I’m Not The Jerk In E-book Pricing, And Trunk Novels

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about some things, so I might as well do a blog post.

* Every time I say “trunk novel”, someone asks what that is. A trunk novel is a term for a novel that won’t ever escape the inside of a trunk. It’s a piece a writer works on solely for his/her own gratification, one that stands little chance of every being published, mostly because the writer understands it’s horrible. It’s the writing version of junk food. I love my trunk novels. (Yes. That’s plural.) Often I work on them during breaks from other books. They’re sort of dry runs, practice to keep me in the game. It can also mean a trunk novel that gets published after a writer is famous, or famous and dead.

* OK, guys, let’s get serious. Lots of you are emailing me telling me that various e-book distributors are protesting publishers’ move to agency pricing by pulling my books. You invariably ask me to “talk to the publishers” and solve this problem.

I cannot do that. Furthermore, I will not even consider it and the very thought makes me cranky.

First, the publishers have little control over whether the distributors carry their books. Publishers and distributors are two separate companies and make their own decisions. Second, I would not dream of coming down on the side of the distributors on this issue, for the simple fact that the publishers’ interests in this case align with my own. The agency pricing model gives writers a better deal, and it keeps the books around for longer. The distributors want to profit at the expense of the writers (who produce the content) and the publishers (who invest in quality control and on the chance that the content will made the money back for them).

In short, THE PUBLISHERS ARE NOT THE ENEMY HERE, AND THE WRITERS ARE NOT THE ENEMY EITHER.

It is perfectly natural for the distributors to want to maximize their profits, or to keep going with business models that benefit them at the expense of the writers or publishers. They’re businesses, maximizing their profits is what they DO. But neither I nor the publishers should take the rap for it. Because it is also well within publishers’ rights to say, “We invest in bringing this content to the marketplace. We pay the advance, we provide the editing and quality control, we provide the art and marketing, and we will set the price for it as we see fit.” And in this one case, the publishers’ views align nicely with the rights and views of the writers producing the books in the first damn place. Professional writers are OF COURSE going to support their publishers in seeking the pricing and policies that grant them a living wage (or a close approximation of one). Or, to be more precise, that maximize the chances that a writer can afford to continue writing because the financial rewards are enough to let them scrape by. (This is where I go off on my “just because you’re published doesn’t mean you’re rich” rant. I’ll save that for another day.)

The distributors’ response–yanking certain publishers’ goods in order to pressure them into dropping the agency pricing model–is greedy and short-sighted in the extreme. Brick and mortar stores, e-book sites like Fictionwise, other sites like Amazon, are DISTRIBUTORS. The whole purpose of these companies is to distribute the goods that people want to buy, in this case, books. If they do not distribute, people should get annoyed and find somewhere else to shop. Distributors shoot themselves in the foot in these kinds of situations, despite their PR working overtime (usually through their customer platforms) to convince customers that someone else (the big bad publishers, the writers) are to blame.

I understand people contact the writers because we are the “face” of our books. People write to me about all sorts of things I have zero control over, like cover prices or font sizes or distribution to foreign countries or or or…you get the idea. It irks me that there are problems I can’t solve for the readers or to facilitate their enjoyment, but that’s life.

But please, please, dear Readers, don’t jump on me because a distributor is kicking and screaming over the e-book pricing model that may very well make or break an author’s chances to keep bringing these books to you. (Although, really, e-books are such a small part of total book sales…even though it doesn’t seem like it to people on the Internet.) Don’t jump on my publisher, or THE publishers, either. The publisher wants me to keep writing as much as you do; the publisher wants you to have the books as much as I do and you do. It’s the distributor who doesn’t want agency pricing because it gives the publisher and writer a bigger slice of the profits (profits that distributors have grown accustomed to in the last five-ten years or so) that deserves your ire. They are the ones you should be demanding an answer from–an honest answer, not “the big bad publishers are picking on poor little us, waaaah!”

Honestly, if it was the publisher being an asshole, I’d tell you. If it was me being an asshole, I’d admit it.

In this case, it’s neither. We’re not the assholes here, and filling up my email inbox with rants about how I need to get on the publisher and yell at them do not help. I know you’re frustrated. I’m frustrated too, as you can probably tell. I have no choice but to sit tight and wait for it to all shake out, since there is literally nothing I can do. In this case, the publishers are going into battle on behalf of writers. Well, it’s on behalf of their own profits, but it’s benefiting writers. Fair enough.

Now I’ve got to go hop on the treadmill and work all this adrenaline anger off.

See you around.

PS: Behave in the comments, please. Thanks.

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