Hey Authors, Wanna Hear a Secret?

August 30, 2012

Okay, so this is probably the worst kept secret in history, but guess what, authors? Librarians love you; authors are our rock stars. And it isn’t just us. We have shared our love with so many people that they have built whole museums to hold your works. These edifices, let’s call them “libraries” perhaps, showcase your talents and share your writing with millions of readers each year. And you don’t even have to pay for the privilege of being featured in our collections. In fact, we pay you for the right to have your books on display, to tell visitors why they would love your books, and to help make sure as many people as possible read your books.

So why, then, would you ever want to prevent libraries from having access to your books just because they have gone digital?

In all honesty, we are the best deal in town. Do you think Barnes & Noble will put your books on that lovely table right at the front when you walk in just because they liked reading it? Forget about it, it’s all pay to play there. Not only do you have to sell to B&N at a huge discount (whoops . . . there go the royalty payments), but if you want face-out placement or some other special treatment that will be extra.

Oh, what’s that? Going to go online with the book instead? Sure, but have you actually read that contract from Amazon? While Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Kindle Singles have worked out for some independent authors, others have taken big hits when Amazon decides to lower book prices. Remember, 70% of nothing is . . . well . . . nothing. Amazon isn’t always great for big name authors who are signed with big name publishers either. Seems their bestselling lists and recommendation algorithms can be played like the proverbial fiddle. In fact, you can even buy a book from Amazon on how to game the Amazon lists to create a bestseller. In fact, your publisher might have read that book or something like it: Publishers have been using money that could have gone into your royalties to buy reviews on Amazon for years through free books and other giveaways. Or, they just flat out bought reviews—in bulk, for a discount.

When is the last time a library hit you up with a pay-to-play requirement for getting a book on its recommended book shelf? Did you have to fork over extra cash to have your book displayed in the new books section? Are you sensing that libraries are actually your best friends in this whole getting-books-to-readers deal?

It isn’t just me, a librarian, pointing out these issues. Ursula K. Le Guin feels quite the same about the need for publishers to be working with libraries. This is, as Le Guin notes, “a legitimate, big problem, which affects authors just as much and as directly as it does libraries and publishers.”

So authors, please remember. We are in this together. We want your current books and we want your future books. We recognize that to keep getting the great books you write, you need to get paid. We are more than happy to pay you a fair price for a fair deal. Together we need to keep reminding publishers that some of the deals they are pushing at both of us are far from fair in any sense of the word.