The Nameless Horror

Aar! Take Two

Further thoughts following responses to my previous ‘pirate crew’ writers’ collective notion via all sorts of different channels.

Consensus seems to be that it’d be a fascinating idea, with the potential to descend into a howling shitstorm of hatred, accusations, and rage should such a thing prove successful. (“A good way to lose friends” I think was how my mate James actually put it, but the sentiment’s the same.)

This is good. The “fascinating” part, not the “howling shitstorm” part. Everyone likes eyepatches.

Some practicalities occur with our theoretical band (let’s give them a proper name; ‘the Revenge’s Crew’ for now, or insert your favourite piratical reference of choice).

Chief amongst them is that of sales, reporting, and distribution. Ideally, for maximum transparency, our Crew (or ‘Revengers’ if you wanted to be more literary about it) could have a centralised record-keeping system for sales and income per book - sort of a group KDP account from which data would be extracted at will (I mentioned that the only rights requirement for the Crew would come if somehow an iBooks aggregator account came about and this would be precisely such a thing). Unfortunately, certainly for iBooks, almost certainly for B&N and I’m not sure for Amazon, to have one you’d need to be trading as a company. As a US company for B&N. And at that point the exercise becomes one of paperwork and accounting and becomes a publisher.

This means that all Crew would have to self-report sales income received (received, as opposed to owed, because you can only divvy up shares of what you’ve been given, not what you’re going to be given once Amazon or whoever get round to kicking stuff your way) from all sources. On, let us say, a monthly basis.

You’d need a public by-book income count, and an equally public record of who had what shares from it. People would be on their honour to be honest about their numbers. Maintaining the list is (relatively) simple database work and a spot of maths.

But suppose, you might think, one of the Crew made claims elsewhere suggesting they were selling or earning much more than they were telling the collective. Accusations of lying fly, the truth cannot be known for sure, and argument tears our feisty mob apart.

The only solution would be a requirement in the Articles that the Crew would have to be as professionally honest to others as they are within the group. Breach of that rule would be cause for booting; in a group surviving largely by trust and being good to your word, this’d be key.

Someone - and I forget who - pointed out the difficulty of disputes over what was expected in return for a share. If I say I’ll edit you, and you expect a full line edit and critique, and I expect only to have to do a read-through and critique, how do we avoid a lot of acrimony afterwards?

Requests for help, and stipulations of what’s expected and provided, would need to be publicly made first on the Crew’s board.

"Dave: [EDIT NEEDED]: My 80k word cat mystery needs a line edit and critique on the characters. I want to get it out by April if I can so it can tie in to some other stuff I’m doing, so I’d need it done by the end of March. I was hoping Sarah might like a crack at it."

"Sarah: Sorry, I don’t think I can squeeze a line edit in with such a tight timeframe. I can do a critique, but I’ve got a bunch of work on and I wouldn’t want to commit to something that hefty. Sorry, Dave."

"Dave: No problem. Anyone else want a crack?"

And so on. It’d be the only way to stop anyone moving the goalposts midway through work. Crew would have to be Article-bound to do their utmost to fulfil their commitments. Things can obviously happen to throw things out of whack, but if people rely on you, you’ve got to try to deliver.

Over time, you’d have some idea who you wanted to work with, and who you wouldn’t. How much effort you’d be likely to have to put in. And what others might be able to provide, especially in some of the more technical areas. (I have so far, for example, used Scrivener to output stuff to ebook formats, without AFAIK causing any shoddy errors like not starting chapters on a new pageturn. Others, though, might directly edit the raw code etc.)

Communication would, in most of these things, be key. You’d need a central board system to make sure everyone was up to speed at all times, and to provide a slow-burn social backdrop to keep a sense of community to the Crew. Even in an informal group, the intended aim of having members helping one another out, co-operating for mutual benefit, it’s a damn sight easier to do so if people have a sense of acquaintance with one another.

This isn’t a new thing; when I was starting out all those years ago, I was part of the Mystery Writers’ Forum, several of whom I’m still friends with. Hell, one of them I even wrote the reading for her wedding. Writers’ groups have been around since the year dot, so I don’t imagine this aspect of such a venture would be anything too out of the ordinary.

Also, eyepatches.

I’m probably forgetting a bunch, but I’m tired and the house has been full of vomiting bug and cranky babies for the past few days. If my poor brain comes up with more, I’ll add to it.

Thank You, And Good Night

Seems iBA has been updated with a clearer EULA with this at the top:

IMPORTANT NOTE:

If you want to charge a fee for a work that includes files in the .ibooks format generated using iBooks Author, you may only sell or distribute such work through Apple, and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple. This restriction does not apply to the content of such works when distributed in a form that does not include files in the .ibooks format.

Thank you, and good night. I’ll be over here, radiating smug.

MY BAD - Anthony Neil Smith: 2012

MY BAD - Anthony Neil Smith: 2012

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…