Culture

Who Creates the Books?

The field is your own.  Harvest it.

The field is your own. Harvest it.

Hi, this is Sarah, and I’m a writer.  Yes, I have actually tried to give it up, but the longest I lasted was two weeks, and then my sons and husband got together to beg me quite eloquently (which was a miracle as the younger kid was then one and a half) to go back to writing, because what I did instead of writing (obsessive cleaning and minding THEIR business) was driving them nuts.

I’ve been a writer since then, nineteen years woman and… woman.

Which is why there are some things that have the ability to make my blood boil, make me foam at the mouth.  This happened when I read my friend, Amanda Green’s post on our shared writers’ group blog, Mad Genius Club this week.

Let’s start with this article from USA Today. I knew from reading the headline that it was probably something that would have my blood pressure rising. After all, how else would I react to “Real books can defeat Amazon and e-books”?

Wait! What? Real books?

Then I started reading and I realize the headline was only the beginning.

And then she quotes the article.  Oh, my, does she quote the article.

The book business believes that Amazon is unfair in the way it sells books. It believes, in fact, that Amazon in its sales practices — pressuring the book publishers to lower their prices and profits — is the enemy. Amazon’s ultimate design, publishers believe, is to ruin them or to wholly shift the center of gravity in the business from the creators of books to Amazon, the dominant seller.

You should probably read all of Amanda’s post, but this is about the time that I turned Green and started stomping around the room, screaming “Sarah Smash.”

It might not have been so bad if it weren’t for an experience my friend Cedar had this week.  Cedar Sanderson is a young and upcoming writer.  I’ve been mentoring her for the best part of – eep – thirteen years, back when all she wanted to do was write some inspirational essays.  Well, a couple of years ago she started writing books, and now she has four in two series out and this year she’ll make in the low five figures from them.

She was talking to me about this a few weeks ago and said “I know it’s not much” which is when I told her the first time I made 15000 came when I’d been in the business for ten years, and had written ten books.  Oh, sure, I get almost that per advance, but advances aren’t paid outright.  They’re paid in three (sometimes four) installments linked to signing, delivery, acceptance and, sometimes, release of the book.  It’s amazing how many years that can stretch across.

Oh, and I was in the business four years before I got my first royalty check, after which the book was immediately taken out of print, because in the then-model, the publisher didn’t count on paying royalties.  Not to midlisters.  (Unless the publisher was Baen.  Which is why I’m still with Baen.)

Well, last week, Cedar went to a panel at the university she attends and was talking about career prospects.  The doyenne of the assembled group was an elderly woman staunchly against self publishing, who just loves her publisher and all its works (and all its empty promises – oops, sorry, thought I was in church for a moment.)

When it came Cedar’s time to talk, she said something about hoping to be able to make a living from writing.  At which point the elderly love-my-publisher writer laughed and said, “Honey, you can’t make a living from this.  I’ve been writing for twenty years and I’m not even close to that.”

That is not only factually wrong, (ask Chris Nuttall, Peter Grant, Doug Dandrige and a dozen more I can’t call to mind right now) but it is also morally wrong.

When I was a kid in Portugal, during the revolution, there was a whole lot of screaming about “the land to them who work it.”  This was mostly in the South where, since Roman times, the land has been held in a system of Latifundia.   And the cry to expropriate the owners and hand out the parcels to the workers was wrong on several heads: first because most of them wished to form collective farms, aka going broke on the installment plan; second because the land in the South of Portugal is so poor that even if you dolled it out into little parcels, each person would starve.  By having the huge farm, the owners made it possible for their various hired hands to make a living from farming.

When I read that journalist above talking about the publishers as the “creators” of the book, I thought of the same “The books to them who create them.”

Except the publishers don’t create the books anymore than those hired hands each farmed a parcel of land.

The publishers used to be an essential part of getting the book to market, pre-amazon.  They printed large numbers, publicized, acted as an intermediary between the writer and their public.

They were, in that sense, good hired hands.

And then the costs of producing a book and getting them to market, through print on demand (which according to my Berkley editor they were using in 03) dropped.  Electronic typesetting dropped it more.  Publishers outsourced the search for books to agents (all but Baen, which still has a slush pile.) And then they had the bright idea of making the writers publicize their own books.

This would be like the hired hands taking a break and demanding the owners of the fields use robots to do all the work, but they still expect to be paid.  What do you think would happen?  Well, it happened.

With the market in a shambles, with publishers using their power to bring to market books they thought were socially relevant and not what the readers wanted to read, Amazon gave writers a chance to go to the public directly.

Which brings me to what a publisher can do for you, which is… Give me a minute… Other than Baen which has a brand that will bring you at least a few thousand readers, like that, with no effort… what the other publishers can do for you is… uh…. Yeah….

Oh, yeah.  They can fudge your statements and take your money.  There I knew they did something.  Fortunately writers who used to work from Harlequin have won the right to class action suits this week, which means more will follow.

And at some point, will stupid journalists realize they’ve been sold a pot of message and that publishers as they exist now are as essential to the book business as a bicycle to the fish?

I doubt it.  They’re too busy putting playing cards in the spokes of publishing, because they like the noise so much.

As for the rest of us, we have work to do.

We work for a living.  And making a living from our hard work is a beautiful thing.

And as a final musical interlude, to remind you of what mainstream publishers REALLY do, by and large, sang to the tune of “Putting on the Ritz”

Robbing the Midlist
Have you seen the well to do?
Walking down Marx avenue
Crying that everything’s unfair
While their butlers do their hair
High-toned, caterwaulers
Condoned with lots of dollars
Spending every dime
Made on other guy’s lines!If you’re blue, and you want dough
Why not lean on someone you know
In the pubbing biz?
Robbing the midlistDifferent types will write a dystop-
ian cliché or bash on the pope
It all fits
When you’re robbing the midlist
 
Cashing in their six-figure advances
Even if their book has got no chances
Of a profit
 
Come let’s mix where pampered authors
Politic to get job offers
Hope they’re picked
For robbing the midlist
 
Tips the scales to favor their own voices
Tries to “Push” to cover their bad choices
Disappoint usNYT Bestsellers topping the list
Make readers stop or numb their wits
Robbing the midlist
Robbing the midlist
Robbing the midlist!

“Mercury retrograde” is the term used in astrology for the times when the planet Mercury appears to be moving backwards against the “fixed stars”. According to astrological lore, during periods when Mercury is retrograde, matters of communication, information, and relationships are impaired. Computers and networks are more likely to fail. Mail may go astray.

Mercury went retrograde on the 4th of October this year. I am a scientific materialist and of course don’t believe in this astrology stuff, but Mercury goes back prograde on the 25th of October. And not a minute too damn soon.

So, if you want to get your book plugged on Book Plug Friday, send an email to [email protected].

But maybe wait until tomorrow.

Just sayin’


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In Avalon, where the world runs on magic, the king of Britannia appoints a witchfinder to rescue unfortunates with magical power from lands where magic is a capital crime. Or he did. But after the royal princess was kidnapped from her cradle twenty years ago, all travel to other universes has been forbidden, and the position of witchfinder abolished. Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater, son of the last witchfinder, breaks the edict. He can’t simply let people die for lack of rescue. His stubborn compassion will bring him trouble and disgrace, turmoil and danger — and maybe, just maybe, the greatest reward of all.


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Satire, politics, geekery, and dogs.

Any questions?


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A Few Good Men
By Sarah Hoyt 

The Son Also Rises . . .

On a near future Earth, Good Man does not mean good at all. Instead, the term signifies a member of the ruling class, and what it takes to become a Good Man and to hold onto power is downright evil. Now a conspiracy hundreds of years in the making is about to be brought to light when the imprisoned son of the Good Man of Olympic Seacity escapes from his solitary confinement cell and returns to find his father assassinated.

But when Luce Keeva attempts to take hold of the reins of power, he finds that not all is as it seems, that a plot for his own imminent murder is afoot—and that a worldwide conflagration looms. It is a war of revolution, and a shadowy group known as the Sons of Liberty may prove to be Luce’s only ally in a fight to throw off an evil from the past that has enslaved humanity for generations.

Sequel to Sarah A. Hoyt’s award-winning Darkship Thieves, and Darkship Renegades, this is Book One in the Earth’s Revolution saga.

At the publisher’s request, this title is sold without DRM (DRM Rights Management).