Writer Across Genres is a direct product of the Fictionaut Forum debate concerning the state of the publishing industry, changing media for the written word, the marked downturn in monetary compensation for writers, and the survival of the art of writing itself.
The facts are obvious enough to all of us. For instance, electronic media and the technology that supports it have advanced faster than viable marketing forces have been able to develop around them.
The result, as it concerns us, as writers, is a multiplicity, a virtual explosion in the number of blogs and webzines to which writers may submit, but a marketplace that has developed into a vast supply of free content for the consumer, our readership. The result is a growing expectation among writers that they will no longer be paid for the content they supply to this media. This is not a trend that will disappear without influence, but one that can be changed.
With the development of such devices as Kindle, we are seeing a total revolution in the way books, novels, and one day soon, even magazines and newspapers will be presented and sold to the consumer.
In this sudden explosion of technology and the changing concept of value in the content provided to these and to existing media ... simply put, the books, the novels, the stories, the articles, the essays, the poems, all the things that we as writers produce ... who is looking out for the interests of the writers? Who will stand as an advocate for all writers?
Look at the trend in literary online magazines, webzines. Even though they provide emerging writers with a vehicle for exposure, they have helped to develop the universal expectation that writers will not be paid. For whatever reason, the concept of financial compensation has either diminished or disappeared completely from literary print magazines and webzines. There are some exceptions, but they are rare.
In the publishing industry, we have seen a decline in accomodations to the average authors on their lists. It's reached a point that, unless an author has a readily marketable name, the average author is expected to produce a ready-to-print manuscript for which he or she must provide major ancillary marketing efforts, even to the point of taking on the arrangements and cost of a book tour.
There was considerable debate in the Fictionaut Forums about the problems, the cause, and possible remedies that writers could undertake to ensure that their own interests could be addressed.
There were substantive arguments about how, why, even whether writers as artists should be paid for their work and how to go about securing the interests of writers in the marketplace, while simultaneously ensuring that the integrity of writing as an art form.
You can read these debates if you wish, but when Stephan Hastings-King suggested that writers unite to form "...a coherent organization that advocate(s) for the interests of writers across genres" some of us decided that this was a concept around which we could rally.
How will such an organization benefit the art of writing and the the interests of the writing artist? That's something we can all discuss and implement, but some obvious ways are as follows:
1. Leadership. With a collective voice, we, as the producers, the creators of the content for all works of fiction and poetry, can influence and help shape the direction and development of new and existing media in a way that will benefit us.
2. Endowment. As an organization, we can and should collect dues from our membership, ourselves, a small contribution from each of us, from which we can fund research to the benefit of the media and even directly assist online and print magazines in methods and means by which they can develop cash flow. We can and should use that endowment power only for those media who are willing to reciprocate by providing financial compensation ot the writers who provide content.
3. Funding. As a legitimate, bona fide non-profit organization, we can assist writers in finding the funding they need for research. We can act as a conduit for existing funding. And, more importantly, we can actively seek financial assistance from private sources for the express purpose of benefiting the universal interests of all writers across genres.
4. Standards. The larger the membership, the greater its influence. The power of that influence can be applied to the development of standards for value, for compensation, and for the rights of writers as artists. We can assist our membership in the mediation of disputes.
5. Research. As an organization with resources, we can develop and provide information on markets and trends in the publishing industry and assist or partner with organizations that give our membership a valuable service, such as Duotrope. We can research internet advertising revenue and publish that data to internet magazines, actively assist them in finding ways they can acquire the capital they need to compensate their writers for their work.
The possibilities are endless, and these are only the ones I can think of as I sit here alone this morning. Imagine what we can do if we put our minds and resources together for the purpose of self determination as a fellowship of writers united in purpose.
Let's find agreement.
Then ... let's act.
As bleak as the picture seems to be, it's not insurmountable. Consider online news services. Free content in online news sites cannot continue forever, and actions on the part of news organizations such as the New York Times will eventually recover some of the income sources lost through the decline in print subscriptions. This is a trend that writers of fiction and literary webzines would do well to study.
These are only ideas, though, ideas you can accept, reject, or further define. You can offer suggestions of your own. First, you have to join us. If you want to help shape the future of the art of writing, you own interests as a writer, you should join us.
Individually, we are not all that influential, but united? We become a force that cannot be ignored.
I like all five key points you’ve stated here, James. To my mind – both as writer and as editor – they can move us in the right direction. The process may not – and probably should not - be a fast one, but over time it can be developed in a fair and sustaining way.
I think this is a good way to begin.
In a previous thread, I wrote about the profitability of Zynga games, specifically FarmVille, a cooperative and competitive game in which players pay to play yet without hope of winning actual money. Only Zynga wins actual money, a lot of it. A reader back channeled me with interest in my idea that writers consider using games as a model for generating revenue. I tire (now) of gifting as a model, contests with entry fees, subscription fees, dues, grants, margins of one per cent. We need other models. James talks of shrinking markets and margins for creative writers due to the internet. Where is the proof of it? How many creative writers earned full livings at it prior to the internet? In 1987, seventy literary writers in the U.S. made a living at it. It was shrinking then. My source on that is Larry Woiwode in class at Binghamton. When I look at technology, I see opportunity, untapped. There is no money-earning game for writers on the web.
Ann, I'm not talking about shrinking markets. If anything, the market's expanded, chock full of free content ... opportunities for exposure without compensation. What I'm talking about is the fact that writers are not getting paid for that content.
I think most of us are aware of the problems. I think we all understand that the extraordinary opportunities provided by burgeoning technology are not being exploited to our benefit by the various media we use to offer our writing to the readership.
I'd hoped I was clear enough that the guidelines I proposed were only a suggested format. I'd hoped that we were beyond debate on that score. Either way, and I have made this clear, the vision of WAG belongs to the membership, not to me.
What is important here is to build that membership in a spirit of cooperation so we can develop that vision. All I've done here is to suggest how WAG might work and become effective. I'm not running for office, merely supplying an impetus that does not appear to be forthcoming elsewhere.
I'm not sure I understand what you are saying. Are you objecting to the idea of paying dues? I think dues are an essential demonstration of communal support to any organization and an essential tool in advocacy for our interests.
Without the money required to drive it, how would advocacy work? How would we establish a credible voice? How would we begin to acquire the information, the talent, the capacity for endowment that will work for our benefit?
I'm not looking to help establish another forum or social network for writers to use as a soundboard for grievances. I'm suggesting that writers can organize and act as a community for their universal self interest. I'm suggesting that a dues paying membership is pretty much essential to action beyond talk.
If it's the consensus among the people who've joined this group that dues are not an option, then so be it, although I'm at a loss to explain how WAG will succeed and won't try.
Either way, I'd hoped that we could get beyond debates long enough to concentrate on building a membership. Once we've done that, we can convene on how to proceed to our mutual self interest.
James, in the forum threads I contributed comments and ideas replied to back channel by members (some now signed into this group) who were interested in a) generating revenue b) collective bargaining and c) for my own research, improving on success rates in publishing of one per cent. These comments went mostly unaddressed front channel in the forum threads. With eighteen members (listed as of today), if we contribute $50 we'll have $900. I used FarmVille as an example of a game (cooperative and competitive and lucrative for its creators) that writers (my neighbors there) are willing to pay to play. I've spent $930 in 18 months without hope of actual returns. Marcus Speh (I hope he won't mind my using his name here) liked my idea that an inventor (one of us with game and tech savvy) might conceive a revenue-sharing instrument where writers in the group might pay to play. It seems if we put up $50 before there is a way to earn or win $50 through our efforts at writing, we are missing a link. The last time I earned $50 at creative writing, Gordon Lish paid it for a short story in The Quarterly in 1989. If we put up $50 and appoint a treasurer and open a bank account, is the account symbolic and if so, of what? Of our earnings unrelated to writing? Already, I work without financial compensation in a literary vein forty hours a week. Sometimes I pay for airfare and restaurants and hotel to do the work. If we're going to stay with the gift economy model, we might conceive of gift vouchers so that our time can be banked. Lewis Hyde wrote the book on the gift economy called The Gift. I mention that at the other thread as well.
The figure of $50 to my mind is a good starting point.
Since at this stage all doors are open - we can explore multiple ways of generating the organization's financial base that can benefit writers and the writing community.
James: I support the five core mission statements you propose. I have slight reservations about some aspects but can live with them for the sake of harmony.
Here’s a core mission statement from me. It’s a sequential addition to your five, so call it number six:
6. Recognition. The organization (hereinafter referred to as “Association”) will proactively work towards penetrating public awareness of the achievements of the creative writing industry. The Association will especially strive to elevate awareness of two writing genres that have the potential to stimulate pervasive public interest – flash fiction and prose poetry.
The Association will seek out and interact with news media, social media, and other mass media outlets to achieve public recognition objectives.
The Association will establish an awards program to honor writers whose exceptional published literary work in non-profit webzines or print magazines advances artistic standards of the creative writing industry.
The Association will establish an awards program to honor writers whose exceptional published literary work advances mainstream audience appreciation of the creative writing industry.
The Association will establish an awards program to honor writers, editors, publishers, and producers whose exceptional promotion of flash fiction, prose poetry, or other literary genres results in enhanced audience appreciation and reach of the creative writing industry.
I like this, Frank. Good.
hullo everyone. though i signed up as #13 (a number that i love) of WAG, i still have to think about this. the conditions for writing and publishing are changing very rapidly as you're all aware.
i am involved (as a researcher) with a number of large publishers to look at their chances to keep afloat. they talk about 'content', not the content producers, e.g. writers. the market for writers as personalities or as individuals who get paid as individuals will always remain small, i think. the market for content, and the appetite for it, will grow and grow. ways to get to this content - channels - will proliferate. all a writer (or any content producer) has to do to make a living is to stand next to those channels and ask for a small fee for people getting to use/enjoy the content - the more millions come through the channel the smaller the fee can be. the beauty of this is that the potential audiences are very, very large - much larger than anything anyone has ever had to play with. except perhaps stephen king (but only when you look at his entire career). 500+ million facebook users are no joke. you all know the numbers, too, but perhaps you are not (as i am) used to think of them as translating into attention (for writers/writing, including you) which may translate into money (for writers/writing, including yours).
i could go on. the upshot of all this, which i've been shaping and watching for the better part of 20 years - and do forgive me if i'm not as clear as i could be with more sleep and more time taken to write this: this new world of media is very different from the old world. especially, i think, with respect to the aspect of "who pays the creator" that some of you do highlight and that, it seems, lead to the creation of WAG.
don't get me wrong: i'm all for uniting and gathering and collecting funds and forces etc - that's why i joined. but i don't think that an old-style association that works in an old-style way will have a great effect unless (1) there already is a substantial power base (i don't see one - is fictionaut t c boyle going to join us? is margaret atwood? actually, she might...) or (2) there is something that we can provide/come up with that existing players want and can only get from us (we should look into that), or (3) if we can get to the new funds and markets faster than others will (that's what i think we can do most definitely).
to be more specific, and ann probably saw this coming: i think the "game idea" she came up with using her farmville experience is pure gold - and anything in this direction that uses the new media rather than look upon them as necessary evil or just another context.
i think i told her (and you, now) via email about existing research and practice in this direction. the game idea, in a nutshell, is implied in the so-called "re-captchas" that you all know (http://recaptcha.net) - a trivial 'game' that helps digitize books, 'played' (or rather triggered) by millions, literally, every minute of every day. which is why google bought recaptcha. i imagine that some of you will not be comfortable with this kind of approach because it got nothing to do with writing and writers as we know them. then i say to you: calm that ego down. if something like recaptcha does not make the small hairs at the back of your neck stand up with excitement about the possibilities of global collective intelligence...then you've not yet really understood what's happening around us. no offense. few of us are ‘digital natives’ (a term by mark prensky) and i don’t see them discuss here (yet). the frank hintons, tao lins, steve roggenbucks of this world...(some of them like to hang out at <a href="http://kaffeinkatmandu.com">kaffe in katmandu</a>).
the encouraging fact is that by building fictionaut as a semi-open community (started by a few, executed and improved upon by hundreds) we've already taken the first step. we're not just writers, or just writers who know how to login and post stories online. we can - and have - actually created something that consistently attracts creative talent from all over the place: to read, to discuss, to post, to open up...that's the key and we already hold it in our hands. no small feat.
the other thing, apart from following and discussing, which i want to do as i return from a sabbatical to teaching next month is to look for students who're interested in exploring 'games' to help build a financial base for artistic communities as discussed. think of it as a pension-type system not just funded by the market and member fees but by the content & by those who're willing to pay to play (where 'play' will involve some degree of reading ... or something else, as long as it's playful). i teach business informatics hence i sit at the source for [clever] students who are dying for ideas (and playgrounds) such as this one. it'll take me a while to position and shape such a programme/thesis proposal but i'll do it.
when someone asked me today "should i get into social media to win new clients"? i told him about my 5000+ twitter followers, 100,000 hits on my new blog (since july 2010) etc etc which translates into 100-1000 real new visitors/readers of my prose every day of which 45% are new (!) viewers, people (bots are already subtracted) from 54 countries, with most coming from the US (NY and CA, as one might expect...) - and so on, down to the page on my site that is most popular in Ohio. why am i saying all this? because i can, my friends, and that is part of the new world. these numbers, these data, come to me for free (the interpretation of the numbers, a task of its own, does not, of course). publishers (except amazon/kindle) don't have them. (most) agents don't have them. when i look at sites of large writers organisations, i don't get a sense that they have a clue or care. perhaps because they're managed by people who don't have to care? i don't know. but i know that the knowledge of these numbers translates into support, into energy that you can transform into anything you like...
... this is a little bit of a deja vu. i wrote a similar post - while still covering my identity - as finnegan flawnt probably a year ago? longer? and it is encouraging that today the community here is moving on from discussion to goal-setting to action!
a last - technical, but not only - thing: at some point, if this journey continues, WAG needs a (good) blog. don't even talk to me about blogger please. it must be wordpress, ideally self-hosted. trust me on this.
cheers to that!
It’s great to hear from the penguin. What you write, Marcus, makes sense to me. I think a blog is needed. Yes.
As for creating some sort of financial base as a means of benefitting writers and writing communities – I’m seeing many different possibilities here. And that’s good. The potentials can make this a stronger group.
Great to see input. Change is coming fast, as Marcus puts it. And change will ultimately change our role, our standing in the arts. Why? Because, unlike sculpture, painting, acting, directing, fashion, words are infinitely portable and in the age of technology, infinitely mobile.
Why build an organization like WAG? There's no doubt in my mind that, from a platform like Fictionaut, through networking with the artists who make up its membership, that I could more easily propose and initiate a commercial venture in publishing to the mutual benefit of those involved. In fact, that kind of project is something I would much prefer to join, with a more certain personal benefit.
But WAG is about a different goal. Some might call it a higher goal. It's a whole 'nuther smoke,' as my grandfather would call it. By the nature of its vision as defined thus far by only a single sentence, it could become an organization that will serve as a base of action, with a vision that will benefit both the art and the artist.
"Writers across genres" suggests writers within existing definitions. Most of us on Fictionaut create and self-classify our work by those same definitions to some extent. One, a poet, another a novelist, yet another, a flash writer and so on and so on etcetera ... we sub-class these definitions of form by genre, i.e. literary, noir, mystery, science fiction, etc. Some cross genres like eagles and smugglers cross between Texas and Mexico.
I have no doubt that we can be confounded by trends, but we should not be defeated by them, or ruled by them, not when we have the collective creative energy to write those definitions, influence those trends, shape our own destiny.
The more input we have from people like Stephen, Ann, Frank, Sam, and Marcus, the better.
Let's keep talking, yes. But don't forget ... we need to build a membership.
Join us, then tell somebody else.
I've been unaccountably busy over the past days and it took me a couple looks at the group page to figure out that this thread existed (the two are linked)...I think marcus has it right on several counts.
First, we can't be a traditional organization...we have to try other things, think differently.
And the tactical situation---being a bunch of people who sort of know each other across fictionaut with different degrees of publickness but all more or less in the underground---is a simple fact of the matter. But it's fine.
It seems to me that it makes a lot of sense to follow his advice about getting up a blog-space to use as a base of operations and then consider how viral actions might be launched that would have the effect of beginning to generate a profile around the organization. We'd have to be somewhat ready for the possibility that something will actually catch, so we'd need a basic look and positions up at the point we started lobbing things into the nanosphere---but I think that's the way move.
It seems to me that the capacity to undertake other projects on the order of trying to figure out how to approach the immense sums held by the poetry foundation (for example) will follow from raising the profile/getting the political message out.
I like the game idea, though my own preferences have of late been drawn more toward making performance scores based on stories and turning them into micro-films, at least theoretically. I think there are lots of options to be explored. Some will work, some won't.
It could even be---gulp----fun.
i'm really enjoying the spirit of this group and the discussion. of course, trees, especially big, beautiful trees, don't grow overnight. @james- i think we might be surprised though how quickly an honorable and - following @stephen - fun cause will grow. good start, looking forward to more. agree with @sam - many different possibilities and that's partly what makes this so exciting. i for one have been tossing the salad for long enough - i think some of these schemes have ripened. @stephen: the 'game' approach was only by way of example because: those network/collective games have (via the work of luis von ahn) been around for a few years now. i immensely like the first sentence on <a href="http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~biglou/">his site</a>: "I build systems that combine humans and computers to solve large-scale problems that neither can solve alone."
I, too, love many of the ideas being discussed here, and it is time for a total re-think. I am always interested in new models and ways of creating.
One of the concerns that has been repeatedly brought up is the current lack of a paying market. But markets can be created. One way to do that is to find a way to build value in the work, which is a perception.
What can we do to set ourselves apart and create value in the mind of the potential readership?
James says: We need to build membership.
Ann and Sam say: We like a membership fee of $50.
Frank says: $50 is a barrier to building membership.
The entrepreneurial imperative in this case is:
You do not get $1-million by asking for $1-million.
You get $1-million by asking for $1 a million times.
* * *
Kim says: One of the concerns that has been repeatedly brought up is the current lack of a paying market.
Susan Tepper in the forum post Wag on wheels says: But as long as writers and readers continue not to buy books, you are wasting your own precious writing time discussing strategies.
Frank says: The New York and LA Times say Amanda Hocking is the 26-year-old self-publishing phenomenon who sold 450,000 books in January.
* * *
Kim asks: What can we do to set ourselves apart and create value in the mind of the potential readership?
Frank replies: You need to think like an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs know life is made sweeter by risk. Entrepreneurs are innovators. Successful entrepreneurs know how to unlock the value of assets. In this case assets are Talent (the engaging personality of the author) and Product (appealing story content). Think packaging, price-point, target audiences, web-driven traffic, cost-effective distribution, cross-media promotion and marketing and Unique Sales Proposition.
Of course, it would be helpful to own an aligned URL that intuitively attracts consumers and, most especially, an enormous number of unique individual visitors (not hits, which is a useless term of audience measurement.)
* * *
James says: There's no doubt in my mind that, from a platform like Fictionaut, through networking with the artists who make up its membership, that I could more easily propose and initiate a commercial venture in publishing to the mutual benefit of those involved.
Frank says: Risk venture capital for a web startup is available to an entrepreneur with a proven track record – but an entrepreneur who believes in himself and his vision will walk through fire to avoid accepting financing from others because it means less equity and creative control for the innovator.
Fnaut is overrun with academics. Entrepreneurs may learn from, but do not think like, academics. Please note the respectful diplomacy of the prior sentence.
* * *
What I wanted in 2011: Not to enter into debate with anyone who equates writing ability with perceived scholastic and/or social status.
What I needed in 2011: To recharge my juices with my upcoming Outer Banks, North Carolina, sabbatical by the sea (soon!), and then return to my biz projects and corporate and creative writing.
Wishing all a great spring. Yes to Spring!
Frank, I'm jealous of your sabbatical on the Outer Banks - my old stomping ground. I can't go until the end of May.
$50 - $25 - $10 - $5 - doesn't really matter to me. In a the dollar figure is symbolic of a real commitment - and the vested commitment is a great way to accomplish goals. Whatever figure we settle on will move us closer to those goals.
My personal vision here - as I've stated before - is for the establishment of a base that can help writers and the writing community.
Yes to the Carolina Outer Banks, almost heaven. Thanks, Frank for the summation.
I agree that one dilemma common to lit mags, especially those that are driven by the academic community, is that they may not have the motivation or the skills to apply to advocacy through marketing. Some may even consider these things to be inimical to the arts.
No problem. They have their place and a valuable one even if they do not compensate the writers who supply content.
As we begin to come together and express our opinions, we need to remember one thing ... that no single opinion is better or worse than another, that the combined expertise of a group is stronger and more dynamic than that of any one individual.
Our greatest lessons here to date may be that listening is the greater part of learning, that cooperation requires compromise. When we envision collecting writers into a homogenous group from individuals with disparate experience, motivations, disciplines, and interests, the traps are everywhere. The greatest trap would be to engage in endless debate when action is required. Yes, I'm addressing myself as much as anyone, perhaps more so.
The action that's needed now is to grow our numbers so we can begin to move on the many questions ahead of us. By all means continue to debate. It's healthy, energizing, and grabs attention, but let's not forget to send out the news, to let everyone know we need them.
As to the subject of dues.
Whatever amount is a fair consideration ... and even if there are dues to pay, is one out of many issues the membership will decide and implement when the time comes to vote.
And it will come if we're serious.
Frank, I asked what dues symbolize: our incomes gained in ways other than writing? That left James with the impression that I might be against paying dues at all. You got the impression that I am in favor of paying dues of $50. How could such disparate readings arise? For my part, I'll put up dues as soon as I am able to earn the dues by writing itself, however that comes. Frank, you already earn money at writing; you've mentioned that. Recently, I won three copies of books at writing contests -- two of the books I'm reviewing likely without pay. The cost of a copy is about $15, so if dues go as low as $15, I can pay from the proceeds.
Ann, your post on March 21 said, and I quote, “With eighteen members (listed as of today), if we contribute $50 we'll have $900.”
I understood that to mean you were in favor of a membership fee of $50. I am sorry if I misunderstood your reference to “FarmVille.” The impression you were advocating a $50 fee was compounded by Sam’s post on March 21 when he said, and I quote, “The figure of $50 to my mind is a good starting point.”
Thank you, Ann, for clarifying your position.
@James Yes, I am going to heaven!
I’ll be flying south to Raleigh, and then driving east to the sea, to spend weeks amidst the sand dunes and salt spray of Cape Hatteras. I’m taking waders, surf rods, seashell pocket guides, and bird watching binoculars with me. Then I’m again southbound to visit with Mickey at ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’ and, most especially, family members near Orlando.
It seems a lifetime ago I first joined in on this conversation. In fact my first Fnaut forum post was only last week. Feedback on your proposal to form a writers’ union has been enlightening and, at times, a tad overwhelming. Need to get away from it all.
If you don’t hear from me again, btw, it means my chest high waders filled with Atlantic seawater – and I’m at peace at ocean bottom off Cape Point.
Love Cape Point.
If you stop at Pea Island, Frank, the bird sanctuary, be sure to walk across the highway and dune, 100 ft. or so, and you can see the wreck of The Oriental (from 1862) in the surf.
I understood Ann's point and dollar figure to be an example only - and I'm we all want the amount not to be the focus that turns away writers. Also, I'm not the type of person who could play Farmville - but as Marcus described the notion of a writer's game, I could warm up to that.
[I'm just starting this group - and will adjust the note content here as it progresses. - Sam Rasnake]
WAG (Writers Across Genres)
The new home -
Ann Bogle's note from a thread in Forum:
Here's what I'll ask you to do. Send an email to me at AnnBogle1@aol.com if you are interested in forming, in Stephen Hastings-King's words, "a coherent web organization for writers across genres." The name of the group will emerge, as James Lloyd Davis says, but for now we want to keep the idea intact. David Ackley has suggested WAG for Writers Across Genres. Put WAG or cwofwag in the subject line. Include your contact information -- as much as you'd like to include but minimally your first name, last name, middle name or initial if you sign by it, your email address, your city, your affiliation (in our case, Fictionaut), your website if any. You may wish to include the url for your Fictionaut profile. An entry would look like:
I'll keep a directory of these entries as they roll in.
Here's a link to the thread in Forum:
Here's a link to the original discussion thread in Forum:
[If you're interested, please contact Ann.]