Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Latest from the Authors Guild

From the Authors Guild website:

January 5, 2016


Unfair terms in publishing agreements negatively affect authors’ incomes and even their ability to write at all. That’s the conclusion the Authors Guild’s Fair Contract Initiative has repeatedly demonstrated since it was launched in May 2015. Now it’s time to act on that conclusion.

The Initiative’s fresh look at standard book contracts has proven without doubt that provisions that would never be acceptable in other contexts have long been taken for granted in publishing agreements. Authors are now standing together to say “no.” It is time for publishers to give authors the respect, compensation and fair play they deserve.

What we demand is simple: Publishers need to revise many of their standard contract terms to make them more equitable. Authors should get at least 50% of net e-book income, not a mere 25%. They should not have their hands tied with non-compete and option clauses that can make it impossible for them to write new books without delay. They should not be forced to accept royalties that can decline by 50% when the publisher cuts its wholesale price by a single cent. They should be able to get the rights back when the publisher stops supporting a book.

And authors should be able to get a fair shake even if they don’t have powerful agents or lawyers. When negotiating with known agents, publishers often start from previously negotiated contracts that remove many of the most draconian provisions handed to unagented authors. Why not do the right thing by all authors and eliminate those provisions for everyone?

Authors’ income is down across all categories. According to a 2015 Authors Guild survey—our first since 2009—the writing-related income of full-time book authors dropped 30% over that time period, from $25,000 to $17,500. Part-time authors saw an even steeper slide: their writing income dropped 38%.

While there are many reasons for these declines, unfair terms, including reduced royalty rates, are clearly a major part of the problem. Without serious contract reform, the professional author will become an endangered species and publishers—as well as society at large—will be left with less and less quality content. Publishers need to treat their authors equitably so they can keep writing the kinds of books that have enabled the publishing industry to achieve the financial and cultural status it enjoys today.

We’ll be asking for individual meetings in the coming months with publishers both large and small to discuss the substance of the attached articles and what publishers can do to ensure this business is fair and profitable for those who create the works that sustain it.

We don’t stand alone in our commitment to more equitable book contracts. The Authors Guild Fair Contract Initiative has earned the support of many U.S. and foreign authors groups, representing many tens of thousands of individual members in the United States alone. Those supporting groups have signed on to this letter.

The Authors Guild

Joe sez: I've been blogging about unconscionable contract terms for years. I've also been chastising the Authors Guild for years, berating them for not doing anything.

Well, now it looks like they're doing something.

And I tip my hat to them.

I look forward to Authors United buying a full page NYT ad to support this cause, because this actually is a cause worth supporting.

I also look forward to the media giving this a lot of attention. Do you hear that, David Streitfeld? We're all waiting for your in-depth expose of how--for decades--NY Publishing has systematically screwed tens of thousands of authors with one-sided take-it-or-leave-it contracts.

The Authors Guild has my support in this endeavor. I've created a petition on Change.org to show solidarity. Please add your name.


Daniel Barnett said...

This is amazing news! I've signed the petition. Hopefully something comes of this--and soon.

fannyfae said...

Signed and shared! Thanks, Joe!

Valerie Douglas said...

Finally, the Authors Guild actually does something for authors - not the publishers. Authors should be paid commensurate with their earnings for all their books, including e-books. (Publishers should also add a new cycle to their hardcover, softcover pricing to allow for cheaper e-books, which would increase the sales and earnings for top and mid-list writers, but that's something for another day.)
I wouldn't hold my breath for that full-page NYT ad, though.

wim said...

Just signed it. I'm not sure if petitions like these make much of a difference, but anything that raises awareness on this issue is helpful IMO.
That said, I've noticed some changes. Negotiations with my new publisher went well and they were very respectful and understanding when I refused to accept certain clauses just because "that's how we always did business." We managed to hammer out a compromise that works for everybody while getting rid of some of those antiquated clauses that have no place in today's world. So maybe the legacy publishing world will eventually change for the better. If it doesn't, there are plenty of alternatives.

Thanks for all you do Joe, much appreciated.

Walter Knight said...

It's a trick. They don't really mean it.


This is great. Usually Author Guild stuff is just white noise, but if this is legit I'm on board. I'll sign your sheet!

Mark Edward Hall said...

Signed and shared. You make a lot of noise, Joe. Maybe someone is finally listening.

Dana Stabenow said...

Naturally I immediately fixated on "They should be able to get the
rights back when the publisher stops supporting a book."

"Supporting" must be explicitly defined. Non-branding cover art? MMPB allowed to go out of print? E versions uploaded without editing? E versions overpriced out of the market?

Otherwise, I'm astonished and grateful, not to the Author's Guild, Joe, but to you. If you (and Hugh and Barry and Kristin et al) hadn't been doing the heavy lifting for years now the AG never would have got here.

Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

Did you know that the quoted letter has hard returns at the end of every line?

The returns make it hard to read. Could you fix that, please?

JA Konrath said...

I think I fixed it. Thx Nate.


I pledged my support!

Pat Mullan said...

Signed it, Joe. Happy New Year, Cheers, Pat.

Peter L. Winkler said...

The Author's Guild has no power to make this stick. All they accomplished with their pronouncement is to give editors at the Big 5 their laugh of the day.

Anonymous said...

I think this is great, though as someone on the Passive Voice said more elegantly than I did, I think the publishers will only listen when authors top sending query letters to agents and publishers face shortages because nobody wants to work with them anymore. As long as they know there are desperate authors who will sign anything for the status of a Big 5 contract, they don't have to listen. However, letters like this let those writers know ahead of time what they're getting into, and maybe it will make them think twice. Still, it's a good initiative.

MorpheousXO said...

Sign it, tweet it, share it? Done, done, and done! ^_^

Jackie Wegr said...

Wonderful that legacy published authors are standing up for themselves. It is time. I'll share this, too. Agents sometimes have agendas that don't bode well for the author. I asked for certain things to happen in a contract and my agent flat refused...She was bundling authors to sell to my publisher...and did not want to jeopardize contracts for a dozen authors. I went straight to my publisher and negotiated the contract. But most astonishing is royalties reported by the Author's Guild: $17k to $25K. Golly-Go indie. I often come across wonderful books by legacy published authors languishing on virtual and brick & mortar bookshelves...And not a thing the author can do to move those books outside of book signings, which are a time suck and costly, especially if renting a table at a conference. I'm an indie author now. It's sink or swim on my own. Thus far, I'm not drowning.
Wishing you all a successful 2016...

Michael J. Sullivan said...

Definitely signed it. And will be notifying everyone I can about it. It's good to see the Author's Guild finally turning their attention to the issues they SHOULD be focusing on but haven't. The proof will be in whether they actually move the needle though.

Anonymous said...

Weird, I just read someone recently snark at writers that nobody owes them a living, and if readers read their books without the writer's consent and without the writer being paid, that's fine.

But now, publishers actually laying out in explicit text an agreement that the writer has to set pen to paper and consent to, wherein the writer actually does get paid something ... that's just no fair!

Cherie Marks said...

Signed and shared!

JA Konrath said...


Weird, you're a pinhead.

And a coward.

If you'd had the guts to sign your post, I'd explain to you the difference between having a sense of entitlement where you feel the world owes you a living, and signing an unconscionable legal contract that can be enforced for your lifetime plus 70 years.

Unknown said...

Joe, whilst reading this it was like I was reading one of your posts again because you have been calling for these changes for years now. At last the Writer's Guild has finally conceded to your calls. Good on you!