Bread and Roses

They weren’t even supposed to have jobs, these interlopers. They weren’t supposed to earn a living on their own. That’s what the gatekeepers said — men and husbands and fathers. They said this lesser race of people were supposed to be satisfied. They should be grateful to subsist on scraps and on domestic crumbs.

The 1912 textile strikes were led primarily by women, who were treated horribly in the workplace even as they fought to improve conditions for all. The slogan that emerged from the 1912 strikes was: We want bread, but we want roses, too! Women workers demanded fair wages and fair treatment all at once. They fought for an increase in pay and a promise not to be discriminated against.

There are parallels one century later. I don’t want to compare anyone’s working conditions to what women went through at the turn of the 20th century (or today for that matter), but once again we see interlopers fighting for the rights of all workers, even as they fight for dignity and respect. Once again, you have the very people being denigrated and judged and barred from entry working out here on the curb for the better treatment of those on the factory floor.

We have to. Because we sure as hell aren’t getting any help from our leadership.

authors guild

Scott Turow, the head of the Authors Guild, spends his time fighting for publishers and for bookstores — the very parties who stand between writers and readers. These publishing partners can be great facilitators or they can be great abusers, and it should be the job of the Authors Guild to ensure which. Just as it should be a union’s job to make sure factory and retail don’t harm the transfer of labor to the consumer.

Instead, the Authors Guild came out for price-fixing and higher costs to readers.  Scott Turow sees Amazon as the enemy, even as an increasing number of authors today make a living primarily through self-publishing and e-books. I have yet to see Scott lash out at publishers for their unfair contracts and horrid pay. When HarperCollins released data showing that it makes more from an e-book sale than a hardback sale while the author makes less, where was Scott? Where was anyone representing authors?

I don’t have much of a platform, and nobody should really care what I think  — but this is my blog, so let me tell you where I stand on things these days. And let me also introduce you to the people who stand for me and with me, whether they mean to or not.

I stand for the ability of those who choose to write for a living to have the best opportunities possible. It’s a narrow focus, but it’s one I’m passionate about. I’ve been passionate about this for longer than I’ve been writing. It goes back to my book review and bookstore employee days. As a reader who loved stories, I cared for those who created them. Now that I’m on the other side and have become friends with storytellers, this cause is strengthened. And the more I learn about the abuses authors suffer, the more I want to speak out.

So here’s what I think the Authors Guild should be saying. Here is what their platform should be. (And I’m too busy running a hypothetical publishing house in Houston, so for goodness sake, don’t think I want another job. I don’t):

1. No more digital rights until e-book royalties are 50% of net. Right now, e-book royalties at the Big 5 are 25% of net. They do not compete on this front. There is no budging. As shown by literary agent Brian DeFiore (in a post that has been taken down but is summarized here and elsewhere) the increase in profits at major publishers right now is coming on the backs of authors. Go read the summary and then come back. If this was the only thing going on in publishing today, it would be more than enough for our outrage. While publishers bemoan the advent of e-books in public, they profit. While they claim they can’t pay a dime more for e-book sales, they take money from the pockets of hardworking writers and stuff it into their own. Are you angry? You should be.

2. No more “Most Favored Nation” Clauses. These clauses are one of the primary reasons authors can’t get more than 25% of net on e-book sales. These clauses may be unconstitutional for the anticompetitive result they have. You would think a lawyer like Scott Turow might be interested in fighting these rather than accepting them in his own contracts. The way the clause works is this: Any author with one of these clauses in their contract is guaranteed to receive the same royalty rate on digital book sales as any other author in that publishing house. Which means if I am given 50% of net, the likes of Stephen King and Scott Turow will get 50% of net.

I would love for publishers to simply give all authors 50% of net on e-book sales (see #1), but part of their reluctance in negotiating even a single fair contract is the thousands of existing revenue streams that would be impacted. We need to break the ice, which means the agents and authors who agreed to these clauses should fight to have them struck from existing contracts. And no new contracts should be signed if they include this clause. But that would require authors like Scott Turow — who undoubtedly has this clause in his own contracts — to . . . I don’t know . . . care about other authors.

3. No more DRM for Guild members. The Authors Guild should come out against punishing the paying customer. Authors should be encourage to only sign publishing contracts that stipulate no digital rights management on their e-books. We don’t handcuff readers to our hardbacks. We don’t make it impossible for them to pass the book off to a friend or spouse when they’re done. We don’t care if they sell it to a used bookstore, which then sells it to someone else. DRM harms the paying and honest reader and poses a 5-second annoyance to the illegitimate user. The Authors Guild should demand an end to DRM.

4. Fair pricing for e-books. The Authors Guild should be arguing for lower e-book prices, not higher. Again, Scott Turow’s reign as president of the Authors Guild has seen him arguing the opposite of what is good for writers. And once again, readers are harmed as well. Lower e-book prices mean more sales for more authors. The lower the prices get, the less authors compete with one another. Today, it is more common than not to find readers who load up on e-books and only finish a fraction of what they purchase. Part of what they are purchasing is the convenience of choice. It is the portable library that does not clutter the home.

I have not seen this discussed anywhere before, but the economic reality of this is like reverse insurance for authors. A reader spends $20 on 5 e-books, and the royalties are split between those 5 authors. Only one of the books is read to completion, and yet none of the purchases cause regret. Since reading requires more of an investment in time than listening to music or watching movies, this habit of buying at impulse price, sampling, and not returning is a way of distributing wealth to more writers without harming the reader, the manufacturer, or the distributor. But publishers and the Authors Guild want to get in the way of this by supporting collusion and the $14.99 e-book. Who does that help? Bookstores and the handful of big-name authors (like Scott) who can command $14.99 for a bundle of electrons. Who does it hurt? The little guy and gal. The debut authors. The readers. The mid-lister. Is your pulse pounding? It should be.

5. No More Non-Compete Clauses. The Authors Guild should recommend to its members that they refuse to sign contracts with any form of a non-compete clause. They should also be writing public letters to publishers demanding that these unfair clauses be stricken from all future contracts. Instead, we get not a peep from the Authors Guild on this issue. I’ve railed against non-competes before, but you don’t stop striking until working conditions change, so let me wave my placard once more. Non-competes give publishers the unchecked ability to control a writer’s output and hence their career. They don’t even serve a purpose. It hasn’t been shown that a similar release from an author in a short time window will do anything other than increase the sales of both books. Like the stance on DRM and the reluctance to work with libraries, this is a policy based on fear and not on reality. Speaking of operating with fear as a guid…

6. Stop Fighting Free. Authors should have the ability to give away copies of their e-books. Maybe not unlimited copies indefinitely, but there should be some sort of new clause structured that opens the door for free promotions solely at the author’s discretion. Neil Gaiman once convinced his publisher to offer American Gods for free, online, for a period of one month. His print sales of the same book shot up 300% (see p.17 of this awesome free book). The publisher pulled the promotion at the end of the month, and the sales went back to normal. Even with such direct correlation, fear won out, and Neil has been unable to repeat the experiment.

This idea of limited free promotions is not original. Amazon provides this ability through their KDP Select program, giving authors the ability to give away as many copies of their books as they can by providing 5 “free days” for every 90 days of exclusivity. Publishers should do the same thing, and the Authors Guild should help fight for this ability. Let’s adopt the Amazon model and say that authors get 5 promotion days every financial quarter. The author alone can opt in; the publisher can’t give away their book without their permission. With coordinated promotions, this could be a huge boon for new, struggling, and midlist authors, the very three segments of the writing population we should be fighting for. This is the sort of progressive thinking our representatives should be doing. Admittedly, I’m cheating a little by grabbing ideas from that great Satan to authors, Amazon. Speaking of which…

7. The Authors Guild Should Embrace Amazon as a Friend to Writers and Readers. Until publishers make these changes, the Authors Guild should be celebrating Amazon for increasing readership, increasing the diversity of published voices, lowering prices for readers while also increasing royalties for writers, and revolutionizing reading in a way that keeps it relevant. Blaming Amazon for the move of goods out of physical stores and onto online stores is ridiculous. This is the inevitable result of the creation of the internet. This is the freedom of shoppers to choose. It was going to happen, no matter what. And here’s something that I doubt has been said before: Thank God it was Amazon.

Think about it for a moment. It could have been WalMart or Costco or a number of other massive retailers who began shipping books at a discount through an online portal. It could have been a retail giant that sells everything that began to sell books online. Instead, it was an online bookseller who branched out into other products. There is a massive difference. The love of books remains at the heart of Amazon. Those who have worked with the people behind that smiling logo know this. From Jeff Bezos (who married a writer and started out by selling books out of his garage) down to the people I met on the factory floor of the CreateSpace printing facility, I’ve never been around a group who loves books more. The Authors Guild should be championing Amazon for what they’ve done for readers and writers. The pressure for fairer contracts and wages is coming primarily from here. The champion for the status quo and more abuses is coming from the guild of my profession. Dystopian novels can’t satirize this sort of thing without being mocked for being ridiculous.

Those are just a few of the platform changes I would love to see our guild fight for. But they do not. They will not. Fortunately, I’m not out here on the curb alone. I’ve said this numerous times in numerous places, but the great irony of the stigma of self-publishing is that self-publishing will be the force that brings about positive change for all writers. Authors like Sue Grafton and Jonathan Franzen will denigrate us, just as women were made to feel unworthy of the work they produced, but the competitive nature of our publishing freedom will be an agent of change. And people like JA Konrath, Barry Eisler, Kris Rusch, The Passive Guy, and David Gaughran will lead the way.

They won’t be the only ones. Authors like Brenna Aubrey, who survey the publishing landscape and choose freedom over tyranny, will make a massive difference. There are thousands of authors like her and more coming every day. Brave authors who believe in themselves and their convictions. There are also authors like Paulo Bacigalupi who will win national awards while publishing with the small presses that aren’t just fighting for these changes but in many cases are already implementing them. There will also be established authors with massive hearts like John Scalzi, who despite their incredible successes with major publishers will stand up and demand fair treatment when they see abuses and win change as a result. Neil Gaiman has already been mentioned as a writer who has fought for the power to give books away to readers. And outside of publishing, artists like Louis CK, Amanda Palmer, and Macklemore and Ryan will serve as powerful examples to publishing houses.

But none of these writers or artists are as powerful as the real group bringing about change, and that’s the readers. A swelling number of readers are actively seeking out indie books. They use websites like IndieReader.com and Amazon’s bestseller lists to find new and fresh voices. They share recommendations on social media. They write reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Readers will be the ones who force change. Just as a boycott of goods will quickly win concessions where a strike might not, their millions of individual decisions based on economics and taste will get us there. Because the Authors Guild sure as hell won’t.

So that’s where I stand on the current state of the publishing industry. I want artists to earn a fair wage rather than to be squeezed with this sudden revenue stream from digital books. I don’t stand alone, but I wonder what would happen if we all stood together? I wonder what would happen if we had a guild that studied the changes in the market and fought for its members rather than for management? When the digital revolution hit Hollywood, look what happened there. The WGA rallied 12,000 members and went on strike. Hollywood was effectively shut down. As a result, the writers won higher royalties on streaming media, which had become a sudden source of revenue to studios and a pittance for writers in existing contracts. The market changed due to technology, and artists demanded that their contracts change to match.

Imagine what would happen if authors stood together and the Big 5 publishers were unable to sign new contracts for three months. Small presses — where authors are given fairer contracts but more limited distribution — would get a much-deserved boost. Independent authors would get a much-deserved boost. Readers would finally have a chance to catch up on their TBR piles. And the short term loss from debuting and renewing authors would be offset by long term and permanent gains across the profession. It would be an amazing stance for writers to take in order to stop the current squeeze on e-book royalties. Where again, let me repeat, publishers are making record profits on the backs of artists, and no one is doing a thing about it.

Hey, I’m not advocating for a strike. Don’t misunderstand me. I would never do that.

But maybe an Authors Guild would want to look into it. If we had one.

COMMENTS (95)

Pow! Take that Turow!
Whap! How’s that feel Author’s Guild?

Makes me love you more. No fear. I’m an old lady and harmless. Heh heh heh.

Boom shakalaka — slam dunk, baby! I’ve often wondered why ebooks put out by major publishers were so expensive. I’m not dumb. I know it’s money. I also know that as a consumer, I’ve passed on several ebook purchases because the price was ridiculous. I mean, come on, just because you can charge higher prices for a file that costs nothing to duplicate, doesn’t mean you should.

I have done the same. Not paying over 5.99 for an e-book.

I’ve done the same thing, but this post has me so mad, I’m tempted to stop buying Big Five books altogether. That I’m even contemplating that has me mad all over again.

Because I love books: hardcover, paperback and e. I own a kindle and an iPad. I love my local indie bookseller, and she knows my name (and about the kindle). I have six library cards and regularly use three. Seems to me the Big Five should be embracing writers and readers.

Meanwhile, I’m reading and enjoying more and more indie authors and plan to self-publish my own novels. (And thanks for the Grafton link, Hugh. I guess, according to her, I could have skipped the MFA and years of practice.)

I am fortunate to have Ebook membership at three libraries. As a result, I tend to wait patiently for those expensive I.e. traditionally published titles, while spending my hard earned coin on reasonably priced I.e. Indie ebooks. Can’t remember the last time I paid more than $5.99 for an eBook, yet I am legally reading Dean Koontz’ ” Innocence” right now.

Just noticed that “Innocence” has dropped to $49 on Amazon. Think maybe some are starting to realize they are overpriced?

Typo. Should be $6.49

I don’t buy expensive e-books either and it enrages me when I see some ebooks that cost MORE than the actual book. Who do they think they’re fooling? My cookbook sells on Kindle for 10 bucks and I wouldn’t even buy that myself, much less someone else’s. :

At least cookbooks have the excuse of requiring pretty significant photography and layout skills (at least if you’re doing it right).

Okay, I have a problem with your post. There are just too many great suggestions for me to focus on. I was reading it with the intention of sharing it on my FB page with my own comment about one of your points, but I can’t decide which point I want to comment on! I guess I’ll pick the royalty. Or, wait, no…maybe the non-compete. Arghh! But there’s the DRM thing too. Shoot. I think I’ll go with the DRM thing. Yeah, that’s it. Or maybe…

You so nailed it. We love you! Hey, and Jerilyn, I’m an old lady too, but I’m definitely not harmless! Who can I write and start a campaign against this abuse!

Hugh,

Re:

“DRM harms the paying and honest reader and poses a 5-second annoyance to the illegitimate user”

Two points:

– It is also a 5-second annoyance to the legitimate user. By that I mean the user who simply wants to be able to buy the e-book from the online seller of his choice, and read the book on the device of his choice.

– While I don’t like DRM, I worry that its elimination on library e-books would adversely effect the availability of e-books from Libraries.

Tom, I regularly check on the DRM tools (source code included), and I can attest that in the most commonly used (for good reasons), they explicitely DON’T remove library DRMs. If it detects the library encryption, it just returns with an untouched file.

I’ve checked with the people who work on the tools, and had confirmation that it was their explicit intention to restrict their use to “user purchased” versions of the file.

Connie Fogg-Bouchard

i’ve lived in Lawrence, Ma. i’ve heard the history and participated in the annual memorial celebrations. what was true than is true now– fair is fair. we are behind the authors 1000%. si veritatem dico vobis

You go dawg! Logic is a beautiful thing. You make me wish I were a writer in the industry right now, because having you in the mix would be incredibly inspiring.

The closed, byzantine world of music production has been circumvented in a thousand ways, too. It’s inevitable. Rigid, closed, exploitative systems invite people to….leave and go do something else.

(On the note of women’s changing lives, Gail Collins wrote an eye-opening book about the shift we’ve experienced in modern times–stewardesses don’t get weighed in at the beginning of their workday, and women no longer seem uppity if we have our name printed on the checkbook. Hey, and we can apply for, and get! credit cards without written permission from our father or husband.)

I might be wrong, but isn’t this the same group who won’t even let us be members? Screw ’em.

Hugh

To go point by point:

1. What about an escalation to 50%? That would certainly be more palatable to publishers and wouldn’t affect their carved in stone p&ls as dramatically.

2. I’ve spent 20 years in publishing at several houses, and I’ve never seen this in a contract. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, if only as a policy or a matter of meeting the expectations on a p&l, but please name the houses have such a clause.

3. No more DRM period. Publishers imagine piracy killed the major music companies, so they think DRM is the answer. In fact it was the lack of commercial access to and high cost of digital music early on that sent people running to Napster. Publishing has never had that problem thanks to Amazon.

4. Yes, ebooks should be lower priced, and you’re exactly right about discretionary income. I would love to get stats on how people spend on books (and by type) each year. That way publishers could price according to discretionary income to maximize the overall audience for their list.

5. Again, never seen one of these as you describe it. The only clause I’ve seen ensures that an author doesn’t write essentially the same book and sell it to another publisher, which is entirely fair. I frequently include day-to-day business language in contracts with journalists so they can continue writing about the subject of the book (which is why I want them to write the book in the first place). Indeed, tons of writers have multiple series for different publishers under different names. You might chafe at having to write under another name, so the solution might be to work out a more flexible contract that doesn’t deal with a single deliverable but a term of production. Sure that’d play hell with catalogs and B&N wanting sell-in eight months before pub, but those are antiquated things anyway.

6. Regarding free ebooks, I entirely agree, but I would also point out that giving away ebooks on the publishing side is not as easy as it sounds. A publisher might be able to do it with one retailers, but then the others would freak out. That said part of the problem is the fear that an ebook will end up pirated to which I would say, “Good. No one pirates crap. If it’s not on Pirate Bay already, you can’t save the book with any amount of promotion.”

Giving an author control of pricing, even for a day, opens up an immense can of worms because then an etailer’s system wouldn’t know who’s feed to trust. For instance, if an author changes copy on Amazon, then Amazon stops accepting new feeds with, say, review snippets from the publisher because the author’s feed is now the trusted one.

As for doing this a few time each quarter, publishers and stores aren’t bothering much with a book after the first, which is the bigger problem. Maybe contracts could have a backlist clause that comes into effect after the nebulous “we’ll make best efforts to promote your book” clause runs its course. The backlist clause would create targets with incentives for the author to meet, and publishers could compete for authors based on the tools they allow them. It might also inspire publishers to hire marketing managers just for the backlist, which is usually handled on a more ad hoc basis. (Neglecting abacklist came up at DBW. Do some publishers really not mine their backlists constantly? That’s what pays for frontlist.)

BTW, Gaiman’s ebook wasn’t free, at least not in the sense of my putting it on my reader and enjoying it at my liesure. Harper made readers go to a site and read it in a terrible pageview device that made the entire experience worse than having to go to Princeton and read Salinger’s stories while under surveillance. And still his sales increased.

7. As you point out above, the Authors Guild is a friend to neither writers or readers. They’re out for themselves.

1. I love the idea as a transition, but it still hurts the little author.

2. They exist. I’ve seen them in offers made to me. All 6 of the former Big 6 employ them. It’s something the biggest selling authors get.

5. They exist. I’m working with someone right now who had to be careful about his release schedule. As worded, these contracts can be used to shut down authors at the publishers’ discretion. Authors have been known to publish pseudonymously to avoid recrimination.

6. I have a friend who just had their manuscript LEAKED BY THE PUBLISHER. It went viral on the piracy sites. And it was the unedited version. Books are going to be pirated. Publishers need to stop fighting it (they also need to be careful with their copies of manuscripts).

7. Yup.

10 years ago, while negotiating a non-compete clause in a contract, I said “Surely this will stop me writing anything else for the same readership without your permission” The reply was “Of course it will. That’s what we want.” I’m really glad I didn’t sign that contract. It would have made my switch to self-publishing almost impossible.

1. Publishers are still working from a business model crafted in the 1920s. Baby steps.
2,5. I’ll take your word for it. I’ll also say, That’s crazy.
5a. You might appreciate this story. At the Edgars one year, an author said that he wrote a second series under a different name. He was happy when an unwitting reviewer said one of those books was just like one of the book he wrote under his real name.
6. I hope the publisher can track that virality and market to it the same way one would market a WattPad readership. The author might also make an issue of it being the unedited ms. When bootleg videos of a Louis CK show showed up on a torrent site, he politely asked them to take it down not because PIRACY! but because the show at that point was still a work in progress. And they did. He might have also said, pirate the final show all you want.

Having been traditionally published to start my career, and now successfully independent for almost three years, there’s not a point here you’ve made that I don’t completely agree with. So well said, and so right.

And you’re definitely onto something there at the end. We really SHOULD look into forming an Authors Guild. ;)

I support all of Hugh’s comments and his points.

I’m a reader, not a writer, yet love following the posts in your blog. Your logic seems spot on. These changes in the writing world, both proposed and realized, parallel what I see happening in other sectors.

My thoughts today center around eBook pricing. I do not advocate undervaluing the content itself, but do firmly believe that the expenditures saved by distributing in eBook format vs. print must be passed on to the consumer. Marking up eBooks to reflect print distribution models will, as you have pointed out, discourage readers like myself from buying and hurt the publishing houses in the long run.

When I see an eBook I want to read that has an obscene markup I do not buy it. I’ll either check Amazon for a reasonably priced used paperback or stop into my local used book store to get a readable copy for a buck or two. Either scenario puts zero dollars in the publisher’s pockets and, by extension, the author’s as well.

At the other end of the spectrum, that’s not to say that loss leaders such as free books aren’t welcome! Because of the free model I bought the Wool omnibus and, eventually, your entire catalog. But that would not have happened if your eBooks were in the $10 or above range since that exceeds my threshold, and I’m almost certain that I’m not alone there. Other authors with whom I was not familiar but followed this model of “first book free, subsequent books reasonably priced” have earned my following and the loyalty of my pocketbook (Evan Curry, for one, comes to mind). I believe that the content of an enjoyable novel is worth $3 to $6 in my world view, with the cost of eBook distribution included in that price. If I went to a bookstore for a print copy I would expect to pay more due to the costs of manufacture and distribution.

I’m sure none of this is news to you, but most replies I see on your blog appear to be from writers. You’ve lamented the lack of data that takes the reader’s habits into account, so feel free to add me to your statistical model.

My logic in choosing the price for my ebook was it shouldn’t cost as much as the cheapest print version, because there are no production, transportation, or storage costs. Often the cheapest version of any book is the 4×7 paperback. Based on what the distributors were charging for royalties on ebooks, I chose 70% to represent what I thought the relative price should be to that price on the paperback.

Today, the average paperback on the shelves of a major brick-and-mortar book store goes for $8. Seventy percent of $8 is $5.60. Because the distributors want the prices to end in “.99” I rounded down and came up with $4.99. That struck me as a fair price for a full-length novel. That price also gives me the option to roll it up or down if necessary.

I will never say, “Fix the price for an ebook at $X.” There are A-list authors whose titles can command $9–$15 and people will pay it. There are some books worth paying a little more, and some books worth paying a little less. But I will never charge for an ebook a price that is almost the same for a printed book.

Hey, Hugh, thanks for shaking the bushes and bringing these issues to light. You’re a catalyst for change! Thanks for standing up for the little guy.

The sea change that is taking place in publishing and reading books will usher in great upheaval no matter how much established “Big 5” houses try to dig their heels in.

Hugh, you’re a leader in both your success and in your willingness to champion the self-published writer, as well as readers. I’d be happy to help establish an entity that brought indie authors and their supporters together to tackle some of these questions. I know that the Alliance of Independent Authors, based in London, has been around for a year or so, but their function seems to be largely advisory.

As a busy guy, you probably don’t have time to head up such an effort. But a group of us could make a start by discussing exactly what form it should take and what we want to accomplish.

I’m in.

Patrice Fitzgerald
Indie Author

What about the brand new writers? The Amazon-era newbies?

Despite the tired rhetoric that marginalizes them as “purveyors of crap” and “farm team hopefuls,” there’s an entire generation of hard-eyed, professional indie writer-publishers that are coming up fast.

And to them, the old publishing myths mean nothing. They see the old publishing industry as quaint, anachronistic, and irrelevant–it’s gatekeepers and their validations meaningless. Obsolete. These writers believe the only validation worth having comes from readers.

How many of these writers are there? They labor within Joe Konrath calls “a shadow industry,” uncounted and invisible. But if 25% of the Top-100 are indie, then 25% of Top-10,000 are indie, too… which means there are at least 2,500 indie writers selling at least 15 books a day, or 5,000 books a year each. And they keep 70% of gross. Think about that for a minute.

Some of today’s bestsellers and even more of tomorrow’s are among these writers… in fact, most of tomorrow’s bestsellers may be. Despite the frustration and bitterness they hear from their trad-pub-aspiring or trad-pub-abandoning peers, these indie writers are sanguine. The angst left over from the industry’s past doesn’t mean anything to them–because *they* have had choices from day one. For these writers, the doors of publishing have always been wide open.

And they understand the value of the intellectual property they create. When it comes to their own I.P., they will always remain in charge and demand the lion’s share of the revenue. They will never sign the kinds of one-sided contracts their predecessors did.

But nonetheless they represent an opportunity for the traditional industry, if it can partner with them on fair terms. Perhaps they are the only opportunity for survival it has.

Right now, as these Amazon-era indie writers build their readerships and backlists, they are watching the representatives of the traditional industry. They are judging. Deciding the role that those representatives and their companies will play in the future of publishing.

If any.

Think about what these writers are seeing and hearing right now…

It ain’t pretty.

Dude. I love every word of this. And I think you’re spot-on. Ten years from now, we might look back and realize the change had barely begun. I’m excited about it. I think literature could explode with a billion voices just as the internet allowed so many to share their lives and thoughts with others. Many will say one thing, and that will be enough. But some will have prolific and amazing careers, and self-publishing will be an obvious and pedestrian choice.

I was in the post office last week shipping out signed books, and the lady in front of me asked what these 200+ packages were. “Books,” I told her. She asked if I was a writer, and I said I was. And then she asked if I was self-publishing, and not with disdain or judgement but with excitement. I told her I was, and she said she keeps hearing how that’s the way to go.

Just about two years ago, I sat in the board room of one of the most important imprints of one of the largest publishers in the world, and I told them they would have to pay me a lot of money to no longer be able to brag about being self-published. It won me some strange looks. But I saw this coming. I knew it was only a matter of time before those who OWNED their art were looked at with mad respect and those who sold it off to the highest bidder were the ones with regrets.

Just never thought it would happen so fast…

Hugh, you shared a Harper’s article referencing Jennifer Weiner on Facebook that said:

“It’s not Weiner’s desire for inclusion that should scare New York. It’s the threat of her indifference.”

And that’s totally true.

But the growing legion of Amazon-era newbie writers *began* their careers with complete indifference toward NY.

And seeing the talking heads of the old industry systematically and publicly denigrate them as a class, over and over again, isn’t endearing that old industry to them…

Hugh,

Terrific post (as always). Whenever you start IAG (Indie Authors Guild), I’ll be there. :}

Up the rebels!

Hugh – as always, remarkable. I do not understand how the AG and Turow justify their existence. I was at a conference last year where Turow spent most of his speech time moaning about the airline industry – I have no idea of what he actually contributed to the conference or writers by his appearance.

So this is month three in your management position?

Looking forward to month four!

Hugh, I was recently in attendance in an audience with you and wanted to ask you a question but couldn’t get my hand up high enough.

My question concerns copyright law itself: is the whole thing an anachronism? If you could “push the button” and make IP law in books (copyright) go away, would you?

I think it’s the logical extension of many of the things you talk about and champion (such as fan-fiction and no DRM). I also know it might sound too whacky for someone in your position to champion: you’re having a hard enough time breaking people out of the “big 5” publishing mindset, but coming out for the elimination of copyright law may be just too much for the public to swallow. So I get that you can’t really come out and do that at this time…

But like I said: if you could push the button, anonymously, would you? Would you prefer a world where authors protect their living by building a loyal fanbase that wants to buy the author’s blessed version of content if they can afford it, and if they can’t, they just grab a free copy? Where authors’ worlds and characters are free for anyone to mix and match as they want, with every use of your worlds an advertisement and exposure to your writing and worlds that many readers might not otherwise have had? Where there is no profit to be made by gatekeeping “publishing” houses who use litigation against anyone else who dared to make your material more accessible to more readers? Where “publishing contracts” were non-sequiturs?

I would push that button for my own works, but I wouldn’t want to speak for others. If other artists want to lock up their work and sue the pants off of the people who enjoy it, that’s their prerogative. I don’t have that desire. I don’t put copyright pages in my e-books. And I only do it in the print edition to make it “look” like a book. :)

Thanks Hugh, I think that’s a reasonable compromise between something difficult for most people to swallow (I believe “IP” is basically a violation of real property rights and is thus illegitimate) and yet making your personal statement about what you think copyright does for *you* (which sounds like “nothing”). I appreciate your candor.

I think a lot of people misinterpret the copyright laws. They are meant to protect the _artist_, not the publisher. They also tend to see the draconian measures that the music industry is taking against music artists and fans and declare copyrights bad.

The problem is, the publishing companies basically demand that the writer hand over all control of the copyrights for all eternity, their first born child and any placental material, in exchange for a tiny portion of the net profit and putting the writer’s book on the shelves for three years. Naturally, in order to maintain control over current and potential future profits, should there be a movie deal in the making, businesses pushed to extend copyright laws for longer periods of time. The claim was, it was so the author’s family could benefit from the artist’s work after the artist’s death.

What the publishing companies didn’t see coming is what the digital publishing technology was going to do for the independent writer. Suddenly, quality writers who were snubbed by the publishing industry could simply circumvent the whole submission process and go right to the reader. Not only can I reap in more income this way, my customers—readers—benefit from cheaper prices. Also, my designated heirs will be able to reap benefits from sales of my books for almost a century.

I like what Amazon is setting up for fan fiction publishing. It gives fans a way to indulge themselves in my world and they make a little pocket money for themselves. I also benefit from this, as I get a portion of the profit as a licensing fee. It also gives a wannabe writer the opportunity to test the waters for writing. Am I worried about a better writer coming up with a better story about my characters? Hell no! All the better! I will admit, I will hold off allowing permission for fan fiction until I am done with a series, just in case someone nails down one of the key plot points in my series before I actually release MY book about it. As they say, “Great minds think alike.”

Hugh,
Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes! Thank you! I was legacy published, first by an old NYC house that went out of business, then by a major NYC house that dumped me after three books, then by a publisher specializing in library editions, followed by an Amazon imprint and finally by me-myself-and-I. Not once did I feel that the professional writing organizations to which I belonged represented me or my interests.

And now that I’m self-publishing to keep my work in front of readers, Scott Turow says I and my work must be less-than? I don’t think so. My non-traditionally published work has been nominated for an ITW Thriller Award. Stick that where the sun don’t shine, Mr. Turow!

Hugh,

Thank you for an excellent article. I agree with what you stated, “Scott Turow, the head of the Authors Guild, spends his time fighting for publishers and for bookstores — the very parties who stand between writers and readers.”

I was a member of the Authors Guild for 22 years. My late husband, Don Pendleton was a member from 1972 until his death in 1995. I quit the Authors Guild in 2012 because of Scott Turow and his constant attack on Amazon. It became obvious to me in recent years where the Authors Guild stood, and it was not with writers any longer.

I publish a number of books at Amazon (both Createspace and KDP) and am very thankful for Jeff Bezos, a man of vision, who has given authors great opportunity and a decent royalty, something that NY publishers refuse to do. Jeff Bezos has also given us something else as writers—and that is the freedom to choose how we do business.

Amazon has also given readers the opportunity to buy just about any book they would like, at a reasonable price.

And congratulations on your success, Hugh.

Hugh, you’re awesome.

Great post! As a hybrid author, I agree with all your points. Thank you.
Oh, and a big thumbs up on a union…

“…But if 25% of the Top-100 are indie, then 25% of Top-10,000 are indie, too… which means there are at least 2,500 indie writers selling at least 15 books a day.”

Of all the points that seemed to glide effortlessly over the heads of Zacharius, Gottlieb, Gernert (and most likely everyone else in Legacy world following along) is how big this movement is, how much it’s growing and how much ground it’s gaining daily. If not hourly.

And how little this growing group values the traditional label and its “validation”.

I’m reminded of survivor stories from people whose cars were struck by trains.

“It looked like it was so far away…I thought it was moving so slow.”

That said, I don’t see the Big 5 drying up and blowing away anytime soon like many predict. They’ll continue to do what they’ve always done as big corporations; shift and follow the money. Right now that’s overpriced e-books which produce record profits make up for all the other shortcomings on the P&L. Digital music and indie musicians are often cited as a disruptive example but record companies are still with us. We just lost all the record stores. Mega-sellers will continue to get 8 figure paydays and celebrity treatment and they will stay put, IMO. As long as they exist so too will legions of aspiring newbs who will sign any legacy contract put in front of them because of the Big Dream. All the benefits indies enjoy from the digital bookshelf benefits BigPub’s monumental backlist just as much. Vanity pub under a Big 5 moniker has gone wide and global with no signs of abatement despite the rabid warnings and horror stories, etc…

But that indie freight train, that appears to be so far away and moving so slow, is still going to do one helluva number on the status quo that’s stuck on the tracks. And when the debris field settles everyone still employed in legacy pub will have a “survivor” story to tell.

“I don’t see the Big 5 drying up and blowing away anytime soon like many predict…”

Most years, the big publishers only post single-digit-percentage profit margins. Right now even those margins are being artificially propped as sales shift from paper to e-books. And it’s being done by cutting the author’s net share, and fattening the publisher’s, despite the fact that for e-books publishers have fewer costs.

If the publishing companies are run so inefficiently that they make less that 10% profit even when authors are handing them 75% for nothing, what do you think will happen when the majority of authors wise up?

“What do you think will happen when the majority of authors wise up?”

I think the majority of authors already have wisened up. We’re only beginning to be able to theorize how big the “shadow industry” (I hope there isn’t a Konrath fee for using that term) is and it’s size is a direct result of writers abandoning big pub or their aspirations thereof.

But honestly, I think every aspiring newb, slush pile warrior and mid-lister with low sales in the universe can self-pub and BigPub wont care. They wont even notice because none of these types ever contributed substantially to their profitability. Having said that, will they miss out on future best sellers and the as yet to be seen (but inevitable) indie mega sellers, folks selling tens of millions of titles a year? Yup. They surely will.

But I’m not talking about what’s best for writer’s, what’s fair or even what’s smart. I’m just discussing business basics and as long as BigPub remains profitable they’ll still be here and they won’t change. Having been inside big organizations and companies I can tell you that they have to bleed…a lot…before anything resembling change happens.

More than anything BigPub needs to lose it’s mega-sellers who pay the bills. And not one or two, but dozens. This exodus has been predicted for some time now but we’re still waiting to see it. If anything, when the mega-sellers decide to “follow the money” I think it will be in the vein of Patterson Inc. with branding and co-writing. Patterson was the #1 earner last year with $94mil and 14 titles. He smoked James and King.

If there’s a “higher path” for mega-sellers, those not content with only earning 10 or 20 million a year, to follow I think it will be with the Patterson/Cussler model and not with starting their own companies (and incur every gargantuan headache/responsibility/liability that goes with it) to manage and oversee global e-pub and POD across all languages, markets and platforms.

IMHO.

“We’re only beginning to be able to theorize how big the “shadow industry” is…”

I calculated it’s current size from “25% indie” and mathematically integrating the area under the Amazon sales-to-ranking curve from ranks 20 to 50,000. Here’s what I found:

100 million books a year, sold by 12,000+ indie authors who have already made enough on those books to earn out an “entry-level” trad-pub advance.

“…and it’s size is a direct result of writers abandoning big pub or their aspirations thereof.”

Meh. Maybe in the past it once was, but not so much anymore. More and more of the shadow industry writers are the kind of newbies I described, who dismissed big pub as irrelevant from day one.

These writers always wanted to be Hugh Howey when they “grew up.”
Not Scott Turow.

I saw your estimation over at J.A.K. and I thought it was fascinating.

“…the shadow industry writers are the kind of newbies I described, who dismissed big pub as irrelevant from day one.”

“These writers always wanted to be Hugh Howey when they “grew up.”
Not Scott Turow”

I agree on both points. Completely. And not to liken anything in publishing to Infamous Days in American history but as far as the book world goes I think Turow’s revolting comments and conduct (as a supposed “leader” of authors) fall under the “Never Forget” dept and I applaud voices like Hugh, Konrath and others for continuing to call him out.

And I fully agree that the average newb writer now (myself included) wants to grow up to be like Howey or Andre.

But many still want to be like Roberts or King. Lots.

Here’s a single data point that, to me, defies logic.

“In self-publishing, Author Solutions performed well helping more than 13,000 authors to publish titles in the first half of 2013.”

http://www.pearson.com/news/2013/july/pearson-2013-half-year-results.html

13k authors jumped at the chance to be “published” under a BigPub “banner”, despite the huge amounts of links to articles condemning them for their practices when you Google their name, and in only the first half of 2013 alone. And this was only with AS and not counting the other 18 heads of the Vanity Succubus. In another forum where I mentioned this someone replied that AS had “deals” with 23k writers in 2012.

Now, I have no doubt that huge shifts and losses are due for publishers. There will be more mergers, layoffs, mid-list “Why I self-pubbed” stories, the marginalization of bookstores (they’ll be like vintage vinyl record stores found only in certain areas after B&N and BAM die, sadly) and even more.

But when I read an story that attendance at a Big5 pitch event was met with crickets and tumbleweeds (as it was at a Harlequin event following some of their worst press ever mixed with a staggering number of indie ROM success stories that year) and that Mega-Seller #23 is starting her own self-pub, POD and rights licensing enterprise, then I’ll start my Big5 Deathwatch.

Thanks for the great discussion.

Hugh: You are so right. I agree with everything you said and I’m ready to join a real authors’ organization.

As for copyright, were you aware that U.S. publishers used to buy copies of European copyrighted books, bring them here, publish them and not pay the authors a dime? Charles Dickens came to the US. to protest this piracy and finally the U.S. wrote copyright laws. See my blog post http://phyllishumphrey.blogspot.com

And the film industry moved from the east to the west coast (in the days when crossing the continent required a train trip), to avoid having to pay Edison patent royalties for using movie cameras…. And even the most successful films never manage to make a profit, if we are to believe Hollywood bookkeeping. That darned overhead…

Industries birthed in IP piracy, now screaming in outrage and demanding protection, subsidies and the obstruction of change and innovation…

Thanks Hugh. Great post. It inspired me to write one of my own on what traditional publishers should have learned from iTunes. Check it out if you get a few minutes: http://randyjmorris.blogspot.com/2014/01/what-traditional-publishers-should-have.html

To be 100% fair, I’ve had a traditional publishing contract analyzed by the AG lawyers (a service they offer for members), and in that analysis, I was told never to sign a non-compete clause. I have found this service to be invaluable. Further, it strays far from their contracts booklet.

This is a superb list of items detailing what publishers should do and what the Author’s Guild ought to fight for if they had any sense. But thankfully it doesn’t matter whether any of them ever listen. The great thing about the market is that it doesn’t matter what fools like Turow think. He has no power; the consumer has the power. And consumers have driven Amazon to innovate in ways that have provided more benefits for consumers and authors alike than any one person, or group of people – especially not any group led by an ignoramus like Turow – could ever have planned for.

Thanks Hugh, this is a very necessary post. I fully agree and I certainly would LOVE to see authors standing together. You’ve started the ball rolling, and that’s great, we’re all with you!

You are the fuel that feeds my FIRE!
Thank you…J

BAM! There it is, all tied up in a neat little package. Eloquent post, Hugh. It’s been a long time since the Writer’s Guild actually represented writers, but no one has ever really shined a spotlight in that direction and called them out for their behavior. An Indie Writer’s Guild might work, but I’d prefer someone radically reform the Writer’s Guild rather than labeling Indies as “other” by creating a separate/secondary organization.

And contrary to what you’ve claimed, I suspect you could easily run the hypothetical publishing house, the born-again writer’s guild, and still produce a book per week and walk your dog and romance your wife. Just requires proper deployment of those clones you’ve been keeping under wraps. No sweat.

You absolutely don’t stand alone, Hugh. I keep saying it and I know I sound like a parrot but.. it’s such an exciting time to be an author. We’ve never been more empowered then we are now. We have such amazing choices.

Thanks for being such a rational but loud voice for our community, Hugh. You rock!

Well said, Hugh. Are you sure we weren’t separated at birth? :-D

Fantastic article Hugh. Brilliant.

I stopped reading articles about the industry a while back–it was too depressing, especially when you’re trying to focus on building a positive foundation for yourself as an Indie Author. Your words are encouraging and frankly, gave me hope.
Appreciate that.

Never been to your site, but got it from Barry Eisler.
Subscribing now.

The Author’s Guild can’t collectively bargain so it can’t do any of the things you suggest. It isn’t a union. No writers’ organization in the US can collectively bargain.

No union has the power to force a company to change prices or change the way it runs its business as you suggest.

The only thing AG and other writers’ groups can do is educate and suggest to its membership.

Granted, they can’t negotiate, but they can – and should – advocate. They have consistently failed to do this. Their very rules for membership dictate that they are not truly representing “authors,” but rather a very small, select group of authors they deem worthy.

How did the Hollywood writers strike? Because they belong to a union. Authors could do the same. The fact that they aren’t is precisely what I’m writing about.

“How did the Hollywood writers strike? Because they belong to a union. Authors could do the same. The fact that they aren’t is precisely what I’m writing about.”

Good luck with that, Hugh. As someone who belonged to RWA, MWA, and several other writers’ organizations (not AG) for over thirty years, I’ve never seen many writers willing to risk their careers by collective bargaining. They are more likely to throw other authors under the bus in the name of protecting their publishers.

As someone who has bus tracks and arrows on her back as an ebook pioneer and an author’s advocate on many issues, I’ve seen this happen over and over again.

A more sensible and certainly more probable solution is for authors to self-publish instead of agreeing to terms that will not change. And, maybe one day, the publishers will realize the only way they can survive is to stop treating authors like stupid cows to be slaughtered and more like partners in a business.

“A more sensible and certainly more probable solution is for authors to self-publish instead of agreeing to terms that will not change. And, maybe one day, the publishers will realize the only way they can survive is to stop treating authors like stupid cows to be slaughtered and more like partners in a business.”

That’s what I’ve been advocating for 5 years. And doing by example.

Hi Hugh, I am one of those readers who purchase the books on special for $2.00. It is just like you said I will probably never get to all of those books although I am happy with my purchases and have never spent so much on reading material as I have in the last two years. I have already read 11 of your books within the past year. Being able to review what other readers have said before purchasing a book is a wonderful thing.

This tendency is already famous among gamers who use Steam. Steam is an online video game store that has holiday sales, and people spend hundreds of dollars on games they’ll never play. But it’s real money in developers’ pockets.

Hugh
well put and although i may question some of your positions the jist of your poits is applaudable.
The Guild is litigious in its view and keeps digging holes that only benefit the lawyers not the membership. It’s as if they can’t pick the right fights and don’t understand when to back off.
The point you miss that i think is important is that of royalties based on NET SALES. Ok in the physical world you count the books out and count them back in deduct the sales and have a fair idea what is out there and what the actual sales are. In the digital world you hand over a file to several players close your eyes and wait for them to tell you what has been sold and at what price. Hands up who has done an audit? This honesty box often translates to a one liner on the statement net sales X.

In my opinion, Franzen is a jackanapes anyway. Who the hell cares what he thinks of what we’re doing?

Hugh,
Is it really fair to compare an Amazon contract with a publisher’s contract? It’s not apples for apples. With Amazon, an author permanently and irrevocably parts with a small portion of their copyright. That may or may not be worth something in the long term. Also, any “sale” of a book on Amazon may earn the author 70% of the sale price, but that sale is potentially like a Joseph A Banks clothing sale, in that the sale is of one paid copy and an astonishing number of free copies.

Great blog, Hugh! Thanks for telling it like it is.

Vanessa Grant

You’re a treasure Hugh! Agree 100% about the Author’s Guild. Or Archaic Guild is more like it. I’ve tried several times to get them to fight for authors and couldn’t even get them to answer the most simple of requests.

I’m not a big fan of DRM either, but, you and many anti-DRM people are missing one major fact about Digital Rights Management.

If you have a hardback book and you lend it to someone, it is out of your hands. You can’t read it while they are reading it. If you sell the hardback book, same issue.

BUT – with an ebook, that does not apply. A person can lend the ebook to a friend and still have it on their computer/eReader to read (unless done through Amazon’s lending program). In fact, a non-DRM book could be lent out to 50 people all to read at the same time, without the author getting another penny.

Do I know what the answer is? Well, unless we can make the public realize that ‘sharing’ an ebook is wrong, I’m not sure there is one. I publish my stuff through Amazon and Smashwords. My favorite thing about Smashwords is its non-DRM stance and the fact a person can buy the book in several formats. (Yay, Smashwords)

But until the public realizes that sharing an author’s book with a million of their closest friends (*cough* by file sharing sites) is immoral and illegal? I think a lot of people are going to side with DRM.

Hi Hugh and well said.

As both a ‘traditionally’ and self published Author, I can tell you, though I supposedly make 41% from the publisher, I made more in one quarter on my self published books than I did all year from the publisher. There are so many pitfalls to publishing contracts that the inexperienced Author doesn’t even know what to look for and who do we have to help us? No one.

When I found out I could self publish, though I’d tried to get traditionally published for almost 10 years, that I’d have control of my own work, I jumped at the chance.

The big 5 are now saying vampire books are not marketable. Since when? There will always be a steady stream of vampire book lovers, the publishers are just scared that since the Twilight Saga has died down, they won’t make any money on new stuff.

As far as the DPM, I always check the box prohibiting it. I know that people take their paperbacks and lend them to others which is the same thing but I don’t think it’s fair to the Authors and until we can do something about it (yah right!) we’re stuck where we are.

I’ve found that along with Amazon, Smashwords has been so much more user/Author friendly. You can edit your books’ price at any time, generate coupons for free copies at any time, it’s just as easy to use as Createspace and, here’s the key, you can allow a potential consumer to read a percent of your book. I believe this adds to the consumers decision if they then want to buy the book. How many times do we read the back cover blurb and wish we still knew more before buying a book? On Smashwords you can control how much they can read and if more people knew about Smashwords, they might give Amazon a run for their money. I also think it’s important to be able to give out free copies of my book (at my desgression) for reviews and for promotions and Smashwords makes that easy.

If you ever hear of a group to represent the self published Authors, let me know. I’d be happy to sit on the board or help out any way I can. It’s something that’s very necessary and makes me mad that we as Authors don’t already have in place (but I guess that’s the price of self-publishing, right?).

I didn’t mean to ramble on but you got me thinking and fired up! I have a link to your article on my Author Facebook page so more Authors can read your words of wisdom. Thank you!

Sincerely!

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