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Authors Guilded, United, And Representing… Not Authors

30 July 2015

From Barry Eisler via Techdirt:

One of the more Orwellian aspects of the book world is the number of publisher advocate groups calling themselves Author This and Author That. The Authors Guild, Authors United, theAssociation of Authors’ Representatives… their devotion to protecting the interests of authors is right there in the names, right? No further inquiry necessary.

That’s the idea behind the misleading nomenclature, anyway. But even a cursory glance at the behavior of all these “author” organizations reveals their true priorities and actual allegiances.

Let’s start with the Authors Guild, which claims to “have served as the collective voice of American authors,” and which describes its mission as “to support working writers. We advocate for the rights of writers by supporting free speech, fair contracts, and copyright. We create community and we fight for a living wage.” The Authors Guild even proudly notes that it “has initiated lawsuits in defense of authors’ rights, where necessary.”

Leave aside the wooly talk about creating community. How does the collective voice of American authors, the supporter of working writers, the advocate for the rights of writers, go about fighting for that living wage? Especially given that publishers are making more money from digital booksthan ever, and sharing less of that money with authors than ever.

Well, the organization has periodically mentioned in passing that the shockingly low lockstep17.5% legacy publisher digital royalty rate “needs to change,” so there’s that. Sometimes a spokesperson expresses his or her “hopes” for a little more fairness. And recently they did managea whole blog post on the topic. But that’s all. Occasional words; zero deeds. And likewise regarding a host of other obvious, longstanding, outrageous legacy publisher abuses such as life-of-copyright (forever) terms, twice-yearly payment provisions, draconian non-compete clauses, and impossible out-of-print clauses. Pro forma words and practiced complicity.

But does all this mean the Authors Guild is lying when it says it sometimes initiates lawsuits?

Not at all. The organization did sue Google and Hathitrust over digitization (the first suit was settled; in the second, the Authors Guild lost). Leave aside the merits of those suits; I think they were wrongheaded, but that’s not the point. The point is that when the Authors Guild really wants to throw down, it throws down — just never against legacy publishers and the Rich Relationships™ by which they systematically screw authors (in fact, in the Google suit, the Authors Guild fought alongside the Association of American Publishers).

. . . .

If the Authors Guild really wanted to “advocate for fair contracts,” it would support self-publishing, which even more than Amazon publishing is empowering authors with the first real competition the industry has ever seen — a 70% digital royalty rate (four times the lockstep legacy standard); control over packaging and other business decisions; faster time to market. Yet there’s nothing on the Authors Guild website about how to use KDP, Kobo, NookPress, Smashwords, or any other self-publishing resource. Nothing about AuthorEarnings.com, the most comprehensive breakdown available about where authors are making money in Amazon-, legacy- and self-publishing. The only “self-publishing” resource available through the Collective Voice of American Authors has been a notorious scam outfit called (naturally) Author Solutions (a relationship the Authors Guild finally terminated in May).

Link to the rest at Techdirt

Here’s a link to Barry Eisler’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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20 Comments to “Authors Guilded, United, And Representing… Not Authors”

  1. Bartholomew Thockmorton

    Much like Florida’s “Right to Work Law” which basically boils down to “any employer can fire any employee for any reason at any time.”

    Discrimination? That’s on the fired employee to prove!

  2. Contrast the “author” groups’ behavior to the genre-based *writers* groups like the RWA and SFWA who have been known to name names and publicize specific violations of accepted practices. While some (cough*SFWA*cough) might run a bit behind the times they at least jog in the general direction of modernity instead of mounting reactionary rear guard actions to protect legacy interests.

    The divide is clearest when it comes to Author Solutions and other scam artists; the writers’ associations have long warned against them, the Authors’ groups steered business to them.

    By the company they keep you shall know them.

  3. And the truth comes out in the open — and with any luck might make some of them scurry back into the shadows …

  4. What would it take to create an organization that actually supports authors? I mean besides weathering the scorn, derision, and barrels of digital ink that would be thrown at it by the existing “author advocacy” groups?

    • A website.
      The will to speak out.
      Maybe a legal advisor. 🙂

      Revolutions have started with less.

      • But revolutionaries have at least some degree of unity.

        So, fuggedaboudit.

        • Felix J. Torres

          In what history book?
          All known revolutions had factions within factions and in most cases the factions turned on each other after the establishment was “convinced” to vacate the premises.
          Unity of purpose not required.
          Which is why the ultimate winner of most revolutions is a non-revolutionary who steps in after the fact.

        • But revolutionaries have at least some degree of unity.

          Who needs unity when you can make money on Amazon?

          Kumbayah is a loser.

    • What would it take to create an organization that actually supports authors?

      I think that exists, but it is self-organized rather than formally organized.

      Look at Passive Voice, Konrath, Howey, KBoards. They all are excellent sources of information for authors. They contrast self-publishing with traditional publishing, and catalog the unfavorable aspects of traditional contracts. They tell authors how to secure various services, and explain things in simple terms for newcomers.

      If the topics covered in these places were titled and posted on AG, one could say AG is taking a strong stand exposing pitfalls and helping writers find the best path for themselves.

      Authors are doing it for themselves. They just don’t charge membership fees and have a paid staff.

      • “Authors are doing it for themselves. They just don’t charge membership fees and have a paid staff.”

        It’s just getting writers to find these groups/sites before they’ve had too much of the AG/AU/ABA/trad-pub kool-ade and their minds turned to mush …

        • If they don’t, I fault the author for failing in his due diligence. They have to assume some responsibility.

          Maybe five years ago someone wouldn’t have access to this kind of information. But if they can’t find what is available today, I suspect they also couldn’t find comething titled “Independent Authors Benevolent Association.” IABA

          Data and information allow for informed choice, but it takes some work to become informed.

  5. I’m reminded of the way that you can get a rough idea of the quality of life in a country by counting the number of positive descriptors in its name (e.g., “Democratic People’s Republic of X” is usually a bad sign).

    Also, I tend to cast a jaundiced eye on any organization that uses “Honest”, “Truth”, or “Fact” in its name (“Honest Percival’s Used Cars”, “Pravda”…)

  6. they should have added Author Solutions in the list of organizations. 🙂

  7. Methinks the AG is operating under the sense that they’re still in the early nineties and whatever they say is taken as gospel for all the worlds writer’s. They issue some tough talk about publishers and the long held perception of them as “pro-publisher” simply vanishes? They seem to think so.

    Y’see AG folks, the internet has also spawned these things called “BLOGS”. Writers happen to love them. Now, what happens on these blogs…

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