Enabler Publications

Books to feed the Mind and Spirit

Money for some words and the rest for free!

Copyright and more

Alan is very involved with issues around authors’ copyright. This affects all authors. That’s those who write poetry, fiction, non-fiction, freelance journos right through to authors working on plays, films and scripts for TV. The following article was put together by Alan with his friend CJ Stone.

Although ‘copyright’ is there to protect intellectual property rights, which has to be a good thing for those of us struggling to make a bob or two to pay for the cider and beer tokens, the brave new digital world of the internet, blogs, social networking and print-on-demand publications are a reality. And it’s a reality that means that the ‘obvious’ no longer always makes sense in a black and white sort of way. If you are interested in these issues, read on…

We’ve included links back to some of the organisations that Alan works with and to CJ Stone’s website.

Money for some words and the rest for free!

Alan Dearling and CJ Stone

Alan Dearling has been an independent, elected director of Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS has over 54,000 members: www.alcs.co.uk) since the beginning of 2007, and from September 2008 is also on the board of the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA: www.cla.co.uk). As can be seen elsewhere on this website, Alan has written about 40 books and reports that have been conventionally published by Longman, Routledge, RHP and others.

Alan's mission with the ALCS is to protect and champion authors' rights – any authors. He is also a publisher and member of the Publishers Licensing Agency (PLS: www.pls.org.uk) and works with the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS: www.dacs.org.uk). He remains passionate about writers and the written word.

We know only too well that many writers struggle to earn a living by their writing and some do get ripped-off by unscrupulous publishers. Others have had their work 'stolen' and re-packaged on sites across the ever-expanding internet (it even happened recently to Jamie Oliver with Naked Chef 2). However, the real worlds of many authors are far more complex. As writers and communicators many of us want to make our writings available to as many readers as possible. Sure, we'd love to get paid for as much of our creative output as possible, but increasingly the 'freedom of expression' offered by the web is a temptation too far. We are seduced and put at least some of our works up on blog sites, websites and social meeting sites – for free. Is this unethical? Are we really some sort of 'threat' to other creative writers?

In this brief double-headed article, CJ Stone and Alan Dearling explain some of their personal experiences of the ways in which the internet presents an 'opportunity' for both new, aspiring writers and old hands. It sure is a 'threat' to income streams, but it is also a creative outlet for many, and offers immediacy, impact and a chance to reach ever-widening audiences.

The ‘Real Lives’ of authors remain the most complex and intricate web of stories imaginable. We probably couldn’t invent them.

CJ Stone writes:

Last year I was living in Romania. It was approaching Halloween so it occurred to me that a story about Vlad the Impaler might be of interest. I pitched the idea to an editor, which started off: “Although Bram Stoker’s castle was based upon a castle in Scotland….” I needn’t have written any more. Despite the fact that it was perfectly clear I was writing from Romania, the editor came back asking me to write a story about Bram Stoker’s Scottish castle. I wrote back to explain that, no, I was writing from Romania, and didn’t she want to hear a Romanian story? But the damage was done. I wrote several more letters and didn’t get a reply.

CJ StoneI had another good story, about the plight of bears in Romania. I had seen a bear in the wild. I had interviewed the Romanian Minister of the Environment. I had researched the story thoroughly. It was, I thought, an important story about the future of European wildlife. I pitched that story, one by one, to every editor of every magazine and every newspaper in the UK. Not one bite. Not one response. Nothing. I must have written a hundred letters. In the end I did get a taker, and a severely truncated version, about bear-stalking holidays in Transylvania, eventually appeared in Wizz It, the Wizz Air in-flight magazine. It was the only story I sold last year.

Currently I am sitting on four 1,000 word columns about the domestic life of an aging couple. It’s called The Home Front, and, although I say it myself, it is a warm, wise and very funny look at the process of growing old. It is currently sitting on the Daily Telegraph’s editorial desk not being read. Previously it was not read by editorial staff at various other newspapers. I can’t remember which ones now as there have been so many. I haven’t got the heart to write any more of them.

In the end you give up.

I have given up.

The problem is in order to write you have to go through editors. So your first writing task is a letter to an editor, a pitch. Maybe I’m not very good at this. You need to know the editor, and I’ve never been in the trade, so I have no idea who these people are. Anyway, this is not what I became a writer to write. I became a writer to write real stories about real people that would really move an audience, not to write pitches for editors.

I wrote a 2,500 word piece about a soldier who died in the First World War and whose grave was lost. Subsequently his family – by following a string of clues – were able to find the grave again. Once more it has been sent out to a string of editors. One or two of them even took the trouble to answer using the SAE I’d provided, although I doubt from the responses that any of them had actually read the story.

What would a letter to an editor say about this story? Pretty much what I’ve said in the above. And yet the finished version is as poignant, as deep, as moving as any story I’ve ever written. It absolutely deserves to be read.

So I‘ve put it up on the web. Here is the link if you want to look it up: http://hubpages.com/hub/Were-Here-Because-Were-Here

It is on a site called HubPages where aspiring writers can publish their own material and, possibly, earn a small amount of money at the same time, through Google AdSense. If anyone clicks on any of the adverts on the page, the author gets 60% of the revenue. Up till now I’ve made $4.65. So, you can see, I’m not there for the money. I’m there for the readership. So far the Great War story has netted me 369 page views, while my complete hubs have garnered a total of 2,927 hits. That’s not that many I admit. But it’s way better than when the stories were sitting on my hard drive waiting for an editor to answer my queries.

One day I imagined what 2,927 people would look like. It would fill a substantial theatre. In human physical terms that’s not a bad audience. It would satisfy most rock bands. It satisfies me.

I know that many writers would say that this is very unprofessional. It’s true. Most of the writers on HubPages are amateurs.

But then, you have to ask, what is the difference between a professional and an amateur? A professional writes for money, of course. Or, to put it another way, a professional writes what an editor considers the proprietor wants to see in his newspaper, in order to satisfy the advertisers.

Whereas an amateur writes for love.

I know which side of the fence that I want to remain.

And meanwhile the people of Whitstable will continue to get their letters delivered by the literary postman.

CJ Stone has written four books: Fierce Dancing (Faber & Faber 1996), Last of the Hippies (Faber & Faber 1999), Housing Benefit Hill (AK Press 2001) and The Trials of Arthur (with Arthur Pendragon, Element Books 2003). Columns have included: Housing Benefit Hill and CJ Stone's Britain in the Guardian Weekend, On The Edge in the Big Issue, On Another Planet in the Whitstable Times and Written In Stone in Prediction Magazine. He is currently working on two new columns, and his latest book, the "biography" of a well-known supernatural being. He lives in Whitstable in Kent and, when not at his desk, is a part-time postman, which he describes as "like a four-hour workout every morning".

More of CJ Stone’s HubPages work can be found at:
http://hubpages.com/profile/CJStone

Alan Dearling writes:

Like many self-employed writers, I didn’t wake up one morning with a vision, yelling enthusiastically at anyone in earshot: “I’m now a writer!” Rather, like many others before and after, I started out by writing for school and university magazines and newspapers, and submitted articles, poems, photos – anything really – to numerous publications. In my own case, that meant being published in the Evening Standard and the underground, International Times by the age of 20. By the age of 30, I had two books in print – both about creative work with young people. In fact, the New Youth Games Book, first published in 1979, remains in print, having moved publisher and has now sold in excess of 50,000 copies.

alan on coastSo, does that mean that I’m a successful writer? The answer is a blurry, “yes and no”. After 40 publications that I’ve authored or co-authored/edited, I get paid a fixed fee for some writing; a royalty, usually ten per cent based on net sales received for some, and I provide publishing management services for some of the major professional publishers such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. All too often it can be an uncomfortable financial roller-coaster ride. However, I do live in a rugged coastal area on the east coast of the Scottish Borders, with plenty of fresh sea area, which in itself is a joy. It’s no nine-to-five existence.

I’ve also published a variety of books under my own imprint, Enabler Publications. These are my more ‘leftfield’ titles, particularly books about the lives of eco-dwellers around the world, music festivals (festies), and the so-called new (age) travellers and their encounters with the police and authorities, especially in relation to the festivals and Stonehenge. My view is that I cross-subsidise these books from my other earnings. I almost always work with a variety of contributors. Some are ‘professional’ writers, photographers and illustrators, others are people who have something they want to say. Hence, I guess, my choice of the name ‘enabler’ as the publishing imprint. The books are something of a mission – we called them: “…books to feed the mind and spirit.” None of us have ever made any money out of these writings.

For example, in preparing to compile Alternative Australia, I contacted over a hundred people and organisations in Australia – all by email. At the time, I’d never even been to Oz. But through the internet dialogues, I was able to start collecting in information and designed an itinerary that took me to intentional communities, communes, poetry and music festivals, universities, sacred sites, protest camps and a lot of hard floors for my sleeping bag. It was a great way to bring people from different parts of that large continent together in a publication. They never met each other, but I did. I met environmental protestors trying to stop uranium mining in the Aboriginal heartlands and whaling in the seas, hippies living in caves, still strumming their guitars, while their grandchildren organised raves, known as ‘doofs’ in the rainforest behind Nimbin. This had been the site of Australia’s original Woodstock-equivalent, the Aquarius festival. Then there were over a dozen academics from universities around Australia, and a collection of poets who loathed each other. One even hurled a pint of beer, glass and all, at fellow poet at a book launch party, claiming that the poet had turned himself into a stand-up comic! Heresy, indeed! But at the end of the day, we produced a book that everyone said they were proud to be in. I took the financial risk and though it didn’t break even – I got ripped off by my Australian distributor – it had felt good to do and received very favourable reviews.

And so my writing and publishing continues. The books I manage, research and write earn me a liveable ‘crust’. Many are published for free on the web at the same time as they are available to buy in print versions, for instance: www.jrf.org.uk. Following the lead of open-government (for example: www.opsi.gov.uk/acts and www.parliament.uk/publications/index.cfm), more and more professional and academic publications are either appearing in smaller and smaller print runs with a free web version (for example the prestigious, annual UK Housing Review, which I manage for the Chartered Institute of Housing goes out free on the website: www.ukhousingreview.org.uk or an increasing number of publications are available only on the web.

The shape-shifting forms of publishing are here to stay. But I think they do offer authors as many opportunities as they do challenges. Young, unpublished authors can get their writings out to a world-wide audience following the lead of musicians on MySpace and other internet networking sites. Creating a blog or website is no longer the preserve of web professionals. Many twelve year olds, or younger, have their personal web spaces. For established writers, we can choose what to put up on the web. We can publicise our own books, or we can publish whole books, perhaps using creative commons licences. As my colleague CJ has said in his piece, he’s back in control of his own words. It is about freedom of expression.

I’m in a halfway house world compared with CJ. I receive money for some of my words and choose to make some available for free. But I see that as being my freedom to choose. It’s a galaxy of brave new worlds out there.

For examples of friends and colleagues whose writings and podcasts are up on the web for free, try visiting:

Tom Vague on Portobello, Ladbroke Grove, punk and more:
www.historytalk.org/nottinghilltimeline.htm

www.rbkc.gov.uk/events/intransit/podcast-popwalks.asp

Alan Lodge (Tash) History of UK’s new Travellers, festivals, environmental protest and more:
http://tash.gn.apc.org/

Nigel Warburton, podcasting, virtual philosopher:
www.nigelwarburton.typepad.com/