Thursday, 5 February 2009

YouWriteOn and Arts Council England: What's The Connection?

There’s a lot of confusion over who runs YouWriteOn, and how it’s related to Arts Council England. People seem to think that YouWriteOn is run by Arts Council England, organised by Arts Council England, or part of Arts Council England in some other nebulous way, but this is not the case: YouWriteOn’s only apparent connection with Arts Council England is through the substantial funding it has received from that organisation.

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
2007-8: £10,000
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:

Edward Smith, YouWriteOn’s director, provided the design spec for the site, and manages it from day to day, with some support from web company ZARR. In terms of user experience, the site is clunky, full of broken links and difficult to navigate, with forums that mysteriously open at particular hours only. Nonetheless, YouWriteOn.com has 6,000 members, and receives millions of page views a month. There is clearly a hunger for these services. (Edward used to work in a Citizens Advice Bureau and sees his work as being about information and empowerment.)
(Bolding mine: I added the link to YouWriteOn's "web company", too: perhaps it knows what's happened to the forum.)

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.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here you go

http://www.youwriteon.com/info/Publishers/youwriteon-manuscript-critique-service-order-page.aspx

Welshcake said...

Hi Jane

I totally support the intentions behind your postings - I was against this scheme from the off and was one of those who expressed caution on the message-board (before it was pulled!).

BUT I do think an unintentional effect of a general anti-YWO stance will be to harm more writers - those who use YWO's review function.

Personally, I would like to see the developing campaign against the YWO/Legend vanity project take a more positive turn and concentrate on attempting to steer YWO back to its original peer review function, rather than on bringing the whole shebang down completely.

Like many YWO members, I’ve derived huge benefits from the site. If YWO goes, the real losers will be budding writers.

Jane Smith said...

Thank you, anonymous, for providing that link--I've now edited my original post to incorporate the information you provided.

Welshcake, as I've said before, I think that the review system provided by YWO has been very useful for many writers, and I'd hate to see it disappear. I'm with you on that one, despite the allegations of vote-rigging that I've read, and the many issues that people have with the message board (is there any news on when it's coming back?).

However, the future success or failure of YouWriteOn is all up to Ted: if he's determined to keep both enterprises running--the review system AND the vanity press--then he's the person who is destroying YouWriteOn's good reputation, and all people like me are doing is reporting on his activities.

JPFIfe said...

I personally think it's time the press got involved. Nothing will make the Arts Council jump quicker than a tabloid at their heels.

As you point out here and on the Absolute Write forums YouWriteOn get money for their forums; their forums are down ergo they should return the money. (I notice YouWriteOn has been updated again and it looks like the forums are gone for good; there's no mention of them at all now.)

I also made a comment on the Bookseller 'News story.' I visit that site quite a bit and didn't notice that story.

Jane Smith said...

JP, there's still a mention of the message board on the YWO front page, but if you click on it you get taken to a page which plugs some of their more successful books.

And here's a copy of a post I've just made about the message board in the YWO thread over at Absolute Write:

I emailed Zarr yesterday (which is credited with designing and maintaining YWO's website in an Arts Council report which I've linked to on my blog today), and when they didn't reply I phoned them today. I asked why the YWO forum is down, and when it will reappear.

I was told that Zarr only designed the forum, and is not involved with running it at all now: but that the forum is not open all the time; it only opens when the man who runs it (I assume this means Ted) has time to keep an eye on it. As he's busy with other "Write On" stuff at the moment he "doesn't have time to police it right now", and so he's closed it down.

About a fortnight ago the plan was to reopen the forum in the middle of February, but the man I spoke to wasn't sure if that would happen or not--he has nothing to do with that decision. He did promise to email "Write On", though, and ask Ted to put a message up on the front page to let his members know what was happening.

He sounded surprised when I asked what was being updated on the forum software, and said that was the first he'd heard of any updates and that yes, that would be something he would do.

Anonymous said...

As well as the grants for YWO, how much other funding has Legend Press received in the last few years?

debutnovelist said...

Jane
Glad you aired the issue of YWO and Arts Council which I also mentioned on my own blog http://debutnovelist.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/whats-the-story/ (and following post). YWO was 'sold' to me (word of mouth) as an Arts Council venture, and I naively took the logo as an endorsement. Like the others, I have got something out of submitting and reviewing on YWO, but the air needs to be cleared if only so that the wheat can be separated from the chaff. Also surprised at Legend's involvement, but they have offered 'self-publishing' services for some time, presumably to fund their other ventures. This must be a quick way of bumping up business and posssibly allowing them to take on more writers for their own stable. But a mistake, I think, to run self or vanity publishing alongside the real deal.
Me? I shall continue to look for an agent!
AliB

jeremy_thompson said...

I've been following this one with interest, since before YWO offered their "5000 books for free" deal. As Matador is what could be considered a direct competitor to YWO, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the company and its offerings itself. I had already contacted the Arts Council, though, because its supposed funding of the self-publishing YWO arrangement was effectively an interference in the commercial market... public money funding a commercial operation. It is obviously the case that the Arts Council did not fund this operation, and hopefully this blog and others will have alerted them to the fact that this is how it is being perceived by authors.

Self-publishing services providers do not necessarily exploit authors, though. It frankly depends on the company and how they work. Any company that holds out the promise of an author getting rich and famous through publishing their book is doing a disservice to the author; but if an author enters into a self-publishing arrangement with eyes wide open and realistic expectations, then self-publishing can work on all sorts of levels for an author. Remember, there are far more authors out there who want to publish for all sorts of reasons, and who do not expect to hit the Richard & Judy no 1 spot!

At Matador we used to offer an independent critique service to authors for their manuscripts. Though I say it myself, it was a good service with well prepared critiques that didn't flim-flam the authors. But we felt that even offering such a service left us open to the accusation that we were saying every manuscript was fantastic so the author would publish with us -- the old vanity publisher trick -- so now we don't offer that service to authors. Instead we recommend The Writers' Workshop as we know that they do good work with authors, mainstream and self-publishing.

Finally, Matador is part of Troubador Publishing Ltd, which publishes its own books lists under mainstream arrangements with authors. We keep the two imprints entirely separate, so that self-publishing authors know exactly what arrangements they are entering into. It can work as long as the waters aren't (deliberately?) muddied by the company offering the publishing services to authors.

Jane Smith said...

Hello, Jeremy. Didn't Matador initially publish Steven Dunne (sp?), who has now been picked up by HarperCollins?

I don't know much about your company, so I shall not comment on the bulk of your post: I just wanted to point out that I wholeheartedly endorse your second paragraph. Self-publishing can be a very good thing, for the right book in the right circumstances, if the writer is adequately informed about the realities of such a plan.

What YouWriteOn is, though, is vanity publishing--a very different thing.

Meanwhile, I'd be very interested to hear what the Arts Council have told you about its involvement with YouWriteOn: do email me in confidence (hprw at tesco dot net) if you'd rather keep it slightly more private.

jeremy_thompson said...

Hi Jane. I got the brush off from the Arts Council, but it was early days in the whole thing. Hopefully it being one of many communications they received on the subject may have stirred them into some form of action... you can live in hope!

Yes we did publish Steve Dunne's 'Reaper', in 2007. He worked hard and sold well, and deserves his deal with HC. We also published Melanie Rose, who signed with Avon (also HC), and Polly Courtney who again signed (separately) with Avon for a three book deal. We've had a flurry of our books being picked up by mainstream houses ... great for all concerned I think!

Anonymous said...

Hello Jane;

Interesting post, but one wonders what's the objective of it all? Is it to discourage writers who cannot find an agent or publisher from self publishing? If so, then, it would seem that you are doing a dis-service to a large community of hard working writers who wish to see their work in print.

As a small case in point, you did 'drop' the famous Follet name, but failed to mention that Ken Follet had initially self-published his "Pillars" after several rejections, and only to have it turn into a block-buster. If he would have listened to advice like yours, I wonder where would he be now?

Sally Zigmond said...

Anonymous.

Self-publishing is perfectly okay. If you self-publishing you are in charge of your book from start to finish. This is NOT self-publishing. This is vanity publishing. I can't speak for Jane as to why she chooses to champion writers against such people, but I applaud what she's doing. She puts writers first not people who exploit their hopes, fears and lack of experience.

Putting oneself in the hands of such schemes does not help writers in any way. They pay for something they could get more cheaply and for themselves and end up with a far better product and remain in control. If they choose a vanity press, they often end up with shoddy goods--read people's comments here and elsewhere--and they usually end up disillusioned and disappointed, even if they're not too keen to admit it.

I've noticed that when people post comments defending the likes of YWO they always post anonymously. That is their privilege, of course, but it always seems a bit suspicious to me--as if they might be someone who runs one of these businesses. But then, having seen it all before, I would be cynical, wouldn't I?

Jane Smith said...

Anonymous, Sally Zigmond has already addressed most of your points very elegantly, so I won't repeat what she wrote.

I can find no suggestion on Mr Follett's website that "The Pillars of the Earth" was ever self-published and suspect you've fallen for some inaccurate propoganda here. I have emailed Mr Follett to ask for the real story, and will let you know if he replies.

Sally Zigmond said...

Did Ken Follet self-publish The Pillars of the Earth?

Finding myself intrigued and with some spare time (it's blowing a blizzard outside here) I looked up the novel on Amazon, Alibris and Abe Books. There are plenty of different editions but nowhere could I find a self-published edition. Now, being a millionaire, Mr Follet could have bought back every copy to save his face, but it seems unlikely. And if it had been self-published, there would be some indication that it existed. ISBN etc. Nope. Nada. Zilch. Secondly I checked the Internet for any evidence. The only places where it's stated for a fact that TPTE was self-published is on blogs and sites run by self-publishers.

And, as I said anyway, self-publishing is okay. It's vanity-publishing that isn't.

I hope Mr Follet replies to Jane. It will be interesting to hear what he says.

And for good measure, neither Beatrix Potter nor Virginia Woolf ever self-published. Fact.

David Milnes said...

Here’s an unanonymous YWO user speaking mainly in defence of Tom & Ted, though I haven’t used the YWO site for six months or so now. What follows adds to something I wrote in October 08 to AliB on her debutnovelist blog, where I said what a good job Legend/YWO made of the first book they published for me – The Ghost of Neil Diamond. Can I say at the outset two unrelated things - 1) I’ve never met either of these gentlemen or even spoken to them on the phone; and 2) that any attempt to mislead people with the Arts Council brand is obviously indefensible. And can I offer some credentials, in that I have had a couple of short stories published, one of which was favourably reviewed in the TLS, and that both the titles mentioned here - The Ghost of Neil Diamond and The Ghost of Someone Else, have attracted the interest of two different agents, both of whom dropped me for good reasons. I know I can write publishable fiction but have given up the conventional route to publication.

On the feeding of the 5000, let me offer my own concrete example. I took up this offer and I have no regrets at all. I read and reread the contract: a) Did I have to buy any copies? No. b) Did I have to surrender any rights? No. c) Did I have to put money up front? No. d) Did I have to put money in afterwards? No. Doesn’t sound like a Vanity scam yet, does it? They would undertake no editing – good: I’ve already paid for that elsewhere. I could design my own cover – good: I wouldn’t have it any other way. I could submit my own unalterable PDF file to guarantee the book was typeset as I specified – excellent. I love retaining all this control. If I submitted everything before the end of October I would have the book by Christmas – unbelievable, but, as it turned out, true. For an optional ₤39.00 the title would be available online through all major retailers – very reasonable, to say the least.

Is a deal like this a cheat, a swindle, a rip-off? Of course Tom and Ted are making money out of it – and if 5000 really had turned up (5000 always looked like a publicity ruse to me) they could have turned maybe 50,000. That’s their business. The fact that they make a profit doesn’t mean the deal I describe above is a cheat or a con. We have to keep those lines clear. If the contract above bound me in to buying so many copies at such and such a price etc - then we have a con; a traditional Vanity scam.

I bought ten books – about ₤50.00 worth. If that makes me a sucker, well, so be it. I paid to have the title made available online - ₤40.00. For a total of ₤90.00, then, my book has been produced by Lightning Source to the standard they said it would be. (There are four typesetting errors and two typographical errors – all my fault. Annoying, and I’ll change it some day, but the reading is hardly affected.) Above all, my new book now exists. Before this deal, it didn’t. It can now be marketed and it can fail or succeed. For the grand total of ₤90.00 I can – at last – have the opportunity of trying to find a readership for this book. It is no longer a mansucript waiting in a drawer, no longer in the post, or lost in the post, or in a slush-pile for months, waiting for someone else to decide whether or not it should exist, while I wait to die.

For those who think those last sentences sound naive, the fate of my first book published through YWO/Legend Press – The Ghost of Neil Diamond – a dark comedy, might suggest otherwise. It’s been independently reviewed now in a couple of places. www.bookmunch.co.uk has a reputation for tough and at times iconoclastic reviewing – ‘Review Me Hard’ is their slogan. I sent them The Ghost of Neil Diamond and told them I wasn’t scared. They liked it so much they interviewed me about it, as well as reviewing it. (Links are on my website www.whattradition.net ) From there I’ve used one of their lines – ‘It’s a special find – a story with a uniqueness’ – on an online ad with LRB. And from there Word Power in Edinburgh will accept some sample copies. I’ll send them a professionally produced poster too. And I’m now working my way through the lists of other independent bookshops. The other review, in The South China Morning Post (the book is set in Hong Kong) is a bit token, but by no means bad.

Ah, but how many books have I actually sold? Dear oh dear. I’ve tried to find out but as yet I don’t know. If it’s only fifty so far, that’s okay with me. Now don’t laugh yet - let’s not forget those Booker nominees who had only 27 or 47 copies sold before the night. Only a dozen or so books have been bought by known parties, and they don’t count, of course. It’s the others that matter. The idea of a perfect stranger – like the bookmunch reviewer – reading and enjoying my work is not only thrilling in itself, it is also such a relief after the years of frustration, rejection and humiliation, and that sense of failure that – after a decade or so - begins to blight every aspect of your life, if you let it.

Obviously, in the longer term, I want to sell hundreds if not thousands of books, and underpinning my efforts is the belief – unshakeable now – that my book can achieve commercial sales. I know that in the scheme of things it will only ever be a tiny minority of people who enjoy my books – 7000 copies is a bestseller for new literary fiction in the US, with a population of 500 million or whatever. But the tiny minority bit is okay by me. At least it’s possible for me to connect with those readers now, thanks to new technology, and to the entrepreneurship of people like Tom Chalmers and Ted Smith.

Jane Smith said...

David, thank you for that very long and informative post. I’ll put snippets of your comments in inverted commas, to separate them from mine.

“any attempt to mislead people with the Arts Council brand is obviously indefensible.”

I agree.

“I know I can write publishable fiction but have given up the conventional route to publication.”

I’m interested to know why that is.

“If the contract above bound me in to buying so many copies at such and such a price etc - then we have a con; a traditional Vanity scam.”

A vanity publisher has been defined by Jonathan Clifford (who originated the term vanity publishing, so is a pretty good person to refer to here) as a publisher which makes the bulk of its income from its writers, rather than from the readers who buy its books (or by extension, the shops which buy the books to sell onto the readers). It doesn’t matter how this money is made—it doesn’t have to be paid upfront in one big fee. And as YWO has made almost all of the money its earned from this publishing scheme from its writers, either by selling them their ISBNs or by selling them copies of their own books, you can see the problem.

“On the feeding of the 5000, let me offer my own concrete example. I took up this offer and I have no regrets at all. I read and reread the contract: a) Did I have to buy any copies? No. b) Did I have to surrender any rights? No. c) Did I have to put money up front? No. d) Did I have to put money in afterwards? No. Doesn’t sound like a Vanity scam yet, does it? They would undertake no editing – good: I’ve already paid for that elsewhere.”

Wasn’t your first book—The Ghost of Neil Diamond—published by YouWriteOn in August 2008 under YWO’s initial publication scheme? This provides publication at a cost of between £400 and £1,500, and is, therefore, a vanity scheme. Especially if the edit you mentioned came via YWO’s paid-for critiquing service. And while you state that you didn’t have to buy any copies, surrender any rights, put up any money up front, or put in any money afterwards, you go on to say this about your second book, The Ghost of Someone Else:

“I bought ten books – about ₤50.00 worth. If that makes me a sucker, well, so be it. I paid to have the title made available online - ₤40.00. For a total of ₤90.00, then, my book has been produced by Lightning Source to the standard they said it would be.

“For the grand total of ₤90.00 I can – at last – have the opportunity of trying to find a readership for this book.”

While I’m not calling you a sucker, you say yourself that you’ve ponied up your “distribution fee” and bought copies of books (and I really don't mean that to sound snippy). You’ve paid YWO £90 in order to have your book published. It sounds like a vanity scheme to me. And despite your assertion that you’ve not surrendered any rights, you HAVE surrendered your first publication rights, which you can’t ever get back—for book publication, as in so many other things, that first time can’t, by definition, be repeated. I tried to explain this on the YWO message board but Ted deleted my posts.

“For an optional ₤39.00 the title would be available online through all major retailers – very reasonable, to say the least.”

I found it at best misleading that Ted repeatedly referred to this fee as a “distribution fee”, when the books had no distribution at all; and many people have thought that by paying this “distribution fee” they’d see their books on bookshop shelves, which is not the case: all it means is that their books would be listed online, and so available by special order—but not available to buyers browsing those real, physical bookshops which is still where most sales of books of this type are sold. Again, when I tried to explain this essential difference on the YWO message board, Ted deleted my posts.

“Ah, but how many books have I actually sold? Dear oh dear. I’ve tried to find out but as yet I don’t know. If it’s only fifty so far, that’s okay with me.”

I’ll try and find out your sales figures for you: it’s not too difficult, all you have to do is have a friend with access to Nielsen’s databases. Give me time, I’ll see what I can do. But your publisher really should provide you with this information if you need it—mine do.

“Obviously, in the longer term, I want to sell hundreds if not thousands of books, and underpinning my efforts is the belief – unshakeable now – that my book can achieve commercial sales.”

Don’t we all! I wish you the best of luck with your books, David: I do hope you reach your goals, and are just as happy with your choice of publisher this time next year as you are now.

Jane Smith said...

David, I've tried to check out your sales figures but apparently those figures only register with the system if you sell in excess of 100 copies in any one week--and I'm afraid that your books haven't managed that. Sorry I couldn't be of more help with that one: but your publisher should be able to fill you in on this without too much trouble--after all, they have full details from their suppliers and it's not difficult to look them up.

David Milnes said...

Jane - thanks for reading and responding so thoroughly. I know these things eat precious time.

I'm going to take your interest in why I gave up the conventional route seriously – sorry.

I would urge you please to read, or skim through, the bookmunch review of The Ghost of Neil Diamond. It's not all good, but the public recognition of my abilities is clear. Similarly, the recognition given to me by Shena Mackay in her TLS review of a short story of mine in Alan Ross's London Magazine short stories, back in 1990 (Signals, Constable). There are two things here that cannot be overstressed: 1) the importance of recognition – to me, of me!; and 2) my need for a readership – that is, readers who are strangers. If you've spent 11 years creating what you think is a richly amusing fictional world, filled with living characters, you want to share it. You can't help it. The frustration of not being able to share it, I find, becomes obsessive.

So how can I get recognition and a readership? I have proved beyond all reasonable doubt that my writing is of no interest to English agents and publishers. There have been moments when I thought otherwise. The agent Annette Green read the whole of an earlier draft of The Ghost of Someone Else, and she spoke highly of it - but she didn't like the ending and thought it wasn't upbeat enough to interest editors. I'm sure her judgement was sound. The agent Caroline Davidson took an interest in The Ghost of Neil Diamond, and might have remained interested if I could have made the changes she rightly asked for. But I messed up and she lost patience. Fair enough. So in fifteen years of sending out various novels there have been those two flashes of interest. It's not that I write rubbish, because I have the recognition in black and white already mentioned – that’s why I put it there. It's because there is an incompatibility between what I write and what agents and publishers see as being commercially viable. But I'm still stuck with my obsessive need for recognition and readership, so I publish the books myself. Please note that if I hadn't done so I would never have had that bookmunch review, the SCMP review, and I would never have been read by the perfect strangers who have so far bought and read my book. Two days ago my Amazon.com ranking for The Ghost of Neil Diamond was sinking to the dreaded million mark. Yesterday it went to 179,000. That's between 5 and 7 books, according to my research - about 1 book for every 100,000 places. Some of those people might read and enjoy my book. Might recommend it to other people. That could never have happened if I hadn't published it myself. My books would never have existed - I proved that in a 15 year field trial. My Amazon.co.uk ranking is in more or less the same place, though it tends to fare better than the US partner. These are humble sales, without doubt, but not as humble as the sales of some titles which came out with small independents at the same time as TGOND, whose record I have also followed. And humble sales is much nicer than no sales at all. Humble sales can increase, no sales can’t.

Other points -

Yes, getting into the bookshops next will be tough, but I don't think it's an insuperable barrier. As I said, I've already found one independent willing to give TGOND a try.

Thanks for getting your friend to try Neilsen's Bookscan - an amazing service which I wish I could afford.

The work you and others - Victoria Strauss, for example - do in exposing scams is marvellous. Ungainsayably a Good Thing, for which people like me should be grateful, and I am. Very alarmed too by what you said about Ted deleting posts.

I was never under any illusion about the 'distribution service` label - I always knew it was only online business.

No, I didn't ask YWO for editorial services. I won a critical appraisal from that team in June 07 and I thought - Christ, this is easy money. I bet that person earned more from the Arts Council for that one appraisal than I spent on self-publishing 2 books. It's a scam that needs checking out . . . The editor I used – some years ago – and whom I’d recommend, is Robert Lambolle.

What I don't quite understand about your approach to the 90 quid deal I did with YWO is the vehemence of your objections. I can't access Lightning Source as an individual - I tried: they only deal with listed publishers. Nor can I get my books onto all those online sites. To pay someone 90 quid to do all that for me, and sort out the ISBN, and get 10 books printed, still seems a good deal to me. Personally, I’ve never seen a cheaper deal that does all those things. For you such a deal can be described as vanity publishing and is therefore odious and contemptible beyond repair. No self-respecting publisher or agent –twelve foot barge pole - and so on. Many people share your view and I admit that’s a problem for me, even though I’m out of the agent/publisher marketplace.

But in my view, in the end it doesn't matter who publishes you, or when you're published, or even how you're published - through rank nepotism or the virtuous long haul - in the end it only matters what you publish.

Vanessa said...

Hi David,

Sorry to jump into your conversation with Jane, but I wanted to contribute a couple of thoughts. For what they're worth.

You said: "Yes, getting into the bookshops next will be tough, but I don't think it's an insuperable barrier. As I said, I've already found one independent willing to give TGOND a try"

I think this is one of the problems with the YWO deal. You understand that you need to get out there and sell your book, while I think that because the buying-an-ISBN thing is called 'distribution', some less informed users of the service might think that they're paying for repping or some other service that will help them sell books.

You understand that your book will sink into obscurity unless you get out there and tell people about it but I think some people might not and to call the ISBN thing 'distribution' is at best disingenuous. And when all it is is allocating an ISBN then it seems a rip off given the cost of ISBNs. But if YWO said "for £40 we'll allocate an ISBN which will cost us less than 50p" people might be less keen to sign up for it which defeats the purpose of their business model.

Legend have published some great books and I think it's a shame that their reputation will have been sullied by this. I also think it's a shame that the Arts Council didn't look more closely at what they were funding.

To close (and I'm sorry for wittering for so long), if you'd like to send me a copy of one of your books I'll see if it's suitable for our shop - details on our blog.

And selling books into bookshops is a tough business - I've written a lot on our blog in the last week or so about how to go about selling a self-published book into our shop (and how not to go about it). I think a lot the writers who've used the YWO service probably lack selling skills - they're very different to the skills needed to write a book!

David Milnes said...

Vanessa - thanks very much for your contribution. I really wouldn't know what to say to anyone who misunderstood the terms and conditions of that 5000 free books deal. The contract was short, clear and simple. I can remember nothing in it that suggested to me for a moment than my books would wind up in bookshops - but I suppose it's inevitable that someone, somewhere would believe exactly that.

Much more important is your extremely kind offer to take a look at The Ghost of Neil Diamond. It will be with you on Thursday 12th Feb via Amazon Prime, order no: 026-8809492-5013947.

I read your blog and your About Us and I accept that it's very unlikely this book will be suitable for your list, as it were. However, if it turns out you like it, I would be very happy to send you 3 sample copies to sell for what you liked - and keep the change - in order to kickstart interest, together with 2 posters (700mmX200mm).

It's wonderful to find there are bookshops out there prepared to take a look, give a book a chance.

Thanks again,

David

Vanessa said...

Thank you David - we do have a grown-up section and we're always looking for different titles that we can hand sell so I'll be delighted if I think your book would fit there. It's pretty diverse though ranging from chick-lit (the better type!) to Austen to literary fic such as Ray Robinson's Electricity so who knows?

David Milnes said...

Vanessa - I'd missed that diversity angle, and there's something very appealing about what looks like a hand-picked - and therefore personally recommended - adult section in your shop. I'm optimistic that you'll enjoy The Ghost of Neil Diamond, but don't be afraid to disappoint. As you know from the previous posts, I'm case hardened. And proud of it.

Again, thank you for your interest.

David

Anonymous said...

Hi Guys,

Are you still trying to cancel your YWO POD publication before it finally goes ahead?
Do you keep e-mailing "Tom" and "Ted" but receive no reply? Not even an acknowledgement? Have you tried calling, but got a "no such number" message from BT,(YWO no. given on website), or a "full answer machine cut-off" from Legend? I got all the above.

I wanted to cancel, as despite the assurances from YWO that they would help me if I get a publisher or agent in the future,it now appears that no publisher or agent would be interested in anything already published, as "first rights" would have already gone.
I also had doubts that my book would appear in time for Christmas as promised, this being the middle of February...

So... the way around this, if you want to cancel, appears to be the following e-mail sent to both "Ted" and "Tom" on every possible e-mail address, including the message posting facility on their websites.

My cancellation request was accompanied by the following message, to both Legend and YWO:
*
"If you don’t respond to this Cancellation request by end of day on (next day's date), I shall contact Trading Standards with immediate effect. I have e-mailed you over and over, and your phone doesn’t accept incoming calls. I’ve e-mailed all your other business e-mail addresses, and you ignore all of them.
You are supposedly running a business, and have stated in writing that you will cancel the publication of any book when requested to do so. Enough is enough. Reply to this e-mail, or I shall report Legend Press for business malpractice."
*
Surprise, surprise, I received two confirmations of cancellation the next day.
One from "Tom."
And one from "Ted" too.
They would appear none too keen on being reported to Trading Standards.
Now why could that be???

YWO is apparently a one man band, and its use of the Arts Council logo on the Legend website is misleading, to say the least. This has been reported many times already to the Arts Council. However, I think the biggest problem is with Legend, who are supposedly a "proper" publishing firm. This sort of behaviour is not what one should expect from any reputable company. One therefore has to draw one's own conclusions.

As for me, that's the easy bit. Now for the tricky business of trying to attract a real agent or publisher!

Andy.

Anonymous said...

PS - I posted the above comment on Legend's message board a few minutes ago, and it seems to have disappeared!!

Andy

Jane Smith said...

David Milne

David, you’ve given me a lot to respond to so I’m going to be brief: forgive me if any of this sounds snippy, because it’s not intended to.

How many agents have you submitted your work to? And over what period? And if recognition is so important to you, why do you seem so reluctant to work with them to refine your work in order to make it commercially viable? Because if you’re so dead keen on being read, then surely you’d rather be read by thousands than by ten or twenty readers?

It is going to be tough getting your books into bookshops—particularly those outside your local area. How do you plan to do this?
While you seem to have realised the realities behind the “distribution fee”, many others didn’t seem to. And there’s a chance they’ve been misled as a result.

The reason I don’t like this scheme is that I don’t think it gives any control to the writers. You CAN access Lightning Source: all you have to do is announce that you’re a publisher, register with them, and you’re in. Easy. And again, once you’re listed as a publisher you CAN get your books onto Amazon etc. It means you have to find out how to do all of it, but there are guidelines. And I think your first book (Neil Diamond) came out via YWO’s original scheme, which has a minimum cost to the author of £399—far more expensive than the cost of a block of ten ISBNs, which comes to £106, which is roughly what you’ve paid YWO for your second book alone. Bearing all that in mind, I still have to ask: what has publishing with YWO done for you which you couldn’t have achieved by self-publishing the books?

Onto your next post.

The thing is, there were plenty of people who didn’t understand the real implications of this deal: you can read some of their comments here. While the contract was clear, if you don’t know what you’re meant to be looking for (and I’ll bet that most of the writers who submitted had little or no experience in reading a publishing contract), how are you going to know what should and shouldn’t be there?

You wrote, “I can remember nothing in it that suggested to me for a moment than my books would wind up in bookshops”: but here’s an extract from the original email which YWO sent out to announce the scheme:

“Should you wish to potentially achieve a much higher readership through being available to order through all major booksellers throughout the UK and US, such as Waterstones, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and WH Smith's, then you can do so for £39.99 through our separate partnership with Legend Press.”

How many novice writers are going to realise the significant difference between “available to order” and “available in”?


Vanessa, thanks for your helpful responses while I was busy playing in the snow--you said a lot of what I'd have written, although with more wit and charm. Good luck with David's book: do remember to let us know if you can stock it, I'd be glad to think I'd helped facilitate that!

And Andy: good grief. They haven't even deleted ME from that blog! I think you get the badge this time round.

David Milnes said...

Jane - thanks again for troubling to respond. I'll keep this very short, I promise. What you said about accessing L.S. is very helpful; I thought I needed to register as a company first and go from there. Anyway, I'm grateful for the information you've mentioned here. On agents - I was willing to re-work! - I didn't deliver the right thing, though. My problem, not theirs. On bookshops - I have none locally because I live in Spain. I'm going to see how I get on in the next few weeks, but if I find undue resistance I'll come over and go door to door - the full Willy Loman. Thanks again for responses and information.

Emerging Writer said...

Has their been any response from the Arts Council about what they are getting from their large monthly grants? Surely they get regular reports or why would they continue? It's a publically funded body so they must be transparent.

Jane Smith said...

Emerging Writer, I'm sorry for not responding to you sooner. YWO's funding has been for specific single projects and isn't rolling funding, so I doubt it'll be cut because of this.

Meanwhile I've just been sent some particularly confusing links to YWO books on Amazon.

This link details a book called "Suddenly You Know", but the cover image shows a book called "I'm in a Promising Cabaret Band"; this link details a book called "The Unraveller" but the cover image shows a book we've already met, "Suddenly You Know"; while this link details "I'm in a Promising Caberet Band" [sic], but the cover image is for a book called "The Inheritance of Things Past". When I checked the page for "The Inheritance of Things Past" the correct cover image was shown, along with a little note that the author supplied the picture himself. Perhaps he should tell the other writers how to do that.

Jane Smith said...

On 7 February, Anonymous commented here, "As a small case in point, you did 'drop' the famous Follet name, but failed to mention that Ken Follet [sic]had initially self-published his "Pillars" [sic]after several rejections, and only to have it turn into a block-buster. If he would have listened to advice like yours, I wonder where would he be now?"

Just to update you, Anonymous: I've just received an email from Ken Follett in which he stated, ""The Pillars of the Earth" was never self-published." I'm glad to have that one cleared up.

Jane Smith said...

Apologies for the comment-spam which appeared here just now: I've deleted it, and have switched on the comment moderation feature in an attempt to stop it happening again.

book publishers said...

Interesting post, but one wonders what's the objective of it all? Is it to discourage writers who cannot find an agent or publisher from self publishing? If so, then, it would seem that you are doing a dis-service to a large community of hard working writers who wish to see their work in print.

Jane Smith said...

On 7 February 2009 an anonymous commentator wrote in this thread,

"Interesting post, but one wonders what's the objective of it all? Is it to discourage writers who cannot find an agent or publisher from self publishing? If so, then, it would seem that you are doing a dis-service to a large community of hard working writers who wish to see their work in print."

Anonymous seemed to have made several assumptions about my intentions, and didn't appear to have read or understood my original post.

He went on to claim erroneously that Ken Follett originally self-published one of his titles: I checked with Mr Follett and he assured me he had never self-published the book.

Now, that same paragraph implying that I am doing a disservice to unpublished writers has been reposted here by someone who has linked his name to the website of Schiel & Denver, a pay-to-play publisher. You can find out more about them here:

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=122860

Just in case it's not clear: my intention isn't to put people off self-publishing: it's to warn people away from vanity publishers, and to help them make an informed decision about their own best route into pubilcation. If the best route for them is self-publishing then that's great: but true self-publishing does not equate to putting your book into the hands of fee-charging publishers like YouWriteOn or, indeed, Schiel & Denver.