Friday, October 19, 2012

Recompense

I read this article the other day that talked about supporting authors. I don't agree with everything in what Ms. Merchant says here, but there are a couple of things we can maybe explore and see if we can't come up with something for authors of different stripes.

Let's start with this statement:

I've heard this before, I think, but Swartwood says it
succinctly. Check out his TweetStream.

AND we tip cabbies, hairdressers, servers at restaurants, bars, and just about anywhere else we might be aware that people are working for a low wage. Why do people think that every author is well-compensated? Because they don't see things like this:

This is from a post by Meghan Ward at her blog
Writerland. Go read the post in its entirety here.

and all they hear about are the enormous sums that well-established authors and celebrities get for memoirs. Look at the chart (from an excellent post on Meghan Ward's Writerland blog) and see where crime writers fall, where a writer of novellas came in. Right there at the bottom. Here's an interesting comment by the author in response to a question from one of her readers:

...the median for small publishers is $7500. That includes a $135,000 2-book deal that I counted as two separate deals and four other six-figure deals. Many were $5000, $7500, or $15,000. Hope that helps.
This isn't sales, folks. This is the money that a publisher pays to the author up front to either finish the book or start work on the next one. So while the top figure in Ms. Ward's quote is $135K for two books, how far does $5,000 go in a writer's world? Or even $15,000? That's less than minimum wage. That's borderline poverty.

Ms. Merchant, whose article is linked up above, says we lack the social conventions to know how to properly support authors. What do they provide? Entertainment. How do we compensate entertainers? With our dollars direct to promoters or vendors who are offering the product. A live show, a movie, a book in a bookstore. Or a grocery store. Or the pharmacy. Sometimes even the gas station.

I argue that we do know how - we buy the books. But if, as Mr. Swartwood points out, society spends $6 or more every day or even three or four times a week on coffee and sugar, people will gripe about the price of ebooks and books in general. They always have. I'm just as bad in the bookstore as anyone else looking for the bargains, the remaindered titles I'd always meant to buy but never did.

It's not beyond the pale to believe that as much as another dollar goes into the tip jar for 60% of the coffees that a barista makes. Not everyone tips. I would bet a lot of baristas are making a base salary close to minimum wage but I don't have any facts to support that. Let's presuppose that, though. Let's say they don't absolutely depend on those tips, just for the sake of argument. Perhaps the tips are enough to give that barista enough to buy a cup of coffee somewhere else.

Because that barista may, in fact be an author, working on a manuscript at night. In effect, working that second job with dreams of an advance that might allow her to quit slinging coffee.

Look, what authors are fighting is perception. It's bad form to talk about money, I understand that, but until the general public gets it that publishers' wells are not bottomless for a lot of reasons it's probably going to have to be done. A lot of authors are self-publishing because that's where the money is. They make more per sale doing that. What happens is that those authors whose books are not acquired by a publisher think they'll be successful in the arena of self-pubbing.

But not if they don't put some professional-level effort into it. Get editors. Proof read the hell out of your manuscript. Make sure it's what you want to put out there.

And tell your friends how much work it is. Don't let them denigrate your art, your creativity. Be proud of what you do and wear that pride like a backstage pass at your favorite concert. But don't just do it on your blog or your website or Facebook or Twitter, be proud in your everyday life. At your day job. Don't hide that you're a writer. Don't be embarrassed that you tell stories. By the same token, don't beat people over the head with it, either.

Talking out loud about your passion for writing and telling stories is okay. When someone insinuates you'll be moving on when you get picked up by a publisher, let them know what money there isn't in publishing unless your name is Grisham, King or even Cornwell.

You'll win support by being proud of what you do and doing it very, very well. People will buy your books.

But I started this post with the idea that people spend money on fleeting things and gripe about the high price of something they could potentially keep forever. I've wandered a little bit through this but I want to leave you with this final point: society pays for entertainment but they feel overcharged. They will pay a heady price for something they believe they need (like sugary coffee they could really make at home) and gripe about the price of a book.

Again, fighting perceptions. Somehow books and reading aren't considered worthwhile. I don't know how that happened, but I spend a grand total of $17 a month on coffee I make at home and I don't have to stand in line somewhere (or wait at a drive thru) to get what amounts to hot soda. I spend money on books and entertainment and I don't worry about it.

I'm not sure what my point ultimately was when I started writing this, but - look, as an author you have to support authors. I agree with Ms. Merchant's idea about gifting books you hope people would like. I think that's an excellent way to support authors. When the perception is, though, that authors who are published are rich we need - as a community of authors - need to say that we're working a second job to be an author. You think it's easy? You try it.

Then encourage everyone around you to be as supportive as you are of your friends in that community.

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