It's All About The Money

It is likely that many of you will appreciate why I only read a newspaper once a week. As an author, educator and parent, I find there is little time left for such frivolities as engaging with current affairs, aside from the fact that most of the affairs are hardly current by the time they hit the paper press. Still, I enjoy ambling through the Saturday edition of The Guardian - a process which can last the entire week on account of the multitude of supplements, intellectually challenging puzzles and the virtually impossible task of simultaneously reading and keeping hold of the thing which, in spite of its reduced broadsheet dimensions, remains one of the least ergonomic objects ever invented.

Nevertheless, this weekend's finger/thumb PSI endurance trial was well worth it for the cover article in the Work supplement, announcing the start of a six month series that will undoubtedly prove of use to many independent writers. The series will see freelance journalist Andrea Wren sharing her progress as she works under the guidance of Glen Allsopp of ViperChill to build a fully monetised blog and, judging by the article, he is more than qualified for the task: he sold his personal development blog at the end of 2010 for 'a five-figure' sum and at the age of 22 "earns more than £10,000 per month from his websites".

There's a definite knack to making money online, which is not what this article is about: I've been online for a long time (since the 1990s) and I still don't know how to utilise its money-making potential without feeling I've either sold out or I'm ripping people off. In terms of the profitability of Beaten Track Publishing, this is very tricky indeed.

What follows instead, is a commentary on some of the things you will / will not see on Beaten Track Publishing and why!

OTT Advertising
Placing advertisements on a blog or website would on first consideration seem a good way of making money, especially if these are presented in such a way that they can be inadvertently clicked upon by the unsuspecting visitor. A more ethical strategy is to make the advertising is obvious, although whilst I type this I am distracted by seizure-inducing animations in the background, where my browser is currently open on - a perfect demonstration of how NOT to place advertising on your site:

This is the top, non-sponsored result of a Google search for 'how to make money online'. Compare this to Glen Allsopp's ViperChill:

So where are the adverts? If Glen is making £10,000 per month, it's certainly not from gaudy banners and Google Adsense. Andrea Wren's article also mentions Al Carlton's site, which he claims earns £10,000... in a bad month. The articles on this blog deal with various gadgets and are therefore adverts in themselves, but there are also others placed around the pages, as can be seen below.

Now, you may well have noticed some advertising on the b10track blog and the Beaten Track website. To stave off accusations of hypocrisy, I'm not implying that advertising is all bad. What I anticipate you see advertised are products and services relevant to our visitors, which is to say that aside from books (our primary product), authors and people who read books are most likely to require self-publishing services, ereaders and so on.

Affiliation has a great, short article detailing the warning signs that might indicate a bad affiliate programme; these include some obvious pointers, such as very high commission rates, no flexibility in link formats and delayed payments, although these are not necessarily reliable indicators.

Amazon and Google Adsense both operate a delay in payment, which is based on accumulating sufficient revenue for the processing of fees to be viable. In both cases, the companies clearly explain this in their terms and conditions. Furthermore, although they offer a variety of link formats, these are still prescribed and it can be tricky getting these to display ads / products relevant to your site, particularly in relation to Google Adsense.

Sadly, the mention of affiliate programmes here will likely result in advertising links to all sorts of dodgy companies in my own Google ads, although it would serve to illustrate the major pitfall of intelligent advertising, i.e. it's not that intelligent!

However, to clarify, Beaten Track uses affiliation with other sites as a means of generating income from the sale of the books we list. This is not an automated process, but comes from lengthy research for recent and upcoming publications in keeping with our ethos (see below). This provides content for the site and means authors can list their publications for free.

Shameless Self-Marketing
Children of Paranoia by Trevor Shane is released on 8th September. It's his first novel and you can read the opening chapter here: Children of Paranoia Excerpt.

How do I know this? In a move that some have construed as spamming Google+, Trevor has shared links to reviews on at least a daily basis over the past week. Now, this could go one of two ways: there are countless TV programmes I've vowed never to watch because of 'death by trailer' - I've almost been put off watching new episodes of series that I like for the same reason and doubt I'm alone in my reaction to this over-saturation. Conversely, I'm telling you about Children of Paranoia, so the viral effect is in full force here. Self-marketing is vital to the success of all authors, even moreso for those publishing independently.

But what of artistic integrity? I dare to pose this question with the knowledge that Beaten Track exists as a means to support my own writing, but in developing and adding to the website, I'm constantly engaged in a dialogue between Deb and Diablo himself. The socialist in me won't allow my own publications to take pride of place on the site. Nor can I really justify listing bestsellers from large publishing houses and thereby endorse what is essentially legalised theft and embezzlement from authors. Besides, they don't need Beaten Track any more than it needs them.

Without dawdling too long atop my independent publishing soap box, it would seem pertinent here to further dispel the myth of 'vanity publishing', because it continues to smite the work of the independent author. Trevor Shane isn't even publishing independently (Children of Paranoia is published by Dutton Adult, part of the Penguin Group), but I envisage that he would still be going at it 'hammer and tongs' if he was. He evidently believes in his novel. We should all value our own work, which does reek of egotism and self-conceit, but the notion of vanity publishing is a nonsense invented to enslave us all. We might as well call it 'my precious' and be done with it.

Undoubtedly there is some good fan fiction out there, but this is more in line with what we perceive as vanity publishing - writers who usurp the plots and characters of others for their own ends. A few years ago, the majority of electronic, self-published work was of this kind.

Furthermore, we might consider the well-to-do, Reader's Digest subscriber who comes upon the realisation that they too are capable of creating disposable fiction and because they are well-to-do, have the time and the money to send the dreadful stuff out into the public domain. This is less vanity and more 'butterfly cake' publishing, in that they churn out short stories in much the same fashion as they bake for the Women's Institute, knowing there will always be someone who appreciates an extravagantly iced fairy cake.

And so to Beaten Track: to some extent it is built on the same principles as those of the collective that published Champagne. My experiences of working with highblue highlighted how difficult it is to balance vanity, integrity and economics (I recall a number of debates with highblue's founder regarding publishing popular fiction vs selling out), although some of the problems encountered were time-specific. Champagne was published in 2004 - long enough ago for ads on websites to be of the poorly targetted banner exchange variety, when good affiliate schemes were few and far between and well before the advent of inexpensive, low-run publishing, let alone the extensive electronic formats currently available.

For these and other reasons, highblue is no more, but I found an imprint of the homepage on the Way Back Machine:

This ethos is not at odds with making money, but, as has been seen over and again, timing is key to online success. We now have the knowledge and technology to earn a living from independent publishing. Beaten Track Publishing will always be a work in progress, striving for new ways to appropriate revenue; it is hoped that the time is right for doing so without compromise.