Tuesday 30 September 2008

YouWriteOn Publishes The 5,000

The UK-based writers’ website, YouWriteOn, is offering publication by Christmas to the first 5,000 writers who submit their work. That’s right: 5,000 books. By Christmas.

Writer Beware has already blogged about this in an article called 5,000 Writers. Unsurprisingly, Writer Beware has come down pretty heavily against the scheme. I’d also advise everyone to steer well clear of this, for all the reasons that Victoria gives in her article and a few more besides.

If you think that this will be a route to a commercial publication, think again. These books are going to get no editorial screening, editing, sales, distribution, marketing, or promotion; there’s a significant doubt over what the writers will actually earn; and by signing up to this scheme, writers will lose the first rights to the books involved, and so make it far less likely that they’ll ever manage to sell them to a commercial, mainstream publishing house.

Regardless of the sales talk I’ve read on YWO, publishers are usually only interested in acquiring first rights to a book: if it’s already been published, in whatever form, then those first rights are gone for good. Lynn Price, the rather perky editorial director of Behler Publications (a very well-regarded independent press in America) has blogged about this in some detail: you can find her post by following the links here.

If you’re determined to give up those precious first rights then bear in mind that this deal does not appear to give you anything more than you’d get if you directly approached Lulu, Lightning Source, or any other POD printer, and had them produce your book via the POD route. You download your book; you sell your book; they print up what you downloaded and send it out. Doing it yourself via a POD supplier gives you the opportunity to correct and amend your book’s text, cover and layout at any time, and at no cost to yourself—something you’ll not be able to do via YWO.

But apart from all of those issues, which most writers with any experience of proper, commercial publishing could spot from a mile off, I’m just flabbergasted at the idea of one person (because as far as I know, YWO is a one-man team) coping with downloading 5,000 books onto a POD server in time for Christmas. Even if YWO ignores its own submissions deadline of the end of October and starts downloading the books right now, there are only about ten weeks to Christmas; so that’s 500 books a week, or 100 per working day. The last time I downloaded anything to Lulu it took me a couple of hours to get the text formatted properly and the cover on right: assuming that there’s one person at YWO working an eight-hour day, taking no breaks at all, then they’re going to have to download one book every five minutes. I just hope they have better bladder control than I do.

Remember: it’s better to not be published at all than to be published badly. You only have to speak with people who have been skewered by Publish America, or some of the other vanity presses, to discover that.

(If you would like to copy this particular blog post onto your own blog to spread the word, feel free: just so long as you acknowledge that it's my work, and you include a link back to here.)


Kate said...

Can I be really cynical and suggest that this will at least cut down the number of stories banking up for review on YWO?

I agree with you completely, though. To publish that many books in that short time can only mean a rush job with little concern for quality.

DOT said...

I just so don't understand the point of this exercise. What writer who is serious about their work wants to be 1 of 5,000? It would be more constructive to join the London Marathon; it'd take much the same effort, you'd be as anonymous but at least you might raise some money for charity.

PS - I found this interview of an individual who successfully POD'd and then made the move to publishing house.

He is obviously a determined man, which is why he was successful to begin with. But he bears out your comments about the advantages of being properly represented.


Snapper said...

Thanks, Jane, for your comment on my blog, referring me to your excellent review here. I think I should have published a 'health warning' on my blog - I'll add one now!

Thanks again.


Jane Smith said...

Spread the word, please, all of you. In my view, this offer isn't in the interests of any writers. Feel free to copy my original post into your blogs--just add an acknowledgement, and a link back to here if you do so.

Anonymous said...

simple truth - if it seems too good to be true, it is.

the sad thing is that a lot of good writers might lose good books to this silliness...


Lexi said...

Each author will do his own formatting, so the time constraints will not be as you suggest.

Ted's a canny operator, and I trust him.

Jane Smith said...

This is all over the blogosphere: I've just been googling and I'm horrified by some of the misinformation I've read about this particular scheme. Pah.

Jane Smith said...

Lexi, I've produced books via Lulu for my family and no matter how you format your work, the process of transferring it over to the POD server introduces errors and takes some time. The work HAS to be checked once it's downloaded if it's to be of good quality, and I just don't see how that will happen given the time contstraints here.

Anonymous said...

Keen though I might be to see my work in print I'll be passing on this one. The thought of having to proof and edit without profeesional help fills me with horror.Even when you think you've produced a perfect ms. someone will always find that typo you missed. And yes, to go from ms. to published in such a short time is bound to produce some real howlers!

Welshcake said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sally Zigmond said...

I got an email inviting me to partake, You can be sure I deleted it pdq. I was equally horrified. I'm copying and pasting your post onto my blog right now--with the necessary links and acknowledgements, of course.

June said...

Thanks for the info Jane, and also for the comments on my blog. I have to say that I did have some reservations myself, can't comment on how long it takes tu upload to Lulu though, since I have never tried ! You are right though to be concerned, as there clearly are issues here that need to be addressed.

Jane Smith said...

Good grief! A whole slew of comments!

Thanks for taking the trouble, all. I do appreciate it. And Lexi, you're to be commended for standing up for Ted so staunchly despite the onslaught here.

I'm convinced that this is a bad thing. Time will tell.

Jane Smith said...

Oooh, look: Writer Beware has told people to read me!


I'm getting all excited now.

Snapper said...

I'm not surprised Writer Beware has told people to read you. Now I've discovered your wonderful blog I shall be doing the same (for what THAT's worth!). I've also taken up your offer to reproduce your posting on my own blog and warned my writing group accordingly. Thanks again, Jane.

Anonymous said...

I think Gary Murning's take on this is worth considering as well:


Jane Smith said...

Lottie, I commented on Gary's post earlier today. I've not changed my mind.

Anonymous said...


I know you commented. The link is to Gary's reply.

And I'm not trying to change anyone's mind; Gary didn't altogether disagree with you. But he did make some observations that I haven't seen anyone else mention, and I thought you and your readers might be interested.

Just sharing, basically. Sorry to intrude.

Coirí Filíochta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jane Smith said...

Oh, Lottie, it was no intrusion at all. I'm sorry I made you feel that way: it was helpful of you to post that, and I hope you'll continue to contribute here.

As for Background Artist: well. I, too, am appalled, but I think my reasons might be a little different to yours.

Anonymous said...

Don't know how I missed this one as I'm a YWO member! Now I am up to speed and have posted here
with my own reaction - pretty much in keeping with the others (though I may be too busy Friday for the demo!!)
Thanks for the heads-up.

Saph said...

Good advice and you're right YWO is a one man show. It's a shame that Edward has gone this route as YWO is a good site which helps authors get reviews and a chance to get some exposure.
From my dealings with Edward, in my capacity as editor of The View From Here, he is always on the look out for ways to get some interesting PR - which is great, but he's misjudged this one and this can only damage YWO and the writers that submit to him.

Jane Smith said...

Mike, once again I find myself agreeing with you. YWO does a good job with its core business of running a friendly crit site: but this latest venture seems to me to be a Great Big Mistake.

I find it very interesting that Edward's not attempted to defend his position anywhere. I had expected him to post at Absolute Write, or at Writer Beware, but he hasn't responded to this criticism at all, as far as I can see.

Jane Smith said...

I was thinking about this whole thing again today, and might have spotted a Great Big Problem with the contract.

I've asked a couple of people for advice, and will report back as soon as I find out anything more concrete.

Meanwhile, I'd advise anyone who has signed up for this to at least hold off sending their books in; and anyone who hasn't signed up yet, but is thinking of doing so, to not do so just yet. At least wait until I find out more.

You can ignore me if you want: I could be wrong. But if I'm right, then there's very little chance that anyone's going to earn much at all from this.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jane. I must confess I am one of the people considering the offer and am finding this debate interesting. I understand all the talk about inferior quality, etc and that is a risk people need to decided whether to take or not.

I guess what concerns me more is this talk about giving up your first publishing rights. Perhaps I am being thick but I don't understand the problem here. According to the contract YWO has put forward we can cancel it at any time. Doesn't this resolve this issue?

Finally, YWO does cite examples of people who have printed through them and gone on to be signed up by established publishers. Maybe the chances of that happening are one in a million but it suggests that it isn't necessarily all doom and gloom this approach.

I am interested in reading more and thanks for your effort in highlighting possible pitfalls.

Jane Smith said...

YWO doesn't appear to understand how rights work: I think it might be confusing copyright with rights to publish, which are two different things.

As soon as you write somethign you own the copyright to it. You can then license various rights to the work: rights to print it as a hardback, a paperback, a newspaper serialisation, audiobook format and so on. Each of these types of publication involves a different set of rights.

If you buy the first rights, you buy "the right to publish it first". No matter what the format. So if you publish your work in any form, you have used up those first rights. The book cannot be published first again, can it? A new publication of it would be a second publication. Therefore, it's nonsensical for YWO to insist that they'd be able to return first rights, as once those have gone, they're gone for good.

YWO cites two books which have sold after finding success with YWO. But I've been sent some evidence which implies that YWO was not involved with these sales in any way, and that they were both set up way before YWO was involved with the books.

YWO seems to provide a reasonably useful resource for people who want to receive feedback from their peers. But I'm not sure it does anything more than that for writers, and this publishing scheme is a count against it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the prompt reply Jane. It is greatly appreciated.

If I went the route of publishing through Lulu, is that any different to going through YWO? I understand there is an ambiguity about how much royalties I will receive and so on, but there are definitely examples of people being discovered by publishing houses once they have self-published (including through YWO). Arguably, a person who self-publishes has as much chance of being discovered as through the more traditional routes.

I also have to be honest and say I was a little disappointed by your response to my posting (where you said you have seen evidence that implies YWO was not involved...). It is a politicians response at best.

I know at least one of the authors that YWO cites is more than happy staying involved with YWO and hasn't complained about the use of her name or story. Surely if she felt that YWO played little part in her achievement she would voice this?

Also, if you think about it, according to Amazon YWO has only published/printed 5 stories, yet 2 of them have gone on to achieve greater success. That sounds like pretty good odds.

From my perspective, I understand concerns about quality and that YWO have not been forthcoming about some details (and I wish they were more forthcoming), however lets get to the crux of this for people like myself and maybe this has been explained before and I am being thick but is it really a bad opportunity? What is the down side?

Don't get me wrong, if I feel for a moment it is a mistake then I will avoid YWO like the plague, but so far all I am reading is innuendo.

I can't base my decision on claims of seeing evidence and this might happen and beware of the "boogie man" talk.

Anonymous said...

G.P. Taylor self-published 'Shadowmancer' then was picked up by Faber and Faber. Would his first publishing rights have been viewed differently to those of an author who was first published by YouWriteOn?

Jane Smith said...

Allan, I've discussed Shadowmancer briefly here:


The YouWriteOn scheme isn't self-publishing, so it's not really appropriate to compare the two: but G P Taylor's first rights would have been used by his self-publishing the book in exactly the same way as all the YWO's writers' rights will be. The differences are that Taylor would almost certainly have earned all his royalties, rather than paying 40% to his "publisher"; and by doing the work himself he'd have had a chance to proof-read the book and ensure that the cover and layout were all set up properly, which YWO's writers won't have.

The point about G P Taylor is that the sort of self-publishing success that he enjoyed is very, very rare: which is why it's so very newsworthy. He sold thousands; most self-published books sell fewer than 100 copies (one analysis that I saw suggested that the mode was around 27 copies). You can't use his success as a measure of what to expect through self-publication: that would be like assuming that all commercially-published writers are going to sell as many copies as Stephen King.

Anonymous said...

I threw in the name of G.P. Taylor to correct an impression given on these pages that coming to a major publisher without your first publishing rights intact would be on a par with the village whore having a white wedding.
I know that self-publishing and POD are not the same thing but whatever form a novel has first appeared in are we to believe that publishers would reject it out of hand because it first saw light of day through one of these?
There are examples to suggest that this is not the case. And yes, there will be a number of YouWriteOn novels which will be of no literary merit (as there are self-published novels and those that supposedly discerning publishers sell on the strength of a 'celebrity' name.) But what of the quality novels that appear in the YouWriteOn list?
I do not think that we can say that the use of first publishing rights in this way automatically consigns your work to oblivion.
If G.P. Taylor had not had the cash and the gumption to put his rejected novel out there, and had instead sent 'Shadowmancer' to YouWriteOn, would his work have been lost due to the whims and the prejudices of the current publishing status quo?

Dominic Took said...

What an interesting debate. I find the most interesting question here, not to be the quality of the work outputted by this very different approach used by YWO but the fact that other sites like Authonomy and other free paying sites that do what YWO does, are taking steps forward to bridge the online community and standard publishing industry gap. THIS is the most interesting thing, because it's where the future lies.

So for me, I think that YWO's idea to print the 5000 books is a very interesting idea I'll be watching closely. Mainly because it may open up the lower levels for those who aren't sure how to self publish and for those who might not want to, a way of getting published (Quality is always an issue, so that's why I'll be watching what the output of all this is). My book is in Waterstones, I self published in 2007 and I've sold about 2-300 books (Not many I know). For me I enjoyed the whole publishing process and even learnt to enjoy the ups and downs as well.

However for me I did not want to go to YWO this time because my book isn't A) Finished in its second draft and B) other novels I have written need thorough editing. With my experience, editing is always a must and seeing as I'm dyslexic, I tend to spend a little longer (Though not much longer these days) proofing my work as well. So for me it was one of the very first snags I hit.

I have to say that I agree with Allan's comments, if you get a book out there, self publicise it, work on it, market it, brand it, do everything and anything you can to get it out there (Easier with some than with others in my opinion) it doesn't matter how it got out there, if a publisher sees a potential cult status book out there, they WILL pay out to have it, it's that simple.

So I say good luck to all, if we get 1000 new original books to mix up the industry some more and give readers a more varied approach to what they have to read, that's an excellent thing. For me, that's the most interesting thing about this.

I'll still be watching closely though.


Jane Smith said...

Allan, commercial publishers will rarely take on something that's already been self-published. For them to consider doing that, you'd have to be able to demonstrate that the self-published book had sold a lot of copies (the last time I asked an editor about this she said that 5,000 was a minimum, but I have heard lower figures quoted) AND that a substantial market remained to be exploited.

This is sometimes possible through self-publishing, as Taylor has shown. But it's highly unlikely that it's going to be possible through YWO, because the contract doesn't give the authors any royalties or discounts on copies they buy themselves: this will effectively prevent them selling their YWO books into bookshops, and so drastically restrict their numbers.

I've blogged about this point separately: you might like to have a look at that post too.

So, yes: if Taylor had published his book through YWO it would almost certainly have disappeared for ever because he'd not have been able to sell enough copies of the book to attract a mainstream publisher.

Jane Smith said...

Dominic, most sales are still made in bookshops, despite the huge influence of the internet: so writers can publicise their books all they like but if people can't find it in their local bookshop they're unlikely to buy it. And with the contract the way it is, YWO's writers just aren't going to be able to afford to get their books into bookshops, and so won't be able to sell many copies at all.

You wrote, "if we get 1000 new original books to mix up the industry some more and give readers a more varied approach to what they have to read, that's an excellent thing." This isn't going to affect commercial publishers one bit: I doubt that any will even notice it. And it's not going to give many readers anything at all, as very few are ever going to stumble upon YWO's listings. The books aren't going to be publicised or distributed in any real way, so don't have a chance of reaching readers through the normal channels.

Real self-publishing is a good choice for some writers: I have nothing against it when it's done properly. But publishing through YWO isn't self-publishing, it's publishing through YWO! The contract issues make it a poor choice, in my opinion, and I can't see how any writers who sign up to it will be able to sell anything like as many copies as you have. I still advise people to seek commercial publication first, to consider self-publishing as a last resort, and to not even stop to think about taking part in YWO's publishing scheme.

Anonymous said...

what an interesting debate to find.
I just wanted to leave a comment to say that I have read Tasting the Wind and cannot understand why it has not been published already.
It is an amazing read and one which I believe gives the reader quality beyond belief
Shine on Allan and thank you Jane for any help you can give to this amazing man

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.