Just read this article in Publisher's Weekly. If I was a tradtional publisher I think I'd start to get nervous. This has all the feeling of a small snowball rolling down a mountain side turning into a massive avalenche.
This is exactly right, IJ. Remember, Ed, that the author only earns out if he makes back in royalties whatever he's paid as an advance--but his royalty share is maybe 10-12% on hardcovers, a lot less on MM. The publisher keeps the lion's share, so even if the book doesn't "earn out" for the author it's still very possible for the publisher to make a profit. Now, they don't like it when those advances don't earn out--they want that money back--but if they don't get all of it it doesn't mean they're losing money. Both of my books earned out--but lots of writers never earn out, and they still get new contracts and big advances.
Leaving aside advances for a moment, the author deserves the same treatment as all other authors. At least, It seems to me that contracts should spell out this sort of thing. (As in: we'll pay you 10,000 bucks but not a penny more for promotion and marketing). Too many of us walk into dangerous liaisons unknowingly.
Advances may indeed be involved in promotion, at least in the sense that a fat advance is bolstered by lots of publicity to protect the investment.
However you look at this, it's a bad business model. The publisher ends up losing -- either by guessing wrong about best sellers or by not properly marketing his regular books.
By the time the contract is signed, the author is out of the game. The first deal is made between the agent and the publisher, and he can take it or leave it. The other deals are made without any consideration to him.
I have little sympathy for authors in this. No one is forced to sign a contract. Ask questions, make sure you know what you're getting before you sign, and if you don't like the deal, then don't sign the contract. If you're so happy to be getting published that you just sign whatever is put in front of you, then okay, fine, but don't complain later.
Authors need to take more responsibility for their situations and stop whining about their plight. I don't blame publishers for trying to make the most of their business, but I do blame authors for letting themselves get screwed for so long, yet they still come back for more and are surprised when the result is the same.
although I understand your sentiment, I would challenge you to find a single example of authors here suggesting any kind of surprise at the situation. Complaining, yes. Surprise, no.
In general, I am sympathetic to the problems facing authors. Literally until the last 1-2 years, the only realistic choice an author had if he wanted to make even a bare living was to join the flawed model, and even that was dicey. The fact that the turbulent market and technological change has started to open up possibilities makes me feel more sympathy for them, not less. The strong likelihood of losing your own money is not inherently a better proposition than the strong likelihood of getting into a bad situation with a publisher.
I'd also say that when a corporation makes a business decision that it believes is in its best interest, those who are impacted negatively by it not only shouldn't keep silent, they should speak up.
If an author goes into a bad situation knowing it's a bad situation, then they get what they deserve. Why complain about it, when you knew the outcome from the beginning? Obviously you made a choice to take a bad deal for the sake of getting published. So accept it. Don't knowingly take a bad deal and then complain that you got a bad deal. That's what I'm saying.
It is true there is only one viable route for publication; maybe that is starting to change, but traditionally, yes, you either accept what the majors are giving you or do without. But who's fault is that?
Authors should have been standing up for themselves a long time ago. Why not band together, either via a union or other means, and resist the big publishers? Just don't to them. Publish elsewhere. Publishers need authors. Take the supply of authors away and the publishers will be forced to make a better deal. Not an easy feat at all, but it's foolish to expect the publishers to give authors a good deal without some kind of incentive or pressure to do so.
I remember on a vacation I took to Costa Rica a local guy was explaining that the coffee plantations are co-ops because, as he said, it's better for the society if everybody is doing okay rather than one really rich guy and everybody else dirt poor.
And of the other tourists said, "Yeah, but what if you're that one guy?"
Most authors take the "entry level" deal from publishers in the hopes they'll someday be that one guy.
But there's plenty of middle-ground. People are painting this as all or nothing, but there are plenty of writers like me who will never have a bestseller but who keep putting out books.
As Jon Loomis said, if you want a bestseller you have to write one - there are lots of things in my books keeping them from appealing to such a wide audience but I like them and I like the deal the publishers have offered me.
Actually, John D., I was surprised when I discovered that I had no input and no editor, and no promotional support from my first publisher. By that time, I had signed away two novels, was dropped after # 2, and had to settle for whatever I could get from another publisher after that.
The choice is only: accept the contract or don't get published.
Maybe I was naive, but I think that's the condition of every first-time author.
And of course I'll complain about an unfair system that does nothing for the quality of what is being published.
I have a notion that a lot of authors are thinking of breaking out of the system -- as for example Joe Konrath. And even more are hoping for that NYT best seller that will let their agent make the publisher pay massive amounts in the future.
It's simple supply and demand, John D--way more manuscripts out there, and way more authors willing to basically give them away in hopes of getting a foot in the door--than there are livings to be made from writing them. "Who's" fault that is depends on your perspective, I guess. Here's a thought: why don't you work on a novel for a few years, get yourself an agent after dozens of rejections, then endure the emotional roller coaster of aeditor submissions, and then we'll see if you can put your money where your mouth is when the offer's not everything you'd hoped for. Let us know how you stood up to big pub, and then we'll talk.
Why complain about it? because people might listen. Complaining about Amazon sure got them to back down. Complaining about Toyota got a whole bunch of changes. Complaints work sometimes, regardless of what both parties knew going into the situation that led to complaints. You speak of incentive or pressure - well, complaints can often provide a whole load of pressure.
As for who's fault is the current situation? Well, probably the most blame goes to the authors who could have done something about it, but haven't. The big name authors. They are the only people who could have even begun to make the union idea work. and they are largely not interested, because they've made it and they believe the system works well enough not to change it.
Personally, I'm not interested in blame. I'm an unpublished author except for the free audiobook I've given away and I have no illusions about making substantial income anytime soon if ever. I'm absolutely fine with it, too. I can spend 10-20 hours a week on things related to writing for the rest of my life and not make a dime. Like many writers, I've already been doing it for a number of years.
But each party in this is doing pretty much exactly what you'd expect. Blaming midlist authors for complaining at the same time as suggesting we shouldn't blame publishers for doing what they do and big-name authors for not being part of the solution is a pretty simplistic thing to do.
@ John McFetridge: This wasn't Richard Tremblay's Costa Rican resort, was it.
@ Jon Loomis: Dead on; it's a question of supply and demand. Gas would be cheap, and the companies that produce wouldn't be as powerful, if the amount produced exceeded the demand for it. The difference is, the oil companies and OPEC can control how much gets produced. Think small farmers: they have no control over how much corn (soybeans/pork bellies/kumquats) gets produced each year, but they still have to live with the resulting price.