Friday, 2 September 2011


So it's September 1st, and, er, Our Man hasn't quite finished writing his novel let alone published it within a month as he vowed all those heady four weeks ago. He was younger then, dammit. But he's sniffing-distance close now. He's writing Chapter 8 as we speak (there are only 10 chapters) and he will have it done in draft form in a matter of days. Dan Ryan is allegedly editing what Our Man has done so far, though he is a busy chap, as all we unpaid folk are. And Mari Kurisato has done a stunning cover. But you didn't come here to hear all that...

Our Man went for a few lengths up and down the swimming pool this evening and he got thinking.
  1. In the age of the ebook, we all have the keys to the printing press - there is no-one telling you you can't get that book you have in you published.
  2. Everyone who is so inclined can do, and you don't need Our Man or anyone else to get in your way.
  3. But if you want a good quality book, the best that you can produce, you can't do it alone.
  4. At the very minimum you need a proof-reader. An editor (someone who is looking for more than typos and style inconsistencies) would be desirable too. And a cover illustrator. Hell, a designer would be nifty. Oh, and a couple of beta readers (is that the right term?) before you let the book loose on the unsuspecting public.
  5. Oh yeah, then there's marketing. Telling folk you've got a book, and it's good, and they should buy it.
OK, so what? Go cap in hand to a traditional publisher and stand in line for a decade or two until you have mastered how to write zombie fiction or 180 pages with footnotes. Go find some pros and pay them to do the thinking for you and you go back to sweeping the floor, Cinders. Or do it all yourself, and let your book find its level in the abysses of the virtual bargain bins of crap.

If you are waiting for Our Man to find the universal round peg that will fit in the square hole, he can't do it. But seems to him:
  1. There are an awful lot of underemployed folk with some of the right skills who could improve the manuscripts no end.
  2. Quakebook proved that with the right mindset, a bunch of skilled or at least keen amateurs working together can produce a professional product. Two hundred half-decent folk can outshine one brilliant one.
  3. Yeah, but that took a lot of sleepless nights with a lot of selflessness because it was for charity baby, for the earthquake survivors.
  4. True. But Our Man is proposing the glue that holds the non-charity project together may not be as strong, but could be longer lasting. 
We do it for 1. Education (folk join the project because they want to learn how to be better writers, editors, proofers, narrative thingy whatevers. It's not for the experts who can command a higher price anyway) and 2. Money (as much as you want to devote countless hours to it, ya gotta get paid something.) Oh yeah, and 3. Love. Love of the written word. Because otherwise, what's the point?

OK, some back-of-the-envelope calculations:

Just going through Amazon, if you sell an ebook at $2.99, they keep 30 percent, but you, dear author keep 70 percent. That means, er, $2 or so. Less tax, you are looking at $1.80 or so. Now, if you have even a smallish blog/twitter/facebook following, a large family and a handful of friends willing to shell out the cost of one Starbucks coffee on your opus if you promise to shut up about it, you surely could sell 50 to 100 copies - $90 to $180.

How about instead of blowing that money on a frothy milkshake coffee every day for a month you used it to improve the quality of your book? You get a better finished book (which may well sell better over time), the rest of the folk get the warm fuzzies for helping you, working with words (which they love, remember?) and they get paid.  
Not much - there is only 100 odd bucks in the kitty.
Our Man is not sure of the mechanics at the moment - how the author pays, and who gets paid and how much for different services. Maybe a database of folk offering services and folk needing services. But the idea is we keep publishing as hands-on as possible, as cheap as possible, as accessible as possible, with the onus on self-improvement. It's not a replacement for proper publishers, or a full-time income for those involved. It's just a way of improving what we all do. You learn, and then move on. Something like that, Our Man's not completely sure at the moment. These are just details.

But he does know two things:

1. This is no hippy collective, Our Man is boss, and there will be no goofing off while others do the heavy lifting.
2. He has nabbed the twitter name and .com already.

What do you think? What's he missed here? A lot no doubt, tell him.


Anonymous said...

Sounds good! I'd be in!


@Crank_Dub said...

I have no experience of publishing, with or without the 'e' but I see a lot of parallels between your proposal and the music biz (which I am familiar with).

Up until the advent of the internet and the rise of home computing, making an album without the assistance of a record company was a major undertaking. Studio time was prohibitive to all but the dedicated, mastering and pressing either vinyl or CDs a sizeable expense, not to mention designing, printing, distribution, launching, marketing, etc. You really had to be either independently wealthy or slightly insane to self-release albums. But it was and is possible and people still do it every day.

It is natural to expect that one's nearest and dearest will (often grudgingly) support your endevours but selling a couple of hundred albums to your mates does not a career make and is not sustainable. I did once see a statistic for the number of bands who release one album but never make a second one and the percentage was certainly nearer to 100 than 0.

But one is always right to try because, once the music is out there, one never knows what can happen and stories abound of lucky breaks and surprising successes.

The new models of publishing — either music or writing — are at least more affordable for the masses but it has led to these art forms becoming devalued. It is undoubtedly more difficult than ever to find the gold amongst the thrash. As Bob Dylan once said "the world don't need no more albums", before going on to release another half-dozen or so.

The only advice I can give to you, Mr. Man, is to write the best book you can now and, like musicians who use the talents of producers, engineers, session musicians et al, look for the best help you can find and be prepared to take advice even when it's painful. If, in a year's time, you re-read your book and see all the places where it might have been improved, put it aside and write a better one. In my experience the people who never get better are those who think that everything they do is amazing.

If it's any help, I for one am looking forward to reading the result of your toil (even if it takes a little longer than you'd hoped).

Stagerabbit said...

One suggestion: incorporate as an NPO Hojin.

Then, over time, you can accept cash donations from people who want the project to go on (donations would cover office expenses, domain renewal, website costs, etc. in the short term, and maybe actually pay for some staffing and promotion in the long term).

It will also keep the project honest in its goal of helping people self-publish because it won't get sidetracked by the types of issues that plague normal businesses, or projects that unwittingly become businesses.

Our Man in Abiko said...

Sage advice. In fact, the best advce is (almost always) the least desired. The last things I want to do are to recreate the vanity press online or reinvent the wheel or end up doing something a trad publisher can do better.

A few more lengths may be called for here.

Still thinking. And writing.

Anonymous said...

A possible source of ideas about how to implement this: Heinz Wolff has come up with an idea for caring for the elderly which could possibly be adapted as 'caring for writers.' It involves a credit system - if you put in a certain number of hours (work, whatever) you accumulate credits which you can then draw on later when you need them. I heard about this on a podcast (, the 5 March episode) and it strikes me there might be some elements you could poach from this system. I can't find a detailed description online, but the interview is worth a listen. He's an interesting guy who thinks outside the box.

If you had a big and diverse enough group, different talents could be drawn on as needed.

Money might need to be involved at some point, though ... perhaps a sort of common fund, where a small percentage of proceeds from each book published goes into the fund, to be drawn on by people who want to offer services but don't need services themselves? But then things get complicated, because you need someone to administer the fund, and agreement on fees, and so on...

I'll stop now. This is getting too complicated.

Kansai Mary

Our Man in Abiko said...

Hmmm. We already have a universal means of exchange. It's called money. Hmmm.

Isabella said...

True grit is making a decision and standing by it,doing what must be done.

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Craig Scanlan said...

I'm in for any help I can offer, as long as we don't use yammer again....