From Publishing Perspectives:
It’s always been difficult for writers to make a living from writing. According to Merilyn Simonds—former chair of The The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) and a writer and editor with nearly 40 years in the business—this is the one constant in an ever-changing publishing ecosystem.
At the same time, she says, it’s never been a more exciting time to be a writer.
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During her tenure, TWUC members voted to open the organization to self-published authors—a contentious and divisive move, she says.
“I was happy with the decision,” Simonds says, “although interestingly, not many [self-publishing authors] want to join. They’re not interested in issues like copyright, contracts, rights.
“There’s a divide between traditionally published and self-published writers, with defensiveness on both sides, and that’s too bad, because eventually the two are likely to merge. The ‘publisher’ as we know it may not be around much longer.”
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“Writers who have traditionally published, for example, could learn from self-publishing authors the kind of energy and self-direction required to take personal charge of their writing careers, educating themselves in handling digital publishing tools and trying new things.
At the same time, she says, indie authors might recognize what publishers do. Unpleasant surprises can include “how hard it is to find an audience,” Simonds says, “and to get books into readers’ hands.”
Simonds offers a word of caution: “Self-publishing puts your head in the marketplace, and that’s no place for a writer’s creative process. You need to separate being a writer and being published.”
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Publishing is an environment, an ecosystem, Simonds says, in which everyone is affected when one element changes within it. What many self-publishers may not recognize, she says, is that independent publishing isn’t its own environment. It’s part of the larger publishing ecosystem: “Eventually you’ll meet up with the edge of your pool.”
These are the kinds of changes writers need to be watching for. When the big publishers merge to create even larger entities that are more risk-averse than ever, writers may need to be able to see opportunities opening up to them elsewhere, perhaps in the independent arena.
Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives
PG poses a respectful questions to authors using traditional publishers, “Do you realize how much are you paying for the services provided by your publisher?”
For a middle-aged writer, a publishing contract in today’s standard form will likely last well over 100 years. The book’s US copyright will last for the remaining years of the author’s life plus 70 years thereafter and so will the publishing contract. Copyrights in other nations are of similar duration.
Under a typical publishing contract, the author will be paying others over 80% of the retail revenues from ebook sales and licenses. If print books continue to be a mass market product for the next 100 years, the author will be paying others 85-95% of retail revenues.
Of course, the author won’t be writing checks to these other parties. They’ll pay themselves before the publisher sends any money to the author, but the financial result is the same as if the author were writing the checks.
Those percentages are fixed under a standard publishing contract signed today and, regardless of what happens in the future, nothing in that contract obliges the publisher to change the royalty structure included in the contract until it terminates along with the copyright in 100 years.
Indie authors, on the other hand, will typically receive about 70% from ebook licenses and sales.
No ebook vendor attempts to contractually tie up an author for 100 years or anything close to that length of time. Indie authors are free to stop selling ebooks through a vendor at any time. If a competing vendor offers a better deal today or in ten years, indie authors can move their ebooks to that vendor.
Just as traditional publishers will either disappear or be greatly changed in 100 years, so will book marketplaces. Indeed, what we today recognize as printed books and ebooks will likely have been replaced by methods we can barely imagine to provide stories to readers in 100 years.
But today’s traditional publishing contracts will remain in force and unchanged unless whoever owns the publishing contracts at that time agrees to change them.
Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey near the end of the 8th century BC. Whatever means by which Homer’s stories were shared with others are long gone but the stories remain and are read today.
Virtually everything about today’s book business other than stories and storytellers will evolve in 100 years. Does it really make sense for an author to contractually commit her stories to an organization that will almost certainly cease to exist in a form she would recognize before that contractual commitment expires?