Thursday, July 24, 2014

Must. Stop. The Stupid.

Joe sez: So I'm trying to get some writing done, and I swore to myself I'd stay off the Internet. I even went so far as to ask my enabling comrade Barry Eisler not to tell me if Douglas Preston or the Authors Guild do anything particularly stupid.

Barry sez: I prefer to think of myself as your sponsor. “Barry, I’m passing a bar serving straight-up legacy stupid and I want to go in for a fisk... talk me down!”

Joe sez: Barry had the fortitude to keep his word. But ten other writers got in touch, wondering when I was going to say something about the recent stupid things said by Douglas Preston and the Authors Guild. So I admitted defeat and asked Barry to join me, thus becoming a reverse-enabler. Yes, I'm weak.

Barry sez: Yeah, we definitely need new sponsors.

Joe sez: The latest news is that Amazon offered to pay Hachette authors their regular royalty rate, reinstate preorder buttons, stock Hachette titles, and then give everything left over to a literacy charity.

You can guess Preston's reply:

Preston echoed his response to Amazon's first proposal, saying that this offer from Grandinetti "has the same effect of crippling Hachette. If [Hachette] wasn't making money for Lagardère, they'd shut it down."

Barry sez: What’s particularly beautiful here is that just a couple weeks ago, Richard Russo declaimed, “It may be true that some of our publishers are owned by corporations that, like Amazon, sell a lot more than books, but those larger corporations seem to understand that books are special, indeed integral to the culture in a way that garden tools and diapers and flat-screen TVs are not.” And now it turns out that if Hachette -- the Kindle sales of which represent something like one percent of the parent company’s profits -- doesn’t make Lagardère enough money, Lagardère will shut them down! The cold-bloodedness of it all! The refusal to accept that Books Are Different and Special!

I swear, these guys just say whatever seems convenient at the moment. And then they forget it’s been said!

Joe sez: Maybe Russo should require that Lagardère take a special Pledge Of Understanding That Books Are Special Snowflakes, like the one he insists on for Amazon?

Barry sez: Over to you, Richard. For the sake of consistency, if nothing else! How did you put it? “First say it, then act like you believe it.” Don’t let Hachette’s parent company destroy bookselling! Make them take the pledge!

Joe sez: I'm guessing Preston and Russo didn't think to confer before they made public statements.

Which makes sense. Because neither Preston nor Russo seem to think at all before making public statements.

More on Preston later in this blog post. A day earlier, the Authors Guild, proving that they drink from the trough of stupid as Authors United, wrote what amounts to an Onion satire on how unbiased they are toward self-published indies.

The AG post in self-interested bold fail italics. Since satire is sometimes hard to understand, I'll translate it in regular, level-headed font.

The Authors Guild is committed to an inclusive, big-tent approach to its mission as the published writer’s advocate.

Translation: "Published writer's advocate" equals "legacy published writer's advocate." And we'll now prove that's what we mean.

Joe sez: Also, I love the "big-tent" adjective, because this immediately made me think of circus clowns. "And now, in the center ring, ten silly performers in facepaint hit each other with pies to make six-year olds laugh!"*

*My apologies to all clowns reading this. That was an unfair analogy, and you did nothing to deserve it. You need to take back the word "clown".

The recent clash between Amazon and Hachette Book Group has called attention to the contrasting viewpoints of traditionally-published and self-published authors.

Translation: The Kindle has been around since 2007, but this is the first we've heard of this self-publishing thingy, so we feel the need to address it. Because, we've been told, maybe a few authors are trying it out.

During this dispute the Guild has spoken out against Amazon’s tactics—which needlessly imperil the livelihoods of authors who are not involved in the negotiations—while also challenging the major publishing houses to revisit the parsimonious stance they’ve taken on authors’ e-book royalties.

Translation: We haven't said a word against Hachette because we're afraid they won't publish us anymore. So instead we'll suck up to them by condemning Amazon.

Also, we're addressing what Konrath and others have said about us acting like we're legacy publishing lapdogs (or toadies or lackies or sycophants) by reminding everyone that we've stated we don't like those lockstep 25% ebook royalties.

Not that we said anything when publishers unilaterally made this the royalty standard, years ago. And not that we actually have ever done anything other than say we don't like it. We certainly haven't dedicated entire blog posts to that matter. Or ginned up media attention in order to force publishers to raise royalties. And our prominent members haven't ever started a petition, or taken out a full page NYT ad, on this topic. But keep an eye on the straw man and maybe you'll forget that.

Joe sez: As for "needlessly imperil", well, maybe if Hachette accepted one of Amazon's offers to compensate authors during the negotiations, these authors wouldn't be imperiled. It doesn't need to be needless. There is a proposed solution.

Barry sez: I have to say, I’ve never liked that 25% figure. It’s 25% of net, which in an agency environment means 17.5% of list. The legacy industry deliberately uses the net figure because it sounds bigger. It’s like a guy measuring his penis in centimeters.

Joe sez: It's a smart scheme. I've often thought of selling a penis ruler that says "inches" but each inch actually only measures ¾ of an inch. I bet I'd sell a million. (Which would really only be 750,000.)

The Guild recognizes all authors’ rights to make a living from their books and to pursue the most suitable audience for them.

Translation: We're on your side! Really! So you should be on our side!

Joe sez: I like the word "recognizes". Like at the UN, where the chairperson recognizes the delegate from Tuvalu, and then no one pays a lick of attention because Tuvalu has a population of what, 350 people? But, hey, we included them!

It is a sign of the strength and diversity of our membership that two of our Council Members, Douglas Preston and CJ Lyons, have taken different public stands in defense of serious authors.

Translation: See! We have a member that has a dissenting opinion! We're so diverse!

Joe sez: Also, I have a friend that is gay! I swear I'm not a homophobe! That proves it!

I do applaud the Authors Guild for allowing self-published authors to join. But can someone point to a public stance the AG has taken that benefits self-pubbed authors? Or maybe a firm stance against legacy publishers? You know, something that shows they care about anything other than the self-interest of their most successful members?

Can anyone show me that? I want to know if it exists. Hell, I want to see someone, anyone, ably defend the AG and their position on this.

Douglas Preston has composed an open letter to Amazon calling on the corporation to resolve the dispute without further hurting Hachette authors. “Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon,” Preston writes, “we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihoods of the authors on whom it has built its business.”

Translation: So now that we mentioned that we're diverse, let's devote the rest of this post to our anti-Amazon stance.

That includes linking to Preston's letter, and not linking to the one CJ Lyons signed, or mentioning her thoughts on the issue even though we named her.

Joe sez: So Preston, and by extension the Authors Guild, aren't taking sides, but are encouraging Amazon to stop harming authors.

Hmm. If they weren't taking sides, wouldn't they be encouraging Hachette to, you know, stop avoiding negotiations with Amazon?

If they weren't taking sides, wouldn't they want Hachette to, you know, accept Amazon's offer to help authors? Amazon's made three offers so far (give Authors 50% of a fund matched by Hachette, give authors 100% of royalties, give authors full royalties and the rest to charity) and Preston is quick to reply that it would be like taking blood money.

That's not taking sides?

Perhaps Preston and I have different definitions of "taking sides".

In response to Preston’s letter to Amazon, self-published authors circulated a petition to Hachette asking it to “work on a resolution that keeps e-book prices reasonable and pays authors a fair wage.” Authors Guild Council Member CJ Lyons was a prominent signatory. In a cover letter addressed to their readers, the self-published writers praised Amazon for keeping prices low and the Amazon platforms for “giving all writers a chance to reach an audience.”

Translation: See! We're giving equal time to both sides of the issue! Even though we didn't link to that petition Lyons signed.

So much fail in such a brief amount of time. "We recognize the delegate of Tuvalu" and then turn off the delegate's microphone...

After these letters had been circulated, Authors Guild co-Vice President Richard Russo published an open letter taking the long view, noting that the outcome of the present dispute is dwarfed by the need for a healthy publishing landscape that can support a diverse and inclusive community of authors. “The primary mission of the Authors Guild has always been the defense of the writing life,” he began. “What we care about is a healthy [literary] ecosystem where all writers, both traditionally and independently published, can thrive.”

Translation: We published Russo's crock of nonsense , which reeked of bias. But we haven't published anything that actually takes a hard, uncompromising look at this situation.

You know, like Laura Resnick did in the AG comments (just before the AG closed them):

Laura: I have been making my full-time living as a traditionally published writer for over 25 years. I now also self-publish, but I have no plans to abandon traditional publishing.

And I consider the Authors Guild such a travesty that I would genuinely prefer to burn my money rather than lend my support the AG by making due payments. (Needless to say, I am not an AG member.)

The AG actively advocated in favor of the collusive price-fixing scheme, even though, in addition to being a violation of federal law (and it's jaw-dropping how the seriousness of that consistently eludes the AG), it removed money from the pockets of writers =and= readers.

As has been pointed out by other commenters, the AG has not taken a stand against egregious "industry standard" e-royalty rates, egregious "industry standard" reversion clauses wherein a writer's intellectual property is controlled by the publisher until well after her death now, egregious industry-wide non-compete clauses designed to prevent freelance writers from working and earning, and inadequate industry-wide accounting, reporting, and payment systems.

Apparently the AG has no time or energy for focusing on ANY issues, such as those above, which are matters of advocacy for authors' rights, earnings, and professional well-being, because it's so busy campaigning against one online bookstore that is the most prolific channel of profits for traditional publishers -and- which has been a key player in the e-volution that has ensured many more writers (does the AG remember what a writer is?) now earn income from their work than ever before.

The AG's -only- real-world functions by now appear to be taking sides against that bookseller and in favor of the egregious practices of the massive publishing corporations whose contracts and fiscal terms exploit writers while enriching corporate CEOs and stockholders.

Let me reiterate: I am a full-time, self-supporting traditionally-published writer and have been for over 25 years--and there is no sense in which the AG represents my interests or pursues advocacy from which a working writer like me benefits.

Joe sez: Laura wasn't alone in her opinion. Of the 25 comments on the AG blog, 24 were decidedly anti-Guild. There may have been more, but some, like Barry Eisler's, were never approved by the moderator:

Barry: It’s pretty amazing. Here’s the comment I tried to leave yesterday. When I tried again today, a minute later the comments were closed:

For anyone inclined to consider thoughts a bit less hidebound than those of the "Authors Guild," here are a few good posts:



What was the problem? Did I use obscene language?  Insult anyone?  Engage in unacceptably trollish behavior?

Or did I simply link to a few posts that offer opposing viewpoints?

It's funny, I write about the AG, and former president Scott Turow, and AG pitchman Richard Russo, and Douglas Preston's self-serving anti-Amazon efforts fairly regularly.  And I always link to, and extensively quote from, anything I'm discussing.  Not just because I want my readers to be able to make up their own minds.  Not just because I have some integrity.  But also because I want people to see exactly what the AG and its legacy-publishing shills are saying.  Their positions are so illogical, so self-contradictory, and so self-serving that I believe the more light I can shine on them, the better people will understand what the AG and its people are really about.

But when an organization tries to conceal what its critics are saying, it's fair to surmise that something else is driving its behavior.  And I don't know what that thing could be other than fear of contrary opinions the organization senses are more compelling than the organization's propaganda.
Because really, what can you say about an organization so brittle, so insular, so fearful... that it won't even permit a few contrary links in a comment section?  What can you say about an organization calling itself an "Authors Guild"... that censors the voices of authors whose opinions it doesn't like?

I guess it's kind of fitting. The same organization dedicated to a business model that prevents most writers from reaching readers is determined to prevent its members from being infected by views contravening or even questioning AG orthodoxy.

Whatever your own position on the merits and shortcomings of the Authors Guild, if you think the organization would serve writers better by permitting contrary viewpoints in the comments to its blog, please share this post. With the hashtag #TheAuthorsGuildCensorsAuthors .

The mandarins of the Authors Guild want to manage the information we're exposed to.  Whether they get away with it is up to us.

Joe sez: And as we previously mentioned, the comments have now been closed on the AG post, so don't bother trying to add to the discussion.

My comments never close, however. So feel free to post them here.

One way or another the Amazon-Hachette dispute will be resolved, but the issue of fair compensation for authors will remain a central concern to the Guild. “We’re committed to supporting working writers,” says Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson. “Writers should be able to make a living at what they do – which is to provide an essential contribution to society. However the publishing world changes, writers will still be crucial to it. No matter how the written word is distributed, only writers can write. They deserve respect and support.”

Translation: We're committed to supporting working writers, except those who make money self-pubbing on Amazon, because Amazon is an evil monopoly fueled by the screams of babies. So we'll continue to be Hachette's bitch, publicly deride Amazon, and not give our self-published members a voice.

Joe sez: "working writers"? Do some not work? Or maybe some aren't privy to what Russo calls "the writing life".

And writers "should be able to make a living"? Really? When does the world owe anyone a living? Does Robinson need this rah-rah pandering because she isn't making any salient points?

Oh, I guess she does. We "provide an essential contribution to society". You know, like farmers and doctors. Because we're "crucial".

This logic fallacy, by the way, is called an appeal to emotion.

"Only writers can write."

This logical fallacy, by the way, is called stupid.

"deserve respect and support"

Except, you know, from the Authors Guild, unless you're one of the 1%.

Which brings us to Preston, again. This is via PW.

Since Douglas Preston began circulating a letter to other marquee and midlist authors late last month in an effort to remove writers from the Amazon-Hachette dispute, he has captured nearly 1,000 author-signatures. Now Preston tells PW he has gotten a second offer from Amazon's v-p of Kindle Content, Russ Grandinetti, along with a request from the executive to quiet the chorus of authors speaking out against the e-tailer.

Joe sez: Oh… I see now. Preston's letter was meant to remove authors from the Amazon-Hachette dispute. That's why he keeps speaking out against Amazon whenever Amazon tries to remove authors from the Amazon-Hachette dispute.

Barry sez: Yes, it really was exceptionally kind of PW to describe Preston’s purpose as wanting “to remove writers from the dispute.” Amazon has made three separate attempts to do just that. Preston and Hachette have dismissed every one of them out of hand. They have offered zero proposals of their own. Under the circumstances, someone who cared about actual behavior might wonder whether Preston is focused on something other than removing writers from a dispute. But not PW...

In the latest phone conversation, which took place Monday after The Bookseller broke the news that the authors who signed Preston's letter are forming a group called Authors United, Grandinetti made a new offer to Preston.

Joe sez: Allow me to be the first to nominate The Bookseller for the Pulitzer. All the news that's fit to break. I wonder how they're able to get scoops like that?

In Amazon's earlier proposal, which was a nonstarter, the e-tailer said it would give authors the option to receive 100% of the revenue from sales of their e-books, a sum that would include what both Amazon and Hachette normally earn from each sale. At the same time, Amazon would continue to work toward an end to its stalled terms negotiation with Hachette.

Barry sez: Oh, it “was” a nonstarter? In some detached, objectively quantifiable way? Or did Preston and Hachette simply dismiss it as a nonstarter for entirely subjective reasons, while offering not a single proposed solution of their own?

Go on, PW, you’re doing great...

Joe sez: Have we seen Hachette making any efforts to work toward an end? To help authors? Has Hachette denied the claim that they've been stalling?

Barry sez: Actually, they did: I saw a paywalled link on Publisher’s Lunch to an anonymous Hachette official who would only deny it off the record. Which is the same as saying it’s true.

BTW, this was sufficiently lame journalistic behavior on PL’s part to make a paragraph I wrote in a separate post bear repeating:

(By the way, shame on Publisher’s Lunch for offering pointless, pernicious, promiscuous anonymity to the unnamed “Hachette executive” quoted in that article.  Amazon’s executives are all on the record, and Publisher's Lunch offers anonymity to Hachette executives…. why, exactly?  Are they whistleblowers?  Do they fear retaliation from Amazon?  This kind of anonymity is unworthy of anyone who takes journalism seriously.)

Joe sez: Shouldn't Preston, and the AG, and Authors United (aka Some Authors, a Genre Writing Organization, a Trust, and a Sentient Conference United) be openly asking Hachette about whether Hachette has been dragging its feet and what it’s doing to break the impasse and protect its authors?

Barry sez: File that one under “Rhetorical Questions.”

This time around, Grandinetti suggested a what-if scenario in which Amazon would return to delivering Hachette authors their standard royalties on e-books, and return to stocking of all the publisher's titles. Amazon and Hachette, meanwhile, would continue to negotiate, turning all proceeds each company normally earns from the sale of e-book titles over to an agreed-upon literacy charity. Like the first offer, this one would motivate both companies to negotiate, something Grandinetti accused Hachette of stalling on. "We tried to talk to them for months," he reportedly told Preston.

Joe sez: And Preston's response, like any level-headed adult, must have been: "Well, that seems reasonable and generous and it negates my earlier worry that I'd be profiting at the expense of my publisher. I should contact Hachette and ask them why they aren't trying harder to negotiate, and perhaps try to convince them to take this offer."

Right?

Wrong.

Preston echoed his response to Amazon's first proposal, saying that this offer from Grandinetti "has the same effect of crippling Hachette. If [Hachette] wasn't making money for Lagardère, they'd shut it down."

Amazon, of course, feels that authors are not seeing Hachette in the right light, as a multi-national corporation no different, on many levels, than the e-tailer.

When PW contacted Amazon about the conversation, a spokesperson for the company said: "You have to look at the parent company--Lagardère Group--rather than just the Hachette division. Kindle books are only 1% of Lagardère Group's sales. They can afford it, and should stop using their authors as human shields."

Joe sez: It's not about who is the bigger corporation. It's about Amazon wanting to keep ebook prices down, and Hachette protecting their paper oligopoly. Of the two corporations, Amazon's interests side with the interests of most authors. You know, except for those uber-rich NYT bestsellers.

Preston, however, remains unswayed by this new proposal, and by Grandinetti telling him that the authors are having the opposite of their intended effect. "Every time [the authors] make a statement, it makes Hachette less willing to compromise," Grandinetti is reported to have said.

Joe sez: It's worth noting that the title of this article is Amazon Makes Plea To Authors to Quiet Down. But the subject line for those PW subscribers who got this in the email was Amazon Tries to Silence Authors United.

Yes, that's exactly what Amazon is doing. Trying to silence Authors United using the nefarious tactic of trying to address their concerns. Those Amazon monsters!

So now PW, as well as the AG, are writing for the Onion. Who could have guessed PW had such a tongue in cheek sense of humor?

Because it is obvious to anyone with at least two firing neurons that Amazon is trying to get Hachette to negotiate while removing authors from the firing line. They tried giving 50% to an author fund if Hachette matched it, tried giving 100% or royalties to authors, and are now offering to give the money to charity.

Honestly, Mr. Preston, if Amazon offered to usher in an age of world peace, would that also be a "non- starter"?

Barry sez: See also, Amazon Cancer Cure A Stunt to Separate Patients From Healthcare Providers...

Joe sez: If Some Authors, a Genre Writing Organization, a Trust, and a Sentient Conference United wanted these negotiations to end, they'd shut up and stop trying to embolden Hachette.

But they don't want these negotiations to end. That's a smokescreen.

What they want is Amazon to capitulate. Even though Preston has acknowledged that he doesn’t even really know what the negotiations are about. Thus the status quo continues, uninterrupted.

Instead, Preston is moving forward with plans to publish the initial letter. In a day or so, Preston will stop adding names to the letter so that he can finalize a copy for a full-page New York Times ad that could run as early as this week or next. “I have never seen authors come together like this,” Preston said, pointing out that writers aren’t known as "joiners" or team players.

Joe sez: You've never seen authors come together like this? How about the thousands who signed the opposing petition?

Barry sez: Well, technically our petition isn’t really “like this.” Because it has something like seven times the number of signatures Preston could garner.

Among the bestselling and prize-winning signers of the letter, 13 offered to donate to the cause. Those willing to be named include Lee Child, Stephen King, John Grisham, David Baldacci, James Patterson, and Stacy Schiff. The group easily generated, Preston said, more than enough money to pay for the ad.

Joe sez: I should hope so. I know I wouldn't align myself with the morally corrupt unless they paid me really well.

Barry sez: James Patterson makes almost 100 million dollars a year. I would think he managed to generate enough to help buy an ad. Anyway, I feel reassured. For a minute there, I was worried that Authors United was going to try to steal an ad. I’m glad to know they’re paying for it with their own money.

“We do have other plans,” Preston added, noting that Authors United is "being realistic" about the fact that the struggle between Amazon and Hachette is going to be a lengthy one. "I really feel like Amazon has a long-term strategy,” he said.

Joe sez: You feel Amazon has a long-term strategy? Thank you, Amazing Kreskin. No wonder you're the spearhead of this movement, with sharp observations such as that.

Barry sez: You know, now that Preston brings it up, I’m beginning to think a Long-Term Strategy might not be a bad thing to have. I wonder if Hachette could get one?

Joe sez: Maybe they could become Content Collaborators and Tackle A Huge Variety of Issues?

Preston believes that the e-tailer’s attempt to divide Hachette authors from their publisher won’t work. “First of all, I’ve been with Hachette for 25 years," he said. "I have a six-book contract with Hachette. The thing about Amazon, they think it’s all about money. It’s not [all] about money,”

Joe sez: No, it's not all about money. It's about blind loyalty to an abusive publisher who has harmed most of its authors but made you and a few others very rich.

So it's about money AND stupidity.

Note to Authors United: For the love of all that is good in the world, get another poster boy.

Really, I'm done with even trying to pretend to be polite. We. Must. Stop. The Stupid. When the machine is so broken that the media is stupid enough to repeat stupid quotes from a stupid movement founded on a platform of stupidity, it makes me want to weep.

Hachette wants to control their ebook prices. Rich authors want to stay rich. A retailer with a philosophy of enlightened self-interest wants to keep prices low, and is treating authors better than any company in history. That's the entirety of this situation. Anyone making more of it is either supremely self-interested and knows they're ladeling out BS, or an idiot. And when groups like Authors United are apparently reveling in themselves and the media attention they're receiving for being so utterly wrong, it makes me angry.

Writers are still being exploited, and some of them still buy into the old "how do I get a legacy deal?" nonsense. The only way to combat that is to show it is nonsense, over and over again, in the strongest terms possible.

For another group of writers, though, Hachette, not Amazon, is the bad guy. A letter/petition to Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch posted three weeks ago on Change.org, has gotten over seven times the number of signatures as the Authors United letter. Among the 7,300 signers of the Change.org petition are Hugh Howey, a leading spokesperson for indie authors.

Joe sez: And PW then immediately contacted Hugh to get a quote. Or me, since I helped write that petition. And then they spent some time explaining our point of view.

Er, no. Of course not. That would be the opposite of stupid, and we can't have any common sense entering this debate.

Why is Hugh a "leading spokesperson for indie authors" and not a "marquee" author as they describe Preston as? Hugh has sold millions of books. Hugh's not marquee?

I'd describe Preston as "a leading spokesperson for self-interested collective narcissism" and Hugh as "a selfless and tireless populist who wants all authors treated fairly and profits nothing from his activism.” But then, I don't sell my blog articles to the legacy publishing industry.

Again, the AG closed comments to this post, but two of the anonymous ones were:

Thanks for censoring my other comment. I feel like giving up, but I'll try again.

I'm an author published by a Hachette imprint, and my sales are down at least 30% because of this protracted negotiation.

I'm not financially successful enough to wave away the repeated offers of fair recompense for the financial damage I've suffered. I have no idea why Hachette, the Author's Guild, and some of Hachette's most successful and renowned authors have all decided to turn them down on my behalf. I don't dare put my name to any complaint, however, because I don't want to jeopardize my relationships with my agent and my publishers. This is precisely why we need a functional Author's Guild.

It's all well and good to grandstand and make bold gestures when you're rich and successful, but I'm not. I'm a struggling writer who feels hurt and let down by the organizations and people who take my money in dues and are supposed to be helping me.

Why doesn't the Author's Guild speak for authors like me? :(

and:

Not that it will make you feel better but you're not the only one in this position.

I'm extremely disappointed in those supporting Preston's letter. My contract is with Hachette, not Amazon so why spend the time, money and PR to bash Amazon? If it's true that Hachette is not showing up at the negotiating table, they're the ones the AG should be talking to but it's clear which side of the dispute that the AG falls on. I won't be paying dues to the AG again and I won't be looking at legacy publishing again either.

So why don't the Authors Guild and Authors United seem to care about this aspect of the dispute?

Barry sez: Well, they do. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t censor and close the comments.

“The Authors Guild. We Care About What You’re Saying. Just Enough to Censor It.”

Joe sez: I guess they do care in that sense. Like publishers “nurture.”

But maybe the moderator was just bad. Maybe you were simply overlooked.

Barry sez: I tried twice. And this isn’t the first time it’s happened. Plus, look at some of the other comments. Maybe I’ve just been blacklisted? Dunno. Whatever’s going on, they’re calling themselves the “Authors Guild.” They claim they represent authors, but won’t allow them a voice? I’d call that censorship, per the dictionary.

Joe sez: So it's censorship. And harmful to their own purported cause.

Barry sez: Right: To be clear, I’m not saying they don’t have the right. It’s their blog. But “can” and “should” aren’t the same thing. And when the “Authors Guild” suppresses the voices of authors on its own blog, I’m certainly going to call them out for it so authors know how fearful and brittle the organization is and what it’s really about.

Joe sez: So getting back to the question I posed earlier, why are there all these public pronouncements about Amazon being an evil monopoly, with rich authors reflexively defending Hachette?

Barry sez: Okay, let’s summarize. Here’s what we know.

1.  Legacy publishers are enjoying record profits. And those profits are “coming entirely off the backs of authors” because they’re being driven by digital sales, in which publishers keep even more per unit and share with authors even less.

2.  Even “Authors Guild” pitchman Richard Russo has grudgingly admitted that, you know, um, maybe 17.5% might be a tad low for authors, and that “this needs to change” (though apparently, it will have to change all by itself, not because of anything Russo et al might do about it).

3.  “Authors United” progenitor Douglas Preston has boldly stated thatWe have many loyal and committed readers. They listen when we speak. That represents power; perhaps even enough power to face down one of the world's largest corporations.” Let’s leave aside Preston’s possible conflation of people enjoying what he writes and caring about what he says: regardless, he clearly believes Authors United has the power to face down enormous corporations.

So… the Authors Guild and Authors United (so many organizations with “Authors” in the title! I’m concerned the Ministry of Love and Ministry of Truth will be jealous) are going to use that power to demand better terms from their publishers on behalf of all authors, right?

Apparently not. Nothing more than the odd mealy-mouthed and pro forma acknowledgment of legacy publishing’s ongoing royalty landgrab in digital (and on legacy publishing’s various other abusive terms -- the length-of-copyright terms; the twice-yearly payments; the prohibitions on authors publishing other works -- not a word). How can that be?

To understand why the mandarins of the Authors Guild and Authors United don’t give a damn about the crappy terms legacy publishing doles out in lockstep to the majority of authors, you have to understand one simple thing. Which is that:

A tiny percentage of authors gets a significantly higher defacto digital royalty rate than everyone else.

Ace legacy-publishing shill Scott Turow himself, in a rare moment of clarity and candor, acknowledged as much:


Best-selling authors have the market power to negotiate a higher implicit e-book royalty in our advances, even if our publishers won’t admit it.

(By the way, to see how just about everything else Turow said in the linked article is cringe-worthy nonsense, you have to read this terrific TechDirt takedown.)

What Turow means is that the vast majority of authors receive an advance that their publisher wants and expect to earn out. But a select few receive an advance so large it’s understood it will never earn out. If you never earn out, it doesn’t matter what your nominal royalty rate might have been; the multi-million-dollar payout you receive upfront becomes your full payment for the book.

And now you know why the “Authors Guild” and “Authors United” are utterly uninterested in taking on the Big Five over the cartel’s astonishly low lockstep 17.5% digital royalty rate. For the people who boost these organizations, that low rate doesn’t apply. They get a special, under-the-table rate; the low rate applies to the rest of us. And those vintage 17th-century twice-yearly payments (by contrast, Amazon pays its authors every month)? They don’t care about those, either, because the one-percenters aren’t paid in royalties -- they receive a monster cash bolus upfront. And the forever license terms, the non-competes? If someone were paying you millions upfront for a book, you might not care about those, either.

Now look. I make a good living from my writing and I don’t begrudge anyone who’s making even more. Good for them. What does irritate me, though, is when these perfumed princes posture as advocates of the rank and file. That’s nothing more than self-serving, propagandistic bullshit. They say the system needs to be reformed, they say they have the power to reform it… and what do they do? They cavalierly dismiss Amazon’s offer to create a pool to compensate Hachette authors who suffer losses because of the ongoing Amazon/Hachette dispute. They dismiss a follow-up Amazon offer to give Hachette authors 100% of revenues until the dispute is resolved. They dismiss yet another Amazon offer to take those revenues and give them to the literacy charity of Authors United’s choice. They ask nothing of Hachette, ever, nor of any other legacy publisher. They never even attempt to address the fact that Hachette has been dragging its feet in the negotiations since the beginning of the year.

All this power, and it doesn’t even occur to them to say to Hachette, “You want us to back you up in your fight with Amazon? We want a press release from you promising to change the following policies for all authors by X date. No press release? No support.” That’s the kind of behavior you’d expect to see from an “Authors Guild” even remotely worthy of the name.

But you don’t see that. Instead, a bunch of plutocrat authors are going to drop a hundred grand -- about the equivalent of anyone else buying a cup of coffee at 7-Eleven -- to take out a New York Times ad castigating Amazon. That’s how they’re using their “power” on behalf of all authors.

It’s as though these people don’t recognize something fundamental: they sell through Amazon, but they sell to the Big Five. It’s the latter where they could have real influence -- if they wanted to exercise it. But it’s so much easier to pretend to be doing something on behalf of all authors… by bashing their publishers’ customer rather than standing up to their own customers.

Or, if these authors really do think Amazon is so bad, they could publicly call on their publishers to remove their titles from Amazon. It wouldn’t hurt Amazon directly, but a small demonstration of the courage of their authorial convictions would enable people to take them a little more seriously.

But why should we expect anything other than what they’re doing? The legacy system has served these people well; it would be betting against human nature to expect them to want to change it, let alone to actually try.

When James Patterson and Douglas Preston and Richard Russo and Scott Turow tell you they’re trying to protect your interests, they’re conning you. Whether they’re also conning themselves, I don’t know. Don’t judge them by their rhetoric; judge them by their behavior. And by their behavior you can see they have no interest at all in improving publishing for everyone. Only in preserving it for themselves.

71 comments:

Laura Resnick said...

Joe wrote: "What does irritate me, though, is when these perfumed princes posture as advocates of the rank and file. That’s nothing more than self-serving, propagandistic bullshit."


Yes, exactly.

I have no problem with someone who explains their vocal loyalty to a big publishing corporation and its profit margins by saying, "This company (or this business model ) has been very good to me, it helped me become very wealthy and high profile as a writer, and I'm gonna dance with the one that brung me."

Fair enough. I don't condemn self-interest or loyalty.

What I find deeply offensive is that the way these people self-righteously CLAIM they're acting and speaking in the best interests of millions of readers and thousands of writers whose experiences and perspective and needs are drastically different from their own.

I'm a traditionally published writer, and I actually like my current publisher and am happy there, and -I- find these mega-selling corporate mouthpieces incredibly offensive and mendacious in their pretense of doing what's best for -me-, for BOOKS, for literature, for writers, and for readers.

Anonymous said...

A few things.
TL;DR version:
Everything Amazon does (in Entertainment, and in this case books), it does to promote the digital product.
Everything legacy publishers do, they do to promote ink on paper. Period.
Plainly spoken, lowering ebook prices gets you more readers and in effect lessens the need and impact of paper copies and thus lowers the profitable hardcover sales. Amazon wants more readers, legacy publishers want more ink sold on paper. Lowering ebook prices is a slow drain of the influence of legacy publishing. Legacy publishers with the best ebook policy will survive longer.

At the moment, a large genre writers convention is going on in San Antonio. You may not participate in reading the genre, but it happens to be the largest genre market around. Romance. The ebook business has shaken the romance genre to the core. The romance genre isn't the canary in the coal mine. It's the damn coal.
There are more writers stuck in midlist there than any other genre out there.
There are writers who are clinging to their niche in the midlist, afraid to market themselves, and at the same time aware their contracts stipulate they'll never get their old rights back.
There are writers who have had a good run at the midlist, and even made the lower rung of the serious lists, like the NYTimes with some legacy imprints, but offered less in this new down market.
I talked with one that recently turned down an offer from a Big 5 press for her romance (and she has a nice sized following) to publish it herself. It's not the first time she published something herself, but the offer from this publisher was significant, and she ran the numbers. The legacy offer wasn't enough.

One speaker today at the romance convention announced she made $3million last year, after making $100K the previous two years. She was the first of two speakers in that seminar who have done well recently, and not via the legacy route. The seminar was about taxes and the business of going alone.

Of course, the parties tonight and even tomorrow night are all over the city where the romance writing conference is, and it's always a perk to get invited to a legacy publishing soiree. The editors there are coached in keeping their good authors in house. They whisper sweet nothings in their ears, convincing them not to go.
Authors need ego strokes, and it's easy for them to fall under that spell.

You may not read romance. No matter. But you damn well better respect the market, and you god damn better respect the talent. Romance led the way for the ebook popularity, and while watching the influence of the legacy publishers crumble in the world of romance may be a bit like watching paint dry, the effects are quite large indeed.



Laura Resnick said...

I said over on TPV that I keep thinking that maybe reason that megastar authors support higher ebook prices is that when your annual income is in the 8-figure range, $15 is such a small sum, it’s not even pocket change. But, n reality, it's what many Americans get paid for a couple of hours of work. Or, to put it another way, for many people, $15 it’s 4%-5% of their weekly income.

For Patterson, who reputedly grosses $94 million a year, my weal maths skills calculate that a similar hit, in terms of budget, would be for him to spend about $70,000 on an ebook. I have read estimates of what Preston or Turrow et all make, but their sales status suggests that 4%-5% of their weekly income would also be in the 5-figure range.

So I suspect they don't understand the sort of financial hit that they're assuming readers should be willing to pay for one of the ebooks. I was just reading an article today about one of the signatories to Preston's letter; she charters a private jet when she travels. Does she understand the hit most of us take when gas prices hover near $4?


But maybe Hachette and these massively wealthy authors lobbying for it believe people for whom $15 for ab ebook is too expensive aren't readers? Or aren’t THEIR readers? Or aren’t REAL readers, readers who matter?

Cherie Marks said...

1000 authors signed, huh? Authors United, huh?

Sounds like they could really make progress if they turned that drive away from the distributor of their books and in the direction of the ones setting the terms that are really hurting writers.

But then, that 1% might increase to a higher percentage of successful writers and the 1% club wouldn't be as exclusive or profitable.

It really is too bad they've finally united, but like in some tongue-in-cheek Monty Python-type scene, they're marching in the wrong direction, following bumbling (or even worse, purposely mis-leading) leaders.

Jamie Ford said...

Sorry, I can't get through this, or Preston's stuff either. It's like listening to the sound of teeth grinding from both parties.

What I'm wondering about is your reaction to the elephant standing in the corner - Amazon Unlimited.

Would love your opinion, Barry's too, especially since I heard you guys were approached by Amazon to join, but are being treated as "publishers" instead of "authors" so you don't have to be exclusive in Amazon Select like the rest of the indie world.

Thoughts?

Alan Tucker said...

Wait. The Emperor's not wearing any clothes? Preposterous! You silly Indie Authors and your stories! Next thing you know, you'll be saying we don't need an Emperor at all!

Joe Konrath said...

What I'm wondering about is your reaction to the elephant standing in the corner - Amazon Unlimited.

When I have a few weeks of data showing how much I've made or lost, I'll have an opinion.

I try not to opine on things I haven't tried yet. When the data comes in, I'll talk.

I've been all in with Amazon Select for over a year, so I'm not being treated in any special way for this launch.

Jamie Ford said...

Fair enough. Thanks Joe. Do you know if Amazon will release total numbers for KU each month, either to authors or media? Or just individual numbers to each author?

I can't imagine this working over the long term if they don't let their authors know the overall numbers. Without that, no one will know what equivalent royalty percentage that download is. They'll have no way of knowing if their percentage of that $2 million is good or bad.

Anonymous said...

Take heart. More and more traditionally published midlist authors I speak with are waking up to the reality that self-publishing is the only way they can make money, take back their self-respect, and hopefully take back their rights. In addition to being so poorly paid, they are tired of being abused. I am one.

My first nine books were with one of the big 5 publishers, or whatever number they are this week. My former agent was thoroughly fisked in this blog.

Until a few years ago, I thought traditional publishing was the way to go. Why? Distribution. My books were prominently displayed and available pretty much everywhere even though they were just paperbacks. Then Borders died. Barnes and Noble looks like it's headed in the same direction. Now, I'm lucky if a store carries one of my titles.

All but my most recent book have earned out the advance and the latest is on track to do the same. But that didn't earn me any respect or recognition from my publisher.In fact, it's hard to believe how badly I was treated. Ping ponged from editor to editor, I had five. The first was great, and each one after, successively worse. They didn't buy my first book so they didn't care about my series or me. My publisher's lackeys had no concept of professionalism, courtesy, or simple basic timetables. They paid no attention to their own deadlines but felt free to demand that I be squeezed so they could look like they toed the line. They didn't care about quality. They ignored every reasonable request, they ignored the contract, and they basically demanded what they demanded. They expect writers to spend their advances on travel and conferences and marketing.

Indentured servants have better contracts than writers do. They at least get their lives back after seven years.

Well, I'm through and I'm taking my life back. Next month, I'm publishing my 10th book independently. First as an e-book and then as a trade paperback. I can't wait.

Thanks for being here. Thanks for reporting the truth.

antares said...

@Jamie Ford

"What I'm wondering about is your reaction to the elephant standing in the corner - Amazon Unlimited."

Re: Kindle Unlimited: Nick Stephenson graphed his results so far: http://noorosha.com/kindleunlimited/

Anonymous said...

The AG obviously have no idea how big publishers work. In a previous post on where they stand on ebook royalties they say 25% of net "incentivizes publishers to favor e-books, from which they profit at a higher rate"... So they don't even realize the big publishers want to protect print and raise ebook prices to discourage ebook sales. They can't get more out of touch than that.

Angry_Games said...

Amazing how all of these "author guilds" or clubs or whatever the hell they call themselves don't actually do anything for authors.

You know, like demand publishers explain exactly why they believe authors should give up the rights to their work for lifetime + 70 years. Or why there are terrible revision clauses, non-compete clauses, and why ebook royalties are absolutely atrocious when ebooks cost nothing to copy and distribute.

So, from now on, any time I see an "authors guild" not doing things for authors, I'm just going to call them "Liars Guild."

Or maybe "Worthless Entity"? How about "Gang of Self-Serving Scammers"?

As long as Joe, Barry, Hugh, and others keep pounding out the message, eventually the people who need to hear it the most will finally hear it: traditionally published authors.

They're the only ones who can force change within the publishing industry. None of us can. If traditionally published authors stop signing these lethal (careericide) contracts, eventually the publishers will have to cave.

But that's like trying to get a bunch of sheep to do anything without a shepherd.

Nirmala said...

Just for a little breath of fresh air in all of this, here is a decent article about self-publishing on NPR this morning:
http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/07/25/334484331/unknown-authors-make-a-living-self-publishing

Alan Spade said...

"They have offered zero proposals of their own." And that's what should retain the attention of the people who are neutral to this Amazon/Hachette dispute: Hachette has offered zero counter-proposal in favor of its authors, and that's a fact.

Nirmala said...

More one-sided coverage on Salon. It goes on for 15 paragraphs presenting the views of Preston's and the like. It relates how Preston is surprised by the "overwhelming hundreds" who have signed his letter.

Then it adds one sentence at the end about the Change.org petition without mentioning that there are 'overwhelming thousands' who have signed that letter. Such an obvious fail at balanced reporting.

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/24/amazon_to_authors_pipe_down_about_the_amazon_hachette_battle/

Paolo Amoroso said...

A full-page ad in the NYT is so 1.0, so legacy. Joe, have you considered posting to YouTube a viral video in which you wear a revolutionary hat and hold a Kindle?

Anonymous said...

The Verge (a very popular tech blog) just posted a story about Preston's gang (http://www.theverge.com/2014/7/25/5937247/nearly-900-authors-sign-letter-against-amazon-in-hachette-dispute).

I encourage everyone to go there and post some balancing comments since the author seems unaware of our bigger petition.

Nirmala (free spiritual ebooks) said...

I realize that this will probably be like preaching to the choir on this blog, but I just posted the following on the NPR article (it helps to remember sopmetimes the even bigger issues at play):

Beyond the economics and changes in the fortunes of some authors, there is a much bigger issue in all of this. Self-publishing, the internet, and all digital media is ushering in a fundamental change in how information is disseminated. By bypassing the gate-keepers of traditional and usually corporate-owned media, the information in all of these self-published books is reaching readers. In the past, the publishers controlled what you read, just like the media controlled the news. Now just like on the internet, anyone can get their ideas out in front of potential readers.

Of course this has both good and bad consequences in myriad ways. But on the whole, in an era of ever-increasing concentration of the ownership of mainstream media (and also increasing concentration of ownership of publishing - it used to be the big 6 publishers and now it is the big 5, and for years they have been gobbling up smaller publishers through acquisitions), the internet and self-publishing is a wonderful counter-balance that gives one hope for a continued free flow of information. The information age is by its very nature also an age of revolution in the means of information delivery on every level.

One simple and touching example of this is that now a niche author can get their book out even if it will never make a lot of money. Let's say you write about vampire and werewolf romance....oh wait....that is not a niche anymore :) OK, let's say you write about planets run by gerbils, and maybe there are a couple of hundred people out there in the whole world who like the notion (Gerbil owners unite!), then you can still reach those people thanks to self-publishing.

And the same thing is true with non-fiction: even if your topic is obscure or your opinions are not anywhere near the mainstream, they are still able to be voiced and shared with others. And if you have important information or viewpoints to share that would be suppressed by the status quo, those ideas still get out there easily and quickly. That was not true at all when I was growing up.

Even from a purely self-centered economic perspective, this is an exciting prospect. I remember how thrilled my wife and I were when we first started self-publishing to see that a few people were actually reading our books each month. Then it was a few hundred and now a few thousand. But the biggest thrill was actually when we saw those first readers, and also when the first checks started coming. A small check every month is a lot better than no check. And since ebooks never go out of print, that small check every month could even add up a lot of money.

Ultimately, having your ideas reach readers is the greatest reward. There have always been and may always be a very small percentage of writers who are able to make a good living from writing, let alone a killing. But even the reports quoted in this article on authorearnings.com do not really capture the joy many authors have had of just having a few books sell, even if they are by definition an author who is never going to sell a lot because of their viewpoint, interests and/or topics. This was a vanishingly rare occurence before the days of self-publishing as those books would never have seen the light of day, and yet now it is common. This is good for authors, for readers, and I would say for our society in increasing the flow of information and in helping maintain and increase our freedom.

Jim Self said...

Folks, everyone is self-interested. The only people who aren't in this as a business (i.e. for money) are the poor brainwashed writers who accept crap for pay and think they're weaving culture into our society. The "marquee" authors have millions of dollars of income on the line. They aren't impartial to the outcome of this negotiation.

Before you listen, know what people have at stake and interpret accordingly.

shugyosha said...

Laura Resnick:

"Fair enough. I don't condemn self-interest or loyalty."

I do. I'm a reader[*]. I get upset when someone gets on the side of those who're hampering my enjoyment of books, trying to fleece me out, "for loyalty". Criminals also have loyal servants, and I do condemn them. And I'd remind you certain collusion trial...

Current publishing "troubles" are making me blacklist publishers like I really wouldn't haver expected, ever. And, since Preston's letter, writers. It was sad to see some names in that letter. Names I had in a special place in my heart. They're advocating against me and my well being.

Anon:
"Well, I'm through and I'm taking my life back. Next month, I'm publishing my 10th book independently. First as an e-book and then as a trade paperback. I can't wait. "

Er... care to tell us something about it? I mean, if you're not getting anything from The Five and you're breaking anyhow, at least we get to know it... Just a reader's opinion.

[*]: For several reasons, not a Kindle customer.

Nirmala (free spiritual ebooks) said...

That's weird. As if to prove my point, my post is not showing up on the NPR article even though I posted it twice. I can believe Author's guild wanted to put a stop to the kinds of posts they were having, but is NPR censoring its posts also? And my post was not even that inflammatory....maybe just because I used the word revolution?

Cassandra Leuthold said...

Even though everything Douglas Preston said made no sense, what really showed me he doesn't understand the dispute was this:

"The thing about Amazon, they think it’s all about money. It’s not [all] about money.”

I've been shopping loyally with Amazon for almost 8 years. I've been publishing through Amazon for almost 2. I've never considered Amazon a money grubber. Not only do they pay me fair royalties above the legacy standard, Amazon lets me set my own prices. Never has Amazon approached me about raising them. Never has Amazon made a price suggestion. If Amazon's "all about the money," they're doing a poor job of it. When my husband's Kindle proved to be a lemon, Amazon replaced it immediately, no cost, no hassle. That evil, evil Amazon.

I think it's of huge importance that the traditionally published authors being hurt by the stalling negotiations have their voices heard. I can't imagine how awful it would be to have my profits drop while high earners touted they were speaking for me. That's disgusting.

As usual, thanks for breaking it all down, Joe.

Anonymous said...

Where can I get one of those rulers?

Nirmala (free spiritual ebooks) said...

My post is on there...for some reason they put it in the middle of the existing posts.

Anonymous said...

Time for a petition aimed at the big authors supporting Hachette? Hmmm I wonder if they'd take notice then.

Jeff Yeager said...

Hey Joe- Some years ago we met online and you gave me some good advice. I'm sorry to say that now you just seem bitter, negative, and confrontational all of the time. Hope "Happy Joe" comes back some day.
Best wishes,
-Jeff Yeager

Jeff Yeager said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

With all the information now out there, and all the hard work done by Joe, Barry, Hugh, Author Earnings, et al., I feel like we've reached a tipping point.

Propaganda and PR spin isn't going unchallenged. Authors have more information than ever on which to base their decisions. So called "guilds" and organizations are getting called out on their lack of doing anything that benefits authors and not challenging publishers for better terms. Self publishers are becoming a real force, though they have been for years just unrecognized.

Is revolution in the air? Will the next few years change the face of publishing forever?

I think they will.

Ron Edison said...

I used to think that the bulk of the Stupid in the book world was reflected in readers who: didn’t know Borders from B&N, who thought that ‘greedy authors’ set the price of their own books, who tried to get booksellers to order Steinbeck’s FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, who came into a bookstore looking for a particular book (“I don’t remember the author’s name or the title but it was on that table by the window last month and it had a blue cover,” and readers who don’t know Proctor & Gamble from Simon & Shuster. But I was wrong. The Stupid is not coming from outside, THE STUPID IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE BUILDING!

And speaking of Stupid, the e-book version of TRAITOR’S BLADE (an e-book I would buy in a heartbeat at $9.99 or less) is going for $26.99 on Amazon and B&N’s site (compared to $20.33 for the hardcover). This is way beyond the $14.99 price Hachette has been insisting on. Patterson would have us believe that this “taxation” of the reader is not greed, it’s a necessity to preserve the legacy and primacy of American literature so that our children and our children’s children will be able to feast on the words of Patterson and the like into the future and beyond.

But it’s not just them, it’s us too. There is a whole passel of Stupid in the writers who swallow the Kool Aid that tastes like giving publishers 85% of the dollars their work earns is a good deal. (Autocorrect insisted I type “Kook Aid” and for once Autocorrect may actually be correct.)

I expect more from writers; I expect integrity. If someone is smart enough to write a good book, they’re smart enough to understand the dynamics of their industry and what is fair and who is pulling the wool over whose eyes. I expect them to understand the truth of things and report it responsibly. But I’m seeing a lot of fact-free, mindless Tea Party emotionalism spouted by folks who should know better. And if we can’t trust fiction writers to tell the truth, the terrorists win.

Anonymous said...

Another interesting point about "TRAITOR’S BLADE" is that the hardcover has 18 reviews, and the kindle edition has none. Usually the reviews would be conflated for all the formats of the book. Also, if you search for the book, the hardcover result show the author's name as a link, while the kindle result does not, and if you click to the author's page, the kindle format of the book is not listed - nor is the kindle format shown on the hardcover book page. Something's eff'd up, not just the $27 price. Note however that you can get it from an amazon seller, used for about $8, and a new copy from half.com for $13.

This is what kills me when people talk about the "worth" of books. If you really want to find out what books are worth, try taking a few boxes to a used book store. THAT'S an eye-opener.

Nirmala said...

To be fair, when we publish a book on Amazon, it can take them a few days to link up the pages, and put all of the links on all versions, etc.

Nirmala said...

I meant all of the reviews. Where is that edit button?

Nirmala (free spiritual ebooks) said...

This is totaly off topic, but it crossed my mind that Hugh and Data Guy may not be including the typical agent fee of 15% when they calculated trad published author's take from ebooks. Since the majority of trad authors would be paying an agent, this would dramatically shift the results of their reports in indie's favor. I asked them about it on the authorearnings site, but one chart in particular clearly shows author revenue at 25% of the publishers take. That is rarely going to be the case for a trad author. The 25% of net is actually about 21% in the author's pocket most of the time.

doomsdayy said...

Thanks for writing

Anonymous said...

Good post, Joe and Barry.

I am slightly worried about the lack of comments here in recent weeks (apart from the numerous ones made by Nirmala). I am used to your blogs picking up comments in the hundreds, whereas lately these numbers seem to have dwindled significantly. You don't think people have been put off your posts in recent weeks, do you? I am worried that the nature of your blog writing may be creating a divide amongst people, which could lead to an adverse view of what you are saying. I am sure you have a reason behind this seemingly dwindling lack of attention, maybe?

Alan Spade said...

"This is totaly off topic, but it crossed my mind that Hugh and Data Guy may not be including the typical agent fee of 15% when they calculated trad published author's take from ebooks."

Yes, but the report does not either take into account the authors' advances. Even if these advances are insignificant for the majority of trad published authors, this is not the case for the bestsellers.

Alan Spade said...

@Ron Edison: things seem to have been fixed for Traitor's Blade. The ebook is priced at $7.99 with a lingk to the author's page on the kindle page: http://www.amazon.com/Traitors-Blade-Greatcoats-Sebastien-Castell-ebook/dp/B00HEG6UGG

Nirmala (free spiritual ebooks) said...

"Yes, but the report does not either take into account the authors' advances. Even if these advances are insignificant for the majority of trad published authors, this is not the case for the bestsellers."

I guess they should address both of these points in their discussion of methodology. But of course, much of the time an advance does not ultimately affect the compensation to an author unless the advance never earns out - it just changes the timing of the payments. And if that happens for a mid-list author, that could mean no more contracts for that author. Advances have also been dropping lately so there are probably fewer that do not earn out eventually.

However, for the big name bestseller, all of the calculations on authorearnings probably do not apply.

This discussion probably belongs on the authorearnings site. I look forward to seeing what data guy says in response to my question over there.

Anonymous said...

Question: What is so bad about "windowing"? I know this wasn't a topic of this post, but it's part of the landscape and often referred to. It seems reasonable to me though. Everyone does some version of it. The movie comes out at the theater first, for three or four times what the dvd will cost a few months later. All the new technologies charge a huge premium to early adopters. It seems like the big, fat, hardcover novel getting the "early adopter" treatment for a few months isn't such a bad thing.

That being said, I agree with pretty much everything else on this blog. I notice that people used to post here anonymously because they wanted to slam Joe or indies. Most of them have circled the wagons and given up the direct attacks, probably because their arguments were so easily dismantled here.

Some of us now post anonymously because we haven't decided whether to shop our first novel to the legacy world before going indie. (On the off chance that someone might go nuts for it and give you the star treatment.) Even though it's a long shot, you don't want to dismiss it entirely. Or short-circuit the possibility by them googling you and finding tons of comments slamming their precious little world. You could always do that after you're established.

Barrett Hycner said...

I'm really disappointed that Stephen King is one of Preston's 1,000 signatories.

Scott Dyson said...

As a writer I really don't matter to either side of this dispute. And perhaps I don't matter as a reader either but I was a reader LONG before I was a writer and I own many hardcovers (and paperbacks) by authors who signed the pro-Hachette letter. I'm just one person, but I didn't need anyone to tell me that $15 is too much to pay for an ebook at any time. I'll buy the mass market paperback or the remaindered hardcover (because certainly many of the authors' books are found on bargain shelves at B&N or elsewhere). Or I'll look elsewhere for stories I want to read - and increasingly it's becoming indie writers filling that bill for me.

Bob said...

I'm stunned about how the Authors Guild censors its blog. When comments accumulate that go against its stance, it doesn't post any more and then shuts it down.

You would think an Authors Guild would be for the 1st Amendment.

Lyn Fairchild Hawks said...

Joe and Barry, I'm one of those lurking readers who never posts a comment. First, a big thank you for educating, ranting, explaining, and exposing. I believe we live in an Age of Exposure and those who try to double deal in the darkness always get outed. It's a theme across politics and government, celebrity and sports and entertainment, and I believe the truth is getting outed through you guys. Many thanks for that.

Second: saw this post from Writer Beware and it's another instance of how those who sign on with legacy need to be careful if they ever wish to be hybrid.

http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2014/07/self-publishing-and-author-agent.html


It's a special note for me who once had an agent for my fiction, parted ways with the agent, and decided to self publish. I have also traditionally published in the education market, which isn't exactly a bastion of filthy lucre. I've been weighing whether I'll query an agent for my next novel, but daily I get information such as your blog and this Writer Beware one that makes me think I'd do better with a lawyer and a publicist as part of my ever-expanding team. I currently have copy and developmental editors, a graphic designer/book formatter, and some loyal fans; I also have an accountant. I do this outside a full-time job, so my business model isn't big or tight, but if I get to a place where I can devote more time, I believe I could do well with self-publishing. It takes a lot of commitment, creativity, and focus, but it's honest work. And it's not slavery to anyone, and certainly not Amazon.

Keep posting, and I'll keep lurking.

Lyn

shugyosha said...

Barret,

apropos finding names there.

Scott,

here and hare.

In case it obscures them, there's a link in the first mention and two in the second one.

Bob,

who knew it? The AG is libertarian. _Congress_ shall make no law abridging freedom of speech.

Take care.

Ferran

Alan Spade said...

The stylus and the screen blog post titled The Readers against Douglas Preston made me think about something: for a long time since this revolution beginned (as to say, four years), big authors like Stephen King have kept their mouth shut about Amazon's moves, even if they disapproved them. Why? Because they had too much to lose by speaking.

And why do they begin to become vocal, with this Doug Preston's petition? Because their ebooks sales are decreasing. But I don't think it a clever move for them to speak, because that will only fasten the decreasing of their ebooks sales.

People who happen to like ebooks also happen to like fairly priced ebooks, and that's too bad for them.

NickerNotes said...

Holy, moly. Jeff Bezos, just buy Hachette already. Let's see what happens when Hachette authors suddenly start getting 70% royalties instead of 17.5%. I have never heard of David Preston or Richard Russo before this brouhaha, but I love C.J. Lyons - I've even done a workshop with her. She's wonderful.

Nirmala (free spiritual ebooks) said...

From the post: "Not that we said anything when publishers unilaterally made this the royalty standard, years ago. And not that we actually have ever done anything other than say we don't like it. We certainly haven't dedicated entire blog posts to that matter."

Sorry Joe, but to be fair they did speak up back then with an entire blog post:
http://www.authorsguild.org/authorship/e-book-royalty-math-the-house-always-wins-2/

Anonymous said...

Sorry Joe, but to be fair they did speak up back then with an entire blog post:
http://www.authorsguild.org/authorship/e-book-royalty-math-the-house-always-wins-2/


Wow an entire blog post, with zero comments, that achieved exactly nothing. Where did they condemn publishers for their stance? Nowhere. All they said was it would sort itself out in the future somehow. That's some great activism there... way to look out for authors.

Michael W. Sherer said...

What's amazing to me is that in no other industry does a manufacturer dictate to retailers the price at which they must sell a product (except in rare instances of exclusivity). Authors United should recognize that their books are like cereal brands being "manufactured" by Hachette. They shouldn't worry about the price at which Amazon sells their books, only that Amazon and other retailers sell a LOT of them. And, as with cereals, sometimes a 99-cent special on plain old corn flakes sells a ton of boxes of corn flakes.

T. M. Bilderback said...

The Change.org petition is now at 7500! Take a look:

http://www.change.org/petitions/hachette-stop-fighting-low-prices-and-fair-wages

Mir Writes said...

Thanks for the heads up, TM. I was hopiong the 7500 would be met and exceeded. Here's to hitting 10K.

shugyosha said...

You know... we're getting into a perfect example of publishing, with those signatures. Preston and his "bestseller" signature vs. the "longseller". Speed vs. mileage.

Take care.

Ferran

Nick said...

I keep coming back to this site hoping that, one day, I'll see a real post that will help other indie author/publishers. Instead, all I see is more fisking and griping and whining. This blog is no longer a "Guide to Publishing" for newbies or otherwise. I'm outta here.

Walter Knight said...

I'm boycotting the 'Big Five' until they become the 'Big Four.'

T. M. Bilderback said...

I guess with all of us indies pushing for signatures on the petition have kept it going. I hope that it continues.

I haven't read a Big 5 work in some time. The last four stories I've had time to read have all been indies: "Sati And The Rider" by Winslow Eliot, re-read "Whiskey Sour" by some guy named J. A. Konrath, "Dark Visions" by Jonas Saul, "Second Suicide" by Hugh Howey, and now I'm reading "Repo Chick Blues" by Tracy Sharp.

I did buy Stephen King's "Mr. Mercedes" in hardcover back in June, but that was a gift for my Dad on Father's Day.

I don't plan to buy any other Big 5 work at all until prices come down.

T. M. Bilderback said...

Crap! Need an edit button!

That first sentence should have read, "I guess with all of us indies pushing for signatures on the petition, we have kept it going."

Joe Konrath said...

This blog is no longer a "Guide to Publishing" for newbies or otherwise.

Seems like a few people in the comments don't like me writing about the Amazon/Hachette dispute.

Luckily, they can get their op-eds from the Authors Guild blog and don't need to bother reading me.

Angry_Games said...

It seems all of these "Joe, you used to be kewl, but now you're lame" posts are cut & pastes. Like the anons cannot even come up with their own hate, they just copy-paste someone else's hate.

Steve Z, are you going to tell us how that NYT ad worked out the last time and argue about how this time it will be a HUGE success since last time it was so... hahaha...

I can't even finish the sentence. It's too rich to think you (or anyone else) still believes traditional media is where the majority get their news.

ESPECIALLY traditional PRINT media.

Didn't you get the memo when the IT guys ripped you off? Print is dead for everything but books, and it's dying at a steady pace.

Dan Meadows said...

I think they're doing both, actually. Just my opinion, but I suspect the 25% net royalty was part of the same collusive plan as Agency. They don't want to stop ebook sales but slow down adoption while locking in a much higher profit margin on ebooks to transition from print declines. If ebooks hit print too fast, the losses can't be dealt with effectively (see: music, newspapers). Eventually, I think they're playing for a tipping point where ebook volume and margins are such that it no longer makes sense to shield print, at which point, they shed what's left of the bulk of that expense and they've got digital locked in across the industry at much higher profits than they've possibly ever seen. The DOJ made two mistakes, I think. One, not making the prohibition on Agency deals at least a decade instead of 2 years. And two, they didn't dig deep enough into the actions of the publishers, staying too focused on their acts in concert with Apple rather than other actions they were similarly taking amongst themselves.

shugyosha said...

Guys... a spam filter would be a good idea. Either captcha for everyone or, at least, for anon posters.

Take care.

Ferran

Kevin said...

Out of curiosity I read Laura Resnick's comments Joe linked to on the Author Guild's blog.

I found it interesting that I found a number of posts from Hachette authors who were a bit miffed that the "big name" authors and Hachette took it upon themselves to turn down Amazon's offer to pay Hachette authors during the negotiation.

These authors stated they were mid-list or just starting out and could not afford the financial losses they were incurring during the negotiation.

I also found it interesting that these authors posted with obviously made-up names and several stated they did so out of fear of retaliation.

Yes, Amazon is evil. The source of all evil in the publishing world. Big name authors, Hachetter, the Author's Guild and other large publishers would never do ANYTHING to hurt an author.

Nirmala (free spiritual ebooks) said...

A bit of a ramble here:

After visiting some other sites like Mike Shatzkin's, it seems that lately the discussion on this site has become pretty one sided relative to what I see over there. That may just be because the logic that Joe and Barry apply to other viewpoints is superior and so the other viewpoints have given up, again unlike on Mike's site where he sometimes makes little or no sense.

Or it might be because Joe is more biting and caustic with his words and so some people just write him off. Their loss in my opinion. You need to develop a pretty thick skin to interact on the internet.

However, after seeing some interesting information I had not heard before about the experience of people in the publishing industry on the other sites, I also thought of a third possibility. There is an old spiritual teaching story that talks about a group of blind men who encounter an elephant. The first one gets hold of the trunk and says, "An elephant is like a thick snake." The second blind man gets a hold of a leg and says, "No, the elephant is like a tree trunk." And the third blind man gets a hold of the tail and says, "You are both wrong, the elephant is like a rope." And of course they are all correct.

Someone who works every day in the publishing industry experiences their part of the elephant, and to them there are self-evident truths that authors want to submit to them and are lucky to be accepted. And they see big advances go out the door and so on. It is incredibly hard for them to even see the rest of the elephant. And so they make totally unsupported statements about the totality of publishing.

The really strange thing is when they willfully ignore information or discredit it too quickly and casually like much of the reponse to the authorearnings data.

And the humbling thing is when I find myself doing the same thing, and starting to think that anyone who publishes traditionally is not thinking straight. There are still valid reasons to publish both ways.

I will say that I am impressed more with the ability of Joe and Barry to step back and see the whole elephant than what I see elsewhere. That is why I think it is someone's loss if they can't tolerate the style of Joe's commentary. Besides, I find it mostly humorous and not that offensive, although it has not yet been directed at me....at least not yet :)

w.adam mandelbaum said...

That should have been cover, price. Sorry.

w.adam mandelbaum said...

This really is a tempest in a teapot. You want to publish your work quickly? Indie. You want a 70% royalty vs. A 25% royaly? Indie. You want control over content, cover price? Indie. QED.

w.adam mandelbaum said...

Posts reversed in order sorry.

Ron Edison said...

@Alan Spade: Thanks for the update on TRAITOR'S BLADE, but Amazon and B&N are still showing it at $18.99 for the Kindle version and $20 something for hardcover. That's an improvement, but hardly a deal for an e-book. After reading some of the reviews, I think I'm going to pass. I wonder how this pricing mix-up has impacted the author's sales.

shugyosha said...

"Dragon city", I'm going to assume your query is not spam. Note that it does trigger several filters.

Do post more than 6 posts in four years, if you want to keep an audience.

Avoid paying as much as you can until you've earned some.

I think that'd be about it, for now. Take care.

Laura Resnick said...

I jsut got on Amazon's side (and just signed Hugh's letter).

All it took was for Amazon to get on my side. See how easy that was?

Here's Amazon getting on my side (by publicly proposing a distirbution deal with Hachette that would double what Hachette authors currently earn on ebooks).

http://www.amazon.com/forum/kindle/ref=cm_cd_tfp_ef_tft_tp?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1D7SY3BVSESG&cdThread=Tx3J0JKSSUIRCMT

Anonymous said...

http://www.amazon.com/forum/kindle/ref=cm_cd_tfp_ef_tft_tp?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1D7SY3BVSESG&cdThread=Tx3J0JKSSUIRCMT

Alan Spade said...

@Ron Edison: could you send me your link? When I go on Amazon's page, I see the Kindle edition at $7.99, the hardback at $10.49 and the paperback at $18.99.

Alan Spade said...

The weight of Amazon versus the publishers' weight. A very interesting link (scroll down to read in English): http://www.idboox.com/economie-du-livre/amazon-vs-hachette-une-infographie-pour-y-voir-plus-clair/