Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pension funds for writers? YESSSSS

Dean Koontz has made the observation that novels are like annuities, earning income for writers over a lifetime. Well, that's true for Koontz and a handful of writers who manage to keep books in print and on the shelves.

Given the constraints of shelf space, the product pipeline that requires a 30-day flushing of "out with the old, in with the new," and the vagaries of sales numbers and warehousing, the publishing-industry model almost guarantees a writer will have NO books on the shelf in their old age, precisely the time when they need income the most and should be enjoying the fruits of their life's orchard.

I wish I had a dollar to give a sick, starving writer every time I've seen an impassioned message-board or tweet feed on a living legend who is facing massive hospital bills and is at risk of losing everything. I'd gladly give that dollar to them. And while it's beautiful that fans and healthier writers always rise to the challenge, it's sickening that it is even necessary.

I was chilled at last year's Dragoncon when I heard fantasy writers Gene Wolfe and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro talking about the tenuous state of their careers, how slowly the money arrived from publishers ("advances" often arrive after a book is actually printed), and how they weren't even sure if they would get that next book deal.

I won't embark on an anti-NY screed here. That was so April 2010 and it was fun, but now I wish publishers the best. Reality is, Big Six publishers "license" material but in fact do everything but own it, often for years and years in which the book is not even available for sale or generating income for the writer. There is no insurance and no pension fund for writers, nor any job security or other benefits, and you get to pay your own self-employment taxes.

Let's celebrate this brave new world where writers are getting money directly in their bank accounts, and regularly. Hopefully, legends have enough control over their backlist--the sum product of a long apprenticeship and decades of personal growth in the craft--to independently release the books or turn them over to caring, fair intermediaries who will fork over the lion's share of the profits.

Today, there are only two reasons your work can't generate income on its own--someone else is keeping your own work from you or you have no audience left. Anyone who needlessly keeps a writer's work out of print today, or paying a 10 percent e-book royalty, is morally a criminal, no matter what the license says.

And as a reader, you no longer have to send in something to a charity auction--you can thank the writer by buying a print-on-demand paper book or e-book, as lucky writers independently release their work. Thank you, all you living legends, and all you writers in the trenches, and all you loyal and passionate readers, and even you publishers, who have laid the foundation for this wonderful new era of writing and reading.



bluefrog said...

One of the first things I thought when I got my kindle was that it would make it so easy for out-of-print books to be available again. There are so many books somewhere in limbo between classic and current. I think the publishers are just shooting themselves in the foot and annoying readers by not releasing everything they can. Once they get it formatted, what do they have to lose?

author Scott Nicholson said...

Bluefrog, in five years "publishers" will be out of the discussion, except that part where they are despised for exploitation of authors' e-rights. Any midlist writer is wasting time and money in NY, because you'll never earn back the difference.

It will be great to have the world's library at our fingertips.


Regge Ridgway said...