When I first dived into recent conversations about self-publishing and the new possibilities e-publishing offers, one of the first things I did was pick up my old copy of Norman Spinrad’s book, Staying Alive: A Writer’s Guide and start reading it again. Constructed mostly of columns he wrote for Locus Magazine in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it is a rich source of wisdom on all kinds of commercial publishing issues that writers faced then and still do—from rights reversion to foreign language publication to an examination of career strategies for writers. In the book Spinrad, then the President of the Science Fiction Writers of America, also presented a model publishing contract with clear discussion of all the provisions in it and why every clause was important for a writer to understand. Even with all the changes in the publishing world, I still consider Staying Alive indispensable reading for authors of any genre.
So Mr. Spinrad was already on my mind when I plunged back into thinking about publishing, and I was delighted to find he has recently written a post about e-publishing and royalties for the SFWA web site. A Viable and Just Business Model
For the Ebook Age is written primarily for writers who are publishing with commercial publishing houses, and discusses the profound inequity of the current ebook royalty models those publishing houses are using. With current publishing house contracts writers end up with 17.5% of the list price while the publisher gets 52.5%. Spinrad explains clearly why this will drive successful writers to self-publish as soon as they can, which will be disastrous for publishers. He believes a more just model must be arranged and widely adopted.
Like many others he believes that these changes in publishing bring more negotiating power to writers. He also seems hopeful that these changes will force publishers to appreciate midlist authors more, and to tend their careers more carefully. I hope he’s not being overly optimistic on that count. But you should read his post thoroughly because it is written by an author who has been following publishing trends and contracts for years, and who understands them far better than most of us.