Publishing Models

Dostoyevsky Wannabe and its use of experimental publishing models

A conventional publishing model is not the only means by which a publisher might publish a book. At Dostoyevsky Wannabe we engage in a variety of experimental publishing modes.

Dostoyevsky Wannabe has a commitment to pursuing a range of publishing models.

Sometimes it's hard to imagine that publishing can take more than one form and to realise that it exists as a set of particular practices that change over time. Conventions become naturalised to the point where what might be termed 'conventional' publishing becomes the only type of publishing possible in people's minds (if they think about it at all). At Dostoyevsky Wannabe, our view is that there are a number of disadvantages and barriers created by this type of thinking and for that reason we seek, sometimes by necessity and sometimes by deign, to experiment with different publishing models.

A selection of Dostoyevsky Wannabe books at the Prague Microfestival, 2018.


Fairly simple economies of scale govern conventional publishing, the more money a publisher has the less they pay per unit to produce a title and this means that wealthier publishers, with more initial capital to invest in the first place, stand a better chance of selling their books. This leads to a lack of diversity in publishing on a number of levels and subsequently this can lead to a lack of diversity with regard to the actual books and authors most likely to be published.

For the majority of the 20th century books were produced via print runs of a relatively large and numerous size. This maybe followed by second printings and third printings and more if the books continued or less is they failed to sell, the book being discontinued and falling out of print. In the 21st century, the landscape has changed. Aside from e-books, which can remain indefinitely in print, print books too can now remain indefinitely in print via print on demand processes. With print on demand, a book doesn't come into existence until it is purchased by a reader and this new(ish) technology allows the possibility for individuals who do not have great amounts of capital to become publishers and to devise differing publishing models that can either eschew large and expensive print runs or dually utilise them.

The advent of print on demand publishing has largely been made possible by the internet and, as with many online innovations, this has had a detrimental effect on bricks and mortar shops and stores of all kinds. The print on demand model, depending on which print on demand provider(s) a publisher chooses to work with, means less books printed by way of a print run and this is turn can mean that there are fewer books in a publisher's inventory that need to be sold. Traditionally a larger print run yields a large amount of stock that is required to be sold in order to pay the printer and previously this meant that publishers were heavily reliant on bookshops to take these books, on a sale or return basis, in order to sell them. Online sales and print on demand have altered that balance.

All of this suggests that the publishing landscape has changed and that there are now a range of pathways into publishing, some that lean towards online sales, other towards bookshops, and yet more to both. This is particularly true for the small press at least. The major presses continue to be able to have the best of all worlds.

What follows is a short guide to the different publishing models offered by Dostoyevsky Wannabe and why we choose to engage in them.

Dostoyevsky Wannabe books guesting on the monthly publishers table at the South London Gallery, 2018.

The Classic DW Publishing Model

The classic DW publishing model, the one that we started out with, and the one that produced the majority of our books for the first five years of our existence, produces all of its books via print on demand services alone. This classic model produces books quickly and numerously and its only stated aim is that it wants to produce either books that are good, books that are bad (in a good way) or books that are cool. Classic model books are not edited or proofread by Dostoyevsky Wannabe and instead that job falls to the author and/or whoever they engage to help them with their book. That's not to cast doubt on the quality of many of these books, many are carefully edited, and innovatively written with the only difference being that this is all done from the author's viewpoint with no input from us as the publisher. Don't be deceived by the numerousness and speed of the books produced by the classic model, many have sold in good numbers, others have been lauded in both the more independent literary press and the more established literary press, and at least one has been shortlisted for a national prize.

The quality of print on demand books, in the hands of a careful designer, are often every bit as well-made physically as your standard trade paperback with only a few caveats that are linked to unavailability of access to the printer, to knowledge of the print stock, to an ability to colour manage front-cover designs.

In terms of financial organisation between publisher and writer, this classic Dostoyevsky Wannabe publishing model is divided into two options. In OPTION 1, the author/writer sets up their own print on demand account and uploads their own book and Dostoyevsky Wannabe merely assists in giving the book a home as part of the Dostoyevsky Wannabe roster, at the same time as creating the book cover design and setting the type. For this, Dostoyevsky Wannabe earn nothing and, in fact, do not even have access to the sales figures of such books. OPTION 2 follows the same practice but instead the author/writer foregoes their royalties and donates any royalties that arise from the sales of each book to Dostoyevsky Wannabe in return for their trouble in designing and typesetting the book for free. With Option 2, the book is uploaded to a Dostoyevsky Wannabe account where it is usually sold at a very inexpensive price. The decision of whether the book is published under Option 1 or 2 is always the author's. The reasoning behind this is that we do not have the time to prepare royalty statements and accountancy processes for the volume of books that are sometimes published via this publishing model. So it is one or the other. We don't mind. Plus not all literature is published with financial compensation in mind (which is not to say that economic labour doesn't always enter into the equation when authoring literature or publishing literature, because it does).

A note on print on demand royalties. The royalties earned from print on demand books are derived from the triangulation of the retail price of the book (decided upon by the publisher or, in Option 1, the author) as set against minimum cost per unit set by the print on demand supplier (this will often include basis book printing plus costs related to their own distribution networks that mostly fall in life which the types of wholesale discounts preferred nby bricks and mortar shops). As print on demand books are printed only a few at a time, the cost of each unit is slightly higher and does not benefit from the economy of scale of a larger print run. This means that these books are more expensive per unit to produce and this squeezes the amount of royalty that it is possible to earn per unit. At Dostoyevsky Wannabe, we often price our books at an extremely low price for our own personal reasons, although this is not true of all of our imprints. That is not to suggest that a reasonable royalty could not still be attained by way of this publishing model.

A copy of What Is Really Happening that had recently arrived from the printers. This photograph was taken in Federal coffee bar, Manchester.

The Collaborative Publishing Model

Some Dostoyevsky Wannabe titles are the result of us working in collaboration with an increasing range of organisations, sometimes small to medium size organisations such as Partisan Hotel, Berfrois and Queen Mob's Teahouse and sometimes larger concerns such as the The Simon Lee Gallery, the International Anthony Burgess Foundation and the University of Westminster. Sometimes we're commissioned to work with such organisations and we have a freelance client-designer/publisher relationship, other times we do it merely out of mutual partnership and interest alone. Sometimes it's a bit of both. Each of these projects come with their own set of financial arrangements specific to the book or publication or event in question and these arrangements are not governed by Option 1 or Option 2.

The Tailored Publishing Model

This is a new model that we are only now thinking of experimenting with, possibly in 2020.

The tailored model would look to use a range of differing printing services and sometimes different methods of funding to produce quality fiction at a more regular trade-paperback price (say £9.99 per book). The extra cost would go into paying and choosing an editor or editors and to paying authors from net royalties which would differ from the Option 1 or Option 2 method of our 'Classic Model'(see above). This model would not include Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities and would mostly include single-authored works and maybe some anthologies.

Vik Shirley reading from the first Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities book at Rough Trade Bristol, 28th April 2018. Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities are all produced via the Open Source model.

The Open Source Publishing Model

A fact unknown to many people outside of the tech industry is that many of the everyday technologies of the 21st century are the result of open-source activity. Whilst the most popularly known examples of open-source software come in the form of the availability of open-source alternatives to commercial software such as, for example, Photoshop, in actual fact open source projects are embedded a lot more deeply into everyday life these days than many people are aware of. Put simply, for a long time, but sometimes still true to this day, huge social-media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Wikipedia use, or have used, MySQL, an open-source technology, as their back-end database technology. There is a good chance that you are using open-source software to view this page right now whether this is because you found this page via a tweet that was stored on a MySQL database or because this website is rendered via the Laravel PHP framework and hosted on an Apache server (that is, in turn, running Linux, an open-source operating system that is free at the point of use). At the very least, you may be viewing this page on a browser such as Mozilla Firefox, itself an open-source technology. What does open source have to do with writing, literature or publishing though and what is open source anyway?

To answer the second question before the first, the most remarkable thing about open-source software is that it is free to use and it is developed not by one company but by a huge array of developers who all work for free. There will be people who take more of an active role in the development of these projects but the whole organisation of the project does not become a hierarchy. Open-source is effectively DIY culture in origin. A more radical form of open source, namely the Copyleft licence, once caused a Microsoft chief executive to have such a tantrum that he labelled open-source project Linux as "Communism" and called it "a cancer that attaches itself to everything that it touches". This was in the year 2000 though and nowadays even Microsoft has reason to embrace open-source. So why did he term it a cancer? He was referring to the Copyleft forerunner of Open Source - an alternative socialistic play on 'Copyright' and a more radical form of early open-source, and to a particular clause within Copyleft, the story of which is too long to go into here. The main thing to know is what could be termed a less radical version of the Copyleft philosophy has grown in importance in the last twenty-years under the name open-source.

Why do people choose to work on open-source projects when such projects earn them no money and why do other people join in to contribute to them also in return for no money? The main reason they do it is because they want to do it, open-source projects scratch some kind of itch, and other people join in to contribute for the same reasons. It is really all about scale. There are so many people working on an open-source project that people can afford to do it in their spare time due to the fact that the effort is dispersed across a number of people. In software circles this might give a developer a chance to show publicly how well they develop and write code in order to indirectly gain employment, that would be one benefit. They might also do it to be part of a community or to work on something that they believe in. This is all simplified of course.

So why the name open-source? The name derives from software and refers to the source code that a program is written in. This source code can either be kept secret and the secret sold as proprietory software or it can be given away free and open for all to see and for all to modify and to improve upon (which usually means it can't be sold as software, or at least not so easily).

So how might there be such a thing as open-source literature or what we are terming our open-source publishing model? Aside from the fact that many authors utilise Wordpress, itself an open source project, to showcase their work, they also, often unwittingly, engage in what seems very much like open-source activity. They might do this by foregoing fees to contribute to anthologies or by writing poems and submitting to online literary magazines in return for the exposure but not for the money. They may do this because they wish to showcase their work and because they want to work with and alongside other writers. Most online literary magazines do not make money and do not pay their contributors but they do continue to do what they do and this makes them open-source-like too. They might also engage a range of contributing editors, again editors who, although they are not paid financially, still wish to help with the project so they too are in some ways open-source-like. Sometimes, rightfully, people look at the amount of people working for free in the 21st century, and conclude this to be a bad thing, and often it is but not in every instance. Some work just seems too challenging and doesn't look like it would conform to the Micawber Principle and thus no conventional small-press or large publisher would be either able to afford to take it on, or would see enough profit in it to take it on. That is not to say that this work might not become more palatable and seeming profitable as a result of it coming to light as an open-source project, because it might. Other times, there is just too much work of a similar kind to publish it all, so lots doesn't get published. This is where open-source's DIY-like mentality can come in and save the day. Think indie music in the 1980s released on small-labels to little fanfare and ignored by the music press and by the major record labels of its time but now sometimes lauded in the 21st century. Without an open-source-like DIY independent record label to put this music out into the world, it would never have been heard.

Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities anthologies are an example of how we use an open source-like method in our own practice. All Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities books are arranged via this model.. Whilst the books themselves are not free to buy, they are very close to free inasmuch as they are priced at exactly their cost price (or at the cost price set by the print on demand service that we use to produce them). We forego our design and typesetting fee (at commercial rates this would be around £400-600 per book cover and typesetting at around £1.10-£1.50 per page), the guest-editors who select the work also put in their time for free and so do the writers. The whole thing is produced on a zero-financial budget and the books are sold at exactly a break even price which is dependent on how many pages they have (as this affects the final production cost per unit).

We came up with Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities series to scratch an itch. We wanted to get a snapshot of writing in particular cities at particular times by way of anthologies but these anthologies, by their very limited geographical nature, would probably be a commercial risk too far if published in a conventional manner via a large print run. By utilising an open-source-like model of publishing we, and a vast number of collaborators, have been able to bring this book series into existence.

Future Dostoyevsky Wannabe Publishing Models

Dostoyevsky Wannabe will retain a commitment to experimental publishing models and modes of organisation as this is a key part of what we have been interested in from the beginning. We are willing to use everything from a conventional print run to an open source model to our classic models. Each book in our catalogue is now labelled with the publishing model used for each particular publication.

We are also increasingly interested in pursuing online methods of non-fiction publishing and we will be undertaking this via the Materials section of this website. Although Materials will begin with quite conventional design, we are excited by the possibilities afforded by recent changes to the CSS grid technology in terms of the opportunities that it might open up for online blog and magazine design. We hope to pursue this along with providing interesting writing online.