If It Looks Like A Scam

Crowdfunding’s a bit of a strange one. To me it’s sort-of the same as advertising; if you help to crowdfund a project you get a mention. But it seems to me that if you crowdfund a project getting a mention isn’t anywhere near as good as getting a piece of the action i.e. some hard cash return. It would make crowdfunding more appealing to people with money to burn if they were to get a mention and some return. Otherwise they’d be better off scrawling their names on bus shelters and buying lots of scratch cards.

I was intrigued to find out more about a particular crowdfunding project. On the face of it, to me no-one would cough up a penny. It’s a book that’s taken more than twenty years to write, and the author’s stated that it’s due to be published by these chaps; take a few moments to read this carefully. Seems to me that the authors are doing all the work while, not doing all that much work, the publishers are taking a good cut of the royalties. Sound like a scam?

And I think this is worth pointing out: the author has to crowdfund the project, and the publisher sets a target of £15k. Obviously the publisher needs the £15k to produce and publish the project. Or do they? Simple answer: no.

But that’s other people’s money. Would the author care if the project budgeted £500 for cover design? No. Would the author care if they were charged £500 for cover design? Yes. There are very few, if any, potential or current writers who have or would pay a ‘publisher’ £15k to publish their book. That, I believe, is a throwback to the days of vanity publishing. Proper vanity publishing…

Whether you’re a fan or not of massive FREE online publishers like Amazon, one thing they have done (most likely as a consequence and not a deliberate action) is to see off vanity publishers. Why? Because, unlike these guys, they’re FREE. All it takes – and this removes all the hassle of (apart from writing a book) organising a rather ominously large and difficult crowdfunded project – is a little time and research. It’s all online and it’s all FREE. Not £15k.

However, if you do have a small budget, I would recommend investing in something like this. Or, if like me your budget’s £0, then you can always borrow a copy from your local library. It’s FREE.


This is an interesting article, and reinforces what Amazon said recently: only 40 self-published authors are a success. And by ‘success’ they mean ‘make money’. Right at the tip of the cash iceberg there sits a handful of successful self-published authors; the rest of the iceberg consists of writers like me: skint.

And so what? First of all, Amazon couldn’t give a monkey’s who is and who isn’t making money. It’s all money for them. Second, isn’t the wealth distribution not unlike that of traditional publishing anyway? There’s a handful of fat cats at the top of the pile supported by those like me: skint. Here’s another article that says most writers are below the poverty line.

And I suppose it’s true for other creatives. There’s a handful of rich musicians sitting atop the musicians’ iceberg while the rest (and I’ve seen plenty) ply their trade whenever and wherever they can, creating their music and hoping people buy their CDs or download their work. Just so they can get by, or at least make it all worthwhile.

Which is what it’s all about in the end: if you’re hoping to make a living through your work, you’re going to have to make some money. Which is where I’m leaving this: I’ve got a deadline today, but only a chance that I’ll make money from about a week’s work (give or take).

In the meantime, if you’re feeling the need to support a skint writer, have a look at my work. Go on. Download a book. It’ll mean I’ll be able to buy some matches to light the candle I use to huddle over on cold, Edinburgh nights. Like tonight…

Keeping Up To Date…

I came across this by accident; a link that followed a link to a blogIt’s Amazon’s KDP updates about the quality of the material they publish. The upshot is, if it’s not up to scratch, it’s out. Which is fine by me. I’ve downloaded some ebook samples that looked as though they’d been written by someone with no head. Or fingers.

And I’m kind-of paranoid about typos. One of my ‘friends’ emailed and said he’d downloaded Build The State, and found five typos. He was kidding. Just a subtle wind up…

Anyway, it’s good, is it not, that Amazon imposes some standards on what gets published? It’s for their benefit too, I suppose, that they want to cut ties with those writers who habitually upload crap to KDP. Worse still – it’s the poor mugs who actually buy it.

I had assumed – because other sites, like smashwords, have a bit of a strict checklist when it comes to uploading work for publication – that Amazon would already had their own guidelines in place and weren’t publishing work riddled with errors. Some of the examples they use suggest they have, and are maybe in some sort of checking process, and removing substandard (as they define it) material.

Just a shame they don’t tell indie publishers – current and potential – that they’re updating their guidelines because the consequences are a bit annoying. Would be nice, Amazon, to be kept informed?

Reviews: The Good, The Bad, And The Other Ones

If you’re an indie publisher reviews should be important: they can decide whether a book sells well or not (if at all), drive new readers to your online media, inspire new readers, etc etc. Or they can kill you dead. Or, in this case, just blow you out of the water (I’m betting that the review to actual sales ratio is about 10:1). Whatever your opinion is, when it comes to reviews they do throw their weight about. But are they all that helpful?

Best case scenario: you publish a book and it gets a lot of positive, well-written, inciteful reviews. It gets you noticed and you sell a lot of books. 

Next best: you get a lot of positive reviews but they’re not well-written or they don’t have much to say. They’re not inspiring new readers to buy your book and some of the reviewers have names like ‘Uncle Bill’ and ‘Mother’. Looks like you’ve got a lot of family and friends willing to write a review for you but, to be honest, people spot these sort of reviews and see them for what they are – they’re reviews that merely pay lip service and a lot of potentially new readers are put off.

And then: some reviews. Probably the most common scenario. A mixture of good and bad. The good reviews are great, but the poor ones, the one-stars and throwaway comments are crippling. The key thing here is to remember that you’ll always get poor reviews; suck it up and move on. Take solace in the good reviews. 

Not so good: pay people to write reviews for you. Yes, there are websites out there where you can buy reviews (I’ve mentioned them before but never put up any links to them…) A couple of hundred dollars will get you a handful of glowing reviews with five stars. I’m not sure – given the life-cycle of books in online stores like Amazon – that paying $$$ for reviews is worthwhile. Financially anyway. But if you’ve got the cash to spare? More cash than brain cells, in my opinion.

Towards the bottom of the barrel: one review, one star, no comment.

No reviews? It doesn’t necessarily mean that your book is worthless. But I’ve realised – while I’ve been thinking about reviews over the past few weeks – that if I’m shopping online I skip over the products with no reviews in favour of those that do. Even those with a couple of average reviews give me more insight than nothing at all.

So what’s it all mean? I’d like (just like everyone else) to be able to delete bad reviews but can’t. I’d like (just like everyone else) to be able to create a hundred Amazon accounts and write a hundred brilliant reviews for every book I publish but I don’t have the time and Amazon’s not that stupid anyway. And like I’ve said (or written) before: there aren’t any easy quick fixes. This whole indie writing/publishing malarky is long and hard (add your own punchline. And review. Or not…)


Read The Small Print

Despite the recent post about reading the brief I’ve just completed a 3000 word story which doesn’t meet the brief… It was cobbled together from a few ideas I’d had, and I’d still a few left in the tank so I rechecked the submission guidelines to read that yes, yes, I could submit two pieces, so with the stuff left over I could put another submission together.

Then I checked the deadline. Plenty of time. Rechecked I could submit two pieces. Yes, yes. The first prize is as good as mine etc etc. Then something caught my eye:

“We invite science-fiction short stories (and also self-contained novel excerpts) of up to 3000 words that address themes of medicine, health, and illness…” My story was about time travel…

Of course, I could rewrite elements of medicine, health, and illness into the story but that sort-of feels like cheating. I’ll give it a go if I have the proper inclination and the time. The second idea definitely does include elements of health and medicine, although I was a bit annoyed to find this appear in the media. I’m sure it won’t inspire thousands of people to write stories on the same theme but it was my idea first. So steer clear. And don’t forget to read the brief.

What To Write

A lot of the get-rich-quick literature out there says that to get-rich-quick writers should write for the market. So if the flavour of the month is vampire erotica then I should be writing vampire erotica. As if…

A quick look on Amazon suggests that there’s a lot of erotica out there right now, and in an effort to find a market niche, people have written a lot of weird niche erotica. I’m not saying that erotica is the genre to be writing; it’s one of hundreds that are currently popular. And if you’re looking for the next big thing (not erotica, please) there’s plenty of dodgy software that is supposed to help writers find that thing. I wouldn’t use it myself and I subscribe to the opinion often voiced in forums that it’s a waste of money.

So, not really fired up by the thought of writing in a genre that’s completely saturated, or trying to figure out what’s going to be hot in 2016, I’m stuck writing my own thing. And you never know; short story collections may become insanely popular (I’m working on my second), or maybe speculative fiction set in Scotland in the 1920s might just pique the interest of the reading masses.

Filthy Lucre

Philip Pullman resigns in protest over lack of pay for authors. Journos respond with this and that while creatives like me know the real score. And while it’s acceptable to pay a plumber £90 for five minutes work (speaking from recent experience), it appears that paying a creative anything for their work is just not on. As a writer I’ve been paid for my work but this more than outweighed by the number of times I haven’t. So what do you do? Continue to work for free, or dig in and demand your fair share of the good old hard cash?

One of the things I decided for this year was to only work on projects where there was some sort of payment in return. Obviously such projects (as it seems right now) are going to be in short supply so I might have to redefine what ‘payment’ means.

One example is Blind Poetics. We applied for funding from those nice people at Creative Scotland so we could pay performers expenses and a fee, only to be told that ‘the money would be better spent elsewhere’. So we pay performers via donations from the audience. We state very clearly that we’re asking for donations and why we’re asking for donations. And it works rather well; we’ve collected anything from £30 to upwards of £90, but the main thing is that the performers get paid for their time and work.

Same sort of scenario for this. We couldn’t charge people so we asked for donations. And we got the opportunity to sell our merchandise (something I’ll be thinking and writing about later). 

What about being paid as a writer? I decided to go down the independent publisher route after a couple of meetings with a ‘proper publisher’ who promised to pay me, in return for what they termed ‘three projects consisting of two novels and a short story collection’, a grand total of £0. No advance, no royalties, nothing. The money, they said, would be ‘re-invested in me as a writer’. Whatever that means. So how does being independent (as far as online monsters like Amazon will let me) match up? I’ve only been selling my books for a few months, and I’m not a big hitter in the sell shitloads category. Plus I’ve realised that to make some sort of decent living out of independent publishing I’ve got to bide my time and accept that I’ll be eating scraps from the thin end of the Long Tail. What I can do, as I’ve previously written, is to try to raise my profile as a writer and earn some cash by entering competitions. And I’ll consider publications that offer something in return such as free subscriptions. At the very least I’ll think about what’s in it for me, and how I can profit from undertaking any amount of work.

There’s one scenario I won’t consider: organisers (whether it’s an event, gig, publication, etc) who are clearly in it to make money for themselves and refuse to pay performers, contributors, writers, etc. I know who you are…

And: I’m not a misanthropic hard arse. I’ll still do stuff for free, if the intentions are good.