The Business Rusch: You Are Not Alone
The Business Rusch: You Are Not Alone
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Maybe the stars have aligned poorly. Maybe the various impending international debt crises have us on edge. Or maybe it’s this season’s abundant natural disasters. Or maybe it’s as simple as this: I’ve been blogging so people are writing to me.
But what I’ve seen this past month from established writers is an abundance of despair. I got a sad phone call from a friend, had a lot of sit-down conversations with writers who were ready to give up their dreams, and a nine-page single-spaced e-mail from a hell of a writer of dozens of published books, wondering whether or not to quit altogether.
Books that would have sold five years ago don’t sell now. Series that are growing are getting bounced from their publishers for not growing enough. Agents, unable to sell product, are telling their mystery clients to write romance novels and their romance clients to write thrillers. Other agents are starting backlist e-pub companies and robbing their clients blind. Still other agents are blaming the writers for the fact that nothing is selling well and encouraging them to sign terrible book contracts.
Bookstores don’t carry paper books any longer. New York Times bestsellers can’t find their backlists in stores. American authors with bestselling novels overseas are being told that foreign countries never pay the promised royalties, only advances.
Traditionally published bestselling writers look at their royalty statements, see that their e-books sell only 30 or 100 or 200 copies in six months, and wonder how the hell upstart self-published writers whose books have ugly covers and whose interiors need copy editing manage to sell tens of thousands of e-books each month.
Editors who once had to tiptoe around their biggest authors are telling those writers to change what they write because their sales have decreased, and clearly, their writing has gotten worse over the years. Writers whose rabid fan base numbers 10 or 20 or 50K get told that their books no longer sell to that fan base even though the writer is constantly getting e-mails from that base and is signing brand new books for that base.
Publisher sales figures are impossible to get. An estimated laydown of 50,000 becomes an estimated 17,000 one month later. On the royalty statements issued six months after that, that laydown then becomes 5,000 books with another 5,000 in the reserve against returns. But, that same book, tracked by Bookscan (which only covers 50%-70% of the book market [and maybe less now]), shows sales, sales (not books shipped), of 30,000.
But even if Bookscan’s numbers are true, the book’s editor says, thirty thousand is pretty insignificant for that genre or for that particular series or for that particular writer. The writer will have to take a smaller advance and accept worse contract terms. Or the writer doesn’t get offered another contract period.
And of course, of course, it’s the writer’s fault. The writer misread the numbers, wrote down the wrong amount in the initial phone call with the editor on the laydown. Oh, it wasn’t a phone call, but an e-mail? My bad, the editor says. It was a typo. I didn’t mean 50,000. I meant 5,000.
So, the writer says, if you only printed 5,000 and I sold 5,000 and the book is still in print and still being ordered, then my book is doing well, right?
Wrong. We overpaid your advance, the editor says. We never ever should have paid that much money on a book that would only sell 5,000 copies.
Sound familiar? It should to many of you. I get letter after letter delineating problems like this all the time. If I hadn’t gone through something similar five years ago, I would be thinking, “What the hell?” But I’m not thinking that because I know how it feels.
One writer said that on her bad days, she wonders if she needs a tinfoil hat to confirm her craziness. Another wrote on a blog that the despair from all of the changing facts made her contemplate suicide. Still a third took all of the blame herself, and started writing vampire romances even though she hates them, thinking that her award-winning, bestselling romantic suspense novels had somehow gone horribly downhill and she hadn’t realized it.
What I write back each and every time or find myself saying in conversation (often to a weeping writer) is this:
It’s not you. You’re fine. Your writing is as good as ever. The business is changing and you’re caught in the crossfire. It’s not personal, even though it feels personal. You are caught in the middle of a nightmare. The rules are changing, and no one knows where any of this is headed. Talk to other writers. You’ll see. It’s happening to all of us.
Believe it or not, knowing that it’s not personal helps. It gives the writer a chance to breathe, to look around and see that the changes in the industry are happening, and they’re hurting all of us.
You don’t believe me about the changes, about the ways that publishers are shifting the world beneath our feet as we try to walk forward? Then read this blog by agent Kristin Nelson about Random House’s most recent royalty statements. Random House has decided unilaterally to pay its authors 25% of net on e-books even if the author’s contract calls for something else, like 50% of gross. After you read her post, read what the Passive Guy, an attorney who no longer practices, has to say about this behavior.
Or what he writes about the rights grab that Harlequin is making. Read my post about the industry changes, “Writing Like It’s 1999,” or my post from two weeks ago about Barnes & Noble, which has since been confirmed by B&N employees and some other links you’ll find in the comments section.
What’s worse is that the people we once thought were our advocates—our agents and our editors—can’t help us any more. Both agents and editors are suffering in their jobs, but in different ways. Agents—who are savvy about business—have realized that they can no longer make money in traditional ways, so many of them are looking for other ways to make money. And often, those ways hurt the writer. See what agent Peter Cox says about this, about the way he’s fighting to keep some semblance of decency in his profession.
Editors have another problem. They’re overworked since so many of their colleagues have been laid off. Editors love books, and love finding new writers, and that crazy-making stuff I listed above—the thing with the shifting numbers?—it happens in a publishing house too. The editor is often the last to know how well one of her books is doing.
She’s told by the sales department that the laydown will be 50K, then discovers that only 17K was shipped. She goes to make a new deal with the author only to be told by the publisher that in-house numbers show that the book sold less than 10K. She checks, finds out that the book went back to print for a second time, which means that the 17K should have sold. When she asks about it, the publisher ignores the protest, saying, Make your offer based on the 10K, and if the writer doesn’t like the pay cut, then let her go.
Evidence to the contrary—Bookscan numbers, previous letters, second-and-third printing marks inside the books themselves—don’t matter. The editor must do her publisher’s bidding or lose her job. And eventually that wears the editor down. Either she doesn’t care any more or she gets angry at the writers (and their agents) who are the only people she can safely get angry at and still have a job.
She’s feeling pinched, because if none of her authors sell well, then her job is on the line. And the books might be selling well, but she doesn’t know it any more than the writers do.
But the editor can talk to her colleagues and realize that they’re going through the same tough times. The agents see this happening to client after client and know it has nothing to do with the agenting, so it must be the writers themselves.
But the writers—oh, the writers—they work alone. And often they have no one to talk to. Many writers don’t tell their writing colleagues because these writers don’t want to be perceived as failures. When the writers tell their fans that the next book in a series won’t appear, the fans blame the writer.
The writer is often all by herself, struggling to make one-tenth of the income she made just five years before, confused as to why her once-popular books aren’t selling to publishers despite evidence that the fans still want the books and the books are selling. Her agent is telling her to write in a new genre. Her editor won’t take her calls.
And she can’t escape to her writing, to those stories she always made up to give herself joy or comfort, because her writing is the problem.
Is it any wonder so many writers use the word “despair” these days when discussing their writing life? Is it unusual for so many writers to walk away from a decades-long career and return to teaching or bartending?
I wonder just how many writing casualties there have been in the last decade, writers who silently walked away from their computers. Writers who’ve decided to give up writing for a salaried career. Writers who no longer tell people that once upon a time they published five novels. Writers who can’t even read any more because they don’t want to think about how they failed at the very same thing.
I don’t know about you, but I often look through my bookshelves, searching for some favorite writers, trying to see if they have a new book out, and I don’t see anything since 2003 or so, nothing new, no hint of anything new, no write-up in the “Where Are They Now?” section of RT Book Reviews, no website, no blog, no Facebook page. No obituary. No nothing. Ten years ago, they were writing book after book. Now they don’t seem to be writing anything.
I could have been one of those casualties. I almost was.
Three things saved me. First and foremost, my very patient husband who kept asking me this: If you’re not going to write, what do you want to do? He promised to move if I needed to go to school, to help fund my education or new-business startup, whatever I wanted to do, knowing full well that the word “want” was the key. I didn’t “want” to do anything else. I wanted to write.
Second, I don’t just write in one genre or one length. I’ve always been a writer first. I write nonfiction, short fiction, mystery, romance, fantasy and science fiction. I have written advertising copy and screenplays. I have ghost-written novels and ghost-written business documents. If my novel career died—and for a few years there, it looked dead—then I could fall back on other types of writing.
Finally, I’m good at business. I did the math and realized that no matter what else I did—teaching, editing—I would never earn as much money as I did from short fiction or nonfiction sales. It helped that the local radio station was looking for a news director at the time, a job I was eminently qualified for (probably overqualified for, considering all my radio credentials). That job paid double my last radio job. But I would have been working 60 hours per week, and making less than I did if I just wrote nonfiction and short stories. I didn’t have to sell another novel. I could make a living wage in other ways.
I was lucky. My crisis came early in this publishing shift, and I had a way out of it that included writing. In rapid succession, I fired two different agents and learned just how much they got in the way of selling subsidiary rights. I started getting Hollywood deals. I started selling foreign rights again. I hired another agent, an ethical one, and learned through him that the problems I was having were happening across the board.
I sold nonfiction. I sold short stories. And I persevered. And about the time everything started collapsing for other writers, I was able to rebuild my novel-writing career. In addition to the under-contract novels with traditional houses, I had some other good fortune. My own personal downturn left me with three growing series that no publishing company wanted, so I was able to experiment with indie publishing. Venturing into indie publishing was easier for me and Dean than it was for others; we’d already owned a publishing company back in the dark ages before all the technological advances, so we weren’t afraid of giving these new opportunities a try.
Within three months, we learned through publishing novellas related to just one of my series that the “fact” that “no one” made money in electronic publishing was not a fact at all, but a lie, caused by ineptitude and numbers manipulation. (See Kristin Nelson’s blog or this post of mine.)
Now I have more work—both indie and traditional—than I can possibly do this year. But only because I survived the despair. As I tell my students, it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked to the ground. Nor does it matter how long you remain there. What matters is whether or not you get up.
I know a lot of you are feeling this despair, and I know you need help getting back on your feet. I’m not a counselor, career or otherwise, but I do know a few things because I’ve been there.
Think about these things:
1. Realize that what you’re going through is not personal. Even if your agent told you that you aren’t the writer you once were. Even if your traditional publishing editor says no one wants to read your work. Those things are not true. They’re excuses to cover up something that’s going on in the agent’s office or in the publishing house.
What is happening to you is happening to all traditionally published writers right now, from New York Times bestsellers to writers who’ve sold only one novel. The flux in the industry has had a huge impact on your career because the flux has had a huge impact on the traditional publishing industry.
What you’re going through feels personal because you can cite examples of things that have happened that are unique to you. You have a different career than I do. You might publish in a different genre or you might have been in the business longer.
But realize that all of us have seen our traditional sales decline. All of us have been told that you can’t make money off your e-rights. All of us have been told that the reason our books aren’t selling to expectation is because of us and not because of the changes in the industry.
Bullshit. Walk into a Barnes & Noble like I did earlier this month, and then tell me why midlist book sales are down. Look at the rise of e-readers and ask why your agent—who can’t sell your new novel to a traditional publishing house—is so eager to reissue your backlist electronically.
Realize that it’s not personal, no matter what your agent and your editor tell you. Then realize that this change is having a financial impact on you, and if you want to continue to make a living as a writer, you need to understand the changes.
2. Feel sad. It’s okay to be down. The industry we learned as young writers doesn’t exist any more. It’s a different industry. Learning how to survive in a different environment is hard. Recognize that. And it’s okay to feel sad about the changes.
3. Learn the new world of publishing. As I said in “Plan For the Future,” it will take time to understand what’s going on. Take the time to learn it.
It will also take time for the flux to settle down. I don’t know what kind of publishing industry we’ll have in 2016. No one does. We don’t know which traditional publishing companies will thrive and which will fail. We don’t know what kind of e-reader we’ll be using then, but we know that we will use one. We don’t know what kind of work people who once called themselves agents will be doing. We don’t know—and we won’t know for a while.
It’s hard to exist in continual transition, but that’s what our industry is going through. The writers who will survive will surf the change, constantly watching the waves, and trying to figure out what works. Will those writers crash and burn? Sure. Surfers do every day. But these surfing writers will also be the ones in the position to catch the right wave and ride it all the way into to shore. Be one of those writers. Don’t get stuck pining for the past. Exist in the present and scout the horizon for hints of the future. You can do this. You can survive it.
4. Have a back-up plan. Traditional publishing was once the only game in town. It is no longer. We’re still used to thinking that it is. So when folks in traditional publishing tell you that you can no longer be a writer, you tend to believe them. So indulge your fears. Believe those folks for a minute and ask—like I did—what else you can do.
Then do the math. Can you make more money doing that other thing? Do you want to do that other thing? Do you need a vacation from writing? Do you need to try something else for a while?
If you do need to try something else, then go for it. But remember: only one thing will destroy your writing career, and that one thing is simple. If you quit writing, then your career is over. Are you willing to destroy your career all by yourself by giving up or are you willing to fight for that career?
If you’re willing to fight, then ask yourself a series of questions: can I write in more than one genre? Can I write under more than one name? Can I write short stories or nonfiction or novels? Can I learn indie publishing? Am I willing to invest in my own writing by paying flat fees for covers and editing, and then uploading the books myself?
You took a chance when you became a writer in the first place. Now the industry you’re in has changed, and the times call on you to take another chance. Your fans want you to write another book or finish that series. Your fans don’t care if you get published by Bantam or by your own press, so long as your fans can find the book.
So believe in your readers. Trust them. They like your work. They want to read it.
The new world of publishing has given you the opportunity to get your work back in print. Take that opportunity. It will benefit you.
5. Have fun. Do whatever it takes to make writing fun again. Maybe it’s as simple as writing that book of your heart, as the romance authors call it, that book you’ve always wanted to write but your agent/editor told you there was no market for.
Or maybe you should write a book just for you. Promise yourself that you’re not going to show that book to anyone. Just use it to get your groove back. Play. Experiment. Become the joyful writer you were before you had an agent or a book contract or a published novel, before you had a reputation that needed guarding or fans who had expectations.
We all got into writing because we love it. We would write on our days off. We would write in our downtime. We would write when our friends went on a picnic or to the movies or to a football game. We would write because we wanted to write.
The key to surviving in this business, the key to turning the despair around, is to find a way to have fun again.
Me, I’m enjoying the hell out of the fact that I can write anything I want. If a traditional publisher doesn’t want it, then I can publish it myself. If I don’t want to license it to a traditional publisher, I don’t have to. If I want to write it because I want to write it, then I do.
For years, editors and agents and well-meaning friends crowded into my office, telling me that this story wouldn’t sell or that I needed to write that kind of novel “to make my name.” Now, the new world of publishing has enabled me to silence those voices. The only voice in my office is mine—and, um, that of the occasional cat who wants cuddles or dinner.
And that’s how it should be.
We have opportunities here. It’s hard to see them when you’ve been pushed and shoved against a wall, when you’re crowded into a corner, and people are telling you lies to further their own interests. Shut down the voices. Remember who you are and what you want.
Then pull yourself up a little and look around. Take a few steps forward. Therapists say that the best cure for that feeling of helplessness, that feeling of despair, is to take action.
The changes in publishing have made taking action in your career easier. You don’t have to go through an agent or an editor. You can do it yourself if you want. And if you want to remain only in traditional publishing, go back and read my blogs about surviving the transition. Realize that the industry is going through massive change, and don’t take any of it personally.
In the last ten years, almost every working writer has felt that despair that so many of you contacted me about this month. The despair is understandable. It’s survivable as long as you remember that it’s coming at you from the outside.
Your writing is as good as ever. The industry is what has changed. If you don’t believe anything else I’ve told you, believe that.
It’s not personal, even though it feels personal. The rules are changing, and no one knows where any of this is headed. Talk to other writers. You’ll see. It’s happening to all of us.
“The Business Rusch: You Are Not Alone” copyright 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
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Thank you. You’ve given me hope in this dark post, hope that I am on the right track for what I’m doing.
You’re welcome, Robert. Thanks for the comment.
This reminded me of a Zen story about good luck/bad luck. Bad luck: Pulphouse folded. Good luck: it taught you the publishing skills you need now. Bad luck: you couldn’t sell your novels earlier. Good luck: you already walked through the despair and now you can lend a hand to the rest of us. Thank you, as always.
Marvelous post, Melissa. Thank you. 🙂
Your post makes me feel sad and grateful. Sad because of the state of publishing and what’s happening to authors nowadays, and grateful that in the ten years of trying to sell (or have two agents sell) my novels, no publisher bought them. Now I thank God that they didn’t sell. 10 and a half weeks ago, I self-published my two sweet historical Western romances. Since then, I’ve sold over 6200 books and made a little over $4000. That $4000 is what I might have made on the advances for the two books if I’d sold them to New York. I think this month (if sales remain the same–over 200 a day) I’ll be on track to earn $4000, maybe $5000 for July alone.
I want to say to authors whose careers are hurting that you don’t have to despair. Self-publishing your backlist and new novels might be the best thing that ever happened to you. I think you’ll find, like I have, that you’ll experience healing and a new joy and and excitement in your life, and renewed creativity in your writing. Plus, unlike me, you’ll already have a readership!
Thanks, Kris. I needed that.
You’re welcome, Cindie. 🙂 See you soon, I hope.
A great article. As a new author with just one book under her belt, jumping into the pond is a daunting task in this time of transition. It’s good to know that everyone is as confused as I am. Thanks for the advice and encouragement. Lots of things to mull over from this article. And I do intend to stick it out for the long haul. Writing is what I love to do and I don’t intend to stop.
You’re welcome, Elizabeth. Congrats on joining the party. Looks like you have the right attitude to stick around. 🙂
Your analysis of the publishing is spot on. As a book editor myself, you have given an accurate overview of the changing ways of publishers, and yes, it’s rough, but I love your advice too. Have Fun! So true. Thanks for the great, and very insightful post. : )
Thanks, Alex. Much appreciated.
I’m telling all my writer friends about this post.
Thanks, Lilian. 🙂
A question left by your two earlier articles in this thread: what do you think is going on?
I have been making my living writing for 30+ years, mostly from science/technology magazine nonfiction but with 11 books out. The few ebook editions I have are selling as anemically as week-old hotcakes, if royalties are to be believed. Backlist print books are doing better, but not well.
Reading your earlier posts reminded me of an incident about a decade back. I had been writing for a tech magazine that long had a writer-friendly contract and paid well. They had overseas editions, and promised writers 25% of the original payment for foreign-language rights, as well as offering other secondary rights payments. Then the Internet came along and some of us spotted Italian editions of our articles that we hadn’t been paid for. We contacted the editor, a well-respected former freelancer who vowed to investigate.
A while later, I and others received a rather abashed letter. When he dug into the handling of secondary rights, he found that nobody on the business side had been paying attention. The Italians were behind in their payments, but worse, they couldn’t track the payments that did come in. International payments arrived without identification of what they were for. (That’s credible. I”ve had this problem myself with overseas payments, and sat in a back room of my bank tracking down who was paying me for what.) The best the editor could do was offer us lump sum payments for what he thought was owed, but without ways to track payments, he had to alter the contracts.
Is that the kind of problem you’re seeing — the whole accounting system has broken down? Are publishers getting so little information in intelligible form that they wind up making up royalty numbers? Or is the information they get in a form that they can’t process, yielding the same result?
Thanks for the great post & anecdote, Jeff H. To answer your question, I wrote a whole series on that earlier in the year. You can find it at https://kriswrites.com/business-rusch-table-of-contents/the-business-rusch-publishing-series/.
Because some of the articles are now more than six months old, they’re a bit off, but they show my thinking on what’s happening in the industry. (Amazing to think six months is old.)
I think your Italian anecdote is instructive and probably what’s happening with a lot of companies, large and small. Writers don’t seem to catch these problems. You’re a rare writer who tracks foreign payments. So am I–and the problems I discover on occasion (usually from foreign agents affiliated with one of my former US agents) makes me wonder how much those foreign agents are skimming off the top of countless writers.
To answer your question the short way, however, I do think the reason for the financial problems in the US right now varies by company. But I also think the accounting system has broken down in many of them. I do know of one traditional publishing company that is using a formula for its e-books instead of reporting actual sales. (If your print books sell x, then your e-books sell 1/10x.) If you look at more than one of their royalty statements for books of similar print sales, you can see the formula clearly. For all I know, that publisher has always used a formula (it wasn’t unheard of in the 1980s) and simply transferred it to e-books.
In general, though, I think it’s a combination of things: the layoffs in the publishing industry made it very hard for accounting departments to design new systems that would accommodate the sudden rise in e-book sales/vendors. That’s one factor. So in some houses, there’s too much information to process. I think also that publishers believe that most writers have no interest in tracking their royalties/sales/business, so it’s easy to balance the books on the backs of those writers (which is most writers).
I also think that the consolidation hurt publishers badly. They’re expected to perform like all other aspects of the conglomerates, which means a quarterly profit increase in each division or the division goes away. Publishing doesn’t work like that (and their new multinational masters don’t care). Increases might happen in one quarter and be significant, but not in the other three. So that squeeze is happening from above, and it makes me wonder if a few publishers aren’t cooking their quarterly reports a la Enron, using creative accounting, etc. (That would make the Random House move make a lot more sense–imagine paying a flat percentage across the board where before you paid a variety of authors in different ways. That change alone would make quarterly profits rise dramatically. And since there isn’t tracking from year-to-year any longer, it’s cheaper to have the authors sue–if they notice–than it is to risk having your division cut by the multinational conglomerate. I don’t know if that’s why the RH problem happened; it might be a really stupid accounting error. But there are too many of these “errors” right now in a variety of companies (not just RH) to be on the up and up for writers.)
So it’s a mess, and traditionally published writers need to be vigilant–which they haven’t been in the past.
Spot on…Brought tears to my eyes…I too nearly killed myself after an unbelievable mid-six figure start from Dell…I did lose my wife and house, but I persevered…Here’s what I had to say about coming out of the valley of despair and selling 100,000 E-books in six weeks…
Great, great piece….
Wow, Vin, sorry to hear about all of the darkness. But thanks for showing one way out of that valley of despair and taking control. Great work.
This is a great post–and sad that it’s accurate and true. I’ve been through the numbers game and I wonder about people who can work this way. I’m still getting published, thank God, because all I want to do is write, but I can see the craziness all around me.
Thanks, Susan. It’s frustrating, isn’t it? And crazy-making. But those of us who want to write persevere.
I particularly like and agree with “4. Have a back-up plan.” Oh hell yeah. I learnt that the hard way. Excellent post
Yeah, Amarinda. The school of hard knocks is no fun. At least I’m finding a way to share my SHK education. 🙂 Thanks.
I love this post. It is so nice to see authors taking charge of their own futures! I worked construction for 11 years and two years ago I wrote my first novel. In that time it has been the most wonder and fun job I have ever had. I now have three books out, a small publishing house with 35+ authors and bestsellers hitting like crazy. This is a exciting time to be an author and with ebooks and the changing market it is “Play” time.
I make a full time living writing and have a family of five. I love that I have authors that can do the same thing with just two books or so. I would love to see the publishing world torn up and re-made. I am trying to do that on my end and even though we are about 5 yrs ahead of our time we are making a difference. Here is to the future!
Thanks, Aaron. I really do think it’s a good time, and so many writers are unaware of their choices/options. It’s easier to make a living now, as you’re showing. Good post.
[…] Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch have done some great posts about the economics of digital publishing and turmoil that the […]
Thanks so much. What an awesome article for all published writers and those who write and don’t know what to do next! A must read for all of us.
You’re welcome, Alice. 🙂
Kristine, thank you so much for this. I am an illustrator who writes in my off hours, and would like to say that what you have written here basically applies to quite a few industries.
My husband is a thirty-year music veteran and most of what you write about here applies to the world of music as well (well, with a few name changes and such…).
As for myself, an illustrator/part-time writer, the past three or four years have changed drastically from the point of view of what sells, what art directors look for, what they do and don’t tell you, what collectors want, and on and on.
Perhaps the creative world as a whole is changing, and we all have to try to adapt to it. I wish an instruction manual had come along with these career choices… 🙂
Thanks, Ingrid. I think you’re right about other creative enterprises, and I think some of them went through this ahead of us. We can learn from each other, imho. Thanks.
Thank you. Yet again you hit the nail on the head: this is a most brilliant summary of what’s going on in publishing.
Yes, it’s a shock. No, things will never be the same again. But as one door closes, another opens. And every exit is an entrance.
Perhaps what annoys me most about some of the big publishers is how they’re trying to shackle their authors, prohibiting them for writing ANYTHING for ANYONE else, or for themselves as Indies, under ANY name.
In England, there’s a law about Restriction of Trade – you have the right to do what you do to earn a living. This kind of contract would go completely against that.
Who would sign away their writing life like that? People are. Authors, desperate to be published, hoping that the old times will come back, are agreeing to these onerous and destructive contracts, which bind them in chains for as long as two or three years.
Hang in there, writers. Persistence pays. Write with joy and write well, and you’ll find readers, in whatever format they choose to read.
Great post, Elizabeth. Thank you.
Of course, it goes without saying that not all publishers take advantage of all writers. It may be only a minority of cases, but those cases feel unjust and are rightly talked about.
I wonder if there’s a way to come up with some reliable statistics based on a significant data pool? (not my area of expertise—I’m not even sure what a data pool is. I made it up. I write fiction.) (But you get my point.) Even with all the above stories about publishers lying about sales figures etc., it would probably be good to have a big picture perspective before assuming that it’s a blanket problem.
Stephanie, please see this post: https://kriswrites.com/2011/04/20/the-business-rusch-royalty-statements-update/. Yes, not all publishers have the problems we’re discussing, but some very major publishers do, and I know of pending suits against at least two of them. Not one or two suits, but dozens from all genres, including nonfiction. So right now, with some publishers that have a large percentage of the traditionally published market, it is a blanket problem.
The publisher violating the contract doesn’t void it. It is just a violation that can be corrected through legal action. Otherwise either side could get out of a contract by not meeting a condition. I think, when the dust has settled, we will all find that RH has not violated contracts and authors royaly checks will be larger. Cases where the author loses probably has less to do with malice than incompetence.
The wise advice is to check the royalty statement carefully.
Thanks Kris for the reply,it does clarify things to me.
Is publishing really that messed up that RH would violate so many contracts? I still find that hard to believe.
Do you know the current ebook royalty rate for most publishers? I read that for Harlequin,until very recently, it was 6 to 8% of list so a 25% of net would be a win for he author if the book is not too heavily Discounted.
Royalty rates of 50 to 75% of list for ebooks seems almost too good to be true, leaving the publisher little ton nothing to pay the distributed, unless they self distribute. With the amazon agency model a publisher would get 7 bucks for a 10 book, paying 5 to 7.50 to the author. As long as ebooks were unimportant it probably didn’t matter to anyone. How times change.
Back to RH. Does anynone know what really is happening, are authors getting more money or less than the contract stipulates?
And you are right, I am an interested outsider with no dog in this fight except I like to read good books at a fair price.
Yes, publishing is that messed up that something like that would happen, RH. The old royalty rates from 10 years ago are based on paperback and other subsidiary rights deals. Then publishers felt that they needed to change things and writers let them.
Standard now is either 15% of gross (undefined) or 25% of net (undefined), neither of which is good, since gross & net are undefined and can mean anything the publisher deems it to mean. Harlequin is considered egregious because they’re not following standard and are again trying to change the terms of an existing contract.
Contracts are contracts. And there are no standard contracts. My book contracts from the same publishing house differ from another writer’s from the same house. So writers have to check their contracts and their royalty statements before taking action. If RH is violating a contract and doesn’t remedy, then they are in breach of that contract. Right now, considering what is going on, I’m pretty sure corporate decided to take this action and figured they’d worry about it only if someone noticed.
Suits in publishing tend to be hush-hush and only pertain to one writer. So it would behoove writers of RH as a class to see what is going on, and take action as a group, and publicize what they find. Imho.
Fabulous post, Kris! I can see why you are a successful writer in general.
I’ve been slowly coming to the same conclusions about (the evil) publishers taking advantage of writers in the past few years in particular, and BTW, in the romance genre in particular. I see, sadly, it’s not my imagination.
But! Thank goodness for the indie publishing option!! and co-ops and all the other wonderful things that can happen when smart creative people put their heads together.
The main thing is, that writers need not despair, but they do need to talk to each other and support each other. Great message!
Thank you, Stephanie. You’re right: a lot happens when writers talk to each other. 🙂
Awesome post! Oops!!
Desiree, it sounds like you made a fantastic decision at just the right time. Thanks for the post.
Thank you so much! This was an awesoem post!!
I’ve been reading all of your posts with much interest. I’m one of the many, many authors who couldn’t crack the wall in trad publishing so I sold my first book to an epub. It did very well. Six years later I have more than 100 releases out there, write for four different established houses and happily take my checks to the bank each month. I have built a strong following and enjoy a wonderful fan base. I never have to worry b=about my royalties being cut or a laydown with mysteriously changing numbers and my publishers all treat me with courtesy and respect. I’m glad I got my foot in the door when the change was happening. There are some excellent epubs out there and I urge people who are despairing to explore them. The time is definitely right.
Great piece. I am dismayed that you linked to a blog talking about RH 25% royalty rate for ebooks that makes no sense, and no one seems to notice! Pub rant compares a 25% of net ebook rate to a 25% of list for mass-market books and comes to the starling conclusion that 25% of list is more than 25% of net.
Does anyone think most RH writers earn 25% of list on mass-market? Of course not. Yet a ridiculous straw dog is set up and many authors unthinkingly bow down because they like the conclusion, 25% net sucks.
And what do you mean by 50% of gross? Do you mean list or revenue after costs, which are never disclosed? Do authors really get these kinds of deals? If you mean 50% of list then the publisher would have no income under a typical wholesale model. 50% of list under the agency model seems possible, author gets 50% list, publisher gets 20%. Do these deals exist in the real world among the big 6?
So while a 25% eroyalty rate may not be fair it seems better than what most authors currently get.
Bloggers do a disservice to compare this rate to some mythical, poorly defined royalty rate just to raise people’s ire. The problems, as you point out, are real enough.
Jm, my contracts from ten years ago say that I get 50% of gross or retail list price for e-books themselves, depending on the contract. So if I had such a contract with Random House–and many writers did–then getting a blanket 25% of net (net being undefined) is a significant paycut and a breach of contract. Many writers got these deals and better before 2005. Some got a 75/25 split, which means that those writers (bestsellers, usually) got 75% of the retail e-book price and/or gross price (if the book was farmed out to another vendor). That was in the 1990s. Many of those contracts still exist as well.
I went back and reread Kristin Nelson’s blog. Her problem is clarity for people who aren’t in the publishing industry, which apparently you are not. She’s not comparing e-book royalty to mass market royalty. She’s describing a book type. In publishing, using a mass market only price means that the book did not have a hardcover edition. So the e-book would have been priced the same (in traditional publishing) as the mass market. Hence her $7.99 figure, and mention of mass market. She was trying to be clear, and instead muddied the water. What she should have said is this, “On an e-book for a book which sold as a mass market.” That’s all.
There is nothing mythical here, and no blogger making things up or doing a disservice to anyone by trying to inflame things. Kristin Nelson is writing for folks in the publishing industry or folks who want to be part of that industry, and she assumes they understand the terminology of the industry. She wasn’t clear for folks outside the industry. That’s all.
And whether you think it is a problem or not, what Random House is doing is violating contract terms in a big way, which then voids the contracts. Writers–probably many big name writers–are being cheated by an accounting trick or ripped off by some deliberate corporate decision. I do hope the writers involved check their facts, hire attorneys, and stop this.
I just heard you and Dean are coming to the Superstars next April, in Vegas! That’s so cool! Can’t wait to meet you two!
Wow. News travels fast. We just agreed this weekend. 🙂 It’ll be nice to meet you too, Melissa.
[…] malaise emanating from the publishing industry (and please check out Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s fabulous blog on the subject), I’m back with fun news. It’s that special time of year known as Shore […]
Your latest post on the sorry state of the publishing industry, “You Are Not
Alone,” was brilliant. And a must-read for authors. What a compendium of
horror stories! I’ve linked in my blog, Facebook, and Twitter posts.
Thank you for bringing all this to our attention. You and Dean have been
sources of inspiration and information for me as I navigated my way to
publishing my new novel, “HUNTER.” Thanks for all you do.
— Robert Bidinotto
Thanks, Robert! I’m glad our posts have helped. Congrats on the new novel.