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.