The issue is money. That’s right, in publishing, it’s all about the almighty dollar. Are you surprised?
Sure, the written word still has a lot to do with why authors do what they love. However, generating profits may rank higher than ever before because the economy hit the book business just like any other industry. Toss in a little piracy and a lot of authors have felt the crunch.
I’ve been involved in the e-book and large press industry for quite a while now. About a year ago, I started receiving emails from new authors and even the occasional seasoned writer. Questions unfolded like—Where are you the happiest? Which publisher treats their authors best? Are you happy with the income you make from your publisher?
Soon, it became obvious why I often received industry questions. Others in the industry realized I do care about profits and the bottom line. My promotions and advertising made the interest apparent as well as the occasional outburst on a few private loops.
First let me say, I’m often shocked at how people behave over money and this is apparent in the e-book business as much as anywhere else. My husband works in a family-owned retail lumber and hardware store.
Believe me when I tell you, no one acts worse than a customer standing at a retail counter asking for a refund. However, running a close second in this day and age may very well be one out of every nine or ten small press publishers. Yes, I think there are that many publishers out there who have a hard time paying their authors what they're owed.
As a writer, I’ve discovered several things over the years. First, I typically have a great rapport with my publishers or potential publishers, at least on the front end. Then, the very second a money-related question pops up, everything changes. There are those very rare exceptions. Those exceptions are where I find my legitimate publishers.
Now keep in mind, I don’t write for pleasure alone. I do consider myself lucky because I write full time and earn my income from writing fiction books and non-fiction material. However, I expect to be paid for my time now more than ever before, not because I need the money but because I earned the money. I have learned to stress this after a publisher once asked me after paying three months in the arrears, “What’s wrong, are you that desperate for your royalties?”
I take time away from my children to do what I love. I want them to see where that pays off for them and when my royalties are due, I expect them.
Sadly, I hear and read a lot of gibberish today that didn’t exist when I first entered the business. Publishers don’t want the additional competition with e-press and small houses popping up all over the place. However, some should take a look at why we’re seeing more and more competition in the e-industry. Perhaps if all publishers treated their authors like they would want to be treated, authors wouldn’t slip into the business of publishing. I know of several e-publishers today that formed after the authors ‘had it’ with small press politics and the lack of income found in some of them.
Most of the time, from what I can tell, when authors go into publishing, it’s well warranted. They want to ensure they make the most profits from their own work while treating others better than they were treated. Yes, it’s about the money.
After gauging my own third party sales from one of my current publishers, I wonder why we haven’t seen more author-ran publishers popping up at the speed of two per hour, three hundred and sixty-five days per year.
You may ask why I formed the above opinion. Again, it all boils down to money. It is the root of all evil and the supporting factor behind all pleasures we’re able to enjoy—the fruits of our labor. Authors want to be paid and publishers should pay the authors what they’re owed. Many out there do. Some don’t and those are the folks who must feel like they have carte blanche and the ‘right’ to cheat their hard working authors.
This evil-thing called money can generate a lot of bitterness in the entertainment business. It’s why authors will smile in the faces of their fellow authors and then stab them in the back with a hideous one-star review, under the false name of PrettyinPink or CatScratchFever or some other ridiculous code name. After all, those number one and number two spots on best seller lists pay much better than those books ranked at 789,000 on Amazon.
Money is often the reason why editors and publishers quit communicating with their authors when a legitimate question is on the table regarding royalties. It can be the reason for a little resentment when authors spread out and go to other paying publishers.
Folks, I gotta tell you a little secret, coming from someone who has experience with several pseudonyms now. If you’re an author and you’re encouraged to stay in-house with your books rather than branch out some, then you might want to question the why behind the reason given. See, I happen to know that every time I spread out to new publishing houses, my sales increase.
In small press, keeping three or four strong publishers increases sales and backlist titles often find new life again when new customers are introduced. This goes without saying—I’m speaking in terms of small press. If you’re in mass market and promoting yourself effectively, I don’t think it matters.
My rant, if that’s what some will call this, is well founded. I write under several names and most of you reading my blog understand I don’t hide this. Three of my pseudonyms are what some might tag as best selling authors. I only consider two of them true best sellers in today’s market, meaning each name carries at least one book title with sales of or the potential for 5000+ copies sold during the first year. Reported data mentioned above is for small press e-formatted books and/or trade paperback.
My son helps track third party sales, based on rank and other factors and he does this for every book I write. The recent results and data gathered have been shocking.
For example, I have a book on a third-party venue selling in the top one hundred and that one book pays less than another one which earned considerably more ranking in the top three hundred. Both books have been consistent sellers in their respective positions. They are, of course, published by different publishers. What do you think? Cause for an audit? You betcha. Whether or not I’ll pursue it, remains to be seen. Audits are time consuming and not for everyone.
Overall, I’m pretty easy to please and find most authors are. We typically want to write, get paid, and write some more. In my world, all I care about is what I’m paid, when I’m paid, and how I’m paid. If a publisher tells me the truth, we’ll get along just fine. I’ll submit my work to them until I have cause or reason to believe they aren’t publishing my work on schedule or they aren’t paying me for what I sell.
Now, for shocking news: I’m not the only one in the industry raising an arched brow right now. There are several antsy authors out there and they’re concerned over more than the pirating of books.
Recently, when the issue of money came up in emails sent to me, or when opportunity presented itself, I sent out the following questionnaire to authors who were kind enough to provide honest answers. Thirty-two surveys went out and twenty-two were returned.
Here’s what I discovered:
1. Are you happy with your current small press publisher or publishers?
2. Are you happy with your current mass market publisher or publishers?
3. Do you feel like your current publisher pays you what you earn for sales from their home website?
I don’t know 10%
4. Do you feel like your current publisher pays you what you earn for sales from third party sales outlets, for example Fictionwise, ARE, Mobipocket?
5. Do you feel like your publisher is approachable?
6. Are they approachable when the issue is money and royalties?
7. Are your publishers paying you what you’re worth?
8. Do you feel like you can self-publish and make more money than you currently make with your small or large press publishers?
9. Does your current publisher offer you anything along the lines of advertising or promotions? In other words, do you feel like they help you with your current promotional efforts?
10. If you decided to take another route in publishing, which route would you take?
Publish with a different small press 25%
Pursue mass market 30%
I won’t take another route 5%
Open my own desk-top publishing 25%
11. Overall, what other gripes do you have about your current publishers or publisher?
(Please note each answer given will be reported)
1. Publisher isn’t approachable or even visible on business loops. 5%
2. Response time for in-house submissions isn’t quick. 20%
3. Small press doesn’t pay off for me anymore because by the time my book hits the shelves, I could’ve had four or five books written, edited, formatted and loaded. 5%
*Note to readers: I’m assuming ‘loaded’ means uploaded to third party retail outlets.*
4. Publisher doesn’t send out my book for review. 10%
5. My publisher isn’t paying me third party sales. 25%
6. My publisher makes up a lot of excuses of why they can’t pay third party sales. 25%
7. I’ve never had one on-time royalty check. Never. 5%
8. I discovered my publisher pays best sellers 50% of gross while I’m paid 40% of net. I have a problem with this. 5%
9. In-house favoritism enforced to the point where some authors are stepped on so others can thrive. 10%
10. The publisher doesn’t show where they use any portion of their revenue to promote authors through print ads or online advertising. 40%
11. If I had a major issue with an editor, a viable one, my publisher would not want to hear it, even if the editor made clear mistakes on manuscripts. 5%
12. At my publishing house, I have no idea who edits my manuscript. That bothers me. 10%
13. I’m with a small publisher. It took my book one year to reach publication. Is that normal? 5%
14. My royalties are held back for over six months for third party sales. Is that normal? 5%
15. My publisher doesn’t provide cover art in time for adequate advance promotions. 20%
16. My publisher doesn’t care what I think about book excerpts, blurbs, or even advertising. 5%
17. My editor tries to rewrite my original copy in order to insert her own voice also. 5%
18. I don't see any visible effort to fight book piracy. 40%
19. Only best sellers get publisher-paid advertising. 5 %
For what it’s worth, I want to brag on the publishers out there committed to their advertising campaigns. I have several publishers who definitely feed the advertising budget. As an author, I see where their efforts go and appreciate what they do to generate sales.
I have two publishers I consider very approachable and they go out of their way to help me see where my advertising efforts pay off. Again, it’s appreciated and honestly, it helps them and me when they put themselves out there and provide helpful information. That added effort also pays off big in other ways too because my advertising dollars will often generate sales for other authors.
Take a look at the responses above regarding third-party sales. As a writer, if you feel like you aren’t getting paid what you should be paid, you can call for an audit. It’s very important for authors to realize writing is a business. If you have a question about royalties, you have the right to ask money-related questions and expect answers. If you don’t get them in a timely manner, you should be a thorn in the publisher’s side until you do. You wouldn’t let a traditional employer ignore hours you’ve worked.
This project has been six-months in the making and a huge thank you to those who contributed. I provided the information from those who were kind enough to fill out my short survey. For me, it was an eye-opener right along with some of the comments that followed. That said, I continue to believe in this business. However, I’m not blinded by it whatsoever.
A huge thank you goes out to the publishers who go the extra mile and pay on time. Authors appreciate those publishers who are approachable and those who are trying their best to keep their authors at the forefront of their business.
Without publishers, authors would be lost. Without authors, publishers would not have profits. We need one another. We also need to understand that communication is king in this business, and yes, it’s more important now than it’s ever been in the past.
All the best,
*Please note: I’m interested in the other side too. If you have a stand-out publisher, write and tell me about them: firstname.lastname@example.org. Then, watch for a report in the coming months.
An award-winning, international bestselling erotic romance author, Destiny Blaine writes under several pen names. She lives in East Tennessee and spends a lot of time in Connecticut and Virginia, where her granddoll resides.