I was reading posts on FB this morning and saw an really good bit by Gail Carriger. She’s a steampunk writer, one of the big names these days, and she rightly asks that readers buy both a print and an electronic copy of an author’s work. You can see the whole post here: http://www.facebook.com/notes/gail-carriger/so-you-really-want-to-help-the-author/10150286632646119 or on Gail’s original site at: http://gailcarriger.livejournal.com/173570.html.
Y’all know me. I just had to chime in… Here’s what I wrote:
Bravo, and well put! I think you’ve summed up the angst of writers new and old who have their first or fortieth book appearing upon shelves in bookstores everywhere, awaiting a report of high sales or, hope-upon-hope, a best seller. I—like so many other starving artists—would sever critical facets of our anatomy to get picked up by one of the big six, or even some of their smaller kin. I agree whole-heartedly that every reader should first buy that owe-so-important hardback copy in the first week of a book’s release and then go on to purchase an eBook. I also have no doubts that the publishers would prefer that as well.
However, just as there is the business of writing (something I am constantly reminded of by agents, publishers and blogs) there is the marketplace of writing, and that marketplace has changed forever… and will continue to change… and NOT in the best financial interests of the publishers if they don’t change their archaic business model and practices.
I think the problem that is now pulling numbers (dollars and cents) away from the publishers, and therefore the major authors, is three-fold (and I’m probably missing a few big ones).
One: The publishing industry leaders as a whole pretty much refused to embrace the digital revolution—and still do so today in many respects—by clinging on to their pseudo-monopolies and refusing to adapt. It seems to me that the publishing industry as a whole, like Hollywood, grew fat, slow and far too possessed with the notion that they were the only game in town. Writers would therefore have to dance to their tune in order to have the oh-so-seldom-offered and oh-so-cherished chance at that golden ring of a book deal. What they’re only just realizing is that writers—hard-working writers with just a little bit of Internet savvy—don’t need them as much anymore. We can do it ourselves and earn more profit for our trouble. What we may be seeing here is a class-revolution between the “poor” writers and the “rich” publishers; the day of Miss Antoinette meeting the guillotine may have already come and gone for the big six, at least as we now them.
Two: Now that they have just started to embrace the digital revolution, I’m hearing more and more of them ripping off their authors by not reporting eBook sales at all, let alone accurately. I suspect some of this is old-school publishing angst for writers having the audacity to want to do an end-run or by forcing them into having to learn a new trick or two. For decades they had the power and set the rules. However, I suspect that most of it is simply the fact that those saurian-like institutions lack the wherewithal and technical savvy to process anything other than wood-pulp. I have no doubts that they could adopt new technologies (like checking IIS and other server logs for how many times an electronic file was accessed and basing their royalty payments on that), but the boat may have already sailed.
Three: The price of hard-covers continues to go up, and the mean-income of readers in these troubling economic times continues to go down. The reason I became an independent publisher last year was because I got laid off from my IT job. Technically, I also realized that I should have been writing and working with books for the past twenty years, but such is life. In these hard economic times, people are considerably more likely to feed-the-need of reading as cheaply as possible. eBooks make that possible. Don’t get me wrong; I have a HUGE library of my own, and I fully intend to continue putting hard and paperbacks on my own shelves, but $9.00 for a paperback and $24.95 for a hard-back is considered by many these days to be a bit exorbitant. And the truth be told, what consumers are paying for is an increasingly bureaucratic publishing industry with far too many hands touching a manuscript before it gets to a bookshelf, most of those hands paying New York City living expenses and lifestyles. Out here in the suburbs of middle America, many of us are barely managing to scrape by.
As I mentioned before, I’m a new independent publisher. I won’t say which one to avoid the stigma of shameless self-promotion, but I produced a 400-page anthology of steampunk short stories, from start to finish (including gathering and reviewing submissions) in print and electronic versions, in just FOUR months. My next anthology will be done in about two-and-a-half months, and the timeline for each one is trending downwards to about a 90-day cycle. The covers are solid, the stories are enjoyable and the edit is reasonably competent (which will only get better with time). And I’m doing this all whilst still working a part-time job and writing of my own.
Independent publishers, writers and readers in the 21st century are an impatient breed, and there are a lot of us out here taking advantage of the fact that the publishing industry has responded in dodo-like fashion and stands upon what may be the threshold of its own extinction.
I do have one suggestion for each and every author who is already entrenched with the big publishers, or any author for that matter. KEEP YOUR DIGITAL RIGHTS. Don’t sell them to anyone for any reason. For anywhere between $250 and $2000, you can produce your own eBooks and place them on Amazon. I do this sort of work right now (let me know if you’d like me to do yours for you). The process is not too terribly hard, nor is it time-consuming. Putting your own books on Amazon means that you can keep 70% of the retail price if you list there. Fulfilling from your own site means you keep all the gravy.
The publishing industry has reminded writers of the phrase “the business of writing” for the past two hundred years. They’re only just now realizing that the business of writing is a two-way-street when the power is taken away from the old-school and put in the hands of the people.
Vive la author!