Why Collectives Need A Focus

Dan Holloway is a writer and thinker on e-fiction, and founder of two grassroots ebook initiatives: Free E-Day, and Year Zero Writers. Here he talks about how a manifesto is important for even a loose collective of online fiction writers.

The Internet provides a great opportunity for writers to meet up, and start working together. And the collective format offers some great economies of scale to writers ”“ especially when it comes to marketing, where each person’s efforts benefit everyone (if you focus, as we think of it at Year Zero Writers, on replicable not duplicable activity). But it’s easy to think of collectives as a short cut. Aside from the whole question of how you get large numbers of independent-minded people who’ve never met to pull together, you need to make sure you have a niche.

One of the main points of having a collective is to create a single identity for you all. Rather, to allow you all to be who you are, but to let readers know that if they like one of your books, they will probably like the others as well. Your books need to appeal to the same market. And readers need to know that.

That’s easy when you’re writing non-fiction. If your books are “Orchid-growing in Queensland”, “Orchid Houses of new Zealand”, “1001 Orchids”, readers will soon get the hang of what you’re about.

With fiction it’s harder. You effectively have to create an imprint ”“ something like Mills and Boon or Black Lace.

For the writers of Year Zero this was a real problem. The point about imprints like this is they come with strict rules of style, content, and format. And the thing that had driven us together in the forums of Authonomy and The Book Shed was our frustration at the editorial strictures the publishing industry put on writers. We wanted a place where we could be free of all that.

It was also clear, looking at our books, that there WAS a common thread. Whatever we wrote, we wrote it for an audience that didn’t want to be told what to think, that wasn’t frightened of a challenge, that wanted to look at the world in new ways. If we have a demographic it’s what we’d call “urban indie”.

So we had this anti-establishment readership, and we had a bunch of books we refused to edit to “be commercial” (a very different thing from refusing to edit them ”“ some of our books have been edited to death: the point is we did it the way WE wanted to). And we had an angry, group mentality, and an almost political approach to the publishing industry.

So the answer was obvious. We needed a manifesto. THAT is our “imprint”, our rallying call, and the thing that draws our readers in. And it’s a very simple one ”“ restoring the direct conversation between reader and writer. “Uncut prose” unsullied by arbiters of taste. It’s about a reader-writer relationship that’s mature enough to do without a chaperone.

So for us the manifesto has tied everything together. It’s given us focus; it differentiates our work from the mainstream and lets readers know what to expect; it makes a virtue of what some would see as a defect; and it’s the building block of a very simple strategy.

  1. Attract readers to us with our manifesto
  2. Make our work free in e-format so people can get to know us once we have their attention ”“ from Brief Objects of Beauty and Despair, the sampler featuring original prose from 13 of us to the full versions of our novels
  3. Deliver the best books we possibly can to keep readers once they’re interested

So my advice if you’re looking at starting a collective and you can’t think what your niche is. Ask yourself what it is you all have in common ”“ no matter how obscure or angry or negative that might seem to be. And make it your unifying strength, your rallying call.

Dan Holloway is co-founder of Year Zero Writers, a regular blogger on independent culture, and organiser of the Free-e-day festival. The first three novels form Year Zero Writers are: Benny Platonov by Oli Johns, Glimpses of a Floating World by Larry Harrison, and Songs from the Other Side of the Wall by Dan Holloway.

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Category: Guest Bloggers · Publishing