Friday, November 5, 2010

Alas poor writer...

I've been a bit muted lately, burning the midnight keyboard. Well, the reason is fairly uncomfortable - I have to try to earn a living, and I get paid in US dollars. Like most writers (I've seen occasional scathing comments about 'greedy authors' re the price of Australian books. For the record: from that paperback you just paid an eyewatering amount for... I got 64 cents, US cents - 63 Australian cents right now) we don't make much money. While I enjoy writing and work rather hard at it, it's a fairly marginal profession. Breaking even for us, even though we live very frugally, requires three things. Firstly, that I get paid reasonably promptly as I am the kind that stresses about money and battles to be productive when I am worrying about how to pay the bills, and the cushion is not large. As anyone who has ever been involved will tell you, publishing is always very slow about paying turn-in or royalties. You're looking at 2-5 months, and royalties only start after a full 6 month reporting period - meaning you can only see that money as much as 13-14 months after the book. The crowd I have mostly published with are quite good about being prompt on initial signing money (about 1/4- 1/3 of what a book will earn). So the first point is always rather doubtful. It goes with the territory, and that's the way it is. The second factor is a slight premium on being paid in US $ when the currency exchange is in my favour. It's not, right now (needless to say, nothing has got any cheaper, though). This also doesn't look like it'll change in short order. It could be worse, I could be in South Africa where galloping inflation on medical, insurance and unavoidables like electricity and municipal rates were killing us, which, when you add that to what amounts to income deflation, ain't pretty. In times when the local currency was stable or getting weaker... I at least didn't lose money while I waited to be paid. The third factor is keeping it all ticking over - if you're in a cycle where, yes, they're late, royalties are 18 months late, but it doesn't matter that much because you're getting paid at regular intervals, although it's money not from the book you've turned in but the one before, and royalties from the one two back. I really have to write two, to two and half books a year to earn a bit less than Tassie average wage -- and I'm not at the bottom of the sales scale... I've just been glad to be able to do something I love and we're just careful with money and get by. But it's hard, constant work - which got royally screwed up by the GFC and then us emigrating and all the drama associated with that and my mum's death. I'm behind. What's worse is the new contracts... just aren't. We have a two year hiatus there, and I'm down 3 books under contract, one of which I am busy with. Several things are hanging in the wings, but none have finalised.

And then finally things have all come together in bit of a perfect thump. I finally got the turn in money for the last book - July I think.(now fair enough, it's a co-authored book, and it's not just me they were waiting on) But instead of paying electronically as usual, as they're supposed to... I got a cheque. Which I gave to the bank. Who called to say... two months to clear a foreign cheque over a certain value. As you may be aware the currency situation between when I turned this in and now already means a pay cut of 20%. By the time this finalises? Who knows. But it's not going to be good. So between the bank and the slow paying, the exchange rate, and the hiatus in my production and contracts, things are not at their best.

I'm battler, and not a quitter. I can do nothing to make publishing in general change the ways of the last two centuries. I'd be a fool to waste my time trying. I registered a complaint with the bank, and they changed their tune slightly to 6 weeks. I can do nothing about the exchange rate. So I'm working on the only angle I can: I got onto Eric (my co-author) and Mike (my agent) and we're working on finalising ANY of the outstanding deals. Eric is looking at another (the final) Karres book, which has been agreed to in principle, just not signed yet. Mike is following up on STARDOGS - which is finished and they've been hanging onto, and the possibility of a prequel to SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS. I'm pushing to finish the Steampunk YA thing Mike thinks he has a buyer for, and DOG AND DRAGON, for which I can at least get into the wait for turn-in queue. I'm also looking at other avenues. I've a collection of shorts coming out as an e-book on Kindle and other formats, I've got SAVE THE DRAGONS sitting in the US with Baen (one of those deals we're waiting on). I'd like it come out in print (I owe people people copies when it does), but if they don't move soon -- I'll do that as Kindle/ ebook too. (where, BTW I get between 50-60% of the cover price, depending where people buy it, as opposed 8% of the US paperback price for paperbacks).

But the reality is, unless some of these (and not just one) come through very soon, and the exchange rate does not go any further South for me... I need to find another job (if I can find one, hopefully on the island), and write as and when I can.

Alas, poor writer, I knew him well.
Ah well. Back to swimming up the undertow.
Nil carborundum illegitimi.
But if I am a little more terse than usual, and the sense of humour is a bit sparse, you'll understand.


  1. Oh, boy, do I understand. And commiserate. I too have at times been caught in late payments (once upon a time, it took 18 months for me to get money from one publisher through another to me for an "on publication" payment.)

    And I always seem to be on the wrong end of exchange rates. At the moment, with the Aussi $ so high, do I have a large publication payment due? Nope. Next will be August - and what do you bet the AUD will have dropped by then? Bet it does!

    I am lucky that at the moment husband is employed and I have another job - but when do I get time to write? Before the end of the year, I have to produce a very large government report, do some field work, do a copy edit of a 180,000 word book AND write a two-book proposal so I have some money next year...

    Oh, and go to UK to spend Christmas with youngest offspring so husband can meet her new man.

    Why do we do this?

    Because we are masochistic writers who, in spite of it all, love what we do.

    Good luck, Dave.

  2. Dave, if you do go the ebook route let me know - I much prefer my reading materials that way. And I like knowing you get more money for them.

  3. Here's hoping fate all comes together at once. Jason Cordova just put a book up on Kindle and I think it's going well for him. If you put Save the Dragons up I'm sure you'll get an intial blast of sales.

    Any chance of Fisheries type work on Flinders?

  4. Hell.

    I'll keep my fingers crossed and my ears open.

    Best of luck, Dave.

  5. Actually I think you will find that most Australians realise it is the distributors that tend to inflate the prices of Australian books. You missed the big debate over whether stores could legally purchase books from the US directly. [Previously it was considered illegal,* as it violated the publishing rights.**] Which tended to reveal, to those that followed the case, the amount of sheer mark up involved with local distribution companies (in many different types of media and market). Australians have a really strong Colonial Cringe, which is disappointing.

    A few years back one distributor got the rights to actually print the books locally, which resulted in them selling hardbacks at paperback prices (close to the actual cost of printing and distribution and half the cost of other hardbacks), which made them rather unpopular with all the other distributers.

    Actually I know quite a few companies (two of them are publishers, one Canadian, one Australian) that have foolishly relied on positive exchange rates in their business models, and in doing so expected the money market to be static. And have since closed their doors when there margins came crashing down around their heads. Which was a great pity, since they were doing good work. [Not that I'm saying you're foolish, especially since you have no choice in the matter. <grin>]

    Oh well, I hope things do get better for you and those contracts get sorted pronto.

    [* In actual fact one distributor considered suing readers for purchasing books directly from the US, until they were informed by their legal counsel that they would not only lose the case (since the average purchaser is not actually a signatory to the relevant contracts and is therefore free to do as they will), but that it would also set a very damaging precedent.]

    [** In fact I consider it amusing that this is the same reason that many publishers are using for geographically limiting electronic content, including ebooks. From their viewpoint it is quite valid for business reasons, but it does tend to alienate the customer immensely. (Almost as much as when they find out they are not actually buying the ebook anyway, but a non-transferable and revokable licence to read one.)]

  6. hopefully the elections this past tuesday will help bring our currency back up in time.
    Our current "ruling class" think a weak dollar is a good thing to play debt cost games that look better for them, but in reality hurt us, and especially folk like you over seas being paid in $US.

    (Damned blogger, won't work in Firefox or Opera. and IE thinks I'm a different log in on Google..why do the idiots do this stuff?)

    JP Kalishek

  7. It sounds to me like now is when you need that sense of humour all the more, Dave. Hope things get better for you and B, and soon.

  8. Just wondering -- would a storyteller's bowl run help? You did one, so you have some idea of how that works, in terms of payoff and investment of your time and effort. Would it make sense to get a small group of sponsors to pony up for the privilege of reading over your shoulder? Would that help the cash flow?

  9. Jpfuel: what problems are you having? I've been commenting via Opera using LiveJournal for authentication for months without issue.

  10. Glenda, it is my pet daydream from position of supreme ruler of the universe - when someone is told "It will take two months to cash your foreign cheque," to nod acceptingly and say "In the interests of fairness, we have however take two months to pay your end-of-month salary, and the final amount will depend on the fickle whims of the exchange rate", or to inform publishers they will have to wait in limbo for the fourteen months I have waited for a royalty cheque, to find out if they will be paid and how much. And the dear office staff who send you a cheque instead of a wire transfer to wait the posting and clearing time on their income. They'd all hate anyone doing these things to them, be furious and bitter, because actually ALL of these things are hangovers from the steamship age and manual stocktakes, and given modern technology, have no legitimate reason to exist. But I am not the supreme ruler of the universe, so we'll just battle on. But if a publisher wants to attract names all they have to do is offer a monthly reconciliation and electronic payment(at least of Ebook sales - with no returns to affect things) to make themselves popular. Amazon are now doing a quarterly settlement, and are apparently prompt.

  11. Cedar i will post it here if I do. And I suspect most readers would actually prefer using a system that really rewards the author for providing them with a good read.

  12. Quilly, I am hoping too. And working my butt off to try and beat the system. It could happen. The reality with kindle etc is that while the numbers are low, they pay quite fast, and as the share is higher, they can pay out quite reasonably fo small numbers. So I can put up a book for $5 (which I consider fair for an ebook, and expect to get $2.50-$3.00 back from each sale, even if it only sold 2-3k copies over time, I'd still be better off than waiting several years to possibly earn twice that, because in the meanwhile I'm not stressed out and can be fully productive.

  13. Reverence Pavane, I've been asking readers ever since the Amazon/ big five agency row, to guess what out the cover price authors are paid. Actually most DON'T know. The lowest guess I've had was 20%. But I must have had at least half the people guess at around 50%!!!!! I am not talking about people like you, who are heavy readers and know something of the inside world of writers (and musos). They're better informed and have found out, because they're interested in the industry. I refer to the guy who buys maybe a book a month or less. That's ACTUALLY where the vast volume of sales are for any bestseller. Most of the people I have putthe ral figure to are as horrified as music fans are to discover the recording industry and retail takes up to 97.5% of the income from their favourite muso.

    I wish I'd been able to model my business on anything. But at this end ofthe chain, we take what is handed out.

  14. JP... well, for my sake and the sake of the guy paying more for his gas... I hope it strengthens. It amounts to a stealth tax on ordinary Americans, otherwise. But let's be fair here, there has been assymetric currency warfare from several countries (with China in the lead) for a long time, and the US's strong currency has been a profitable thing for most of the rest of the world and for consumers in the US, but it's been ruinous for export business. So let's just hope now that the rest of the world shares the pain that we'll get back to a balance.

  15. Cheryl, thank heavens I have a sense of humour! And thank heavens I have Barbs with me.

  16. Mike, that's kind of the ship of last resort. From SAVE THE DRAGONS, I know we eventually, with the support and promo of everyone from John Scalzi to Instapundit we got about 16 000 readers. The project made just over 10K, with some big chip ins from good people who wanted to keep us and the furkids together. In practice, less than 1:6 contributed anything at all. That's fine - it is a voluntary system. So: for the purposes of just earning a living - no idealism involved, let's make that 1:7. And let's assume, no major reason for a bunch of good people promoting the site for free - I manage to draw 2000 readers.(It would seem I have about 12 000-15 000 readers who will buy what I write (as a solo writer), about 1/3 of them in hardcover. But it also seems a lot of them still buy when they see the books in the bookseller or on Amazon. They don't follow me enough to know I have a book out there, otherwise.) It's just not really worth the cost and time involved. BUT - If I get to the end of other options, we'll try that one too.

  17. Dirk, please do. Short term jobs for writers or local interest... either will be a good thing for me to follow up on.

  18. Weird thought -- do you have a government agency, visitor's bureau, or similar outfit that would like some traveler's guides written? Seems as if something like that might be a good side job?

  19. I too would really appreciate the info on how to get your books as ebooks for maximal payment to you. I prefer ebooks, anyway. It's something I have wondered about; I have seen some authors state that they make less money from ebook sales.

  20. Mike the local authority has someone who is supposed to do that job. Good thought though.

  21. Catlinye-maker, I'll post here if I am going to go the e-book route. Some authors DO make less, depending on who they publish through. It's a ridiculous situation as paper, distribibution and returns costs don't come into the equation, and the retail share (30%) is lower. Ergo, there is no reason why the rates should not be better. Baen do pay a better ebook rate than any of the other paper and ebook publishers (through webscriptions and not Amazon) but at 20% of cover it's still a long way short of the ebook only producers who are offering around 50%, and Amazon - direct as an author 70% and and B&N nook IIRC is 65%.

    We hope all of this shifts to keep authors writing. I could use more books from some of my favorites. From aquaintences and friends in the business I know a lot of us - with solid reputations - are battling to get publishers to take books. I'd say I spend around 1/3 of my time on proposals and admin, and cut my productivity in the other 2/3 by half with worry and waiting. So that's very tempting. I think I write reasonable books, telling stories readers want. I'd just have to see.

  22. Dave, if you go the e-book route I will break down and buy an e-book reader of some type. And then buy the hard tree when/if it becomes available.

  23. blloonaticbmber... thank you :-)

  24. Actually my comment was just in regards as to why books are so much more expensive in Australia (and New Zealand) than elsewhere in the world. I agree with you that knowledge of the exact (low) amount that authors (and editors and cover artists) are paid is generally unknown to the public.

    And as people get much more internet savvy (and discover sites such as Book Depository) [free shipping!] the pressure on the local retailers and distributors keeps increasing (which means local prices keep rising to cover loss of sales which leads to a greater loss of sales which...).

    Then again it's been interesting recently to see some of the more trendy and specialised (and thus more responsive to current conditions) local music shops seeing the writing on the wall and getting out when the gettings good. In fact it definitely appears to be spreading to local bookstores as well, with a number of major chains recently closing down their outlets in various shopping centres around the country.

    The historical standard for publishing has become increasingly uneconomical. The presence of ebooks and the internet has just accelerated the collapse that quaint traditions such as remaindering have helped keep hidden for the last 30 years or so. Things are going to have to change, but it is a sure bet that they will get a lot harder, especially for midlist authors, before they get better.