Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Sounding an alarm — again

There’s an old adage in Hollywood that, while some actors earn huge amounts of money, most actors wait tables, drive cabs or do some other menial work so they can keep body and soul together while waiting for their next acting gig to appear. The average actor’s salary in the movie biz is pathetically low.

We authors are in the same boat. Most work other jobs to keep food on the table, and writing is squeezed into whatever leftover time there is. That’s a discussion that’s gone on many times here at Type M (as it has on most other writing blogs).

However, today, an article in The Guardian is all over Facebook and Twitter, and it puts something sharply into focus: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/08/authors-incomes-collapse-alcs-survey

Several things stand out to me in this article. First of all, you have to know that it’s not a British book publishing problem. It’s everywhere.

Having been in the game for awhile now, I understand why so many changes have come about: margins are tighter, everything is more expensive. But what has always been the case is still ubiquitous: the creators of the content, those who are supplying the raw materials for the publishing industry to work with, are getting the shortest end of a shorter stick. Advances against royalties (borrowing against the potential success of a book as the article succinctly states) were invented as a way for writers (or any artist, really) to be able to focus solely on their writing. As advances have shrunk, the ability to put food on one’s table has to be far more in the forefront than it should be for the system to work. When having to balance writing against providing for oneself and one’s family, guess which is going to win out?

At the same time, publishers have discovered that while we weep and moan about how we’re being forced to practise our craft, writers will put up with far less than they will willingly admit. We will write for nearly slave wages — if that’s all that’s being offered. The more generous publishers now generally offer advances that might pay for a couple of months off for a writer with a day gig. But when you’ve got a full-time job, how do you accomplish that? You can’t just walk into your boss’ office and announce you’re going to be away for two months.

Many of us, though, put up with even less. Those advances are simply nothing more than a token amount. The worst part is that there are now publishers that want to apply royalties accruing from a successful book back onto a previous book that was less successful. Huh? So book one doesn’t sell that well – for whatever reason – but book two does. If there’s still an outstanding amount on the royalty advance for book one, the publisher will apply royalties from book two to that account until it’s paid off. Only then will the writer get any royalties from book two. In a nutshell, that stinks. We’re all in this together, aren’t we? Publishing is a gamble — for all concerned. These publishers want it all in their direction. Minimal risk for small input, chance of big rewards. Talk about hedging your bets.

What the problem is here can be summed up with the title of an upcoming panel in the UK, discussing exactly what’s in this article and the study that inspired it: “Are We All on The Same Page?: Can a Fair Deal for Writers be Balanced With a Fair Deal for All?”

You’d like to think that might happen, but I know which way to bet.

It’s not fun being an endangered species…


Eileen Goudge said...

Endangered species - yup, that's us. But in keeping with survival-of-the-fittest, many of us have adapted to the changing times and are the better for it. While I still wince at the "missing" zero on my royalty checks, I've embraced many of the changes. Also, the old truism, Hope springs eternal, is never truer than with authors.

Victoria Reeve said...

I've never quite figured out why, in this age where it is so simple to self-publish, authors still go the traditional route - one that seems to allow everyone but them to profit from their creativity.