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Webchat 1: What makes a good collective?

with 15 comments

Working together with like-minded creatives sounds great – all the ideas you can throw around, the benefit of numbers. But there can be all kinds of pitfalls too – the “creative differences”, what happens when some pull more weight than others. And when should money get involved?

 When is it a good idea to get together with others working in your field? What should you do together? And when should you steer clear? Hosted by two collectives, Year Zero Writers, and Jet-Pack – post any and all questions over the coming week. We will not approve comments from new users until the day so as to save debate for the day itself, and to give the hosts time to formulate initial responses.


Written by danholloway

November 24, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

15 Responses

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  1. Is it ok to post?

    A collective should have a classy name. Year Zero, for example.

    Also, personally, each collective should have absolute quality from the start. Don’t choose people who aren’t really sure, or who aren’t really good enough.

    And have a manager type too, someone who everyone likes or respects. Give it a name. Dan Holloway, perhaps.

    And be tough. Don’t let your friends join the collective if they’re no good.

    And promote each other.


    Ordinary Joe

    December 1, 2009 at 2:01 pm

  2. Ha ha!

    I think you’ve actually got a very good point at the end there – as writers who hang out with other writers, it’s inevitable that if you start a collective people will want in (if NO ONE wants in you should probably worry). But a collective has to be very focused – if it’s not it will benefit no one. My essential “rules” would be:

    1. have a niche and stick to it

    2. diversity is great, but it’s also good if you have the same general utlook towards writing as your fellow members, as well as writing in a similar area – that can avoid creative tensions

    3. my controversial point would be don’t bring money into it – don’t form a small publisher, for example. Stick to writing and promoting and talking together – else you’ll be storing up tensions down the line

    4. Having a manifesto gives you a sense of colective identity

    5. Be fairly strict about your groundrules (about things like speaking on behalf of the group) at the outset – that way everyone knows where they stand and you can just get on with it.

    6. Also like Oli says – promote each other. Sounds daft, but it’s SO important that you don’t see a collective as a means of getting THEM to promote YOU. If you all thought like that where would it get you?


    December 1, 2009 at 2:35 pm

  3. Wish I’d seen this a couple of years ago!

    And there’s always the issue of people insisting on money.

    If moneys involved then contracts are a must – and check the contracts!


    December 1, 2009 at 2:47 pm

  4. Yes – ALWAYS check contracts! But my advice is not to get money involved in the first place – it’s just too messy – if one of you’s handing out royalties then at that time of the quarter relations will always suffer, just a little.

    We have a long ist of articles of association we get members to sign up to (largely because I’m an administrator by day and do too mcuh risk assessing) but although it seems Draconian, actually as I say it means we all know wehere we stand from the get go. Here they are:

    1. Year Zerø is not a company.
    2. Year Zerø owns nothing.
    3. Year Zerø is a collective that exists to promote the interests of its participants and to take literature out of the hands of the publishing industry and return it to the readers and writers to whom it belongs.

    As a participant in the Year Zerø collective I will have the following rights and benefits:
    1. I will at all times retain all rights in my own materials (save for those I produce explicitly for the use of other Year Zerø members such as templates, which I agree – whilst I retain the copyright – to make available in perpetuity to all members of Year Zerø who sign up to these articles so long as they are not in breach of them). I am free to publish my work through any medium at any time. Choosing to publish any material in any way, even if it has previously been released in association with Year Zerø, will not, provided it does not breach these articles, constitute a withdrawal from Year Zerø.
    2. I may at any time leave Year Zerø. Should I do so I will have the right, should I request it, to have my name removed as far as is reasonably possible, from all Year Zerø materials.
    3. I will have administrative access to the Year Zerø wordpress site, which I may use to promote myself and my work, within the bounds of these articles. I will be free to direct anyone I choose to the Year Zerø site, and to include its url on any other virtual or physical promotional materials.
    4. Anyone producing materials for Year Zerø shall grant me the right to use them to promote my work provided my use of them does not infinge these articles.
    5. I am under no financial obligation to Year Zerø. Nor is it (nor any participant therein by dint of their participation) under any financial obligation to me.

    As a participant in Year Zerø I agree to the following responsibilities, and accept the sanctioning process outlined at the conclusion of these articles.
    1. I will never attribute a point of view to another member of Year Zerø without their permission
    2. By promoting or releasing any material in association with Year Zerø I assert that I am the owner of the copyright of all such material – or have express permission to reproduce any material owned by a third party. I accept sole responsibility for undertaking due diligence in this respect and sole liability in the event of any breach of third party (including another participant in Year Zerø) copyright.
    3. I will never, in association with Year Zerø, promote, release, or in any way make public or convey in private any material that may, by its association with Year Zerø, endanger in any way another member of Year Zerø. This includes, but does not exhaustively consist of: any material that may be deemed directly offensive to a particular religion, any statement of personal opinion that may be deemed offensive on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexuality, age or disability.
    4. I will not issue or promote, in association with Year Zerø, any defamatory material. I accept sole responsibility for any liability arising from defamatory content in any of my material.
    5. I will handle all information gathered through my association with Year Zerø with strictest care. I will never make public without permission the private details of any company or individual. I accept sole responsibility for ensuring that I handle all data in accordance with data protection laws. In particular I will never, in association with Year Zerø, make, as statements of my opinion, derogatory comments in public about any individual or company where such comments are likely to harm the interests of another participant in Year Zerø (either in their capacity as human being or as writer).
    6. Year Zerø is not a political organisation, and I will not attribute to it any political views.
    7. Year Zerø is not a religious organisation, and I will not attribute to it any religious views.
    8. If I am in any doubt about whether a course of action is likely to be injurious to another Year Zerø participant I will seek the opinion of the collective as a whole.


    December 1, 2009 at 2:59 pm

  5. We at Jet Pack have a similar understanding, not unlike Dan’s six points above. For sure, we are out to promote each other’s work, pooling our audience into something larger than any one of us might muster on our own.

    If we made any one major mistake, it was turning away potential members. While I don’t recommend letting folks into your collective out of, say, peer pressure or guilt or simple politeness, we at Jet Pack are too few to keep the words flowing steadily. (As you can see.)

    We’re all professional writers, in addition to sharing work through our writer’s gallery, so we don’t have that much free time to write new material that isn’t part of some other project. As a result, we don’t always have material to give away free via the site. If we had more folks, we’d have more activity and more traffic.

    The good news is that new people are still coming around to read us, as they discover us — and our next volley of new material is not so far off.


    December 1, 2009 at 3:32 pm

  6. I, of course, should have used my Jet Pack address to post that last comment, and I did not.


    December 1, 2009 at 3:32 pm

  7. Hey, so far some great ideas here. I like most of what Ordinary Joe said. Common sense stuff. I think quality is really important, especially when it comes to the Internet and epublishing, both of which contribute a lot of unedited work to the world. As a collective you want to stay away from that as much as possible.

    If the quality is there, however you get it there, the co-promotion will happen automatically. You will be confident in your partners because of the quality control. A difficult thing to ensure in a creative undertaking, but still you have to figure out how to do it.

    The question of money. How can you run an Internet enterprise without considering money? Even if it’s just to pay for the hosting and domain name, you have to get money involved. Granted if you can leave money questions out for as long as possible, you’ll do better IMHO. Book View Cafe has just started earning money, and it’s scary. It’s not enough yet for us to get pissy about, but that can change at any time. There’s a lot of potential for problems.

    We do have a fabulous project manager (Sarah Zettel) and she has been able to keep our tempers under control, but there are over 25 of us now and you know how authors are. We’re all treading lightly.

    I like Year Zero’s Articles of Association. It’s been a while since I’ve read Book View’s charter or business plan, or whatever we called it. Legal issues are not my forte so I don’t remember what we have. Thank god we have a lawyer in the membership.

    I find it interesting that this chat is not the most popular one at this free e-day thing. Author collectives may wind up being an important element of Internet publishing. I would have thought more people would be curious about them.

    So here are my questions. What are the Year Zero and Jet Pack’s niches? And how are you promoting your collectives?

    Sue Lange
    Media Relations

    Sue Lange

    December 1, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    • Thank you, Sue. When I say there’s no money involved I don’t mean we aren’t setting out to make money, but we are all self-publishers who work as a collective from the point of view of our identity and common aims. We produce anthologies and do readings together, but our selling items are either under licence (as our anthologies which we could, in theory, each sell separately – likewise the T-shirts) or our individual, self-published works.


      December 2, 2009 at 1:16 am

  8. At Jet Pack, niche is something we struggle with. We’re sort of a genre gallery, but that’s just because of what we’ve put up so far. We’re not trying to be a genre-ONLY gallery. The three of us have our backgrounds in game writing, though, and that’s where some of our audience comes from.

    Promotionally, we’re still pretty young. We get the word out through Twitter and Facebook, and through our individual blogs, and our next serial project will come with a press release and (hopefully) a little more exposure as we ping some other sites. We relied on word-of-mouth in the beginning, but that only takes us so far. Ideally, the place will echo back as we individually make more sales and get more attention out in the world — we’re each submitting fiction to markets and agents, too — but it’s a slow-going process for us. We’re not in a rush.


    December 1, 2009 at 10:15 pm

  9. I’ve been running a small self publishing co op with an author colleague for three years now. We sell our books on the publisher webstore and also distribute through Fictionwise. (My latest release is currently number five on the most highly rated books list! I also had an overall number one bestseller there.) The authors also sell through kindle and make pod versions available, but they do that independently and just link to those points of sale on our publisher webstore. We’re all romance authors and our numbers have varied between seven and five.

    I think the most useful comments I can make are to talk about what we started with and what we have now. We started with an idea and over the three years it’s been honed down to something that’s manageable.

    First thing I’d say is that a co op is never really a true co op. Practicalities mean that there will be people who shoulder more work than others and some who do no admin at all. I started with an idea and knowing that I could run the business side of a publisher. I needed someone who could do the tech side so I asked a popular author who was also a webdesigner if she was interested in going indie. She was so between us we started the comnpany. She hand coded the site while I set up the business end. And for about a year and a half that’s how it worked. She formatted all the author files, ran the website while I took care of the royalties and banking and ISBN numbers and taxes etc. I also gave each book a read through edit as they came in. So far so good? Not really. The authors were getting on fine. Me and my colleague were running a publishing company. I’m a slow writer so I wasn’t producing anything for sale. She’s a very fast writer so she was, but both of us were starting to resent the amount of work involved. The other authors were willing to pitch in, but because Alinar books were for sale we had to maintain the integrity of the business and webstore so too many cooks, not a good idea. A broken link, a bodged sale and our name would be mud. But sales were really taking off and things were going well – apart from the workload.

    So, we had a rethink and decided to trust the authors a little more by giving them each their own personal control panel accounts to the alinar server. They were given the instruction for formatting the books in pdf, html and for Fictionwise. We showed them how to upload covers, blurbs and all the book info. All this involved more work for my colleague who had to code the control panels and make the cover conversion software, but it has taken a huge load from her shoulders. There was a bit of an adjustment period where some authors proved wizards at formatting and others were pretty crap (hangs head in shame). Luckily at this point the co op got slightly into gear and one of the authors offered to make my files in return for the work I did for the website.

    At this point I was still doing all of the business side of things, and I still am. It’s just not something you can delegate. I needed to open a business bank and be the signatory on the cheques. That needed to happen in the UK where the LLP is registered. Again, for stability, myself and my husband are the partners in the Limited Liability Partnership. Taxes need submitting in the UK as well as company returns. The royalties need accounting for and really only one person can be responsible for handling and dishing out the money. When we started earning more than a thousand dollars a quarter, Fictionwise, bless them, decided to start paying us by cheque which means their royalties now take eight to ten weeks to clear. (cheque comes to me, goes to bank, back to the states, they release the funds, back to us, I send it to sterling account, pay uk authors by cheque, rest goes to paypal, converted back to dollars, pay us authors.) Luckily all the alinar direct royalties go through paypal. That’s just an illustration of something I would never delegate since I have to account for every penny on the alinar taxes.

    I also deal with Customer service queries. I suppose I could delegate that, but it’s not a huge task and it does help to present a single face to the public. I also have access through the main alinar control panel and sales receipts to the information to reply.

    One place we have been able to share successfully is on our reader forums. We have two yahoo reader forums and all the alinar authors are also moderators. We had to go to moderation because of spam so we can all now approve posts.

    We’ve also given the authors access to the Fictionwise control panel. My colleague read the riot act to start with and told them not to embarrass us by goofing their uploads. That’s been fine.

    Talking of delegation of tasks, one has to know that the authors are with you long term, and that’s never a given. If an author with an important role in the set up decides to leave, that part falls down. And you can’t have that happening if the public is paying for books. They pay, they want their purchase delivered, no excuses. That’s why my colleague and I keep most of the admin close. She’s let the authors do everything towards the uploads apart from the actual urls of the files on the server. She does that final step to make sure the files are correctly named and where they should be. I’m into the swing of royalties taxes and accounts so I will keep on doing those. My colleague coded the sales into spreadsheets that makes it easy for me to tot up what everyone’s earned that quarter.

    Bit of a ramble above, hope it all makes sense. We call ourselves a self-publishing co op, but in reality my colleague and I run a publishing company and we allow a small selected group of authors to publish their books there for free and earn 100% royalties. The trick has been to choose authors who we know can write, were previously published and are web savvy. That way we all help each other by drawing traffic and trade to the site and having experienced and motivated authors has allowed us to evolve the site so it’s much less admin for the two of us.

    I’ve possibly made us sound like control freaks, lol, and I suppose in a way we are. We care very much about the reputation of the site and about our own personal repuatation. That’s why we’re really careful to make sure it all runs like clockwork and looks professional. We can trust our authors to turn in professionally edited books that aren’t going to embarrass us. And we keep the stable of authors small to allow us to write, too.

    So, collectives are a great idea if you can find like minded people. But beware. If you have a large group and live all over the world you might find yourself discussing everything ad nauseum, but never actually doing anything. A smaller group of people who know each other quite well and have common interests has a much better chance of succeeding. Narrow that down even more and build a group with the skills you need to run a publisher website (thus saving a fortune on web design and technical advice, and business management, taxes, accountants etc.)and the co op will turn a good profit. I even married a lawyer just to get free contracts. Only joking, but I am married to a lawyer, and we did get free contracts and tax accounts.

    It’s true to say that the skills came first and because we had the skills and were also authors, the co op came about.

    Good luck to anyone out there playing with collective ideas. I’m always available if anyone wants to ask any specific questions.

    alexandra marell

    December 1, 2009 at 11:23 pm

  10. I’m very interested in starting or joining a collective. I write speculative or weird fiction, with a tendency toward horror or dark fantasy, a taste of satire and and a bent for making sociopolitical observations of a decidedly radical character.

    I am having a little difficulty connecting with similar writers. China Mieville seems to be busy.


    December 2, 2009 at 12:25 am

  11. Alexandra, Will, thank you SO much for this. I will leave a detailed comment in a few hours once I’ve had some sleep 🙂


    December 2, 2009 at 1:16 am

  12. Will, at BVC, we’re mostly sf authors. That isn’t by design, but in the end I think it’s helped us because we’ve gotten great support from a number of sf sites. I try to get us to incorporate more genres, and we are starting to, but I don’t think it really matters.


    Thanks so much for your generous help. You must be a saint for doing all that work. It is more efficient to do everything yourself, but there’s so much work involved, I can’t imagine doing it. You are obviously doing something right, though, if your income is up in the thousands.

    Sue Lange

    December 2, 2009 at 1:57 pm

  13. hi,really nice jeans,do you know where i can find that.thanks,bill

    Tysons F. Gautreaux

    April 14, 2010 at 8:29 am

  14. I actually enjoyed reading through this article.Many thanks.


    May 17, 2010 at 2:59 am

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