Today the WALL STREET JOURNAL had a front page piece about how writers and publishers dealing with the changing business thanks to e-books. Like a lot of articles in the WSJ (at least the ones not demonstrating through poor efforts at faux impartiality where their hearts lie come November…), the main focus is on the money, and principally how the economic model for those doing it the ‘old way’ was failing a lot of folks who want to be full time writers.
Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone who considered what it means to be a writer ever since THE GREAT GATSBY has considered the Publisher’s Row-based environment to be a great pool to swim in. And it might still have been thought of that way, had there not been a lot of folks over the years who did more in the water than just swim in it…
The sad truth is, everyone bitches about the business model. Hell, there’s too many links to cite that go on about how bad a business this is, but just to add one more screech to the choir, here’s the basics:
- Writers give content to a publisher which may or may not care about the quality of the material they typeset, because having content to offer is the principal objective here
- All a publisher really provides a writer is a means of distribution; your contract with the publishing house gets you copies of the book and the publisher’s name on the cover that means someone other than your immediate family thought enough to work with it, and if you’re lucky maybe some publicity as well
- The writer is expected to make or break the book through self promotion and producing a quality product that sells itself, although a lot of folks signing contracts with the publisher don’t seem to get this
- The reason the money a writer gets in a contract is called an “advance” is that it’s a loan against the portion of sales the writer is supposed to earn back through sales of the book; if you have a huge advance and the book for some reason doesn’t earn anything back, it makes you a less desirable source of content for the publisher
No, there’s not a lot of new info in the above. And frankly, the WSJ piece doesn’t have that much really new information either.
It’s what’s not said that makes the piece stand out and started this bitchy rant has some voluminously silent points:
- It’s not until late in the piece that the issue of whether the writer is getting a fair share of the profits for the labor performed is touched upon, and after a cursory tap the piece moves on; typical for the WSJ…
- The tone of the piece seems more to mourn the old way of doing things than considering what the new rules are; also typical for WSJ…
- The piece begins and end with the travails of the literary agent, appearing to diminish the focus on the actual writers themselves; funny way of covering the story, that…
It’s times like these that a writer can despair at what’s out there, wondering whether it’s worth it to keep going…
…until someone whacks me upside the head and says, “Hey Doofus, you’re writing a books about pirates, right?”
Which may not be immediately relevant until the pain from the whack subsides, but when it does it suddenly becomes a lot clearer: What better role models for new writers to emulate?
Pirates were considered seamen who sailed under no flags, doing it for themselves; why should writers in the future be signing up to crew under another, who may not have that person’s best interest at heart?
Pirates who worked for their booty got a fair share of it; why do we need to sign over that much of the treasure to a ship’s master we feel we must follow?
It’s becoming clear that the only way to make a go at it if there’s a bad business model is to abandon the bad business model and head in new ways.
It could be ugly, abandoning a system that’s pretty badly out of whack. Consider this statement about potential change, “The writer must earn money in order to be able to live and to write, but he must by no means live and write for the purpose of making money.”
Stated by someone, BTW, who probably doesn’t get as much attention in the WSJ…