Thursday, September 22

Kris Rusch: Why Traditional Publishing Is Going To Do Just Fine

Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes:
Traditional publishing is going to do just fine. Traditional publishing is going to find writer after writer unwilling to learn the business, writer after writer lining up for the “honor” of being published in lieu of actual money, and, if the traditional publisher is lucky, a few of those writers will become bestsellers.

The rest of those writers will become disillusioned. They’ll go to writers conferences and sit in the bar and kvetch about how impossible it is to make money at writing these days. They’ll talk about the way their publisher screwed them, and they’ll never ever ever take responsibility for the fact that they signed the boneheaded contract in the first place without a single attempt at negotiation.

They’ll give all of us professionals a bad name.

But it won’t matter. Because most of us professionals will only take traditional publishing deals when the deals are advantageous to our business. And the rest of the time, we’ll publish our own books.

We’ll have careers because we are responsible. And we’ve taken the time to learn the business of publishing as well as the craft of writing.

We’re professional writers—emphasis on the word “professional.” And these other published writers? The ones who take the crap deals and do a ridiculous amount of work for no pay?

Those people might be writers, but that’s all they are. They’re certainly not professionals.
Kris Rusch let loose this Thursday and wrote one of her best blog posts ever. She explains that she "had started with some namby-pamby crap that had nothing to do with the topic at hand" and then her frustration got the better of her.

Kris writes:
You see, I’m really getting frustrated. I’ve been doing these blogs for months now, pointing out the various problems with traditional publishing, talking about the changes and the opportunities presented by the e-book and POD revolution, and warning writers to watch their backs on contracts, on their work time, on compromising too much for too little return.

And then what happens? From the World Science Fiction Convention in late August until now, people who should know better have been telling me about their business decisions. That “should know better” refers not just to the decision, but to telling me about it. Because in every single case but one, they’ve contacted me after the decision was made, and wanted me to validate it or to pat them on the head and tell them they did a good thing.

One person even admitted they had “probably made a mistake, but it’s not that bad, right?” Well, it was bad. On the scale of business decisions in the last 20 years, it wasn’t Enron or even what’s going on with Netflix right now, but it was most certainly boneheaded and it certainly made me glad that my career wasn’t tied to that person’s.
Here's what happened to occasion the ire that inspired Kris' post:
Since the beginning of August, six different authors have talked to me, emailed me, or called me, asking my advice about a new “deal” that someone in their traditional publishing company offered them. (By traditional publishing company, I mean one of the misnamed Big Six [it’s not six, that’s wrong, but I’ve railed about it elsewhere to no avail]. i mean one of those publishing houses we’ve all heard of, whose books we all have on our shelves.)

These companies are telling their authors to write a short story or a novella (or short novel) that will be e-book only. The short piece doesn’t have to stand alone. It should be part of an ongoing series of books that the publishing house has under contract from the author. It’s a “loss leader” to get readers into the book series.

The publishing company plans to offer the e-book at a very cheap price or for free to establish interest in the series, and because that e-book will be cheap, the company says, it wants to keep its up-front costs low. So it really can’t afford an advance, but it will pay 25% of net on royalties when/if the e-book sells.

Now realize that these are the deals offered by major publishers to bestselling writers on bestselling series. No advance, and a crappy 25% of net on royalties—of a book that will probably be selling for free for only a short time.

Six writers that I know of have taken this deal, three from companies that are having troubles accurately reporting their e-book sales. Two of those writers told me they knew that, but it “didn’t bother them much.” Um…what?
I think that one of the key points here is that the authors didn't get an advance from companies (these are all Big Six comapanies) who are known to underreport ebook sales. Kris continues:
But chances are, if you are truly a bestseller—and both contracts said in the book description, a story/novella/short piece “in the Author’s bestselling series”, so I’m not making any assumptions here—then your editor will sigh a little when you ask for an advance, and then pony up the money.

Because editors are smart and they know business and they were simply trying to do what their boss wanted, which was to get as many rights from you for as little money as possible.

And in the case of five of the six authors (I still don’t know what the sixth did), those publishers made out like bandits. These writers might see a few measly pennies on this deal, but I’ll wager you that the writers will not get the money they’re owed. After all, at least three of these deals were offered by companies who are being investigated for underreporting royalties on e-books. One of these deals comes from a company being sued for underreporting royalties on paper books.

These authors all knew that. And they still made a royalty-only deal with these companies.

See why I want to scream? Really and truly scream? Because it doesn’t make sense—not in any business world, not in any way. These writers gave their work away to a company that doesn’t deserve their trust. And at least four of these writers are slow writers. They can’t afford to give away anything, because it’s a goodly portion of their yearly output.
To read the rest of Kris' article, click here: The Business Rusch: Professional Writers

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