Writers' Collectives are fabulous for self-published writers. I'm going to be talking to one of the best new ones, Triskele Books, on these pages very soon. I'll also be sharing several years of my experience with Year Zero Writers, which I started up at the beginning of 2009. Collectives can do many things for their members and take many forms and I'll look at many of them in the months ahead as well as giving advice on how to go in with your eyes wide open.
But I wanted to share this for nostalgia. On January 2nd 2009, I posted a manifesto-cum-clarion-call "Can We Make 2009 Publishing's Year Zero?" which is where the Year Zero name came from. From that post, a group of 22 disgruntled writers of literary fiction from 8 countries came together and created something rather special.
Some of the post is outdated (see "point one" about printers; my avatar in which I'm a good 3 stone lighter than now, most of that gain down to added hair). Some is hopelessly rhetorical. But I'm surprised how much has stood the test of time and would still make sense today. So whilst we're at the starting-out-and-inspiring phase, I thought I'd post the whole thing in full. If you want to understand some of the ideology behind it, it's best read alongside the homepage of the LETS movement, LETS being a formalised barter system that is used the world over, but most relevantly for me in my old home town of Stroud. It's also the basis of Endangeredworlds.net, the fictitious charity group in the novel Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, which I'd just finished writing by the start of 2009. The charity is basically a matchmaking site between groups and individuals whoneed non-financial aid, and groups and individuals who can provide that aid (I still think that should be done more often in real life). Anyway, here it is, my original call to arms:
- A cooperative of writers working together to bring each of their books through from the first draft stage to the marketplace will be more effective than the same writers working separately. The more writers working together, the more their effectiveness will surpass that of individuals working alone.
- Each person in the cooperative would offer the skills they have to other members, and take the skills they need from other members using a barter system
- Marketing would focus not on books but on distinctive genre-specific imprints with recognisable formatting
- Each book within the imprint would have individual exposure through an online catalogue consisting of cover, blurb, and first three chapters
- The system works on a barter principle, whereby every part of the process of taking a book to market is assigned a credit value.
- Skills can be bought or sold for credits.
- To ensure liquidity in the system, each member of the co-operative is assigned a number of credits equal to 1.5 times the number needed to complete every part of the "to market" process.
- The "value" of the cooperative is divided into this number of credits, so that each member is initially an equal co-owner, and increased "ownership" can be acquired by carrying out more work on behalf of other writers.
- Each new member is assigned the same number of credits so that they become notional equal stakeholders. To account for the inflation this causes, the credit value of each task will be reassessed at pre-agreed membership levels.
- Members would advertise the skills they were offering in one place; those they were seeking in another.
- Every skills provider would have a profile based on moderated feedback for previous tasks. All tasks would be performed under house rules, with an expected time frame and standard. Successful completion within these parameters would earn credits as well as being reflected in a member's profile
- What would be covered: editing – writers would work together in a task-focused way to turn first drafts into the best manuscript possible; formatting and design – including cover art; marketing
- What would not be covered: negotiations with publishers and agents – because everything is carried out in house
- Meta-tasks: web design; negotiating with printers; production of house standards and standard operating procedures; moderation of tasks; management of the credit barter system;
- Marketing would focus on imprints and the enterprise as a whole instead of individual books
- Initial publicity would be based on the appeal to media of the size of the endeavour.
- The target would be twofold: the media frequented by the most likely customers; and trade media for physical booksellers.
- Follow-up campaigns for placement in specific stores would build on this initial public and trade awareness, as well as initially targeting the local stores of authors (where success would demonstrate to retailers the potential not just of the author but the whole imprint)
- The main focus would be on new media – on marketing through web catalogues, and on sales of books in e-format
- Once books are in print, cross-posting and rating by all writers of all books on online retailers sites would be encouraged, along with the generation of as many cross-links to similar books as possible
- The cooperative is not seen as a once for all alternative to the traditional publishing route. If a writer's work is absolutely suited to mainstream publication and in receipt of interest from mainstream publishers the route remains open. A book's place alongside others within an imprint is not at the expense of its place on a publisher's list.