The writer has left the building

I’ve suddenly realized – with about 5 hours sleep before I rush off to meet the ferry, that I hadn’t posted. And I wondered who would notice? We’re in interesting times, and at one end the writers are saying ‘hooray the gatekeeper that took most of the money we earned is dead.’ At the other the editors at a number of publishers are saying ‘they’ll all come running back with their tails between their legs soon. It can’t work. Some authors are saying ‘well, e-books paid my mortgage. Others are saying ‘I just got my royalty statement and sales of e-books are still less than 10%’

So what is it to be, chaps? will we each end up with an audience of 15? Will big media SOPA/PIPA governmental protect their monopoly on distribution? Is Amazon going to suddenly cut royalties to an industry standard 15% of gross (or less?)

And will there be any writers left standing?

Your call πŸ™‚

17 comments

  1. I don’t think that established writers who have jumped the fence will ever come back without huge incentives. And those won’t be offered, because even with a non-disclosure clause, something will leak. Then the old trusted and true writers who never strayed will demand, well, politely ask for, equal treatment.

    A lot of new, unknown writers could probably be easily lured to the Dark Side, simply because our stuff isn’t doing well on Kindle. But hopefully we’ve got enough sense to really look over the contract.

    In the SOPA/PIPA scenario, worst case is writers each having their own stuff on their own website, and ganging up to set up listing/advertizing sites that link to the author’s site, but contain no copyright material themselves.

    1. I do think it will be hard to put the genie back in the bottle. I suspect that if the big publishers put as much effort and money into adapting as they are into avoidance, contractual manacles, and legislative means they would be very successful.

  2. Dave, I think those publishers who wish to continue existing will have to change their terms and pay writers more. Whether it means smaller advances, or no advances, but better royalty rates or what, I’m not sure. One thing I do know is that publishers are going to have to be more open about their accounting practices than in the past. Writers are getting used to being able to see daily sales figures from Amazon and B&N. Many micro and small presses report out monthly. Basically, the genie is out of the bottle and legacy publishers are going to have a heck of a time getting it back in.

    1. The part that gets me, Amanda, is the VAST resistance to these changes. Look, if you sold cabbages at the town market, and have had a monopoly for 100 years as ‘licensed Brassica purveyor’, meaning anyone who wanted a cabbage had to buy from you, you could pay as little as possible to the cabbage farmers, pay as late as possible and sell as high and as bad a quality as you liked… and someone opened up a co-operative in town that charged the farmers 30% to sell their wares on immediate settlement, the licensed Brassica purveyor would have what options? Yeah. It’s pretty obvious isn’t it? The cabbage purveyor has to match prices to farmers, offer buyers saurkraut kits, and sell door-to-door too, or go out of business. Except here they’re running around trying to bribe the town council into putting the Co-op out of business instead.

  3. Oh, and Dave, we’d miss your posts.

    Although possibly not for an extra twelve hours, due to time zones and the International date line and so forth. πŸ˜‰ We never quite think we got it right, that you’re a day ahead or is it, no, can’t be behind . . . so subtract six hours and add a day . . . and (I love Pratchett) “It’s now.”

  4. well… my indie efforts are not paying my mortgage — yet — but I can see where they will one day, even with JUST the short story backlog I already have. Come back with tail between my legs? Well, they can dream.

    1. No. I’d have to be truly desperate to the edge of starving to do that. But I think there is 1)No idea in publishing how much anger and resentment authors feel about the treatment they believe they’ve received. 2) A huge amount of ‘la la. I can’t hear you ‘ wishful thinking denial going on as the drivers of the legacy model do everything in their mental capacity to NOT adapt.

      1. Dave, you are absolutely right about the “la, la, I can’t hear you”. Of course, they are also saying “I can’t see you” because their heads are stuck so far up a certain part of their anatomy. Just look at the latest from Penguin. It has once again joined its fellow legacy publishers in pulling e-books from OverDrive, and therefore from libraries. Their reasoning, allowing e-books to be borrowed from a library will cut into their sales. Gee, how long before they figure out the same argument can be applied to “real” books?

      2. In re: your comments to Amanda and Lin — I think we have our version of denial, too. We’ve never understood how venal and STUPID the publishers are. THAT is why they’re not adapting. Come, you’re a biologist. What do the equivalent of hundreds of years with no competition in a safe niche produce? Right. Dumb bastards with teeth so large they can’t close their mouths. Exactly.

  5. That “ebooks are only 10% of sales on royalties reports” thing bothers me. I hate to use the L word … but I suspect that publishing companies have been Lying about sales on royalty reports for quite some time. Do you know of any other industry which produced (before ebooks) a solid, countable number of inventory, then paid a third party to *guess* at how many were actually sold? It was insane to start with, it went into fantasy when they quit even receiving torn off covers of “returns” and the whole system hasn’t had a grounding in objective reality in decades. Unsustainable is a mild word for what they industry has become. I wouldn’t *want* those people in charge of a pile of rocks, personally, let alone in charge of telling me what my “earnings” are based on the Magic 8 balls in their desk drawers.

    IMHO, and all that.

    1. My own reaction is they’re being robbed. But oddly the 10% quoter I spoke of is one of the legacy industries biggest praise-singers and Amazon haters. She also appears to tick every PC box to appeal to NY establishment so… maybe this is a comment about if you’re pushed then indie is going to be a disaster for you. If you’re left to sink or swim anyway, well, you may as well try to swim without carrying a lot of useless dead-weight.

  6. I don’t see a return to the plantation. The authors who have gone indie aren’t coming back except on their terms, and the rest, well… I don’t see the majority of newcomers going through the legacy system.

    Beyond that? It’s a huge new world out there – which is why the legacy industry is so busy trying to stuff it back into their familiar little box.

    1. I don’t see it either, Kate. I do see value in freeing authors from things they’re not good at. BUT… I see that as being worth 10-15% of gross. Maybe 20% at the top edge, where it adds quite a lot to the sales numbers. Which means publisher dropping all the stuff that adds no value to authors or readers, and focusing on the things that could make them popular and successful. It’s a good little business, potentially.

      Newcomers… well, there are always the ones who crave affirmation, and aren’t going to get it from their own efforts. THEY’ll flock to traditional publishers.

    2. Newcomer —–>
      Not interested in trying the legacy system, thanks in LARGE part to the knowledge I have gained here. Buying “Darkship Thieves” was the BEST thing I’ve done for myself in the past five years, because that was what caused me to pick Sarah as the author to ask “what do I do now?”, and she pointed me here to start studying.

      I spent twenty years as a Navy nuclear operator. Which meant I spent the bulk of that time coccooned in an artificial environment where we perceived people with IQs of “only” 120 or so to be “dumb”. But even there, the “normalcy bias” was a very powerful thing. Any time things change radically — be it the emergence of ebooks and Amazon, or a hydraulically-operated steam plant valve shutting completely of its own volition — the vast majority of people in the area will be predisposed to expect things to return to “normal” spontaneously. (This once led me to being counseled — after the calamity had passed — for telling a superior, “Shut up, Sir. I’m thinking faster than you right now.” But the crisis DID get averted, so the dressing-down was complimentary at the same time …)

      I suspect that this phenomenon (combined with good old-fashioned groupthink) has had a lot to do with what’s been happening in the publishing world. Certainly some of the movers-n-shakers are deserving of many of the adjectives being thought loudly in their general direction, but I can’t bring myself to cast Robert’s “third assistant editor from the right in the left-hand sub-basement” (his name for this character escapes me) as evil. Many of them, I suspect, are simply victims of their training. They were taught that when you administer epinephrine, the anaphylitic shock will recede — but now they’re faced with a rash of patients who appear to be allergic to epinephrine.

      1. Stephen, back when I was a conscripted grunt I figured the world was made of sheep (who could be turned into good little cannon-fodder) and goats (who would be alive after the shooting was over) – in roughly 90:10 proportions. Scarily -while goats tended to be brighter – there were academic genius sheep too. I accept people have sheep-behavior, but I still have trouble dealing with that mentality. It’s just so damned alien.

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