The Nameless Horror

Aar, A Writer's Life For Me

And so, while the Trestle Press art theft debacle unfolds - seriously, the ease of finding some of the originals is laughable - I find myself thinking of a notion I had a while back. Nothing so fully-formed as an idea. A dream, maybe.

A writers’ co-operative.

Modelled along pirate lines.

I, uh, should probably explain. We’re all either involved with or at least watching the self-publishing scene, and while the number of people making gazillions is ludicrously small, it’s certainly true that a fair number of people are making some money at it. But there are issues with it:

  • Editing. Getting good editing is either costly, reliant on having willing and capable friends, or a nightmare. Most writers I would guess can edit perfectly well, just not their own work.

  • Cover design. As, clearly, Trestle have just demonstrated. This, too, can be expensive unless you have the skills yourself.

  • Formatting. This is actually fairly easy so long as you don’t want anything complex, and not so difficult even if you do - ebooks are no more than XHTML.

  • Visibility. The hardest nut to crack. It helps if you have some benchmark of quality, something to tell the reader that you can string a sentence together (being published by a proper publisher usually serves that purpose in print). Having a support network helps. Ultimately, I suspect it’s mostly luck.

Now imagine a collective of writers online. A quality barrier to entry - not per book, but on a sample of work, say, enough to convince existing members that you’ve got the skill or the potential skill to be good at this sort of thing. Adding books (not all of them; just as and when they feel like, withdrawn at will too) to the communal banner.

Many of these writers, workload permitting, can offer those difficult services above to one another, if they so want. But not for an upfront fee, because there should be no upfront fees in such a group. We’re all skint, after all. Instead, everything working on a pirate crew-style “shares” basis, a percentage of a book’s earnings (any money coming down the pipe from Amazon, direct sales, Smashwords, wherever; after distributors’ cut, but before anything else).

A share, say, being 5%. One share for doing a full editing pass (so writers who need multiple runs at feedback get it, but at cost equivalent to workload). One share for an accepted cover design. One share for doing a complete set of electronic formats (two, say, if there’s heavy PDF layout required). So you can still do everything yourself for nowt, or you can share the workload for a split of the proceeds.

An expectation that even if a book is withdrawn from the collective, existing shares will be honoured (even if someone hits the big time and lands a $bazillion deal, if, for instance, Bloggs edited it, their editing probably helped land the deal and their 5% seems fair).

An option to add a share for a book into a communal pool. No requirement to do so, but an option for those who want it. Adding a share to the pool gives you a cut of the monthly pool total, so that you can, if you wish, share your success with the community, and if things aren’t going so well then the community at least gives you a bit back for your efforts. A nice “all for one” kind of thing, without hitting anyone’s actual earnings significantly.

No cut for the running of the collective unless it proved a mammoth task. And even then, non-profit, costs-only. Point is for everyone to do well writing books, not to become a publisher.

Books added to the collective to go out under the collective label, both for a sort of safety in numbers and as a reasonable mark of quality. Equivalent to the publishing imprint, I guess, but with no claims to rights, which are still fully retained by the member in question. (Unless the collective was able to barter aggregator status with iBooks, for example, in which case there’d have to be a wholly non-exclusive license for the collective to distribute a book that way.)

No requirement to pimp each other’s work or to leave glowing reviews on Amazon et al. Honest reviews are all good - and I’m sure in such a collective there’d be plenty - but forced, false or favour-traded ones are balls, even if the review system is largely iffy anyway.

Open-to-all-members, up-to-date-as-possible, figures so that everyone knows what’s selling what, doing what, and can be certain no one’s being diddled. Maximum transparency.

As part of the same web service, collective forumy thing so people can socialise, trade brief critique, help one another out in a less transient format than Twitter. Some kind of switchable user toggles list, showing what services each member can perform and what their overall workload is like at present. That way if you like Writer X and his stuff and he’d be first pick if you wanted someone to look at your own, you could see if he was available, offering editing services, and could then approach without anyone wasting anyone else’s time.

An undertaking not to cheat - no plagiarism, no art theft, and no breaking your word or being a dick to one another. Members able to expel those who break the spirit of the collective.

Everything done as a gentlemen’s agreement rather than in legalese (because I’m no lawyer), with everyone on their honour to stick to the code. Like FIGHT CLUB.

Other stuff that sounded cool.

Eyepatches.

One for all, all for one.

Would that be a lovely thing? Or wholly unworkable and a mess? Would anyone go for it? I do wonder…