greygirlbeast (greygirlbeast) wrote,

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In Which the Author Discusses the "M" Word

Only slightly late, Sirenia Digest #46 just went out to subscribers. My great thanks to Vince, Spooky, and Gordon. I do hope that everyone enjoys "Charcloth, Firesteel, and Flint" and "Shipwrecks Above." If you are a subscriber, #46 should be in your in-box. If you're not a subscriber, that's easy to fix.

Not much to say about yesterday, as it was mostly spent getting #46 together. Lots of work, just not very exciting. I wrote the prolegomena, proofed and corrected both stories, laid the issue out, etc. Oh, that reminds me. We're trying a slightly different format this month, to allow vertically oriented images to appear on the cover page. Hope you like it.


Near as I can tell, there are actually people who think that artists (writers, musicians, painters, etc.) somehow manage to subsist without relying on money. Yes, money. Mammon, that "dirty" word no one seems to want to think about in connection with art. Or, they only want to think about it on some indirect, subconscious level. Recently, Amanda Palmer has drawn a lot of flack for her very aggressive, somewhat guerilla approach to making ends meet. Here's an excerpt from a recent blog entry, which she titled, "Why I Am Not Afraid To Take Your Money":

Listen. Artists need to make money to eat and to continue to make art. Artists used to rely on middlemen to collect their money on their behalf, thereby rendering themselves innocent of cash-handling in the public eye. Artists will now be coming straight to you (yes YOU, you who want their music, their films, their books) for their paychecks. Please welcome them. Please help them. Please do not make them feel badly about asking you directly for money. Dead serious: this is the way shit is going to work from now on and it will work best if we all embrace it and don’t fight it.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve surely noticed that artists ALL over the place are reaching out directly to their fans for money. How you do it is a different matter. Maybe I should be more tasteful. Maybe I should not stop my concerts and auction off art. I do not claim to have figured out the perfect system, not by a long shot. BUT…I’d rather get the system right gradually and learn from the mistakes and break new ground (with the help of an incredibly responsive and positive fanbase) for other artists who I assume are going to cautiously follow in our footsteps. We are creating the protocol, people, right here and now. I don’t care if we fuck up. I care THAT we’re doing it.


Now, to bring the whole matter a little closer to home, that is closer to the issue of literature and publishing (as Amanda is a musician and performance artist), here's a second excerpt from "The Reality of a Times Bestseller" by Lynn Viehl (I may not care for what she writes, but that does not invalidate her points):

Here is the first royalty statement for Twilight Fall, on which I’ve only blanked out Penguin Group’s address. Everything else is exactly as I’ve listed it. To give you a condensed version of what all those figures mean, for the sale period of July through November 30, 2008. my publisher reports sales of 64,925 books, for which my royalties were $40,484.00. I didn’t get credit for all those sales, as 21,140 book credits were held back as a reserve against possible future returns, for which they subtracted $13,512.69 (these are not lost sales; I’m simply not given credit for them until the publisher decides to release them, which takes anywhere from one to three years.)

My net earnings on this statement was $27,721.31, which was deducted from my advance. My actual earnings from this statement was $0.

My advance for
Twilight Fall was $50,000.00, a third of which I did not get paid until the book physically hit the shelf — this is now a common practice by publishers, to withhold a portion of the advance until date of publication. Of that $50K, my agent received $7,500.00 as her 15% (which she earns, believe me) the government received roughly $15,000.00, and $1594.27 went to cover my expenses (office supplies, blog giveaways, shipping, promotion, etc.) After expenses and everyone else was paid, I netted about $26K of my $50K advance for this book, which is believe it or not very good — most authors are lucky if they can make 10% profit on any book. This should also shut up everyone who says all bestselling authors make millions — most of us don’t.

This is pretty close to my own experience with my books from Penguin (though my advances are significantly less hefty, and I fall into that not-making-a-profit category). And the reason I'm posting this, getting into all this unsightly money talk, is because it is becoming evident to me, largely watching some of the negative reaction to Amanda's efforts, that an awful lot of those who partake of an artist's work have very little, if any, idea regarding the realities of our financial situations. They are bleak. Even when lots and lots and lots of people read or listen or whatever, they're usually still bleak, those situations. And I'm not even getting into problems like health and life insurance, self-employment tax, and so forth.

A point that Viehl does not address, but which I shall, pertains to royalties. In all my thirteen years of writing books for Penguin, I have received exactly one royalty check. One. And it wasn't for very much. I hear from many readers who want to know how they should purchase books in order to maximize my cut from each copy. And I have to tell them, again and again, it doesn't matter, because, in truth, I get 0% of each copy sold. Sure, in theory those sales go to work off the "debt" of my advances, and if those "debts" ever are worked off, I might see tiny, little, baby checks. But it won't ever be worked off, and I know that. This means, my advances are, essentially, all I ever get from my novel sales to Penguin. So, it doesn't matter how you buy the book, hard copy or electronic, online or brick-and-mortar shop, it's all the same. Also, keep in mind, when Penguin gives me that advance, it includes electronic rights, audio, and British rights. I do not own those, for any of the novels.

And it can get even worse. When I did the Beowulf novelization for Harper in 2007, it was, essentially, "work for hire" (as was all my work for DC/Vertigo, by the way). That is, I got the advance, with no hope of ever seeing any sort of royalties. And the rights will never revert back to me if the book goes out of print (as they may someday with Penguin). But the worst part of the Beowulf deal was the fact that I was forced to include all foreign-language translation rights in the package they got for their advance money. Now, by forced I do not mean someone drove from NYC to Atlanta and held a fucking gun to my head. I mean that, after I'd written the book, my agent was told this, and we were given a "take it or leave it" option. Give up translation rights or all those months of work were wasted and I'd get zip. Beowulf was, of course, translated into about a dozen languages, selling well overseas, but I saw not one penny from any of those deals. Harper was nice enough to send me complimentary copies of the foreign editions.

Personally, I spent many, many years resisting a rebellion against "business as usual." I'd grown up with the Old Way, pre-internet, and was willing to give it a shot. But. By late 2004, the Old Way had left me all but bankrupt, and I found it necessary to join those who are trying to reinvent the wheel. I started Sirenia Digest, and thanks to the amazingly loyal readership that the digest has found, I keep my head just above water, most of the time.

I'm not exactly sure how to wrap this up. Inevitably, I have left many questions unanswered, and opened the door to very many questions that have not even occurred to me. Or that have only just occurred to me, such as, "Is it different working with Subterranean Press?" Quick answer, yes, and I do much better with subpress, but I think that's also part of reinventing the wheel. Anyway, that's another subject, for another time.

Mostly, I am appalled at the people ragging on Amanda for trying to make a living via inventive, new marketing strategies. The worst of these detractors are just trolls, attracted by the brouhaha. Some are simply ignorant of the facts. Some are laboring under outdated, romantic notions that no longer work (if they ever did). And I felt I should say something.
Tags: art, business as usual, money, promotion, readers, reality, sirenia, the internet, writing

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