Joe: As 2013 draws to a close, we’re fortunate to hear from our good friends at the Authors Guild, who share with us an earnest attempt to get members to rejoin.
Which, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know is a TERRIBLE IDEA.
The Authors Guild under Scott Turow’s leadership has done an awe-inspiring job of trying to maintain the antiquated status quo, where publishers coveted their power and treated most authors poorly; technology is considered the devil’s sorcery; and Amazon is Satan himself.
Here, hopefully for the last time, is Scott Turow, presenting a letter by Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo to Authors Guild members. Turow asked for this to be forwarded to friends, so I’m forwarding it to roughly a hundred thousand of my blog readers, interspersed with occasional thoughts from me and Barry Eisler.
. . . .
Isn’t that backwards? Shouldn’t Turow be concerned with what the Guild can do for authors, and not what authors can do for the Guild? Isn’t the whole point of the Guild to help authors, and not simply to acquire as many authors as possible so the Guild can continue to exist?
How messed-up is it when an organization–created by writers to benefit writers–realizes it has to take steps to explain how it benefits those writers? Has the Authors Guild figured out out that it needs writers more than writers need the Guild?
If so, good for them, because they are correct. Writers don’t need the Authors Guild. Many writers do need guidance, but they should seek it from peers who are living in 2013, not in 1998. We should seek help and advice from those who are thriving in this new publishing world, not those who made fortunes in the legacy world, years ago.
. . . .
Seriously, where’s the part about how the “Authors Guild” has secured for authors digital royalties better than the 25% legacy industry lockstep? Where the AG has succeeded in preventing legacy publishers from draconian rights lockups? Or gotten the legacy industry to share real time sales data with authors? Or pressured the legacy industry to present royalty statements in a fashion just marginally clearer than the Dead Sea Scrolls? Or dragged the legacy industry away from its insistence on paying authors amounts due only twice a year?
Richard and Scott, you’re trying to sell authors on the benefits of membership–membership that will cost those authors money–and you can’t point to even one single concrete success you’ve had (in over a century of existence) in supposedly defending author interests?
. . . .
Richard Russo: An Open Letter to My Fellow Authors
It’s all changing, right before our eyes. Not just publishing, but the writing life itself, our ability to make a living from authorship. Even in the best of times, which these are not, most writers have to supplement their writing incomes by teaching, or throwing up sheet-rock, or cage fighting.
Joe: Holy sheet-rock.
Actually, I though the sheet-rock and cage fighting references were funny. (Intentionally funny. Things become unintentionally funny later.)
But I have to take exception to Russo’s assertion that these are not the best of times.
In February of this year, I got my backlist returned to me, and self-published the titles once controlled by legacy publishers.
The most I ever made from these books, when controlled by legacy publishers and including all advances and royalties (all of my legacy pubbed books earned out their advances), was $50,000 a year.
This year I’ve made $1,000,000. Because I–not legacy publishers–control my intellectual property.
There are thousands of authors who were once legacy published, or were rejected by legacy publishers, or didn’t even bother submitting to legacy publishers, who are making real money, paying real bills, because of this self-publishing revolution. Visit www.kindleboards.com to talk to a few hundred of them, and read about some of the most successful at http://www.kboards.com/authors/.
This is the greatest time ever to be a writer. Unless, perhaps, you are a writer who was a huge bestseller under the old system…
. . . .
Richard: It wasn’t always so, but for the last two decades I’ve lived the life most writers dream of: I write novels and stories, as well as the occasional screenplay, and every now and then I hit the road for a week or two and give talks. In short, I’m one of the blessed, and not just in terms of my occupation. My health is good, my children grown, their educations paid for. I’m sixty-four, which sucks, but it also means that nothing that happens in publishing—for good or ill—is going to affect me nearly as much as it affects younger writers, especially those who haven’t made their names yet. Even if the e-price of my next novel is $1.99, I won’t have to go back to cage fighting.
Joe: Here begins the fundamental disconnect.
Richard, aren’t you aware there are thousands of writers making a living from $1.99 ebooks? That what you considered to be a slight (and, actually, it may indeed be a slight when your publisher pays you 35 cents on a $1.99 ebook when I can make $1.36 on a $1.99 ebook using Amazon Select Countdown) in fact represents liberation for writers–and for readers?
Inexpensive ebooks aren’t what make authors dig into their retirement funds. Or fight in cage matches. It’s quite the opposite. I’ve made my million bucks this year pricing my backlist at $3.99 and under. And my books weren’t available in every bookstore, airport, drugstore, and department store.
In fact, my books weren’t available in ANY bookstore, airport, drugstore, or department store.
. . . .
Joe: Perhaps, Richard, you believe you are addressing those “less fortunate” authors. But you aren’t. Because the only authors who are being forced to settle for less in this new publishing paradigm are hardcover and paperback bestsellers. Those who have won big prizes, and enjoyed huge print runs, and had movies made from their intellectual property. For everyone else, self-publishing and Amazon Publishing represent new choices, and therefore greater opportunity.
Richard: Not everyone believes, as I do, that the writing life is endangered by
Joe: This is a long list here, so we’re going to break it down point-by-point…
Richard: the downward pressure of e-book pricing,
Joe: This was my best earning year ever as a writer. It was also the year I did the least amount of work. I only released one new solo novel this year, did zero interviews, zero speeches, zero travelling, zero conventions, zero book fairs, and my only self-promo was some advertising (BookBub and others) and this blog.
All with the titles in my oeuvre being $3.99 or less.
Barry: Ah, the Orwellian language. “Downward pressure of e-book pricing.” Known in plain English as “lower-priced books.” Which people who value reading and care about readers would presumably want.
But it would be uncomfortable for Russo to make the argument honestly: “I’m against lower-priced books. I think less expensive books are bad.” So, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink, he instinctively hides behind the jargon, instead.
My previous publishers insisted on pricing the ebooks of my new novels at $12.99. By contrast, my Amazon-published novels come out at $5.99 (and my new one, Graveyard of Memories, out on February 11, will in fact be priced at $4.99). I’ve sold far, far more copies of these low-priced Amazon titles, and made far, far more money from them, then I did with any of my legacy priced books. Similarly, my legacy publishers charged $7.99 for my backlist titles in digital. When I got my rights back and self-published those titles earlier this year, I halved the prices–and more than doubled my income. Why is that bad?
And one thing that pisses me off any time I have to listen to whining about how “books are being devalued” and “downward pricing pressure” and similar such bullshit bingo in which Russo engages: it includes not a thought about what’s best for readers. Don’t readers benefit from lower-priced books? Don’t we want more people to be able to afford more books? But to the extent Russo cares about readers at all, it’s exclusively in a self-centered, reductionist, trickle-down-economics fashion, along the lines of, “What’s good for the publishing industry must also be good for readers” (watch, he really does this a little ways down).