The Publishing Pie

This is a fascinating talk given by Margaret Atwood at Tools Of Change (TOC) 2011. What a beautiful, gracious lady. I love her slideshow pictures. :)

She brings up a lot of valid points about publishing. Now, in my opinion, as an author, there are many aspects of putting a book out that interest me, and there are many that horrify me. Making my own covers could be fun. Formatting and putting a product together could also be fun. And of course, writing a book. But there are aspects I wouldn’t have time, money and energy to do. Printing the book, I could do, but is there any concept of how many *hours* it can take to print just one copy, let alone hundreds to thousands? Then there’s the cost of ink, something that brings tears to my eyes anyway.

All that’s before you even look at electronic books. Yes, Smashwords makes it easy. But then there is the dilemma of getting the word out, making banners and buttons and trailers, getting royalty free images and music, researching where best to advertise. And hoping, somewhere among all the blogs and fan fiction and emails, that your book gets notice.

So, do I want to do all this work in addition to writing? Not really. I want to write my stories. I’m slow enough at that.

But, do I think authors, the people who put out the product that fuels an industry (Cover designers, editors, printers, advertising and promo departments, agents and lawyers, reviewers, libraries, colleges ((I’m using Margaret Atwood’s examples also)) and even more than I can name.) , do I think authors should get the smallest piece of the publishing pie? No. No, I don’t.

It can take an editor weeks of effort to edit and revise a manuscript. It takes a printer a couple of days to a week to format, print and package. Cover designs, anymore, are a bunch of graphic images collaged together. It takes hours to a day to fiddle and get it just right. Perhaps a bit more if you want to do something special. But a writer?

Yes, that differs. Some writers can knock out a book in 3-6 months. They can become faster as they get older and more experienced, much of their research is done if it’s the same world or point in history and they’ve learned well how to put interesting characters and a good plot together.

Some writers, even successful, experienced ones such as Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Patricia Briggs or Eileen Wilks have been vocal that they need more time to write the best book they can. Not lazy time waiting for the muse to strike. Not because they want to play games and ignore responsibility. No, they want more time because thoughts take time to gel, to form a more well-rounded, tightly written story.

The kind of story people are willing to pay money for.

How often are there complaints that even a favorite author has let you down? They didn’t deepen or develop a story as well as you’ve been waiting through five books for? With a little more time, it might have been what you were expecting. At the very least, it would have been better.

One year, more than that even for many authors. But 92% of a 7.99 book goes to the rest of the industry.

Out of 8% royalties, after they have earned out their advance, authors must afford or they do not get:

  • An agent (Going rate is 15% of that 8% and 15% of the advance.)
  • Health Insurance
  • Paid Vacation time
  • Paid Sick leave
  • Maternity leave
  • 401k, savings, investments
  • Day Care
  • Training (Books, classes, workshops, etc.)
  • Mileage
  • Contest prizes and give-a-ways
  • Conferences (RWA ┬áNational, RT Convention, RomCon)
  • Advertisements (websites, postcards, bookmarks, magnets, magazine ads, etc.)
  • Office space and supplies (paper, ink, dividers, binders, post its, poster boards, binder clips, pens, pencils, markers, envelopes of all sizes, hole punch, labels, etc)
  • Publicity photos (And the clothes for them.)
  • Book launches/signings (posters, cake, flowers, thank you gifts to the establishment holding the event.)
  • Technology (Desktop, Laptop, (I’ve gone through 5 each in 13 years.) Online Storage, flash drives, external hard drives, software (that must be compatible, updated and bought anew on a continual basis), CDs, DVDs, eReaders, smart cell phones with benefits, etc.)

You can work at Verizon and McDonalds and get several of these benefits. But authors fuel an entire industry and die because their royalties aren’t consistent or lucrative enough to pay for a trip to the doctor to diagnose the breast cancer they know they have.

Yes, I’m thinking of someone specific.

The pie is getting cut in some very odd shapes. I’ve read reports of what publishers have to pay for and how little money they really make, bottom line. I can’t say exactly where or how much to cut one slice so another is slightly bigger. Perhaps there are too many slices? I just know we can’t cut out the author completely. So we need to support the author better.

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