Following the Alliance of Independent Authors‘ recent appearance at a British Houses of Parliament oral submission with other author representative bodies, Orna Ross, founder and director, calls for government action on independent author earnings, to acknowledge and appropriately support independent author businesses, and the contribution they make to society and to the global economy.
Self-Publishing 3.0 campaign, part 1
Self-Publishing 3.0 campaign, part 3
When are governments, creative industries, grants boards, literary festivals, and other funding bodies, going to acknowledge that the new author is far more than a writer? And modernize the support they are offering to the author community?
More than a decade after the widespread adoption of self-publishing, few official governments or associated bodies seem to be aware of the growing contribution of indie authors to business, culture and society. Independent and self-published authors are excluded from much current research and analysis, giving us highly skewed data that leads to widespread misinformation.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the subject of author earnings.
Government action on Independent Author Earnings: Research
Huge numbers of authors today are also publishers, using self-publishing platforms and selective rights licensing to but official statistics and programs continue to act as if all authors have exclusive publishing contracts with a single publisher.
We see this gap mon some territories, there is official hand-wringing over falling author earnings. A recent report by the UK Authors Lending and Collecting Society (ALCS), an association that does much good for authors, has ignited this official response again. (Download the report here.)
While the statistics ACLS isolate do give cause for concern, there are methodological problems with such surveys when considered from an independent author’s perspective.
The report sees self-publishing as a supplement to trade publishing income when, for successful indie authors, it is the most significant part of their income. The flaws in traditional author research has been extremely well analysed by author, publishing consultant and ALLi advisor, Jane Friedman.(Read Jane Friedman's report here.)
Whatever we think about how these reports are compiled, unless we look closely at all that is happening in the vibrant self-publishing sector, we are missing out on the true picture for author earnings today.
Government action on Independent Author Earnings: Self-Publishing 3.0
To date, our Self-Publishing 3.0 campaign has focused on author education. Now we are calling on seven individual publishing territories—Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, UK and US—to take government action on independent author earnings.
- recognize the entrepreneurial nature of the new independent author
- acknowledge the social, cultural and economic contribution of their work
- develop and provide the support we most need: publishing and business programs as well as writing
Those responsible for business, entrepreneurship, culture, intellectual property, the knowledge economy, and related industry organizations must get better at identifying, tracking, quantifying, and supporting indie authors as part of the creative digital micro-business sector.
Indie Author Earnings: Social and Economic Benefit
There is real socio-economic benefit to be had here. The position is well stated by Greenfund’s Report on the Creative Economy.
Creative industries “have become the true wealth of nations in the 21st century”, it says, being “highly transformative in terms of income generation, job creation and export earnings” and also generating what it calls “non-monetary value that contributes significantly to achieving people-centered, inclusive and sustainable development.”
While we might quail at the language of the report (presumably “non-monetary value” means things like truth and beauty, diversity and democracy, a societal sense of meaning and purpose), it makes clear the growing significance and value of such industries.
The indie author is part of this transformative creative economy.
Indeed, given that all creative businesses must now learn how to produce and distribute good content, self-publishing is arguably the most significant and valuable strand in this diverse sector. If we return “publishing” to its original meaning of making content (text, audio, video) public, every creative business is now also in the publishing business.
In ALLi's six targeted territories, self-publishing is one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing sectors. Yet we are very rarely found in creative entrepreneurship programs. And literary programs, which focus on the artistry of writing, are rarely supportive–or even aware–of self-publishing authors' creative and commercial success.
Government action on Independent Author Earnings: Digital Creative Business
The digital micro-publishing businesses run by indie authors operate at the intersection between technology, culture, the broader economy, and wider society.
Successful independent authors go beyond self-employment as freelance sole traders to run sustainable and scaleable value-added businesses.
Our businesses earn us more income than earned by trade-published authors who have sold an equivalent number of books. We are adding value to the economy and to society in a great many ways: paying more taxes, hiring other publishing professionals, inspiring other independently-minded creatives, evolving new literary forms, formats and genres.
But our community suffers from a significant skills gap. Authors were so long victims of a close publishing system that many still carry a mindset that seeks validation from others—publishers, agents, critics—and waits for others to “choose” us rather than choosing ourselves.
- We resist the notion of being in business.
- We undervalue our intellectual property and the many ways we can shape it to provide us with multiple streams of income, influence and impact.
- We are overly grateful to publishing partners and undersell our publishing rights.
Producing, distributing and marketing our books, other products and services relies on us acquiring new knowledge and skills. As does understanding the value of our intellectual property and copyright. As does managing the processes that build and maintain a successful digital micro-business.
Indie author success also requires the ability to recognize and seize new opportunities and deal with emerging threats, economic and societal.
Government action on Independent Author Earnings: What Support is Needed?
Yet when it comes to support, authors are not offered business management skills, IP knowledge, or publisher training. Support is offered—if at all—through a grants model that focuses on buying time for writing.
Where there is self-publishing success, it is largely down to indie authors educating each other.
If governments truly wish to help authors succeed in the digital age, we need to go beyond the current handout model and set up new programs that provide business, legal and mindset training for authors.
Such training and support moves us beyond the realm of traditional aid into an investment structure that is of more benefit to us, and to the wider economy and society.
I am reminded of the old adage: “Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach them to fish and you feed them for life”.The current support structure for authors is the former – what we need is the latter.
Let’s support the author community with what’s needed to set up and run successful author businesses. Let’s help authors regain their authority and autonomy.
We would love to hear more from you about our Self-Publishing 3.0 campaign and what you would like us to say to governments and creative industry bodies on your behalf and what sort of government action on independent author earnings you'd like to see.
Please leave your ideas, feedback in the comments box below.#Indieauthors - join our campaign for government recognition & support of our socio-economic contribution - important message from @OrnaRoss, #ALLi founder Click To Tweet
Self-Publishing 3.0 campaign, part 1
Self-Publishing 3.0 campaign, part 3
Excellent points you’ve made, all of them. You’ve given us quite a lot of food for thought. Thank you for drawing attention to them as well as all you do to help educate other self published authors.
I think the best way to get some fairness for self publishers is for everyone to get the same selling deal. All too often the retailers or distributors want to pay self-published authors less than what they pay to the large publishers. The large buyers claim they sell lots hence why they deserve a bigger discount then they order one copy at a time, they dont promote your titles and often only order when they get a firm customer order. In reality they are actually a small seller but still want a more favourable price than what others get. Until we can break this monopoly type of culture from the bigger retailers and distributors, indie authors will never get a fair deal. I have self-published for 40 years and most of my sales are through non-traditional book sellers where I get a fairer price.
We definitely need the Digital VAT mess sorted out and fairness for Digital Business startups with a threshold that applies to us in the UK and VAT MOSS to continue here and not have to register through Ireland. It is chaotic at the moment and anyone starting or running a micro-business in the UK this next 18 months faces a mess. Accountants generally do not know what they are talking about and cannot be left ‘to do the books’. I believe On-Line and Digital businesses should have the same tax structure as the country of origin and operate within its trading rules. Anything that makes Digital different will cost the business dearly in defending it. All rules need to be fair, just and reasonable.
Great article – and sorely needed, especially when I hear about authors being given bad advice by accountants who don’t understand the indie business model. We are more like online entrepreneurs than authors in terms of revenue.
I think it would be super useful if ALLi provided a downloadable PDF that we can each print and send to our MPs or representatives in whichever country. This would give a consistent message – and is used very effectively by charities/non-profits – and allow us to reach out more easily. We can then add a personal letter to go with the overview.
Looking forward to seeing where this goes.
That’s a really great idea, Joanna. Done! We’ll have that available in the campaign section of the revamped website. And great point about accountants.
I’d like to see government and professional bodies acknowledging the contribution of indie authors to the economy and to literature (not in the sense of some snobby literary elitism; rather in the way indie authors attract and retain readers and turn them into passionate fans). The problem at the moment appears to be that half the time they don’t even realize we exist, and when they do they simply don’t understand our industry. As a body we are unique and innovative in ways it’s hard for anyone outside indie circles to understand.
There’s the problem with the third point in your manifesto. Before they can support us, they have to understand us. WE have to educate THEM; their role is to listen and to be receptive. I’m not sure if present governments are able to do this without trying to fit us into an existing regulatory and fiscal framework which would tie us down in ways that don’t suit us as entrepreneurs. Perhaps we have to wait for a whole new generation to come to power.
At this moment I’d be inclined to pursue recognition and acknowledgement by governments, and leave the support out of it. We’re remarkably good at supporting and educating each other. Yes, that does leave writers who are more focused on advancing literature than on making money at a disadvantage–but that’s hardly a new thing. Perhaps we, as a body, should find ways of supporting them that have never been done before.
I’m not sure if I agree with this or not. I’m looking at it from the point of view that we don’t need the government stepping in and “educating” us anymore than they already do in other areas. Anytime the government “gives” you something they are going to expect something in return and it might not be something we want to give.
As for taking the new author by the hand, do we really need that? I realize there are a lot of new authors that come into the “business” thinking all they have to do is write a few pages and the world will back a dump truck full of money up to their door and when they find out that there is actually some work needed on their part, they whine about it. There are plenty of avenues to learning this business, some that are free, some that cost a little money and some that overpriced. Some of the free opportunities for learning are way better than the overpriced methods and some of those that cost just a little money, such as a good book on the subject, are worth more than their weight in gold.
Anyone that comes into this business wearing rose colored glasses will find out real quick that it really is work and that’s when we find out who the serious authors are and who were just dreamers. And I can assure you, no amount of government involvement is going to turn a dreamer into an author. We already feel the thumb of the governments in our lives in many ways. Let’s not invite them to :”help” us along as INDEPENDENT authors.
Great points Dave. I guess it depends on your attitude to government. My first thought on reading your post was: I bet Dave is from the US 🙂 And so it was. I think the European attitude to government and industry bodies is different but wherever we fall on this one, the point is: these organizations–from arts councils to universities–are spending money on author education anyway, they just aren’t taking into account the indie way. It’s leading to a great deal of misinformation. Thanks for your thoughtful response.
I completely agree with this. It would be great if we could provide some statistics to go along with the campaign – is there any way of doing a survey tailored to the points we want to make?
How about trying to achieve a sample of responses to questions about how much authors have spent (and therefore put into the economy) through purchase of courses, books, places at workshops/conferences, and commissioning book cover design/blurbs/formatting? It could then be extrapolated according to evidence on sales of indie books?
It is a rare thing to convince government to change anything (especially while the UK government and others in the EU have Brexit on their minds) but without evidence it’s much harder.
Great ideas here, Julie. I’m not sure if we have the resources to match this but gone into the melting pot for consideration. Thanks so much for your feedback.
I quite agree with this perspective. I’m tired of seeing the publishing industry stats ignoring the huge indie marketplace contribution.
Business focus is a bit tricky. Those of us who are/were business-first, writers-later are finding the new indie world easier in many ways than the reverse, since we have mind-sets and tools already in place to fall back upon. The mentor-approach to guiding our colleagues re: best practices in business can only go so far, but we have a great distance to cover.
To some degree, we attract new colleagues by the seduction of a writing life, not the seduction of an independent business life built around writing, and I believe many new entrants feel sandbagged when they realize just how much more is involved — that’s not what they feel they’ve signed up for.
Yes, there is a definite need for a mindset shift if authors are to avail of the opportunities that are there for them. We undoubtedly have members who completely resist this approach, believing they “only want to write” Once you sell a book, though, you’re in business–whether you like it or not. The question then becomes am I going to run a good business or a failing one? Am I going to be a good publisher or not? Thanks for all the great business advice you share so freely