PG has been receiving inquiries from prospective clients about publishing contracts from various organizations with which PG is not familiar.
He won’t name names because he has only seen a couple of the contracts and not done any checking on any (except to confirm that a notorious vanity press is still in operation).
Like (he expects) many of the visitors to TPV, PG has also seen an uptick in spammy email offers.
PG needs to do a content analysis to learn a bit more, but he wonders if there’s a style guide somewhere that is used by many for whom English is a (distant) second language for the purpose of creating fraudulent-sounding emails.
However, short of a more in-depth review, here are a few style elements that show up in PG’s inbox on a regular basis:
The author claims to be a ministry-level official in the government of an African nation
The Minister is telling me that I have qualified to receive a lot of money from some government fund
Sometimes the money is sitting in an Unclaimed Property fund
The general style of the email is quite obsequious and archaically formal, “My Dear Kind Sir or Madam”, etc.
PG doesn’t believe that even the most credulous among us deserves to be defrauded of money he/she has rightfully obtained. However, he wonders if someone who is victimized by this sort of approach might not be in need of a court-appointed conservator to manage the individual’s financial affairs to protect the individual from being financially victimized.
Postscript regarding Vanity Presses and Other Occupants of Publishing’s Swamps:
Don’t pay money to a “publisher” or “press” to publish your book
Always do a series of online searches based on the name of any organization or person who solicits you for money to assist you in publishing your book.
You might structure some of your searches as follows: “Shady Publisher” fraud, “Shady Publisher” crook, “Shady Publisher” cheat, etc., etc., etc.
Look for a website for the Publisher. Don’t necessarily believe what it says, but see if it looks like one for a major publisher. See if the site lists any alternate names, imprints, etc. the Publisher uses and do all the searches described in this list on those alternates.
Do a lot of searches about the Publisher, not just a few.
If the Publisher has a physical location listed on its website, Google “Better Business Bureau” and the city named in the physical location. Once you find the local Better Business Bureau (it may be in a larger city near the city where the Publisher is located) use its website to search for the name of the Publisher.
Go to several websites where authors gather to talk shop and ask whether anyone has heard about the Publisher
Go to Amazon’s Books section and search for the Publisher’s name. If you don’t find it, consider its absence to be a giant red flag with spotlights shining on it. If you do find the Publisher’s name, look at the Sales Rank of the books it has published.
A couple of months ago, PG had a post titled Don’t Do Business with Jerks, explaining that this was one of the more common non-legal pieces of advice he gives his clients.
Recently, PG was reminded of another common piece of non-legal advice he gives to his clients.
Don’t do business with crooks.
If you do business with a crook, sooner or later you’re almost certainly going to regret it.
Certainly, some crooks appear to be selective with their targets. You might feel that, since you don’t fit the target profile, you’ll be safe.
The problem is that given the choice between a friendship/relationship and getting something he/she wants, ultimately the crook’s gonna crook.
A crook may be honest in a dozen small business matters. That is an admirable series of decisions, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the crook isn’t a crook any more ever again, that he/she has turned their life around and will never crook again.
It may mean that the crook has decided that whatever non-monetary or monetary value involved in the non-stealing relationship might be present, such potential is speculative when compared to the direct financial benefit of simply stealing something. Or perhaps the crook decides to see if he/she can get more money by not stealing, thinking that stealing is an option if the first path doesn’t pan out.
Yes, crooks can change their ways, turn their lives around and never steal again. Or they can change their ways, turn their lives around, then revert for one reason or another. The reason may be one that makes financial sense or it can simply be that the buzz involved in pulling off a good heist is just too tempting to resist.
While there are many honest publishers, there are also a few dishonest publishers. While there are many honest literary agents, there are also a few dishonest agents. (In the interest of equity, there are many honest attorneys and a some dishonest attorneys.)
The publisher/author relationship is a potential opportunity for thievery because the publisher has control and access to all the information about sales, etc. The author knows only what the publisher discloses.
Yes, most (but not all) publishing agreements include audit clauses, but conducting an audit using a qualified accountant is nothing close to cheap. A forensic audit/auditor is more expensive than a standard audit. (A forensic audit is an examination and evaluation of a firm’s or individual’s financial records to derive evidence that can be used in a court of law or legal proceeding.)
If the publisher is working hard on short-changing an author, the publisher may have taken effective steps to prevent an auditor from discovering the truth.
Perhaps the person/organization has either initiated or been on the receiving end of several lawsuits. Perhaps the person/organization is constantly involved in public disagreements with others over money or other topics. For PG, both of those are large red flags.
One specific type is an individual who has been married and divorced several times with the breakups involving lots of fireworks, nasty accusations, big legal bills, etc. Again, such things happen even if both spouses are perfectly upright and honorable in every way, but long experience indicates that the probability of this being the case is not high.
Without getting into politics, if a client came to PG for advice on entering into a business deal with Donald Trump, given Trump’s history of lawsuits and other public disputes with business partners, PG would likely remind the client about the benefits of a quietly efficient business and personal life.
All of this notwithstanding, people can and do change, turn over a new leaf, repent of past bad behavior, etc.
In such cases, PG suggests that his clients not be the first new business partner of the repentant counterparty. It’s one thing for a person to change their behavior when the sky is blue and birds are singing. However, if a storm appears on the horizon, newly-acquired virtues may take a back seat to unfortunate old habits.
To be clear, PG is not advocating permanent banishment of someone who has made bad decisions or serious mistakes in the past. However, if a client wishes to be a good gal/guy and help someone who is down on their luck, PG suggests that a purely charitable act, one undertaken with no expectation of a return or profit, may be a wiser approach. With no expectations, one may avoid disappointment and estrangement if the repentance is less permanent than anticipated.
You may want to consider writing person with a dodgy past a check instead of giving them one of your books to publish.
PG’s bottom line is still Don’t Do Business with Crooks.
Maybe you’re praying for new clients, wondering if you’re on the right path.
After all, the Christian market for freelance writers has a reputation of low pay or no pay which makes for an unlikely way to make a living.
Median annual salary for freelance writers fell to a historic low of $6,080 in 2017, down 42 percent from 2009, according to an Author’s Guild survey.
And if you’re trying to carve out a niche as a Christian writer, you might think there’s even more gloom and doom to come.
Why? Some Christian writers make even less because many of these publications have low pay for articles and expect you are doing it for “the ministry” instead of the money (which may be true and more about that later).
And it doesn’t have to be that way.
I’ve successfully made a living as a Christian writer for many years, and I want to give you some of the “secrets” to following this path…
. . . .
1. Learn to write well in the print magazine area
Even if it is low pay, you’re gaining publishing experience. Book editors and literary agents are looking for authors who have publishing experience.
One of the best ways to gain that experience is writing for magazines. You learn to:
Write for an audience
Give the reader a solid takeaway or single point to remember
Develop good storytelling and writing skills
These are critical skills for every writer—Christian or not.
2. Low-paying articles can lead to higher paying opportunities
While working on a magazine article assignment, I met the leading African American in Promise Keepers when it was the fastest growing faith-based men’s group in America.
No, the magazine assignment didn’t pay all that great. But…
My new relationship led to writing a Christian book with Bishop Phillip Porter.
That project paid a good fee, but it was also another stepping stone.
I was able to work with a New York literary agent and get a six-figure book contract for the second book.
Before you blow off low-paying assignments, take a minute to consider the possibilities. Follow every open door. You never know where it will lead.
. . . .
4. Diversify your writing and income streams
No one has a crystal ball to see the future of publishing. But I have learned the hard way the Christian writer needs to create multiple streams of income. For example:
I’ve had full-time day jobs which have suddenly come to an end.
I’ve had book contracts cancelled and other unexpected events.
The best protection for any writer is to earn from different places
One of the things that’s surprised me the most as I’ve advanced in this writing journey is how many people change agents, editors, publishing houses. It’s not something that is discussed widely on the internet, but it happens. A LOT.
Why do these changes happen?
Part of the problem is that writers forget they are allowed to have questions, and they will have questions – questions about something related to publishing, something that their agent or editor might know, but for reasons including mental health issues, insecurity about writing, or a desire to not be that client, they have each paused and let the stress fester a little.
It can be a very scary thing to send an email to someone who you respect, but with whom you have some feelings of frustration, whether it be something that you don’t understand as well as you should, feedback that wasn’t provided when you thought it would be, or writerly imposter syndrome in general.
For these kinds of situations (and so many others in my life) I reach into the vault of brilliance provided by Brené Brown – this time from her book Rising Strong. In it, she states repeatedly about the importance of acknowledging the story we are telling ourselves. Please note that this isn’t the story that is true or the story that is rational – it is the story we are telling ourselves.
For example, I endure depression. I don’t like to say I suffer from it, though sometimes I do. So, the voices that tend to visit me circulate around being enough of whatever the flavor is of the day. I talk to myself as I’m getting ready for the day, greeting those thoughts when I am able to recognize as depression thoughts by their name (our theme song for this meeting is “The Sound of Silence.” The Disturbed version is best for me).
If I am able to tell when I’m in a depression cyclone and when I am having valid concerns, it helps. Then, I choose key moments to share this reality with the professionals I work with.
. . . .
1. Do NOT write/call when you are on an emotional rollercoaster.
There are going to be times when the initial response to something sends your thoughts and feelings on unpredictable loops and that is not the time to talk.
I have a colleague who has a sticky note on her computer that says “24 hours.” As soon as she has an email/voicemail/hears of a conversation that gets her heart racing, she looks at it and waits. This wisdom works for many situations. Practice it often and even in excess.
2. Always, always, start with a humane greeting.
A sincere inquiry into how things are going, an expression of gratitude for what has been done. Agents and editors work very hard for a lot of people, and you have the opportunity to be part of that. That’s amazing. Express your gratitude often.
Funding a book-length project, whether it’s a first book or a fourth, can be challenging—even more so without an advance, or with a nominal one. However, with some research, organization, entrepreneurial spirit, and persistence, a writer at any career stage can find resources to “invent” an advance and obtain the support to complete a manuscript. Below are some options writers can look to.
If you’re working on a first book, the Elizabeth George Foundation provides one-time yearlong grants. Funds may be used for living expenses, travel for research, artistic residencies, writers conferences, necessary enrichment or related coursework, or tuition in accredited MFA programs in the U.S. Short story writers, poets, unpublished novelists, emerging playwrights, and unpublished creative nonfiction writers who are U.S. residents may apply.
The Sustainable Arts Foundation supports writers who are parents by giving unrestricted cash awards to individuals as well as by funding family-friendly artist residencies. Recent individual awardees received $5,000 each.
For creative writing projects with an international focus, the Fulbright Awards considers and funds both teaching/research and research awards. If you have a BA or are a recent graduate, you’ll likely want to apply under the Fulbright Student Program; graduate-degree holders who have been published will likely apply under the Fulbright Scholar Program for midcareer and established professionals. Many countries do not have a foreign language requirement, so you may undertake your book project research in English. For some awards, the Fulbright now offers a “flex option,” which means if you are granted that award (either for a semester or full academic year abroad), you may allocate the research over shorter time periods.
When I went to grad school, I brought Harold. Harold is my dog. He’s 80 pounds, a pit bull terrier mixed with something larger than a pit bull terrier, meaning most of the few pins on the Craigslist rental map that “allowed dogs” would not allow Harold. So I had to settle with renting a tiny standalone house a few miles from the university and, more importantly, outside the neighborhood where many of the other students in my program lived. This made me nervous. I worried that I would struggle to find my footing in the community.
Which is odd, considering that the solitude of it is what drew me to fiction writing in the first place. I’ve always enjoyed having the freedom to build out, refine, and reshape my ideas on my own, seeking input only when I myself deemed something ready to be seen. Writing fiction is one-pot creativity. You take your ideas into a room, you let them stew, and what comes out is not the starter for another thing that involves other ideas and other processes; it’s the thing, the whole thing.
The problem is it gets lonely. Crushingly so, at times. But crushing loneliness can be dealt with. Emergency protocols can be initiated, loved ones contacted. I’m privileged to have this vocabulary, but I have it nonetheless. What I struggle with more is the lesser loneliness of writing, when every word I put on the page is fine but not great, when every song I try and listen to fails to hook me, when I get up to do the dishes and find only a mug and a bowl in the sink, because I’ve already used this as an excuse to stop doing the thing I should be doing. It will feel like the days themselves are suffering from a low-grade sinus headache, and all I’ll want is to get out, and be around people whose mutual desire for escape will confirm that I’m okay, actually.
. . . .
This was what I sought from a writing community: not connections but a connection to something bigger, a network of people who “get it.” And despite Harold, despite the small standalone house, despite the distance, which some nights, on the way home from the bar on my bike, seemed to double or triple—despite it all, I found it. I experienced the elusive IRL writing community, experienced having a phone full of numbers to text when I needed reprieve from sitting by myself staring at a Word document, and places to go if not one of those texts yielded a concrete plan.
In my workshops, I received a lot of advice that I’m still not entirely sure what to do with. There often seemed to be a sinister trade off at play. The notes of my peers alerted me to my strengths and shortcomings as a writer and made me really consider what I wanted and didn’t want to do with my work. In exchange for this insight, they padlocked the very projects they were in reaction to. Many of the stories I worked on during those two years remain unfinished, residing on my hard drive as individual files or as part of a collection that I tried and failed to sell with an agent I don’t work with anymore. Upon graduating, I shipped a large box of marked up stories to my new address. When it was lost in transit, it felt like divine intervention.
Which is all to say, the things that occurred outside of class—the time spent in bars and crowded rooms filled with those who knew both the exhilaration and profound itchiness of writing—was not a neat side effect of attending a writing program. For me, it was everything. And for some time, I was content.
PG is reminded of law school students who decide they hate the idea of working as a lawyer after they graduate. These folks tend to have huge student loan debts from their undergraduate and law school educations that could best be paid by getting a high-salary job, but they don’t want to be a lawyer with a high-salary job. (There are many lawyers with jobs that aren’t so high-salary, but we’re talking about paying off student loans.)
PG doesn’t know enough MFA graduates well to know if there are similarities between the law school graduates and MFA graduates who decide they don’t want to do what they spent a lot of money preparing for. However, as a general proposition, if anyone asked PG whether they should enter a career-oriented course of graduate studies (anthropology doesn’t count) without being convinced they really wanted to do work as a lawyer or writer/editor, he would suggest they find a job and see how they feel about writing or law in a couple of years.
Participating in the adult working world will introduce most college graduates to occupations and business lives previously unknown to them. They may surprised to discover that they really enjoy helping people find the right life insurance policy.
There are more than a few mature adults who discovered a wonderful field they had never considered entering while they were in college. PG has always been happy as a lawyer (save for dealing with one bizarre senior partner and a couple of crazy clients), but had no idea that he would ever find legal work interesting until he had been out of college for a few years.
These observations and accompanying advice are definitely not original with PG. During the spring of his senior year in college, PG’s academic advisor, an older woman who was greatly respected in her rather exotic field of study and was always addressed as “Miss Lee” instead of Doctor or Professor Lee, called him into her office following a class.
Miss Lee asked PG what he was planning to do after he graduated. He threw out vague possibilities that included traveling to Africa or Sweden and looking around when he arrived there.
Miss Lee’s response was direct and forceful. “You need to get a job. Here is the address of the student placement center. Go there right now and tell them you want them to help you get a job.”
PG followed Miss Lee’s advice and, a couple of days after graduation started a job he hadn’t previously known existed. That job lead to another job which lead to law school, etc., etc.
PG hasn’t been to Africa or Sweden but, to this day, has been exceedingly grateful for Miss Lee’s advice and acknowledges that his life would not have been nearly as rewarding had she not told him to get a job in a manner that persuaded him to promptly follow her advice.
In the literature biz, there is no rush like a debut. Before that first book hits, anything seems possible, the improbable feels likely, and that proposed media blitz seems like it might just actually work. Also: that starlet with the production company could (let no doubts linger) love your plot and—even more flatteringly—your prose. That photographer charged with freezing your face for all time will (there’s no stopping hope) trick your age out with the lights. The airport bookstores will stock your book, Trevor Noah will slot you in for an interview, conference organizers will rain their keynotes down upon you, and there are just so many prizes to be had.
Indeed, there’s no rush like a debut.
It’s the aftermath of the debut that crowds the heart and head—not all the time, but mostly. It’s then when we writers take stock: we stumbled or we didn’t; we were seen or we were not; we were loved, we were not loved, we were neglected; our emails were answered or they were ignored. Failure is one thing. Success is something else. Success breeds the need for an even better next book.
All of which requires hyped writers embarking on their next books to find a quiet room in the house inside their heads—a place where the imagination has not been spent, diffused, defected, defeated, harassed, minimized, bullied, or drowned out by the story already told, the book already made, the praise already compressed, the expectations already sparked, and the rumors of other superstar writers who somehow wavered in the shocking aftermaths of success. What, after all, kept Harper Lee from finishing a second novel for all that time? How much, precisely, did F. Scott Fitzgerald suffer in the afterglow of early fame?
. . . .
But what if the writers of series grow desperate to move to a new writing room inside their heads? I’m not suggesting that all do, of course, but, what if? What if what they want to do next is not precisely within their lucrative, reliable brand? What if their next is, to the Ps and the Ls, a most terrifying risk?
We played more than 600 shows in our roughly seven years together. We lasted seven years and 600 shows and three full-length albums and four EPs and two tapes, and dozens upon dozens of sessions, interviews, and videos. We weren’t the best. We weren’t the coolest. We weren’t the hippest. But we were good. . . . And we outworked everyone. Beyond any music we ever created, we became most known for that work ethic. We were the Road Dogs, the writers said, the Working Man’s Band, the Hardest Working Group in Rock ‘n’ Roll.
. . . .
Yet all of that hard work yielded nothing.
Well, that’s not entirely true. It yielded seven of the greatest years of my life, the majority of which were spent driving around the country, playing my guitar every night, making new friends and fans, seeing old friends and family, watching our small but devout fan base singing words that we wrote right back in our faces, and spreading our beer-soaked gospel in every corner of the country. We got to see our world in a way few people get to see it, and I’ll never suggest anything other than our being amongst the luckiest people on Earth.
But in the end, it resulted in nothing other than fond memories and a lifetime of experiences. As far as tangible returns on our years-long investment, we had nothing to speak of.
And yet here I am, starting at the same point I started at almost a decade ago. Only now, in place of a guitar and a bunch of songs, I am armed with a laptop and a bunch of stories.
I’ve decided to parlay my life and career from (arguably) the hardest industry to break into to break into (arguably) the second-hardest industry to break into. I’ve decided—thanks to a resume whose main body attempts to explain how being a “guitar player” can bring value to your company—to try and get paid doing one of the few things I know I can do well: writing.
Because being a musician—a decade of noes and passes, of agents and managers and labels and distributors and venues and bigger bands and producers telling me (in their kindest boilerplate language) that they’d rather not work with me—wasn’t enough, I’ve decided to have another go at failure in an attempt to start a writing career.
. . . .
I write about sports and about wine. I write about the local flair of my adopted hometown and about the Italian-American food that is my family’s heritage. I write about my son, 18 months old and nearly half as tall as his mom.
Last summer, I pecked away every morning at a story about him, about her, and about me, and emerged with a 45,000-word manuscript of which I am very proud. I wrote it for myself. I wrote it for my mom, who’s been dead half a decade, and for my family, who are still here. I wrote because I felt that I had a story I had to write. I wrote for all the reasons the half-cocked self-help gurus tell you to write; “Don’t write the story because you want to get published. Write the story because you need to write the story.”
I needed to write that story. But I also wrote it with the intention of selling it to a publisher.
. . . .
But first I have to wade through another cycle of the endless noes and passes, as the 50-plus literary agents whom I’ve queried and the 50-plus more that I’ve yet to query tell me in their kindest boilerplate language that they’d rather not work with me.
YouTubers call it the adpocalypse. It’s a word is used to describe the steady erosion of YouTube’s support for small and independent creators by demoting or demonetizing their channels in favor of more traditional, mainstream material. Julia Alexander at the The Verge wrote in April of this year …
“Between 2011 and 2015, YouTube was a haven for comedians, filmmakers, writers, and performers who were able to make the work they wanted and earn money in the process…. In 2016, personalities like Philip DeFranco, comedians like JesseRidgway, and dozens of other popular creators started noticing that their videos were being demonetized, a term popularized by the community to indicate when something had triggered YouTube’s system to remove advertisements from a video, depriving them of revenue.”
While not directly related to copyright, I would include the adpocalypse in a chapter about the broader copyright debate because one of the underlying premises of the “copyright is obsolete” narrative is that the new opportunities created by the internet could replace traditional licensing regimes with legacy “gatekeepers.” With an evangelical zeal, some of the loudest copyright critics sermonized that the internet was replete with untapped sources of revenue for creators, and YouTube was their Zion—a place where creators could slough off tired notions of ownership, share their work with the world, and earn a living from Google’s advertising machine.
The fact that people were making a business out of being YouTubers—ranging from profitable side-lines to multimillion-dollar payouts for a handful of stars—was sufficient anecdotal evidence to bolster the talking point that concepts like copyright were anachronistic and regressive. The lecture at old creators was a general theme that they should stop “whining” about lost sales, piracy, devaluation and embrace the unprecedented prospects before them.
. . . .
That was a theme my fellow luddites kept reiterating—that YouTube will “empower” new creators until it is no longer in its business interest to do so, at which point the company will change the rules without warning or transparency. That was the underlying absurdity of the entire line of argument against creators’ rights—the illusion that a company like YouTube was liberating new creators, even making them feel a sense of ownership in the platform itself and that this apparent symbiosis would last indefinitely. “The golden age of YouTube — the YouTube of a million different creators all making enough money to support themselves by creating videos about doing what they love — is over,” writes Alexander.
Perhaps. But I wouldn’t think of it as the party is over so much as a party to which most YouTubers were never going to be invited in the first place. The promise of millions becoming YouTube entrepreneurs was never attainable, or at least sustainable. “96.5 percent of all of those trying to become YouTubers won’t make enough money off of advertising to crack the U.S. poverty line,” stated a 2018 article at Fortune.com. YouTube was always a casino, and Google is the House.
. . . .
More than a few of my fellow luddites have mentioned that YouTube’s monetization in not about creators, and never has been. As composer Kerry Muzzy describes in a sit-down interview with Neil Turkewitz, “So far I have identified 97 million views of videos with my music in them, representing 303 million minutes of watch time. Those 97 million views happened before Content ID located my music in them and under YouTube’s policies, I can’t monetize them retroactively — so YouTube and the uploader made a small fortune in ad sales on those videos, but I got nothing.”
This post is not a gloat. I legitimately empathize with most creative people, and YouTubers are no exception; but one thing the “old” creator can tell the “new” is that very few favorable tides last a lifetime, which is one reason owning copyrights in successful works can be so critical for so many creators. Like the aging jazz musician whose royalties in a pre-1972 sound recording just might be her medical bills for the year.
PG suggests the same pattern has applied/will likely apply to indie authors on Amazon. The idea that writing and publishing an ebook is a sure path to financial success and security was an initial Amazon meme.
Plenty of one-shot-wonder “authors” may still receive small payments from Amazon each month, but long-term success for indie authors requires hard and smart work – writing good books, promoting them well, keeping readers involved to the extent they want to be involved, building and sustaining a brand that equates with quality, understanding the segment of the book market in which you exist, etc.
That said, PG would feel better about the long-term well-being of indie authors if Amazon had more successful competitors for online ebook publishing and sales. No disrespect to the variety of start-up publishers who provide good service, quality ebooks, and fair treatment for authors, but PG hasn’t seen anyone who seems to have the ability to scale up to become a second Amazon in terms of sales and reader mindshare. (He would loudly cheerlead for anyone who looked like they could pull off such a difficult feat.)
For all its childish grumbling about Amazon, major publishers and the infrastructure that surrounds them are likely as dependent upon Amazon as indie authors are. Other than in a handful of high-income neighborhoods that support all sorts of retailers that exist nowhere else, and perhaps a few college towns, PG thinks the physical bookstore business is on its way to financial oblivion as well. PG hasn’t seen any credible demographic study of consumers who regularly visit physical bookstores and purchase from them, but he suspects it’s becoming more and more of a niche group.
PG also suggests that the lending of ebooks via traditional libraries is another potent force that will impact the bookstore market. For PG, borrowing an ebook via the local library system isn’t quite as frictionless as Amazon’s purchasing experience, but it can still deliver a quality book from a traditional publisher to PG’s ereading device at 11:00 PM when he’s not quite ready to go to sleep yet.
My first love was in a band. His advice about music translated easily to the writing life—or I made it fit, those nights I was killing time backstage in dive bars during sound check. “Leave them wanting more” was his advice on playing. So I won’t drone on when I give readings, erring on the side of reading too little.
“All money made by the band goes back to the band” is another one of his sayings—easy to follow when I made only $10 here and there publishing poems. My first three books were poetry, published because they had won contests.
I put that prize money back into my band—back into my writing—using it to print postcards, to enter contests, and, importantly, to acquire gas and food as I traveled around giving readings. That was back when writing wasn’t my full-time job. It is now, by necessity. And the world is different now, fueled by a gig economy seemingly hell-bent on driving us into the ground with exhaustion.
Elizabeth Gilbert famously used her book advance to travel while writing Eat Pray Love. V.E. Schwab says she spent her (more modest) first book advance on, “in order: Rent. Groceries. Bills. Self-promotion.”
Schwab was responding to a Twitter thread on advances. Writers’ responses to what they had spent or would spend advances on included college, a new roof, and an adoption, as well as on evergreen expenses such as bills and insurance and paying down debt. Michelle Belanger said her “book advance story speaks to the failure of U.S. health care”; she spent it on oral surgery, which she had to pay for out of pocket.
These responses were overwhelmingly practical. And the responses overwhelmingly came from women.
The idea is that you spend your book advance on the living expenses accrued while writing the book. But many people have already finished a book before it sells. And most of us aren’t paid enough of an advance to live off it, or at least not for very long—not in our era of sky-high rents and insurance costs.
. . . .
A few months after the novel sold, I was laid off from my job. My coworkers and I were in the process of joining a union, and I didn’t receive severance. As soon as he learned I had been laid off, my literary agent, Eric Smith, suggested I polish up the next book he knew I was writing. He said we could sell it on the strength of sample chapters and an outline. And he was right.
The idea of spending all of a book advance with the expectation of future earnings that may or may not ever come is dangerous. But I did spend every cent of an advance once. And it was the smartest thing I have ever done.
That advance, for a novella, was the first one I earned. And I can tell you exactly what I spent it on: I hired a lawyer. Because of that advance, I was able to get a divorce, get custody of my child, and get child support established. That advance saved my life.
. . . .
My advice for all women writers: save your advance. Save every single penny you can. Because your survival is not guaranteed—as a writer but also as a person who is still thought of as less than in this world.
In content marketing, it is always the 80/20 rule. 20% of content brings 80% results. This holds water for every content marketing audit I have done. A handful of articles pull the maximum number of clicks and conversions. When we talk about content marketing, the first thing should be to create and distribute content that often we don’t reuse.
According to a study, most content marketers don’t feel the need to audit, which is strange as it helps improve content marketing strategy.
What is a Content Audit?
It is a process of systematically reviewing all the content on your website. The process allows you to pay special attention to the optimization efforts and see whether you meet your business objectives or not.
If performed adequately, you can find gaps in your content which can be fulfilled to serve your target audience better. Finding your target audience will not only step up your content game but will also help mature your digital strategy following the dynamic industrial trends.
. . . .
Before creating content, you must ask yourself who your audience is? What is your audience looking for? How can you solve their problems? All these questions will help you to write a clear and crisp copy that is as relevant to your audience as possible.
Once you’re done, you’ll be all set to write content copy that can move mountains. Every content marketer has their way of creating and publishing high-quality content, but there are a few things you must ponder before creating a writing piece. The first one is the audience.
Your content should resonate with your audience, so they keep on coming back to you. Seek feedback from your current customers through social media pages, emails, and surveys.
. . . .
Identify where your SEO stands:
Identify your high ranking web pages and keep them aside from the low ranking ones. Take the help of Google spreadsheets or any other spreadsheet while doing so.
Understand what content you need to remove or update on your website.
ChiZine Publications, the Canadian horror publisher run by Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory, has been under fire from writers this week for slow payment and nonpayment, accused of bullying and blackballing an author who complained, and in connection with remarks made by some individuals associated with CZP of a sexist and racist nature.
The social media outpouring seems to have been precipitated by the sharing of what passed between author Ed Kurtz and ChiZine Publications. I haven’t sourced the beginnings of this conversation (which may not have been public), but the details appear in CZP’s denial and Kurtz’ rebuttal below. But before turning to them, it’s helpful to look at one of Michael Matheson’s posts.
Matheson’s comments on Facebook include:
…Just now catching the edges of what happened with Ed Kurtz and CZP. And I can’t even begin to say I’m surprised. Honestly, I’m just glad we’re finally as a field starting to talk about the problems with CZP a little more publicly.
If you’ve never had a problem working with/for them, that’s fantastic, and I know it’s true for a number of people. But having been on the inside of that company for two years (2013-2015, longer if you count time spent working for Chiaroscuro Magazine doing reviews and review management before that), the issues that are coming up around Ed aren’t unusual. These are longstanding issues, spread across CZP’s interactions with writers, editors, interns, publicists, cover artists, agents (some who flat out won’t allow their clients to work with CZP), multiple distributors, several book printers, and they’re not going to get better.
…Long story short, you could not pay me to work with CZP ever again – not least of all because beyond the collected freelance payment of $3,200 for working on 30 books in whatever span it was (which I think was also in the two years I worked directly for them), I never did get paid. Nothing like hearing “Oh we’ll be able to pay you a salary/stipend when we get the Book Fund,” for two years running.
ChiZine Publications has publicly responded to charges about their payments to Ed Kurtz and allegations of mistreatment.
Given the recent discussion on social media about our professional relationship with author Ed Kurtz and other authors, we feel some of the mis-statements that have been made need to be corrected.
In 2018, Ed approached us, asking about monies due him from a Russian translation of his novel. At the time, we told him the monies had not yet been paid to us, and we checked with our foreign rights agent, who confirmed that they had received no monies either. We did not receive the translation rights monies until late April of 2019.
Once we received the translation monies owed, we paid Ed within 48 hours.
Earlier this year, we were approached by the Horror Writers Association to mediate the situation—and we do acknowledge that Ed’s author royalties were late at the time, which we regret, and which situation was corrected promptly. ChiZine Publications remains a small press run by two people, and while we do our best to stay on top of the business, we occasionally fall short. This is not something we take lightly—our author relationships are important to us.
Ed Kurtz’s royalties are currently paid in full. Any other monies he might be due will be paid on his next royalty statement, which will be in spring 2020.
As to an accusation that we, along with other small presses, attempted to blacklist Ed Kurtz, or threaten him in any way—that is categorically untrue, and we deny it. We were proud to publish Ed’s novel and were eager to publish his next one, as per our contract option. But when he wished to withdraw that novel, we respected his wish.
At no time has Ed ever asked for a rights reversal, although of course he is entitled to do so. We are happy to revert his rights if he makes that request.
We are aware that this discussion has brought to light instances of late royalty statements or payments, and we believe it is important to address this with our authors.
Accordingly, over the next four to six weeks we will be reviewing our financials, and reaching out to our authors and/or their representatives, to ensure that royalties are up to date, and promptly address any shortfalls.
If any of our authors have any specific questions—whether regarding royalty statements or any other business-related concerns—please contact us and we will do our best to provide answers in a timely fashion.
. . . .
Meanwhile, there is concern that the authors will unfairly receive the brunt of the punishment when customers stop buying books from CZP, or reviewers don’t cover their CZP books (as a couple online critics have already announced they will refuse to do in the future).
Link to the rest (in a much longer post) at File 770 and thanks to SFCN for the tip.
Not too long ago, I made a suggestion to someone I’m working with. I thought we should send our project to a Big Name Magazine, for consideration in one of the many things they’re doing. (Yes, I’m being deliberately vague.)
The response I got from my partner on this project was purposely discouraging, questioning my desire to even try because Big Name Magazine gets thousands of submissions. I pushed—hard—and the project got submitted.
I’m not sure I got angry about that response, but I did get peeved. I personally hate it when someone refuses to try because thousands of other people are trying too. Guaranteed failure, that’s what that attitude is, and not the good kind of failure.
It’s the kind of failure that shows a lack of belief, either in the self or the project.
A lot of people refuse to try anything because they’re afraid of failing. And I find that ironic: because failing to try is failing.
. . . .
“Expect Success” is all about attitude, about approaching everything—including submitting a project along with thousands of other people—with the idea that your project could succeed. Be optimistic and try.
The other point of expecting success is to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and keep pushing until you do succeed.
But if you do that, then the subtext is this: you will fail.
And for some reason, most people see failure of any type as a failing.
Tome both shares and celebrates failure. Sigal writes:
We have a fail brick with our logo that is earned. Whenever anyone fails, we post a message on Slack and show off the brick on our desks as a badge of honor.
Why? Because Sigal’s company “encourage team members to push personal technical limits, without fear of the consequences of failure….Failure is not only tolerated, it’s expected. We use it to decommission certain techs while others are prioritized.”
In the last twenty years there has been an explosion of new publishing models that take advantage of new opportunities afforded by the internet and advances in printing on demand. There’s also been a corresponding rise in scams. So what is “hybrid publishing” and how does it fit into all of this?
Hybrid publishing isn’t quite traditional publishing and it isn’t quite self-publishing. Essentially: A hybrid publisher takes on some or all of the functions of a traditional publisher, but the author shares in more of both the initial investment (in the form of fees) as well as the upside (in the form of higher royalties).
It’s tough to generalize about hybrid publishing because there are so many different models with so many differing levels of legitimacy. Many scam artists out there have taken advantage of the hype around hybrid publishing in order to put a glossy spin on exploitive practices.
One more reason for confusion around hybrid publishing is that a “hybrid author” is a totally separate term. This usually refers to an author who has been both traditionally published and self-published (such as yours truly), not necessarily someone who has published a book with a hybrid publisher.
Hybrid publishing is still viewed with quite a bit of skepticism in some corners of the publishing world, with some still viewing it as little more than vanity publishing by another name. But as publishing continues to evolve away from the virtual monopoly of traditional publishing, expect to see new upstarts continue to pop up in this zone.
. . . .
One helpful way to think about the book publishing process is as a collection of services, such as editing, design, and distribution. In traditional publishing, the publisher handles all of the services and pays the author an advance on top of that. In self-publishing, the author handles (or outsources) all of the services but receives more money per copy sold.
In hybrid publishing, the hybrid publisher usually manages these services, including distribution, but the author shares in the cost of production and an initial print run in exchange for royalties that are higher than traditional publishing but less than self-publishing.
In theory, hybrid publishers offer value by managing these tasks for the author, and some offer better design and print distribution than a self-published author would be able to achieve on their own.
Some hybrid publishers are selective in the authors they choose to take on, others are more like assisted publishing models that will take on all comers.
. . . .
There are really two types of authors who should consider hybrid publishing:
Authors with cash who are looking for a bit more upside than regular self-publishing.
Authors with cash who don’t want to manage the publishing process on their own.
Notice the “with cash” part? Yeah. If you don’t have cash to burn there are more economical ways of getting your book out there. Traditional publishers will pay you to publish your book, and self-publishing tends to cost less than hybrid publishing, especially if you handle some of the tasks on your own.
Some authors might appreciate having the publishing process managed for them and are willing to pay to not have to get into the self-published weeds. Or you might come across a hybrid publisher who genuinely seems to offer a value add with their design or distribution.
. . . .
At worst, a hybrid publisher is really just a vanity press or scam artist in disguise, taking advantage of the buzz around hybrid publishing and exploiting your ego to charge you top dollar for things you don’t need.
. . . .
Know what you’re signing. What rights are you handing over? What costs are you committing to? How can you get out of the arrangement if things go south? Be absolutely sure of what you’re getting into before you commit.
Be very skeptical of agents and publishers who use a bait and switch that steers you to their self-publishing arm. Many publishers, including some of the major ones, use extremely scuzzy services that are at best extractive of your cash and at worst wholly exploitive. Some reputable agencies have established legitimate hybrid publishing enterprises, but unless you’re already a pre-existing client, be very skeptical.
PG will second the warning about scam artists contained in the OP.
At this point in the self-publishing revolution, there are quality cover artists who are happy to work with indie authors for an appropriate fee. There are quality editors who are willing to work with indie authors for an appropriate fee.
Book formatting for most fiction books and many non-fiction books has become much easier to do on your own with Amazon’s Self-Publishing Resources, including Kindle Create. However, it’s not difficult to find a professional book formatting artist who will work with indie authors for an appropriate fee.
If you want help, email and online marketing service specialists are not difficult to find . . . online!.
PG thinks in all but very unusual cases, the author should be the boss and everyone else should be a contractor, providing a particular service. The author needs to be in the position to advance fees to the various specialists, but that relationship puts the author in control. If money is very tight, friends, acquaintances, high school or college art students looking for opportunities to build artistic résumés, etc., are possibilities.
The author is the one who publishes the book and receives all sales proceeds directly from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, etc. If accounting or business management help is needed, the author can send copies of royalty reports to those specialists providing assistance.
Not much to do with writing, but perhaps a writing prompt.
The premise for a new movie PG just stumbled upon, Yesterday, is that due to some cosmic occurrence a small-time struggling musician is the only person on the earth who remembers The Beatles and their songs. For everyone else, The Beatles never existed.
Here’s a trailer:
From The Wall Street Journal:
How much is an idea worth? In show business it often depends on who came up with it.
In the surreal comedy “Yesterday,” a struggling musician catapults to fame by singing Beatles tunes as if they were his own, following a freak occurrence that erases the band from the world’s collective awareness.
The real-life story behind the movie, in theaters Friday, tracks nearly the opposite trajectory: A struggling screenwriter comes up with an original idea, but can’t get the project made until he passes the torch onto someone much more famous.
. . . .
Moderately successful TV writer Jack Barth had spent many a hard day’s night trying to write for the big screen, penning more than 20 scripts over the course of his career—none of which he had ever managed to sell. Then, inspired partly by his own failures, the 62-year-old Mr. Barth had the idea for “Yesterday,” and spent a few years trying to get his script made into a movie. But it wasn’t until Richard Curtis—the acclaimed writer and director of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Love Actually”—heard Mr. Barth’s idea that the dream started to become a reality.
Although Mr. Curtis had experience adapting other people’s ideas—most notably with Helen Fielding’s novel “Bridget Jones’s Diary”—in this case he preferred to write his own version of the story. Mr. Barth, selling his idea for what he calls “a fair price,” hoped for the best, knowing he no longer controlled the film’s fate. He didn’t reveal the price.
Mr. Barth credits Mr. Curtis with writing a charming movie, even though their respective scripts take different turns; in Mr. Barth’s more cynical version, the film’s protagonist, also named Jack, fails to attain stardom.
“My view was, even if I woke up and I was the only person to know “Star Wars” or Harry Potter, I probably wouldn’t be very successful with it, because that’s kind of the way things have gone for me,” Mr. Barth says.
. . . .
“When I wrote my version I hadn’t actually read Jack’s; that was the deal,” Mr. Curtis says. “So I guess it was my natural instinct that went for a more optimistic version.”
. . . .
Because of his decision to sell the script, Mr. Barth can’t take credit for writing the movie and isn’t accorded the coveted “Screenplay By” credit. Instead, he shares the less prestigious “Story By” credit with Mr. Curtis, which means he is also ineligible to receive major awards.
I am not an expert. I have co-authored a single book in 2017 called Cloud Native Infrastructure for O’Reilly Media. Many people have asked me what it was like so I will attempt to explain the process, time investment, and financial incentive here.
. . . .
The process was about what I expected. I was introduced to Brian, our first of three editors, from someone I knew who was already writing their third book. They thought I might be a good fit for what they were looking for so they made the introduction.
I thought about it for a couple weeks and then submitted a formal book proposal which entailed filling out a Word document template and emailing it to the editor. I didn’t hear back for about 3 weeks and then, after a follow-up email, heard the proposal was approved. After a kick-off call it was suggested that I find a co-author to help write the book. I had a week to find one and then needed to sign a contract with O’Reilly for dates and deliverables. I interviewed a few people and Kris Nova and I complemented each others skills perfectly for the content we wanted to cover in the book. She agreed it sounded like a good topic and she was excited to take on the challenge.
The contract seemed fairly standard and focused around content ownership and royalties split. The default split between authors is 50/50 which we stuck with. The contract stipulated that Kris and I own the copyright for the content, but O’Reilly has exclusive rights to use the content any way they see fit throughout the world now and in the future for the duration of the copyright.
Once the contract was signed there was a steady pace of work as we both figured out how to lay out content and what we should write about. O’Reilly provides a platform called Atlas for writing which is quite good. You write in plain text AsciiDoc and then O’Reilly’s Atlas platform can generate a PDF, or other formats, via the web interface or API. We both used atlas-cli to generate PDFs as we wrote. Generating the PDFs was a good feedback loop on the content. It helped make sure formatting was right and also allowed us to take a step back to read what we wrote.
. . . .
On March 1st we were assigned our cover animal which Kris and I named Andy O’Connor the Andean Condor. We were pretty excited to see the cover for the first time even if the subtitle went through multiple revisions. We didn’t get to pick the animal or the picture. We were told up front we wouldn’t get to pick the animal so we knew what to expect. We were also told that Tyrannosaurus Rex and unicorns are not allowed.
We kept writing until the 1/2 draft was due in early June. We turned it in and got less feedback than we expected, but it was still good to have a fresh set of eyes looking at it. We didn’t like what we had created. We had written almost 6 chapters and threw away 3 of them. The first two were heavily edited and the remaining chapter was trimmed down significantly and turned into an appendix.
We had some more planning meetings and came up with a revised outline that we submitted to our editor for review. By this time we were on our 2nd editor who wasn’t very familiar with the project so we got very little feedback and went with what we had.
. . . .
The first Tuesday of September the full draft was due and then went into a review process. There were technical reviewers we were able to suggest but mostly O’Reilly pulled from a pool of their trusted reviewers. We got minimal feedback from most of them (a survey form) and one returned notes on the PDF. We had a week to make edits. During this time the draft was made available as a preview on Safari books. In retrospect I wish we had posted preview chapters sooner which was something our first editor suggested, but we were both too embarrassed to follow through.
It wasn’t enough feedback for me so I reached out to more people and sent them chapters looking for someone to tell me it sucks and why. Luckily, I found someone who would give me the harsh feedback I wanted and I had about 3 days to incorporate their changes into the book before it went off to post production.
The last push was very difficult and stressful. There were a lot of big changes on the last weekend which was a risk, but I think in the end made the book better. The final weekend we moved some chapters around and wrote a chapter from scratch for content we felt was missing.
. . . .
I believe the first PDF came back with more than 1300 edits. Overall there were more than 2000 changes made during post. I later found out this amount of edits is fairly standard for our book length. We had about 3 weeks of emailing large, heavily notated PDFs back and forth which was no fun compared to the plain text git workflow of writing.
. . . .
All in all I worked from Feb — Oct for roughly 5 nights a week at 2–3 hours per night. I also worked about 3 weekends non-stop when a draft or final edits were due. Roughly I’d say I worked about 500 hours total. That was only my time and doesn’t include Kris’. I was lucky to have a co-author to share the load.
. . . .
At the end of final edits I was done (contractually and mentally). I had read through the entire book at least three times and much of the content was starting to lose meaning. After sending the final edited PDF I wanted to stress about missing an edit before going to bed, but I was too tired to care.
. . . .
O’Reilly provides an affiliate program which was terrible to set up and in the end hardly worth the time. You get a cut from all sales that go through your link but I have never received any money from affiliate book sales. The only money I got was when someone used my link and then bought a ticket to an O’Reilly conference.
. . . .
I attempted to set up an affiliate program for Amazon but my application was denied. Amazon offers an author central site to create a 1998 inspired author profile page and an out of date book sale statistics and rankings. I’m really not sure the point of creating the Amazon author information outside of claiming the book(s) you author and confirming that you have a terrible book rank.
. . . .
I would suggest anyone writing a book spend a night to register a domain and set one up. I launched it on August 31, 2017 and it has over 4,600 visits which is terrible by most website standards but good as a place to funnel users for info.
. . . .
From December through March the book has sold 1337 copies. I have no idea how well other books in this category sell. This total also includes 2 book signings at conferences that were sponsored by the CNCF (Thank you!) which was roughly 150 physical books total. On average, the book has sold 222 copies per month which is greatly skewed by the first month which had 930 sales. The last month (March) had 34 physical book sales. I suspect that number will go down even more over the next few months.
Sponsorships was an unexpected source of income. We have been lucky enough to have 3 sponsors so far. The sponsor pays O’Reilly for exclusive rights to provide a PDF and optional print version of the book. The company gets to put a forward in the book that Kris, me, and an O’Reilly editor approve. Once the sponsor completes their contract with O’Reilly they can do whatever they want with the books. Usually, the PDF gets put behind a web form so you fill out your email address and the company uses it for marketing services and getting customer leads. Physical books are usually given away at conferences where they can scan badges.
. . . .
Each full book sponsorship for one month nets me $3,705 and partial sponsorships give an amount based on percentage of the book sponsored (e.g. 5 chapters in a 10 chapter book is 50% sponsored). That’s much better than I expected because a one month full sponsorship is more than all other sales combined.
. . . .
There are also some other sponsorships that I think count as ebook sales but I never got a clear answer how royalties work for those. Book licensing incurs a small payment but I’m unclear how that is used. From my statements, three people have licensed the book or excerpts from it which has netted me $2.37.
. . . .
My April 2018 statement (sales from December — March) says I’ve made $11,554.15 which roughly breaks down to $23 per hour for the estimated 500 hours of work. Without the three sponsorships that would have been $5.29 per hour.
. . . .
The book has provided a few other opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have had. So far I’ve done a couple podcast interviews, spoken at a few events, did one webinar, and have had a few opportunities for more writing projects with O’Reilly (some of which I’ve taken).
Would I write another book? Not for the foreseeable future. I would like to update Cloud Native Infrastructure to keep it fresh with current industry trends, but another book from scratch is not a year long project I’d be looking forward to at this time.
[F]or years, I’ve been wondering why big traditional publishing companies aren’t licensing their backlist. There’s a million ways to make money off copyright licenses, and the most obvious is to keep books in print. Yet so many big traditional publishing companies don’t keep their books in print.
Or, worse, in my opinion, those companies don’t publish ebook versions of their catalog. All of their backlist in their catalogs. Realize that this isn’t thousands of titles for them. In the case of some of the larger companies, the title list has to be closer to a million.
But the companies have no idea which books they still can license, whether or not the old contracts have clauses in them that allow ebooks, or even who handles the estate of those old books. I had just read a Daphne Du Maurier novel, My Cousin Rachel, which had recently been made into a movie, and it took me a lot of scrolling to find that book. I want to read more of her work, but I’m going slowly in ordering it or buying it.
. . . .
We’ve hit the point in the ebook revolution—the online revolution really—where we expect everything (and I do mean everything) to be at our fingertips.
So back to Led Zeppelin. The band is fifty years old this year. And yeah, jeez, that hurts. Because I remember when they were the epitome of cool (and being young and not being understood by the old fogies). Anyway, the folks at Warner Music Group which apparently owns or licensed most of Zeppelin’s catalog, were planning some kind of celebration of the band.
Instead of issuing a retrospective album, they set up a website with a logo name generator. You plug in your name, and it comes up in the Zeppelin iconic font. That’s not the coolest thing about the website, though. The coolest thing is the playlist generator, which allows users to compile their own playlist of Zeppelin songs or covers of Led Zeppelin songs, and then share those playlists on social media.
Think about that for a moment: the website, if set up properly, will help Warner Music Group know what songs from the Led Zeppelin catalog (and related catalogs, like Jack White’s, are the most beloved). That information can be used in marketing later.
This little landing page, with its logo generator and its playlist generator, will then direct users to the Zeppelin website, where you’ll find all the fiftieth anniversary goodies, including the ubiquitous best-of collection and an authorized book about the band.
The [logo] site received more than 200,000 unique visitors in its first 10 days, with users making 230,000 logos and 20,000 custom playlists. The “biggest uplift” was from White’s playlist, branded as “Led Zeppelin x Jack White,” which drew thousands of users each day — which translates to hundreds of thousands of streams, which translates to a steady stream of cash to Warner and Led Zeppelin without the band lifting a finger.
Hundreds of thousands of streams, “without the band lifting a finger.” Passive income, based on one idea. Yes, streaming services don’t pay a large amount for streams, but they pay. And even a small amount of money adds up when it is multiplied by hundreds of thousands. Not counting the visibility, discoverability, and all those other “abilities” that come from the social media shares, and the links between the various playlist generators. They all play into the streaming services algorithms, which results in even more recognition, and more plays.
Once upon a time (maybe as recently as three years ago) working with what we call the backlist and what the recording industry calls “catalog marketing” was the unlit basement of the industry. No one wanted that job. It wasn’t glamorous, and it barely earned its way.
But that’s changing, and changing rapidly. Apparently, consumers no longer care about the latest and greatest thing. They want what’s new to them. More than that, they want something that they like.
This is where sync marketing comes in. A lot of younger consumers buy music because they heard it on their favorite TV show or in an important scene in a blockbuster movie. From the Rolling Stone article:
Tiffany’s 1987 cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” has seen 42 percent of its all-time Shazams come after it appeared in Netflix’s 2019 series The Umbrella Academy, and several tracks from the 1940s to 1970s climbed up the company’s global charts after floating into people’s ears from the background of Avengers: Endgame.
. . . .
I’ve noted for years now that traditional publishers have become reluctant to let go of a license once they receive it. In other words, books don’t go out of print anymore, no matter how badly the publisher is mismanaging the book. (In the past, if the book wasn’t in stores, the writer could get her rights back. Not anymore.)
Someone in that megaconglomerate knows that these rights are worth money. They’re worth a lot as assets on a balance sheet, but in the music industry, anyway, they’re also being turned into active revenue streams.
When this starts happening to books—and it will—writers are going to have to be vigilant about their contracts. They’re going to have to see if the contract’s vague 1997 language covers things like streaming rights or omnibus rights or any one of a dozen other ways to license that print book into something new.
What will probably happen is that publishing companies will do what they always do—figure it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask for permission. They’ll also not want to make payments, so writers are going to have to start auditing their publishers (which no traditionally published writer will do for fear of being blacklisted—because that’s what agents tell them to do. Sigh.
. . . .
So…be warned. Changes are coming, traditionally published writers. Within five years or so, expect a department of back catalog management in your publisher’s offices (if that department doesn’t already exist now). Expect to have every inch of your contract exploited by that department—and maybe some rights you didn’t license as well.
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.
PG says that many authors have so much emotional energy (and more than a bit of insecurity) tied up with their publisher that they desperately want to believe that publisher will always be honest and considerate of their welfare. Unfortunately, such is not always (or even frequently) the case.
Larissa Archer has been asked to perform for free so many times she’s lost count.
Despite her years of training, impressive resume and credibility as the founder of San Francisco Bellydance Theater, she often finds herself turning down invitations to dance for a few wrinkled dollar bills.
As Archer explains it, event producers “can’t cut corners on how much beer costs. They can’t cut corners on the rental of the venue.” But many can, and often do, skimp on the take-home pay of the talent that attracts showgoers in the first place.
And it’s not just small clubs. As KQED first reported in March, despite reaching a valuation of $1 trillion last year, tech giant Apple doesn’t pay the artists performing in its stores, compensating them with low-end merchandise such as AirPods and AppleTVs instead.
Following our report, we heard from graphic designers, musicians, muralists and comedians who say they’re frequently asked to work for “exposure” by companies large and small, sharing tales of missing payments, false promises of paid work and full-time jobs disguised as unpaid internships.
In the arts, working for low or no pay has long been an industry standard for all but the upper echelon. But as workers in other professions prone to exploitation organize for a living wage, including teachers and rideshare drivers, creatives are questioning why event producers, venue owners and companies find it acceptable to pay below the minimum wage for their work or subject them to subpar working conditions.
. . . .
Recent Duke Ph.D. graduate Jae Yun Kim, Professor Aaron Kay, University of Oregon Professor Troy Campbell and Oklahoma State University Professor Steven Shepherd studied the ways that workers’ passion is increasingly being used as a justification for their exploitation in today’s labor market.
On one hand, passion for one’s work can lead to greater satisfaction. But the researchers’ new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Understanding Contemporary Forms of Exploitation: Attributions of Passion Serve to Legitimize the Poor Treatment of Workers,” lays bare the unique ways passionate workers can be taken advantage of in a culture that encourages us to find our life’s calling at work.
Through eight different studies with over 2,400 participants, researchers discovered that people find it more acceptable for managers to ask passionate workers to work extra hours without additional pay, sacrifice sleep and family time, and take on demeaning tasks outside of their job descriptions.
. . . .
“When people read about the exact same job but learned that the person enjoyed their work, they think it’s more fair, or less illegitimate, to have them do things that would objectively be considered approaching exploitation,” says Kay. “Meaning having them do things they’re not paid for, or the company getting more benefit without giving people more of the profits.”
“Passion, or expected passion, out of that work can be seen as compensating for poor treatment,” Kim says, adding that in his native South Korea, young professionals refer to low-paying gigs as “passion wages.”
Kay explains that there’s a common misconception that if someone loves their job, they would prefer to work instead of doing other activities that contribute to a fulfilling life, which he says can be a slippery slope. “A graphic designer who works for a cool website and gets to make cool art may love their job, but they may not want to miss hanging out at their kid’s softball game over the weekend,” he says. “Forcing them to do more of it assumes it’s more joy for them, when you gotta realize that, like everyone else, they’re trying to balance their lives.”
Here’s a follow-up post to the post that is directly below this one in the online TPV parade of blog posts. You might understand this post better if you read the other one first.
From Dan Rhodes:
In other news, I’ve been busy severing ties with Canongate Books. For some years I’d found them to be evasive when faced with basic business queries, and when it came to certain financial and contractual issues it reached a point where I just couldn’t get answers out of them. I thought this was as fishy as Milky Pimms, so decided to conduct my own amateur audit (in the absence of any knowledge of financial procedures, this involved going in like Chris-R) and – boom goes the dynamite – discovered they had chronically underpaid me. Twice.
I did not take this well.
Everything goes to the dogs when the sums don’t add up. It’s a long and rotten story, and nobody enjoys hearing other people moaning about work (I’m finding it hard not to come across like Les McQueen), so I’ll keep most of it off the front page. I have, though, written an epic account of what has gone on so far. It’s a wretched read, and the last thing the Internet needs is another incandescent middle-aged man sounding off at length about things he doesn’t quite understand.
. . . .
Having to pull almost my entire life’s work out of print because of a publisher’s malpractice has been something of une saison en enfer. Anthropology? Gone! Gold? Kaput! This is Life? Splat! It goes on… Creatively, it has ground me to dust. With two non-showbiz day jobs, totalling around 70 hours of work in a normal week, time is hard to come by; the precious moments I could have spent loitering in green lanes have been obliterated by having to deal with this bollocks. It’s hard to muster the delicate balance of joie de vivre and hubris required to write a novel when your slumber is broken, your doublet is torn and a gaggle of exasperating Sloane Rangers are up in your grill.
. . . .
Apart from the soul-crushing Canongate Books shitshow, all is well. We’ve spent some of the recovered money on having a spare toilet installed – those of you who share living space with other humans will understand that this is a great leap forward.
. . . .
There’s no need for you to arrange a benefit concert or a sponsored walk. Were it not for my every moment being blighted by the unfolding horror of this excruciating debacle, everything would be fine.
. . . .
I am all at sea, and have no idea what to do with my back catalogue. Above all things I’m raising a family, and the bad vibes this has brought across our threshold are more than I’m willing or able to put up with. I’ve been stuck dealing with people like this for twenty years – they seem to be lurking around every corner, and I’ve had enough of them. Writing’s the only thing I’ve ever been any good at, and I love my books to distraction. I’m very sad at the prospect of them fading away, but if staying in the book trade means I’ll be inviting this kind of poison into our home then it’s just not worth it.
Every once in a while my reader in Cheltenham will get in touch, asking why I’ve not had a book out for such a long time. What follows is the short answer.
In October of last year, 2017, I made the heartbreaking decision to pull all but one of my books out of print. I had lost faith in their publisher, Canongate Books. The main problem was the lack of communication. This had been an issue for some years, and I’d even discovered, by chance, three editions of my work that nobody had told me about. I wonder how many more there are that I’ve never seen (seriously, publishers – if you’re going to print a distinct edition of a book, the least you could do is tell the person who wrote it. It’s balls-out dereliction of duty not to). Every time something like this happened, and I found out, they would say, Oooh, it won’t happen again, but there seems to be no introspection at management level and, with stultifying predictability, it would happen again. This was frustrating enough, and when my main contact took to ignoring my humdrum queries about contracts/royalty statements/rights, etc., alarm bells rang. (I can sense you stifling a yawn. You’re right, this is tiresome, but having set up these deals without an agent I had to keep on top of this sort of thing myself.)
I’d lost patience with them and had taken my most recent book elsewhere, but my backlist remained in place. I’d hoped we could stay on civil terms for the sake of the children, but it wasn’t to be. Not wanting to be stuck doing business with people who were cagey about finances, I requested they return the rights. They insisted on keeping hold of them (while still not answering the questions I’d been asking – they were, and continue to be, particularly evasive about the editions they’d published in the U.S. a few years back) so I dug in, looking for a way out by spending every spare moment combing through old correspondence, contracts and royalty statements, with all the joy that brought.
Throughout all this, something kept niggling: I’d not been paid a penny for my novel Timoleon Vieta Come Home since 2004, the year after it came out. I’d raised this with my main contact in 2010, after yet another demoralising £0 balance on a royalty statement. This kind of enquiry is an awkward one, because you wouldn’t be making it if you weren’t concerned that something was amiss; an author/publisher relationship is built on trust, and the clear subtext here is that your faith in their accounting has wavered. It’s obviously a very big deal to raise these reservations, yet a recent trawl through old correspondence reminded me that it took three letters of decreasing diplomacy to get an answer (seriously, publishers – if an author makes an enquiry, just answer it. It’s part of your job, and if you don’t we’ll start wondering whether you’re up to something. Perhaps you are). Eventually I was told that they’d looked into it and that everything was as it ought to be, that I’d accrued a debt on the title for deep accounting reasons that I couldn’t possibly understand. ‘Fair enough,’ I said, embarrassed for having asked.
It never seemed quite right, though – I couldn’t help feeling as if they had patted me on the head and told me to run along. I tried to push these suspicions away, because quite often people who think that money is being kept from them are having a funny five minutes. And besides, I’d had my answer: they’d looked into it, and everything was fine. Where do you go from there?
These misgivings – loopy as they seemed – kept coming back. Years of demoralising £0 balances and questioning-my-sanity later, I tentatively mentioned this odd-seeming number-crunching to a few allies in the biz (I do have some, believe it or not), and every one of them spluttered into their cornflakes. I don’t know why they were all eating cornflakes when I told them, but they were. The more people I mentioned this to, the more cornflakes were spluttered into – everybody I spoke to thought it sounded as fishy as Milky Pimms. Only Canongate Books’ cornflakes remained unsullied by splutter; only they didn’t seem to think it was odd that I’d not been paid for this book, which had been a modest success, since the year after it came out. I asked them again to look into this, but my increasingly desperate enquiries were casually batted aside, and then blanked. The old Closing Ranks/Wall of Silence trick. At every point I was treated as though I were Foolish and Deluded and an Author of No Brain at All. There were times when I thought they could be right, but the longer this went on the surer I became that my books were not in safe hands.
. . . .
I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to send in auditors or pay for legal letters. I am, though, blessed with the tenacity of a rabbiting terrier. In the absence of civil answers to civil questions (or, latterly, incandescent ones) I decided to conduct my own audit. I have no idea how to conduct an audit, so I just gave it the full Chris-R. Faced with this, they finally – finally – scuttled back to their financial records. In the days before Christmas they returned with the admission that my hunch was bang on: in spite of their assurances to the contrary I had indeed been horrendously underpaid for ‘Timoleon Vieta Come Home’. If you want to know how it feels to find out that you aren’t mad after all, that your publisher really hadn’t been paying you properly for thirteen years, this just about sums it up. It was not a fun time.
In hindsight, this was a sort of grotesque deus ex machina: having spent such a long time haughtily dismissing my concerns, there was now no way they could continue to hold on to the books. They paid the acknowledged missing cash, and put a bit on top that they had unilaterally decided would make up for lost interest over the preceding years. I didn’t agree with the figure they’d settled on, and couldn’t convince them (still can’t) to acknowledge the arbitration clause in the contract, so it took a further six months of gruelling warfare, culminating in a close reading and furious waving of the as-fun-as-it-sounds Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998, to squeeze an acceptable settlement out of them.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: everybody makes mistakes – it could have been an oversight, a slip of the quill. Maybe it was, but it didn’t just happen once – it happened twice. Twice! I wonder whether Lady Bracknell would have had something to say about that. So why did the dough go missing in the first place? I wish I knew. The extent of their explanation was: The team here has calculated that due to errors on the royalty book that happened in 2004 and 2005 – where duplicate records of unearned balances were noted – you were underpaid £x. I expect that made your eyes hurt. (Seriously, publishers – next time you find yourself explaining how a huge amount of a hard-working author’s royalties came to end up in the silken pocket of your company’s Oxford bags you might want to try doing a bit better than this). A request for clarification didn’t yield any more than it having been human error. That’s something of a catch-all: a human had certainly erred. Beyond that, it was all left vague. They sent through some single-page summaries of accounts, as if that would clear things up. All I knew for sure was that a lot of money that should have come my way had, for deep accounting reasons that I couldn’t possibly understand, stopped shy of my bank account. I asked for a fuller picture of how this could have happened – twice – at which the human error line was modified to the comparably helpful Oooh, it’s all very complicated and we don’t really know. Unlike me, they weren’t interested in finding out. In lieu of proper answers they sent some further impenetrable spreadsheets, none which helped me get my head around it all. Somewhere along the line I discovered that these anomalies had happened in the vicinity of the U.S. operation that I’d had (and still have) so much trouble getting answers about.
Canongate Books’ final line is that it was a mistake. I’m not going to argue with that, but again it’s a catch-all. Maybe it really was a simple case of my royalties being innocently siphoned away on two separate occasions. I am very much open to the possibility that the version of events that they’ve settled on is correct, that the quality of their bookkeeping really was in freefall to the point where they were inadvertently, and repeatedly, keeping one of their authors’ wages to themselves. (And these are wages – though this may be in conflict with popular perception, people who write books are still sent electricity bills, and every sale counts towards our livelihoods. It’s rarely enough – most of us have to work shifts at Spatula City to make ends meet. I know I do.) I can’t help wondering, though, who was doing their internal stocktaking at this time. Sooty & Sweep I would guess, judging by the quality of their work. It’s all very well playing the human error card – and it may of course have been just that; everybody makes mistakes at work from time to time – but a company that is fit to trade should surely have a system in place to see that errors are caught and corrected. Mistakes of this magnitude, however accidental, should have been spotted, if not shortly after they were made, then when I pointed straight at them in 2010. We’re talking thousands and thousands of sales. Thousands!
Link to the rest at Dan Rhodes and thanks to A. for the tip.
The OP continues further and is well worth the read.
This is a cautionary tale for all authors.
Here are some basic business steps to take with royalties:
Check your royalty statement – carefully – promptly – every time you receive one.
If you see anything fishy or anything you don’t understand, send a letter pointing out the fish and ask for an explanation. (An email will probably work as well, but why not send both a letter and an email!)
Save a copy of the royalty statement (of course) and save a copy of everything else you receive from or send to the publisher. Make certain it’s stored where your dog (digital or actual) can’t read it.
If you don’t receive a useful response or at least an acknowledgment of receipt with a promise to send more information shortly within a week, send another communication reminding them that they owe you information and copy someone else at the publisher who ranks higher in the organization than the person to whom you sent.
Continue until you receive a useful response. Add a paragraph that lists all your prior communications with the date and a note describing the nature of any response or that you received no response. Keep adding more people to the list to whom you are sending copies and note all the people you are copying at the bottom of the letter, email, fax, etc. Don’t remove anyone from the cc: list for subsequent letters/emails, just add new recipients.
If your publisher is part of a larger publishing group or owned by another company, start copying people higher up the chain.
If the publisher or an owner of the publisher has a legal department, send a copy to someone in the legal department.
If this doesn’t generate a response, look up the contact information for the Attorney General in the state where the publisher has an office and add her/him to your copy list.
If the publisher or its owner is a publicly-traded company you can probably find a list of its board of directors and add them to your CC: recipients.
Send a copy of your letter to any authors’ organizations you can think of.
Your childhood etiquette instructor would probably say this isn’t polite, but you tried polite with your early communications and failed to receive a polite response. You might conclude that polite isn’t going to work in this case.
There is an old saying (at least in the US) that a squeaky wheel gets the most grease.
If you’re not being treated in a professional manner by a publisher, you’re not receiving grease.
If your bank misplaced some of your money and didn’t respond to your questions right away, you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) hesitate to make a fuss. If your publisher is keeping money that belongs to you, it’s the same situation.
Accounting mistakes can and do happen. When such mistakes occur, ethical business organizations promptly own up to those mistakes, make the numbers right for their customers and tell them what happened.
Properly-run businesses don’t repeatedly make accounting mistakes, particularly accounting mistakes that reduce their payments to others. PG says don’t patronize or partner with businesses that aren’t managed properly.
Don’t fall into the insecurity trap of thinking something like, “If I cause too much trouble, my publisher won’t publish any more of my books.”
If you’re an amateur who writes for fun, that might be a reasonable train of thought.
If you’re a professional and want to be paid for your work, it’s irrational.
Allow PG to rephrase the insecurity trap: “If I cause too much trouble, my publisher won’t publish any more books that I won’t get paid for.”
It’s not even a chicken and an egg thing. You cannot publish what you haven’t written.
You can publish what you haven’t edited. You can publish what you haven’t tried to sell to a traditional publisher. You can publish long. You can publish short. You can publish poetry, blog posts, picture books, and 500,000-word tomes that would make literary agents insta-delete your query letter.
You can publish late — long after you should have just shipped that thing.
You can publish early — before your work is polished well enough to avoid being ripped apart in Amazon reviews.
You can publish pretty much anything.
But you cannot publish it until you’ve finished writing it.
. . . .
Let me say that another way. You cannot build a literary career out of files on your hard drive that you never let anyone read. Or out of half-finished stories that get abandoned every time a shiny new idea bites you in the ass. Or out of completed novels that you never feel are good enough for public consumption.
. . . .
If your goal is traditional publishing, then this isn’t actually a simple yes or no question. Being published is out of your hands. Or it will be, once you get brave enough to put your work out there into the hands that can get it done.
You’ll need to write a query letter and send it out to literary agents. Not one or two. Not a carefully selected list of ten. Once you know your letter is doing it’s job (it’s only job is to get an agent to request your work), then send that sucker out wide. To everyone.
Last summer I needed a new agent. Once my query letter was bringing in a ten percent positive response (one in ten agents asked to read the manuscript,) I sent it to more than 140 agents. I had seven offers to represent me. Which is mind-blowingly awesome. For a couple of weeks there, I felt like one of those movies that’s up for all the Academy Awards or something.
But the hard truth is that I had more than 130 rejections, too. I was getting rejections after the agent I went with sold my book.
. . . .
If you’re planning to go indie then you are the publisher. Publishing is 100% up to you. Which means you have the responsibility of creating the most professional work you can. It’s your job to hire an editor and a cover artist. It’s your job to position your book in the market place.
When PG read the OP, he wondered how much time the author spent selecting 140 agents, preparing at least semi-personalized packages for each and reviewing responses which, hopefully, involved careful vetting of the agents who were interested in seeing her manuscript.
PG has received more than one agent horror story recently, so he’s particularly sensitive to that potential problem. Without going into detail, agents and literary agencies can and do change over time. An excellent agent from ten years ago can be a far less than satisfactory agent today. If the agent is receiving checks that include money the agent should be promptly forwarding to the author, “less than satisfactory” can make the author’s life extremely difficult.
More than once or twice, I’ve heard an author apologize, “I’m just self-published.” That phrase hurts my heart. Why? Because what I hear beneath their choice of words and tone is something I want them to hear:
“I wrote something straight from my heart that I believed in so much, I backed it with my time, energy and money so other readers could believe in it, too.”
. . . .
1. Wash that just right out with a shot of confidence.
Before I dive in here, please take extra note that I wrote confidence. I did not write pride or hubris or boasting.
Now that we’ve got that clear, you are just as much an author with your one book that you published as an author who’s been published countless times by one of the Big 5.
You plotted and outlined—or pantsed—your way to a first draft where you went beginning to end (or zigzaggy) until you had a completed story baby.
Then you revised, rewrote, edited, rewrote, got help and feedback and critiques and outside—hopefully professional—edits and rewrote again until your book shone as bright as any polished diamond.
Whatever your reason, you chose to put your money behind your dream and publish your own book. You’re kind of a rock star, my friend!
. . . .
2. Chase it down with a slow drink of professionalism.
I’ve got to give you a note before we tumble down a cliff on this one, too. You may not have done this on your book—or your first five, depending on where you are in your journey. And, that’s OKAY. Reread that last sentence until it completely settles in your soul, because your commitment to fulfill your dream is what makes you the author I declared you to be in the first point.
Sure, there are still a few pockets of folks who look down long noses over horn-rimmed glasses at anyone not traditionally published, but they are few and far between and transitioning to the land of the dodo bird.
Chin up, writer friend, and let’s make ourselves better than we were yesterday! How do we do this? I’m so glad you asked!
You’ve got your shot of confidence warming your resolve, so now it’s time for some slow sipping. I have to add here that some folks sip slower than others and that is just fine.
Don’t compare your rate of progress to someone else’s. The only person you should ever compare yourself to is yesterday’s you.
The OP is about tech startups, but PG was interested to see the parallels between authors in the indie book business who are working to stand out from the crowd of competitors and startups in the tech businesses.
We all dream of coming up with the next ingenious idea that redefines [an] industry, or creates one from scratch. (PG note: Industry could also mean a genre or sub-genre)
. . . .
[B]lue ocean opportunities, as defined by the popular book Blue Ocean Strategy by professors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. In case you aren’t familiar, they posit that there are two types of market opportunities when you create a startup from scratch.
There are red oceans, which are filled with blood from fierce competition. These oceans, representing mature industries in a free market, are incredibly difficult to enter—at least without paying a price, either in more aggressive marketing and advertising costs or by settling for a smaller market share.
Blue oceans, by contrast, are all but free from competition, giving you more flexibility, lower costs, and domination over nearly 100 percent of the market share.
. . . .
The Truth About “Red Oceans”
If we’re following the ocean analogy here, then we need to address the true nature of the competition. These red waters aren’t uniformly infested, nor are they infested in every corner. Instead, there are pockets of blue ocean to be found within those red oceans. In more literal terms, even mature industries, filled to the brim with competition, have untapped market segments and new opportunities for those willing to look.
Specific product features. The product itself may not change, but you can certainly add something to it. New product features may be enough to differentiate the product, and enter a world free from competition, even within a competitive industry. For example, the fast food industry is currently saturated with burger joints, but McDonald’s has introduced and maintained the Big Mac, a unique burger that can’t be replicated without violating copyright laws; if you want this specific taste, you can’t simply go somewhere else.
Target demographics. You can also target a different demographic, or capitalize on consumer preferences that aren’t being met by the leading competitors. For example, in the past few years, Dollar Shave Club practically took over the subscription razor industry, and giants like Bic and Gillette quickly followed suit. Yet in the razor battle, Shave.net was able to enter the mature shaving industry and make a name for itself by focusing on the smaller niche of wet shavers who prefer straight razors and safety razors.
Price points. One of the more obvious points of differentiation is price. If all your competitors are selling something around the same price, you could easily capitalize on their existing audience, or target a new audience by offering it cheaper. You could also capitalize on a luxury market by charging more (assuming you can offer a higher-quality product).
. . . .
Peripheral services. It’s also possible to stand apart from the competition by offering services that aren’t available from mainstream competitors. For example, the Home Depot initially stood out as a competitor to traditional lumber yards because they offered a wider variety of products in one location, as well as classes to help DIYers.
. . . .
The Role of Brand Differentiation
The secret to finding success in a mature industry is twofold; first, you need to find a way to differentiate yourself, and second, you need to make that differential element evident to the people you’re trying to persuade. That often means adjusting your brand values, your core products, or your overall marketing strategy for these key benefits:
Competition reduction. Pursuing a path of your own instantly reduces the number and ferocity of competitors you’ll face. Fewer competitors means you won’t have to worry about someone else poaching customers from you, and you’ll probably spend less on marketing and advertising.
Increased visibility. Being different immediately helps you stand out. Capitalizing on what makes you different from the major players in a mature industry is a strategy certain to attract attention naturally, aiding you in your marketing and advertising efforts.
Niche exploration. Exploring a specific niche within the mature industry can help you cultivate and nurture a sub-industry. The more you learn about these customers and the more you cater to them, the more loyal they’ll become—especially if they never had an options like yours before.
. . . .
Define your differentiators (or make new ones). The most obvious answer here is to play up what makes you different in your advertising strategy. A simple message, like “sick of paying high prices for ____?” can be a good start (though you’ll want something a little more original). Are you cheaper? Higher-quality? More convenient? Targeted to someone different? Make this clear in your ads from the get-go, and try to include at least one brand element that encapsulates this, like a company name or tagline.
Leverage untapped channels and outlets. There are invariably marketing and advertising strategies that your main competitors aren’t currently using. That could be because the strategies are new and unfamiliar, or because these channels haven’t historically worked for the industry. But because your company is different, it may be able to leverage these channels more efficiently. For example, if your competitors are all over Facebook but you’re differentiating yourself by targeting a more professional, older audience, you could turn to LinkedIn for your needs.
Exploit key differences. Chances are, what makes you different from your existing competitors is a pain point for their current audience. You can use this to your advantage by portraying these unpleasant experiences or perceptions.
. . . .
Piggyback on existing brand value. As long as you aren’t lying about your competitors, you can mention them directly in your marketing and advertising campaigns, as a way to capitalize on the brand value they’ve already established. You can do this with a side-by-side comparison, or with a catchy tagline, such as “like COMPETITOR, but ________.”
In 2017, Patreon rolled out a new fee structure. Today’s it’s known internally at the company as “the fiasco.” A revolt from creators and patrons prompted it to retreat almost immediately.
Today, Patreon, which is valued at a reported $450 million, is trying again. It is announcing Patreon Lite, Pro, and Premium as a means to tailor fit its services to the needs of the platforms’ 100,000-plus creators. “We wanted to make sure and do right by the creator base that’s been with us for all these years,” says Wyatt Jenkins, SVP of product at Patreon. “I’ll talk to a painter with 50 patrons and then later in the afternoon, I’ll talk to a media company with 25 employees that makes over $1 million a year. So it’s pretty clear that [Patreon is] not one product anymore.”
Every creator with an existing Patreon account will automatically be grandfathered into the Pro tier with no changes being made to their account. Essentially, this new system is giving creators the option to pare down with Lite (which is meant to be the easiest onboarding option for creators who just want a page with no tiered benefits for patrons) or upgrade with Premium (which charges an additional $300 per month charge in exchange for services like team accounts and a dedicated partner manager). Patreon’s cut–5% in Pro and 9% in Premium, respectively–will also be locked in for existing accounts but will increase to 8% and 12% for new ones created after these membership plans officially launch in May.
. . . .
In addition to the tiered membership, Patreon also announced changes to its processing fee structures: Pledges over $3 will be charged 2.9% plus 30¢ per payment. Anything below $3 will be charged 5% plus 10¢ per payment–the latter being a direct response to 2017’s “fiasco.”
Patreon’s 2017 changes to its fee structure were met with instant backlash because the processing fee was heaped onto the patrons instead of being taken out of the creator’s account (with no ability to opt in or opt out). In addition, the proposed fee of 2.9% plus 35¢ disproportionately affected anyone pledging between $1 and $3. As TPR Jones accurately summed it up in his tweet at the time: “Pledging $100 to one creator will now cost $103.25, which is reasonable. Pledging $1 each to 100 creators will now cost $138, which is not reasonable.”
. . . .
“Creators don’t want somebody in between them and their fans,” says Jenkins. “What I learned and what Jack learned and the way we’re doing this new rollout out is the business relationship is between us and creators. We are a membership platform that empowers a strong relationship between creators and their fans.”
. . . .
The primary complaint comes down to a lack of flexibility in even this three-tiered offering. Qaadir Howard started his Patreon account about two years ago in response to YouTube’s exorbitant cuts in their payouts and its demonetization of non-family-friendly content. In reviewing Patreon’s new offerings, Howard isn’t particularly moved to upgrade his account to Premium, even though he, like many other creators, could benefit greatly from the services offered with it.
“I don’t know if I’d be willing to pay $300 for it–that’s a car note,” Howard says. “I think they should have it where it’s more à la carte: Let me pay for the thing that I want instead of it just being a flat $300, and maybe I need only one thing.”
I write a lot. I always have. When I was in college, I wrote essays instead of taking tests, wrote fiction, and worked as a freelance nonfiction writer. I also worked in the news department of a listener-sponsored radio station, where we reported and wrote a half-hour newscast. I did that twice a week on top of everything else.
Nowadays, I write books, nonfiction, and short stories. I don’t have a target weekly word count, but I do put in time, almost daily. I’m generally disappointed if I get only 1,000 words in a day, and super pleased if I get over 5,000.
Remember, I only count new words, not rewrites or anything else. All of that happens at other times, not during my writing time.
My writing has been the constant in my life. I took writing classes in college, not to learn from the instructors (most of whom had less success than I did even then) but because I needed to block out time for writing in my busy life, and I knew myself well enough to understand that if I was writing for a class, I would block out time every week.
Mind games. Writing is all about mind games and understanding yourself.
Even though I don’t understand myself as well as I think I do.
For years, I would say that I get so much writing done because I have no life. Turns out that was true. Due to the constrained circumstances I lived in on the Oregon Coast, I had no life—or very little of one. I couldn’t go out to movies or dinner with friends; I had no opportunity to see concerts or plays; I couldn’t take in-person continuing education classes; and I couldn’t make the one to two hour one-way drive that would take me to the bigger cities, because I couldn’t guarantee I would make the ride home.
I had the time to write—when I was healthy, which was rare. So I learned how to write while ill.
The key, for me, turned out to be a structure I didn’t have to think about. I knew what I needed to do—not in the deadline sense, but in the daily sense. It took me a long time to form that structure, but once I had it, I could function inside it almost instinctively. When my circumstances changed due to our move to Las Vegas in 2018, it took me weeks to realize that I had demolished my structure when I changed locations. I had to rebuild from scratch.
Rebuilding forced me to reexamine my priorities. I can’t build a structure until I know what I put first, second, and third in my life. So, priorities before scheduling—or I’ll blow everything up and get nothing done.
. . . .
I was irritated to learn that exercise made me feel better. All those studies that say eating right and exercising will improve your health and mood? Those damn things are right. I wish they weren’t, to be honest. It would be easier to sit on my butt and eat lots of bad-for-me stuff. But when I do that, I feel much, much worse.
So eating right and exercising makes me feel better. The other bonus is that I sleep better. (Yeah, also irritating.) And the third bonus? I have more energy. Even as my health declined, my energy level remained consistent because of my commitment to exercise.
. . . .
Sometimes, when I was really really sick, I had a word count quota. Or an hours-at-the-desk quota. I try not to work with quotas, though, because I love to write. What’s the point of doing it otherwise? All of my efforts are aimed at keeping the writing fun.
Except…I would rather be reading.
So, I have learned the hard way that reading is a reward for a good day’s writing. The same with any other kind of story I could consume. No TV shows until I’ve written; no movie until I’ve written; no games until I’ve written.
Sometimes I’ll stumble around my condo or my neighborhood, grumping aloud at myself: You’re not writing, are you? Shouldn’t you be writing? And if I’m not tending to my health or doing something for my relationship with Dean, that complaint is a valid one. And one I need to listen to.
Sure, I would rather read a book or sometimes, I’d rather clean the cat boxes than write. Especially if some project is going slowly.
Email isn’t writing. Research isn’t writing. Rewriting isn’t writing. Only new words is writing.
Remembering that has made me prolific, even with all the health problems.
We predicted last year that hackers would become more malicious in the future, not only stealing and selling data for nefarious purposes, but actually destroying data and even systems. That reality hit email provider VFEmail last week, and on February 12, founder Rick Romero tweeted “Yes, @VFEmail is effectively gone. It will likely not return. I never thought anyone would care about my labor of love so much that they would want to completely and thoroughly destroy it.” The tweet went out after he watched the intruder reformat the hard drives of his email service, which has been in existence since 2001. The intrusion wiped out two decades of data. This is a tragic story.
You may not need to keep the meandering emails about the old days from Uncle Fudd that make their way into your inbox all too frequently, but, if you’re a professional writer, you probably have some business emails sitting there as well.
PG has used Thunderbird as his email software almost forever. After reading the OP, he backed up his important emails to a couple of different locations using Thunderbird’s export function.
He’s also going to try a couple of third-party email backup solutions as well.
One of the practices that make PG’s backup job easier is that he has Thunderbird set to route important emails to some specific folders, so he knows where to go to find good files to backup. He also uses different email addresses for different purposes. (Thunderbird can handle multiple email accounts without any problems.)
For example, if you’re wandering around online and sign up for some update service you’ve never seen before, until you learn whether the updates are going to be really useful for you, you might want to use an email address that is just for those online sites that haven’t yet demonstrated they won’t fill your inbox with junk.
The last time PG checked, Gmail and Outlook.com were still providing free email services. You won’t be able to get firstname.lastname@example.org because that was gone a long time ago, but when PG just checked, email@example.com was available. He has 3-4 Gmail accounts he uses for different purposes. If you don’t want to check 10 separate email boxes all day, you can set most email services to automatically forward any incoming emails to another address, so all your separate email addresses funnel into a single place.
If you have multiple emails, it’s not a good idea to use the same password on each one. (Ditto for almost everything else you do online). To keep the various id/passwords straight, Windows will offer to save them, but PG prefers LastPass, which offers a free version that works just fine. He has also heard great things about 1Password. If you use more than one computer or a computer and a smartphone, a password manager like LastPass syncs all the passwords you store in it to your LastPass account wherever you install LastPass. When you trash the old computer and get a new one, LastPass will bring all your passwords and other secret stuff to the new computer as soon as you install it.
For client emails, in addition to the mass email exports to backup locations, PG often simply prints important client emails to PDF, then stores the email in the appropriate client file folder. It’s much easier to do a quick check of emails that way than to dig through a giant email archive. His client files are backed up seven ways from Sunday, locally and remotely.
PG invites one and all to post comments with their backup solutions for important emails in the comments.
Last October here at Publishing Perspectives, I wrote about starting my new publishing house—actually more like a publishing room—Mensch Publishing.
I promised/threatened an update when its first book hit the streets, and February 7 saw the release of Guy Kennaway’s affectionate, funny, and important story of his mother’s desire to end her own life. Time To Gowill be available around the world in English, in print, in ebook, and in audio formats.
What, if anything, have I learned? Perhaps nine lessons to follow up a Christmas theme.
Lesson 1. Finding the right book is by far the most important thing, but getting the small things right is vital and unbelievably hard work.
Lesson 2. Being a small (tiny) independent publisher is liberating in its avoidance of group think and corporate bureaucracy but challenging in its complexity. I have more than 1,000 emails in my files all for one book and that’s computed after I’ve assiduously deleted the several thousand I was copied into for no reason.
Lesson 3. Treat your suppliers with respect. I’ve taken a policy decision to pay cash owed into a freelancer’s account the same day I receive the invoice. My cash flow is important but respecting other people’s cash flow generates goodwill, and better relationships are vital for a small enterprise—perhaps for big enterprises too.
Lesson 4. Everything costs more than estimated, and income is always less. Those who see publishers, large or small, as greedy monsters making large profits should try it for themselves.
. . . .
Lesson 8. Managing a site. Tweeting. Communicating with authors, agents, sales, distribution, rights, design, production, finance, agents. Setting up accounts with Publishers Licensing Society. With Nielsen. All take time, obsession, attention to detail and all are essential.
When PG read the OP, he was curious about whether a publisher with a single employee (the author of the OP) used the same types of contracts and paid royalties at the same rate a much larger publisher would. PG notes from the book’s Amazon listing that the one-person publisher is pricing the book at the same level a major international publishing house would.
There comes a time in the life of many companies when the owners (or investors, or vulture stockholders) decide that they want to extract more profit than is healthy for the company to survive. This is one of the things killing American newspapers, and it’s even impacting B&N, and now it’s about to kill Patreon.
Patreon is fairly healthy, but apparently not profitable enough for its capital investors.
The number of active patrons supporting artists on the platform in 2019 has seen significant growth, up 1 million over the last year, the company said. The company is also on track to pay out $500 million to content creators in 2019, pushing the company to surpass $1 billion in payouts since its inception in 2013.
Under the company’s current business model, 90 percent of funds are paid directly to content creators. Patreon takes 5 percent, and the remaining 5 percent covers transaction fees.
Patreon CEO Jack Conte said in an interview with CNBC that the platform will soon be facing the challenge of maintaining a profitable model as the company continues its growth.
“The reality is Patreon needs to build new businesses and new services and new revenue lines in order to build a sustainable business,” Conte said.
The company does not currently provide contracts, which allows users to retain 100 percent ownership of their work and full control of their brand.
The company plans to provide creators with new “value services,” like options for merchandising, to generate new revenue. Creators will be given the opportunity to participate in these services, and it could ultimately reduce Patreon’s generous 90 percent pay-out model.
What this means is that Patreon’s investors want the company to be more profitable, and if necessary they’re going to force the company to pay its users less.
. . . .
I do not currently use Patreon; I closed my account when they tried to jack up costs in late 2017. But I had been thinking about going back to Patreon in order to fund the blog through donations and pledges.
Now I think I’ll just still with Paypal (not exactly a nice company either, but beggars can’t be choosers).
The thing about Patreon not being profitable enough is that Paypal has a very similar model and they turn a profit on a smaller cut of the funds they transfer. Paypal only collects payment processing fees (the 5% transaction fees mentioned above) and yet Paypal is so profitable that they spun off Ebay as not being worth the hassle.
Of course, Paypal had a unique advantage when they were starting out; they were acquired by Ebay, which then forced buyers and sellers to use the service (when you’re growing your business, there’s nothing like having a captive audience who can’t say no).
. . . .
Folks, Patreon’s attempts to increase its profitability are doomed not because this is going to drive away users but because their niche is too damn small. Patreon only handles one small segment of payment processing (what are essentially charitable fundraising campaigns); in comparison, Paypal covers dozens of segments.
PG suggests that, unless an internet-based business has some sort of moat around it (patents, must-have technology, unique voices or expertise, etc.), raising prices is very difficult because someone else is always ready to clone the business plan and offer the service for less.
PG is only passingly familiar with Patreon, but is not aware of any patents or similar limits to those who might build a similar platform for the same purposes – providing an online means for people to help fund various creative endeavors.
You keep full ownership of all content that you post on Patreon, but to operate we need licenses from you.
By posting content to Patreon you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, reproduce, distribute, perform, publicly display or prepare derivative works of your content. The purpose of this license is to allow us to operate Patreon, promote Patreon and promote your content on Patreon. We are not trying to steal your content or use it in an exploitative way.
You may not post content that infringes on others’ intellectual property or proprietary rights.
Patrons may not use content posted by creators in any way not authorized by the creator.
You own your content
There are no contracts to sign and you retain 100% ownership of your work. You made it, not us.
Under Patreon’s equivalent to an FAQ, the following is a question and answer about ownership of creative works:
Wait, does Patreon own my content?
Nope! Your content is 100% yours, unless a record label or studio owns part of it, in which case it’s partly theirs too, but it’s definitely not Patreon’s — not even a little.
(a) In general Notwithstanding any statute, regulation, or other rule of law (other than this subchapter and subchapter II), with respect to any transaction in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce—(1)a signature, contract, or other record relating to such transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form; and
(2) a contract relating to such transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because an electronic signature or electronic record was used in its formation.
Furthermore, the license cannot be unilaterally canceled by the content creator – it is a “perpetual, irrevocable”, “sublicensable, worldwide” license.
What about all the “you own your content” messages on Patreon?
In a traditional publishing contract granting a publisher all rights to an author’s book, the author continues to “own the content” in that the author is the owner of the copyright to the book. However, the publishing contract grants the publisher the exclusive worldwide right to print, publish and sell the book in all its various forms, including the right to license subsidiary rights for movies, television shows, etc.
Under such a contract, the author owns the content, but can’t do anything with it because the publishing contract grants the publisher all rights to exploit the contract.
Let’s briefly unpack the licensing paragraph:
By posting content to Patreon you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, sublicensable, worldwide license to use, reproduce, distribute, perform, publicly display or prepare derivative works of your content. The purpose of this license is to allow us to operate Patreon, promote Patreon and promote your content on Patreon. We are not trying to steal your content or use it in an exploitative way.
PG suggests that the first sentence is inconsistent with the second sentence in tone and, perhaps, in the manner in which it may be enforced.
The portion of the first sentence beginning with “you grant” is precise and definitive. The second sentence is squishier. “The purpose of this license is to allow us to” . . . .
Under general principles governing the interpretation of contracts, if there is a conflict between a specific and a general provision, the specific provision will govern. If PG were representing a content creator, he would suggest that the second sentence above be reworded for clarity:
“The license granted in the preceding sentence is expressly limited to grant Patreon the ability to include content created by the author in various ways that are reasonably calculated to promote the author’s content on Patreon’s website. All other rights of author in and to the content are expressly reserved to author, including, without limitation, the exclusive right to grant others the right to print, publish, license and/or sell the content and/or any derivative rights arising from the content to any third party. After termination of this Agreement for any reason, at author’s request, Patreon will provide a document disclaiming all rights to author’s content if reasonably requested by author disclaiming any and all rights in and to the content.”
I need to be clear as I start this post. We writers create intellectual property. We license our copyrights. We do not sell stories. In fact, the stories we tell, along with their titles, are often not copyrightable. The form in which we tell that story—the order of the events, the order of the words we use,—those things are copyrightable, but the basic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl discovers she’s fine on her own storyline can and does fuel a thousand books and movies. (That’s why so many memes over the holiday season made fun of the romance movies on Hallmark. Because the movies—all copyrighted in their own right, all different in the copyright sense—share a lot in common.)
If you don’t understand copyright and you consider yourself a professional writer, then you do not understand the business you are in. If you have published a novel, traditionally or indie, and you do not understand copyright, you are volunteering to get screwed over and over and over again. I say this often, and I’m saying it loudly again, because the trend for 2019 and beyond is that every organization you do business with will try to take a piece (if not all) of your copyright on each and every one of your projects.
Your job is to protect that copyright.
. . . .
Forbes actually published an article in fall of 2018 titled “What Authors Should Do When Their Publisher Closes.” You can click over there if you want. The advice isn’t good, because as someone in the article says, what an author should do varies based on the author’s contract. And if the author has an agent, then they’re probably screwed. If the author doesn’t understand copyright, then they’re definitely screwed.
. . . .
I recommend publishing indie, because that’s the best way to protect yourself and your writing income. You’ll have a career if you do that. Your career might vanish on you if you try to remain traditional. Or, rather, you will write as a “hobby” while you make your living doing something else.
Yes, I’m being harsh, but that’s because the intellectual property apocalypse that I’ve been warning you about is upon us. The trends are there, and the signs that traditional publishing (and all of the other big entertainment organizations) know about the value of intellectual property are becoming clearer and clearer.
. . . .
For years now, the Big 5 traditional publishers have had contracts that essentially transfer the entire copyright of a novel from the author to them. The contracts don’t say that explicitly, but when you read the contract as a complete document (which is how you should read it), you realize that the sum total of what the clauses mean is that the writer retains no part of the copyright, and is only entitled to a tiny percentage of the money that copyright earns.
The reason these contracts changed about a decade ago had nothing to do with publishing and everything to do with mergers. As these publishing companies became part of big international conglomerates, many of them entertainmentconglomerates, the legal teams redrafted the contracts to do the copyright grabs.
Most writers had no idea what they were signing, and most of their agents didn’t either. Agents are not trained lawyers. A handful of the big agencies have lawyers on staff, but most of those agencies are concerned with making the agency money, not with making the writer money. So a lot of the contracts are structured to pay and protect the agent, while bilking the writer.
. . . .
Up until a year or so ago, most of the Big Five continued to operate like traditional publishing companies have since the 1990s—a focus on publishing a lot of titles, hoping that some will stick and become bestsellers. But that strategy isn’t working, and sales are down precipitously.
. . . .
[Simon & Schuster] has been in a media conglomerate since the 1980s. I’m not going to go through its tortured history, which runs from Paramount to Viacom and beyond, but realize this: It became part of the CBS Corporation officially in 2005. Around then, it became impossible to get book rights reverted, which is one of the tricks that is recommended for writers in the Forbes article I cited above. (How 1995. Sigh.)
S&S has experimented with electronic books since the 1990s. Dean and I personally made a lot of money in the early 2000s when S&S realized they hadn’t licensed e-rights for Star Trek books. (Dean and I wrote a bunch of them in the 1990s). S&S has tried to have a self-publishing arm since 2012, and they’re doing a lot of things that require writers to pay for services that publishers used to provide.
. . . .
The more IP a company acquires, the more its value goes up. Even if they don’t create anything from that IP. Acquiring a novel’s copyright—with all its potential spinoffs, TV shows, toys, comics—increases a company’s value tremendously.
Read that paragraph again, because the information therein is the key to this whole piece.
The more IP a company acquires, the more its value goes up. Your novel is IP. If they acquire it, their bottom line goes up, even if they never do anything with that IP. Got that?
That’s why S&S stopped, in 2000 or so, reverting the rights to the novels they acquired. Those novels equal more earnings potential—and they allow the company to maintain a value that it wouldn’t have otherwise.
I’ve been warning writers about this copyright grab by corporations for some time, but it was easy to ignore me because the Big 5 have not been (for the most part) exploiting (the legal term for developing or making use of) that copyright.
S&S finally is. That’s what Simon & Schuster’s CEO Carolyn Reidy’s heady year-end report was really all about. She called 2018 “the most successful year in Simon & Schuster’s history,” and yet she didn’t cite a single print bestseller as something that caused the success.
Instead, she touted the rise in audio . . . as well as a mention that sent a little shiver through me.
…[backlist sales now] comprise a higher portion of our revenue than at any time in memory…while readers wanting the tried and true is an industry-wide phenomenon, our concerted effort during the last few years to acquire books with the potential for long-term backlist sales has yielded dividends.
This article does not specify what exactly she means by “backlist sales.” Does she mean actual ebook and print sales, or other licensing, such as foreign rights and so on? Clearly S&S is exploiting the audio rights clauses in their contracts.
What is clear, however, is that a big traditional publisher has finally figured out that not only does their backlist have value in raising the company’s worth, but it also has earnings potential that can be exploited in 2019.
Why does this send a chill through me? Because if one traditional publisher learns it, the others will learn it as well. And the ability of writers who have sold their work into traditional publishers to get the rights reverted will go down to almost nil.
Big traditional publishers will finally join their counterparts in the entertainment industry—the movie/TV companies, the music studios, the game companies—in demanding control of every aspect of the copyright from the original author.
Which means that if an author signs one of those agreements, the author will get pennies on the dollar (if that) for any rights—audio, movie, TV—rather than the kind of earnings writers could have gotten as recently as 10 years ago.
. . . .
And those of you who licensed mass market rights a few years ago, thinking you’d get your ebooks into stores, you probably already signed away most of the copyright, particularly if you went with Harlequin or Simon & Schuster.
As usual, Kris incorporates a lot of intelligent business thought and advice into the OP (and her other posts in this series).
As PG has mentioned before, he has negotiated, drafted and/or reviewed a great many contracts during his legal career, including some large technology copyright and patent licensing agreements. As he has also mentioned before, the typical contracts between authors and traditional publishers are some of the most unfair and one-sided agreements he has seen.
In a prior era during which it was impossible for an author’s works to reach any sort of meaningful audience without a publisher to cover the costs of printing books and provide meaningful access to buyers for large numbers of physical bookstores, perhaps the value of a publisher’s services was an extremely large portion of the income generated by sales of a book.
However, in an age in which:
Amazon is the largest English language bookseller in the world; and
Opens its electronic doors to self published authors on terms substantially equivalent to those it provides commercial publishers; and
Ebooks have the highest profit margin of any edition of a book a publisher sells; and
Ebook editing, formatting and cover design of a quality comparable to that provided by a commercial publisher can be had for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars;
the real value of a publisher for a typical author compared to the effective cost of a publisher to that author has declined precipitously.
PG was about to discuss the value of branding for either an ebook or a printed book, but he will be uncharacteristically brief.
Does anyone go to an online or offline bookstore seeking out a Random House book? Of course not. They’re looking for an author, a genre, etc.
With respect to promoting and selling books, which brand name is most valuable, James Patterson’s or Little, Brown and Company’s?
Without singling out any particular literary agent or agency, PG will say, as a general observation, that agents famous and obscure don’t do anything significant to improve the contract terms for publishing contracts other than increasing the amount of the advance on some occasions. In particular, agents rarely if ever do anything to address the issues Kris discusses in the OP.
In some types of contracts — consumer loans, for example — federal and/or state legislatures have passed laws that prevent commercial lenders from including some contract provisions that are unfair or harmful to borrowers. Compared to the number of individuals who take out loans to purchase a house, automobile or dishwasher, however, authors are a tiny constituency and elected officials have much bigger fish to fry than commercial publishers.
However, perhaps as a result of such consumer protections, some authors may believe they are somehow protected from unfair provisions in publishing contracts between themselves and large publishers. That belief is incorrect.
Some of the most unfair provisions in a typical publishing contract are presented in the most innocuous manner imaginable.
Finally, there is nurturing. Publishers don’t just produce books. They nurture. Literary agents also provide nurturing in case publishers fall short in any way.
Like a baby duckling, a baby author needs to be nurtured and petted and encouraged and gently guided if she/he is to grow into a beautiful swan.
Who better to nurture such a delicate creature than a Kommanditgesellschaft auf Aktien headquartered in Gütersloh?
Off the top of his head, other than publishing, PG can’t ever remember ever having a business discussion that included the word nurture or any of its variants.
PG is reminded of a quote attributed to former president Harry S. Truman, “If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.”
PG suggests that if you want someone to watch over you, steer clear of the publishing business.
[T]he Authors Guild published its 2018 Author Income Survey.
. . . .
This was the largest survey ever conducted of writing-related earnings by American authors. It tallied the responses of 5,067 authors, including those who are traditionally, hybrid, and self-published, and found that the median income from writing has dropped 42% from 2009, landing at a paltry $6,080. The other findings are similarly bleak: revenue from books has dropped an additional 21%, to $3,100, meaning it’s impossible to make a living from writing books alone.
. . . .
The Authors Guild has a pretty clear idea of what’s behind this disturbing trend, namely the rise of Amazon, which severely cuts publishers’ margins on book sales. Authors ultimately shoulder the cost because publishers offset their losses by giving out smaller author advances and royalties. The platform’s resale market also means that, within months of publication, books are being resold as “like new” or “lightly used,” a scenario in which no new money goes to the actual author of the book. The Authors Guild acknowledges that Amazon isn’t the only place where authors are losing out, but the culprits are of a kind: electronic platforms like Google Books and Open Library claim fair use rights in order to offer classrooms products without paying authors royalties. This is problematic because those royalties, a kind of pay-to-play model of compensation, are how artists have made their money ever since it went out of fashion to have a patron who could support your entire career.
. . . .
This year’s Authors Guild Survey is right to focus on the harm Amazon does to working writers; personally, I’ve made my 2019 resolution to put my money where my mouth is and buy all my books at local, independent bookstores. But the survey results made me wonder if that would be enough—if it’s possible, in the age of the Internet, to reverse the belief that content should mostly be free. By content I do mean to encompass all ends of the artistic spectrum, that ill-defined mass of high and low entertainment and art and news that rubs up against each other on the web in a way that makes it more difficult to separate out, and perhaps less meaningful to do so. Basically, people are insatiable for this panoply of words and images; they want mass input. If you do a Google search for “apple pie recipe,” for example, the top results include both Pillsbury’s website and the personal blog of a home cook. The point isn’t that there is anything wrong with the latter, it’s that discernment has taken a backseat to access; we want all the apple pie recipes, all the videos and photographs and articles and books. We are here now. Entertain us.
. . . .
People have always felt a sort of ownership over art, and that’s actually good. It’s why you keep a book on your shelf and return to it, it’s why you hang a picture on your wall that speaks to you. But when this gets out of hand and you mistake access or a personal connection with your rights, as happens so often in our Internet age, it leads to a dangerous sense of entitlement. That’s why readers feel empowered to complain, directly to the creator, that a book or show doesn’t have absolutely everything they want: the romantic pairing they’d hoped for, the language they find most friendly, the ending they desired. And it’s also why, for instance, the last Harry Potter book leaked on the internet before it was officially published: fans saw the book as something they were owed, not the product of labor that deserved compensation. Not that J.K. Rowling needs more money—but she, and all authors, deserve to have their work recognized as work.
. . . .
Consumers hold a pernicious power, so this trend towards free content won’t reverse itself unless we want it to. This is a sad thing, and we will all be much worse off if we can only hear stories from people who can afford to write. Nicholas Weinstock, a Guild Council member, said: “Reducing the monetary incentive for potential book authors even to enter the field means that there will be less for future generations to read: fewer voices, fewer stories, less representation of the kind of human expression than runs deeper and requires and rewards more brain power than the nearest bingeable series on Netflix or Amazon or GIF on your phone.” Maybe we will all get what we think we’re entitled to — free art — but what kind of art will that be?
While we will never know for certain, PG suggests that the rise of Amazon has increased the number of books sold in the United States (and maybe elsewhere) by a substantial margin. Absent Amazon, fewer people would be reading books today.
Not everyone enjoyed the trips to the bookstore in pre-Amazonian days. If a reader’s interests were much out of the mainstream, there weren’t many books available. If finances were a little tight, a shopper might not be in the mood to pay.
For some visitors to TPV, paying almost $26.00 for a novel would seem reasonable. For others, it might not.
Let’s assume we have an avid reader of fiction who reads four books per week. Even PG can do the math in his head.
Over $100 per month for books. Almost $6,000 per year for books.
Who knows more about pricing anything to maximize sales, the CEO of a New York publisher or Amazon?
Who knows more about pricing anything to maximize profits, the CEO of a New York publisher or Amazon?
Traditional publishers try to cultivate a particular image of books as a unique product, unlike any other. (Corinthian leather!)
Like it or not, books are a mass-market product that competes for consumer dollars. Books don’t just compete with other books. Books compete with every other product a consumer might be thinking about purchasing.
If you want to price for the carriage trade, open an art gallery. The New York book business doesn’t work without lots of titles that sell in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands. That’s a mass market.
PG suggests that “Amazon is causing the sky to fall on the book business” is erroneous. If the traditional book business is to be saved from its own management over the next ten years, Amazon will do the saving. A book business that sells an electronic version of its principal product for $3.00-7.00 has a better future than one which appears to prefer selling a physical copy of its principal product for $28.00.