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.