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 Adding books (not all of them; just as and when they feel like, withdrawn at will too) to the communal banner.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.
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…
I know a few people with ebooks put out by one-man-band publisher Trestle Press, who have a stable of decent writers under some (apparently famously) deeply shonky typography. Now it seems Giovanni “G-Man” Gelati, the one man in the aforementioned band, has been using massive amounts of copyrighted images for cover art without the artists’ permission.
Gelati has responded to these detailed allegations like so:
Please not that these claims do not come from any artist or copyright holder, but rather a private individual. All the same, Trestle Press is more than willing to make the changes for the benefit of all involved. While there is a legal precedent, we feel this is an ethical issue at this point and Trestle Press strives to maintain strong ethics and morals.
We stand by the fact that if we have used any copyrighted artwork that we have contacted the artist or made every possible attempt to contact the artist. In many cases, we have requested usage permission and made payment when asked.
In cases where no contact was made or no copyright holder found, we apologize for the usage and have removed the identified images.
(More at the link, not much of it, though.)
Let’s take this briefly apart, shall we?
"We have contacted the artist…": Including the studio who produced GHOST RIDER? Or the one behind CREEP? The makers of the HITMAN games? Or BILL AND fucking TED? Really, how fucking stupid can you be, or would you expect others to be?
"We have… made every possible attempt to contact the artist": I’m no copyright lawyer, but I know enough to know there’s no presumption of permission. If a work is in copyright, you need explicit permission to use it. (If a work is, say, CC licensed, that CC license sets out the terms of that explicit permission.) If you can’t reach the rights holder, you don’t use the thing because you’re not allowed to. It’s not rocket science. It’s not even bottle rocket science. It’s a principle I’m 99% certain Aidan, 4 and 3/4, would grasp on the first time of explaining.
FWIW, 'L. Vera', the dA user doesn’t seem to have had a hard time contacting the other dA users whose work was being ripped off, so one assumes they weren’t too difficult to reach.
It could be that these were a string of genuinely naive mistakes and Gelati’s statement isn’t covering bullshit, that the dA artists so readily contactable by L Vera were all on vacation when he tried to email them (rather than leaving a message on their dA page or on the page the image is on, which isn’t time dependent and is very easy to do), and I’d hate to call anyone a deliberate thief without concrete proof, so I won’t.
(If I was to speculate, I’d suspect laziness, use whatever and forget about it, rather than malice; this isn’t unknown even in professional graphic design (where, for instance, the stock used for a comp mock-up to show the client ends up being used in the finished thing), and I think I can be certain Gelati isn’t a professional graphic designer.)
(Still, Bill And Ted? Really? Jeez.)
But if someone was so naive about copyright as to genuinely have no clue that poster art commissioned for a Hollywood movie, say, wasn’t public domain, they have absolutely no business being involved in a rights-based business like publishing. None.
I might add that if, and I don’t know why they would, but if someone used one of my photos for commercial work - even the ones I’ve CC-licensed are by-nc - without permission, and then waffled about how I was hard to reach, which I blatantly am not, especially on the websites like Flickr which host those images, I’d be pretty fucking pissed at the cheek of it.
Everyone I know involved with Trestle has pulled their books, and good on them.
I don’t give a fuck anymore. Whatever will be, will fuckin’ be. I didn’t break the publishing industry, it was this way when I found it. And while that might sound like learned helplessness, it’s more likely that I’m just pig-sick of the constant whine of feedback that somehow passes for intelligent speculative debate.
I discovered this ancient list of change-one-letter-in-the-title book puns with associated blurbs buried in a long-disused, spider-haunted folder on my hard drive yesterday evening. I seem to remember doing it several websites and at least one pen name ago, based on what I saw on the shelves nearby. In fact, it must have been before BCon in Madison because I vaguely remember Lee mentioning he’d had a chuckle at The Billing Floor way back then.
Anyway, here they are. They don’t all deserve to vanish into obscurity. I’m especially partial to the Martyn Waites one.
Every Secret Thong (L. Lippman): Who is the masked killer preying on Baltimore’s cross-dressing elite?
Pope (S. Gran): Life in Hell’s Kitchen takes a turn for the strange when reformed heroin addict Joe Flannigan is called in by a mysterious patron to track down Benedict IX. The rogue pontiff is in town with something worse than Midnight Mass on his mind.
The Billing Floor (L. Child): Little did Jack Reacher realise when he got off the bus in the town of Baxter, Mississippi, that a want ad in the local paper would see him land a job with the local utilities company. Promised a corner office and a varied working life, he instead finds himself duped, trapped in a cubicle in the company’s accounts department, fighting to retain his sanity in the face of overwhelming mundanity.
The Mercy Seal (M. Waites): He roams the ice floes, seeking out the sick and the dying. In an unforgiving landscape where death comes slow and painful, you too will pray for a swift end beneath the flippers of the Mercy Seal.
People Pie (K. Wignall): Just what is in the delicious pastry foodstuffs coming out of Old Mrs Willis’s kitchen? Find out in this whacky cooking mystery where ‘having the neighbours for dinner’ has a whole new meaning!
Private Bars (G. Rucka): When Tara Chace walked away from MI6, she had nowhere to go and no idea what to do with her life. Like so many others before her, she finds herself caught up in the seedy world of Las Vegas’s strip clubs and VIP rooms in a book great for fans of SHOWGIRLS and ANCHORMAN.
Herd Rain (B. Eisler): On a trip to Texas to kill a ice cream magnate, assassin John Rain becomes involved cattle rustling. When it becomes apparent that his old enemies at the CIA are behind the cow thefts, he realises the operation is part of a wider plot to smuggle American bullocks into Cuba in order to kill Castro.
Lark Hollow (J. Connolly): Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker finds love, laughs and a new meaning to life when he stays in a Tuscan sanctuary for songbirds. A movie version is already in production, starring Hugh Grant and Diane Lane.
Fight Clue (C. Palahniuk): In the aftermath of a violent brawl at Mrs McKinney’s Grill and Massage Parlour, only one piece of mysterious evidence can provide Detective Ron Harvey with the truth of what happened on that bloody night.
The Burping Girl (M. Billingham): Tom Thorne’s niece Jessica suffers from terrible gas in this bittersweet comedy in the tradition of the great British musical halls.