Tuesday, April 02, 2013

On becoming yet another “hobby industry”

I read Aline’s post yesterday with horror, then spent the rest of the day being rather depressed. We all should have seen this one coming. I don’t know what the outcome might be “copyright-wise”, but judging by how these things have been dealt with previously in the courts, I don’t think the outcome will be favorable to authors or publishers. Being that authors are at the very short end of the stick, the financial implications are pretty terrible for us. The vast majority of authors are going to be further shoved into what I call a “hobby industry”.

In a nutshell a hobby industry is one where the participant does it mostly for love with a small pinch of hope thrown in, hope that your “pastime” might someday pay the freight. It’s much the same as “living the American dream”, which is, of course, pretty well a fairytale. You might as well live your life on the dreams you get free whenever you buy a lottery ticket.

Acting is pretty much a hobby industry. It probably always has been. For every successful Hollywood star there are a thousand actors who wait on tables or drive cabs, hoping beyond hope that they’ll land a big part and be on their way. I'm also sure that fine artists have been hopefully indulging their passion with little hope of adequate remuneration all the way to cave painting days. And forget about musicians. I know dozens and dozens of excellent ones who work hard at day gigs so that they can afford to play for little or nothing on weekends. There are now clubs that demand musicians pay them to play at their venue – and musicians do it in hopes that it will lead to them being noticed.

Bottom line? For the vast majority of artists, being one is a heartbreaking business. You not only have to be good, you have to be lucky. The right people have to notice you – in a big way. And that hope is what we all live on. It’s the oxygen which we breathe while creating.

Getting back to Amazon, what little income is generally made by authors by selling e-versions of their works is now going to be further adulterated. I doubt very much that Amazon is going to hand over royalties for resold e-books, unless they’re forced to by the courts. I’m not holding my breath on that one. Readers will be the winners which is a bit of solace, but for the poor author dangling at the very end of the publishing stick, the outlook is grim. We’re barely hanging on by one hand at this point.

Here’s the bottom line: to produce a full-length work, a writer is going to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours. At the end of the day, your main hope is just to get published. Of course you can noweasily do this yourself, again courtesy of those nice folks at Amazon, but if you want an actual publisher to take you on and pay you for your work, the best you can look forward to is a small advance, hardly recompense for the time you have put in creating your work. Except for a very fortunate few, there are no longer $50,000 advances and three-book deals. You might have heard the phrase, “Five thousand dollar advances are the new fifty-thousand.” It’s true.

I’m sure publishers would like to be able to give more money to their authors, but the reality of the publishing world is that a reasonable “salary” – represented by an advance against royalties – to give an author the time to write and not have to worry about surviving, is pretty well a thing of the past. Getting five thousand dollars from a publisher as an advance for a full-length novel is little more than chump change, especially considering that we’re also expected to shoulder the promotional load. From one publisher, I get one-fifth of that.

So why do we do it?

Because we have to.


Donis Casey said...

And just when I was about to decide it really isn't worth the pain. Guess what, it isn't! I still enjoy having written, though, even if I do resent the lack of monetary award for the amount of work. What a dilemma.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Rick, I'm gearing up to do a lot better job of on-line promotion. There are great tools out there and conferences are really expensive.