Recently, while reading a write-up of a self-publishing nightmare, I ran across mention of something called Yog’s Law, attributed to one James D. Macdonald. Having never heard of Yog’s Law before, I clicked through and learned the following:
Macdonald is well known for his work in educating aspiring authors, particularly for his advice on avoiding literary scams. Early in his career he was asked by such an author how much he had paid to have his books published, and in response began a campaign of educating other writers about the problems of vanity publishers. As part of this campaign, he coined Yog’s Law, which states “Money should flow toward the author,” which is often quoted by professional authors when giving advice on getting published.
Less than a day later, I read this in a blog post by Richard Curtis:
The line that once sharply separated traditional publishing (“We pay you”) and vanity publishing (“You pay us”) has all but dissolved in this corrosive environment of fabulous riches.
Mere hours later I found Yog’s Law quoted a third time, in a Jane Friedman blog post analyzing the Harlequin Horizons debacle:
People like to say (and I’ve said too) that money should flow TO the writer, not AWAY from the writer.
But I can see a business model emerging where publishers work with authors in more diverse ways. What we’ve held to be sacred—that a writer should NEVER pay to publish—may change.
To be clear: there are a lot of literary scams out there, and a lot of naive writers who get taken to the cleaners as a result. Whatever work James Macdonald has done to protect writers from predatory service providers who peddle false promises is a good thing.
Understanding Yog’s Law
As maxims go, Yog’s Law is not bad. In a moment I will speak to the fallacy of Yog’s Law, and to the convenience of revisiting the rule when the publishing industry decides it wants to get in on the writer-servicing business, but as a general guideline I think Yog’s Law does what it needs to do. It tells writers that anyone asking them for money should be viewed with suspicion, and that’s correct. That this core tenet could be expanded to cover most aspects of anyone’s life does not detract from its effectiveness as a general rule for aspiring writers.
As related specifically to publishing, Yog’s Law also describes what was, until recently, the truth. Publishers who wanted to make money as a result of book sales did not ask writers for money up front. Just as jewelers evaluate diamonds before buying, and real estate moguls evaluate land, and art dealers appraise paintings before adding them to their galleries, publishers performed due diligence on authors and their works (including future efforts) to determine whether they were worth adding to their lists. Publishers took this risk with the understanding that they would profit alongside the author only if a book did well.
That was how business was done, and that’s why Yog’s Law made sense. Legitimate publishers didn’t ask for money up front, but rather gave money to authors based on sales. Illegitimate publishers asked for money up front, meaning money flowed from authors to such publishers. A law that told aspiring writers to keep an eye on the direction in which money flowed was helpful precisely because of the modus operandi common to many of the predatory scams aimed at writers.
The Fallacy of Yog’s Law
At its most basic, however, publishing is not a question of maxims or appraisals or even authorial merit. It’s a question of cash money. Which brings me to my criticism of Yog’s Law, my criticism of the industry for exploiting Yog’s Law, and my general exhaustion with the idea that all the bad people are on the outside of the publishing industry and all the good people are on the inside praying to Daniel Webster. Because nothing about Yog’s Law deals with the fact that a pay-you-later publisher can screw authors as effectively as a pay-us-now subsidy or vanity publisher.
To begin, it’s worth noting that Yog’s Law fits quite nicely with the publishing industry’s own propaganda of love and reverence for books and authors. “Look,” the publishing industry says, “we’re not taking money up front! We’re gambling on you because we believe in you! We have faith in you! We’re not like those scummy people who ask for money in advance!”
And it sounds good. And because it sounds good this message has helped the publishing industry convince the average wannabe author that anything other than publishing with a pay-you-later publisher is a scam or — and here it gets a little ugly — an admission that the author is a vain, talentless failure.
The original spirit of Yog’s Law — the laudable let’s-keep-naive-writers-from-getting-screwed message — was hijacked so that the flow of money to other publishing sources could be kept in check, while the herd of new writers arriving in the marketplace each year could be marshaled into publishing-industry stock yards, poked and prodded for good marbling, graded, slaughtered, shipped and stocked for the convenience of the book-loving consumer.
This is what you do if there are limited resources available to your business. You try to destroy the competition and lock up those resources. Until recently, writers were the publishing industry’s only resource. Today, writers are the publishing industry’s resource and the publishing industry’s competition and the publishing industry’s new and rapidly-growing market for publishing services. (Think about that for a minute.)
It is in this context of industry propaganda that Yog’s Law breaks down. First, there’s a demonstrable need for publishing services outside of the publishing industry gates. If you have a book of family recipes, or a family history that you want to bind, or any of a thousand other works that you intend neither to sell yourself nor pitch to a publisher (meaning a publisher who doesn’t ask for money up front) you need to find someone who can make a book for you, in the same way that you might need to find someone who can hem curtains or put a patio in your backyard. And there’s nothing remotely fraudulent about anyone offering these services. (I’ll get to the fraud part in a moment.)
Second, the idea that money flowing to an author means the author isn’t being taken to the cleaners is a joke on the face of it, and only gets worse the closer you look. Think about any music-industry horror story you’ve ever heard, where musicians are cheated out of money by their own music label, and chances are that story will involve money that was flowing to the musicians. Band X doesn’t get ripped off because they paid $20,000 up front and got left in the lurch, they get ripped off because they signed a contract with a publisher that legally allowed the publisher to rip them off day and night, week after week, year after year — in some cases forcing the band to also produce new music under penalty of legal action, including loss of copyright, if the band ever had copyright to their own music in the first place.
The Money-Flow Lie
Imagine for a moment that you’re an unknown author. You sign with a publisher and your book goes to #1 forever. It never comes down. You have written a book as good as a book can be written, and everybody admits it. In less than a year your book is the only book on the bestseller list because every other writer quits the business.
Now imagine that your contract, the one you signed with the we-don’t-charge-you-up-front publisher, gives you one penny on every book sold. You had to take that contract because it’s all the publisher was willing to offer, you had six kids to feed, and you lived in an upside-down abandoned sailboat in the slimy backwaters of Chesapeake Bay. Despite the fact that you’re talented beyond measure and that money is now flowing like the Mississippi, at one penny per book your ten-million-selling blockbuster has netted you the grand total of $100,000 before taxes, agent fees, etc. When it’s all over you’ll be lucky to clear $40,000.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking any author who signs a deal like that is an idiot. And I don’t disagree. But notice what’s happening now. Now we’re saying that an author needs to be on guard not just against publishers who ask for money up front, but publishers who only flow money to the author. It’s not simply the case that money flow predicts or precludes abuses, as the music-industry analogy showed. And if that’s the case — if money flowing in either direction can still be fleeced from writers — what’s the ultimate utility of Yog’s Law?
Or maybe what you’re thinking is that the penny-a-copy royalty example is too unrealistic. And you’re right. I should have made it a little more realistic, so we could get bogged down in arguable concrete details instead of recognizing the blindingly obvious fact that authors can easily be taken by publishers who do not ask for money up front.
Do we really have to have a conversation about all the ways a publisher might rip off a writer? Do we need to get into the reserves-against-returns issue? Do we need to talk about publishers holding authors’ rights even after they’ve stopped exploiting those rights? What about phantom charges deducted from a book’s costs? Is there anyone on the face of the earth who really believes that a publisher cannot screw a writer just as effectively — and perhaps even for a greater total amount over the life of a contract — as a vanity publisher?
Then again, maybe what you’re thinking is that no writer would ever be caught in a contract like that if they had a good agent, and I agree. But now we’re falling so far back from our original assertion we’re assuming it’s agents who will ultimately protect writers from any publishing nightmares. While that’s certainly an agent’s job, this assumption destroys Yog’s Law completely.
The New Money Flow
The abuse of writers by con-artist agents easily rivals the abuse of writers by publishers of any stripe. To help protect naive writers, reputable agents such as Richard Curtis put the AAR together, authors’ groups like the MWA and SFWA support sites like Writer Beware, and sites like Preditors and Editors post updated information about who’s being naughty and nice to writers.
But if writers need agents to protect them from bad publishing deals of any kind, and if the process of finding a good agent is as fraught with risk as the process of finding a good publisher, then writers today aren’t facing any unique threats. In fact, the only thing that’s changing is that the stigma of self-publishing is dying at exactly the same time that the pay-you-later publishing industry has discovered there may be considerable profit in the self-publishing space.
Apart from any stupefaction at this amazing coincidence, the net effect on writers is trivial. Instead of buying into Yog’s Law and trusting pay-you-later publishers who may bleed writers through bookkeeping scams, writers now have to use the same savvy and suspicion necessary for surviving the agent-hiring phase of their careers in the dealings they have with publishers or publishing-service providers.
Which brings me to what might be called the New Yog’s Law, with apologies to Mr. Macdonald:
Money can flow in any direction you want, but it’s your job to know where every penny goes and what you’re getting for those pennies.
If you’re a writer you have to do more and know more about your own business than ever before. You have to be good at watching your pennies, good at making deals, and good at judging the character of the people you do business with. You’re also going to need good advisers, good publishing contacts and good support groups to deal with the unending parade of offers, scams, services and cutting-edge technological developments that will appear and disappear in the next decade.
The New Publishing Metric
The good news is that content distribution isn’t the only thing the publishing industry no longer has a monopoly on. The other cornerstone of traditional publishing success has been proprietary information about the industry itself, including in particular all those legendary bookkeeping tricks of the trade.
If writers are completely on their own now, and they are (and for my money always were) then it’s up to each individual writer to make sure they take care of business. But unlike days of yore, writers can now communicate in real time about what’s happening to them. And unlike, say, musicians, writers are experts at using the tools of their craft to analyze and articulate messages. In fact, in perhaps no other industry are the rank and file as smart and skilled as management at using message and language to achieve their own ends.
Just as writers currently have resources to help them decide which agents are reputable, writers can pool knowledge and experience in order to determine which publishers and publishing-service providers are reputable. Which brings us back to the Harlequin Horizons debacle, and the reason why every publisher in the world should be scared. Ten years ago, maybe even five, Harlequin would have been able to act with impunity. Now, today, it took only a day or two before the combined response of several writers’ organization forced Harlequin to change their plans.
Why did writers react so strongly and effectively? I see two big reasons that galvanized authors to action in a way that caught Harlequin flat footed.
First, Harlequin did exactly what the publishing industry has been warning authors about for years. They held out the possibility of a potential Harlequin publishing deal as a means of seducing authors into paying money up front. That’s the fraudulent stain I mentioned earlier, and one this is often used by shady vanity publishers. Rather than offer a suite of defined publishing services for various rates, such predators imply that something wonderful and magical will happen if only an author is willing to invest in themselves by throwing ten grand (or another ten grand) at perfecting their text. This opens the door to all kinds of abuses, including selling the author on high-dollar editorial services that can easily be faked.
Second, after decades in which the industry told published writers that the pay-you-later model was the one true way to define success, a publisher with the recognizable and respected brand name of Harlequin changed its tune when it realized this industry propaganda was getting in the way of profits. Unfortunately, writers who had come to believe that professional success was defined by being published didn’t take kindly to that change of heart. And I don’t blame them.
Implicit in all this, of course, is the internet, which provided the means for the instant analysis and information sharing that galvanized authors to quick action. Again, the internet is not simply a new avenue of distribution that allows authors to move past traditional publishing-industry gatekeepers, it’s a critical information pipeline that functions in the same way. Because writers have access to shared real-time information, controlling messages in the way that the publishing industry has long been accustomed to becomes almost impossible.
In the end, Harlequin’s crime wasn’t that they tried to move to a new business model. Harlequin’s crime was that they hypocritically betrayed a whole generation of professional writers just to make a buck. Meaning the same buck that slick vanity and subsidy publishers have been trying to make all along. Once again, this pretty much puts to rest the idea that publishers love and revere writers.
As Harlequin found out, the internet puts a premium on trust. Those publishers and publishing-service providers who prosper going forward will treat trust as a critical metric in their dealings with authors. They will do this by providing honest services at a fair price, and by letting competition determine the winners. Everyone else will eventually fail.
— Mark Barrett
Mick Rooney says
Absolutely superb article, Mark.
Moriah Jovan says
Henry Baum says
jenn topper says
Brilliant insight, with a long roll of the R. So thank you for publishing a debate worth having. Though for me it’s not a debate, it’s an agree. (I’m a deconstructionist so I don’t mind certain grammar rules. Watch, I’ll end a sentence in a preposition later on.) This pivotal time we’re in has enabled writers, readers, and publishers alike to begin questioning what the definition of publishing really is, and who the key players are in that equation. As we wiggle out of the corset that for too long limited our consideration of DIY publishing as a vanity or failure, we are gaining the confidence of readers as well.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It is so easy in a small community to think we are a microcosm of the larger marketplace. We are not. I recently fielded a comment from someone who thought my DIY publishing of 29 Jobs and a Million Lies was “cute,” and what a nice holiday gift it would be. We aren’t THERE yet–the stigma is still very much embedded in the collective mindset of readers that there is a reason why the publishing industry has set a high barrier to entry, which is to keep out the crap.
And that brings me to the point I’m so glad you brought up, trust. Strength in numbers can help us on the writer side, but it can also help us hopefully develop an equally high measure of success, whereby we won’t be releasing crap. It may taint the pool for others if readership at large feels that there is too much crap in the DIY publishing arena.
I posted some time ago about payment. I think many writers overestimate what our work is worth. I arbitrarily calculated our work at a minimum of $35/hour, and people got very upset. I hate putting my work out there for free. But that’s what I’m doing. Who the hell would buy my stuff–they don’t know who I am yet. It’s my job to cultivate and gain their trust. OR, alternatively, try to get a publisher to do that legwork for me. A-ha. I’m just taking the place of a publisher, doing it myself. But I admit, there’s a lot of work to it and many may not want to deal with that. So short of getting chosen by a publisher/agent, (and I don’t trust yet the distribution network of the publishing/distribution entities) you can go with one of the pay upfront entities. There will be many, many more in the near future.
Thanks again for an excellent, comprehensive, and thoughtful article.
“I think many writers overestimate what our work is worth.”
I think you’re right, at least in terms of people who haven’t been paid for their writing before. I’m still thinking through all of the issues and questions surrounding pricing and profit and making a living as a writer, but I definitely think expectations are out of whack for many people looking to get into the storytelling (or even non-fiction) game.
Then again, your work is worth what the market will bear. And nobody knows in advance which writers (or singers or directors) are going to click with an audience, or catch on at any particular moment. Any craft that intersects with commerce is a gamble, and one that rarely pays off over the long haul. Which is why it helps if you love what you’re doing. 🙂
Mick Rooney says
[…]Occasionally you read something which really strikes home. Even less often, someone comes along with a fresh outlook on a long debated publishing issue. For someone who had never heard of YOGS Law (in publishing – money flows to the author), Mark Barrett over on Ditchwalk has produced, certainly for me, one of the most insightful and outstanding articles of the year on YOGS law, its meaning, relevance, and what he describes as its fallacy.[…]
Joel Friedlander says
A lot of food for thought, and well done. Thanks for that, Mark. “Honest service at a fair price,” yes, I think any new model of the publishing universe will only thrive on that.
ignore the people telling you this post is well-written. it’s not.
for much of the first half of it, i was right on the edge of leaving.
(especially bad is the phrase “pay-you-later publishers”, since
it seems to ignore the fact that those publishers pay an advance.)
however, i’m glad i stuck with it, because you flipped it nicely…
but i’d suggest you should have gotten to the point more quickly.
or at least hung a sign-post upfront about where you were going.
other than editing, i think you’ve got a substantive point wrong too.
i strongly agree with much of what you’re saying, but i think that you
underestimate the degree of change that will take place. you seem to
see a model where the main players — publishers, agents, writers —
all stay in position, and you advocate that writers be more observant.
however, i see publishers largely vacating the premises, in droves,
once they find out that the “profits” in this business are insufficient…
once publishers leave, most of the agents will leave as well, since
they were just fronting for the publishers. although you might argue
that agents will evolve into “business partners” that help writers to
sludge through the process of taking a book out to the public at large,
i believe that that will become so easy that writers get quite comfortable
doing it themselves, to the extent that we see no need for any “partner”.
(i do believe writers need _editors_, but i think that fans can largely
fill the need for copy editing, whereas writers who need extensive
“structural” editing will either find or hire an editing partner, or quit.)
so now, if i would have taken my own advice, and gotten to the point,
here’s how i could’ve condensed my whole comment to 2 sentences:
1. since “publishing an e-book” is just releasing a file, it’s not difficult.
2. there’s no room for _any_ middlemen when an e-book sells for $1.
“…especially bad is the phrase ‘pay-you-later publishers’, since it seems to ignore the fact that those publishers pay an advance.”
That’s a fair point, although I could argue from a tenaciously relativistic perspective that “pay you later” means “pay you only after we’ve gotten you to sign the contract that will eventually bleed you dry” — which would take the advance into account. But that would be disingenuous and needlessly confrontational. The truth is I forgot about advances in the section you talk about, which accounts for the linguistic sloppiness.
“you seem to see a model where the main players — publishers, agents, writers – all stay in position, and you advocate that writers be more observant.”
I agree that writers need to be more observant and self-reliant in their business dealings. If a brand like Harlequin is willing to sell out its own writers, you can pretty much figure that nobody’s safe. And I don’t disagree with your conclusion that publishing will continue to consolidate due to price pressures.
“so now, if i would have taken my own advice, and gotten to the point…”
if you have bad line-wraps on my comment above,
try increasing the font-size in your browser-window,
and they will go away.
p.s. the ajax comment editor is pretty snazzy
— and thanks for letting us edit comments! —
but some edits take longer than 5 minutes to do.
perhaps a “more time” button would be useful?
Mick Rooney says
Christ! I’m completely lost by that last comment. Bowerbird, easy, slow down! Your comment has some really great points, but I’m still lost as to how they apply cohesively to this posting. Publishers vacating the premises, agents vacating the premises, writers not using agents as business partners and doing it for themselves. We were talking about YOGS Law – how it applied – now applies, but its like I just saw a supersonic publishing train pass by and I’m still wiping the dust from my eyes. What was that!!!
Henry Baum says
bowerbird likes to crap on people’s posts. Seen it before. But if you’re going to start a comment by saying a post isn’t well written, it’s probably a good idea to make some sense.
> We were talking about YOGS Law – how it applied – now applies,
> but its like I just saw a supersonic publishing train pass by and
> I’m still wiping the dust from my eyes.
here’s the summary: publishers are going to try an increasing number
of outlandish schemes in the near future to try to rescue themselves…
writers should just ignore all these shenanigans. the dinosaurs will
go extinct, right on schedule, and the mammals will soon emerge.
so ignore what harlequin is doing! better yet, laugh loudly at them!
your job, as a mammal, is to provide free e-books to your audience.
they’ll return the favor, in the form of $1 tips, because they love you.
(people routinely give tips to waitresses they don’t even know, just
because their soup was nice and warm. they’ll tip writers they love.
there is a _very_ strong bond between a writer and their audience.)
writers can adopt this strategy because a digital product on the internet
has a virtual cost that approaches zero for reproduction and distribution.
if a fan wants ink-on-paper, they will pay for a print-on-demand copy…
henry baum said:
> But if you’re going to start a comment by saying a post
> isn’t well written, it’s probably a good idea to make some sense.
i’m quite sure i “made sense” when i explained — quite adequately —
exactly why i said the post was not well-written. but i can say more.
the post is not well-written. it opens with this:
> In a moment I will speak to the fallacy of Yog’s Law
and it even runs this as a heading:
> The Fallacy of Yog’s Law
but when we get to the last half, where it gets flipped,
then we see that what we are really getting is just a
respecification of the “law”. and then we realize why
the “law” was touted as a “maxim” that was “not bad”
and “a general guideline” that “does what it needs to”,
even as we were being informed that it was “a fallacy”.
that’s a poorly-thought-through position, and that is why
the piece needed to be edited. because writing is thought.
but there is more…
mark posits a future where publishers and agents are
still on the playing field. i disagree with him, completely.
the publishers can’t compete against a pricepoint of free.
so even mark’s respecification of yog’s “law” is useless to me.
if neither publishers nor agents remain, then the advice to
be more observant in terms of where the dollars flow is
nonsensical. the dollars will flow from audience to artist.
there will be no middlemen who would need to be audited.
there will thus be zero confusion on where the money went.
do i agree with mark that writers can get ripped off if they
take yog’s “law” too seriously, and let down their guard
just because some money happens to be flowing to them?
absolutely! and i’m quite sure that it happens all the time.
the publishers have sneaky accountants working for them,
and they know a thousand ways to steal from their writers,
and have no compunction about doing so, and do it regularly.
but hey, what else is new?
you have to have been living in a cave if you didn’t know that.
every type of artist gets ripped off by their corporate masters…
and do i agree with mark that the publishers are now looking to
find another way to make money by “selling services to writers”?
well, yes, absolutely. they are money-grubbers, and they will try
anything they can think of to try and turn a buck. it’s what they do.
but what i also see is that writers are already smart to this con.
they recognize _vanity_publishing_ when they see it, no matter
who does it (including harlequin) or whatever they might name it.
(the funniest part of the whole harlequin horizons fiasco was that
harlequin really thought that if they took the harlequin name off it,
that that would calm down the protest. how out-of-touch are they?)
further, when you say — like mark seems to be saying here — that
we can loosen up our insistence on yog’s “law”, in order to try out
“new business models”, you have crossed a dangerous threshold.
because yog’s “law” is an excellent tripwire. it’s a _good_ maxim.
and yes, sir, it’s doing exactly what needs to be done, which is to
focus on the flow of the money. is mark’s “respecification” wise?
well, _certainly_. we should know where _all_ the money goes…
and, down the line, we will. because it will be dirt simple then.
because the money — all of it — will flow from audience to artist.
of course, there won’t be very much of it — maybe $1 per book.
but then again, that’s about what the writer makes even today,
because the middlemen take the other $19 of the $20 price…
the difference is, fans will be able to buy 20 books instead of 1,
so 20 writers will receive $1 each, instead of 1 artist getting $1
and middlemen siphoning off $19. this will be good for writers.
so, in the future, mark’s respecification won’t be that necessary.
and, at the present time, no corporation is going to open up
their books and let you crawl through them. and even if you
_could_ do it, you wouldn’t be able to sort out the spaghetti
that the accountants have cooked. so, at the present time,
mark’s respecification doesn’t do us much good either, so…
all in all, then, the takeway is that it is a good respecification,
but it’s not likely to have all that much relevance, now or later.
and given that assessment, the post should be much shorter.
of course, i would say the exact same thing about this comment.
so there you go…
anyway, henry baum, i see you like to “crap on” _my_ comments.
but you didn’t have the balls to actually bring your own position.
you thought just by throwing some mud at me you did your job…
that’s pretty pathetic. so i’ve given you a second opportunity here
to show us what you’ve got, in terms of a rational counterargument.
Zoe Winters says
Well, not to be a bitch, but your comments are not well-written, you see, I got all the way through Ditchwalk’s post and was riveted. Whereas, your comments sort of make me want to spork out my eyeballs. I guess then that it’s all subjective isn’t it? And it would be more correct to say that YOU don’t like the article or how parts or all of it is written. *I* don’t think your comments are particularly interesting. Guess we all have opinions. Wacky huh?
Eli James says
This is brilliant, Mark. Well written, well said.
Francis Hamit says
I think this will become mandatory reading for new authors. Having had a big publisher for my Virtual Reality book and having been screwed without being kissed first by more than a few publishers, I can tell you that contracts do not protect you from the “nibble” or creative accounting that takes money back from your advance. The amounts involved are too small to sue over, and they know it. I am less and less inclined to even submit anything to a big publisher. If I can devise a way to generate a good living on my own, why would I try to hurdle that obstacle course again? Unless I can get the kind of advance that makes you not care about the back end, I’ll just do it all myself.
“If I can devise a way to generate a good living on my own, why would I try to hurdle that obstacle course again?”
That’s really the question. The answer is not simple, and it may be that very few people ever figure out how to do this. Then again, if the price of the product is nothing (at least digitally), and costs can be held down by not allowing a publisher to inflate said costs, the revenue necessary to meet the goal falls considerably.
I’m not looking to make millions, although I wouldn’t turn them down. I’d just like to be a working writer. What that requires is defined by me and my personal needs, but in my case I don’t mind eating beans if it means I get to keep telling stories.
henry baum said:
> You know, I don’t want to ugly up this thread
um, too late, henry, you already did, the first time you posted.
you said that what i wrote was “crap” because of the first line,
but you ignored the rest of a long post that had lots of content
supporting that first line.
> but I don’t think someone who begins with
> “ignore the people telling you this post is well-written. it’s not”
> deserves a rational counterargument. It’s just petty online cynicism.
if that was all i’d written, i might agree. but i supported what i said
with not just one long post, but a second long follow-up post, so
i think it went well beyond “petty online cynicism”, far beyond it.
and what have you offered in return, henry baum?
nothing but two content-less insults. _that_ is “petty online cynicism”.
so i’d say that, based on that solid evidence, you really _do_
want to “ugly up this thread”, as you so eloquently put it…
Henry Baum says
You know, I don’t want to ugly up this thread, but I don’t think someone who begins with “ignore the people telling you this post is well-written. it’s not” deserves a rational counterargument. It’s just petty online cynicism.
I just wanted to add or point out that while it’s the writers’ associations that were seen to take action against Harlequin for their HarHo enterprise, it was by far not only authors who were upset and disgusted by this endeavor.
Many readers, myself included, were appalled by Harlequin’s decision to move forward with a vanity press in the particular manner they are planning. That decision cost them a lot of goodwill and in the long run money will cost them money. It will be a while before I’ll forget this when considering whether or not to buy a book.
Add to that the really idiotic decision to PC the reissues of 6 noire detective stories and I’ve started to question what changes in the command structure of HQN have happened to allow for such bad and goodwill destroying decision-making.
Change is coming and enterprise needs to stay on top of trends to stay relevant. These decisions, however, do not put Harlequin in a good light and they do not position them well for the future either.
“Many readers, myself included, were appalled by Harlequin’s decision to move forward with a vanity press in the particular manner they are planning. That decision cost them a lot of goodwill and in the long run money will cost them money. It will be a while before I’ll forget this when considering whether or not to buy a book.”
This is a very good point, and one that I overlook too often (blinded as I am by my own pretty words). As Guy Gonzalez says [ http://loudpoet.com/ ] (paraphrasing), in the end it’s all about the readers. And he’s right.
As to Harlequin’s decision to sissify those old detective stories, it’s yet another reason why authors should control their copyrights.
Katy Madison says
It is a great big assumption that a self-published book will ever sell in the numbers it takes to hit the NYT list or any other best-selling list for that matter. Name me one book that has hit those kinds of numbers BEFORE being picked up by a conventional publisher. Or can you even find one that sold 20,000 copies in its self-published version?
Doesn’t happen. Could it in the future? Maybe but don’t hold your breath, you’ll pass out long before it does happen.
The pay now and later publishers (advances and royalties) offer one thing you can’t find elsewhere: Distribution. So even if I keep all the proceeds from a self-pubbed book selling a stellar 10,000 copies, (and 10,000 books sold that are not distributed through conventional means is phenomenal.) I maybe get to $100,000 gross, but way less than the $40,000 net assumed in the article. Although I have to wonder how bad an author has to be at money management to end up with only $40,000 after grossing $100,000. Agents charge 15%, a few hundred might be spent on office equipment and supplies, anything beyond that is discretionary expense, yielding $84,000 or more.
I’ll take the conventional publishing even at a penny per book—which it is not the going rate for any publisher out there—I’d still come out way ahead.
As for the diamonds that get passed over by conventional publishers—well I’m sure a number of diamond rings get tossed in the garbage or go down drains each year. But I’m not going to go to the dump to dig around for them or worse wade through a bunch of raw sewage either.
“The pay now and later publishers (advances and royalties) offer one thing you can’t find elsewhere: Distribution.”
I have to disagree with this, if only because the words you wrote to me and the words I am writing in reply are freely available around the planet for anyone with a computer. It is also possible today to put larger works of content (novels) online and to charge for them — meaning that any writer has access the kind of distribution that publishers used to control exclusively.
You’re quite right that publishers can scale sales through marketing, by pushing books into bookstores, paying for prominent placement in bookstores, buying advertising, etc. But the question is not total sales, or even NYT bestseller status. The question is whether a writer can making a living outside of the traditional publishing sphere. (I see this is an open question.)
“Agents charge 15%, a few hundred might be spent on office equipment and supplies, anything beyond that is discretionary expense, yielding $84,000 or more.”
Before taxes. And if the author is self-employed, taxes will probably be an easy 33% of the gross, give or take a few deductions. (I honestly don’t care about the specifics of my example: you can make up your own to fit into my post and it wouldn’t cause me to change my conclusion.)
“I’ll take the conventional publishing even at a penny per book—which it is not the going rate for any publisher out there—I’d still come out way ahead.”
If you’re fortunate enough to have that option, I see no reason not to take it — as long as you’re confident that you’re not being cheated on the back end. I did not say that publishing deals are evil: I said that publishing deals are as inherently suspect as self-publishing.
Katy Madison says
>>Before taxes. And if the author is self-employed, taxes will probably be an easy 33% of the gross, give or take a few deductions. (I honestly don’t care about the specifics of my example: you can make up your own to fit into my post and it wouldn’t cause me to change my conclusion.)<<
So are you implying that if you get your money some other way, via self-distribution on the net or whatever, you're not going to pay taxes on it???? And that you don't fall into the self-employed category?
You need a better accountant if you have to pay 33% of your gross in taxes. With the exception of paying the additional 6.5% of social security ON NET INCOME that a company would pay for you on gross income for its employees, there are no differences in taxes for writers and other people. And you pay taxes on NET earnings not gross earnings, so you get to deduct all kinds of nice things such as supplies, equipment, research travel and the cost of your office space, even if it is a part of your home.
And yes I do have the option of being paid by a publisher because I worked hard at my craft. I didn't decide the publishers who rejected good stories were wrong. Instead I worked harder at my craft until my writing improved enough to be out there in there in the world. (My perspective was as skewed as any wannabe writer when I started, whereas now I can see what a publisher saw with my early works. They weren't ready.)
And just because people CAN get to see you on the net, doesn't mean readers will come. It is not a case of "Build it and they will come." Again, show me one self-published thing that has seen the sales.
The future may be different, but the future is not now and I just saw a blog where people are whole-heartedly rejecting what they perceive as self-published books.
So good luck with that distribution thing.
“Instead I worked harder at my craft until my writing improved enough to be out there in there in the world. ”
Regarding the money, I’ll defer to your accounting. Regarding your faith in a system of selection, production and distribution which has its own failings, I’m not here to convert anyone. If you’re happy, I’m happy for you.
My only point remains the one I started with, which is that in the internet age I don’t need anyone to help me get my words to readers. It may be to my advantage to partner with others, or to work with agents or publishers, but they no longer stand as obstacles to my ability to publish content that others can access.
Your encounter with this post is proof of that. The fact that you took the time to respond emphasizes the advantages of the internet as a medium as well.
Jim Macdonald says
I know all about the thousand sorrows of the writer’s life, even when the writer is with a major New York publisher, and I’ve written extensively about them. Publishers are not all equivalent; we all have to keep our eyes open and wear our Suspicious hats. Bad things happen to good books all the time.
But I don’t see that anyone’s disproved Yog’s Law, or found a fallacy in it. As I said in my original declaration of the rule: “It won’t keep you from being sadder-but-wiser. It will keep you from being sadder-but-wiser-and-poorer. ” (http://www.sff.net/people/yog/)
Self-publication still follows Yog’s Law. What you have to remember is that while the same individual is both the publisher and the author, money still needs to move from the pocket marked “publisher” to the pocket marked “author.” Even if those pockets are in the same pair of pants. Like the graph of y = x^2, zero is the lowest an author should accept for payment.
Further discussion here: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/012967.html