Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lacking in Graciousness and Generosity? So Be It.

Or, Why I Will Not Help You Sell My Books

Continuing my series about the backroom issues of publishing, and making my way round to the topic of the romance novel and its status in the world, I do believe I need to rant. Just a bit. It's not my usual style, and I'm speaking to the writers who've been down this road.

Recently, another site for authors to list their books was created and I was invited to join. (I already have pages I monitor with varying frequency at five highly trafficked sites.) Let's call this new site New Acme. My books were already listed, so a lot of the work had been done for me.

I checked it out. I then asked for my books not to be sequestered as adult content. New Acme promptly fixed that but imagine what my books' pages looked like with the sidebar ads for truly adult content books. Picture Painted Moon with Wh#ref##kers and P##sy Freaks alongside.

To get the most from the service New Acme was offering me, the writer, by listing my books for free, I needed to do just a few things. Create an author's page first, then add my videos, photos, background stories, the sorts of things that give readers some extra content to encourage them to buy the book, plus browse through my 30+ related titles and correct, augment and enhance those pages too. I could add a link to my web site.

I had no control over the links offered to the reader for purchase; to add my publisher's web store I'd have to deploy some covert code. No worries for customers, New Acme had decided to offer lots of choices to the readers. Top of the list of the choices was Amazon, no surprise. The second choice was eBay.
That's right. You may want to step back and give me some ranting room.

The first two ways readers would be encouraged to buy my books were prominent used book sellers. That means if someone follows a link from New Acme, New Acme gets paid. But what do I get? Likely nothing.

I wrote to New Acme, politely, asking why I would participate in sending my potential readers to eBay -- I didn't even mention Amazon. I've lost count of the numbers of sites that are simply Amazon affiliates. They sign up, get their feed from Amazon, collect a fee for sales. Many start off with a kind of lesbian theme or some sort of "invited author" feature for something to attract customers, but it quickly wanes. Perhaps the site owners found the work of finding new content more effort than was merited by the payments from Amazon, or maybe they ran out of free sources of content (that would be for the most part from the authors). Early in the Internet I did interviews for some, but when Amazon conjoined new and used sales efforts I stopped.

New Acme's site owner promptly wrote back to me. He didn't understand my issue with eBay. After all, everybody knows that used book sales would sell my new books. Why, he had completed entire author collections with used books, in fact bought 80% of his books used. It was the only way he could afford to have all those books.
"Absolutely flummoxed" describes me.
Let's review. He has paid for a domain, partnered with a data source for listing books and designed a site with a set number of templates to display the data from his source. He gets paid every time someone clicks a link to buy a book. He has not enhanced the pages for my books or found content about me to help sell my books that's already free to him. He expected me to do that. Whether I got paid for my effort selling my books on his site wasn't relevant to his model.

He didn't understand why I didn't get the marvelousness of his business model. He's just trying to bring good to the world selling books, a noble enterprise. I didn't understand how he didn't get that I don't have time to help him make money with no guarantee of making any for myself. Yet, if those clicks to buy at Amazon and eBay didn't pay him, he'd take them off. He's no fool--he's not working for free. After all, it takes time to run a web site, and skill.

It takes time to write a book, and skill. So, putting aside my sincere belief in art for art's sake (and Amanda Palmer has an illuminating rant on that topic), I am nobody's fool either. Not only was New Acme's initial appeal to me to join the site expressed as doing me a favor while the owner of the site got paid and I got a vague, unconcerned "someone will make it up to you later," his personal attitude toward book buying refuted his own claim of "so what if people buy used, you'll sell new eventually." It put many things in a nutshell. By his own admission, out of every 5 books he bought, only 1was a new book. If used books sold new books, wouldn't those numbers be, well, closer together? What happens if all his site users are like him?

I never cared much for Algebra. Maybe that's why when I do the math (x = he is paid for every book purchased through his site and y = I would be paid 1 time for every 5 books, yet he is asking me for my help in selling books for him) x does not equal y. It doesn't even come close. Yet, he didn't hesitate to close with a guilt ploy: Surely I cared for my readers and wanted them to have the pleasure of my books, even if that meant they were bought used. My suggestion that his support of a huge used bookseller cost authors money was selfish.
Why am I the one who's being crass about money but he is entitled to any marketing scheme or bargain he can find?
All people having access to books is good for the world--I totally agree. Readers want and need to be enlightened and entertained to get through their lives--no argument from me, I write to entertain. And because I have always written for women and women continue to make 70% of what men make, my audience has less disposable income. My publisher deliberately tries to hold the price of our books down to make them more affordable without cutting corners on their lasting quality.

I have never had issues with womens bookstores and other small scale used book sales or book swapping. I love libraries and all that they represent. You throw the Internet and an organized search engine behind the process, then my ability to be charitable (isn't that what giving something away for the greater good is?) is quickly exhausted. And for the record, Mr. New Acme and your superior sniff at my money-grubbing, I sincerely do want my readers to have the pleasure of whatever entertainment they chose. I write lesbian fiction as a personal choice. If it's a ghetto, I chose it. It is not the road to riches, so if you knew anything at all about me as a writer, and not just a product to exploit with little effort of your own, you would understand that your inference that I was whoring art for my own monetary gain was offensive. You hath need of a mirror.

It is entirely too common an experience for writers (and most artists) who suggest that we are being taken advantage of while others profit from our work to be told we're lacking in graciousness and generosity. After all, my books are read. Lots of folks wish they were writers, but I actually get to be one. I should be grateful and feel lucky. Guess what? I do know I'm lucky. I feel honored and privileged. Unlike many writers, I know that reader's lives are changed, sometimes even saved, by my books.

Balance that against the suggestion that if only the trashy romance writers would stop writing, readers would buy the good books they ought to read. I've heard that one more often than I like, as you can imagine. I have supported charities, organizations, auctions, and so forth, because I belong to this community. I have lately acquired very nice awards to show for my efforts to write good and entertaining books--luck may be a factor but a lot of hard, diligent, grinding work is also a factor. But because I write about who we love, which would be the very thing that makes us lesbian, I waited years for the organization promoting the visibility of open GLBTQ writers to deign to have a category for my type of book. Nevertheless, even though most of its line had no chance of being shortlisted, my publisher(s) and I supported the organization because we believed in the cause of literacy and visibility for ALL of our work. 
Isn't that an irony? Nowadays in the gay marriage debate, it's so clear in everyone's mind that a vitally important thing in our lives is claiming openly the person we love. Write about love, though, and it's trash. And the people who read it are too--whoa, that's my next blog!
So yes, I get a lot of spiritual fulfillment from writing and I have tried to put that back into the writing while putting actual cash or things of value into our community. All in all, exchanges like this one--which was easily the worst in presumption but far from being the only request of its type--suck up a lot of the spiritual fulfillment.

Some days the fulfillment account runs a negative balance. Thank goodness for readers who write reviews and send love letters! Because most days, my readers make it all worth it. And that makes me one very lucky writer.

3 comments:

cynnchadwick.wordpress.com said...

Karin,

I hear ya. Like you, I love libraries, I peruse used bookstores, and I am genuinely happy when my readers pass my books around, but there is something really unjust in these kinds of distributors make money from our intellectual property on such a global scale. I think, perhaps, it is best to inform our readers of how this affects us, and our presses. Perhaps a fb forum discussion urging readers not to buy or sell our books--used--from internet sources. It forces our small houses to hold new inventory, and helps limit our sales. I say it would be important to inform our readers.

Thanks for your "rant"

inversesquare said...

Came here via Scalzi, w. just one horror story to add: the first "used" copy of my latest book showed up on Amazon before the pub date, before Amazon was shipping new titles. I think it was an ARC (galley to us alter kochers), but it could have been a review copy.

Two sinners there, both consigned to the ninth circle as far as I am concerned: the scumsucker who sold his or her free, for review copy out into the very heart of my best chance to sell new books, and the Amazon affiliate who took the title and popped it up before pub date. A plague on them both to the tenth generation.

As for a model to go forward -- if I had a different kind of talent/interest (i.e. realistic fiction rather than science non-fiction) I'd see if there were some online serial economic structure to be had. But I'm not.

Karin Kallmaker said...

inversesquare - I've seen "new" and "used" copies of books I know don't yet exist on Amazon, before release dates. And I caught a reviewer red-handed selling the free books on eBay BEFORE the release date. And without having made any effort to review or place the book for review. It's amazing the people who feel if they can think of a way to make a buck it's okay then, but when you point out they're doing so at your expense, you're the one with hang ups about money.

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