Mostly not.
March 3, 2018 2:21 PM   Subscribe

How Do Writers Get Paid? is a wide-ranging, informed, critical, and in-depth panel discussion on the ways authors are remunerated for their work, featuring copyright lawyer Zoë Rodriguez, SF writer Cory Doctorow, and literary agent Alex Adsett, moderated by Prof. Rebecca Giblin. The discussion takes place at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, so has a bit of an Australian focus, but the US, Canada, the UK and, to a lesser extent, Western Europe, are discussed as well, and anyone with an interest in the topic will find much there. It can be watched as a video or listened to (podcast link).
posted by Kattullus (30 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
When my first book was published last spring, people asked me if I wanted them to buy a physical copy or a ebook, and I still can't figure out the answer.

Physical copies are great because of the vanity of knowing my book is on someone's bookshelf, other people will see it, etc. But I get a lower royalty (7%), and don't get paid until a certain number of copies are sold (1000).

Ebooks lack the on-the-bookshelf benefits, but pay out at a higher royalty rate (10%), and I get paid on every single copy - no threshold to clear. And my publisher keeps physical and ebook prices relatively similar, so it's not like I'm getting a bigger slice of a smaller pie.

I still find myself torn when I'm asked.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:36 PM on March 3 [14 favorites]


Watched, or listened to, but not read? Argh.
posted by JHarris at 3:08 PM on March 3 [15 favorites]


Gracious, I have written on this topic so many times now, it is not funny.

In Canada, the situation is much, much, much worse. In the US, an average author makes less than one thousand dollars a year writing books, and writing for print publications such as newspapers, online periodicals, and magazines can be next to nil with no additional compensation.

I have been published in three different countries: UK is still by far the best. The US used to be not too bad as the Canadian dollar was low that it was like getting a raise. I didn't like writing for my own country because the pay, by far, was the worst, and if it weren't for pity grants from all three levels of government, Canada would not even have a publishing industry at all.

The troubles are numerous. So many North American publishers didn't really keep up with the times. A lot of publishers have folded as a result. People don't buy books, many go to the library, borrow from friends, or look for free or discount reads and downloads, and it is the author who takes all of the hits. In Canada, we essentially have a bookstore monopoly: Chapters, Indigo, and Coles are owned by the same company.

But the structure of storytelling is archaic. Books themselves are linear scrolls. You now have the Internet with no end of free reads, and most of it is just opinion and filler stacked to the gills with sophistry, and it floods a market, and there is an opinion overload.

Couple this with the collapse of journalism, and while we read more now thanks to the Internet than we have ever read before in the history of humanity, there is so little respect for storytellers and chroniclers -- even when people think they are respectful -- that there is a real threat of losing that industry entirely. There is no respect for nuance or craft because we have along the way, forgotten about the science of storytelling -- experimenting in empirical ways to help revolutionize both nonfiction and fiction writing.

I have been writing and studying this topic for years. I am sick and tired of the whining and the complaining, and the outlining of the problems.

There are people like me how have proposals for real solutions, but places where experimentation can be properly incubated and tested, such as universities, will not even consider going against a model that is broken beyond repair, keeping authors/writers poor, and alienating audiences in droves.

Believe me, I have been knocking on doors for twenty years trying to do something about it. I have long been past this "oh, poor authors" stage, and people in that link only think they are being helpful and insightful, when they are running on a hamster wheel way back at square one, adding nothing to a solution, while people like me keep pushing for a solution so we no longer have to read another stupid article outlining that there is a problem. Children, you are not Christopher Columbus: you have discovered nothing new, and are being very disrespectful by ignoring those who have already pointed this out years ago.

Mind you, I will keep knocking on those doors, until the one breaks open. I am a believer in literacy, reading, learning, getting your lofty ideas challenged, growing, evolving, and blossoming from reading.

Publishing can be exciting again. We are just stuck in a rut with no structural or core innovations, and it is about time we stop writing about the problems, and focus on creating and supporting solutions where writers can make a real living from it, even if they are not writing innocuous mainstream bubble gum.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 4:55 PM on March 3 [18 favorites]


The only writers I know who make a living writing fiction, without the need for a day job or without family money or without a spouse that supports them, self-publish. They write genre, and they self-publish. And some of them make lots and lots of money.

Amazon gets a lot of deserved hate for various labor practices. But they’ve been really good for writers, especially relative to the exploitation of traditional publishing.
posted by schadenfrau at 4:57 PM on March 3 [4 favorites]


*coughs*
posted by jscalzi at 5:11 PM on March 3 [21 favorites]


*coughs*
Sir, this is Metafilter, say what you mean, and mean what you say!
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:33 PM on March 3 [6 favorites]


writers get paid?
posted by philip-random at 5:42 PM on March 3


Sir, this is Metafilter, say what you mean, and mean what you say!

UGH FINE.

1. I know rather a few people who are traditionally published who are full-time writers with incomes that range from lower middle-class to, well. Rich. Mind you, this is because I am a full-time writer myself, so I suspect I may know more writers than schadenfrau. Likewise, I know plenty of self-pubbed writers who are doing very poorly indeed, in terms of income from writing. The moral here is that anecdotal information is that -- anecdotal -- and that generally speaking, writer incomes, regardless of the mode of publishing, tend to follow a creative industries power law where (relatively) few people make the majority of the money, and the rest muddle along.

2. Amazon is pretty good for a relative few self-pubbed writers, but really not great for the rest. As an example, the Kindle Unlimited Program works with a defined pot of money that Amazon decides to contribute, so authors who are tied into it are a) existing in a zero sum environment where their income can be directly affected by other writers' popularity, b) can have their ability to generate income dictated entirely by Amazon, who has sole discretion over how it disburses money to people in the program, and whose contracts in this area are not subject to negotiation. Amazon is not good for writers, any more than any publisher (or any publishing platform) is. Amazon is in the business of Amazon; it works to a writer's advantage only as long as it is to its advantage. When it's not, it's Amazon that has the upper hand, not the writer, because the writer wasn't able to negotiate a contract to a mutual advantage.

NB this is not just Amazon-bashing for the sake for Amazon bashing -- Amazon is one of my publishers via Audible, and it has done very well for me, and I'm deeply appreciative of everything it's done for me and my career. But I will note that I was able to negotiate a contract rather than to have to accept terms or take a hike, and that my relationship with Amazon is, essentially, set-up like a traditional publisher than a self-pubbed one.

So I'm very wary of blithely saying Amazon is "good" for writers (or "bad" for writers, for that matter). It can be good for them, it can be horrible for them; it depends on specific circumstance. This is true for creatives in general regardless of the details of the business models. Almost all of have day jobs, and always have.
posted by jscalzi at 5:57 PM on March 3 [30 favorites]


Amazon is pretty good for a relative few self-pubbed

Couple years ago I thought I'd come up with a really lucrative genre niche... already taken.
posted by sammyo at 6:58 PM on March 3 [3 favorites]


I always thought writers were paid by marrying well.
posted by chrchr at 7:07 PM on March 3 [7 favorites]


Most writers I know get paid the same way that most musicians I know get paid, by their totally unrelated day job.
posted by octothorpe at 7:28 PM on March 3 [7 favorites]


"The free-lance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps". James Thurber, quoting Robert Benchley, 1950.
posted by jet_silver at 7:55 PM on March 3 [9 favorites]


I watched the video, and almost gave up at the halfway point when everyone started talking over each other. I still wish there'd been a transcript, since I assimilate information much more quickly and thoroughly through reading than I do by watching or listening to a lecture. But I'm glad I watched to the end. I now make my living as a writer, and I'm especially interested in getting paid well in every way available to me because, due to my health needs and other circumstances, writing is now my only viable option for income.

I freelance full time as a copywriter working remotely, self-publish a digital newsletter in paid and free versions, and work on my own nonfiction book manuscripts in my "free" time. The lion's share of my income comes from my copywriting clients; I'm also bringing in a bit through self-driven work and royalty income. I'd like to bring in more from self-driven work, but given the state of the publishing industry I'm not optimistic about my chances. Cory Doctorow's open source "shut up and take my money" e-bookstore platform sounds intriguing. It also sounds like a a lot more work, but hell, these days things look so bleak that I cling to almost anything that gives me some semblance of hope of getting paid fairly over the long term.
posted by velvet winter at 8:51 PM on March 3


The US used to be not too bad as the Canadian dollar was low that it was like getting a raise. I didn't like writing for my own country because the pay, by far, was the worst, and if it weren't for pity grants from all three levels of government, Canada would not even have a publishing industry at all.

The troubles are numerous. So many North American publishers didn't really keep up with the times. A lot of publishers have folded as a result. People don't buy books, many go to the library, borrow from friends, or look for free or discount reads and downloads, and it is the author who takes all of the hits. In Canada, we essentially have a bookstore monopoly: Chapters, Indigo, and Coles are owned by the same company.
From a Canadian trade publishing standpoint (English language, anyway) most of this is true, but only sort of. The "pity" grants as you call them exist because our market size is roughly a tenth of the US's and we have to compete with them directly, on top of which the US and the UK (though especially the US) are notorious for refusing to engage with books from outside their own territories. It's a case of the government deciding after much lobbying that "Canadian culture" (whatever that means) has some value beyond what a ludicrously stacked market is going to assign it; for decades many Canadian authors were forced to pretend their stories happened in the US or the UK in order to get picked up at all by the largely US and UK owned publishers, or else they had to be set in "anonymous" cities. The only real exceptions were a handful of passion projects and "scandal" stories about Montreal, which was North America's Sin City before Vegas got up and running. The Canadian publishing industry existed prior to these grants, but we were an arm of the US and UK industries, and we bought and sold their stories for their profit. The grant system recognizes that culture is not just another market force, and for a while it was successful in helping to create an industry that was able to stand on its own two feet.

However: From the point of view of publishers not keeping up with the times, Roy MacSkimming's history of Canadian publishing is really insightful on this: Laurence Stevenson was a hedge fund manager (iirc) who started Chapters with the deliberate intention of creating a financial bubble and destabilizing a low-margin industry so that he could drive up the stock valuation of his company and then bail/sell out just before the crash. He did this by leveraging his already substantial wealth and grossly over-ordering stock (then refusing to pay for it), bullying distributors, building stores he knew wouldn't be profitable to kill competition from smaller booksellers, and a variety of other sleazy tactics. When the Chapters bubble finally burst and Indigo moved in to pick up the pieces, his deliberately destabilizing efforts had indeed earned him substantial bank, but had also nearly wiped out the industry. More than half of Canada's distribution network shuttered or reduced their operations, most of the small presses were wiped out entirely (a lot of unsold stock got seized and sold of to pay off the debts distributors had racked up trying to keep up w/ Chapters' increasingly tight discount demands, or were outright pulped, and the publishers never saw a dime from any of it), and even the big players operating in Canada got knocked in the teeth pretty hard. The industry here is *still* reeling from the financial fallout more than a decade later, and you have to remember that *Stevenson did it on purpose*. Amazon arrived in Canada basically just as that bubble burst, with more or less exactly the same agenda and methods, and found an industry that was already crippled. It's not so much not really keeping up as being deliberately demolished by a predatory player with tons of cash who acted in bad faith. Anyway, I highly recommend Roy MacSkimming's book The Perilous Trade, in which he outlines exactly what happened, and names names. It's kind of shocking what a single bad actor can do to an industry that isn't 100% profit driven.

*NB - I'm not an author of books, but I do write freelance for magazines and newspapers, do freelance copyediting, and at my day job I share an office with a literary agent and the publisher/owner of a small press (who also need day jobs, because none of what we do in publishing pays much of anything). All of us were starting our careers when Chapters was imploding, and how people in the industry get paid is a pretty regular topic of conversation.
posted by Fish Sauce at 11:44 PM on March 3 [14 favorites]


I'm one of the self-pub types that schadenfrau references. FWIW I'll back everything jscalzi said. Everything in talking about this deserves a huge warning about anecdotes vs data and about survivor's bias.

The opacity of monetary issues has frustrated me since I got into writing. It takes an act of will to talk in explicit numbers, because you wonder why nobody else ever says anything and if you'll embarrass yourself by talking about your own either by bragging or by revealing you don't make that much or whatever. And so much of it is standard American cultural hang-ups about money. Everyone's got their reasons.

My second book came out in 2013 and did super well on Amazon; since then I've hit six figures in four out of five years. I usually get one or two long novels out in a given year. In the year that I didn't make it that high, I didn't publish much and still made much more than I could at substitute teaching. If people want to see a partial breakdown, and with apologies for a self-link (mods, kill this if it's not ok), here's me talking about 2015 numbers... but even that may not be terribly illuminating, both because it's anecdotal and because the self-pub game is moving and evolving fast. Every year has felt different. I keep waiting for the rug to come out from under me. But most writers I talk to, indie or trad, feel much the same way.

I can tell you the sky's the limit if you're successful. I can also tell you every individual story is individual. Nobody can tell you for sure exactly what will be successful.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:18 AM on March 4 [6 favorites]


I live in a two-author household, though our situation is a bit different since we write in other languages than English. We make most of our income from writing, and more than half of it comes from grants (my girlfriend is Finnish and I’m Icelandic). Since the topic has come up, I’d like to add my two krónur.

There are all kinds of arguments against giving writers grants but when the languages are spoken by a few million people (in the case of Finnish) or less than four hundred thousand (as with Icelandic) it’s the only way to maintain a professional writing community. Mind you, the US does a similar thing with creative writing programs at universities, and that has its advantages and disadvantages too.

National grants shouldn’t be thought of as something done out of pity, but as government policy intimately connected with the raison d’être of a nation-state. Its whole justification for existing rests on notions of a shared community based on languages, cultures and geographies. Thriving national cultures are important to its territorial integrity.

I have lots of problems with nation-states, but giving grants to artists, writers, academics and other producers of culture is probably one of the best things they do. I thought so before I was the beneficiary of one. In fact, when I was starting out as a writer and felt I had to justify to myself economically that writing in Icelandic was feasible (I was forced to move to the US at the time as a consequence of the xenophobic features of nation-states) the prospect of national grants for writers was what the carrot that I decided was big enough to allow me to pursue writing in my mother tongue.

It’s a wonder of the capitalistic age that some writers can make their living from their books being sold to readers (as far as I know this has only been possible for about three centuries) but it doesn’t take more than a glance at past bestseller lists to see that the market is very inefficient at picking out which works will be important to future readers. Also, and this is more important, it broadens the field of who can even dream of a writing career.

To make a sporting analogy, one of the main reasons Norway won most medals at this year’s Winter Olympics is that they make it possible for almost everyone in Norway to pursue and enjoy winter sports. The portion of Norwegian kids that take up speed skating (to pick one example) and have the combination of talent and drive necessary to become an Olympic athlete is vanishingly small, but it’s only by casting a wide net that you catch those who can.

It's the same with writing, you need a maximize the quantity of writers to ensure the highest possible quality of output. For that you need a private and public support, as well as a healthy book market.
posted by Kattullus at 1:30 AM on March 4 [21 favorites]


NotMyselfRightNow: you need an agent, stat.

Industry standard royalties for ebooks are 25% of publisher's net receipts, on a contract with an advance; for paper books it's 6% for mass market (dying), 7-8% for trade paperback, 10-15% for hardback.

Better deals are available. By opting to be paid on royalties only without an advance, I'm getting 40% of Net on ebooks from Tor.com, and 15-25% on hardbacks (depending on sales volume — there's an escalator clause).

Self-pub via Amazon has various deals with royalties of up to 70% if you jump through flaming hoops for them, don't sell elsewhere, and put up with various crap; 30% is a more realistic rate (more control over pricing, they don't insist you don't sell via iBooks or Google or Nook, etc). Downsides to self-pub are you have to do everything yourself — editing, copy-edits, typesetting, proofreading, cover design, marketing, the whole lot. (And then deal with shitbags reporting fake typos to get you off sale, or negging your reviews, or stealing your identity for money laundering purposes ...)
posted by cstross at 5:25 AM on March 4 [5 favorites]


Alexandra Kitty: disagree really strongly.

(Disclaimer: I am a full time novelist, earn a decent living at it, do not self-publish but go via Big Five publishers, and while I'm not in jscalzi's bestseller level I'm nevertheless a fairly good example of what most people mean when they say "writer".)

Listen: the key problem afflicting publishing boils down to supply chain management contracts.

You, the author, are a supplier. Your readers are the end customers for a product you design and which is then replicated and [the rights to use it] sold to them. In-between supplier and consumer are a bunch of intermediate stages. The author can in principle do a lot of this stuff themselves, or they can outsource the labour to a third party called a "publisher". The publishers don't generally talk direct to the customers, though, so they outsource the distribution to another outfit called a "distributor" or a "bookshop".

Contracts between authors and publishers, and publishers and distributors, are B2B contracts. Contact between distributors and the consumers are limited to a B2C relationship.

... Why in an age when 75% of my sales are ebooks, do my book contracts come with boilerplate clauses governing retention periods for royalties withheld in case lumps of dead tree are shipped back to the warehouse by the bookstores for credit? Why are customers usually unable to buy ebooks direct from the publisher? Why do my contracts have clauses covering microfiche rights?

The answer: the B2B contracts the industry run on embed clauses to deal with every contingency that at some time in the past century caused a publisher to go bust. They are backward-looking, which makes it really difficult to import a new business model to an existing publisher that has hundreds of authors (some of them dead or retired) and a backlist of thousands of titles governed by these arcane rules.

The solution within the industry is to generate new contract boilerplate that is (a) flexible enough to support new business models while (b) not being so author-hostile that everything grinds to a halt during protracted negotiations. But that's hard work.

jscalzi is published — like me — via Tor.com; I think he'd agree with me that Tor.com is essentially a lean publishing start-up hosted within Macmillan and using (old) Tor's staff, but entirely different/new contracts that permit much more experimentation. I'm pretty sure the other big five publishers have similar startups within them. But even if the author-publisher side has been improved, this still leaves us with Amazon.com's death grip and total inflexibility on [their side of] the distributor-consumer B2C relationship.

And this is a Problem. Because Amazon are equally happy selling cabbages as books, and treat them pretty much the same.
posted by cstross at 6:40 AM on March 4 [8 favorites]


Addendum: until recently, every 3-6 months I used to get an email from the founder or CEO of a new startup, that typically read something like, "hi! I've invented this GREAT NEW PUBLISHING PLATFORM THAT WILL DISRUPT BOOKS! Would you like to work with me? We're launching our science fiction and fantasy range first!" — usually a half-assed iOS ebook reader with a focus on crowdsourced content.

I had to break it to them that (a) the app destinated to disrupt publishing went on sale in 1977 (hint: it was called WordStar), and (b) if they're trying to invent a new platform, then they're swimming uphill against the already-dominant platform called "paper books" sold through "bookshops", because their market is limited to people who own the hardware device their app runs on and they're limiting it to a single minority genre (SF/F is about 7% of the fiction market), and (c) see "publishing is about supply chains" rant above.

They usually went away and died in a corner, or came back with a better focus on an unoccupied niche. But usually they pivoted towards pizza delivery or maybe ironing-shirts-as-a-service (the dot.com recipe of "identify something your mom used to do for you before she kicked you out of her basement, and monetize it for other bros who haven't wised up yet"). Because disrupting a six centuries old industry is surprisingly hard.
posted by cstross at 6:46 AM on March 4 [12 favorites]


From a Canadian trade publishing standpoint (English language, anyway) most of this is true, but only sort of. The "pity" grants as you call them exist because our market size is roughly a tenth of the US's and we have to compete with them directly, on top of which the US and the UK (though especially the US) are notorious for refusing to engage with books from outside their own territories.

That isn't quite true, either, in that while Canada has a smaller population, people do not buy proportional as people in the US. You are lucky if a book in Canada sells 2500 copies. US has almost ten times the population as Canada, meaning their best-seller would be 25,000, and most top best-sellers sell far more than that.

So Canadians aren't buying Canadian books because even with the smaller population, we are not keeping up with other people buying books.

And, we have access to a global market, thanks to Amazon. When iUniverse had a better deal with Indigo than the top Canadian publisher could ever muster, you know the problem is real, systemic, and serious.

So serious that the University of Toronto had to sell its 75% ownership (that they were given for free by Avie Bennett) in the publisher they had, which had been Canada's largest independent one at the time...to Random House. The university didn't know what it was doing -- that reflects on their entire curriculum, making its degrees absolutely worthless. That should have been a scandal, but it was all but ignored.

They are pity grants. The Canadian faction of that industry has a real trouble looking inwards and admitting they are doing things wrong.

Have you ever been to the Ontario Arts Council in Toronto? It's literally across the street from Tiffany's. You can watch the bored housewives strutting from store to store with their male servants carrying her haul behind her.

Canada has a real problem that is far more serious than in the US and the UK. Our journalism industry collapsed. Our publishing industry would have collapsed if it weren't for the pity grants, and they should be referred to as pity grants. I used to be a journalist who wrote about the Canadian publishing industry for various US media trade publications. I could see this storm coming way back in 1998.

But when you bring up the fact that there is problem with the industry in Canada, there will always be some spin to downplay the problems, try to justify and excuse things, and then look for the "positive" in it. That thinking destroyed publishing. If tomorrow, the Canadian governments all decided or couldn't provide pity grants, we would have no publisher in this country left. Now even the newspapers went begging for pity money to keep things afloat.

And with a population of 34 million, we have no excuse why we cannot have a thriving industry in books and in journalism. Most people have read certain books, but only because it was part of their education. We have always had "make do" ways, always postponing the inevitable.

We should first stop making excuses. We should stop putting a sunny spin on a dead corpse. We should admit we are doing everything wrong because if we made the trouble, we have the power to solve it. If we blame other things and people, we are ineffective, victims, and can never make change -- and if that is the case, let's not waste any more tax dollars funding something we are not capable of sustaining.

But it's us. It's fixable.

After having some reality time, we should see who and what is out there, and what it is they are proposing, what have they found, and see if we can create a new model.

Then make changes.

I have been writing about the business of writing since 1998. The collapse in Canada was coming then, I could see it very clearly, and it had nothing to do with our population over a vast spread of land. It was always the passive mindset of those running things, and those authors so desperate to be published, they thought all they had to do was swallow horse dung by the truckload with a smile, be grateful, and then brag to the neighbours how great everything was. Neither group ever got off the pity grants. The incubation model never worked because the model of publishing was fundamentally flawed, static, and unresponsive to the environment.

Canada has the most serious of problems because they have the biggest attitude problem to get over, but I still believe if they could possibly get over themselves, this country would be the most ideal to launch something real and experimental. If you could make publishing viable here, hell, you could make profitable anywhere.

Flame away if you wish, but I am not just some outsider making an opinion.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:51 AM on March 4


I don't know if this is a 'flame', but I think you damage your credibility when you suggest that U of T degrees are worthless because their board made a business decision you didn't like.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:07 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


That isn't quite true, either, in that while Canada has a smaller population, people do not buy proportional as people in the US. You are lucky if a book in Canada sells 2500 copies. US has almost ten times the population as Canada, meaning their best-seller would be 25,000, and most top best-sellers sell far more than that.

So Canadians aren't buying Canadian books because even with the smaller population, we are not keeping up with other people buying books.


I'm not as up on people buying books but I used to work for a niche consumer magazine which existed in a US edition in the US and a Canadian edition up here (we shared a few cover stories, but the bulk of the Canadian magazine was Canadian content.) The Canadian paid subscriber/buyer base was more than 10% of the US subscriber base.

That experience taught me that Canadians do show up to buy print material (and online, we had a much higher online share than 10% of the US site.) The US edition of the magazine was not sold at newsstand in Canada as part of the licensing agreement. So in a way we had an artificial fence. And...we got a bit better results than numerically expected.

Obviously the paper cost of printing, and to some degree the mailing costs, might have been in line for the US version but I suspect that once the publisher (a big one) negotiated press and paper costs, they didn't end up being 10 (or 9) times ours.

For content costs, the US paid the writer, photographer, copy editor, etc. once for the same story but could charge advertisers for 9X the audience.*

On the website end, other than bandwidth, we had to create a website that looked decent & performed well & had frequent new content on 10% (if that) of the American tech budget. We also had to build one that out-SEOd the American site on our topics (at least by covering them!) or else our audience went there and never even realized there was a Canadian alternative. We actually did outperform the US site (well enough that when the US title put Michelle Obama on the cover our customer service was overwhelmed by subscription cancellations from Republicans :) - funny, but not, because we literally paid the call centre bill for the ones that then were also furious that our 800 number didn't work for them and called the non-free line.) But did we ever have to work for it.

All of which is really to say that the economics are really different up here.

I suspect that per capita Canadians buy as many books as Americans and this information is probably available...but they don't buy Canadian books exclusively. It could also be better access to libraries, etc. Whether or not this means Canadian publishing is a cesspool or not I couldn't say. My guess is as a start, and from my years in magazine, that whether or not we have the creative muscle, we may not have a deep enough talent pool on the marketing/PR/publishing/business side to be able to compete on that end globally, at least not yet.

*The US brand ultimately failed as well. In both cases it was an advertising problem, I believe, at least it was in ours. Also, I think they paid about twice what we did, which still makes the content 4-5X more valuable.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:34 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


I'll note as neutrally as possible that Wattpad is a Canadian startup, too. :)
posted by warriorqueen at 8:48 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Self-pub via Amazon has various deals with royalties of up to 70% if you jump through flaming hoops for them, don't sell elsewhere, and put up with various crap; 30% is a more realistic rate (more control over pricing, they don't insist you don't sell via iBooks or Google or Nook, etc).

A little detail on this: the 70%-30% split is generally dependent more on the price you set for your book than on exclusivity. The author gets 70% in most countries regardless of being exclusive, but the split gets flipped in Mexico, Brazil, Japan, and India if you aren't exclusive. (I don't know why it's those countries specifically). I made 70% on the vast majority of sales from both Amazon and non-Amazon vendors before I went exclusive. If Amazon changed those terms, I somehow missed it, but I feel like that would cause the kind of explosion in self-pub circles I couldn't possibly miss.

Last time I looked, the 70/30 split was more dependent on a book's price range. The author gets 70% if it's priced between $2.99-$9.99 US but it flips to 30% if you go outside that range. It's possible this changed and I missed a beat somewhere since I last played with pricing, as a couple quick minutes of looking through terms isn't showing me that pricing breakdown. I feel like I'd still see that if I went through the process of uploading a book, though. (You can also set your price to $0.00 and Amazon is totally cool with that.)

If you're non-exclusive ("going wide" as self-pubbers say), you still get those same terms. Amazon demands they get to be the equal or lowest price. I got a complaint from them a couple years ago because a Value Added Tax adjustment in Europe somehow shook out to them not being my lowest-priced vendor. That was my only significant drawback there.

Exclusivity determines whether or not you get into Kindle Unlimited. That's kind of the big decision self-pubbers have to make now. I'm in KU and it's making me money, but I side-eye it every month for the reasons Scalzi noted above. Ultimately I have the same loyalty to KU that Amazon has to any business decision. Every month Amazon announces the KU payout, some indies do the math and figure out how close to half-a-cent-a-page* they've gotten this month, and then we all wring our hands about whether or not to stay in.

*Kindle pages, not paper pages.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:39 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Flame away if you wish, but I am not just some outsider making an opinion.

It is extremely disingenuous for you to characterize well-reasoned and thoughtful critiques of your statements as "flaming", and it damages your credibility when you do it.

If you want us to take you seriously, especially when you have no fewer than three actively published authors telling you that your conclusions aren't the iron lock you think they are, do better.
posted by scrump at 11:52 AM on March 4 [6 favorites]


I still believe if they could possibly get over themselves, this country would be the most ideal to launch something real and experimental. If you could make publishing viable here, hell, you could make profitable anywhere.


But you're not saying what that new model is - only that the old model is broken. Which is fine. But acting like everyone who's been participating in this business model (which you say you've seen the collapse of coming for the past two decades) is too incompetent to fix things or too dense to see that there is even a problem is easy when you don't offer any alternatives other than the extremely vague "we should see who and what is out there, and what it is they are proposing, what have they found, and see if we can create a new model."

The grant system in Canada is not perfect by any means. It rewards people who have connections, who know how to write those grant applications, and can been seen as supporting mediocre white boomers to the exclusion of everyone else. I've even seen it argued that Canada has less arts philanthropy because our wealthiest assume the government is already playing that role so they don't need to.

But if you've been watching this happen for twenty years - what's the alternative? Which other countries do you see doing a better job of supporting their own arts & letters from the American cultural hegemony? If it's so clearly broken what exactly needs to be fixed?
posted by thecjm at 12:38 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


We make most of our income from writing, and more than half of it comes from grants (my girlfriend is Finnish and I’m Icelandic).

I don't know if similar grants are available to professional writers living in Sweden, but if so, it may be time to redouble my efforts to move there and "retire" to write. I've been trying to find a way to move to Sweden for years, and I have several dear friends there who are rooting for me and are willing to help. As a single, self-employed freelancer working remotely, I think it'll be a major challenge because immigration law hasn't caught up with "digital nomads." But I think it'll be even more challenging to stay in the U.S. as I age (I'm 50), especially considering the horrific state of the U.S. health care system and the lack of financial support for writers in my circumstances.
posted by velvet winter at 1:14 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


velvet winter: I don't know if similar grants are available to professional writers living in Sweden, but if so, it may be time to redouble my efforts to move there and "retire" to write.

I don't know much about the Swedish system, though I believe it is focused, like the Icelandic and Finnish systems, on supporting writers who already have a track record in local book publishing. All countries have been slowly adapting the system to be more open to immigrant writers writing in languages other than the official state languages, but progress isn't as quick as it should be.
posted by Kattullus at 1:39 PM on March 4


While I certainly don't have a track record in Swedish book publishing, I do have a book manuscript in progress for which I have been interviewing many Swedish musicians, some of whom I met with in Stockholm a few months ago. I also have strong ties to a Swedish Pagan group, and my ancestry is half Swedish, and I'm (slowly but surely) learning to speak Swedish. Probably none of that will make much difference to the immigration authorities, but at least it lends credence to my ability to adjust to Sweden culturally. I'll talk to my Swedish friends and see if they can dig up any more info about grants and whether immigrants are eligible. Even if that turns out to be a dead end, though, I do think it's time to redouble my efforts to move there. Thanks for that info, Kattullus.
posted by velvet winter at 2:26 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I make 20-40k a year writing and publishing traditionally, depending on the year and I still (a) have a part time job and (b) have a spouse whose job pays the mortgage (c) take many write-for-hire projects.

And in that pay range, in its consistency, I am an incredibly successful author. I am the very definition of the modern midlist author. I also have self-pub books on Amazon, and even though one of them is widely considered by colleagues to be my best novel to date, I make-- at best-- 100 bucks a year self-pubbing.

It is a weird job, with weird pay structures no matter what you write, and for whom. Get a third on signing, a third on delivery, a third on publication and the author controls when NONE of that happens. It's fun getting a mortgage and explaining, "Well, I might make 20,000 dollars this year, but I might not get it until next year."

Me? I dream of a Hollywood option. Not because I give a diddley about a film being made from my books. Because it's money they sometimes pay every single year, just to keep the option. And sometimes it's a lot. And if I could pay off my very modest house, I could drop the part time job.

Alas.
posted by headspace at 4:08 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


« Older Robota, "Forced Labor"   |   brilliant at the basics Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments