The Business of Writing

The €500 a year career: do Irish writers get paid enough?

6 February 2017

From The Irish Times:

Donal Ryan’s literary success story is one that most up-and-coming Irish authors – and many established ones – would love to emulate. How sobering it must be then for them to learn that the author is having to return to his full-time civil service job at the Workplace Relations Commission to pay his mortgage.

The arc of Ryan’s story has a fairytale quality – the 47 rejection letters from publishers before his novel The Spinning Heart was finally rescued from the slush pile in 2011 and went on to win a host of prizes including the Guardian First Book Award and Dublin Book Festival’s Irish Book of the Decade as well as being longlisted for the Booker and shortlisted for the Impac Dublin Literary Award.

Despite following up with three critically acclaimed and bestselling books in four years – The Thing about December, A Slanting of the Sun and All We Shall Know – the author revealed in a newspaper interview yesterday that his literary career has not had the traditional happy ending one might have expected.

“It’s nearly impossible to make a living as a writer,” he told the Sunday Independent. “You need to have something else on the go. You could take a chance and scrape a living through bursaries and writing books, but I’d get too stressed out. It just isn’t worth it. I have two kids in school and I have a mortgage to pay.”

“I reckon I get about 40c per book. So I would need to sell a huge amount of books to make a good salary out of that. I can’t complain. My publishers are fantastic. I have just signed a contract for three more books and my advances are really good but, still, I have to look at the long term and the fact that I have 20 more years of a mortgage, so you would need to sell a lot to earn a living from that alone.”

. . . .

“I thought Donal Ryan was incredibly brave to come out and lay out the realities of being a writer – because the public often has a very skewed view,” said author David Gaughran. “But I would like to talk about the publisher in this scenario. I’ve no issue at all with Lilliput Press, I actually like them a lot, but the system as a whole needs to be examined.

“Everyone in the publishing chain claims to be broke. Publishers always say this is a low margin business. Agents have greater and greater trouble placing books. Booksellers, of course, are constantly feeling the pinch. But publishing as a whole is huge, generating $125bn in global sales every year. Where does all that money go? Why are authors paid so poorly? Contracts are terrible across the board – the system is designed that way. But it can change and it has to change.”

Link to the rest at The Irish Times and thanks to Alexis for the tip.

Publishing Predictions: What will happen in 2017?

6 February 2017

From MacGregor Literary:

So a new year is here, and it’s time to make some predictions about what will happen in 2017. I do NOT have the gift of prophecy, but that doesn’t stop me from pontificating and making wild surmises, all while not really having a clue about much of anything beyond the concept that “books are good.”  So with that as an introduction, here are one agent’s thoughts on what will be happening in our industry during the new year:

1. We’re going to see huge growth with audio books. It’s clear that alternative forms of books are part of the growth pattern in publishing, and audio is the next big thing with the under-40 crowd. (The only downside? Amazon has bought up every audio book company, so they’ve basically cornered the market.)

2. All the talk about growth potential with US publishers is going to be on rights sales. In other words, subsidiary and derivatives are going to play a MUCH more significant role in every contract negation you have this year. Expect every conversation you have with a publisher to explore dramatic rights, foreign rights, greeting cards, plush toys, and board games. Another reason to go on living!

. . . .

5. More mid-size publishers will be bought by Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster. In fact, with those first three all making major purchases over the last two years, I expect we’ll see S&S follow suit by trying to snap up some struggling houses with strong niche markets.

6. Everyone is going to start bundling ebooks. It’s been a growing movement among ebook publishers, and this year we’ll see major houses begin to do it… and thus shrink author earnings even more.

. . . .

8. We’re going to see a group of successful ebook authors quit indie publishing. For the record, I am NOT opposed to indie publishing, and have been very vocal in encouraging the authors I represent to consider doing some of their titles indie. But with declining indie sales, we’re now going to start seeing a migration of big-name authors back toward traditional publishers. Have a look at the news so far this year, and you’ll see the movement has already begun.

Link to the rest at MacGregor Literary and thanks to Sariah for the tip.

Untidy desk, untidy mind? Time to call in a professional declutterer

27 January 2017

From The Guardian:

Receipts hidden in bags, a desk overspilling with stacks of dusty books, boxes full of random paperwork and an inbox with more than 1,000 unread emails. A busy entrepreneur knows better than most that clutter can quickly build up. Ronit Knoble’s home office was all over the place until she hired professional declutterer Juliet Landau-Pope last year.

“There was paper everywhere, I was drowning in admin,” Knoble says. “I work from home and there was too much of everyone else’s admin around – I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. I needed someone to help me organise the films I was making.” Landau-Pope helped her categorise the paperwork in her office, get rid of clutter she doesn’t need (such as receipts), and make time every week for filing.

The founder of Fantastic Films says her appointments with Landau-Pope are “almost like a therapy session”. She adds: “[Now] there’s a clear divide between my children, me, the house and my company. I often think, why did I used to keep all of this crap?”

Knoble is part of a growing wave of small business owners enlisting the help of a professional declutterer. The president of the Association of Declutterers and Organisers (APDO), Ingrid Jansen, says the success of New York Times bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo, has raised awareness of the sector as a whole. APDO’s membership numbers have almost doubled in the past three years to 200 coaches.

. . . .

“I see clutter as a habit and it’s a habit that can be shifted. It’s not about having a perfect space or being minimalist. It’s about doing the best you can within the space you have, and making the most of your work and your environment.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

World’s main list of science ‘predators’ vanishes with no warning

27 January 2017

From The Ottawa Citizen:

In 2012, a librarian from the University of Colorado presented research in a field so new he had to name it himself: predatory publishing.

Jeffrey Beall discovered thousands of online science journals that were either willing to publish fake research for cash, or just so inept that they couldn’t tell the good from the bad and published it all.

Beall, who became an assistant professor, drew up a list of the known and suspected bad apples, known simply as Beall’s List. Since 2012, this list has been world’s main source of information on journals that publish conspiracy theories and incompetent research, making them appear real.

But on Sunday, his website went blank. Only the headline, Scholarly Open Access, remains.

Beall is a regular on Twitter, but he hasn’t posted anything there in days. He isn’t answering email (including a message from the Citizen) or telling anyone what happened. Beall’s List had just been updated for 2017.

A Texas firm called Cabell’s, which also works with academic publishers, hinted that Beall was threatened somehow.

Its Twitter account said on Tuesday: “@CabellsPublish stands behind close personal friend @Jeffrey_Beall who was forced to shut down blog due to threats & politics #academicmafia.”

. . . .

In his 2017 update, Beall had identified 1,155 suspicious or fake publishers, most of them putting out dozens or even hundreds of online journals.

Link to the rest at The Ottawa Citizen and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

2016 Disappointments

20 January 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

As I write this in early January, fourth quarter numbers for all big businesses are just starting to trickle in. The whining about 2016 has commenced, some of it justified, some of it not.

The numbers aren’t just in for the major publishers; the numbers are in for indie writers as well. And the writers who crunch numbers are having varied reactions, often depending on years of business expertise.

I have a hunch that when all of the numbers arrive toward the end of this month or so, we’ll find out that 2016 was truly a mixed bag.

Which is what we should expect from a healthy publishing environment in transition.

. . . .

Self-published writers who remain in the business have become independent publishers in their own right. Which is why from now on in this post, I’ll call it indie publishing.

Even though ebooks have existed for decades, the Kindle made them a viable career path. Indeed, the Kindle and Amazon itself began a major disruption of the traditional publishing industry, a disruption all of us are living through.

Changes still happen almost daily. But a lot of us have worked on the indie side long enough now to take some things for granted. We’ve also worked in it long enough to have actual numbers. We can project this year’s earnings based on last year’s behaviors—kinda sorta.

I add the “kinda sorta” because, as I said, changes still happen daily.

As this blog goes live on my website (some of you got it early on my Patreon page), the Digital Book World conference is going on in New York. Data Guy is making a presentation that I’m sure will become public a week or two after the conference.

. . . .

Data Guy will be analyzing the digital market based on genre. But some of his findings have already gone public. He found—to the delight of traditional publishers everywhere—that indie book sales took a dramatic fall in the summer and early fall of 2016. (Writers have experienced this from the beginning.)

In the white paper, he notes:

In May 2016, verified self-published indie authors were taking home nearly 50 percent of all US Kindle author earnings. Now, as of early October 2016, the indie share has fallen below 40 percent.

As Porter Anderson writes in his introduction to the white paper, this rather steep decline brings indie sales back to their 2015 share of the digital marketplace. He adds,

No more can cordial skeptics like myself say that everything is always coming up indie roses at Author Earnings. The news of a downturn isn’t what the project’s chief admirers, the indie author corps, would prefer, obviously. But it helps lend a kind of real-world credibility to the effort: what goes up does not always keep going up in life as we know it.

Anderson is right: the downturn does show skeptics that Data Guy’s numbers are real and not just the product of indie “cheerleading” to use Anderson’s term.

Data Guy’s October numbers also show something that writers have been saying all summer: for many, their sales fell off a cliff. That cliff is composed of many things—the contentious U.S. election, the changes in Kindle Unlimited, a general overall retail downturn in the fall, and more.

I examined some of this in “Third Quarter Blues,” because as I learned when I wrote that post, that election downturns happen every four years in the United States—and some downturns are more prolonged than others.

However, the research told me (and the numbers later bore it out) that the U.S. retail economy would rebound after the election. The holiday season would set in with a vengeance, and consumers would buy more than they usually did in the last few weeks of the year to make up for time lost.

. . . .

Data Guy’s numbers are from October, before the holiday sales happened and during the election effect. I can’t wait to see his conclusions, because I suspect his spider, crawling through the various databases, will catch things we can’t see with the naked eye.

What we can see, though, is—I’m sorry to say—unsurprising in this kind of maturing traditional marketplace.

Some balance is coming back into the system. Consumers are getting used to a new way of doing things. Readers are getting used to a new way of doing things.

Readers still go to bookstores, yes, and some readers will go to the brick-and-mortar store first. But most readers go online first, even if they choose not to order the book there.

There’s an interesting piece from The International Council of Shopping Centers (which I found through the Marketing Land article). On January 3, the International Council of Shopping Centers released the results of a survey conducted after the holiday season ended. The survey had a relatively small sample size (1030 adults) , but the findings seemed to be backed up by the other data that’s coming in.

The survey found that 70% of the shoppers surveyed preferred shopping at a place with an online and a physical presence. That number was even higher for Millennials—81%. Part of the reason was the ability to compare prices, but some of it was—again—convenience. Since most shoppers waited until the last minute in 2016 to shop, they ended up looking online to see if what they wanted was at a store, and then they went to the store to pick it up.

Sixty-one percent of the people who went to the store to pick up the item they purchased online bought something else at that store (75% of Millennials.) Why am I harping on Millennials? Because they are the future of the next decade or so of retailing.

. . . .

What happened to books in 2016?

You’ve seen the traditional publishing headlines, right? Traditional Publishing Needs A Blockbuster, one newspaper wrote. And it’s true. There was no breakout book in the last part of 2016. The breakout books of 2016 were pretty small potatoes compared with previous years. In fact, single title sales were unbelievably tiny compared with…ahem…the 1980s or even the early part of this century. The week before Christmas, for example, John Grisham’s new hardcover sold “only” 71,000 copies.

Why do I say “only”? Because traditional publishing is set up so that the hardcover bestsellers sell best during the holiday season, and should rake in the bulk of the book’s profits by then. I quickly tried a like-to-like comparison with Grisham, using Google, and here’s what I found.

In 2002, Grisham released two novels—one in February (which I’m not using) and a non-traditional Grisham title, Skipping Christmas, which released on November 1. By the end of the year, Skipping Christmas had sold (shipped) 1,225,000 units.

Eight weeks left in the year when Skipping Christmas was released meant the book had to sell about 150,000 units per week. Clearly sales didn’t work that way—some weeks the book probably sold more than others. But book sales around the holidays are pretty consistent, and sometimes rise rather than fall.

In 2016, Grisham released a new traditional (legal thriller) Grisham title, The Whistler, and the hardcover “only” sold 71,000 copies in week seven after release. Of course, competing with that was the $14.99 ebook which—when I looked it up on the night of January 8—was #27 in the paid Kindle store. Price be damned.

. . . .

Mass market has declined because there are fewer mass market retail outlets. Most grocery stores have gotten rid of their mass market slots, many big box stores no longer carry mass market paperbacks, and many of the chain bookstores have closed. Mass market is dying from a lack of oxygen and shelf space, not because people dislike the format. Trad pub is killing mass market all on its own.

So what’s fueling the rise in print book sales? Availability. Traditional publishers never had a clue about what some of us called the book desert. There were large swaths of the United States where you couldn’t find a new hardcover book for sale on any shelf. Rural towns had mass market racks (sometimes) and libraries (often) but no bookstores. So rural readers were stuck buying books when they went “to town” or buying mass market off the truck stop rack or buying no books at all.

Now there is no book desert. Any rural reader with a mailbox and a debit card can order a book online and have that book delivered in any format in which the book is available.

. . . .

Perhaps the biggest retail story of 2016 came out last June where study after study showed that shoppers now make more than half of their purchases online. Remember when you knew a lot of people who refused to buy something online? Now, try to find someone who hasn’t ordered at least one thing online in the past year. If you’re dealing with people who have some disposable income (and aren’t living near the poverty line), then you’ll have a hard time finding someone who hasn’t ever bought anything online.

Consumers are moving between the digital world and the brick-and-mortar world with incredible ease. The transition is happening, folks, and we’re getting used to the new world.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Why More Writers Should Talk About Money

16 January 2017

From The Atlantic:

Money makes people anxious—perhaps even more so with writers. The relationship between commerce and writing is commonly sketched out in caricatures: the starving artist, the hapless student, the privileged few who “make it.” More often, it’s not addressed at all.

In the past few years, some writers have begun to more openly approach questions of class. The internet has seen a profusion of such pieces: A writer who is “sponsored” by her husband calls on other writers to be more transparent about where their money comes from. Another outlines the clear advantages that being born rich, connected, and able to attend expensive schools furnishes to becoming a successful writer. In another case, a woman who wrote a well-received debut novel details how she went broke after a single advance.

A new book of essays and interviews with writers on the topic of money, released earlier this month, aims to dig even deeper. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin, includes hard truths and thoughtful meditations on class and capitalism while also functioning as a survival guide. In one essay, Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist, Difficult Women) speaks frankly about her student debt, annual income, and past day jobs. In another, Martin herself explains the kind of code-switching by which writers conceal their class background in talking about their careers.

By turns comforting, depressing, and illuminating, Scratch paints a fuller, more personal picture of what it’s like to make a living from—or while—writing. I spoke with Martin about the intersection of writing, money, and class, as well as the process of making Scratch.

. . . .

Joseph Frankel : Some of the writers you spoke with for Scratch were very frank about their finances and their class backgrounds. Others were a little more reluctant. What accounts for these different levels of openness?

Manjula Martin: In my experience working with writers on this topic, it’s often the people who have more money who don’t want to talk about money. Transparency is a really scary thing for a lot of people in any profession, and I think there are good reasons for that. But people who are excited to talk about the topic, even if they’re nervous, inherently understand … that it takes transparency to change stuff. It’s the old saw of “knowledge is power,” and I think that extends to writers and money.

There are a lot of barriers to access for people who come from low-income backgrounds, or maybe less traditional educational backgrounds, or who have had to deal with other types of prejudices in their life. If we want that to change, we need to start being honest about how this business actually works.

Frankel: Essays in the collection call attention to the creative value of day jobs and, in the case of Leslie Jamison (The Empathy Exams), their impact on writers’ output. Others, particularly the piece by Alexander Chee (The Queen of the Night, Edinburgh), think that the discussion of day jobs helps to romanticize unfair pay for writers. How do you think about the relationship between other kinds of work and writing?

Martin: I think that some of the stuff Chee says in his essay is particularly valuable for younger writers who maybe haven’t been around in an era where folks were ever really compensated well. I’ve certainly written for free. I’d bet Chee has done it too, and I think he talks about that in his essay. But if you’re hiring me to do work, you need to pay me, is sort of his stance. And I agree with that 100 percent.

You mentioned romanticizing that relationship between work and craft. I think it’s very tricky because there is a lot of dangerous romanticization, and that can set writers up, particularly in the beginnings of their careers, to blunder in a business they know nothing about.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Bill for the tip.

All Romance Ebooks & Visions of The Future Part Two

13 January 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

The indie publishing world remains stunned by the sudden closing of All Romance Ebooks (ARe), an ebook distributor that had looked—at least in the beginning—like it was very successful. Maybe it had been, and had simply been undercapitalized (which is my guess).

But whatever the reason, ARe closed its doors on December 31, 2016, and is now dealing with a heck of a financial fallout.

. . . .

ARe wasn’t the only venture to go belly-up in 2016. A couple of other companies that got their start as some kind of support, or “new” business model based solely on the indie publishing revolution also liquidated in 2016. Another—Booktrope—vanished fast as well, although unlike ARe, Booktrope gave its suppliers a month to handle the loss.

. . . .

So, what are these three intertwining factors that will impact us in the next few years?

They are:

  1. A gold rush
  2. An investment bubble
  3. A business cycle

Each has patterns so clear that a thousand books have been written about those patterns. You can find the patterns by Googling, or (in the case of gold rushes) by watching the History Channel.

Let’s start with the gold rush, because everything starts when someone discovers a shiny hunk of metal hiding in plain sight.

The ebook revolution wasn’t a literal gold rush—there were no creeks, no slipping hands in ice-cold water to shake gold flakes loose from bare rock in a little makeshift pan.

What there was were a few frustrated writers who used Amazon’s easy Kindle interface to upload books that these writers either couldn’t sell to traditional publishers or were too afraid to try to sell. And because the Kindle was such a nifty device and because there wasn’t a lot of content, back in them thar days (nine years ago), these books took off. Writers who had books with bad covers and poor copyediting sold and sold and sold because those writers could tell good stories.

. . . .

Gold rushes follow a pattern. The pattern goes like this:

  1. The work is so easy that anyone with the desire can do it with little or no capital outlay. It takes being in the right place at the right time with the right set of skills. (In an actual gold rush, the first skill was patience and the ability to touch ice-cold water for hours at a time.)
  2. The tools improve. They remain easy to use. There’s a capital outlay, but it’s still tiny. Again, right time, right place, right set of skills. (In an actual gold rush, the miners built sluicer boxes that quickly separated the gold from the rock. The work with a sluicer box was faster than work with a regular pan, and much faster than working by hand.)
  3. Outsiders notice and want in. That’s where the word “rush” comes in. Everyone wants a piece of gold sitting on the ground. It’s easy. Everyone will get rich!
  4. With the outsiders come the side businesses. These businesses make it “easier” to do the work. Some actually do. Some fill a need—like the general stores that rose up around the mining camps. Others are scams, trying to take gold away from the miners. (Or money away from the writers.)
  5. The easily attainable gold goes away. Now, it takes some work to make money. In gold mining, the workers actually had to start mining for gold (yes, there were other steps here—establishing claims, etc. They’re no longer relevant to our discussion). It also takes money to do this work, not a lot, by normal business standards, but still more than some people have.
  6. The operation goes from low capital with small (or no organization) to large capital and big operations. The small workers who started all of this become one of three things:
    1. big business owners (and rich);
    2. workers with expertise…for someone else
    3. retired or bankrupt or moving on to the next crazy idea
  7. The gold rush is a distant memory but it has changed the landscape forever. New towns exist. New jobs exist. New wealth exists. New businesses exist. Lost in all that newness is the destruction of old businesses and the people who suffered lottery luck. (Lottery luck: they win riches, then spend it all, with no hope of ever having money again.)
  8. Small business becomes Big Business becomes The Way We Do Things Around Here. You see that in the American West, more than 150 years after the gold rushes of the 19th century. Mining still exists. Heavily regulated, with a ton of problems. States exist where there were only territorial governments before, because of mining. And so on and so forth. Indie publishing is decades away from this one.

. . . .

Here it is, the life cycle of an investment bubble. (If you want to read about this in-depth, go to Investopedia.)

  1. Displacement: Something happens that changes an industry, something that investors will eventually notice. Introduction of new technology, for example, might make some work easier. Consumers change their behavior for a weird reason. Whatever it is changes the way things are done, and investors start paying attention. Some get in on the ground floor.
  1. Boom: Everyone wants in. Everyone wants to invest money in this new thing, whatever it is. The increased investment spurs growth, but that growth isn’t natural. There is a natural growth curve, but it’s being masked by the enthusiasm.
  1. Euphoria: We’re going to be rich! Forever! It only takes a few dollars. Or as a friend said to me during the real estate bubble, parroting what he heard from his (now-out-of-business mortgage broker), Real estate always increases in value. It never goes down. Yeah, right. And I know of this land in Florida…oh, wait! I’m referencing yet another bubble (from the 1920s).

In other words, no one researches anything. Everyone throws money at this hot thing, thinking they’ll make a killing at it. This is different from a gold rush, in that we’re talking about people with money to invest, not people who will do the actual work. Keep that in mind.

  1. Profit Taking: Smart investors leave. In fact, some of them left before the euphoria started. But people who have been doing this for a long time recognize the euphoria for what it is and get out at the height of the market, selling their holdings for a profit. Stupid money stays. And believe me, there’s a lot of stupid money in investments.
  1. Panic: Yeah, you know this one. We’ve all seen the movies about 1929, where people jumped off buildings because they lost everything. (Not that such things actually happened, but they could have happened.) We lived through 2008-2009, which was a panic as well. People want their money now, and they want what they put into the investment, which is no longer possible.
  1. Never Again: This isn’t on Investopedia but it’s there. A lot of people, burned by the bubble, will never invest in that particular business again, whether that business is stocks, real estate, tulips, or technology. The romance is over, the possibilities are dead.

How does an investment bubble relate to publishing’s gold rush? There are two points of entry for investors into a gold rush. The first is #3: Outsiders notice and want in. Non-writers think they can profit on this growing phenomenon by helping writers with their businesses, by giving loans or doing other forms of investing.

The second point of entry is #6: The operation goes from low-capital to high capital. At this point, the gold rush is established and everyone knows about it. Even investors who don’t read knew what was going on in publishing. I had several angel investors approach me about my writing or WMG Publishing in 2014. I could have had meetings with venture capitalists who were willing to put $10 to $20 million into my publishing business—for 50% of the profits. I didn’t laugh. I made note of where we were in the investment cycle. Then I laughed—and did not take the offers.

. . . .

I’m telling you about the life cycle of a business, not to help you with your writing business (although you can probably see yourself here) but to think of all of those outside businesses that have attached themselves to writers who want to indie publish.

We’ve already seen countless business go out of business because they couldn’t survive the existence phase.

Most businesses that started to augment indie writers are now in the survival stage. This new environment hasn’t existed long enough for the businesses to adequately predict the future. They can only guess.

. . . .

If the writers don’t get rich, then the businesses that are making 10-20-30% off those writers don’t make money. Those businesses are hemorrhaging capital.

If the business managers/owners are optimist types who don’t understand the various bubbles and life cycles they’re in, they’re going to try to get investment. And they won’t be able to get real investment, because smart money left the industry years ago. Stupid money has lost its interest in publishing. And only usury types remain—the kind who give loans at 30-40%. These businesses won’t qualify for anything else.

Survival is all about cash flow, and managing cash flow is an art. The concerns of the business in the survival phase, according to Churchill and Lewis, are pretty simple:

  • In the short run, can we generate enough cash to break even and cover the repair or replacement of our capital assets as they wear out?
  • Can we, at a minimum, generate enough cash flow to stay in business and to finance growth to a size that is sufficiently large…to earn an economic return on our assets and labor?

Many of these side businesses will soon learn that the answer to those questions is no, because the flood of money is gone. The gold rush is dead, and investors want nothing to do with publishing.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

You Can Write a Best-Seller and Still Go Broke

10 January 2017

From Slate:

In 2012, a month after the publication of her memoir, Wild [Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail], Cheryl Strayed was on a book tour, soaking up the wonder of her first big success as an author, when her husband texted her to say that their rent check had bounced. “We couldn’t complain to anyone,” Strayed told Manjula Martin, editor of the new anthology Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living: “My book is on the New York Times best-seller list right now and we do not have any money in our checking account.”

Few connections are more mysterious than the one between writing books and making money. Strayed most definitely did make money on Wild, which was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film with Reese Witherspoon, but she didn’t get her first royalty check for it until 2013, “so it was almost a year before my life actually changed.” Yes, there was that $400,000 advance—an amount to make any aspiring memoirist’s eyes go dreamily unfocused—but Strayed and her husband had run up so much credit card debt that almost all of the money went to paying it off and supporting her family while she finished writing the book. Book advances, which are advances against the royalties that will be earned after the book is published, aren’t forked out in one lump sum, either. The payments come parceled out in (typically) three or four checks paid on signing the contract, on delivery of the manuscript, and on publication. The writer’s literary agent then takes a percentage of that. When Strayed sold her first novel a few years earlier for the seemingly handsome sum of $100,000, the advance amounted to, as she puts it, “about $21,000 a year over the course of four years, and I paid a third of that to the IRS … it was like getting a grant every year for four years. But it wasn’t enough to live off.”

It’s worth leading with all these numbers because, as Scratch repeatedly demonstrates, the nitty-gritty on this stuff is in short supply in the wider writerly imagination, while fantasy, evasion, and envious brooding runneth over. Strayed is among the few prospering contributors to this collection of essays and interviews who speaks so explicitly. (“We’re only hurting ourselves as writers by being so secretive about money,” she told Martin.) Another is Roxane Gay—author, columnist, editor, publisher, professor, public speaker—who reports that she made approximately $150,000 in 2014. That’s a good income by almost any standard, but does it match your sense of Gay’s prominence and productivity? (Surely there are plenty of professors who make that much, or more, from their academic work alone.) Depending on your media diet, Gay may or may not constitute a “famous writer” in your eyes, and depending on how much you think famous writers must earn, her income may strike you as surprisingly modest. Or perhaps this entire topic offends you. There are still a few idealists out there cherishing the belief that writing, as art, mustn’t be contaminated by filthy lucre.

. . . .

If they are novelists (or—God forbid!—poets), they almost always rely on teaching for steady income. What they teach, for the most part, is writing; that is, as none of the contributors has quite the nerve to state baldly, in order to support themselves, they train others to do the work that isn’t providing them with a viable living. At times, the entire fiction-writing profession resembles a pyramid scheme swathed in a dewy mist of romantic yearning. Many of these essays begin with wry descriptions of the author’s youthful madness in moving to New York or throwing away a dependable day job or career path to “be a writer,” a phrase that often connotes earning enough money to live by writing alone. Yet this is never a simple transaction. For authors, money, however obscurely, is always entangled with legitimacy because writers have for centuries equated publication with professional and artistic anointment.

It’s indeed a significant testimonial when someone else wants to invest their own money in a writer’s work, so it’s easy to forget that a publisher is actually the writer’s business partner, not a conferrer of literary worth. In their candid moments, most publishers will admit going into business with writers whose work they regard as subliterary because they believe that they can profit from their books. This is still considered shocking in some unsophisticated quarters, but publishing isn’t literature: Literature is literature. Publishing is a separate, if related enterprise.

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Authors concerned over ‘triple whammy’ tax blow

5 January 2017

From The Bookseller:

Recent changes to tax rules pose a “triple whammy” blow to writers, the Society of Authors (SoA) has warned.

The SoA’s chief executive Nicola Solomon has told The Bookseller that proposed changes to the VAT flat rate scheme, announced in the last Autumn Statement, will “impact adversely on authors”, while the forthcoming abolition of Class 2 National Insurance in 2018 is “a bombshell for authors on low incomes”. A third blow in a trio of tax changes is the prospect that writers will have to submit quarterly tax updates online as part of a bid to digitise the UK’s tax system. This continues to be “very concerning”, Solomon said, adding that the organisation intends to lobby for changes to exempt sole traders, or for systems to be provided that take into account its members’ “unique working practices”, on all counts.

“We are concerned that there are changes to tax which will create a triple whammy for authors, particularly authors on lower incomes,” Solomon said. “Authors’ incomes are declining and they simply cannot afford to pay more tax and National Insurance or to spend money on expensive accountants, software or updated computers,” Solomon said. “Furthermore, the pressures on authors’ time have also become greater as they are asked to self-promote by appearances and social media. They do not have the time to input quarterly accounts or to get to grips with so many new systems.”

The government’s Flat Rate Scheme is a means of simplifying tax calculations for traders. However, in April 2017, a higher rate increasing from 12% to 16.5% will apply to “limited cost traders”, i.e labour-intensive businesses, which could include authors, when the new rules come into force.

. . . .

The MTD proposals have sparked fears it will be those already on meagre incomes who are forced to pick up the cost of the changes, both in monetary terms and in time, potentially distracting from the business of writing. One SoA member, a full-time author, contributed anonymously to the SoA website saying it would be “unduly time-consuming, with no discernable benefit for HMRC” and “reduce my ability to concentrate on my writing”. Another member, Sheila Norton, said: “The thought of doing anything tax-related (however little it involves) four times a year instead of once still makes my heart race”.

Another, Leslie Wilson, said: “Many authors don’t earn what anyone could call significant amounts, and to have to fill in quarterly updates – which would indeed interfere with them working for their paltry earnings – is rather like adding insult to injury.”

. . . .

According to trade union The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB), these MTD reforms will “significantly affect” authors who are self-employed, because they will need to install new, approved software and receive support and training – all at a cost. It estimates that quarterly submissions could escalate accountancy costs by as much as 400%.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Court Documents Regarding All Romance E-Books’ Disturbing Business Practices Surface

1 January 2017

From Blog Critics:

In a previous article about the sudden closing of All Romance E-Books, LLC and the owner’s announcement that she was not going to pay any royalties for the 4th quarter sales of books from the over 5000 publishers and authors with books on the site.

. . . .

In order to see the whole story, you need to go back to 2014 when a dramatic conflict began between Lori James and her business partner, Barbara Perfetti Ulmer. In fact, Ulmer sued James and All Romance E-Books, LLC in the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court of Pinellas County, Florida – where ARe was established as a legal business entity – on March 2, 2015. Ulmer filed a complaint alleging that James had been “denying access to contemporaneous and current financial information related to All Romance, breach of duties (fiduciary, care, and loyalty) unjust enrichment, inequitable distribution, and judicial dissolution of All Romance.”

The information regarding this lawsuit is easily found thanks to the open court records in the state of Florida, and can be viewed online here.

. . . .

Ulmer and James established All Romance E-Books, LLC together as full partners in 2006. Ulmer was the Chief Financial Officer, and as she was resident in Florida that’s where the physical address of ARe was established. (Remember the three addresses in Florida? One was in Ulmer’s town, Safety Harbor, and appears to be a post office box, which would be understandable as she was the CFO.) James was the Chief Operating Officer, and under the terms of their original operating agreement (Exhibit A) both partners owned 50% of the company and all decisions were to be made by “unanimous agreement” while all financial considerations –  both contribution and distribution – were to be equally shared.

. . . .

According to Ulmer’s complaint, in October of 2014, Dominick Addario, MD – a forensic psychiatrist affiliated with the University of California-San Diego – examined Ulmer to determine whether she was “disabled” and unable to perform her duties under the terms of their operating agreement, which stipulated that if a condition was “permanent or expected to be of an indefinite duration” and prohibited one of the partners from performing their duties, the other partner could assume full responsibility for the company, including all financial and operational decisions.

On November 26, 2014 Dr. Addario sent an email (Exhibit B) to both partners stating that: “…I recommended certain treatment and testing for her and suggest reevaluation in 3 to 6 months at which time she may once again be fit to carry out her duties…”

. . . .

When Ulmer asked to be included in meetings, James told her no and to “stop being a distraction.” When Ulmer asked to return to work, James said no. When Ulmer protested, James told her that “if she did not like what James was doing, that Perfetti(Ulmer) should go get a lawyer.”

Link to the rest at Blog Critics and thanks to A. for the tip.

PG will remind all that the contentions in a court filing are not proven facts.

A quick review of the case summary of Ulmer vs. James reveals that Ulmer’s filing was dismissed “because of lack of prosecution.” This generally means that the plaintiff didn’t do what he/she was required to do in order to move the case forward. There was never a trial or other disposition of the case on its merits.

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