Twice this past weekend, I heard authors rant about how little they were making, and how their incomes had plummeted in the last few years. They were red-hot about their publishers being the culprits. While many publishers are known for inserting questionable, strangling, taking-advantage clauses in a contract, I do not hold them totally to blame. That’s too easy, and it’s not completely true.
It is true that publishers will take advantage. Their job is to make money publishing, not be friends with authors. I don’t care how much you might love your publisher, sooner or later, you’ll feel slighted. And they’ll just keep on keeping on, not ruffled in the least. While it’s nice to have a great working relationship, don’t make the mistake of seeing it as anything but that.
The problem is that writers are accepting less and less for their work. So publishers and editors become more than happy to pay less. They lower the rates, and authors kneel and accept without negotiation. And new writers are coming in thinking that’s the norm. Can you see the shifting paradigm? That goes for ebook sales, literary journals, writing for magazines, and royalties. Anyone who has started trying to publish in the last three years thinks today is the norm. And because they make nickels and dimes from sales, they treat it like the income it provides: a hobby endeavor.
I want to go back to what FFW stands for: writers making money – not writers accepting what they can get. Come on, people. Ask for more. These days you can indie publish, for goodness sake, if they don’t pay you what you deserve.
Readers do not understand any of this and don’t care. They don’t have to care, and they don’t have to understand. I don’t care about how much a worker makes who builds my car or stocks my grocery store. But still, readers think writers who publish are making gobs of money. We are not going to change that thought, so don’t try. Our payment issue is an internal issue, not the reading public’s.
I spoke to one author whose husband is a musician, where it’s as bad as or worse than writing. She suggests declining the offers to give away work. When someone asks for free books from you, thinking you get tons of them for free, decline and suggest a library or a bookstore that offers a loyalty discount. When an editor of a publication asks for your work for free or an embarrassing figure like 1/2 cents per word, remind them you must be compensated for your work because you practice a profession, not a hobby.
Now . . . to the hobbyists out there:
Writing for a hobby does not give you the latitude to give away your work. It hurts the entire industry. It’s a big fat myth that you have to pay your dues writing for free to climb the ladder. If you pitch an article to me, and I see that you’ve only written for free in your bio, I will decline the submission on principle alone. I’d rather have an unpublished newbie than someone who only gives it away. If you do not respect your work enough to charge for it, neither will I. Harsh, but somebody has to start somewhere.
I use this additional example when I speak to writers about earning a living:
I’ll be a whore to whoever will pay me for my work. I will not give it away for free. However, I’d rather be a call girl than a street walker, and get paid more of what I’m worth.