It's easy for indie authors to assume that trade publishing issues don't affect them, given that they've made the decision to ply their trade outside the traditional sector. English author Jane Steen, who is based in the USA, explains why she believes all authors, no matter how they are published, should join forces to lobby for fairer contracts and respect for authors' rights.
Two venerable author advocate groups, the UK’s Society of Authors and the Authors Guild in the USA, have recently stepped into the limelight to announce that they are fighting for fairer contracts between publishers and authors. The impetus for these actions seems to come from reports that authors’ median incomes have dropped precipitously since 2009, while publishers have fared far less badly.
Industry journalist Porter Anderson here summarizes the situation for the UK’s leading industry publication, The Bookseller. In short, the Authors Guild’s Fair Contract Initiative seeks to empower authors to stand up for their rights, while the Society of Authors is seeking legislative change – an interesting comment on the differing political environments of the two countries.
Should Indie Authors Care?
Should indie authors care? In a word, yes. ALLi’s attitude toward trade publishing is to see it as one of many options open to authors.
Yet in the broader indie world there’s sometimes a tendency to use reports of any and all ills in the corporate publishing sector as proof that self-publishing is the better way, (indeed, for some, the only way), and that all authors should leave their agents and publishers behind and embrace entrepreneurship.
I’m here to argue that we should not only care about fair contracts in trade publishing, we should actively support the advocacy efforts of our sister author organisations:
- because it shouldn’t be about taking sides. Yes, many indies have gleefully shaken the dust of corporate publishing off their feet after, one or several, bad experiences with agents or publishers. Others have decided from the outset that the entrepreneurial spirit, retention of rights and flexibility of indie publishing is the right business model for them. But it doesn’t make sense to ignore what’s happening to traditionally published authors. For one thing, many indies are trade published too—they still have books in the corporate publishing world, or they choose to move between the two models as it suits them. For another, we’re all authors following the dream of reaching readers and being read.
- because fairer terms for content creators (of all stripes) is a principle we need to stand up for. We, the creators, are the essential element in publishing. We’re also the most vulnerable, because we tend to work alone. Indies and trade authors alike are at the mercy of the large corporations that provide the platforms and/or the investment capital through which we publish. Right now the issue is being fought on the corporate publishing side, but last week it was the changes to the Kindle Unlimited program that were grabbing the headlines. We need to stand up for a fairer deal for all of us, however we choose to publish.
- because a healthy corporate publishing industry is good for indies too. And by healthy, I mean one in which the value of literature is preserved and authors are allowed to develop their careers without constantly looking over their shoulder for the next scam or rights grab. Where new authors are given a fair chance at building a readership before their contracts are dropped. I don’t think anyone can claim that the current publishing industry is healthy, or open to scrutiny, or supportive of diversity and originality. It’s not serving readers well, and to be financially successful in this unhealthy market some indies are finding they have to restrict their own creative freedom and write the same book more than once. Price structures are Dickensian, copyright law is a tangled mess unsuited to the global market, and sales tracking is spotty. Fair contracts could be a first step on the road to a 21st-century creative content market.
How to Support the Campaign
How should indies show their support? As a first step, consider joining your local Authors' Association if you’re eligible and that feels right to you. ALLi's Open Up To Indie Authors campaign has seen most associations now embracing indie authors and understanding they can learn a lot from us.
Going forward, simply make your support for these initiatives known.
And don’t talk about authors who publish through a corporation as if they’re from another planet. They are us.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
Do you agree with Jane? Please feel free to join the debate and add your voice to the campaign via the comments box below.