Dear Robert J. Sawyer,
I wanted to talk to you at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference this year, but I never made it over to you. So much excitement, intrigue, and chatting with my tribe. Since I couldn’t speak to you in person, I figured I’d write an open letter, saying now much I loved, loved, loved your talk on Saturday night.
Yeah, it wasn’t all fuzzy puppies and inspiration, but what you said blew me away. My mouth hung open the entire time, and I kept glancing over to see if the publishing industry was sending in shock troops to pull you down from the podium. You were a firebrand, and dang, I kept thinking, “He can’t be saying this stuff. Someone is going to stop him.”
But no one did because you were speaking the truth. Authors are either abused or ignored much of the time. We get paid pennies for our words, even at the professional rate, and we don’t get raises. Pennies a word, like it was the 1920s while agents went from 10% to 15% and publishers are having record years.
I am signing up with the Author’s Guild and I promise to do my part for the resistance.
Yet, the problems authors face are legion. Part of the problem lies with us scribblers ouselves. Maybe all of the problem lies with us.
In this day and age, anyone can write a book and publish a book. I find that amazing, exciting, and wonderful. I think there has never been a better time to be an artist because distribution has been solved. The internet has opened the world up and as artists, we have a platform we can use. Yes, it’s never been noisier and books have never faced the competition we face now.
Dude, I can watch Sword Art Online on my phone. I can play amazing video games with mind-melting graphics day and night. And TV has never been better. Jessica Jones, man, Jessica Jones.
When I was a new writer, I heard Andrea Brown, the literary agent, speak and she said I’ll hear that books are dead, the publishing industry is in trouble, and it’s the end of days every year for the rest of my life. I will hear that the book business is a goner until I die. So being an author has never, ever been easy. Never.
If all writers wrote books as a business, I think the entire industry would be different. We would be paid better and things would be more fair. However, not all writers write to make money. That, I think, is the crux of the problem.
Some write for status, and I talked about that in a blog post for RMFW last year. I love that post. Here is the link.
Some write books because they love them, and yeah, they publish them, but it’s not really to make money. Andrew Weir wrote The Martian on his blog because he loved hard science fiction. He never really wanted to publish it, but his fans insisted. And he hit it HUGE!
E.L. James wrote because she wanted a sexier Twilight. And she hit it HUGE! And she admits she is not a writer. She just got stupidly lucky.
So what are we to do?
People will always want to read books. Books are magical, and you can’t get the same experience with movies, TV, or video games. Reading is a unique experience.
You are totally right in saying we need to unionize and demand to be treated fair. Whether we can all be loud enough to change the industry, well, I just don’t know.
For me, I am going to write and I am going to publish and I hope to transition to full-time writer at some point, but I have a day job. Like I said, I’m with you. We shall storm the gates of hell.
I’m a hybrid author, I have some Indie stuff, I have some small press stuff, and I’m looking to break into the big game to use their marketing arm, though I’m doubtful about that action working out.
It’s funny, any power I have as a writer comes from readers. Look at what Taylor Swift did with iTunes because she had the clout of her fan base. She forced their hand. I think really successful writers can do the same.
I have a series with Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press, and working with the WFP team has been great (the contracts are extremely author friendly). We are a coalition of independent authors who support each other, and what we do at sci-fi/fantasy conventions has proved very effective in selling books. I feel very lucky.
In the end, we authors do have power. Yeah, Amazon doesn’t have our best interest at heart, but having your own website and selling directly to the customer has never been easier. If I can get enough of a fan base, my options become greater.
So for me, it goes back to writing what I love, playing the game, and continuing the march forward. Staying open and aware to all of the possibilities.
But dang, what a wonderful keynote you made. Moving, shocking, and in the end, I did find it inspiring.
We are a beleaguered group of feisty heroes, marching against an army we have no chance of defeating. We are children of a grand legacy of artists, who have always been out numbered.
And yet, we will soldier on.
Because that is what we do.
Aaron Michael Ritchey