Monday, February 20, 2012

Do Legacy Publishers Treat Authors Badly?

Some people have disagreed with my statement that legacy publishers treat authors like shit.

So I've made this list. Decide for yourself if these actions constitute treating authors badly. FWIW, all the things I'm mentioning have either happened to me or to my peers.

Legacy publishers offer the author 17.5% royalties on ebooks, and keep 52.5% for themselves.

Legacy publishers have full control over the title of the book.

Legacy publishers have full control over the cover art.

Legacy publishers can demand editing changes or refuse to publish.

Legacy publishers promise marketing or advertising. In fact, they promise lots of things. Then they don't follow through.

Legacy publishers fail to get paper books into certain important bookselling outlets, resulting in fewer sales.

Legacy publishers generate royalty statements that are incomprehensible.

Legacy publishers don't try grow an author's fanbase these days. If the books don't show increased sales with each new title, the author gets dumped, even if the reason for decreasing sales is the publisher's fault.

Legacy publishers hold onto rights even if the book is no longer selling. Getting rights back is a nightmare, and it takes forever.

Legacy publishers try to grab erights to books retroactively.

Legacy publishers take a ridiculously long time to publish a book. In some cases, more than 18 months.

Legacy publishers are a cartel. I suppose it could be a coincidence that the Big 6 all have exactly the same (low) royalty structure, and shockingly similar contract terms. But collusion seems easier to believe, and this collusion is aimed at limiting the income and power of authors. Legacy publishing contracts are painfully one-sided.

Legacy publishers have zero transparency when it comes to things like sales, returns, print runs, and inventory, and keep authors in the dark.

Legacy publishers fix prices. That's what the agency model is. Even worse, these prices are too high and hurt authors' sales.

Legacy publishers sometimes fail to edit.

Legacy publishers abandon books, releasing them into the market without any push at all.

Legacy publishers pay royalties twice a year. Are you freaking kidding me?!? It's 2012! Why are their accounting and payroll departments stuck in 1943?

Legacy publishers embraced returns for full credit. This is the biggest fail in the history of retail, and the reserves against returns practice has screwed thousands of authors. Isn't it funny how whenever you hear about an author auditing a publisher, unreported sales are always discovered?

Legacy publishers have done everything they can to postpone the switch from paper to digital. I was talking about this two years ago. This has cost authors a great deal of money.

Legacy publishers buy subsidiary rights they never exploit. Why buy them if you won't use them?

Legacy publishers waste huge amounts of money. They have offices in the most expensive city in the US, spend tens of thousands of dollars on booths at BEA, spend millions of dollars advertising bestselling authors who don't need the advertising, then say they can't offer more than a $12k advance? Fail. Move to Jersey, cut the expense accounts for lunch, and offer authors more money since they're the reason you exist in the first place.

Legacy publishers reject good books. I got half a mil in the bank that proves this one.

Do the above actions sound like legacy publishers are treating authors with consideration, respect, and affection? Or does it seem like they're treating authors like shit?

I've dealt with a lot of folks who work for legacy publishers. These are talented, dedicated, smart people.

That doesn't mean their companies don't screw authors.

I've spent hours upon hours talking to these publishers, trying to get them to innovate, to evolve.

They didn't listen.

I've spent a smaller amount of time talking to Amazon, trying to get them to innovate, to evolve.

Amazon did listen. And guess what? My Amazon published books made more money, faster, than any of my legacy published books.

If you're an author who has worked with a legacy publisher, you know how demeaning it is when your ideas, pleas, and plans are ignored. And if you've worked with Amazon, you know how empowering it is to be listened to. To have your opinions and ideas count, and be implemented.

I know many legacy pubbed authors who then self-publish. The majority of them agree with me: unless it was for a whole lot of money, they'd never take another legacy contract. Why is that? Doesn't that say something?

I know several self-pubbed newbies who had some success and got picked up by legacy publishers. Where are their blog posts about how well they're being treated and how their sales numbers went up? Where are their recommendations to other authors, urging them to abandon self-pubbing and sign a legacy deal?

I don't rant against legacy publishers because because they've wronged me. I rant against them to warn other authors, and show them better options. The path I'm on now is so much more rewarding, both monetarily and emotionally.

As Blake Crouch said in a recent Tweet: Where are all the longtime authors jumping to the defense of legacy publishing? Surely, since legacy publishers treat their authors so well, there should be thousands of happy authors rallying behind their publishers, disagreeing with my points, telling the world how wonderful their legacy experience has been.

There's a reason we don't see any of this. What could they possibly say?

"I love the fact that my royalty statements make no sense and I only get paid twice a year!"

"I love that my publisher prices my ebook at $12.99 and then keeps 52.5% of the list price!"

"I love getting my title changed to something I hate, and getting stuck with terrible covers!"

"I love the fact that my publisher didn't get me a single review!"

"I love turning in a manuscript and not getting the rest of my advance money until publication 18 months later!"

"I love the fact that it takes my publisher three months to give me the proofs, and then I have to return them in four days!

"I love it when I painstakingly go through a copy edit, and then when the book comes out none of my changes were made, and brand new mistakes were added!"

"I love being told there is no money for marketing my title, and then seeing a TV commercial for an author who has my same publisher!"

"I love it that my publisher insisted on owning world rights, and then only published in the US and Canada!"

"I love that my next-book option wasn't picked up because Barnes & Noble couldn't offer a big enough buy-in!"

"I love releasing only one book a year, even though I could easily write more! Non-compete clauses are awesome!"

"I love the 70% return rate on mass market paperbacks!"

"I love DRM!"

You don't hear a lot of stories about authors being treated well.

Instead, go to any writing conference, belly up to the hotel bar, and listen to the writers commiserate with one another, trading stories of who got screwed the worst.

Is legacy publishing all bad? Of course not. Some authors get rich. Some authors get much-needed editing help. Some authors get treated like royalty.

But I'm pretty sure that if we polled one thousand authors, and had them weigh all the good things their publishers do against the bad things their publishers do, the bad would far outweigh the good. I bet you'd find a lot of them having the same complaints I've mentioned. I bet you'd find even more complaints that I'm not even aware of.

The industry is broken. It cannot continue to treat its content providers as if it's doing them a favor. It cannot continue to engage in business practices that are so one-sided.

Writers are necessary. Publishers are not.

If you want to climb aboard a sinking ship, don't be surprised when you get handed a pail and ordered to start bailing.

If you disagree, I'd love to hear why. You can even post anonymously. All of you legacy publishers who love authors can come and tell me how I'm wrong.

But you won't. Because I'm right. The best you'll do is whine about my tone, or reiterate incorrect memes about my current self-pub success being the result of my legacy backlist, or call me a broken record, or get angry because I'm killing the sacred cow you suckle at, while ignoring all of the valid points I've made.

I'm sure all of you legacy folks have good intentions when it comes to how you treat your writers.

What was it someone said about hell and good intentions?