Wot ab’at the werkers?

‘Wuk, wuk, wuk. F’what? F’them’

Ok that is dredged from long-ago memory and I can’t find my copy right now.

But it is appropriate to what I wanted to talk about.

I’m a working writer. This is my job from which at the moment and for many years now, I have earned my and my family’s livelihood. Barbs is working again now, but in the interests of our kids she didn’t for some years. I know all about trying to make a living from my writing. Yeah, that’s why my beard is so white these days! It’s not just my sanity clause (jingle bells, jingle bells).

As a result, I am unashamedly partisan toward writers who do the same. That doesn’t mean I hate and want to destroy dilettantes with rich families or partners, or a day-job that provides, who can write to make a statement about their pet issue or to get in touch with their inner self. Occasionally they may well produce something brilliant – and they have the means, ability and freedom to do so. But I think the world would be an immeasurably poorer place if that was IT. If the only people producing books were those who had no need to respond to readers, and thus no interest in providing that real joy: a great read.

That makes me on the side of the ordinary working writer, the bloke who does popular fiction, because, yes, that’s what readers want and pay for.  I’m pretty solidly behind the folk who do this, or want to do this, as a profession. I have no objection to the others existing – hell, I believe in ‘make a bigger pie, and I’ve said that over and over. If you look back through posts on MGC you’ll find that’s pretty consistently what I, and my compatriots here, do. There are discussions on agents, on contracts, on editors, as well as on the process and pitfalls of Independent Publishing, as well as on the process of writing. I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve said ‘this may not work for you’ – there is no one route to success, and what suits one writer, won’t work for another. Trust me on this: Indy is hard, and as I’ve said some authors won’t make it there, despite being good writers. That’s a loss for all of us, and one of the reasons I keep hoping and pressing for serious reform in Traditional Publishing.

And yes, my affection and respect goes to the battlers. The guys who take on hell with a fire-bucket, get themselves knocked down, and get up and do it again, and again — not the well-heeled and connected, who had the path eased for them at every step. That’s Australian. That’s me. Live with it or piss off and read something else.

Writers are ‘my people’. We work for them. Their foes, and those trying to do them down, and those quislings supporting that, are my foes. We work against them.

MGC doesn’t make us any money or do any good for us directly. There are better avenues for that. But it’s paying forward and taking a long view. If sf withers and dies on the vine, I won’t have anything to read, let alone find it easy to sell my own work.

We occasionally get this sort of comment made about us:

It came from File 770, you so clever edition!

“Mark on February 14, 2016 at 1:24 pm said:

Leaving aside the special pleading about how Baen isn’t really “proper” trad pub, among the core puppies Hoyt has been published by Ace and DAW, Paulk also by DAW, and Freer by Pyr. Then there’s all the non-puppy authors enthusiastically embracing hybrid and self-pub, like puppy unfavourite Chuck Wendig. The split they point at simply isn’t there.

If MGC confined their cheerleading for self-pub to just talking about its pros and cons (which they often do well), rather than needing to take digs at other authors for pursuing their own success in different ways to them, they’d come over a lot better.”

Let’s give ‘Mark’ as much benefit of the doubt as is possible – He could be jumping to these interesting conclusions because of Mike Glyer’s artful selective abusive quoting, and the fact that he never bothers to read the actual MGC posts. I do get a whiff of GRRM of ‘separate awards’ (and maybe even water fountains) about it. I couldn’t give a toss how I ‘come over’ to File 770 and its occupants, (there is no point in trying to please a miniscule market at the expense of my existing readers) but it’s a useful jumping off point:

I think what is confusing to ‘Mark’ and the denizens of Flie 770 is that they conflate ‘Traditional Publisher’ with ‘Author’ – and assume that they if not the same, they are close allies and natural commensal parts of each other, who have near identical interests and positions. Many people do (and publishers foster this). After all, authors like Hines and Scalzi and GRRM never ever say a word that differs from those uttered by their publishers. (They’re not like that fellow Freer or his friend Flint who had public spats with their publishers. We know they’re bad people.)

Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.

Publishers, their grace-and-favor clients, and the darlings of the industry have a strong and vested interest in keeping up this illusion. The rest of us – writers and readers alike, no matter where you sit on the political or socio-economic ladder – not much. It hurts us, it hurts the long term future, and serves no-one but the few who milk the system for their own short term gain. Inevitably they’ll claim to be doing it for a noble cause… Women, Diversity, whatever the cause de jour is — which adds up to them and their friends, not women or diversity that they don’t know and don’t like and who might see the world differently.

Bear with me while I try to explain and present a few figures before any more stupid conclusions get jumped to. The relationship between publishers and authors evolved over many years, as increasingly publishing – which started as a 50:50 sharing, where the author provided the book, and the publisher saw to the rest of the process  — shifted to where only fairly major publishers were able to get your book into lots of retail space, and that meant they (and the retailers) were effectively the ONLY path to getting your book to the reader. These were the ‘good old days’ for publishers and they yearn for them and want them back– rather like the people who were in power (or benefiting from it) in the GDR yearn for communism.

Pass through the gate and you could make a reasonable living (once). Without it: forget it. Absolutely, utterly forget it.

Power corrupts. Absolute power – such as this, corrupted even those with the best intentions and highest ideals.

I hate to make this trite situation comparable to slavery, because there was always an alternative for the writer, they could take another career path. I’m referring to it purely to explain how it was different in the writing world– you had luck and ended up as working for a kindly master, or you ended up somewhere down the river, subject to any casual abuse your master handed out, or worse, took pleasure in. The smaller the number of publishers – and the more entwined they became, the less chance you had of finding a ‘good’ master who would feed you, not work you to death, and not take all that your labor earned for himself.

They were, however, all ‘masters’. In society, they’d put on appropriate masks. Some of them may well have believed they were benevolent, and found rationalizations for some of the abuses. Others – well there are people, particularly those who are weak otherwise, who enjoyed power. Their tastes, their desires, ruled.

Power corrupted. Publishers did well out of being in power. Authors, less so. The old 50:50 situation gradually crept to the author getting 8% paperbacks, 10% for hardcovers. The accounting became more and more opaque and the contracts secret, and increasingly byzantine. They were increasingly greedy and restrictive. It was always more work for less pay.

No one complained, because nobody dared. If you were a commercial success – your agent (who actually really works for your publisher) might get you a better deal, but it was very much a field tilted hard to favor the publisher. Unfortunately, sales were getting worse, and worse – and the people who suffered most were, surprise, surprise, NOT the Masters. Judith Tarr provides a very good illustration here of what was happening. Look at the figures. For another measure, here is Kameron Hurley. As I said last week, the Hugo means something to literary sf. And it is one of the smallest selling sub-genres. Work out what getting to sometimes royalties –and sometimes not getting to earning out, says of the sales numbers of one of the most celebrated, pushed, supported and central darlings of that sub-genre, in terms of book sales. A popular bestseller adding to the cachet of the award could do her the world of good.

And then came Amazon and e-books. Both of which, not surprisingly, publishers hate like poison and have tried their best to destroy or cripple. No, Amazon is no ‘white knight’. But it is a counterweight, and it does mean that it’s no longer the traditional publisher or no career.

It has changed the world, for writers. It SHOULD change the world even for writers who are ill-suited to Indy – because to survive, let alone thrive, traditional publishing has to change.

Why should it, you ask? Because authors are going to desert their sheltering publisher? Ha ha. That’s only the likes of you, Freer, because you’re a loser etc. (see File 770 if you’re running out of abuse to pile on my furry monkey head. They will help you. Watch me worry.)

No. There are several factors at play here for the traditional houses.

Firstly, there is the fact that most humans are actually pretty conservative. The unknown and possibly dangerous is really unattractive to most of us if we’re not in dire need, especially when that’s rent and food. We really have to believe the grass is greener before we go. Which is why the grace-and-favor clients of traditional publishing, and their Quislings, put a lot of effort into belittling and painting it as inferior. They’re also very careful not to mention 70% of gross Indy pays for e-books compared to the 25% of net, that most of the traditional publishers have reluctantly dragged themselves to.

Secondly there is a huge level of Stockholm syndrome among authors. ‘He beats me but he’s my publisher and I love him. I’d be nothing without him.’ Is sadly widespread. In some cases it may even be true – they would be nothing, or much less than now — without him. That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth fighting for a better deal for everyone, even those people.

Thirdly, as I’ve said often enough, traditional publishing is in a better position to provide value-adding services to a book, editing, proofing, blurbs, covers, marketing. These add value. You can get them done for you at a fee. That’s roughly what they’re worth, and once again we’ve covered this and options at length on this site. In one place, at a reasonable price, traditional publishing is attractive.

But there are two overwhelming factors against them.

Firstly: READERS no longer have to buy from them, or accept what they choose to sell, or do without, or pay the prices they set.

The second, of course, is even after paying for professional services like proofing or covers, the author (especially one with a following) is left with more money out of an e-book from 70% of the gross, than, (if he’s very lucky) 17.5% of the gross he’d get from Trad. Pub.

And that, slowly but surely, offers Traditional publishing a choice: Adapt to offering a good deal to authors and readers, or die. So far their best effort has been ‘La LA LAAA!’

Now, at the moment, I have a hybrid career. And, as I have often said (but only those who want to hear, listen) the carrot is better than the stick. I’m usually quite nice to Baen (yes, I have given them stick sometimes) because they’ve moved from being benevolent master to a company that is trying to learn to adapt, sometimes well, sometimes badly, from the habits of generations. In an era when the rest of the traditional publishers have had to have any concession dragged out of them, Baen have led the way, still paying better e-book rates than the rest (20% of gross), and getting there at least a year before the rest. In a time when every other publisher has resorted to lawfare and inserted basket accounting, and restraint of trade clauses and ever more Byzantine and longer and longer lawyereze contracts, the Baen ones are less one sided, without these treacherous clauses, and much the same length and language as they’ve always been (which is less dense by half than my Pyr contract, and a lot shorter than any other I’ve seen).

This is good stuff. Any author should encourage it. Any reader who wants authors to be able to write should encourage it. Of course, these are baby steps, but we need to reward them, to get more. To get others to follow. And we need to punish the opposite.

Oddly, that’s not what SFWA are doing. It’s not what you’ll hear the various influential authors like GRRM or David ‘Asterisk’ Gerrold, who could actually bring pressure to bear, doing. It’s not what you hear in places like file 770. No, they’re doing ‘important’ things like campaigning to destroy the sad puppies, or arguing about safe spaces for trannies. Go on: next time one of these lovely people are supporting traditional publishing and the status quo, do ask what they’ve done to improve the transparency of authors’ income accounting, or preventing restraint of trade clauses, or ‘basket accounting’ or breaking down the wall of contract secrecy that allows authors to be exploited. Or about getting a better share of the income from books to go to creator. What they’ve done to make sure authors can earn a living, and readers can get the books they want? What they’ve organized, what they’ve said?

The answer is: nothing.

But they’re loud to support Irene Gallo. Or Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Or any of the ‘masters’ and their quislings, but only those who do their best to maintain the status quo. Change is anathema, change in favor of ordinary working authors… worse.

Judge them by what they actually do.

66 thoughts on “Wot ab’at the werkers?

  1. Some pretty savvy people, among them Eric Flint and Cory Doctorow, say the reasons authors don’t make money is because they don’t have the attention of the reader. So, Cory gives his books away, and Eric established the Baen Free Library.
    With that visibility factor in mind, if you are a top earner at a publisher, they can help you a lot. I haven’t heard that to be the case with mid-list or back-list authors who signed with a traditional publisher.

    1. Someone who has the attention of the reader and 70% Amazon royalties can make five or six figures a month.

      Someone who has the attention of the reader and a trad publisher of the usual bad kind is only making ten or five percent royalties or less than five percent royalties on “discounted books”, and then is paying twenty percent of that to his agent. Amazingly, he will seldom be making five or six figures a month, and he will have no idea if his publisher is being honest in their figures, or if his agent is actually passing along the correct amount of his earnings.

      So unless the traditional author can trust his publisher and/or his agent, and unless traditional publishing really does a good job of marketing and selling his books, he is probably not making enough sales to make enough money to replace all the money he is losing to the middlemen.

      1. Suburbanbanshee – the maths is startling and undeniable. The reality is Publishers, agents and other middlemen will have to cut their costs and provide value and convenience. More will have to go to the author, and things like response times and communication have to improve for them to stay in the game. But they’re just not listening. The NY office is, for them a necessity (it adds no value) and so on.

    2. This is true, Pat. Invisibility is the worst enemy of the reader.
      What I predict as a game changer is improving computer algorithms linking readers to BOOKS THEY WILL LIKE, and making it easy and fairly cheap to buy them.

      1. This game changer has already happened: the amazon also-boughts. By no means perfect, they’re a way of summarizing word-of-mouth networks, and displaying them for those outside said network.

        People who buy Larry Correia’s Son of the Black Sword, a traditionally published book, also bought Larry’s other stuff (they like Larry’s stories!), and they bought Kel Kade’s Free The Darkness and Ryan Kirk’s Nightblade, both of which are indies I hadn’t heard of before. But I can rest assured that people who liked reading SotBS like ’em enough to pay hard-earned cash, which is a whole lot better vouchsafe than some critic somewhere spouting his opinion.

        Granted, the “recommended for you” doesn’t work nearly as well because I look at plenty of thing I’m not interested in, just to see what the cover styles are, or the trend in typography, or whos fans tend to overlap. And there’s no easy way for a computer to know just what I like in a particular book – why I love some CJ Cherryh enough to hunt down new copies when they get lost in a move, while others I read once and turn into the used book store. But they’re working on it all the time, with the impetus that the more often I see something I didn’t know existed, but I will love, the more I buy from them.

        It’ll only change faster from here.

        1. buy the book for One Cent plus $3.99 postage and handling Used and send the publisher an email telling them that is what you will do for their over priced ebooks

          1. I want ebooks. they’re convenient and eliminate storage problems. I think that the crazy prices are designed to encourage people to buy fewer ebooks.

            1. “But… you can acquire your ebook instantly, and it never wears out, and you can share it across all your devices, and you can read it in the dark, and it takes no physical space, is hypoallergenic, and composed of 100% recycled electrons. Isn’t that worth a premium over an old-fashioned paper book?!”

              I dunno. While I understand the sunk costs are the same no matter what the format, I expect the root of the pricing system comes down to “because we can.”

                1. For most of these, my physical book is mine. As long as I have it I can only lose it thru act of God or stupidity. But get a DRM book and it can get pulled by publishers. Admittedly less of a concern than with a game but still possible.

                  1. This. I should not have to have a backup copy of a book I purchased (a license for) on a non-networked external storage device in order to ensure the publisher doesn’t decide “oh, I think I’ll take that back now” and “disappear” it from my E-reader. With a physical book, that is simply never a concern. Sadly, space *is* a concern with physical books…but I hear they’re working on that. 😛

      2. Here is an idea Facebook allows very tight demographics for boosting posts so make a post that is effective showcasing your work and target the counties that Cons are in while and just before the Con is happening
        pretty cheap actually

  2. Thanks for the link to the Judith Tarr post … yes, that is what we could sense happening, about the time that my indy author circle got together. One or two of the members were refugees from the publishing establishment and had a good idea of what was happening inside the business and how it was basically an abusive relationship for authors.

  3. One of the reasons I finally finished a novel after dozens of false starts was the knowledge that, even if I couldn’t find a publisher, I could try my luck through Amazon and other indies venues. The idea that all my work wouldn’t be for nothing (even if that meant making dozens of bucks a month) was the last bit of motivation I needed. I did try submitting it to one of the few publishers who didn’t need agents (the idea of spending years trying to find an agent didn’t appeal at all), and after getting a form rejection letter, I thought about trying Baen, but the 9-12 month wait for a response was too much of a deterrent. So I went indie.

    Two years, seven novels and tens of thousands of copies sold later, I don’t regret my decision one bit. In the best of all possibly worlds in trad publishing, I’d be on novel #2, maybe #3. I might have earned more per novel (but given shrinking advances, probably not). And that assumes my second time at bat resulted in a sale; I could as easily be submitting manuscripts or sample chapters to this day, and collecting an impressive collection of rejection notices.

    I wouldn’t begrudge anybody for choosing to go through traditional venues, however. Self-publishing requires a lot of work and effort outside writing: you get to be editor-in-chief, art director, president of marketing, among others,even if you hire people to do most of the heavy lifting, since in the end the buck stops at your desk. And you may spend a hefty chunk of money and never make it back; self-pubbing is a small business, and the rates of failure in those aren’t pretty. So if all you want to do is write, then playing the Slush Pile game is the way the go.

    I do wish people in the industry, especially those who claim to represent writers’ interests, spent more of their energy on trying to help reform trad publishing. My experiences in Amazon show that transparent accounting, timely payment and rights management shouldn’t be the nightmares I keep hearing about. But since trad publishing attitude seems to be largely “take it or leave it” or more accurately “take it or we’ll make sure you’ll never work in this town again” I can understand why it’s easier to worry about such things about melanin content and gender identity, or fighting evil Amazon (which is apparently so evil the only conscientious thing to do should be to remove one’s books from the site, not that anybody I’ve heard of has done so).

    Oh, well. I think this is possibly the best time to be a writer in history, and there should be room for everyone to do their thing. No guarantees of success, but the chances of making some money have never been better.

    1. It would also help if the agencies who are supposed to represent writers didn’t have publishers and editors in their membership.

        1. I assume like most similar agencies where the intent is not to get clout for all members but to raise up the leadership to live on par with the industry bosses. The rank and file will survive on the crumbs falling from their table.

          It’s remarkable how labor relations seem to either be purely antagonistic (Slit the throat of the golden goose) or cozy (join the union and get less hours, less take home, no seniority, no ability to file grievance or get feedback as to performance while reps play solitaire all day). How about actually running training for future opportunities, recognizing where sometimes you may need to take a haircut to survive etc.

    2. “My experiences in Amazon show that transparent accounting, timely payment and rights management shouldn’t be the nightmares I keep hearing about” CJ, This.

      1. I mean, sure, maybe Net 60 isn’t possible given the bookstore return policies in place, but monthly sales reports and quarterly payouts (even setting aside enough to cover returns) should be doable, methinks. I imagine it’d be nice to know how far along you are towards earning out and stuff. I’m so thoroughly spoiled by Amazon’s to-the-minute sales report (my biggest problem is not wasting too much time checking it) that I couldn’t fathom having to wait months or years to find out how well a book is selling.

  4. “next time one of these lovely people are supporting traditional publishing and the status quo, do ask what they’ve done to improve the transparency of authors’ income accounting, or preventing restraint of trade clauses, or ‘basket accounting’ or breaking down the wall of contract secrecy that allows authors to be exploited.”

    Doesn’t SWFA do this all the time with their Writer Beware posts? Scalzi and Hines have long detailed their income and earning streams. Scalzi in particular has called out traditional publishers who put out shady contracts.

    1. Jack – you are conflating illegal actions with ones that are perfectly legal – in fact now near universal in the industry (they were not in the past), but are extremely one-sided and damaging and expensive to the author. Take ‘basket accounting’ as a simple example. Author signs a 3 book contract – with basket accounting. That means his royalties are weighed not against the book that earned them, but all of them. Which means that even if book 1 is an outstanding success and earns royalties – the author will not see that until the royalties exceed the amount outstanding from the other books. Not only is it effectively a one way hedge of the bets, and allows the publisher to hold any income for possibly years but it is very easy for the publisher to abuse – perfectly legally – it means any income can be delayed or even written off. Writers beware – which possibly the last remaining bit of value in SFWA and a good thing – cannot deal with these sort of practices. For the record, back when I was a SFWA member I wrote to my local rep – back when Scalzi was president, detailing at length the practices that were very much against authors interests – basket accounting, non-transparent reporting and accounting the speed of payment (this is all a relic from manual counts in warehouses. There really is NO excuse for it now, except that it favors publishers. It’s bad for authors) Out of print clauses (which is now being severely abused by small-run or POD to stop authors getting reversion- both of which are legal) Restraint-of-trade clauses (these are probably un-enforcable BUT it’s perfectly legal for publishers to put them there, to put the frighteners on authors, and the rates being paid for e-books – and the reporting on these (I had a friend who had physically spoken to more people that had read the e-book than she got paid for, for example) and while I was at it saying we needed to do something about the log-rolling (you nom me, I nom you) evident in the Nebula Nominations. My rep thanked me, said they were important matters and they’d discuss them at the next board meeting. They obviously never had that board meeting, because that was the last I heard. My ‘what’s happening’ follow-up was ignored. But they got rid of Resnick and Malzberg. And changed the nebula noms so that you could no longer see the log rolling ;-/.

      As Tor is among those who use basket accounting, do post the link where Scalzi spoke out about that.

      1. Even allowing for every one of those pitfalls, how many of the practices that the publisher is supposed to do do they actually perform? Pricing is all jacked up with ebooks comparable or higher than print, the only actual push gets made for the literary darlings or intended bestsellers. Plus the black box that is most of the sales metrics (Your NYT Bestseller sold 90% of copies that one week and never made advance) I guess they do actually get art made for covers and print the books. Sometimes there’s worthwhile editing. This is more than just SF.

      2. Thanks for explaining basket-accounting, I appreciate it. And I don’t have anything regarding Scalzi speaking out against basket accounting, other than him pointing out a case where it was used with his books.

        I hadn’t realized how much I was putting legal and illegal together, I’m glad that there are a lot of authors out there who do speak out against both the legal and illegal shady negotations/treatments.

  5. Hi Dave,

    As it’s me you’re quoting here I’d quite like the opportunity to discuss. You can of course pop over to the F770 comments where you encountered that quote if you so wish, I have an email notification on that thread so will spot anything you drop in there.
    I’d be prepared to discuss it here as well, but regrettably you’ve previously told me to darken your door no more and I’ve respected your request, so I’d only do so if you stated I was free to post in this thread.
    Let me know which you’d prefer.

    1. I don’t visit 770. It’s generally a pointless exercise – some kind soul posted it to me as I was mentioned by name. You were told to leave for endless sea-lioning IIRC. I’ll grant you the same conditions I give your friend Camestros 4 posts or eight lines, from now, That’s – in normal circumstances about what most people post. Use it wisely and we might decide you were not an ass, and extend that.

      1. OK Dave, your blog, your rules, but the net result is that you are declining to engage me anywhere other than in your moderated space, and I have to decline to engage in a “discussion” with an arbitrary cutoff point beyond which I would be unable to respond, so where exactly does that get us?
        My comment was from the middle of an ongoing discussion, the context of which is lost here. The most I can do is suggest that those who wish to track down the actual thread and see the conversation for themselves may do so. It will be interesting to see if anyone does.

        1. Mark, I work. Which is why I try to make one decent post a week and spend no more than 4 hours on replies. You – and Camestros, seem to have lots of time, add little of value and demand a lot of attention. This is a self-inflicted injury. You can make a relevant comment in 8 lines. As for numbers tracking down the thread – I had about 10K readers last week, ask your friend how many followed him back.

          1. Dave, you are free to spend as much or as little of your time on blogging as you wish, but as you chose to write a blog calling out something I said then shouldn’t you allow a fair right of reply? I count half a dozen points that were aimed squarely at me – quite apart from the longer post – and any reply would need to start by quoting the fuller context of what I was replying to, so your offer seems to be a token gesture designed to restrict any reply I might make. As I said above, your blog, your rules, but if you’re not prepared to either make your retorts in the original thread or continue the discussion in a fair fashion here then you’re not discussing. If that is the case then I shall return to not commenting as you have requested.

            1. Mark, your prior discussion is no relevance at all to this thread, being barely peripheral, and, as I said, a mere jumping off point about the misconceptions held by many about publishers and author treatment and pay. If I was in the least interested in your original topic I would ask for your input. But I am not. I appreciated that you realize we do our best for independent authors, but our efforts have always gone far beyond that. Unlike file 770 which is merely destructive and defends the exploiters of working writers.

  6. One item I’ll note is the snob appeal/pride of wanting to see it on shelves. For now until you break it big you won’t probably see them at B&N. But there are issues with the Pub Vs Self Pub argument. From my understanding most professional writing guilds require publication by a ‘name brand’ house. So even if you’ve self pubbed a dozen novels and sold hundreds or a thousand of each you cannot join while someone with two submissions accepted in a magazine for exposure can. But the more you look at these groups the less they seem to be useful imo.

    Just like every industry publishers are trying to hold back the changes and have gotten comfortable with their system and how they’ve bent it. Something will break eventually. I don’t think its gonna be amazon

    1. Aacid14 – you know a lot of traditional publishing is geared around some fairly nasty manipulation of natural human frailties, targeting people who are often frail and insecure, especially about their writing. I know they’re doing it (it’s got some unpleasant parallels in the treatment meted out to abused partners – If you leave me no one will love you) I suspect the smarter people know they’re doing it, but it is very much the culture, playing on vanity and insecurity.

      To be honest, I think when Amazon breaks the publishers, it’ll start trying to break the authors. We should start preparing alternatives.

      1. It’s how it always goes. The standard example is always the US carmakers in the 70s and 80’s.

        Any time you have people who have power over others you’re likely to run into these power plays.

        As for alternatives, I write for practice atm but even when I get better it’s only backup income 4 or so.

  7. I worked for Amazon as a Senior Manager, so I have some idea of where their head is. Amazon makes a really big deal out of supporting the customer–to an extent I have never seen anywhere else. It shows up in meetings at all levels. It’s part of the annual review process. It’s key to understanding the company at all.

    You, as an author, are NOT the customer. You are a vendor or a partner, but you are NOT a customer. The reader is the customer. Amazon doesn’t want to cut your compensation to zero–customers would be displeased if you quit writing books–but they are going to try to figure out how to reduce your compensation to the point that it reflects how much they think you really please customers. That’s a complicated problem, but not, I think, an unsolvable one. But you won’t be involved in the computation, and the result may not be to your liking.

    1. Hopefully, Amazon is smart enough to realize that once I’ve decided I like an author, I’ll find a way to get their work and pay them for it. I won’t be overly concerned with whether or not their middleman (that would be Amazon — or Tor) gets a cut. The middleman is a convenience, nice but not necessary.

    2. I’d agree with that, Greg. Which is why I really want in the next 5 years to work on a platform of my own, with me direct to my customers. That’s not a route open to new authors. Amazon has some smart people, and I figure they’ll work out where they can squeeze — probably new authors, rather than people who CAN take their readership – or a reasonable part of it, and walk. I’m not too sure how to protect those.

      1. Third-party distributor, preferably one run by what the SFWA should have been. Or maybe what the SFWA should have been, on steroids. Think of a coop model that offers editing, covers, and such on an a la cart basis. It would offer books in epub and Kindle formats. Members pay dues that go to operation and promotion, and retain rights.

        Likely it will remain small compared to Amazon. But it’s an alternative.

  8. > I hate to make this trite situation comparable to slavery,

    A more accurate term might be “sharecropping.”

    It’s the publisher’s farm and the publisher’s market; the author’s work supports it, but he’s theoretically free to leave.

    1. There were nasty tradition involving the company store, AKA the commissary, that bound sharecroppers by debt. Sort of like basket accounting and other contractual fun and games?

      1. Similar Kevin. They restrict you to what you may sell (which literally can be NOTHING at all, until your book/s come out, and then may well limit your use of that universe, those characters). And I’m not kidding.

    2. Well… it’s the author’s farm, author’s seed, author’s labor… but the publishers controlled the market. And if one took agin you, it’s likely the other would shut you out too.

  9. Possibly a repost — but what is that “Wuk, wuk, wuk” quote from? I remember the story — a time travel piece. But I can’t seem to recall title or author.

    1. Ahhh, got it! “Mechanical Mice” by Eric Frank Russell, 1941.

      “F’wot?” bellowed Fatty, with obvious heat. “Wuk, wuk, wuk, mor, noon’n’ni’! Bok onned, ord this, ord that.” He stuck an indignant finger against the mysterious object on his cranium. “Bok onned, wuk, wuk, wuk. F’wot?” he glared around. “F’nix!”

        1. Wasp? Sinister Barrier?

          I reread Sinister Barrier a vew years ago. It’s hard to believe he wrote it in 1939… even with the change in style since then, it still reads well.

  10. Agent royalties are 20% now? I remember when I first read some “How to Writer” books, it was 10%, and later I was surprised to see 15% listed as the standard.

    I guess as the pie slice the author gets shrinks, the larger the share the agent has to take to get the same amount.

  11. Driftwood: We got a contract…
    Fiorello: You bet.
    Driftwood: No matter how small it is…
    Fiorello: Hey, wait, wait. What does this say here? This thing here.
    Driftwood: Oh, that? Oh, that’s the usual clause. That’s in every contract. That just says uh, it says uh, “If any of the parties participating in this contract is shown not to be in their right mind, the entire agreement is automatically nullified.”
    Fiorello: Well, I don’t know…
    Driftwood: It’s all right, that’s, that’s in every contract. That’s, that’s what they call a ‘sanity clause’.
    Fiorello: Ha ha ha ha ha! You can’t fool me! There ain’t no Sanity Clause!


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