“Why Is It So Goddamned Hard to Make a Living as a Writer Today?” asks Douglas Preston in the summer issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin. Preston is a journalist and author of more than thirty works of fiction and nonfiction.
Every writer and aspiring writer ought to read his answer, given as a talk to the New Mexico Writers Dinner in Santa Fe on March 2, 2017.
As a nation, Preston says, we think we’re alert to censorship, but we’re missing some important points. A prevailing view is that information should be free. Hence, Google copied four million books without getting permission from the copyright owners.
Composers and musicians make money from the use of their works through their professional organizations, ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), and BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.), which collect royalties on the work.
But Authors Guild, which represents many of the nation’s writers, spent ten years and a million hard-earned writers’ dollars suing Google and lost. Even though Google is making a profit by robbing authors, the judge ruled against writers.
And then there’s Amazon, which was launched as a bookseller not to sell books, but to acquire large numbers of customers to whom it can sell other stuff. In order to do that, Amazon sells books at a loss. Brick and mortar bookstores can’t compete, “because none of them could afford to sell books at a loss forever,” says Preston, so almost half the independent bookstores in the nation went out of business. And that was before Amazon launched the e-book, which devastated the hardcover market.
As a result, even the best publishers are trying to stay solvent by cutting authors’ income:
- cutting advances
- focusing on bestsellers and celebrities while dropping lesser-known writers
- spending less on promotion unless it’s a “sure-fire bestseller”
- publishing fewer risky books, i.e., those with minority voices, controversy, or that are argumentative
- ending publication of first novels
- dropping authors whose first books don’t sell
If information is free, says Preston, “and authors can’t make a living writing books, they’ll make a living doing something else. This is the censorship of the marketplace in a nutshell.”
But as Preston notes, writers are terrible at organizing. Our work depends on being alone. So we need to join the nine thousand other writers in the Authors Guild, the oldest writing association in the nation, which has been working for writers for more than a hundred years.
From the Guild website, www.AuthorsGuild.org:
Regular Membership: Traditionally published authors with at least 1 published book; self-published authors who have made at least $5,000 in the past 18 months from their writing; and freelance writers who have published 3+ pieces or made $5,000 in the past 18 months.
Associate Membership: Writers who have received a contract offer from a traditional publisher or an offer of representation from a literary agent; self-published authors or freelance writers who have made at least $500 in the past 18 months from their writing.
The Guild also offers three additional levels of membership:
Emerging Writer: Dedicated writers who are actively seeking to publish their work, but have not yet published a book and do not meet the income thresholds for professional membership.
Student: College and graduate students interested in pursuing writing professionally in the future.
Member-at-Large: Established literary agents and editors; heirs, executors or trustees of the estates of deceased authors; or attorneys and accountants representing authors; or publicists or other publishing professionals.
You may join online, or get a membership application from the website and mail it with the required dues. Learn about the many member benefits.
Give yourself a gift; join us in protecting the work we do.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota
© 2017, Linda M. Hasselstrom
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