Monday, October 20, 2008

On Working for Chickenfeed--veinglory

working for chicken feed
It is one of those tired old debates: should writers work for low pay? In fact it normally starts of as an assertion, writers should not work for low pay--doing so means they have now respect for their craft, their colleagues, or indeed themselves. And the responses can be equally emphatic. This is, indeed, an issue that can make me act like a shrill asshat as members of one yahoogroup have recently seen (the less said about that the better, at least from my POV).

However, given some time to think and make those thoughts orderly, this is what I have to say. When people do thing, they have reasons. You may not share those reasons, you may not respect those reasons, but reasons will exist. And showing respect for ones colleagues may in fact include allowing that we don't all have to agree in issues like this.

#1: Non-Pecuniary Gain
If a writer is accepting a small rate of pay it may be because they are receiving other benefits. For example they may go with a lower paying publisher because they are more approachable, more responsive or provide some other less tangibel benefit. Not everyone is aiming for the top with all of their energy--so ease of process can be a consideration if writing is a sideline. Further to that, a good many of us would be writing whether it made money or not. So any money more than none is a bonus (versus anything less than pro-rates being an insult). Writing may be done for fun, for profit or for any intermediate combination of the two. Ultimately a writer who is in it primarily for the money is going to have to offer something the amateur can't or won't, in order to command a professional wage (i.e. don't blame the monkeys if you can't successfully demand more than peanuts).

#2: Taking What they can Get
Any writer might want a high wage, but if the best they can get is a low one a lot of them are going to take it. In the global market place we are competing with people who require only supplemental income, or are logging on from nations where a US dollar goes a very long way. If an author has a manuscript and they have shopped it around the upper tier for as long as they are temperamentally equipped to, they will take it down a notch. The work has already gone into the book, so the choice becomes taking what you can get or getting nothing and this book potentially never being read. Some people to shelve the book and try to write a better one, but others sell the book at the best market they can and then still go on to try and write a better one.

#3: Cluelessness
This is the only reason I really have a problem with. Especially in royalty-based markets a writer may effectively accept a very low rate of pay because they have no idea how many copies of the book their publisher will be able to sell. I may not share or respect a lot of writer's reasons for consciously choosing to be paid peanuts, but it is ultimately their life and their choice. But wandering into epublishing on the assumption you are going to make out like JK Rowling just isn't a good idea. And that is what this site is about.

Ultimately if a writer wants to work for high pay they need to find high paying markets and give them what they want. A gourmet chef is not competing with a steak house, a hot dog vendor or a church bake sale--and the more people writing, and reading, at every level, the better.

p.s. still looking for sales data, especially for Wild Rose Press and Ellora's Cave.


Barbara Sheridan said...

FWIW I agree all the way around. If a story has a shot with a higher profit potential-large readerbase pub then by all means give it a shot, but don't limit yourself to that or look down on anyone who takes another route.

Some pubs don't want non HEA (even in m/m fiction) some don't want too dark and edgy some don't want anything less than 20k.

A writer has to place a work at the best place for that particular work whether it sells 50 copies the first month or 500.

veinglory said...

In this post I am not even getting into how the a lot of work will in fact do best in the small press (novellas, MM etc).

Anonymous said...

And sometimes you can get in with several publishers in the top tier and still make peanuts because you just don't "click" with the majority of readers.

~~An Author who has been e-published since 2000, has over 20 releases, is with several pubs in the top tier, and still makes peanuts.

K. Z. Snow said...

There are just too many writers putting out too many books and too few readers to read them. Supply and demand: that's the name of that tune.