication—and so they’d do exactly what you’re trying to avoid here, and “escape” self-publication.

Don’t misunderstand me: self-publishing can work for books with a niche market, and I’d not always advise against it: but for novels, it’s almost always inappropriate.

Jane Smith said...


The peer critiques at YWO have certainly been of value to some people, and I think that that part of the site is a great initiative. I’ve heard good and bad things about the quality of the criticism that’s offered there, and think you’ll really only be able to make that value judgement for yourself. But be aware that there are many other sites out there where you can get peer reviews: Absolute Write and Zoetrope come to mind (there are links to both here on my blog), but there are plenty of others. And remember to always consider the level of expertise of the people who are critiquing your work: if they aren’t good writers themselves, what are they going to teach you?

I hope that’s a help. I think I’ve answered all your questions, but do ask them again if I’ve missed anything—I’m not at full speed at the moment thanks to an irritating cold.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jane,
Many thanks for your reply. I agree entirely with respect to novels.
My own notion of community publishing had to do with archiving, if not disseminating, voices from the margin. In London, where I live, we have people with rich life experience whose mother tongue is not recognised as a proper language in their country of origin. In this context to help prepare a polyglot (bi-lingual) text might be worthwhile in itself and certain to be of interest to the second and third generation.
A similar point may be made about ant's eye-view narratives from subaltern voices- the incarcerated, the mentally ill and so on- though here again, as you have pointed out, nothing can substitute for professional editing and good writing skills to do justice to the project.
Well, I guess, that let's me out!
Best wishes

Gillian Philip said...

Hi; my comment is long after the event and really superfluous, but I've just seen you mention YWO on Twitter so I'm contributing tuppenceworth...

I had at least 5 friends who enthused about this scheme when it was first mooted. They were all thrilled to have their books 'accepted' by an Arts Council funded project. All their experiences in the event were absolute cock-ups, to put it mildly.

I knew nothing about YWO, so didn't comment at the time, but then I came across your blog and these posts, back in October. I was shocked and upset for the people I knew, and I sent them the link to your blog.

Well, they didn't want to know, natch. When yet another friend (this was a writing group btw) announced they were going to go for what I believe is a 'sister' vanity project, I repeated my concerns. Same reaction... and now most of them aren't speaking to me!

So I have no point to make really, except congratulations on pointing it up, and I'm so annoyed on behalf of the people who fell for YWO. There are a few writers who just won't want to hear the truth about what's going on, but it's great that you alerted a lot of people on here who did listen and managed to cancel contracts.

Can't see the rude comment you mentioned on Twitter so hope it's been deleted!

Best wishes!