22 March 2011

Poisoning Authors in the Park

In honor of the first day of spring, I offer a musical tribute to the season...

  • Just a quick Borders bankruptcy update... The Economist has noticed — it's now officially An Event! Second, last week Judge Glenn signed a flurry of orders in the matter, uniformly rejecting the pro forma (and often substantively ridiculous) objections raised by various creditors, particularly the utilities and the landlords of properties being closed, to the debtor-in-possession plans. I estimate — conservatively — that those futile motions cost somewhere around a cool million, with about a third of that being the bankruptcy estate's own fees and expenses of responding to them... money that will not go to pay creditors (especially authors). That is, business as usual. Move along, netizens, nothing to see here.
  • As a prelude to (and test of) ways to evade the NYT's ill-conceived forthcoming payhurdle, ponder the increasing use of digital resources to actually teach in the humanities, and ask yourself whether a few virtual trips to Regency England just might pour some cold, wet, Cotswolds rainwater on overheated Regency romances... and then whisper "William Morris."

    Meanwhile, the UK government continues to discriminate against actual visits by foreign performers. This has long been a problem in football, and in certain sectors of the arts; however, it raises one's eyebrows to read that customs officials "subjected [a cellist] to eight hours of questioning before [telling her] she was taking work away from UK musicians and sent home." Since when do customs officials give a rat's ass about how domestic classical musicians avoid starvation?

  • Congratulations to this year's Tiptree Award winners and honor works (not all "books").
  • Then there's the use of a breakup song by the Beatles as legal authority. The mind boggles; but then, the concept of "reasonable doubt" boggles in the first place...
  • Finally, an almost-purely-editorial comment on the Eisler Sanction. If you're just returning from a well-earned vacation to Gleise 581g, you might not be aware that established "bestselling" author Barry Eisler turned down a $500k advance in favor of self-publishing his next book. As Scalzi's bingo card indicates, this incident is going to be blown even farther out of proportion than it already is... and ultimately validates a lot of the economic authority for copyright.

    First, note that Eisler isn't relying upon whatever he earns from that next book to pay the bills; almost nobody who is getting mid-six-figure-and-up advances is, because those people already have a significant track record and nest egg. That means that he can afford to wait for the absolutely uncertain amount of time that it will require for his anticipated better returns from self-publishing to come in. Again, this is the variable that most economic and financial analyses in the arts neglect: t.

    Second, he's doing so in relationship to an agency arrangement that — reading between the lines — just isn't working well (or at least well enough) for him. This might be perceived lack of value for the 15% agency commission; it might be nonfinancial issues with contracting; it might be miscommunication; it might be any number of things. The point, though, is that there is an existing agency relationship that led to the offer of the Big Advance; absent an existing agent (and, particularly, absent so prominent an existing agent), we wouldn't be hearing about this. At all.

    Third, one must remember that Eisler's work is — like Amanda Hocking's and Jon Konrath's — proven (not necessarily the same thing as "previously commercially published", as a couple of e-mails to me concerning my comments last week have misunderstood). That is, it is material with a clear marketplace niche; it is material with an existing brand; etc., etc., etc. The point here is that first-time-novelists by definition are not proven, and neither are their works (unless, perhaps, they're celebrities with really good ghostwriters).

    Fourth, and perhaps most important, is what Eisler and Konrath do not say in their online conversation: That commercial publishers are becoming increasingly difficult to deal with (and downright inept) on many contracting terms other than the financial ones. All I had to do was see who — both as "what imprint" and "which conglomerate" — made that rejected offer to know what some of those difficulties are. Of course, there's a slightly different, but significantly overlapping, set of those problems (increasingly converging through the antitrust/unfair competition issue of conscious parallelism (both PDFs)) with each media conglomerate — that's where having the right agent can be extraordinarily helpful. It can, of course, lead to authors leaving publishers despite satisfaction with most of the business relationship.

    In conclusion, the real reason to leave commercial publishing, for those whose Rawlsian original position allows them to do so without an unacceptable and clear adverse excursion, is less about the size of the advance than the size and nature of everything else that will be dragged into a commercial publishing transaction. And the less said about commercial publishing's insistance on using a "sale" model for author-publisher relationships while it tries to impose a "license" model on end-users of its product, the better! <SARCASM> No unfair competition issues like artificial creation of market-entry barriers involved here at all. Nope. Everyone in the entertainment industry (and in the commercial publishing niche of it) is completely trustworthy. </SARCASM>