This and that…

The Diminishing wage of Authors and Traditional vs. Self-publishing

Having finished North of Autumn, my second novel, I’ve begun another round of submissions to agents. I chose three this time, one of whom is in Berlin and who I’m hoping will actually want to read the novel. But the waiting game begins again. Based on submitting my first novel, about half of agents simply don’t respond if they’re not interested. So be it. Since I only have so long to live, however, I’ll be giving agents 4 weeks to respond, then move one.

On the other hand, I go back and forth as concerns traditional publishing. There’s very little money in traditional publishing for the vast majority of novelists. Don’t even ask about poetry. Agents are largely allergic to contemporary poetry (and for good reason). I was reviewing some other websites so I could write a minimally informed post, and stumbled across some interesting percentages. The most striking was a site claiming that 97% of writers don’t finish their novels. No source was given for this figure and so it may be click bait. I’m not even sure how such a figure would be calculated, so be skeptical. Less skeptically, another site offers some interesting figures on the percentage of authors who earn a living wage. The site reported that “63 percent of authors who reported receiving book-related income in 2017, the average total income was $43,247“. Alternatively, of course, that means that 37% of authors received no income at all. If I were to earn the average, that would be a step down from what I could make as a builder but a hell of a triumph given what I’ve made by writing so far. The site also notes that “three-sevenths of full-time authors with any earnings were making over $50,000″—the proviso being “full time”. If one is earning enough to be a full time writer, then it stands to reason that one is making something like $50,000 or more.

If you’re a writer like me, with ambitions to be published, there’s an interesting article at the Atlantic you might enjoy—entitled “Now Do Amazon“. The author, Franklin Foer, begins the article by stating a fact I did not know:

~ One of the great literary hoaxes of our time is the book spine. A staggering number of logos stare out from dust jackets, celebrating names including Crown, Vintage, Ballantine, Knopf, and Dial. But the pluralism implied by this diversity of monikers is a sham. In the U.S., nearly 100 of them belong to a single company: Penguin Random House. The rest are owned by a small handful of competitors, one of which is Simon & Schuster.

Foer’s main concern, however, aren’t the mergers and acquisitions (blocked by the Justice Department) that have largely turned publishing into a monopoly (to the detriment of authorial income) but Amazon, which he rightly labels a monopsony.

~ Amazon is arguably the ultimate embodiment of monopsony power. It has, in the past, used its dominance to demand a large cut of publishers’ sales, according to industry insiders. And companies such as PRH have had little choice but to accept—or become bigger, so that they can bargain harder. Amazon’s pressure on publishers has sometimes come out of authors’ pockets in the form of reduced advances.

In other words, not only is Amazon making its billions by squeezing publishers (who are/were themselves hardly saints) but is greatly contributing to the long-term decline in authorial income.

Meanwhile, the website Reedsy argues, in an article entitled “How Much Do Authors Make? The Truth about Money in Publishing“, that Indie Authors (authors who self-publish) fare much better than traditionally published authors—all else being equal. They write:

~ …many more self-published authors make a living than traditionally published authors, with self-publishing royalty earnings outpacing trad pub’s advance plus subsequent royalties. This was proven by several years of Author Earnings reports — most notably, one study that divided authors into groups earning more than $10k, $25k, $50k, and $100k. The study found that the number of indie authors earning 5-6 figures/year from book sales was much higher than the number of Big 5 authors earning the same.

This is almost solely, from what I can tell, because of the difference in royalty. While a self-published author won’t get an advance, they can expect to earn 50% to 70% on each book sold while the average royalty for the traditionally published author is 7.5%, and that doesn’t include any agent’s cut.

And so I’m torn, and it’s not necessarily about the money. I probably have another 25 to 30 years to live, so what does a million dollars mean to me? A traditional publisher can market and promote my book and get it on shelves. I don’t have that skillset. On the other hand, a traditional publisher could also sit on the book and decline to market or promote it. That happens. Then all I’m left with, best and worst case, is a small advance and a book that will never see a readership. In that case, I would have been better off self-publishing. Even a small readership is better than none, and with a greater share of the royalty, I would still be apt to come out ahead.

If I’m disappointed by the results of shopping both my books this winter, then I am definitely open to self-publishing and/or looking for an Indie publishing.

Literary Revelations Publishing House

Speaking of Indie Publishers, I recently submitted a Shakespearean sonnet to Literary Revelations Publishing House. I haven’t submitted any of my poetry anywhere for years, not since founding this blog, but, you know, if I’m going to stop being a hermit… Their home page states that they are “an independent publishing house dedicated to showcasing the best literary and art work. We publish poetry, short stories, interviews, art, and novels.” Their website is really quite professional. My sonnet was in answer to their call for poems on the theme of childhood: “Hidden in Childhood: A Poetry Anthology – Call for Submissions“. If you have written poems on childhood, or have one to write, then consider submitting something and supporting your local, Indie publisher.

Chaucer was not a Rapist

Unfortunately, this article, entitled “Chaucer the Rapist? Newly Discovered Documents Suggest Not” is behind a paywall, but the gist is this: “A court document discovered in 1873 suggested that around 1380, Chaucer had been charged with raping Cecily Chaumpaigne, the daughter of a London baker. In the document, Chaumpaigne released Chaucer from ‘all manner of actions related to my raptus’— a word commonly translated as rape or abduction.” Apparently, two scholars discovered a second copy of the document in which the word “raptus” had either been removed or omitted as a result of Chaucer possibly having hired a new lawyer. The suspicion, that this was Chaucer whitewashing, led the scholars to the original writ of the case (previously unknown). It turns out that Chaucer and Cecily Chaumpaigne were both the defendants and were being sued by a Thomas Staundon who accused Chaucer of poaching Cecily from Staundon’s service. In that case, the scholars argue, raptus refers to ““the physical act of Chaumpaigne leaving Staundon’s service.” So, Staundon was not suing Chaucer for raping Cecily Chaumpaigne but suing both of them—she for leaving his service and Chaucer for poaching her. According to the article, this discovery landed like a bomb. Needless to say, there is considerable resistance from scholars, especially among feminist critics, who have produced criticism predicated on Chaucer’s having raped Chaumpaigne. That’s a tough spot for them, but it’s daily life for any scientist. One day you’re working on your unified field theory and the next some new scientific discovery invalidates the entirety of your corpus. I personally am just as happy to see Chaucer’s good name restored. Judging an artist by their art is fraught with self-deception, but the kind of man who could write Chaucer’s stories, with their humor and wisdom, doesn’t mesh with a man accused of rape.

The first Poet & Writer

There’s a lovely article in the New Yorker about the Priestess Enheduanna. I first ran across her poetry about a decade ago and fell in love with it. It’s truly powerful and beautiful verse. The article is entitled “The Struggle to Unearth the World’s First Author“. The article primarily addresses the strange reluctance of scholarship to acknowledge and celebrate Enheduanna’s primacy or that she even existed—emphasis on ‘she’. The author, Elizabeth Winkler, writes:

~ But since their discovery, in the mid-twentieth century, scholars have fiercely debated Enheduanna’s authorship. Did the priestess really write these works? Is the idea of a woman at the beginning of the written tradition—two thousand years before the golden age of Greece—too good to be true? This winter, an exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, “She Who Wrote: Enheduanna and Women of Mesopotamia,” will try to give the priestess her due.

Winkler later in the article elaborates on the apparently male-centric biases that have resisted Enheduanna’s identity not just as a writer/poet but as a female:

~ Of particular note is a statue of a woman with a tablet in her lap—evidence of women’s literacy and engagement with writing. (When it was first discovered, in the early twentieth century, the German scholar Otto Weber reported, “Our specimen carries a tablet on her knees. Its meaning is not clear to me.”) The statue and others like it have been ignored in the academic literature, Babcock told me. “If this was a man with a tablet in his lap, there would be twenty articles about it.” Such artifacts upend long-held assumptions—about literacy as the preserve of élite male scribes, and about Middle Eastern women as being confined to the domestic sphere.

What I didn’t realize, until reading the article, is just how much of her writing has survived (which is astonishing given how many thousands of years ago she wrote) and the extent to which her writing was kept alive by later generations, even to 500 years after her death. My own opinion is that when reading the poetry of Enheduanna we read the work of a literary genius—the Shakespeare of her age. To think that her voice could survive for thousands of years! It bespeaks a woman, star-gazer and poet who, in her suffering, was capable of communicating our common humanity with a language, symbol, metaphor and archetype that still holds meaning thousands of years later.

And that’s all for today, November 23rd, 2022.

11 responses

  1. As always, your commentary is very timely and relevant. I am amazed that you have time to write so much. Anyway, here is what I have to say. On my fourth book of poetry that was published August 30, 2o22, I went with the “hybrid” publisher Austin Macauley. My idea (misinterpretation?) was that, unlike with my previous self-published works, the publisher would help market my book. Well, that didn’t quite work out the way I wanted, BUT what they have done is introduce me to many different ways of self-marketing, and they really don’t want to help me much. However, what they have shown me is that if–and that is a super big IF–I had twenty to thirty hours per week to spend searching Publishers Weekly, Booklife, BookBub, and all the other online sources for free advertising, free reviews, or even cheap advertising and reviews, I could probably increase book sales four or five times more than the current sales. According to the Alliance of Independent Author’s blog, nearly 30% of book sales are self-published authors, and self-pubs garner an even higher percentage of online book sales, and, as you quoted, they can expect to get anywhere form 50%-70% of their book sales. That all sounds great and awesome, and HEY! let’s all publish everything that we write, right? I am sorry, but, like you imply, I don’t care to self-market. That is not my gig. I spend forty hours a week teaching and another ten to twelve grading papers of the students I teach. I like to squeeze in some time to write creatively when inspired, you know, maybe ten hours a week. Where does that leave time for marketing, especially when I am simply not very good at “selling” myself? –Right back to wishing I could find a traditional publisher! I am sorry, but I am not Lisa Genova of “Still Alice” fame. I live in rural Arkansas. I am not going to drive around the countryside and hawk books from the trunk of my car. I want someone to do that for me. Therefore, I have come full circle. I want to be traditionally published, but I know that it will not happen, and I know that trade-pub is fraught with danger for an author whose agent is not Satan. I can self-pub any time, but then, if I want to sell books, I have to self-market, which is a special kind of hell to me. It seems I may be stuck running around in circles, down and down and round and round. And that’s my two cents. Thanks for being out there to spur the thoughts, Patrick.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting. I had a similar experience when approaching hybrid publishers, even those with otherwise reputable reputations. Their claims vis-a-vis marketing were vague to misleading. Here’s what Rootstock Publishing in Vermont states: “We work with you on promotion, obtaining reviews, and distribution of your book through both independent bookstores and chains, such as Barnes & Noble, as well as with online print-book and e-book retailers and distributors.” You could march Napoleon’s army through what “we work with you” means . It means them working-with-you to spend *your* money and time. And good luck with that. They got what they wanted—your money; and they’re not going to risk it by promoting your book. In Rootstock’s case, a writer’s money pays for editing, book design and a pre-agreed book run. That’s fine if one is a gifted marketer. If I were to self-publish, I figure I can do everything a hybrid publisher does and do it just as well. I can hire my own editor and oversee design and printing. Being a contractor, that even appeals to me. I’d rather spend my five or six grand, if I had to choose, on a good marketer. A hybrid publisher strikes me as just a vanity press with an extra step. Unless they’re lucky enough to score a best seller, they ultimately don’t make their money from readers but from authors. And thanks to you for commenting, Thomas.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I will say, that even the big five publishers don’t do as much advertising either. In fact, speaking with several authors personally who have used them say that in the contract, the author is REQUIRED to do self-promotion. So when you see these well-known authors signing books and on social media… it’s because they are contractually obligated to do so. Signing with big houses is you working for them, not the other way around. Remember: publishers (particularly the big houses) are in it —> to. make. money. Now, many small houses follow that model but a lot of them are (like me) passionate about the art of writing and the authors they represent, money is the lower factor.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Even if an agent shows interest that doesn’t mean I’ll accept. What I can tell you, Tara, is that when it comes to submitting my manuscripts to a publisher, I won’t until you’ve read them and won’t until you’ve considered them. You may say they need further work and I’d put that work into them, but you will be the first I send them to. You know more of my writing than anyone else who reads this blog. And congratulations on your soon-ish vows. :)

      Liked by 1 person

    • I just keep rooting for you, that you’ll find exactly what it is you’re looking for. I don’t understand why they aren’t seeing a “spark” because when I read your work, it captures me right away. And it slow burns to perfection. And I’ve read some “mainstream” stuff that I thought was just garbage (so to speak)… maybe better to say: not very original or well-thought-out or written overly-simple. Your stories, in contrast, have heart and soul in it. And dare I say, a touch of magic old-world style. I like that.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m in agreement with Amazon. I despise that company and especially what it’s doing to small companies and (of course, since it’s near and dear to my heart) publishing. I have several authors, including myself, who don’t want their books on Amazon. They take more money than the printer and the publisher combined and certainly more than the author. Ugh. Don’t get me started.

    But talking about prices, that’s why I publish authors for very cheap, because I want the author to get the lion’s share of profit. They put in the work. I do the easy stuff! I’m not advertising on your page, but merely pointing out that there ARE small house publishers (such as myself) who don’t take an arm-and-a-leg to publish. AND no matter whether it’s big houses or small houses or self-publishing… statistically, the authors who make the most money are the ones who tirelessly promote themselves. Book-signings and all that.

    Liked by 1 person

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