Monday, May 31, 2010

Who ate all the pies?

To quote from the article Amanda mentioned yesterday...

‘Turow began with authors' fears about piracy and lower income: 25% of net in "e" is less than a traditional 15% royalty. Newberg made her first point: "What are publishers doing to justify not giving authors 50%[*note]?"

Miller countered that "terms differ from publisher to publisher". Newberg shot back, "some terms are much better than others and we'll have to go public and some of you will look bad".'

Now, expressly stating that I am not implying in any way the people reported are paedophiles or anything like that... but am I alone in having the vile little image of some creepy individual saying ‘It has to be our little secret. If I tell anyone you'll be in _trouble_.'?

Shudder.

Let's just clarify something: there is NO ADVANTAGE that I can see for writers _or_ readers in secrecy about what writers earn or royalty percentages or numbers sold. It all needs daylight, openness and not threats and secrecy. It's NOT 15% - that's BEST rate offered on hardbacks - Most midlisters won't see that and few NYT best-sellers will average that.

Here are typical rates: newbie paperback 6% of cover price (up 100 000 copies hahahahaaaaa, and then increasing 8%) (and 4000-6000 copies would be what you might sell, unless there had for some reason been a mighty large laydown, with a lot of copies in a lot of stores. This is not something that the writer has any control over. In 1970, apparently that figure would have been... about 40 000 copies. Yes. Newbie income has been decimated.)

midlist PB 8%

Hardbacks start 10% for first 5K, 12.5% 5-10K, 15% 10K+. And 17K can see you on the NYT best-seller list.

Yes, some authors do sell a LOT of books. But the reality is that's only 5%... of the best-sellers - or perhaps 0.5% of the authors not in small press. Include small press and you can make that 0.001%

I'm a great believer in Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiment. Society's mirror - which lets other people see our conduct and pass approval (which is sweet to us) or disapproval (which makes us, a social animal, uncomfortable) - works. We also base our valuation of people to society on how much they are approved of. With society becoming larger and more amorphous this is often measured by the rewards that society gives to individuals (one of the reasons for the display of wealth and symbols thereof). Given the above, can anyone tell this dumb bunny here why secrecy might be of any benefit to either authors or readers?

If we love and respect an author we are pleased if they are well rewarded. I certainly don't have a problem hearing that Terry Pratchett is rich. I am, au contraire, delighted.
Or perhaps it fulfils a need to pretend that we're approved of -- whereas if society knew we were earning $4000 as an advance (quite typical for a newbie) for a book that took us a year to write, well, that says society doesn't value us much. Perhaps if you're into self-deception this works for you. I really don't think this is a major reason OR reflects in any real way what society thinks the author is worth.
So what does that leave? Well, I suppose authors who are overpaid (and yes, they exist - industry darlings who get enormous advances they never get near to earning) wouldn't like it much, and neither would those who overpaid them. But, pardon my insensitivity, I (and 99.9% of readers and authors) really couldn't give a toss about their inadequacy being exposed. I fail to see why it benefits the rest of the authors or readers.
The only other reason I can see is that if it was public knowledge, the next publisher would have no incentive to offer a better deal. On the other hand if everyone's deals and sales numbers were public knowledge... well, that becomes irrelevant.
Of course I am avoiding mentioning the three elephants in the room. Because they like to stomp authors who hold ‘our little secret' up to society's mirror.

I've just got the bill for my 3 cats and 3 dogs month in quarantine - $7000. - 6 animals one month - average it out about $35 a day...

Which when I look at the $7500 advance that I will get for the current book (I contracted this a while ago and I am a co-author and only getting a share of the money. My advances now are higher, but still around 50 cents a copy I sell (Hardcover+pb + e-sales I find the final figure averages around $1 per copy sold - and that's because I get a reasonable e %. People do worse) And I always earn - and Baen pay - royalties) and the time it has taken me to write it (which is long for me, but normal for many) ... that's $35 a day. Based on the previous books this will sell, eventually, about 30-35 000 copies, and I will earn a little extra. But for now... that's it.
Or if I take my yearly income and divide it by hours worked $6.00-$9.00 an hour. I earn enough to scrape along on by working a LOT of hours.

So there we are, society.

For this book this author is worth the same as dog-kennelling for one by that measure. Or about 5 paperbacks (in the US), or 1.3 hardbacks a day.

Is this realistic?

Does something have to re-adjust? Is it the amount books cost, the amount e-books will sell for, the transparency of the system, or...

Is this what we value our authors at? 6% of cover price? (because they also have expenses, like... dogfood. You can't say that is all profit, any more than the other 94% is all profit) What do we value the rest of the process at? Given the distribution of the money, what can be cut? More of that 6%?

Are we prepared to have very, very few full time authors and the rest with second jobs or supported by partners (which both are not good for my writing, to be blunt)?

Do we want new authors fed into the system? (Because that costs, and will need to be subsidised by something. Or we have to be prepared to place near zero value on them.)

Do we readers want to choose what we like and that to finally decide what becomes a best-seller, rather than have someone who takes marketing and distribution decisions decide what we might like and can be allowed to choose from?

What do you think?

Who ate all the pies?

[* 50% in this case refers to of the publisher's net. Which translates 50% of the profit after the publisher takes their costs and expenses out. The author does not get 50% of the net. His gross is 50% of the publisher's free and clear pure profit - out of which he has to pay his agent, taxes, expenses. What's left (if anything) is his share of the profit. If you want real 50% then the author would have to add his expenses in too, and the remainder would be equally split. Oddly, I don't think this will happen ;-)]

44 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Oooh, Dave.

You're right. There's no point in making a secret of what we are being paid.

In Australia the average advance for a new writer is 5,000-10,000, maybe 15,000 if you are lucky.

The print run would be around 5,000 books, maybe 7,500.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

One of the things that really annoys me -- and I might offend people here, but I'm just offering it up -- is how much sports people get paid compared to people who pursue the creative arts.

Are people still talking about a football player 500 years later? No, but they are still looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, (not that every artistic person is Michael Angelo).

But the music, painting, sculpture and books that creative people have produced reach across time to us.

There's my rant. I've got it out of my system now.

Francis Turner said...

I'm in violent agreement here with the basic premise. It seems to me that there are no benefits what so ever from writers (and agents) not being entirely open - albeit perhaps anonymously - about their deals. It would also benefit everyone to actually state as clearly as possible how the income breaks down. i.e how many ebooks and what royalty, how many hardbacks & royalty, tpbs, mmpbs etc. I think readers are particularly unclear about just how small many print runs are and (equally) just how few ebooks get sold on average.

Right now we're told ebooks are about 10% of the total pie but growing fast. It would be interesting to see if that is reflected in authorial royalties.

We readers would certainly benefit from knowing how much of our $$ goes to the creator and how much to all the various layers of middlemen. And whether it is better to buy the book from Amazon, the ebook, the Apple ibook etc. in terms of how much dosh gets back to the author.

I personally find it hard to understand why authors do not get a far larger proportion of the pie and I have a particularly hard time understadning why they seem to get particularly small amounts of ebook revenues (Baen we note being the honorable exception). It seems to me that on ebooks the author should be getting 50% of the revenue for any reasonably good seller.

However there is another area where I slightly disagree. The problem is economics and supply/demand. Rowena provides the example of the football player paid $$$$$/week compared to an author getting $$$$/book. The catch here is that the (newbie) author entertains say 5000 people for maybe 5 hours. And the 5000 people pay (say) $10 each for the pleasure. A total of $50,000. Now take a football player who earns $50,000 per week. He gets paid that because 50,000 people pay $100 a ticket to watch him and 21 others live in a stadium plus millions of others pay (or advertisers pay on their behalf) $1 each to watch him on TV. And then there's the merchandising: the replica team kit, the cuddly toys, the scarves etc.

The fact of the matter is that more people are willing to pay $100 for a ticket to see a football match than are willing to pay $10 for a book-

Even if we just go for the live audience then the weekly gross revenue is 100 times that of the book. That player's $50k is paid for by just 500 of the fans or 1% of the spectators of the match. The two teams plus managers are paid for by a quarter of the spectators.

On the other hand the $7,500 (say) that the author gets as an advance from $50,000 gross sales is 15% of the total. Looked at it that way it isn't so bad - the sportsman gets less than 1% of the gross. The problem is that the total numbers are so small. What we need is to increase the size of the readership and convince more people to read at least one book a month.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, you are right. Something does have to change and, in my opinion, it's that the "shameful" secret needs to be revealed. Publishers tell us that they can't charge less than they do for e-books, or for hc or pb for that matter, and that they charge what they do "for their authors". I call bullsh**. Give us accurate figures for what each book costs from start to finish and do NOT roll over the costs for promoting best sellers (and covering for the loss so many of them engender). Like many readers, I wouldn't mind paying more for a book, no matter what the format, if I knew a good portion of it went to the author. Like you, I have no problem knowing PTerry is rich. But I'd love to see you and other authors whose work I adore getting the recompense you so richly deserve.

Dave Freer said...

Rowena thank you - that actually makes my point rather nicely: secrecy here hasn't even served the publishers well - because they pay their authors BETTER than the US average. Which would be good for their image, were it known.

Dave Freer said...

Rowena - your second comment on sportsmen. This is a good eg - driven entirely by numbers in the audience of showing how society values individuals by how they are rewarded. Given the situation now it is easy to see that society does not actually value the creative arts. And that to me is a sign of a problem - either with the society, the creators, or the middlemen. Or all three.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Francis,

Yes, I see the maths.

Dave, that's my point exactly. Society doesn't value what creative people give back. Yet, what they produce lasts on, long after they are dead and the mirror that they hold to society is what later generations use to look back on the past.

Dave Freer said...

Francis - your area of disagreement
1)I agree that we simply need far more readers. That means finding out what interests and appeals to them, and providing it at an appealing price.
2)The problem relates more to this question: Do we readers want to choose what we like and that to finally decide what becomes a best-seller, rather than have someone who takes marketing and distribution decisions decide what we might like and can be allowed to choose from?
Historically, there was reasonable chance of a book - let's say Enid Blyton, meeting almost univeral panning from critics, and dislike of editors and distributors... and still showing that gee, readers liked it. Oddly enough the distribution curve of volume per author was far NARROWER, with a broader central peak. Your top bestseller sold a million copies, or over time maybe 4 million (or 100 times your newbie) in exceptional cases. Your newbie sold 40K. Your midlist 100K-300K. BUT along came changes in marketing, distribution, and re-ordering... and now your newbie sells 4000 copies, your midlist 20K ... and your top bestseller 4 million (or a 1000 times as may copies as a newbie) with a few exceptional books doing 10 or more. Now there are sound economic reasons for wanting to maximise effort on bestsellers - there are fixed costs regardless of print run or sales. Divide this up by the total sales, and if you sell a lot, that becomes very little per book.
There is actually a very easy, sensible answer. At present there is a huge incentive to push bestsellers (fixed cost of say $10K split between 4 000 000 books is trivial, split over 4000 means the book costs more to produce than it earns.). So: up to the fixed cost point (which needs to be pre-established - say 10K) 90% of income goes to the publisher. Thereafter the royalty equation rapidly needs to shift favor the author. Say for every $5K earned gross after that, the equation shifts another percentage point towards the author. Would this eliminate bestsellers? No. but it would mean that any bestsellers volume was the product of genuine popularity not distribution and marketing.

Dave Freer said...

Amanda, the bottom line is the woman is right and agents, publishers, distributors and retailers all know that if there was an open declaration of real costs and income shares some people are indeed going to look bad. And it isn't authors.

The trouble is that middlemen are killing the plants that produce the fruit. The plants need a few middlemen. A few, and ones who really improve things for the plant. Who only benefit if the plant does.

Dave Freer said...

Francis - I don't know why I am doing this because I disapprove entirely of state interferance in the arts (I think it makes the writer please the state not the reader)But I do play devil's advocate, even with myself. To take your sportsman analogy

The football player would not have a crowd of 50 000... if there was no stadium. If it was a muddy field with a few bleachers, he'd be lucky to have a crowd of 200. The stadium (or at least the seed stadium, where the team built a popularity and following) was built (and is probably in many cases mantained, or at least has its accesses maintained) with public money. Moreover, there would be no TV crowd following and paying for the sports broadcast, and no advertising money to be made, if it had not been for Free-to-Air coverage initially -- paid for again with public money.

So perhaps there is a case to made for public money being used as 'seed' money to provide access and infrustructure, and then to allow real popularity to drive it. Unfortunately arts funding almost inevitably seems to work away from that end. I'd like to see ways in which it work more like sports funding.

heteromeles said...

Yes, I'd love to see more transparency on publishing, not only in what authors make, but in what various industries charge for their services.

The problem as I see it, is that authors need to confront what they fear in order to bring their costs down, and that's hard.

These fears include:
1. Accounting, otherwise known as getting financially sophisticated enough to know when you're getting screwed, and also to be able to acquire that knowledge quickly.
2. Authors need to get financially sophisticated enough to predict the minimum a book will earn. This is the "plan for the worst, hope for the best" model. If you can live with the worst, then there's nothing but upside for you. If your work has to be a bestseller, you're in trouble unless you routinely write bestsellers.
2. Copy editing: right now, publishers pay someone else to catch your detail mistakes. Why? Can you do this yourself?
3. Formatting: right now, publishers pay someone else to make your document readable. Why? Can you do this yourself?

Note that I'm not saying editors are unnecessary. They're vital. Rather, I'm looking at all the artists who contribute on a hourly-pay basis to getting a book published, and thinking that a couple of them aren't adding much value to the document, but are making hundreds to thousands of dollars through their work, whether or not your manuscript succeeds. Not so good.

I'd gently suggest that writers need to confront these fears if they want to make a living as authors.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I'm not sure I agree that sports figures get too much. I think it's a fruit of the people who go into the business as marketeers/middle men. Sports tend to be run by people who want to make money. Book sales tend to be run by people who want to be appreciated for their intelligence and "activist" qualities. NO ONE buys a sports team to "make a point about the condition of women." And there is the rub. Because by and large publishing houses (with notable exceptions) have been in the business of advancing causes over readable material for at least fifty years (which I don't object to so much as to the fact that they're incapable of stopping the fight when they've won, so that they're not so much speaking truth to power as speaking platitudes to power.) And the public is, if anything, more and more reluctant to be lectured. All of publishing only pays attention to the bottom line when it suits other purposes. We're in the only field where having killed three magazines by pushing "social" theories at fiction readers, you're considered a luminary and given a fourth magazine to kill. However, let a "frivolous" newby sell less than expected and off they're sent after one book. (Even if they earn out their advance!)
I also must take strong exception with the phrase "give back." I know what you're trying to say but, no. I have a compulsion to write and occasionally draw. I am tormented daily with the thought I'd be much more productive (let alone highly rewarded) if I ran a diner -- both in terms of how my labor would improve society and in terms of renumeration. So why don't I do it? I have a compulsion to write. I don't do it for society, I'm no kind of saint. I'm not "giving back." The idea of writing out of altruism makes me physically ill. I write because I have to. I try to improve my writing and please the reading public in the hopes that someday, somehow, it will pay adequately. And allow me to continue writing.

On secrecy -- I make 7.5 k for the mysteries. So far the royalties on those have come out to only a few hundred, because they get taken out of print the minute they earn out (this is standard for all publishing houses but Baen. When Baen authors tell me "but you have x books, even if they don't sell much per year, you must be raking in on royalties" I don't know whether to laugh or cry.) I make between 10 and 12.5 K for the fiction. 12.5k tends to be for the historicals. As far as I know this is average when you're not either a newby or getting extraordinary publisher push.

As for the distribution etc it's always struck me as a bit funny that when a house estimates how much a book will earn (and keep in mind often this is done on proposal, which might or might not be an accurate reflection of the end product) before paying the advance, it is right in 99% of the cases. I'd say the odds of that, as a sage man once said, are so much slimmer than those of a coin being tossed in the air and landing on edge that they're akin to a coin being tossed in the air and turning into a pink, fluffy duck. I know enough statistics to say unequivocally that they either have crystal balls, or they're playing poker against themselves.

This doesn't mean dishonesty, though. By and large, again with notable exceptions, people in the field are starry-eyed idealists who are not intentionally dishonest. I think each part of the publishing/distribution world is in its own little paradigm and have no clue how what they do affects their bottom line adversely in the long run, they only know in the short run this gives them an "advantage."
On the good side -- I think -- at the same conference someone made the point that the "push" model (ie someone decides what the public gets to even have a chance to buy) is effectively dead, even if still walking zombie like. Is what follows better? Who knows?

Dave Freer said...

Heteromeles - I would agree that fiction authors (who deal with the unreal most of the time do nead to get real about the financial side.

Speaking as the veteran of more than 20 editions proof readers are necessary. A good structural and line edit are necessary, good cover art is necessary. So let's assume we speak of e-pub here, and your book is going to kindle, basically 'self-pubbed', or to an e-publisher of some sort... it needs those three people. I've been trying to put costs on them -
Let's assume you can hire a reasonably good editor (not living in NYC, working at home) for $5000 a month - I think that's within realms of possibility. If your book requires more than 40 hours editing - it wasn't ready for publication. So call editing 1.25K, and proofing probably 1K. Cover art earns between 2-5K (but that is work for hire) I would suggest proposing a lower rate AND a royalty to your artist, but working on the bottom edge of work-for-hire rates - call it a further 2K, and that would include text insertion (or you can get a kid to do that for you with photoshop for 50 bucks. Really that is not rocket science.)
And that - call it 5K for any other details really is bottom line your book would have to be able to earn before going into profit. On the 70% royalty rate selling for $5.00 as an Amazon Kindle... that's just under 1500 copies. I do appreciate that tradpubs have offices, health insurance for staff, computers and scanners, debt servicing, power bill etc. But well, they don't worry much about my office etc.

Chris McMahon said...

This is a tough nut, Dave - and I really, really wish I had an aswer.

I guess we could be grateful that at least SOMEONE manages to actually make of living out of this.

I'm going to go back to smacking my head against the wall now.

Amanda Green said...

heteromeles, first of all, even if an author did all that you suggested, as long as he publishes through a publishing house, those items are still going to be done in-house. That means simply that the author will be out additional time and money in preparing a book that will have little to no impact on what the publishing house does.

Your first two points are great, but you have to realize there is little power the author has to keep from "being screwed", at least within a given definition. If you don't accept the terms, you don't get a contract. If you demand an accounting, you won't get a new contract. As for being able to tell how a book is going to do, well, there are too many factors that come into play -- including how the publisher pushes it or doesn't. Again, not something the author has control over.

Copy editing -- a lot of authors have beta readers, and even paid copy editors, go over their manuscript before it is sent in. But publishers aren't going to NOT do it themselves. They would be negligent if they did. And then you have the edits necessary after page proofs are done because, let's face it, mistakes can happen.

And I'm sorry, but formatting isn't something authors need to worry about. Hell, most of what you've listed is stuff that does only one thing -- take time away from writing. The only time an author needs to worry about formatting (and I assume here you mean formatting for the printed page) is if they are self-publishing. It takes time and, yes, talent to be a good layout artist. Frankly, I'd rather the authors write.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Heretomeles,

I can't blame you for not knowing what you're talking about. Very few people out of the business -- and not all in it -- know it. However your list is nonsense.

These fears include:
1. Accounting, otherwise known as getting financially sophisticated enough to know when you're getting screwed, and also to be able to acquire that knowledge quickly.

This is nonsense. I mean, NONE of us fears accounting. A lot of us are very financially sophisticated or married to people who are. HOWEVER what matters is not what WE think the book will sell, but what the publisher thinks the book will sell. We have NO control. And most of us don't have the luxury of walking away from a contract.

2. Authors need to get financially sophisticated enough to predict the minimum a book will earn. This is the "plan for the worst, hope for the best" model. If you can live with the worst, then there's nothing but upside for you. If your work has to be a bestseller, you're in trouble unless you routinely write bestsellers.

Right, but absent a crystal ball, we CAN'T. Publishing depends on a PUSH model. I.e., your book will sell a certain percentage of what's printed. The percentage is tied in to what goes on shelves. Say you have a book per bookstore on shelves. The chances of you selling that book are ZILCH. If you have a hundred and a display out front, you'll sell more than half. What's the difference? How many the publisher thinks he can sell. Who decides that? The Publisher. What can the author do about it? I don't know, most of my publishers are women, and I don't swing that way.

2. Copy editing: right now, publishers pay someone else to catch your detail mistakes. Why? Can you do this yourself?

Who is afraid of copy editing? No, I can't do it myself, because no one can. By the time you finish the book, your eyes are glazed. HOWEVER you can pay a pro copyeditor. I think top rates are around $1200. What you CAN'T do is get your book DISTRIBUTED. Which is why we stay with publishers despite everything. This might change in the next ten years. I don't know yet.

3. Formatting: right now, publishers pay someone else to make your document readable. Why? Can you do this yourself?

WHAT? In a list of nonsensical fears this is probably the most inane. Publisher pay what I suspect are inflated rates coming from the time of manual copy-setting. OF COURSE I can format my book. Anyone can, given a little time and a convenient suite of programs. It might not be lovely, but I can do it. This is CERTAINLY not what prevents me from publishing myself.
That is and will be for the forseable future distribution.

And if THAT's not what you're talking about, then I don't get it.

Kate said...

Heteromeles,

Excuse me? Are you even in this universe?

In this universe publishing has a set of choke points. The big one is editors - the people who decide whether or not they will buy an author's book. There are a tiny handful of them, and they all know each other.

Think "blacklist". It doesn't have to be formal, because all that needs to happen is for one editor to talk to the rest, and within a day or so no-one will touch anything that author had a hand in.

Beside the fear of that - something I've heard expressed in private by more than one author, but never publicly - anything else is small beans.

You can pay all you want for proofing, for typesetting etc. Hell, you can self publish, too - but if you haven't got mega-millions, your self-published work is never going to see the inside of a chain bookstore unless you carry it in there.

The editors tell the printers how many copies to print, and their parent company how "big" they think the book is. The publishing company makes a catalog using that information. Distributors decide which of those books and how many they're shipping, based on those catalogs, and bookstores buy them based on that - and how much has been paid by publishers for front of store and end cap displays.

Authors? Unless they're Rowling or King, their effective involvement ends when they deliver the book. What they do with the page proofs may or not be part of it.

Oh, and on the accounting side of things? Real accounting is science. What's happening inside publishing houses right now seems to be more like a cross between a black hole and black magic.

Your little list is at best irrelevant. Even as a new author I consider it insulting. I know damn well what accounting looks like, and how profit/loss statements and other such things work. What can be construed from the publishing industry does not bear any resemblance to business accounting. I know I can't proof worth a damn, and that with time I don't have, I could learn typesetting. Big effing deal. If I don't fit whatever arcane "big new thing" the gatekeepers want, I'm pissing against the wind. Authors have no control over their books.

That is what matters. Anything else is is irrelevant.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Sarah: I have a compulsion to write and occasionally draw.

Ori: Sorry, but this is part of the answer. Being completely Machiavellian, if Sarah has a psychological need to write, we don't need to offer her too much to publish her work. She'll spend the time and effort to produce it regardless. We just need to pay her enough to move from psychologically satisfying draft to publishable book.

The other part is that traditionally publishers "owned" the limited resource, bookstore space. Publishers didn't compete for authors, authors compete for publishers. As a result, publishers could get by with offering really bad terms. Enough authors were willing to accept them.

With e-publication it might change, because there is no limit to the books available. But some mechanism is still needed for the selection function. I need to know I won't spend my precious time on Vogon Poetry epics.

I don't have the solution, but I don't think writing will get lucrative any time soon. Too few barriers to entry.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Ori,
You are right to a point, except that it's completely possible to destroy an author with insufficient reward. I.e. "burnout." Writers withdraw to avoid more pain. I have considered giving the gig up and just writing fan fiction, for instance. And I know a number of authors who have done so.
It's also possible to seriously impair the level of my writing by forcing me to worry about things like house cleaning and raising the boys.

That said, if this weren't a compulsion, I wonder how many writers would even start.

WangZheng259 said...

I'd argue that sport is fundamentally a different thing from what it is being compared to here, and doesn't fit into the same sort of competitive environment.

Some background: My alma mater is the first or second best university in the state I live in. My state is next to a larger, more wealthy state, which has a better international reputation than we do. (Not that this is a purely good reputation.) In American Football, which is big in the region, my alma mater is at least competitive with the other instate university, as well as the best universities in the bigger state. My alma mater recruits a number of students from this other state, and then sends a lot of graduates to go work in it. (Alma mater graduates more engineers than my state alone can employ.) I think the second, related to the alma mater's prestige amongst the populations, is a function of the aforementioned effectiveness in football.

Thus, if sport is a substitute for endemic war, having a good sports team may be a prestige substitute for having military victories. If professional sports teams provide similar value for cities and regions to what college teams do for colleges, I can see professional athletes fitting strongly into the Person versus Person type of model, like the military, compared to the Person versus the Environment model that most other things fit better, thus making sense of things. Also, note the high salaries of top coaches. (After all, the equipment is mostly the same, and the rules limit the methods, so it is a matter of getting incremental improvements out of freaks of human physiology living and working in ever more bizarre and unusual ways.)

(Sports actually don't do much of anything for me. Don't ask me to explain music and movie stars, because the economics of hollywood make little sense to me.)

Also, I think there are category definition issues as to what constitutes creative. I get the impression that engineering, entrepreneuring and the other industrially useful arts, for one, are excluded. (One reason I tend to doubt the longevity and utility of modern efforts at academic fine arts is the tendency I have noticed to scorn a machine capable of producing millions of objects to very close and fine tolerances as making things 'without soul or character'. I tend to interpret this as a sign that one does not understand true beauty, but then I think assembly lines are neat.) If the industrial arts and crafts are included, as I think proper, the distribution is different. (There is a limit to what can be spent on entertainment, but it seems that if economic restrictions are not too onerous, the more you spend on wealth creation, the more you get.) Thus, I think creative types whose talents match areas of greater demand can get greater compensation.

I’ve deleted the rest of what I’ve written for this, and maybe I should’ve done the same with the last paragraph, for this: What Ori Said.

Dave Freer said...

Sarah I would love to buy a sports to make statement about the condition of women (can you not imagine :-))

It's a mistake IMO that has cost them dear, not only financially, but actually in the ability to advance any form of social issue (because when you are only preaching to converted, you don't achieve much).

I like writing. But I write novels because I want them read and want to paid for that :-).

Dave Freer said...

Chris - actually to nick a bit of Dickens - this may turn into both the best of times and worst of times. It's been a slow progression down to here or things would have fallen apart long ago. But I really think the industry is reaching snapping point and we're going to emerge with some rather different things. What really is important is that writers get readers onside NOW. Readers are pre-disposed to support and value us anyway. We stop being cannon-fodder for retail or wholesale, and let them know where we are... and we have a chance that public interest will make whatever happens better for writers... not just publishers or retailers.

Dave Freer said...

Amanda, Sarah, Kate - I think Heteromeles refers to self/ or direct to kindle publishing.

Dave Freer said...

Ori, while i agree in general terms - publishers 'owned' access to retail space... and authors were supplicants we have an interesting situation developing right now where, thanks to the agency model, publishers just _became_ retailers. And of course they may be heaven's gift to publishing with generations of experience... but they're total virgins at retail. And um... the boot is on the other foot here. readers are 'right' and the retailers are supplicants, asking them very nicely with tempting offers and special deals to buy. It's... shall we say a different ballgame, in which you really want brand recognition and customer loyalty. I don't bluntly, think they have the requisite skills in house at the moment. They may hire them but that will have to change the whole way they do business.

Dave Freer said...

WangZheng259 - Hollyweird makes no sense whatsoever to me :-)

Kate said...

Dave,

Re: Heteromeles and self/kindle publishing - as far as I can see, there are two big stumbling blocks for most authors.

One: unless you already have an audience or you're writing a niche piece, self publishing does not include any kind of distribution channel. Traditional publishing controls those.

Two: Yes, it's very easy to set up a kindle book. It's rather less easy to get that book an audience (notice a theme here?). With few exceptions, good writers are very bad at self-promotion, and worse, self-promotion is time not spent writing.

That's not to say it's impossible to get a book into the hands of people who want to read good stories. It's just a lot more difficult than Heteromeles seems to think.

Dave Freer said...

Kate, I'd agree with that (esp the part about self-promotion) Yes - on the internet you CAN get a retail space. But how do you get anyone to notice it exists? Until they do, they can't measure its quality.

WangZheng259 said...

Then there is the issue of the supply curve. I've heard a joke several times to the effect that an author doesn't want the publisher to know that the author would do it for free. Modern wealth and electronic media mean that a much greater proportion of the population can practice certain types of creative arts and spread the results cheaply to a greater degree than ever before. This means that someone who wants to work in such areas has much more competition than, say, during times when one got a position as the mystic/advisor/storyteller wiseman by surviving to old age past a nasty death rate while paying attention. (So, either find some way to quash the creative who are compelled to act but not good enough to succeed in earlier environments, which is problematic, or live with it and deal.) There is a lot of less than perfectly written, incomplete, or unreliably finished fiction out on the internet. Entertainment can be pretty fungible in terms of quality, when you have time and a good internet connection. Unlike with machines, stuff that isn’t well enough put together to exchange for money can compete for market share with stuff that is, at least for some segments.

Electronically, I guess the readers can be divided into high money, low time, high money, high time, low money, low time, and low money, high time. High-low are, probably, more of a traditional market. They might be more inclined to go with something expensive if it will provide some assurance that they won’t be wasting their precious time with something infuriating or dull. They will expect better spelling and editing in exchange for this. (DRM can be potentially annoying, because it is an additional technical thing to deal with.) High-High, I think, depends on if their habits are formed more by high-low or low-high. I don’t have anything to say about low-low. Low-high is an odd duck, and I think a lot of young people and students may qualify. (I don’t get the impression that the people who know how to make money and who are trying to figure to figure out the future of publishing from within publishing really fit much into this category. If you know how to make money, you tend to move from low-high to high-low. Also, reading enough slush may hurt one’s ability to enjoy low quality work that is still not the worst.) This is where you get things like feedback exchanged for stories, communities which share effort in sorting through junk for the higher quality bits, and enjoying a story that spells civilization starting with an ‘s’.

I have no real idea for creating an online retail space for electronic fiction. But talk enough, and surely someone will come up with an idea if such is possible.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Dave, you're right. The problem is probably starting to get fixed. Publishers will need to become brands. Existing brands (= well known authors) will probably branch out into publishing.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Dave,

well, as I found during 1998, aka the year I thought I'd never get published, I don't like writing stuff I think no one will ever read, and I get very depressed. So I tend to write Jane Austen fanfic, because that is read. It is not arguably though the best use of my talents. However, the initial compulsion is there. Cut off from the market, though, I doubt I'd ever write anything publishable.
And Ori, the compulsion is not much different from say, my older son who wants to be a surgeon come h*ll or highwater and no matter how the rewards change in the next few years. Some of us seem to have been designed "single purpose". Call it fate or vocation or highly screwed up evolution. In my case, because I believe in a power greater than myself, I just hope He was playing a massively convoluted joke, when he made me a writer.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Sarah: And Ori, the compulsion is not much different from say, my older son who wants to be a surgeon come h*ll or highwater and no matter how the rewards change in the next few years. Some of us seem to have been designed "single purpose". Call it fate or vocation or highly screwed up evolution. In my case, because I believe in a power greater than myself, I just hope He was playing a massively convoluted joke, when he made me a writer.

Ori: I, for one, am glad you have this compulsion. It's good for me as a reader. Whether it is good for you as a person is a different matter. One I cannot judge.

There is no way you'll be cut off from readers these days. You have a following, and we'd follow you even if you posted on a blog. But I wish there was a better way to get you paid.

heteromeles said...

Wow, I touched a nerve.

Since people touched on a lot of the same points:
1) Yes I am in this universe. I think that the angry responses speak for themselves: this is about confronting fear. If talking about money makes you furiously angry, that is an indication that you need to deal with it. Why let me make you angry, when I'm trying to figure out whether there's a way to help you make more money?

Some details:
1) The minimum amount a book will earn is the advance the publisher pays you. That is an amount you can broadly predict. This is the worst you plan for, and it has very little to do with your actual sales of that particular book, or so every author says.

2) Formatting: I've been writing non-fiction and government documents for years, and these live or die on their formatting. It's not hard, and I think the violent responses people have is indicative that this is a type of fear that needs to be conquered. To be clear: formatting is how you lay out your document so that it reads well, and tells the story it needs to tell (fiction) or conveys the information and data that need to be conveyed (non-fiction). Everything else is decoration. This is a fundamental part of writing in any genre.

3) I agree with David Freer, and I've been learning all the costs involved with publishing a manuscript. The fundamental issue remains that many of the contractors make about as much as the author. Does this make sense? Let's assume that the cover art and design are $5000, and the author makes the same. Does the cover design double sales? Probably no one wants to answer this, but our current business model implicitly assumes this.

Again, if you're reacting violently to what I'm writing, stop and think. We're frustrated that writing is a marginal industry, and we want to change that. Saying, "That's how it works, my job is to write story, period," is a passive response, and no way to improve the status quo.

Amanda Green said...

heteromeles, yes, you did hit a nerve, but not because we are "afraid" as you so boldly state. In fact, if I were to go into court and put forth the argument that something must be true simply because it created a heated response from the other party, well, I'd be laughed out of there. So, maybe you'd best go back and re-examine your premise.

Let me see if I can put this in terms you can understand. To start with, I have no idea how much you actually know about publishing or don't. For all I know, you might be someone's editor or agent. But, since you choose to hide behind a "handle" and not sign your name like those of us who blog here, I'm going to assume you are not familiar with the workings of the business.

You put forth the premise that we know the worst a book can do by how much the advance is. Well, that is true -- as long as you don't look at the fact that you don't know if a book will even be bought by a publisher at the point it is being written. Then there are those books that go the electronic route only. There usually isn't an advance then, just a much better royalty plan. So, premise one stricken down.

You say, "formatting is how you lay out your document so that it reads well, and tells the story it needs to tell (fiction) or conveys the information and data that need to be conveyed (non-fiction). Everything else is decoration. This is a fundamental part of writing in any genre." Sorry, but you aren't exactly right here either. Formatting is the font, size of font, size of margins, type of justification, etc. you use when putting words on the page. It is not the "layout" of the book or story. Nor does it tells the story it needs to tell. That is the writing and editing of the story. Two very different things. The "decoration" part you talk about is the layout and that is what publishers will NOT give up control over.

As for your last point, I no more like the fact that money that could be coming to me goes to third party contractors or employees. However, I also know that I am often too close to what I've spent weeks or months, maybe even years, writing to be able to be also the proofreaders and copy editor. And again, unless I want to self-publish, and I suggest you go back and look at Kate's comments about the dangers of that, no publisher is going to put out a book they haven't run through their own editorial review. Just as they aren't going to let me tell them how I want it laid out or what stores I want it sold in.

Am I afraid of the business end of publishing -- hell no. Do I like everything that is going on? HELL NO. But I also happen to know there are certain realities of this business that have to be accepted unless I want to go the self-publishing route. I suggest you grow up and re-examine your own perceptions and either come out from hiding and tell us why you know with certainty what you claim or sit back and listen to what the authors on this site have to say.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Heretomeles,
Oh, please!If you get angry responses, it's because you're right? Very good reasoning there, indeed. Or perhaps you got angry responses because of your condescending tone and your total irrelevancy to the matters bedevilling writers at the moment?Nah.It couldn't be that. Dear sir, when have you stopped beating your wife?
Your ridiculous points, from the top: 1- Sigh, most of us know what advance we'll get from the publishers. IF he book sells to a house -- a professional sells 50% of his proposals, on average, FYI --what does this have to do with anything? Those of us who live from the craft -- Dave and I (I for a certain value) -- DO adjust our writing accordingly.I.e. we write more books and forego weekends and holidays.
2-Are you presuming to explain to us what formatting is?TRULY? SERIOUSLY?I can see how this matters for governmental documents with subclauses etc, but all that's required for fiction is clear font, paragraph separation and some indication of chapter/section break.We already do this.FORMATTING as dictated by my publishers is as follows: one inch margins all around, left justified,indent first line of paragraph, new page for chapter beginning and centered chapter number or title etc. Now, if what you mean is TYPESETTING -- yeah, that can be done too.Perhaps not artistically, but there are programs for it and my husband did it for our small press magazine in the early nineties.The tools are even easier now.It still takes time to understand the page flow and formating for different ebook formats.But it's not arcane, and if there were any point to it, I'd master it, as I've mastered the intricacies of submitting to various magazines/publishers.At any rate, as Amanda pointed out, NO PUBLISHER will let you do it. Not major publishers, at least.In fact, sending them a typeset manuscript will mark you as a raw beginner.

3- RIGHT NOW, the cover artist DOES have more to do with how the book sells than the writer. The cover to an extent determines if the book even gets on shelves and if it's identified and picked up by the right readers.To those decisions, the writer is irrelevant, other than as a name.
As for whether this is a just and equitable model.This is not a perfect world. There was this business with an angel and a sword. Deal.
I fail to see what our spending a lot of time on this adds to our careers other than a lot of pointless worry. The business is screwed up, but we are and not Rowling or King. We can't dictate terms to the purchasers of our products. Try to understand this: They big companies=own the distribution channels(for now.) Us-peons. Everyone accepts some conditions of employment that they're not fond of. AND if I could dictate terms, cover might come into it, but not copyeditting or typesetting. So far my publishers have done a fair to good job of those.
Are we considering epub and small press? At this point in time I think every professional writer must consider this as a part of his or her professional portfolio. It's just the way the business is.
Are we considering self publication? Well, I've thought about it for my back list, but the issue is, as Dave pointed out, attracting people to your "brand" if you're just a midlister.
Do your points weigh on any of my decisions -- alas, my dear sir or madam, no. Am I going to relate for you the points that do worry me? I don't intend to. I am particularly not going to do it at the prompting of someone who views my offense at being told I'm afraid of a lot of nonsensical stuff as "proof" that he/she made a hit. Get a grip. Learn about the business. Then we can talk.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

And Ori, that is a very sweet thing to say. As for finding a way to be paid, we'll figure it out. :D I believe I'm meant to do this, so there's a plan somewhere...

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Oh and Heretomeles

Both my husband and I have edited anthologies. Formatting couldn't matter less to us, provided the manuscript is readable. I have yet to reject a manuscript because it's unreadable. If you can't produce a readable manuscript, there are usually other issues.

My husband's post on what goes into making a book: http://madgeniusclub.blogspot.com/2010/04/publishers-on-notice_24.html

And yes, he seems to endorse self-publishing, but it's not quite that, it's simply knowing that ALL the names will do it. You know they will. We know they will. The publishers should know it too.

And addendum on the cover issue -- ask my readers about the first cover, on the hard cover of Draw One In The Dark -- a cover that not only looked like it was drawn by a fourth grader, but which had NOTHING to do with the content of the book. The book was, to date, the best thing I'd written. It sold worst of all my books. I think all of my readers will agree with me on its being the best thing up till then, as well as on the cover being so vile that many have stripped the book to keep it.

So, no, I'm not afraid of telling you a good cover is worth its weight in gold and that I have an idea what a good cover is. OTOH I have NO say on it. Other than DOITD I've been relatively lucky on my covers. That's a credit to my publishers, because again I have no say. Nor does any author not a mega bestseller working with a major house. At best we get "consultation" but ours is not the final decision.

Dave Freer said...

WangZheng259 - I believe we're talking - indirectly - about the 'gatekeeper function' that tradpubs played pre - electonic age. You quite correct in saying the supply is very very large (as long as quality is no issue). As I've put myself - professional writing is the easiest course to register for, and the hardest to graduate from.

Ori and I have had several discussions about the gatekeeper function, and if you want to make money out of writing the answer is, I believe, that unless you already a known Brand, you have to be endorsed and sponsored by one. There will still need to be a trusted gatekeeper for new writers. Only it's not much good suggesting that gateway be Penguin or Hatchette - because they're actually not -- to readers, known and trusted brand themselves. They either need to change that, or use their authors (as Baen have done for years) to introduce new writers. I actually believe the real market gap (the part not used) is low time-low income and high time - low income for two reasons. 1)in times of recession and depression (when low income is typical and widespread, and ther is ften too much time) Up to the last two... publishing boomed. So did entertainment and so did beer. They were CHEAP, and were gauranteed to make the consumer feel at least temporarily better. It's pretty plain to me anyway why this pattern failed (Sarah commented on it earlier in this thread). I believe it is repairable. 2)Some time ago the British (labour) govt commision one of these studies to justify the next hand-out to their constituency. They were looking for justification to help people break out of the poverty trap, born in poverty die in poverty. And found... um that wasn't true in the Western world any more. In fact vey few people remain in the same socio-economic bracket for more than 20 years. Some do of course. Some stay rich, and some stay poor. But there is a remarkable (more than 70% IIRC) amount of bobbing up and down. And only a fool offends/neglects a pharmacy student (who is as poor as a church-mouse and looks like it) today assuming that will be true tomorrow.

Dave Freer said...

Ori - or endorsing products - much as you predicted some time back

Dave Freer said...

Sarah said:
I don't like writing stuff I think no one will ever read, and I get very depressed. So I tend to write Jane Austen fanfic, because that is read

Sarah, make a VERY careful note of this. It's possibly a business key. Writers ARE insecure, and writes like being read. And the worst single part (as we both know, and I am pretty sure everyone else who ever submitted will agree... rejection isn't the worst. it's the waiting, waiting waiting endless see-saws of hope and dispair - and then the long wait to see if the public liked it. Give authors a quick way of assessing if the readers like something and how much, and they will be keen.

Dave Freer said...

Heteromeles - this seems to be drifting into one of those black hole arguments (the more you put in, the stronger it gets) where neither protagonist knows what the other is talking about and puts the worst possible interpretation on the other's statements. I think what you refer to formatting might be what in fiction is refered to as structural editing? Adding bits in for clarity, shifting chapters around, taking pieces out - getting flow right. It's a special skill. Some writers are naturally good at it, others learn it, and others can't (but write well, and with a structural editor, go on to be megastars). Learn it as well as possible, but pay for it until you are not getting any changes of substance is my advice.

On cover art: the reality is that you'll almost certainly get art from your publisher which costs proportionate to the advance. IE. if you get a low advance you will get an artist who is new and cheap (they MAY still be wonderful).
This means - even at the bottom of the advance tree, the artist gets about half (for the cheapest advance) or less. And though they may have a HUGE effect on sales, they will get no additional royalty or bonus for this. I'd like to see the artist, the editor and the proof reader all have a real. personal financial stake in the book's success.

Kate said...

Heteromeles,

Excuse me while I finish laughing hysterically at your response. If you're trying for a career in black comedy, you just hit the jackpot, mate.

Now, to your laughable commentary. Do, please continue to post. Who knows, maybe if you learn to read past your own delusions you may even learn something.

You said: Yes I am in this universe. I think that the angry responses speak for themselves: this is about confronting fear. If talking about money makes you furiously angry, that is an indication that you need to deal with it. Why let me make you angry, when I'm trying to figure out whether there's a way to help you make more money?.

Well, to start with, I'm not angry. I'm amused, and I like to play. Shredding a poor argument is wonderful fun. It's also something I don't get to do often enough. Seeing "angry" in my comment rather suggests adequacy or projection issues on your part.

"Confronting fear" is merely misdirection, and bullshit misdirection at that. The central issue is control, and the fact that under the current model, authors have none.

Let me repeat that for you, in small words so you'll be sure to understand (bonus points for getting the reference). Authors have no control over anything in the business of publishing.

(continued)

Kate said...

(continuation)

This is very important. There are gazillions of studies out there showing that the best results in anything more thought-intensive than manual labor come when the people doing it have some control over the end result. The publishing industry as currently structured treats authors as interchangeable widgets. Authors are not interchangeable widgets. Authors dislike being treated this way. Editors and publishers, on the other hand, like the way things are because they have power.

This is what is. No amount of "confronting fear" can change that. Nor can fiddling around the edges. Remember, editors are rewarded according to how closely actual sales match projected sales. That means that if you find some way to make a mid-list book go best-seller, that editor is penalized. Guess what? That editor is human - they'll make sure to kill the next book that looks like doing that before it can hurt their career.

And no, authors can't control that either.

Moving on.

You said: The minimum amount a book will earn is the advance the publisher pays you. That is an amount you can broadly predict. This is the worst you plan for, and it has very little to do with your actual sales of that particular book, or so every author says.

No. The worst you can plan for is $0. Nothing at all. Which rather eliminates the whole point of planning. Oh, and if you do sell, and you get an advance? You don't get it all in one chunk. You might get some of it up-front, but even when you're supposed to get the rest "on delivery", the less than stellar efficiency of publishing office staff means that it usually comes quite a bit later than that. I know authors who haven't been paid advances until after the book is in the stores - that is, more than a year late. If you know how to plan for this, do enlighten us poor plebs. The best I've found is to assume it's never going to happen and treat anything that does show up as a pleasant surprise - which kind of prevents anything so esoteric as trying to live off one's writing.

Your comment on formatting is laughable. Government requirements are not the same as fiction requirements. Mostly, fiction formatting boils down to "big enough font for editor's eyes, double-spaced so it looks clean, as little extraneous formatting as possible because it's a pain in the behind to convert in the layout software". Oh, and "format" is not "layout". Outside government, the two things are quite different conceptually, programmatically, and in terms of what they actually do.

Your third point, again, you're demonstrating the lack of discernment that makes your comments so entertaining. The fundamental issue is not that the contractors make about the same as the authors. I can think of quite a few authors who'd cheerfully pay that much for the contractors - if they had the option of choosing the contractors what they did.

No, the issue is that publishers control the process from the moment the author delivers the book (and often before, with some of the contracts) and the publishers decide all the factors that affect how likely it is that Joe Random will pick it up, much less buy it.

Oh, yes. In the not at all hypothetical case where the publisher's decisions are all "this book will tank", it is still somehow magically the author's fault when the book does exactly what the publisher set it up to do.

I'm not angry about this. It would be as much point as being angry about the fact that 2 + 2 = 4.

If you possess some magical means to change this, do share. If not, kindly save your pontification for someone who cares.

Synova said...

Just wanted to say that I truly appreciate this discussion.

Dave Freer said...

Synova, we need to let people - especially readers - know who is eating all the pies. It's not the writers. There is a lot of smike and mirrors about writer-income. It's doesn't help most of us. Not readers, not our fellow writers.