Thursday, February 26, 2015

Copyright and the Grocery Money

Good writing is hard work and the sale of that work is how I produce income, which is why I support US copyright laws.  Those who use my work should pay for it just as those who eat McDonald’s have to pay for hamburgers.  As most writers only get about $2 per hardcover, one can understand how important it is to protect the copyright. It takes a lot of sales to cover the rent or buy groceries.

There is a slight hitch to our copyright law, however.  Unlike hamburgers, books can be resold.  The author gets no part of that.  Nor do publishers and they don’t like it.
Publishers scored big in 2011 when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their favor in a case involving the resale of textbooks.  (Read Publishers Weekly article) Simply stated, a student purchased books that were produced elsewhere and resold them to his fellow students.  It is the “produced elsewhere” part of the transaction that got him into trouble.  The court agreed that he violated the law.  No problem there.  However the court went on to rule that books produced outside the jurisdiction of the US copyright law cannot be resold.  

You say "So what?"  Where are many of our goods currently manufactured? China.  China is outside the jurisdiction of US law.  Therefore a book printed there cannot be resold.  The market most affected is textbooks.  Publishers may have won a battle but, in doing so, they knifed the kids and have potentially unleashed a reaction that will negatively impact all writers.

A case in point: A theology student confessed to me that he used a pirated copy of a textbook.  He simply did not have $400 to buy it. 

In forcing students to buy new textbooks at ridiculously inflated prices, US publishers are pushing them to pirate.  If they overcome their consciences often enough, they will not stop at textbooks. (Pirating is already a big problem. Let’s not have divinity students piling on.) The end result is that everyone loses: the students, the writers, and the publishers.

We cannot undo the court’s decision. However we can encourage our publishers to print books here so that they can be resold.  We may not make any money on the resales but at least we can keep our kids from stealing.

I wrote this blog several years ago and pirating remains an issue.  The advent of ebooks and digital distribution has made the problem worse.  Think about it the next time you grab something off the Internet.  Are you taking a writer's grocery money?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Writers Are Like Actors: Most Work Two Jobs

Are you a writer? Well, unless a rich relative recently left you a million-dollar bequest in a will or you have a winning lottery ticket in your safe deposit box, it is doubtful you will be able to quit your day job. If writing full time is your goal, there are three essentials to consider when contemplating writing full time. They are:
·         Personal finances
·         Assignment or publication frequency
·         Contract and deadline obligations
If you are writing on spec or as a freelancer, how often are you selling your work or getting assignments?  If you are writing books, will you receive an advance from your publisher and, if so, how long can you live on it?  (The advance will probably be paid in increments as you meet your submission deadlines.)
What is your financial situation?  How much money do you need each month to meet obligations such as rent or mortgage and utilities?  Do others depend on your income?  Notice I didn’t include food. How literally are you living the starving artist label?  How much money will you need to market your work? In other words, do you know what it will cost you to become a full time writer?
Review your current income and expenses. Determine what you are willing to give up and what you can afford to spend on your business. How much help and support will you get from your spouse or family?  After you use up your vacation time, how many unpaid days off will your employer allow?  How many can you afford to take?
Until you are able to leave the employment that pays the bills, you will be working two jobs. Give some thought to how you will budget time as well as money.

The preceding paragraphs are pulled from Dollars and Sense for Writers, Chapter One. So many readers, reading articles about J. K. Rowling’s wealth, think all writers make a lot of money. Nothing could be further from the truth. Being a writer is not easy and eking out a living from it is extremely difficult.  But if you truly love to write, you’ll do it anyway.  Just like I do.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Hard Work for Hardly Any Pay

Are you writing because you love it? You'd better be.

Writing is a tough way to make a living - just like the other arts. Many famous painters, musicians, and dancers never became wealthy. You may work at writing a long time and never strike it rich. That's the truth: however that is not the only truth.

Many, many writers earn a decent living from writing. They may not be rich or famous but they are surviving. The important thing to keep in mind is that writers write because they can't imagine doing anything else.

I recently facilitated my workshop based on Dollars and Sense for Writers. Near the end, we do an exercise called Do the Math. In it, I illustrate how discounts, royalties, and per word payments impact what a writer earns. I saw a lot of sad faces. Some in the class had come expecting to earn thousands from their memoir effort.  That's like assuming one will win the lottery. There's nothing wrong with the positive attitude but, while waiting for the windfall, it's best to continue a writing life grounded in reality.

Happily there remain many opportunities for writers. What has changed is the manner in which our words are delivered to our readers.  Printed books are no longer the norm. Digital media have replaced them. But there is nothing as flexible as writing.

If you have a love of something, such as fishing, ballet, or apple pie, you can write about it and get paid for doing it. Think about it - how many sports writers are there?  How many movie critics?  In addition to the many possible topics, there are more outlets than books.  Think Web sites, think theater, think local newspaper  If you have something to say and say it well, your words will find an audience.

So plan on hard work and expect hardly any pay but if you love to write, write. The money and reward will come.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Novels Not Required

The local middle school holds a career day for its students every spring.  Because some of the kids come year after year, I tried to come up with a new viewpoint for each presentation.  Most recently I focused on writers who are making a good living but whose names are not in the public spotlight.  It turns out, that was a good move.  Only one student mentioned J K Rowling.  In earlier years, she was the role model for at least ten of them. (Oh how fleeting is fame.)

I put six names on the board – three men and three women.  In addition to one novelist (Cressida Cowell), I included a screenplay writer, the head writer of a video game, a lyricist, a comic book writer, and the writer of a famous ad campaign.  I talked about all the ways a person can make a career out of the written word.  

The kids had not considered this.  In their minds, writers do one of two things: writers are journalists or writers are novelists.  

This same misconception is often a topic in my writing workshops.  Fledgling writers come to the seminars because they want to be famous novelists like James Patterson.  I remind them that “famous” and “income” don’t necessarily go together.  Cressida Cowell, the author of How to Train Your Dragon, is a perfect example.  Because of the movie, most people are familiar with her title but she is not famous - as demonstrated by the fact that not one student recognized her name.  I imagine, however, that she earns a good income.

Writers have lots of options and we can mix or match non-fiction, fiction, long or short as inspiration or our checkbooks dictate.  If you are paying the bills with your writing, you have already accomplished a great deal.  Most artists would love to be able to do that.  Just ask any actor who is waiting tables.

You may never be famous but you are a winner if you are able to work in your art full time. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

No Chef's Knife for Me

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and current CEO, had a great idea and it revolutionized the publishing industry. The 1930's distribution model used by publishers does not work in this age of instant access and responsible use of our resources.  Changes were long overdue.  

Hard to find titles?  Amazon has them.  Without Amazon and others like it, I would not reach much of my audience.  I am not yet famous enough to warrant shelf space in a bookstore.

Hard to find anything else?  I purchased my favorite chef’s knife from Amazon because no local retailer stocks the brand even though it had the highest rating from a well-known cooking magazine and television show. 

Unfortunately, all this good is tarnished by Amazon’s efforts to control or manipulate its vendors and the marketplace.  Amazon tried to force some publishers to use its printing company if they wanted their books to be sold on Amazon. (Amazon settled that lawsuit in 2009.)  Now Amazon is using strong-arm tactics on Hachette.  Want a copy of a Harry Potter book or something by Stephen Colbert?  You can't buy it on Amazon.

Amazon - You set ebook prices. If they are too low, you need to raise them. That’s how business works. Ask Kmart. It almost went under because its ultra-low prices couldn’t sustain it.

Refusing to sell a product customers can easily get elsewhere alienates them – something no company can afford to do, especially in these difficult economic times.  Or, more likely, the sale may be lost completely. The consumer may decide she doesn’t really need that book.

If I lose a book sale, I lose income and so do all the people who work for my publisher.  If I don’t have income, I can’t buy a chef’s knife..other anything else Amazon wants to sell me.

Interestingly, I wrote this same basic piece back in 2010 when Amazon was battling MacMillon over ebook pricing and discounts. Not much has changed. It is still true that Amazon can ill afford to lose customers.  

Thanks to the Internet, I can buy books anywhere.  Powell's,, Smashwords.  Sure, Amazon was easy, but as an author, I am very aware that there are two sides to this.  So I just got a book elsewhere.  Something tells me I can find kitchen knives elsewhere too.