Saturday, August 02, 2014

For the Authors Guild & Other Legacy Publishing Pundits

Recently on Twitter, Barry Eisler asked with sincerity, "Why would anyone want to join the Authors Guild?"

Bestselling author and celebrated indie, CJ Lyons, whom the AG mentioned as an example of diversity, responded with, "What's your wish list for a Guild?"

Barry didn't miss a beat, and immediately replied that the Authors Guild should change its name to reflect its fundamental purpose, because the Guild clearly represents legacy publishers more than it represents writers.

Which is demonstrably true. Barry and I have done so much to prove that the Authors Guild cares more about publishers than writers that I'm not going to even bother linking to all of our posts. Do a search for "authors guild" on my blog and Barry's.

I tweeted to CJ, who is the Guild's executive Council, that she could email me and I'd give her my Guild wish list. (CJ is on the road, but she just CJ kindly responded in the comments.) It got me thinking what an actual name-representative Authors Guild would do for authors.

So here is my wish list:

1. Support the authors in the Harlequin lawsuit and fight to get their backlist rights returned. Then do the same for all members who want to get their backlist rights returned.

It's no secret I got my rights back, and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other authors who want theirs back, too. It's the single most asked-question I get via email, and my required response is that my publishers and I parted amicably, which is the limit of what I can say. I can't help. But the AG could.

2. Draft a petition to raise ebook royalties for all authors. If a publisher doesn't comply, these authors will no longer submit work to that publisher. If you could align with a like-minded AAR, real change could be instituted.

The Guild has stated publicly that they don't believe 25% of net is fair. Well, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

3. Demand that unconscionable contract terms are removed in legacy boilerplate, including holding rights for term of copyright, impossible rights reversion clauses, the elimination of non-compete clauses, the elimination of first option clauses.

A guild for authors would not only pressure publishers to return rights that they're sitting on without making any discernible profit, but it would also use attorneys to get the DOJ to examine the unconscionability of publishing contracts. I can't think of a more lopsided abuse of power than the paper oligopoly controlled by the Big Publishing cartel for the last fifty years, and how many authors have been forced to take ridiculously one-sided terms in order to get their books into bookstores.

Seriously. This is perfect for a class action suit.

4. Pressure Hachette into taking one of Amazon's offers to monetarily compensate Hachette authors for the duration of the negotiations.

Hachette authors are hurting. Amazon tried three times to help them. But the AG showed its true colors; that it is more concerned about Hachette than Hachette's authors.

Barry Eisler added: Instead of reflexively supporting a publisher like Hachette in a dispute with a retailer like Amazon (can’t imagine why “Publishers Guild" has become a punchline), exploit the dispute to authors’ advantage. For example, communicate to Hachette that the AG will offer it no support — or better yet, that it will publicly support Amazon — unless Hachette issues a press release by a certain date promising all the reforms laid out in this blog post.

5. Find some actual group health insurance that benefits authors who live someplace other than New York.

Years ago I looked into joining the AG for that reason: affordable health insurance. Their plan was slightly worse than me paying cash for all of my medical expenses, plus my neighbor's medical expenses. A guild of 9000 members can't get a better rate than I can get for myself with Blue Cross/Blue Shield?

6. Disseminate information for heirs on dealing with IP after the author passes away. I've already paid a lawyer to do this for me. You can build off of her work. I'll send you the trust document.

7. Coordinate with David Gaughran to petition and publicly disapprove of any publisher engaged in vanity publishing. As far as I'm concerned, Gaughran should be a paid consultant for the Guild on this issue. And if the AG were behind him, with some legal muscle, predatory vanity publishers could be crippled, if not erased.

8. Issue an easy to understand public statement on what AG membership dues are being spent on, and where the AG is getting extra funds, if any.

The Guild has 9000 members each paying $90 a year... for what? Where is that money going? I know that as a non-profit their tax returns are available to the public, but I'd love to see some itemized breakdowns. As Barry asked, why should anyone join the Authors Guild?

9. Stop spending time and money trying to combat piracy. It's time and money wasted. Also, have you stopped appealing the Google ruling yet? More time and money wasted.

10. Offer a directory of vetted, recommended third parties who can assist authors in self-publishing. Cover artists, proofers, editors, ebook designers, etc.

11. An Author's Guild worthy of the name would be all over the legacy practice of paying out royalties only twice a year.

As suggested in the comments by Barry Eisler: In the 21st century, this practice is a disgrace and it's astonishing that anyone can take it remotely seriously. Yes, I know legacy publishers earn millions of dollars in interest by holding onto that money for six months at a time instead of putting it in author pockets promptly. But why does the "Authors Guild" let them get away with it?

Hint: a cynic might suspect it’s because fat cats like Scott Turow, the former Guild president, get paid advances so large it’s understood they will never earn out. Turow himself, in a rare moment of clarity and candor, acknowledged as much: "Best-selling authors have the market power to negotiate a higher implicit e-book royalty in our advances, even if our publishers won’t admit it.” So authors like Turow never get paid in royalties, meaning that for Turow, yearly, monthly, even daily payments are an irrelevance. He gets all his money upfront.

By the way, for any legacy apologist inclined to argue that paying authors more frequently than twice a year would be oh-so-difficult, Amazon pays its authors monthly. And I’d like to hear of any other business in the 21st century that pays its people twice a year.

Or to put it another way: if all legacy-publisher employees agree to switch from being paid monthly to being paid twice a year, I’ll relax a bit on this issue.

I’m waiting…:)

12. Last but not least, stop censoring comments on the AG blog.

Now I realize that many of my first eleven wishes are fanciful. Maybe the Guild could help authors with estate planning, and maybe they could put together a self-pub assist directory. Those would be helpful, without requiring them to stop suckling at the legacy pub teat.

But the last one, censoring comments on their own blog when their mission statement brags they are committed to the "protection of authors’ rights under the First Amendment," should be essential.

For those unfamiliar with the First Amendment, there's a small mention in it about something called Freedom of Speech.

Barry mentioned in the comments (and I should have just written this in conjunction with him since I keep adding his thoughts): On that same page the Authors Guild states it is "the nation’s leading advocate for writers’ interests in effective copyright protection, fair contracts and FREE EXPRESSION..."

I think any reasonable person would say that the AG censoring comments on their own blog runs contrary to the very writing freedoms they purport to defend.

Fail. A heaping plateful of fail with a side order of hypocrisy, washed down with a large glass of stupid.

This attitude extends beyond the Legacy Pub...er... Authors Guild. Pundit Mike Shatzkin has deleted so many comments, and refused to respond to critics so often, he's become a punchline. All of the critiques and fisks this blog and others have lobbed at Patterson, Turow, Russo, Maass, et al have gone unanswered. Have you no shame? Have you no pride?

Big props to Kensington CEO Steve Zacharius, who not only debated me on this blog, but has been seen all over the Internet sharing his opposing POV and signing his name to it. I also congratulate Michael Cader from Publishers Lunch for crossing enemy lines and actually engaging in debate.

But why are so many others, including the inappropriately named "Authors Guild", so afraid to reply to critics? Why, instead of debate, is there radio silence, censorship, and a refusal to even acknowledge alternate points of view? How is putting your fingers in your ears yelling "Nyah nyah nyah I can't hear you!" an effective survival skill?

(Barry also suggests: AG president Roxana Robinson might consider getting herself a thing called a “Twitter account.” It would be an encouraging sign that she’s remotely interested in what’s happening in the provinces.)

I've literally begged people to fisk me. There is nothing I would enjoy more than being proven wrong. I want to learn. I want to grow. I want my mind changed so I can make better decisions.

Having an open mind, and being truly self-aware, takes discipline. We need to deliberately seek out contrary points of view to test them and weigh them against what we currently believe.

That's how we adapt, make progress, and thrive.

Because if we don't, we're on a one way trip to obsolescence.

Authors Guild, I'm looking right at you.

64 comments:

Robert Burton Robinson said...

I don't understand why Authors Guild doesn't realize that if they actually implemented most of the items on your list their membership would likely explode with new Indie members.

I guess it's because they're afraid to offend their trad-published authors, right?

Ann Voss Peterson said...

To be fair, the Authors Guild did weigh in on the Harlequin lawsuit along with Romance Writers of America.

http://www.harlequinlawsuit.com/uploads/Amicus_Brief.pdf

This took place after the court originally dismissed the case and before the authors' appeal was decided (in favor of the authors on the main point of the above brief).

If the Authors Guild assisted with rights reversion, as Joe has suggested here, that would be a big reason (for me personally) to join.

Barry Eisler said...

Great post. I know AG president won't respond, but maybe a minion will at least bring the post to her attention...?

I’m going to add a #12:

An Author's Guild worthy of the name would be all over the legacy practice of paying out royalties only twice a year. In the 21st century, this practice is a disgrace and it's astonishing that anyone can take it remotely seriously. Yes, I know legacy publishers earn millions of dollars in interest by holding onto that money for six months at a time instead of putting it in author pockets promptly. But why does the "Authors Guild" let them get away with it?

Hint: a cynic might suspect it’s because fat cats like Scott Turow, the former Guild president, get paid advances so large it’s understood they will never earn out. Turow himself, in a rare moment of clarity and candor, acknowledged as much: "Best-selling authors have the market power to negotiate a higher implicit e-book royalty in our advances, even if our publishers won’t admit it.” So authors like Turow never get paid in royalties, meaning that for Turow, yearly, monthly, even daily payments are an irrelevance. He gets all his money upfront.

By the way, for any legacy apologist inclined to argue that paying authors more frequently than twice a year would be oh-so-difficult, Amazon pays its authors monthly. And I’d like to hear of any other business in the 21st century that pays its people twice a year.

Or to put it another way: if all legacy-publisher employees agree to switch from being paid monthly to being paid twice a year, I’ll relax a bit on this issue.

I’m waiting…:)

Okay, also a #13:

AG president Roxana Robinson might consider getting herself a thing called a “Twitter account.” It would be an encouraging sign that she’s remotely interested in what’s happening in the provinces.

Okay, okay, just one more. #14…

Instead of reflexively supporting a publisher like Hachette in a dispute with a retailer like Amazon (can’t imagine why “Publishers Guild" has become a punchline), exploit the dispute to authors’ advantage. For example, communicate to Hachette that the AG will offer it no support — or better yet, that it will publicly support Amazon — unless Hachette issues a press release by a certain date promising all the reforms laid out in this blog post.

Now that would be an “Authors Guild” worthy of the name.

Barry Eisler said...

Robert said:

"I don't understand why Authors Guild doesn't realize that if they actually implemented most of the items on your list their membership would likely explode with new Indie members."

I think the answer is contained in your question... :)

NJMANGA said...

I always wondered what the authors guild did, you would assume they were similar to a union to protect authors rights and so forth, but more often than not I see them as an extension of the publisher, am I wrong in thinking that the author guilds don't do anything for their authors except agree with everything the publisher wants and desires. Its like the sfwa you cant even be a amazon author dont wont even let you join their little club without being published in one of the legacy publishers but I dont see them doing nothing to fight for their author except being yes men to the publisher, why do we need these writers guilds if they do nothing for the writers.

Richard Sutton said...

I thought that was the reason the dues for full membership is so high. You need a big advance to afford that.

Barry Eisler said...

Ah, one more thing: further to Joe's points on censored comments and the first amendment, it's amusing to note this line on the AG "About" page:

The Authors Guild is "the nation’s leading advocate for writers’ interests in effective copyright protection, fair contracts and FREE EXPRESSION..."

My emphasis, because I love irony. :) And the Ministry of Truth.

http://www.authorsguild.org/about/

Angry_Games said...

The AG is just another parody of the SFWA, which is just another parody of all organizations that claim to be "for authors".

If you're "for authors" then you should maybe... stop siding with publishers, and use your power (if you have any, but you don't, so this is really a moot point or wishful thinking) to help the people who do the overwhelming majority of the work on a book: i.e. THE AUTHOR.

I keep seeing "author author author" being ejected from these peoples' mouths. By the time those words get to my ears (or eyes, I suppose), all I hear is "publisher publisher publisher."

Jennifer Oberth said...

I don't think the list is fanciful at all. They really should do it - they should have been doing it all along. They should be at the forefront of everything going on in the industry. They should be protecting and informing authors, just like you do.

Either it's not very difficult, or you make it seem so easy. And so entertaining. Your blog is 'A Newbie's Guide to Publishing' and it's that and more, the 'Authors Guild' isn't for authors. Why is it so hard for some people/groups to just do what they say? The Authors Guild should have called themselves the Publishers Guild and nobody would have a problem because there's no confusion or false claims. Easy.

Elisabeth Zguta said...

Too bad CJ didn't get back - I wonder why the stall.
I agree that people like David G. should be paid for their time and effort; his blog alone saves so many authors from major potential monetary loss. He is a true watchdog and loyal to fellow writers. This is the work you'd think the guild would support - but as Barry suggested, Indies do not seem popular in the eyes of the Author's Guild. I hope that your continued heat, hitting the pan, will make change happen. Great post.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I think the answer is contained in your question... :)

Okay, I laughed out loud for that one.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

The problem with guilds like this is that they start out with great intentions and maybe even do some great things in the beginning. But over time they devolve into toothless old boys' clubs that too often capitulate to the powers that be for the sake of their own careers.

I'm looking at you, WGA.

Joe Konrath said...

But over time they devolve into toothless old boys' clubs that too often capitulate to the powers that be for the sake of their own careers.

This is called Pourelle's Iron Law.

Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people":

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

Judith said...

Re: Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy -- an excellent insight.

May I just add, that no amount of evidence or argument will convince group 2 that they are NOT dedicated to the goals of the organization, but to the organization?

Dan Meadows said...

I can tell you in one word what said publishing apologists would use to argue against paying authors more than twice yearly; returns. Of course, the fact that's it's a ridiculous, expensive and inefficient practice that's hampering their ability to adapt and compete probably wouldn't occur to them. It's a time honored legacy print tradition, so therefore it must be irrevocably eternal, right?

Jennifer Oberth said...

If authors refused to accept payment only twice a year - putting publishers out of business - suddenly there'd be fifteen solutions to the returns problem.

Some people/groups always get away with what they can, and only deal with problems when they become their own problems.

What we'll eventually see are publishers coming up with solutions to all these problems - way, way, way too late. Then they'll be surprised that authors fled because they fixed the problems. They're offering better royalty rates. They changed their contracts to benefit both parties. They've responded to author's concerns. But it'll be after everyone left because they refuse to accept that there are problems because it's not hurting them enough yet.

I just hope I'm above gloating, even in the privacy of my own home. Publishers haven't harmed me, because I decided to self-publish before I got that far but I never liked bullies, or even people/groups taking advantage of people just because they could.

I believe what I'm referring to is 'comeuppance' and it's usually sweet. It's not so fun, though, when it's so avoidable.

CJ Lyons said...

Joe, thanks for posting--I will forward (although, no, Barry, I am not a "minion", lol!) to AG members who might not have already seen it.

Sorry for the delay--as I tweeted yesterday, I'm on the road teaching and had limited internet access.

I think this list is great--and it mirrors my own personal wish list, so good to know I'm not alone!

Twitter might not be the best communication medium for complex issues like this, so I appreciate you taking the time to go into things more thoroughly.

Change never happens overnight, but if never happens at all if you don't take that first step and I think the AG is committed to that...it's one of the reasons why I agreed to join their advisory council.

CJ

Barry Eisler said...

Dan, agreed that publishing apologists would argue that returns are why publishers can't pay more than twice a year. To this I would respond, (i) if one publisher can do it, so can you; (ii) the return system is your albatross (why do they think they're called "legacy" publishers?), so stop tying around the necks of authors; and (iii) okay, if you're so antediluvian you can't do better than twice a year, then pay authors in addition to royalties the interest that would have been paid on those royalties had they been paid six months earlier.

Barry Eisler said...

Thanks CJ, when I said "minions," I certainly wasn't imagining you! But president Robinson must have someone bringing her news from the provinces, because she seems a bit internet-challenged. Which, to be fair and considering the behavior of her predecessor Turow and that of vice-president Russo, too, is in keeping with the rich traditions of the organization...:)

T. M. Bilderback said...

Hmph...I'm certainly glad I decided to keep control of my work. I may not be the highest-selling indie, but I probably am not the worst.

Looking at the Big 5, the Authors Guild, Preston, Patterson, etc., it seems to me that they're all determined to keep their heads buried firmly in the sand.

The only problem with keeping your head in the sand is that your ass is hanging in the wind!

Sarah Negovetich said...

As an agent, I would encourage my clients to join an Author's Guild that provided the services you mentioned. There are plenty of small and medium sized presses out there that allow authors to retain their rights, get out of a contracts that are no longer selling books, pay regularly and at a fair rate. An influential author's organization could and should use its power to move the big publishers in the same direction. Like CJ said, it won't happen overnight,but small steps can make a difference.

Matt said...

Publishers aren't going to change because authors or a "new and improved" Authors Guild demand change. There are still plenty of authors clamoring at their doors to be let in, and this isn't going to change for 20+ years. What will force publishers to change is loss of market share = less revenue = less profit. They're hemorrhaging market share in ebooks (and soon audiobooks) and they can't stop it.

This will be what forces change, and it's coming much sooner than 20+ years. I give it 2-3 years.

Joe Flynn said...

Maybe book contracts should be consummated in a church or temple with an exchange of vows. That way if things go south either party can get a no-fault divorce.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

One change, with both Big Six publishers and organizations like the Authors Guild is that they're even talking about self-publishing/indie publishing at all after mostly being ignored.

That change came pretty fast once indies demonstrated power in the marketplace. Funny how that happens.

And the more marketplace power we accumulate, the stronger our voice.

AlexB said...

Joe Flynn,

Let's not drag more religion into it than there is already. A registry office would suffice.

Kevin Hallock said...

10. Offer a directory of vetted, recommended third parties who can assist authors in self-publishing. Cover artists, proofers, editors, ebook designers, etc.,

I'd like to second this. I am sure there are plenty of great third parties out there, but it's hit or miss finding them for new authors.

A.G. Claymore said...

They have 9,000 members? If they ever managed to show some kind of tangible value to Indies, they'd have an extra fifty thousand new members paying $90 each within weeks.
They saw how many signatures you guys collected on that petition with very little effort. You'd think they'd realize that medium sized chunk of ice in front of their eyes is sitting on top of a massive iceberg...

Jim Self said...

Joe, my first reaction was the same as one of Barry's. A "guild" for authors should never automatically jump onto one side or the other in a negotiation like Amazon vs. Hachette. They should try to figure out how to use the situation to get something for authors. Hachette is in the weaker position here IMO and also has the most to offer tradpub writers.

The AG should be salivating at a chance like this, but instead their actions only serve to help the elite writers in charge of the AG. How strange!

Terrence OBrien said...

I suppose the reason they haven't implemented your suggestions is because the best selling authors don't feel their effects. The AG represents publishers and the highest paid authors. If you give the rank and file author more money, that leaves less for the high paid author.

Follow the money. The AG doesn't do those things because it doesn't represnet authors.

Mary Leonhardt said...

Joe, I can't thank you enough for what you're doing. I was legacy published but managed to get the copyright back on three of my books. The two the publisher still has they have as e-books for 13.99 each--and these are little tip books. Ridiculous. My first editor was wonderful but that is really the only positive thing I can say about my legacy publishing experience.

So I re-published the ones I got back, and then started publishing more, mostly under other names. I am having so much fun, and making a nice little income as well. I really appreciate your encouragement for self-published authors.

Anonymous said...

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

Having just quit a career as a medium sized cog in a very large bureaucratic wheel to be a full-time indie author, I can attest to Pournelle's Iron Law. I saw it in action during my own years in a bureaucracy. Many of those in power are committed to their careers and are primarily interested in ensuring the bureaucratic wheel keeps spinning in place because it's less dangerous than actually moving. They aren't interested in improving the wheel's design or making it turn more efficiently and actually travel down the road.

In the case of the publishing industry, Amazon came along and improved the wheel's design so it no longer spun in place. It's moving now and all the people dedicated to making sure it stays in place and never moves are freaking out.

Anon Author

antares said...

With all guilds, over time the watchdog becomes the lapdog.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Groups like the Authors Guild are controlled by those at the very top of the pile and those at the bottom who dream of making the top. They don't WANT anything to change--they want things to stay the same until THEY become king of the hill.

Thanks for continuing to talk about reality, Joe and Barry. We need that.

Desmond X Torres said...

Whoops! Guys, I think you missed something here, and I' sooo proud that I'm posting about it. It's in two parts:

PART ZEE FIRSTITH:
A RECOGNITION OF READERSHIP, FOR WITHOUT READERS AN AUTHOR IS JUST SOME PERSON WHO SCRIBBLES STUFF. It's my readers that have made me identify myself as a 'Writer' and I'm soo darn glad to be able to afford being on.
(I all capped Part Zee First cuz I really think it's important)

Part Les Deux:
A commitment of promoting the CRAFT, especially in light of how many new writers are putting up such terrible stuff. An Author's Guild would be in line with what Hienlan said (that I heard from GRR Martin on YouTube).

What Martin said paraphrasing Heinlan was that an established Author is obligated to help the ones coming after him. B/c there's no way he could repay those who came before him and helped.

JA, Barry et al... I couldn't BEGIN t repay you guys for how deeply you affected my very life. But I DO do what I can to help other writers find a living.

An Author's Guild would have as part of its founding principles the promotion of the craft as a binding ideal to strive for.

Just MHO, but I think these two points have merit.

Petrea Burchard said...

Brilliant, Joe. I hope to see the response right here.

Venkatesh Iyer said...

Maybe Authors Guild should consider renaming itself Some Authors Gild

Silas Payton said...

This whole situation reminds me of the history of two other professions that many years ago, were considered almost voluntary -- nursing and teaching. These were female dominated and they had to put up with terrible conditions and as next generations came in, they were and are still, told "This is just the way it is."

In school they are taught that they have a duty to fulfill and they should be honored to do it, regardless of the conditions and crappy pay. In fact, they are reminded of the way it was when people would do the work out of a sense of responsibility and not ask about pay.

This reaks of oppression.

I think the teachers have done a fairly good job of turning this around but in Nursing the attitude is still rampant. "Suck it up, Buttercup." "We all had to do it." "What makes you so special?"

Sound familiar?

It's time writers say NO.

It sounds like the AG is part of the old system and needs to either change, or a new support network be created representing the writers of today.

Anonymous said...

health insurance is a moot point now. You can pick your plan from the gov'mint. Long ago, the prob wasnt AG, it was the protectionist policies of insurance companies protecting their nut across state lines, in addition to insurance companies legally being able to exclude various people including authors, agents, affiliates for various pre-existing conditions including prior treatment for drugs and alcohol addictions, prior treatment for cancers and other challenging diseases. The premiums were high because back then insurance companies believed, prob still do, that prior health predicts current and future health. We've health plans now that have relatively reasonable deductibles and catastrophic and well person coverage. It literally took a federal act to gain health insurance for us.

Archangel said...

"I can't think of a more lopsided abuse of power than the paper oligopoly controlled by the Big Publishing cartel for the last fifty years, and how many authors have been forced to take ridiculously one-sided terms in order to get their books into bookstores.

Seriously. This is perfect for a class action suit."

I hope you will start a class action suit joe and barry. Many would join. For some reason my foreign sales are only for a term of 5 or 10 years. But in the US/English rights, it is til martians land.

Anonymous said...

could you joe share the reasons you cant tell trapped authors step by step how you got out of your contracts with rights reverted. It would be so helpful if y ou could tell us, or at least tell us why not. Did you have to sign a no-tell contract or?

Axel Blackwell said...

Maybe rename it the author's geld?

Axel Blackwell said...

In as much as AG has failed us in this regard, has anybody else compiled a list of third parties who can help an indie author bring a new book to market?

davidgaughran said...

I have visitors this weekend so this has to be super quick, but, in case there is any doubt, I'm happy to assist the AG in any way in terminating their partnership with Author Solutions, and warning their members and authors in general about the exploitative practices of the company. (I don't need to be paid either.)

And CJ already has a list from me :)

adan said...

Joe, I'd like to add that small self-published authors in particular, but really all writers, not be required to be selectively exclusive, apart from other authors, to be part of Kindle Unlimited. It's a small thing, but important to writers like me. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I disagree about half-year royalty settlements. In fact I think this is such a good idea that the publishers ought to expand it - and pay their executives' salaries only twice a year. For last year's work.

What's good for the goose, etc.

Melisa Todd said...

Personally I think the health insurance is a huge issue and one of the reasons I'll probably join RWA. And one of the reasons I'll keep my day job until I have lots of money saved. Being required to buy it now and cover your family that is a huge amount of money. anything that would give me better coverage for less money would interest me greatly.

I just published my first book, and while I'm doing decent, there is no way it would even cover any insurance premium.

Walter Knight said...

The Author's Guild should be sued by members and ex-members for not representing most of the membership, misrepresenting itself, and conflict of interest. $900,000 a year in dues elevates the Author's Guild to higher responsibility levels and accountability.

Matt said...

I look forward to seeing the Authors Guild respond to these points.

T. M. Bilderback said...

I look forward to seeing the Authors Guild respond to these points.

Don't hold your breath, Matt.

Martin Lake said...

This is great, Joe. It's astonishing to read your criticisms.

I'd like to add a suggestion. I'm a British author who lives in France and sells mainly in the UK and the USA with smaller sales worldwide.

I'm not the only author like this. So I'd like to see an organisation which represents authors world-wide which is how writing and the market is increasingly operating.

Dinah Lee Küng, "A Visit From Voltaire," "Love and the Art of War" and seven other novels. said...

Hi Joe, Using the only email address i could find for you, linked to your newsletter offer, I've sent you an exchange of correspondence I had between the AG's Sandy Long and myself some weeks ago. Help yourself! (It was too long for these comments)
Dinah Lee Küng

Frank Dellen said...

Much can be said against the Society of German Writers (Verband Deutscher Schriftsteller, "VS" in short) but they managed to establish a contract template as an industry standard. There's room in that template for individual royalties but the rights reversion default is ten years, for example.
So there's a lot less legal dispute in Germany.

I'd think something like that would be a top priority for any organisation that claims to have the interest of writers in mind.

adan said...

@Frank Dellen - what a great idea and example, thanks!

Ann Christy said...

While I understand that the whole returns process is like a giant locomotive that publishing has a hard time figuring out how to quit, the electronic sales are as immediately accountable as the vendors allow. And that's quick, even for the slow ones.

For the life of me I can't figure out why Big 5 can only manage to pay for digital sales twice a year. Even if the generous one week returns for Amazon digital sales is accounted for, a monthly pay for e-sales should be entirely possible.

And I love your additions, Joe. They should do it...immediately! And then maybe the Indies will join, too.

Phyllis Humphrey said...

Joe:
Once more I thank you. First, because years ago your advice helped me avoid some problems. Now, because these great suggestions would make the AG a super organization benefitting all writers.

Christine Leov Lealand said...

My I suggest another change to publishing which the AG should be aggressively pursuing in publishing contracts:- transparent print runs and transparent accounting for author's royalties on same.
Not to mention plain language subsidiary rights clauses or none at all.
J K Rowling buying back her digital rights is proof enough of the fact that no publisher can be trusted to account for the kind of coin those rights of hers are worth. And she only got 10% or less of what her publisher has made I bet - paid six monthly.

Anonymous said...

You guys got it all wrong. It's called a "guild" for a reason and not a "union". Guilds exist to keep membership low and prices high. If they could go a step further license writers they would. So, of course, they support traditional publishers.

Michael J. Sullivan said...

Excellent post. 100% agree with everything you've said.

Matt said...

The Authors Guild hasn't responded yet? I'm shocked! Shocked I tell you!

Heather Justesen said...

I have published with two smaller presses, besides the books I have self published (and made far more money on, by the way). Press #1 pays monthly, but 7 months after the sales are made--including the ebook sales, which they are paid for after 60 days. Once I earn at least $50 on a book, minus any returns that have been made in the past six months, I get a check. If two books earn that much I get two checks (because apparently their accounting department is clueless.) I will probably never get my rights back to these books because they don't offer rights unless you sell fewer than 25 copies *in a year*. If I want them back before then, I'll be paying through the nose, in addition to buying the paper copies at my author price (%60 off cover price). For 4,000 copies. Yeah. They didn't even sell 4000 paper copies of the books. Since I don't think I'll be making $30K off those books even if I could unload all of those paper copies, I'll cut my losses for now and try again in a few years. I'd rather work on promotion for new books that make me real money.

Publisher #2 only does POD and doesn't have books in stores, though they could if they raised the print prices a little like Dean Wesley Smith says. They pay every month on whatever they were paid from the various retailers in the previous month, which means I get paid about 90 days after the sale is made. I make far more money from them than from the publisher who has actual print distribution. I can actually get my rights back whenever I want them back, but I've committed to 2 years from the last book they put out since they did do actual editing and have done actual promotions for me. And I get paid MUCH better per book than my first publisher. I'm letting them earn back some expenses on the books (That started out as serials on their site) and then I'll rebrand and re-release them.

I still make way more on my own though, so I'm definitely sticking with self publishing from here on out.

KatyDoesWrite said...

I'm an author, so I chafe at the "reserves against returns."

My son owns Bakka-Phoenix Books (oldest sf/f bookstore in the known universe) and his position is that without the ability to return unsold copies, he'd be less likely to take chances on new and less-well-known authors.

Truth is, we're both right: the reserves against returns now protects publishers and the big box booksellers from bad business decisions, like ordering hundreds more copies than they know they can sell just to make the displays look good. (Indie stores don't do this; buy indie!)

Why are the authors the only ones charged for returns? Why aren't the cover artists, the typesetters, the sales people, the editors, even the support staff, also dinged for returns?

Dorothy Zemach said...

They might look to the excellent Society of Authors in the UK. I'm an American, but I'm a very happy SoA member. I've never considered joining the Authors Guild.

Anonymous said...

The American writers commenting don't know how lucky they are. My Spanish publisher pays royalties ONCE a year. But then forgets to pay anyway...

Anonymous said...

The American writers commenting don't know how lucky they are. My Spanish publisher pays royalties ONCE a year. But then forgets to pay anyway...