Mentioned last week that I might use repeats for the blog this week due to my arm injury; but, good news, writing (typing) is not causing me any complications. Thinking is sometimes on the blink, but that’s a different problem.
This blog focuses on books and writing, especially indie books. While writing is a passion for many authors, the money side of this activity is a big factor in what is written and what is read. Keep in mind most authors write because it gives them something that is important, regardless of the money; but a little money would not hurt.
A friend of mine passed along a white paper from the Author’s Guild titled “The Profession of Author in the 21st Century.” Many pages of stats and interesting detail. Let me summarize—it is bleak. Most authors today cannot make a living just writing, much less only producing books. If you are looking for a good paying profession, consider something else.
No big news to anyone associated with book writing and publishing. A few top authors make tons of money, everybody else barely survives. Publishers are only paying good advances to sure-thing celebrity (or at least famous [is that different?]) authors. Tell-all political gossip books look lucrative.
The real world consequences of this is very possibly, almost nothing. You can bemoan the fact that literature as a word may not have much meaning in the future—but who cares? The readers? The authors? Literature means: written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit. Maybe that world has already gone?
The white paper places a lot of the blame on Amazon. As an indie author I have a love/hate relationship with Amazon. The publishing world was once totally controlled by a few people in New York (okay, it still is), who would not have given me the time it took to say no. The business model of the major publishers (of which there are only five) incorporates a snobbery that’s more like royalty than anything relatable to “best practices” (or for that matter common sense). The fact that the publishing world has become more challenging and less controlling of all things related to books is no doubt good news. Or is it? Or who gives a shit? But why blame elitist publishers for the dark cloud over book publishing when you can blame Amazon and its computers?
Without Amazon my books probably wouldn’t even exist. Self-publishing existed long before Amazon; but it was targeted to a different audience. Self-publishers once offered personal attention and care for a price. These vanity projects resulted in a few books being distributed by the author to their friends and family; not much impact on the “real” book world. Amazon offered something new, a presence in the book market place to almost anyone who wanted it. How you presented yourself in the market was up to you; but the market was open. Amazon changed self-publishing from a small number of vanity projects to a large (way too many) number of indie authors who are producing a million plus books a year. More books than can or will be read.
The downside of Amazon is the devaluing of books themselves. There are many readers today who only read free or almost free books. It is the same thing that happened to music. Free sounds reasonable to the consumer. Maybe the consumer is stupid and thinks these creative things just arise by themselves with no effort or cost; why shouldn’t they be free, or maybe the consumer says; if you, as the creative person behind these things, offers them to me for free—you’re the stupid person, not me. The real stupidity is ever offering these creative works for free in the first place. But when the competition is so intense for visibility in the vastness of millions of books, what are the options. The only winner in any of this is Amazon, which, of course, is what creates the resentment and eventually the hate.
The ugly side of market dominance is that Amazon gets to make the rules. Indie authors have no power and thus make little money. There are exceptions; but they are few. I’m not sure literature is dead, but I think it is seriously wounded. The major publishers want proven winners or at least famous/infamous names, that leaves little room for serious, but unknown, authors. The indie author’s path to success seems to be writing a large number of books with a new book every three months or so tied into an ongoing series; not exactly the path toward literature. I tend to think that literature was dead a long time ago, we just didn’t notice; because there was no sizable audience for such writing.
My books have no pretentions towards literature, they are written to be entertainment. Still they’re worth more than free; but that’s on me, nobody else. When I started writing I thought I could make a little money writing and that is exactly what has happened; I make a little. At least it’s not zero.
In the Author’s Guild white paper, they seemed to suggest solutions that had something to do with Amazon not having such a vice grip on the industry, they would probably return to the “good-old-days”, when snooty agents manned the gates to the publishing world; not sure that is better. Maybe a guaranteed income to all creative people? Why do I think that would increase the number of creative people; but not creative results.
The only way to force Amazon to share more of the wealth would be if it benefited them; which it wouldn’t. Every day there are thousands of new authors offering Amazon a consignment product and if it sells –giving Amazon a percentage. Plus, those same saps pay Amazon to advertise their books on Amazon, so Amazon can make money selling more books, and also make money not selling those books. You’ve got to admire their system—it is designed to do one thing; make them money—and it works.
I will write another book or maybe two or –hell who knows how many; and will not make much money. Why? I think many creative people are masochists and I might be one. Or they gain a sense of personal worth that has more value than just money—not sure about that either. Before I wrote books I painted pictures—I’ve made ten times the money writing as painting—so I guess, I’m moving up in the world. Thanks Amazon.
A sad note. Clive Cussler died this week. I read many of his books over the years and while I found the circumstances on some a little over-the-top, I loved them. Always a fun read.
He lived in the Denver area (where I live) and on several occasions thought about trying to make contact; never did. Interesting that this week’s blog is about making money writing books, Cussler was supposedly worth about $120 million; now that is writing success. He will be missed.