The #1 Thing Authors Need To Consider Ref Amazon-Hachette
Posted by Bob Mayer
That’s it in one word.
Author: do you control the rights to any of your work?
If your answer is no, then bend over and take what’s happening and especially what’s coming.
Let’s make two assumptions:
- Authors complaining will not get Amazon to change its stance.
- Authors complaining will not get Hachette to change its stance.
(Reference my blog post: Complaining is not a business strategy which pointed out something like the Hachette situation was coming– again)
When digital blasted across the musical landscape over a decade ago, the artists left standing were those who did one of, or both of, two things: toured and/or controlled the rights to their music. Since touring isn’t likely for authors that leaves us with the issue of rights, as digital blasts across the publishing landscape (and don’t even tell me we’ve hit a plateau, print is coming back, yada, yada, because then I got a bridge in Brooklyn I’ll sell you).
Because the history of publishing was steeped in authors selling rights to publish their work in order to get distribution, we find most authors still trapped in an archaic mindset. They believe they need their agent, their editor, their publisher, the bookstore.
Several years ago a #1 NY Times bestselling author asked me at dinner whether she needed to be worried about this ‘eBook thing’. I told her ‘not really’. Her sales were strong, she was well positioned with her publisher, and had a backlist that sold well.
Today my answer would be different. In fact, the authors who really need to be worried about not having any of their rights (and probably never getting the rights to any of their backlist in their lifetime) are the bestselling traditional authors. Which means they really need to evaluate what their future is going to be now, before they sign that 3 or 4 book “major” contract locking them into a gilded indentured servitude for the next half a decade or so. Remember your books will outlive you, but your career won’t if a publisher owns it. Which is not good news for your family.
For midlist authors, we’re seeing how Hachette and Amazon haggling over terms is costing them sales, which is costing them royalties (if they’ve earned out!). We saw how the Simon & Schuster vs. Barnes and Noble battle kept some books out of B&N at just the wrong time for some authors and essentially destroyed their careers. They cried, they complained, they wrote blogs and tweeted/bleeted, but the reality is that publishers truly don’t put authors’ careers first. They put their own bottom line first. If an author who has signed their rights over to a publisher is crushed in the process, oh well. That’s business.
A midlist author really, really needs at least to go hybrid. Get a footprint in the ‘self pub’ world. While I don’t believe you can truly self-pub, there are those who can help (caveat emptor). At Cool Gus we specialize in helping authors go hybrid, such as working with Colin Falconer, Jennifer Probst, Janice Maynard and others. Actually the reason Cool Gus came into existence is because I went hybrid back in 2009 (before I invented the term in a blog in 2011) and realized I couldn’t and didn’t want to, do all the work involved. And there’s a lot of work involved. There is a reason publishers exist. But trad publishers have just way too much overhead and also too ancient a mindset. The author has to come first. Not the publisher!
That’s not to say things are all rosy over on the indie front. There is a flood of content and discoverability on the internet is attached to reviews, likes, keywords, categories, algorithms, and alien technology, making it difficult to not only stand out but actually be discovered. Also, our royalties are at the mercy of other large corporations—Amazon, Apple, Kobo, et al. But the key here is we also have control because we have our rights AND we have choices. We can actually do direct sales (with 100% royalties), something we did at Cool Gus in the past and will be resurrecting with a twist in the coming year (the groan you just heard was Jen Talty as she realizes her workload just doubled). Right now the big corporations that control our main distribution are actually in competition with each other unlike the Big 5, which were found guilty in court of colluding (still amazed at the lack of outrage over that and the gouging of readers with eBook pricing).
Here’s another thing we’re going to see more of: rights being sold. Harlequin was just sold. While the HQ authors might not be focused on it, believing they still write for Harlequin, they actually write for an entirely new set of corporate masters. I remember when David Geffen, in an HBO special, discussed trading the rights to Poco to another manager for Neil Young. Guess who made out with that deal? But guess who had no control because they’d signed contracts? Poco and Neil Young. We’re going to see a lot more rights being sold, wrapped up in these mergers and consolidations. Authors are going to end up working for the Russian mob the way things are going (some already may).
The minute the author signs a contract, they’ve lost control. Seriously. James Patterson complaining about sales???? Don’t even get me started on Scott Turow. The Authors Guild is actually an example of the dinosaur mindset of many trad authors. It should be called the Publishers Guild, because it truly believes publishers are an absolutely essential part of the process of getting their stories to readers.
The distance between the reader and the author is the internet. If anyone gets between the two, they must provide value. If Hachette is screwing authors over (you signed with Hachette, not Amazon, authors, so focus your outrage appropriately) then they are not providing you value. But also remember that you cashed your advance check. This is the dark side of all those great things you crow about your publisher and editor and agent doing for you. Because your publisher and editor and agent ultimately have a different agenda than you do, because their business is not primarily YOU. It’s themselves, and if you don’t think that shifts things somewhat, well, there’s always that bridge.
When you control rights, you also have access to much higher royalty rates. A trad author should take a look at their last royalty statement and consider what would happen if their eBook royalties were doubled while subtracting all their print sales (a radical possibility, but it gives a baseline). Where do you stand? Then consider the shrinking print footprint. Consider the development of Print On Demand technology. Consider having complete creative control. Final say on cover, subject, copy, etc. In other words, try thinking ahead, something very, very few in publishing have bothered to do (music gave a ten years warning! Pulling SMPs buy buttons gave Hachette a few years warning!)
At Cool Gus we focus on the author. Each author is in a unique position with different goals and their own yellow brick road to Oz. As a publishing partnership our job is ward off the flying monkeys and anyone trying to steal those shoes. Our role is to help the author achieve THEIR goals. We have to provide value. And we have to accept that authors are protective of, and value, their rights.
Do you control any of your rights?