Saturday, June 12, 2010

Starving Artist (Ur Doin It Right)

I never expected to have even as many followers as I do, though now that it's happened I feel rather like I ought to post more. The problem is that I don't always have something of value to post. But ironically, as I was thinking that I had a thought pop into my head from something I'd just read off Nathan Bransford's latest post and thought perhaps it might be time for a rant directed at the people who purchase books. True, those who follow this blog are pretty much all writers or at the very least interested in the writing business (I assume anyway), but who knows, maybe this post will escape and ring in a few people's heads.

The issue today is a simple one; money.

Though I guess technically money isn't very simple, what with all the channels and contracts, and middlemen it has to travel through in order to get from anyone's hands to someone else's hands. But setting that aside for a moment, this post is directed at readers who constantly complain about the price of a book.

I think this is due in large part to the fact that they completely forget (if they ever realized) how much of a process and how (often) writing a book can be a pain in the ass. Yes, we do it because we love it and yes, we do it because we want to give you a bit of joy and entertainment and God yes, we want you to come back clamoring for more, but let's say on average (and that's stretching it I think), it takes an author a year to crank out a book. Have you ever taken the time to look at a book? And I mean really look. Look at those 318 pages of words, thoughts, people talking, description, action, stuff that makes you sit on the edge of your seat, stuff that makes you laugh out loud, stuff that in rare cases may even make you cry.

One person is doing all that. And it's not easy.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "Writers aren't exactly people...they're a whole lot of people trying to be one person." In a way, we're almost like people who have personality disorders kept in serious check. We're crazy under control. We have hundreds of people running around in our heads, but we know how to handle them. All right, I'm exaggerating, but you get the point. It's a lot of work to write a book. And the thing that gets me is that people are always amazed when they hear you write. It's always a comment akin to, "Wow, I could never do that!"

And yet many of these same people will balk at spending $27 a newly released hardcover. Or they want a discount on a mass market paperback that's already $6.99. I know you want to save money. I do, I really do. Heck, I'll even wait until my employee discount at B&N kicks in before going on a crazy buying spree (ok, most of the time). But why are you complaining in the first place? Because you forgot all the work that went into the book, that's why. Because you're holding the finished product in your hands. You never see the two, three, sometimes more drafts that a writer goes through. All the ink, all the paper, all the time with their butt stuck to a chair while the sun shines outside and the dog wants to play ball but they can't because they've got a deadline to finish working on a book so the editor can go through it and it can get printed and you can read it.

And we get paid bunk. I don't know what people think - I don't know if they're under the assumption that the writer gets all $27 or what, but if that's what you think then you need to adjust you brain right now. We get paid a percentage of each book, and it's not even 50%. It's far from that. Heck, you're lucky if you can get 10%. That $6.99 paperback (or ebook now) has to get diviied up into a lot of smaller pie pieces. Why do you think writers have to keep writing? For the longest time, the average writer got 6% of the pie. Now here's some simple math for you:

Book cost $6.99 x 6% = $0.4194 earned per book
Say 20,000 copies sell = $8,388

And that's just royalties talking. And authors don't get royalties right away either. We have to make back our advance first. So the authors gets nothing on that $27 hardcover until the publisher gets all the advance money back. And if you think authors are getting $50,000 advances or even $25,000 advances every time, you are seriously mistaken and ought to do some research of your own.

In short, when you purchase a little paperback, you are paying that author maybe $0.50 for his or her year-long work. That's why I can't justify spending a ton of money on clothes when I know for a fact that $50 pair of jeans is put together on a big factory machine that takes a handful of minutes to spit out dozens of pairs. Put things in perspective for a moment, will you? Look at half the junk you own and tell yourself; did it take a year (or more) for this item to be created? A couch can cost $1,000 or more and put together in a factory where they crank out who knows how many similar couches a day? But people just think that because a book is smaller (or whatever it is in their mind) it deserves less worth.

While we all care about money (kinda need it to survive), the clothing maker doesn't give a crap about you. The couchmaker just hopes to sell more couches. The author created that story not just for him/herself, but for you. Because they knew (or at least hoped) that you would enjoy such a tale with unique characters and a story that gets your adrenaline going.

So the next time you start fussing about book prices, how about you take a moment and think about the author for once, hmm?

End rant.

This only happens in the fantasy (and maybe SF) genre.

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