Saturday, July 15, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- News of the Weird

Our continuing series of dispatches from the fringes of the writing world.

An alert reader pointed me to, a website punningly described by its owner, an Australian named Aditya Kesarcodi-Watson, as "A Novel Concept in Advertising." Here's the idea, according to the website's FAQ: "People buy words which I will host on my website. The words written by any given purchaser will be easy to differentiate by color blocks, and can also provide a direct link to that persons [sic] own website if desired. The words will also contribute to an ever growing story, not to mention a one-off fingerprint of color signifying the way this story has evolved."

No, I am not making this up. Mr. Kesarcodi-Watson wants people to pay for the privilege of putting words on his website. Cost: $1 per word, with the aim of creating a million-word story; or $1 per character, with the goal of constructing a million-character story.

No wonder the guy on the Index page looks like he just got whapped upside the head.

It's obvious what Mr. Kesarcodi-Watson gets out of this wacky scheme, or hopes to: easy money. is the website equivalent of a chain letter. (Apparently the idea is borrowed from The Million Dollar Homepage, whose owner claims to have sold a million pixels for $1 apiece.) What word-purchasers get out of it is less apparent. What possible incentive might there be to pay to create a collaborative story, since anyone can do the exact same thing for free?

Mr. Kesarcodi-Watson is glad to 'splain. First, there's the advertising angle, since you can link your word block to your own website (here's how Mr. Kesarcodi-Watson suggests you maximize this opportunity). Second, you get to participate in a historic experiment--the first website ever to sell words! "Who knows," Mr. Kesarcodi-Watson enthuses, "the site may well become an icon of the web, another original idea that grabbed the internet." Last but certainly not least, there may be profit in it. "[T]hings going well and the books getting published, people who have written words in each story will also hold a proportional stake in future royalties. I reckon," he adds, "this is a fairly interesting aspect."

Uh, yeah. Let's say you've got $500 burning a hole in your pocket, and you buy 500 words. That works out to, let's see, .0005% of the million-word total. We're talking fractions of a cent here. You'd have to sell hundreds, if not thousands, of books just to make it up to one penny.

Oh, and even assuming that the end product isn't the equivalent of a million monkeys trying to type Shakespeare (Mr. Kesarcodi-Watson, not entirely rationally, is hopeful that it won't be), good luck trying to interest a publisher in a novel with that word count.

Depressingly, some people appear to have fallen for the scheme. As of this writing, if Mr. Kesarcodi-Watson is to be believed, he has already taken in more than $1,000.

As for the stories...well. Judge for yourself.


Michaelc said...

Any get-rich-quick-schemer knows that you have to prime the pump. Let's say I'm very skeptical that anyone has purchased words or letters.

Hey. I just realized that I can put words on the Internet for free just by typing them here!

WWWWolf said...

* Immediate thoughts:

A million words? Not only a "door-stopper", but something to stop the tanks with when ze Germans come...

* From the art perspective, as coherent reply you can get from me at 2:40 in the morning:

Actually, I'm pretty curious to see the result. I've seen collaboratively made pictures. Some are interesting. The Million Dollar Homepage was interesting for completely different reasons (not aesthetically interesting, that was sure). If you bring the money into this sort of a collaborative effort, the results might be just as... mindboggling.

Congratulations for them to establishing some rules so that this won't become a spam haven though, that would be boring. My guess this will degenerate into rampant witticisms and needs three cups of coffee to make sense of one page. My God, this will be post-post-post-post-post-postmodern.

Just not very original... I hope the content will be.

I imagine the resulting book would be fun to read, if you open the thing from a random page, inject pure caffeine to your veins, and start reading. I can see the reviews: "This book gave me a severe fever, and it was not written by Nietzsche! Though I suspect Nietzsche is nowadays actually a disembodied being who actually ghost-wrote that one bit in Chapter 128 under the pseudonym 'h3rb4l'."

I'm trying not to be mean. I do respect collaborative writing.

* Business perspective:

People *pay* for this? I never really understood why people paid for T1M$HP pixels either... Probably because they thought "hey, someone invented a way to do something crazy over the Internet, let's burn some money!"

The thing is, marketing people aren't dumb and they know very well that you can do stuff that's both crazy and dumb to attract customers only once per, say, five years... unless you're Thus, this may have a tad bit difficulty in T1M$HP's wake.

* Publishing perspective:

I suggest not getting high hopes for finding a publisher for the dead-tree edition, any more than you can find T1M$HP from art galleries... =)

Sorry for being longwinded. Late nights tend to do this to me.

Mad Scientist Matt said...

I could see the fun in rounding up a group of twenty people or so with every member buying a word and then picking something completely random out of the dictionary - or using the "words" that come up with Blogger's word verification. But it would only be funny if there were people reading it to suddenly come upon a weird tangle of inexplicable gibberish. This thing just seems like it's more likely to attract pranksters than writers.

Aditya said...


It’s interesting to find this blog about my website. I thought I’d chime in, in defense of myself.

I guess I’m pretty surprised to see this blog and also be associated with a scam. I think it’s quite libelous and possibly against the regulations of blogger. I am not offering anything that I cannot supply and I am not forcing anyone to participate. It’s just a new idea put on the internet, and here you are implying it along with writing scams. In the world of re-hatched boring ideas, I think this is a fresher idea. I understand it will get its fair share of criticism amongst certain groups, but my idea is in no way a scam and should not be associated with that idea.

Believe what you want, but I am really an honest guy. I have not made up any of the entries so far….if I wanted to “prime the pump” I would have probably done a little better than 1 entry in the first week, and 1 in the second week. It has been suggested by some people that I should do that, but I am honestly waiting for entries by other, real people. No I have not made $1100 though….words/characters were made $0.50 for the first 20 contributions to help get the stories started, so you do the math.

Thanks to wwwwolf for some nicer comments. I know it’s going to happen that I get negative people, but it’s not nice to hear and does actually hurt. All this website is, is the end product of an idea that I thought was possibly interesting enough to work. I am not trying to hurt, scam or offend anybody.

Michaelc said...

In my opinion, your website fits in perfectly with the other material at Writer Beware: someone charging an exorbitant amount to "publish" a writer's words. Admittedly, it's unlikely that anyone with a lick of sense would buy words at your site with the expectation that it's publication in any real sense of the word.

It is a cute idea in some ways, but not as a moneymaking scheme. Why don't you charge an amount that's somewhat proportional to the costs associated with maintaining the website and running the experiment. Like maybe a penny a word.

Victoria Strauss said...

Aditya, I think your idea is misguided and I don't like to think that writers will buy into your get-rich-quick scheme. However, I never said that you were running a scam. The line is thin, but I don't think you've crossed it.

For writers, there really is no difference between a scheme and a fraud, since scams, incompetents, and wacky money-making ventures all waste time, money, and get you no closer to publication.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Aditya, the problem is partly the fact that you charge writers to publish their work thus putting you in the same category as vanity publishing. That is not good company to find yourself in.

Aditya said...


That's great that you have said here that you do not believe I am a scammer. Thanks for the gesture. The problem that I see is that if someone who may be interested in my concept was to do a Google search on my name, your blog is the 4th thing to come up! I have no doubt that after reading this blog they would be turned away. I have only been running my website for 3 weeks, and am still trying to get the message out there and the thing running properly. This blog is definitely harmful for what I am trying to do.
I am not hurting anyone, but this blog is definitely hurting me. I have actually expected to hear back from a few people I spoke to yesterday, but I haven't heard anything.

Aditya said...

In reference to michaelc

"In my opinion, your website fits in perfectly with the other material at Writer Beware: someone charging an exorbitant amount to "publish" a writer's words."

I guess you forgot to consider the fact that the people who CHOOSE to participate also get online advertising for at least 5 years. Given the minimum amount of words/characters needed to participate in the story ($50), thats $10 per year to advertise on a site that might get a lot of interest.

Take it or leave it.....but don't group me in with your scam threads

Dave Kuzminski said...

Aditya, your site doesn't generate enough traffic to justify the cost to anyone for that little exposure. Yours is but one web page in a billion. It takes time and hard work to generate the kind of advertising exposure you think you can offer, but you're forgetting that people can't find you to begin with. In fact, if it wasn't for this particular blog mentioning you, you'd be even less known than you are currently. It took years for this blog to become known and that's only because Ann and Victoria are both well known in the industry for their other page on the SFWA web site. This is merely an extension of that, so it's become important and well known a lot quicker.

Believe me, it takes genuine content and hard work to make a site successful. I know because I operate Preditors & Editors which has been in operation for a decade already.

Michael Capobianco said...

I guess you forgot to consider the fact that the people who CHOOSE to participate also get online advertising for at least 5 years. Given the minimum amount of words/characters needed to participate in the story ($50), thats $10 per year to advertise on a site that might get a lot of interest.

Assuming this is accurate, it still seriously overvalues participation in your scheme. I can do exactly the same thing here for free, and am guaranteed that thousands of people will see my words. I can also direct people to my website for free.

Mad Scientist Matt said...

Sorry, Aditya, but one of the cardinal rules of the Internet is that no matter what you write on it, someone will disagree with you. It's just a fact of life.

ColoradoGuy said...

It's the pet rock of the new millennium.

Aditya said...

OK, let’s get one thing straight. I am offering online advertising. This is something that has been around since the internet started. However, I am doing it in a new, more creative and hopefully interesting way than traditional methods.

I am not asking to publish an authors “highly valued” text and then charging them $1 per word for it. I am asking (not forcing or scamming) if people would like to advertise on my site, whilst also participating in something a little more interesting than usual (your words can be as crap and uninteresting as you want). Nobody has to take part, and obviously authors can publish their words for free via other avenues.

I also realize that people might think that advertising on my site is not worth it cost wise. I accept their views, however, my site is still quite low-profile yet one of the contributors has told me that he has had 75 click-throughs in the first 6 days since his link was on my site (not huge, but it could be quite good at the end of 5 years). Really, people can take that stat however they want, but I think it’s pretty good.

Yes, this site might fail, but on the other hand it might succeed (although this blog is denting any chance I have). It is just an idea I had so I’m seeing if I can make it work. So far the interest has actually been quite good considering I am working on it alone without a publicist. I have cracked 500 IPs placing me on their favorites (30% of my visitors), and over 35,000 hits in 3 weeks. I think this shows that although the stories haven’t started at a roaring pace, there are a lot of people interested in the idea.

It’s a fairly simple concept where I am trying to make an idea that I had work…...people pay for online advertising. Being only 3 weeks into it, I am really upset at this blog as I seriously think that it is hindering my honest attempts of making my idea successful. For example, let’s just say I had a Blog account devoted to “Dishonest, lying, ruthless people”. In that blog I chose to write about yourself in a non-complimentary fashion. If I then did a Google search on you name, this blog would be one of the first things to appear. I wonder how this might affect you? Of course, in the fine-print (the comments section) I noted that I didn’t actually say you were a dishonest, lying, ruthless person…..but that really is besides the point….the damage has been done for most people.

I really hope you can see that you are unfairly damaging my potential to make an honest attempt at this. It’s also an honest site… advertising….I’m sorry if you don’t like the extra “spin” on it trying to make it more interesting than usual, but I hope that somewhere down the line this blog can be removed…….at least until my site has got a little more momentum behind it.

roach said...

You want the entire blog removed, rather than just this entry? Why stop there? Why not demand an apology and threaten legal action? *eye rolls*

Victoria Strauss said...

Aditya, I am not going to remove or change my blog entry. It's my honest opinion of what you're trying to do. If your idea is workable, it will survive my discussion of it. If your idea is not workable, me removing my post won't save it.

emeraldcite said...

I'll make a guess that your stats show you've gotten more hits linking from this page than any web search on the net.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Adityz, you might as well ask for all of your competition to also go into hiatus so your site will have a chance to grow. However, that's not the way it works. In the meantime, you're actually getting free promotion by virtue of being mentioned here. So far, I haven't decided whether to list your site in P&E as a serious writers' site.

A. C. Crispin said...

Has it ever occurred to "Aditya" that all those hits he's reporting getting are from people who are LAUGHING at the silliness of what he's doing?

Let's face it, the whole thing is a hoot. No wonder he's not getting any revenue.

What a silly notion.

-Ann C. Crispin

Mad Scientist Matt said...

I also wish to add that nobody who has difficulty taking criticism and starts crying over how unfair it is that critics exist has any business in publishing a novel.

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight, Aditya. Your complaint is that somebody who thinks your plan is a bad idea says so in public, which might persuade people not to take part in your plan? And you think this is someone's problem other than yours?


Anonymous said...

As id the advertising angle would work. This site only attracts people who want to advertise themselves. You won't get any customers clicking through your links. Especially when there's more words there.

WWWWolf said...

Ugh. Whatever happened to "any publicity is good publicity"? =)

A decade or so ago, WebPagesThatSuck rambled on about how every action in the Web has a reaction. (I guess that has been enshrined in the collection of particularly apt technology quotes, along with Tim Berners-Lee's observations on pornography. Someone ought to write a successor to RFC 1925, especially pertaining to the layers 8-10 of the OSI model.)

(Speaking of which: "Every old idea will be proposed again with a different name and a different presentation, regardless of whether it works." Hmm... =)

Dave Kuzminski said...

In this case, the publicity he's offering isn't simply bad, it's inadequate. He simply doesn't have the kind of clout that Writer Beware or Absolute Write can command when they want to spread the word.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

This is jus a scam to make money. He has said it himself to many people who know him
The guy has caused many problems and told many mistruthes in the area he now claims to be a local of.

Anonymous said...

Hi. Let me start by saying this was an absolutely stupid idea and now we can see it failed miserably. However it is clearly not a scam. The idea is very similar to the idea behind the million dollar homepage. It aimed to make a lot of money from pure advertising. The only difference is this was selling words instead of pixels. The idea of publication was just an incentive although a very weak one. Scam - clearly not. Copycat of the million dollar homepage - yes.