Publishers Must Change The Way Authors Get Paid

This editorial, from novelist M.J. Rose, originally appeared on Publishing Perspectives on 8/28/09. While the piece deals with mainstream author compensation schemes (advances and royalties), it points up the fact that the line between mainstream and indie authors continues to blur day by day now that mainstream authors are expected to act much like indie authors when it comes to promoting their books.

Shout it from the rooftops, or better yet, hashtag it on Twitter. It’s time to turn the page on how authors get paid.

Times have changed, and with them, every aspect of the publishing landscape is morphing. And from my vantage point, nowhere is it changing more than in marketing. Authors aren’t waiting and watching to see what publishers aren’t doing for their books — they are jumping in feet first and months ahead of their houses to make sure there’s a serious marketing and publicity effort.

And publishers aren’t gnashing their teeth over the author’s involvement anymore — they are encouraging it. Co-op is more costly than ever and eating up marketing dollars. In almost all cases, publishers are making it clear that they expect authors to supplement their marketing/PR effort in various ways and, in some cases, even soliciting the author’s help with both time and yes, money.

As a result, today the author’s marketing/PR effort is often equal to or even greater than what the house is doing.

The good news is it works. No wonder really — people do buy more of something when they know it exists, and in general, book marketing is so low-key that people don’t know what books are even out there. I have dozens of case histories of authors who have pushed their sales into reprints when none were expected, created enough velocity to generate free co-op when none was anticipated, and achieve bestseller listings when none were dreamed of.

But whenever there’s good news…

We now have a situation where publishers are financially benefiting from the author’s efforts but the author is still getting paid the old way, without regard to how much we personally invest.

There’s just no consideration for the checks we’re writing out of our own pockets for marketing or PR services.

Accordingly, it’s blatantly and patently unfair for us to invest in our own books and then wait for our advances to earn out based on the same royalties rates we’ve always gotten.

Be it $2,000 or $20,000, the money we invest should be discounted from the advances we’re paid, allowing us to earn royalties faster based on an honest up-front expenditure by the publisher.

And, it goes without saying, we should be be getting a higher royalty rate. After all, we’re doing more than writing our books, we’re business partners as well.

Read the rest of the article on Publishing Perspectives.