I suspect that this post is one of those posts that are generally not spoken of in writing circles. Leastways, not the circles I run in. But you know me, what passes through my mind comes out my mouth or fingers, one or the other.
The other day I blathered about the price of principles.
And today I’m wondering about unions. Talk about a high price. Have you ever been around a strike? Where the union workers are starving, their families are hurting, and they have to decide whether to "cross the picket line" and go back to work to feed their family, or stick by their union and their principles?
For a man or woman at that income level to have to go for weeks and months without pay is ... nearly unfathomable. (And in times past, crossing the picket line could be risking your life.)
But the price today, if they cross that picket line, is that when the strike is settled, they’re likely out of a job.
And the "social price" is they’ve let down their fellow workers. They’ve weakened the power of the union, and by weakening the power of the union, they’re personally responsible for their fellow works making less pay and/or receiving less benefits.
Novelists, as far as I can tell, have no such power, no such ramifications ... no such guild?
What I don’t hear us writers talk about is our social responsibility when it comes to signing a contract. And I’m looking at these contracts that I signed as a newbie who knew jack-shit and am wondering if I should have been negotiating certain points.
On the other hand, what negotiation power do I have? I’m already paid the top of what my little publisher pays, and there are TONS of writers who are willing to write for a third of what I write for. For less than that, even.
So where does that leave me? Where does social responsibility end and self-preservation start?
I heard a NY writer say they’re happy with 8% royalties for ebooks. I cringed, because I really don’t like that. Not when the book costs nothing to distribute, print, ship, etc. I understand you still have to pay for cover art, overhead, editors and all that work, but E-publishers generally pay between 20 - 45%, 20% being on the LOW end. (Only one e-publisher I know pays that, and they were in the print market for years, first. NY has the same problem, only worse.)
Eventually, we will be heading into more e-markets. That’s why the Writer’s Guild is striking now: to ensure the future of e-rights. (I didn’t say that right; you know what I meant, though, right?)
Some say, why strike now when it won’t matter for X years? I say, because now is the time. Once they’re getting the money, they’re not going to let it go without you having to give up something else. Why do you think the studios are fighting it? They know where the future is going.
The power to change things for us writers rests with those writers at the top of their genres. And why would they fight? They’re getting paid well. They’re happy with the arrangement, and why shouldn’t they be?
I would like to hear writers talk more about our responsibilities to each other.
Of course, then you’ve got writers who will PAY to be published. I believe I’m starting to understand why there is such animosity for the self-published. (I don’t agree with the animosity, at least not yet.) The Writer’s Guild screenwriters don’t have "self-publishing," do they?
So where does that leave novel and story writers? Each man for himself? It’s true, we help each other out a lot when it comes to writing and navigating the path, but what about the nitty-gritty? What about the money?
When someone who wants to write for my publisher asks me how much I get paid, what do I say? We writers are notorious for not sharing that information. I regret that I once didn’t share it, mostly because my publisher said "don’t tell anyone else if I agree to this rate." I feel that was a wrong decision on my part (although I did guide the writing friend to ask for the highest price I knew she could get). That writer didn’t end up writing for my publisher, and no one else has asked, so I didn’t have to test my principles again. But ... I made the deal of silence, so it’s out of my hands now. But I didn’t consider my responsibility to other writers, at the time.
In the music world, we share that information. I was clearly told "don’t ever teach for less than X; never play a gig for less than Y; never play a solo recital for less than Z."
So then what power does that leave writers? We must either increase demand for our work to give us more negotiating power, or find alternate publishing paths. But that leads us back to self-publishing ...
Maybe, someday, e-publishers will save us. If they don’t start following NY standards and dropping royalty rates to 8%. Scary thought, that.
I have no conclusions, only questions. What a difficult freakin’ business to navigate, sometimes. No wonder people complain.
Do you have any answers? Any thoughts? What don’t I know?
Heck, I’m turning my business mind off. This is why writers get agents, isn’t it? I’d rather escape to my writing... anyways, it all comes back to write better than the obstacle, doesn’t it?