I read a book called The Hunt way back when I was a teenager. In it, the author interviews a Northern Michigan hunter who was old enough to remember the earlier part of the 20th century. The man had driven out to his favorite deer hunting woods, only to find it had been deforested. He got out of his car, walked out into the raped landscape, sat on a stump, and just cried.
What does this have to do with writing and authors?
What I see going on within the publishing industry is similar to the early methods of logging in my Michigan and other states. Publishers sign a new author, squeeze a book or three out of him, and, after realizing he can never make a living on his royalty checks, the new author surrenders and returns to the office cubicle or shop floor, where he can make enough to feed his family.
The vast majority of authors, however, are the stumps in the field. Left drained and tired. Now, there is no evil executive in the publishing houses behind this plot. It is simply the natural outcome of a system that, for many years, was the only option. Much like the loggers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, they see through tunnel vision, not planning for the distant future. Because, well, it’s distant.
Somewhere along the line, some executive in a logging company realized that they were cutting out their own future, not just the future of the people who enjoy the forests. So they learned to re-plant and nurture new forests. The guy who planted the new tree would probably be retired before the tree was harvested, but he accepted that. He knew he was planting a future for his children and grandchildren.
Amazon appears to be the voice of the future in the ongoing struggle with Hachette and other publishers. Amazon suggested yesterday that publishers split their net revenues on book sales with the author, what would amount to about 30%. What’s shocking is that 30% would be a huge improvement.
No, I don’t believe Amazon’s only concern is the welfare of the author. They are a company. The number one priority of any company is to make a profit. But, like that smart logging executive, they know that dangling 15% royalties in front of authors will, eventually, drive most away from writing altogether.
But if Amazon and the publishers offer the author enough return on our investment that we can actually make a living off of our writing, then we write more, produce more, and get better.
Amazon is planting new trees. Hatchette wants to keep clear-cutting.
It seems counterintuitive, I know. Give authors a larger royalty to increase your long-term profit. But it works. Don’t you ever wonder how many potential best-selling authors are rotting in cubicles because they can’t feed their families on 15% royalties? It’s time to re-think the plan, folks. I would so love to sign a contract with a publisher. I could reach so many more readers with a little help from their expertise. But am I willing to put in a year’s worth of work for a few thousand dollars? Not a chance.
In years past, authors didn’t have a say in the matter. Now we do. We have a choice. It’s only a matter of time before a major publisher starts planting trees. I just wish they’d hurry so we can stop talking about this and get back to what we love the most.