Pat Jourdan is the author of the novel, Finding Out. Here she describes the opportunity and pitfalls of self-publishing with YouWriteOn, organized by Arts Council England.
Imagine getting an email asking if you’d like your manuscript to be published, just like that. It says that it will be free, if you do not want to purchase an ISBN. Of course, you pay for an ISBN, and for that cost of £39.99 you will be able to be marketed on all online sites. Just forward a completely edited, print-ready book.
We formatted pages, organised chapters, and learned about pdf. This was the wonderful beginning of the YouWriteOn.com 5000 publishing project in September 2008. This U.K. site is part-funded by the Arts Council and of its many functions, the main one is on-site reviewing of writers’ work. Each time an author reviews a randomly-generated excerpt (up to 10,000 words) of someone else’s work, their own writing is then reviewed (an “assigned review”) and given up to five stars. Marks are given on dialogue, pace, setting, etc. The top excerpts or short stories are then given a critique by an agent from Curtis Brown and other literary agents. It could be seen as a self-managing slush-pile, but with public inspection and more hope.
It is not known what went on after October 31st when manuscripts and their cover designs were sent off by email. YouWriteOn also supplied generic cover designs for those who did not have something arranged. It was wonderful. The contract said that books would be available to order before Christmas.
And that’s where things started to go wrong. People arranged book launches, interviews, Christmas sales-promotions. Some had their books published in time; most did not. The message-board overflowed with unseasonal messages. The small print in the contract was gone over with magnifying glasses. At the present moment (Sunday 11th January 2009) the Happy New Year wishes are still on YouWriteOn’s site and the message board is locked tight shut.
Here I have to admit to being one of the lucky ones, by sheer chance. The book is well produced: glossy cover, slightly cream paper, ISBN and priced at £6.99 for 212 pages. Royalties are supposed to be £1, or I can buy copies direct from YouWriteOn at £4.57. This is what should be happening to the other 4755 authors, if they do really exist and are not just part of a wonderful headline. (There were usually about 200 on the site at any given time.) If they do exist, it looks like being a long wait.
But this is a breakthrough for writers, as the strange axis of agent-editor-publisher is put under strain. Copying the singer-songwriter, the writer-publisher is a new phenomenon, and this publishing project by YouWriteOn is an attempt at loosening the intricacies of the publishing world. It is ironic that they should – at this moment of writing – be caught up in a labyrinth themselves. The 4755 lost authors deserve to be heard. Or even better, read.