PAY THE WRITER—Pirates, Used Bookstores & Why Writers Need to Stand Up for What's Right
NOTE: Since there has been confusion about this article, I’m editing areas of confusion in another color to clarify and hopefully refine the conversation back to the original intent. It’s okay to promote used bookstores without bashing digital and Amazon and reader-shaming those who like e-books. It is okay to promote used bookstores without slamming the remaining ways we are paid. Writers cannot keep working for free and for “exposure.”
All righty. I’d vowed to take off for the holidays but *laughs hysterically* sure. Like THAT was going to happen. No, seriously, I’m working on resting more. I’m also working on learning to shut up. Clearly those two goals are getting re-slated for 2016 resolutions because the whole “Inside words stay inside…”
Not working out for me. So why not leave 2015 with a bang? Haters gonna hate.
To quote the great Tywin Lannister, Lions do not concern themselves with the opinions of sheep.
Today I’m going to say something that could quite possibly be grossly unpopular, but whatever. It’s for your own good. I’m feeding y’all broccoli to offset all that fudge and alcohol you’ve consumed during the holidays.
There’s a trend that just makes me see red and I’m calling it out today because if we do not address this 500 pound used paper elephant in the room, then it’s going to be really, really hard for you guys to reach your dreams, which I assume is to work as a full-time PAID writer.
For those of you who do NOT want to be PAID to write? The following does not apply. If you are content to work a full-time regular job AND slave over a manuscript as a second job and your ONLY reward is simply nice reviews, compliments, hugs, cuddles, and the joy your stories might create in the hearts of others?
I am NOT talking to you.
If, however, you have ever complained about “an evil day job” that you really wish you could leave because it is sucking out your soul and your very will to LIVE day by day and you would rather be lobotomized than return to Satan’s Cube Farm after the holidays?
Then probably want to pay attention.
Readers ARE Excused
Readers are different. Readers are excused from what I am about to discuss. Readers are NOT writers. Yes, I understand that many writers began as readers. But there is a difference. We have progressed past the point of consuming an intellectual/creative property and now we are producing this intellectual/creative property.
We now have something at stake.
So why am I in a tiff?
Yesterday, I was on Facebook and it would have been one thing to see one writer post this link. But I saw like TEN writers post this link and they were excited…as if this Washington Post article were announcing a GOOD thing for our profession.
Here’s the deal. I don’t care about bookstores. I care about writers. In fact, readers should care about writers more than bookstores because no writers? Well no real point in bookstores now is there? Because if a bookstore has no inventory, no point to its existence, so I feel we are wise to care about writers first…bookstores next.
Want to support the arts? Pay artists. Want to support books? Pay writers. It is simple. Do this? Bookstores will do just fine. Before we go any further, some education…
How Are Writers Paid?
This seems a bit silly, but we all need to learn this when we decide to do this writing thing as a job.
First of all, I am not against doing stuff for free. But the thing is? Writers already do all kinds of stuff for free. Every friend, colleague and family member expects us to be an on-call resume-writing, essay writing and editorial service.
Most of the time? We oblige.
Often, we blog for free (though if you do it the way I teach you actually DO get a return on that investment). Once we are published? We do interviews and guest posts for…FREE.
So please. Do not expect to ALSO get our books for free. We are frankly DONE with free.
How can a writer get PAID?
So happy you asked.
Digital pays writers the best. Then print copies. NEW ones. Buy on-line or in a bookstore or at an event in person. We writers get a royalty. Depending on the contract, writers can even get paid if a book is checked out of a library. That library PAID for the book and the writer was then, in turn, paid a royalty.
Upon so many times checked out? The writer is then PAID again for a new “copy” of the book.
Want to support a writer in the new year? BUY BOOKS.
Writers are NOT PAID for the purchase of used copies. So while I LOVE used bookstores I want to make a point here. Writers make no money.
As a professional, I treat my fellow writers-at-arms the way I want to be treated. I do not buy used books as a first choice. If I DO happen to buy a used book, I make sure to purchase at least a digital copy so that writer is PAID for his or her hard work.
But that article? That article in The Washington Post was beyond the pale. I was livid. Ripping off artists is not cool. It is not cultural, not avant garde. Why did I feel ripped off? Because the article was shaming digital and Amazon sales….the best ways writers earn a living. It was possible to hail the used bookstore without also further undermining writer’s earning abilities.
To be clear, I do not mind used bookstores. What I mind is the attitude that somehow digital is bad and Amazon is bad whereas “paper” and used bookstores are “cultural” and therefore GOOD and preferable for writers.
And unfortunately, I witness a lot of this among writers. I “get” that many of you love old books and browsing dusty old shelves and discovering old treasures. For out of print books? No argument from me. Rock on. But…
We have to be really, really careful that as artists we are not perpetuating the very behavior that pisses us off.
We like getting paid for our work. We work really really hard and expect (rightfully) that we should be rewarded for doing so.
Surgeons work hard and they expect to get paid. No one gripes when the sales clerk gets paid. Heck, no one gripes when the UPS driver gets paid or the barista who makes the triple-shot espresso peppermint soy cappuccino with half foam and vanilla sprinkles in a special red holiday cup and does not commit MURDER gets paid.
Oh, but it is artsy and bohemian to rip writers off because old books are cool? It’s okay to denigrate digital and hurt our best earnings?
No. And again, let’s keep the debate clear here because I can already hear the blogs now, “Kristen Lamb hates bookstores!” No. Pay attention.
I love old books. Have stacks of them. Want to buy old copies of Jane Eyre? Be my guest. I doubt Charlotte Bronte is counting on that Amazon royalty check to pay to upgrade her Scrivner or unscrew Windows 10 or, I dunno, eat.
Want to support civilization? Buy old books. Want to support a writer and his/her family and career? Buy new ones or e-books.
Encourage and educate readers to do the same. Because here is the deal. If we writers go around cheering how AWESOME used bookstores are without also asking for a new sale? How the heck are readers going to know they are benevolently gutting our careers?
They (readers) see us posting the links. They ASSUME we are benefitting. They have no idea how we get paid. Why not direct them to places where we might make money?
I will parse this article in a moment but first? Let’s look at some of the common reasons people defend the used bookstore.
Used Bookstores Allow Readers To Discover New Authors for a Smaller Investment
Okay, so does digital. Difference is? The writer actually gets paid from an e-book.
Know who else claims they are doing writers a favor by letting readers “discover” new authors on the cheap?
Writers are the first to grab digital pitchforks when their work is pirated because they don’t get paid any royalties. GASP! The horror!
Some site offering their books and they don’t get a royalty. Burn them! Take down the site! They are stealing! Oh, but when a used bookstore
does the exact same thing also sells a book where a writer earns no royalties?
It’s okay. Because, well, it’s paper. It’s “culture.”
pirate used bookstore gave you “exposure.” Shouldn’t you be happy that a reader could…”discover” you. That pirate used bookstore is doing you a favor really.
Just to be clear, piracy is a whole other blog and not the topic of today and I KNOW used bookstores are not actually stealing. I am only using this to point out how Janus-faced we writers can be about the “Ooh! Exposure!” crap. Exposure in and of itself is not always a good thing.
The Author Can Get “Exposure”
Will Wheaton took Huffington Post to task on this. Again, what I am seeing is a Digital Versus Paper Bias. Huffington is a Pulitzer-winning news outlet that when it sold last year, sold for over $300 million dollars. Why can’t it then PAY writers who submit? (Hint: It can. Just doesn’t want to because it doesn’t have to).
Oh but you get “exposure.”
Granted, I bit. I allowed Huffington to repost a couple of my blogs that had already gone viral. I was flattered to be asked to write for them and then wrote a couple of pieces just to be able to add “Huffington” to my resume of accomplishments.
But, I’m ultimately a businesswoman. I had to ask the HARD question. What were they doing FOR ME?
Truth was? Not all that much. It wasn’t worth being troll food, because, when you post for Huffington, you have no control over comments and you have to be nice to people whose sole purpose in life is to crap in your Cheerios.
Here? I am benevolent dictator and do not have to be nice.
If you want to comment here and write something like this:
Kristen, you are a talentless hack and a hopeless amateur. Every time you speak a kitten dies from the sheer stupidity you spew into the ozone layer.
I have this wonderful thing called “edit function.” I can delete. OR, I can change your comment to read.
OMG, Kristen. You are supreme writer of all that is genius and I want to be JUST LIKE YOU one day. I have even started dressing JUST LIKE you, which is weird because I am a dude! <3 <3 <3
Probably shouldn’t have told y’all that. Oh well. Sally forth…
Yes, here I blog seemingly for “free.” But I trust me, I don’t. Not wholly. Because this is MY blog. I own the content. I make money off my hard work. Which, by the way, is as it should be.
By the way. YOU work hard and guess what? I believe YOU should be paid, too. Wow! Imagine that.
And writers seem to have no problem getting very indignant that so many blogs and digital outlets expect them to work for free.
Oh, but sell my paper books and make all the profit? Go ahead! That’s “culture.”
And before anyone gets too ticked at me, yes, Amazon sells used books, but the difference is that there is ALSO an active promotion of that author’s OTHER books that are NOT used where the writer CAN be paid. On Amazon, it is also extremely easy for a browsing reader to discover and purchase other titles by that particular author.
So maybe I do buy a used book because it is out of print, but then I CAN buy something IN print so the author can…I dunno. EAT.
Back to This Article…
I think why this article aggravated me so much (aside from writers promoting the heck out of it) was it was treated as it it was some “grand thing” for the arts and some big favor to authors. It isn’t. It helps readers. YES. Writers? Eh, not so much. Passive exposure is not nearly as effective as it once was. Sure, before the Internet when our only option to get more books was to go to B.Dalton? yes, exposure was great. Now? It isn’t near enough though writers keep getting told it should be.
Let’s take a look, shall we? From the article…
Sierra, like other book lovers, has read articles about slowing e-book sales and watched as independent bookstores such as Politics and Prose thrive, catering to readers who value bookish places as cultural hubs and still think the best reading device is paper.
First of all, Sierra, e-book sales are NOT slowing. That is a patently FALSE claim that does not account for the explosion of indie and self-publishing. Yes, e-book sales have slowed for traditional publishers and print has picked up for traditional publishers, but namely because when publishers insist on charging the same for a PAPER book as an e-book? Readers will just go ahead and buy paper because $14.99 is just simply ridiculous for a digital book.
But even if that were the case, if you really do love books? Be a sweetheart and try supporting those who write them. Thank you.
And it’s a business with good economics. Used bookstores can beat Amazon and other online booksellers on price, offering shoppers both a browsing experience and a money-saving one. Also, profit margins on used books are better than new ones.
That part I outlined in red was my favorite.
It is amazing how much profit margins increase when you don’t actually have to pay the person who worked long and hard and sacrificed to create the product you are profiting from. The sky is the limit! Again, why are they insisting on bashing the best ways writers get paid new? Yes, I was hot.
Then there is THIS gem.
“It’s (the used bookstore) like having a museum or a theater. It’s a cultural center.” ~Gottwals
Except that museums are supported by private donations, government funding, grants and patrons PAYING A FEE to walk around and look at the collections. And theaters? Same thing. Try going to Phantom for free, Mr. Gottwals. Good luck getting a seat NOT in the nosebleed section for under $250.
“I can find these books online, but I don’t want to…and if you don’t support the little guys, they won’t be around anymore.” (Customer)
Exactly, dear customer. If you don’t support the little guys they won’t be around. They will have to give up writing and work retail and then saw open their wrists with a spork while listening to Bjork and I hope you are happy #writerkiller 😛
We Must Take Ourselves Seriously
Yes, I admit it. I’m ranting today. Why? Because if writers don’t take themselves seriously, why would anyone else? When I protested the article on social media, writers argued with me. They acted as if a book is the same thing as a house or a car.
A car is a tangible property, not intellectual property.
I have no problems with people reselling books to used bookstores. I do it. I buy books from used bookstores. BUT, I also actively go out of my way to make sure writers are PAID.
Because here’s the thing. We cannot cheer that used bookstores are “socking it to Amazon” and at the same time bemoan we aren’t making any money.
We cannot collectively cheer the “return of paper books” when they are in the used form and then also cry that we can’t leave the day job because we are not being paid for our work.
We can’t promote articles like these that reader shame people who like digital and Amazon, directing readers to outlets where we don’t make royalties and then stand mystified that no one takes our career seriously. Why are we promoting businesses who brag about not paying us? Again *head explodes*
We cannot say, “Well I am just happy when a reader discovers my story” if we are not in fact simply okay with just that. If cuddles and compliments are enough? Then good. But do not let me hear any complaint. I do not want to hear ONE word about how much that day job sucks.
And if we ARE going to promote used bookstores (which IS fine) then by GOD educate readers and ask for the sale. Let them know that you will not be paid off that sale and to please also buy a full-price version if they like your book.
Educate your readers because the bookstores aren’t going to. Clearly they do not care if writers get paid because they make money either way. In fact bookstores make MORE money if writers don’t. That’s just math.
Working for free while others are sole profiteers is NOT okay. It is exploitation. And we’ve done enough being expected to work for free.
No one else works for free. You shouldn’t either.
You don’t fill up gas and expect it for free. You don’t expect cashiers to work at the grocery store for free. You don’t expect people who cut your hair to do it for free. You value others and what they contribute to your life. And maybe I’m a jerk because all I am asking…all I am imploring is that you give the same honor to yourself.
Because in the new year? It won’t matter one whit what resolution you make. WE are the first step. WE have to draw the line and say that what we do has value. And we have to call people out when they devalue what we do.
And when bookstores go around bragging to The Washington Post about how much profit they make because the margins are so much better on used books than on selling NEW books (which is code for:We don’t have to pay royalties) and expect me the author to bite on some Book-Buying-Trickle-Down-Economics wrapped up with an “It’s Culture” ribbon?
Yes, I love paper books too. I buy them NEW.
Honor yourself. Honor your fellow authors. I love all of you. I believe in you and hope you see that I DO support bookstores, but dammit…it is about %$#ing time they returned the favor and supported those who are bleeding to line their pockets. You can promote used venues without hamstringing the artists who are supplying inventory. It IS possible to promote a used bookstore without undermining authors making a living wage.
You matter. Your dreams matter. Your work matters.
What are your thoughts? Have I finally gone too far? She is MAD! Mad it tell you! I would blame it on alcohol but I haven’t started drinking…yet. I needed to drink after that article. What are your thoughts? Do writers need to stand up more? We already do way too much for free. We needed to with the expansion of Web 2.0 But now that the Internet and social media has hit a critical mass, do you think we need to step back and start saying NO more? What are your thoughts? Were you unaware how writers were paid?
Do you think use bookstores need to do more to support the actual WRITERS instead of this cop out of “exposure”? Maybe take some of those “high profits” and invest in apps or tablets with links to NEW works by the authors? Maybe let authors come in and talk and promote NEW works so they can continue to WRITE? What are your thoughts? Are you dressing just like me? 😀
By the way, I LOVE this short film. There IS STRONG adult language so you are warned. But THIS!!!!!!
I love hearing from you!
Make SURE you sign up for my upcoming classes! This is part of how I fund my plans for global domination. Purchase a class! Buy a book! OR ignore all that follows but DAMN sure buy all your books NEW or I WILL FIND YOU O_o ….
Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Your friends and family can get you something you need for Christmas. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors.
Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.
Enough of that…
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.