Authors Can Be Stupid: Please Feed the Authors!

This post was written by Michael A. Stackpole. It originally appeared on his Stormwolf website on 2/4/10, is reprinted here in its entirety with his permission, and is the second in a series we’ll be reprinting in the coming days. The first installment is "Authors Can Be Stupid: The Myth of Multiple Sales".

A number of authors who have books published by Macmillan have opined on their blogs that the authors whose books are no longer available on Amazon really need our support. We really need to go out to brick-and-mortar stores or to other websites and order their books. We need to do this because these authors are taking a major hit to their income since Amazon has removed Macmillan books from their website.

I certainly have sympathy for the authors whose work is caught in this catfight, but this call for readers to go out and buy their books right now is nonsense.

The appeals make it appear that if we don’t buy now, these authors will starve. If you believe this, you also believe that publishers want to break Amazon’s non-existent monopoly on ebooks to protect choice for readers.

You’d be a lot better off trusting that the tooth fairy will leave you money when you put teeth under your pillow.

This is how the economics of the industry works. If you buy a book today, right this very second, from any retail outlet, the author will get, on average, 10% of that cover price.

In October.

Yep, eight months from now.

And that’s if their advance has been earned out. See, authors work on “advances against royalties.” The publisher fronts us money to work on the book, and then the royalties pay off that debt first, before we see anything. Books can take years to “earn out,” or repay that debt. Plus, since books are sold into stores on a returnable basis (consignment), the publishers always hold back a “reserve against returns.” So, even if your book has earned out, the publisher doesn’t have to pay you money if they believe some of your books will be returned.

In addition to that, we have to factor in pay periods. Royalties are accounted semi-annuallly. So, sales in the January through June period are lumped into one basket, and then the publishers have three months to check their figures, figure out their reserves, and cut a check. Checks should arrive on the first of October. The seldom do. Within my career there have been several periods where publishers—none of them affiliated with Macmillan—have taken until the end of October or into November to cut checks. One even seems to have a penchant for delaying the payment until I call to complain.

So, in reality, a book sold today—a book that came out this month—won’t generate income for the author, at best, until October. And, given the rate at which books earn out, that’s probably October of 2012.

If an author right now is facing so dire a set of economic circumstances that he’s pinning his hopes on money he might get in October, he’s got far bigger problems than Amazon not selling his books.

But I don’t want to be hard-hearted here. What could these authors do to get more income for their writing?

They could take all the stories for which they own the ebook rights, prep them for publication on the Kindle, and set them up for sale on their own websites. Sales of material from their own websites will pay them today. Kindle sales will pay them in sixty days. Between now and October, an author could easily and fairly effortlessly, pull in $1000 to $3000 via such digital sales. If they work at it, even more.

Sure, the tiff between Amazon and Macmillan is going to cost some people some money. But any author who ignores the larger import of this battle—the collapse of the current economic model for publishing—is an author who has already decided he no longer wants to write for money.



Michael A. Stackpole is a New York times Bestselling author with over forty novels published including I, Jedi and Rogue Squadron. He was the first author to have work available in Apple’s Appstore. He has lectured extensively on writing careers in the Post-paper Era and is working on strategies for authors to profit during the trying time of transition.


©2010 Michael A. Stackpole 

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