Arts Council England’s funding has forged a link between Arts Council England and YouWriteOn which many people perceive as a stamp of legitimacy. When the YouWriteOn publishing scheme was first launched, there were writers who saw it as a chance to get published by Arts Council England; others felt reassured that the scheme had to be above-board because of Arts Council England’s apparent involvement. However, when Arts Council England was asked for clarification of its involvement in the publishing scheme it replied:
YouWriteOn.com receives funding from Arts Council England to run its website forum and professional critique service for writers.
Arts Council England has not funded, and has not endorsed, the separate Print-on-Demand self-publishing service offered through the site.
As with any self-publishing service, Arts Council England would encourage writers to read the terms and conditions carefully and make an informed judgement about the service on offer. If in doubt, you should contact the Society of Authors http://www.societyofauthors.org/ who have information sheets and guidance about self-publishing and vanity publishing.
We have asked the site moderator to make this absolutely clear, so that there is no confusion about the involvement of Arts Council England.
You’ll find Arts Council England’s letter reproduced in full in comment number 5 to this blog post. Soon after that letter appeared on the blog, a disclaimer was posted on YouWriteOn’s home-page which stated that its vanity publishing arm was separate from the Arts Council England-funded area of the site: that disclaimer has since been edited, but at the time of writing it reads,
The Arts Council fund critiques for new writers from leading publishers each month on YouWriteOn.com.YouWriteOn also offers its own book publishing initiative, funded solely by us.
Despite YouWriteOn apparently being taken to task by Arts Council England and instructed to distinguish between the Arts Council England-funded and vanity-funded areas of the site, the Arts Council England logo still appears at the top of every one of YouWriteOn’s web pages—including the pages which offer the vanity publishing packages.
Some writers have now contacted Arts Council England (and here's a handy list of its chief executives, just in case you were considering doing the same) to ask why it funds a vanity publisher, but have received what they consider to be less-than-satisfactory replies: while I’ll not reproduce them here, I suspect that anyone with a complaint would do better to contact the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Government department to which Arts Council England reports: one of the ministers there is the rather effective Barbara Follett, who also happens to be married to a writer called Ken something-or-other.
It’s widely felt that it’s inappropriate for Arts Council England to be associated with a vanity publisher in this way: vanity publishing doesn’t support writers, it exploits them, and Arts Council England has apparently stated independently that it does not and will not condone such schemes. While I’ve been unable to find written evidence of this stance, it seems likely considering Arts Council England’s remit to support and encourage the arts. My opinion is that YouWriteOn should either accept funding from Arts Council England or continue its vanity publishing operation, but that it shouldn’t run the two projects side by side: there are too many conflicts of interest between them. But YouWriteOn is unlikely to give up its Arts Council England funding just because I think that it should, because there's too much at stake: it's received nearly £85,000 from Arts Council England in the last three and a half years (the following links will download PDFs when you click on them):
June 2005: £29,896
February 2007: £24,000
February 2008: £10,000
October 2008: £11,000
Total Arts Council funding received by YouWriteOn since June 2005: £84,896
I’m particularly interested by the £11,000 paid last October: the grants information form states that this amount was paid to Edward Smith of YouWriteOn.com to fund “A major new writing competition in partnership with Random House. This will give new writers the opportunity to have their books published by a major publisher”. I’m intrigued to know more about this competition: this funding was approved four months ago, and yet no announcement of any competition has yet been made. I wonder what Random House will have to say about that?
This Arts Council England funding, plus the £11,000 or so which YouWriteOn has received as a result of its vanity publishing operation, works out to a rather nice turnover of around £27,400 each year—impressive for a start-up business which seems to be run by just one man. It’s worth noting that there are a few layers of potential income that I’ve not included here:
- Its original vanity-publishing package, which it runs in association with Legend Press, costs £399, £699, £899 or £1,499, depending on which package you choose.
- YouWriteOn runs a paid-for critiquing service: prices start at £75 for a short story of up to 3,000 words, and then increase with your page count: a report on a 400-page novel would set you back £550. Writers are asked to state which three advisors they'd prefer to comment on their work: while the people who provide these reports do seem reputable and experienced (although I haven't checked out any of the names), I could find no guarantee that anyone would get the advisor(s) they requested.
- It’s not yet clear how many books YouWriteOn/Legend has vanity-published at £39.99 each and it seems that not all books have yet been published, so the initial income from this will almost certainly reach a figure higher than the £10,906.35 I quoted yesterday.
- YouWriteOn will continue to earn money from every one of the sales of those vanity-published books as their writers work to sell them.
Meanwhile, I’ve found this quote about YouWriteOn and the man who runs it, Edward Smith, buried in the depths of this PDF from Arts Council England:
Just yesterday, Tom Chalmers of Legend Press told The Bookseller that the project has "largely been a success". Meanwhile, there are many writers who Smith promised to publish in time for Christmas who, despite making numerous attempts to contact Smith, have still heard nothing from him, several weeks later. Many don’t know whether or not their books will even be published; and while several have now cancelled their contracts, few have received any confirmation of their cancellations, leaving them worried about the future of their books.
I wonder just how empowered they feel right now.