Monday, August 31, 2009

M.J. Rose Challenges Author Compensation

In an editorial at Publishing Perspectives, M.J. Rose, the bestselling author of The Memoirist among other novels, argues that Publishers Must Change the Way Authors Get Paid. Under the old paradigm, in exchange for advances and a share of the profits from their books, authors wrote the books and left the marketing and publicity efforts to the publishers. That paradigm has shifted, and many authors are now expected to participate, and sometimes even to fund, the publicity for their books. From extensive book tours to visits to book groups to hosting book giveaways on their websites, authors are more involved than ever in marketing.

Rose thinks this author participation is generally a good thing—"people do buy more of something when they know it exists." On the flip side, however, the author compensation scheme has not adjusted to reflect an author's new marketing obligations. Here's the crux of Rose's argument:

[T]oday the author’s marketing/PR effort is often equal to or even greater than what the house is doing. ... We now have a situation where publishers are financially benefiting from the author’s efforts but the author is still getting paid the old way, without regard to how much we personally invest. There’s just no consideration for the checks we’re writing out of our own pockets for marketing or PR services. Accordingly, it’s blatantly and patently unfair for us to invest in our own books and then wait for our advances to earn out based on the same royalties rates we’ve always gotten. Be it $2,000 or $20,000, the money we invest should be discounted from the advances we’re paid, allowing us to earn royalties faster based on an honest up-front expenditure by the publisher. And, it goes without saying, we should be getting a higher royalty rate. After all, we’re doing more than writing our books, we’re business partners as well.

While I'm sympathetic to Rose's point, I'm not sure her solution is workable. Publishers are having a hard enough time staying afloat these days without asking them to pay a higher royalty rate or to credit authors' expenditures against their advances.

I've long suspected the root of the problem lies in the illogically large advances paid for certain hot titles, advances that will surely never pay out. Just a handful of unsupportable seven-figure advances can cripple even the largest publishing houses. I'd rather see advances go down across the board and publishers' publicity budgets go up. With those changes, it might then make sense to increase authors' royalty rates, particularly for those authors who actively publicize their own books.


Chad Aaron Sayban said...

I agree with you on this. Many of the problems publishers are having are their own doing. Paying out massive advances and printing stockpiles of books only to see them not sell is simply bad business decision-making on their part. I'm an accountant, so it seems like it would make more sense to pay a small acquisition fee up front (rather than an advance) and then put the upside in a large royalty percentage which would safeguard the publisher if the book goes nowhere and put the emphasis of marketing the book on both parties.

Zibilee said...

I've never really thought about this issue Gwen, but I think that you make a great point. I think huge advances may leave little money in the budget for other authors, and that issue probably needs to be reworked.

Rebecca :) said...

Great post. I completely agree with your points on how publisher's houses should allocate their budget.

Erin Skelly Cameron said...

I think you hit the nail on the head, Gwen. It strikes me as completely absurd that an author has to increasingly pay more (in both dollars and time) to promote their work, without an increase in royalties. It makes sense to me why more and more writers are self-publishing; if they're going to do all the legwork, they should be making more money, and self publishing offers writers that opportunity.