Sunday, June 17, 2007

June 17, 2007: You Say You Want a Revolution? Yes, Please!

This is a statement of fact. My royalty check was late this accounting period. Not one or two days late. Try two weeks late. With no explanations, no apologies for having inconvenienced me, yadda yadda yadda. The check finally arrived via snail mail at the my agent’s on Friday. I, personally, still don’t have cash in hand yet.

As I cannot yet make a living as writer – shocking, I know! – I inhabit a land of civilians where a contract means something, as do the penalties of being in breach in said contract. Only in publishing is a contract a mere suggestion of ways to do business, that dates set forth are decorative… talking points around which to maneuver. For The House, that is. Authors, on the other hand, are held strictly to the letter of any and every contract.

In any other industry, as the aggrieved party, I would have my attorney on speed dial, and we would huddle and strategize as to how to be compensated. In the publishing industry, an author could, of course, do that. However, any author with a lick of sense and her ear to the ground quickly learns that exercising your right to counter The House’s actions would result in blacklisting, with one never getting another book deal ever again. Because editors talk and tag certain authors as “difficult.” In short, The House, like in Vegas, always seems to win.

What editors don’t seem to realize is that authors talk too. If you as informed authors do your homework, you’ll see the shifts that are occurring in the industry. You’ll see the emperors parading themselves at BEA and other industry-wide events and finally realize that yes, they are indeed naked. You’ll hear others tell you, as one person told me, that she’d set her manuscript on fire before she’d sign with a certain publisher. In short, authors aren’t as desperate as we once were to get to The Show. Some of our colleagues are laying in the cut, waiting for the complete paradigm shift, or they’re making one of their own.

I envision the same paradigm shift, a revolution within the publishing industry, a movement that will make this industry friendlier to us who provide the raw materials which The House uses to make almost a one-hundred percent profit off our backs. Think for a second what happened with the music industry. That industry’s moldy, outdated business model wasn’t working for consumers who wanted to enjoy music their way. This desire begat file sharing web sites like Napster and Kazaa, which enabled the consumer to share music they wanted, without having to get fleeced buying an entire CD at inflated prices. Finally, the music industry saw the light and changed. With inventions like iTunes and the like, consumers can now enjoy music the way they want to, and the industry and the artists get paid.

While the revolution in the music industry was consumer-driven, I predict that the publishing industry revolution will be fought by authors like us. I see it happening already. Print-on-demand is bigger than ever. iUniverse, coining the phrase “supported self-publishing,” has snagged heavy hitters like Alan Thicke and Barney Rosenzweig (creator of Cagney & Lacey), who’ve published best selling books with them. Both Margaret Johnson Hodge and Tina McElroy Ansa, successful authors in their own right, have started their own publishing houses. This revolution will make this industry more egalitarian and give a well-deserved systemic shock to self-styled power brokers who believe they’ve “made” authors in general and Black authors in particular. If you’re plugged in, you’ll hear others talking about that revolution too. My advice to authors and to The House alike? Listen up…


Rae L. said...

Hi Wendy,

Wonderful post about the publishing industry in a nutshell. I guess I would be considered a newbie to the industry as it is only this year when I began learning more about how the business really works. It truly is an outdated business model and I'm a big fan of the independents rising to the top to allow the voice to upcoming unknown writers to shine through. I look forward to seeing some changes swing in favor of the hardworking author in the coming years. It's a slow process but it's great to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

You and Karyn keep up the great work on the Book Squad. I look forward to the show whenever the podcasts are posted! Oh yes, and I hope you bring back Wendy's World soon! :-D


Wendy Coakley-Thompson said...

Hey, Rae. I had people sit me down and school me about this industry and STILL I get a nasty shock from time to time. Knowledge is power, and I think the more we authors share of our experiences, the less likely we'll have wool pulled over our eyes.

About the Book Squad, thanks much for the love. The show is my revenge of the midlist author! :-)