baby-443390_640The fantastic Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a great response to Authors Unlimited’s call-to-arms to its publishing overlords. The group recently wrote a letter directed at Big Pub, which called for fairer deals for the authors it represents. Rusch’s response: ‘Poor me’ is not a business model.

Rusch points out, correctly, that publishers are trying to run a business. And naturally, they want to look after their own concerns in this. Authors, she argues, should do the same. They should treat their writing like a business. They should learn how to negotiate a contract. They should learn how to leverage Amazon, or the iBooks Store, or whomever the player-of-the-moment is. And they should look after their own interests, just as publishers do.

“A friend of mine, who started and ran a multimillion-dollar business (not publishing) for decades, has a saying,” Rusch writes. “Whenever he hears or sees something like this, he gets an impish little grin, and says, “Fair is in August.” For those of you outside of the United States, he’s referring to county and state fairs that show up every summer, with carnival rides and cotton candy and all sorts of circus-like entertainment. In other words, the only place that “fair” exists in the world of business is the business of carnivals. Hence, “Fair is in August.”

“Here’s the truth of publishing, folks,” Rusch says. “Those terms the Authors Guild is fighting for, the thing they want all authors to have? Some authors already get them. It’s not that the industry refuses to grant the terms to all authors. It’s that the industry gives those who have some kind of clout in a negotiation more respect—and better terms—than someone who rolls over and whines. That clout doesn’t have to be multimillion dollar book sales. That clout might simply be backbone.”

I say “hear, hear” to that. As a fledging Kindle author myself, I have become a big believer in the power of market forces. I have four books for sale right now. One of them sells a few copies a week. One of them sells a few copies a year. And two of them sell nothing. The market decides. If I want to sell more books, I have to write more books, on more marketable topics. Nobody is going to fix that but me.

Now, granted, this handful of sales is more than what I had before I put things on the Kindle store. I actually feel as if Big Bad Amazon has been good for me in that respect, and I don’t fear them the way some authors do. But my point is that my lack of sales on those two books has nothing to do with Amazon’s business practices or unfair payout terms or anything like that. It’s simply that these two books are a little too niche, a little too specialized, a little too—academic, perhaps. People simply don’t want to buy them. And I can fix that, or not, my own self. That’s all Rusch is saying. Fix it yourself. Ask for better terms. Negotiate better deals. Learn what you need to learn to make a better deal for your own business. And treat it like that—like a business. That’s all you need to do.

Image credit: Here.


  1. I agree that Authors Unlimited is less than effective at improving author’s economic well being. That said, most authors lack the knowledge to effectively negotiate better conditions. Couple that with the fact that unless the author has a lot of sales, they lack leverage.

    The publishers look at books as product. Author A demands better royalties, simply replace author A with any of the multitude of other authors clamoring to have their book published. The current system favors the publishers with more power than the average author. Authors are individuals and Authors Unlimited lacks the control to stop individual authors or non-members from signing a contract with a publisher so cannot withheld product to gain leverage.

    The answer is self-publishing or small publishers rather than the big five or whatever the mergers have reduce the number to this week publishers.

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