Wednesday, December 11, 2013

For Writers Only: An Open Letter From the Authors Guild

Earlier this year, I became a member of the Authors Guild. I wanted to be a part of this organization because I feel they promote author welfare like no other, especially on the legal front. This morning I found this in my inbox with a message asking me to share it. I'm interested in your thoughts on the content. If you agree with the content, you should join the Authors Guild to support their cause. But, more importantly, if you DON'T agree with the content, maybe you should join, too. Because this organization calls itself the "Authoritative Voice of American Writers", and if all types of American writers don't join, their voices won't be heard.

You can learn more about the Authors Guild here:

* * * * *

An Open Letter to My Fellow Authors

It’s all changing, right before our eyes. Not just publishing, but the writing life itself, our ability to make a living from authorship. Even in the best of times, which these are not, most writers have to supplement their writing incomes by teaching, or throwing up sheet-rock, or cage fighting. It wasn’t always so, but for the last two decades I’ve lived the life most writers dream of: I write novels and stories, as well as the occasional screenplay, and every now and then I hit the road for a week or two and give talks. In short, I’m one of the blessed, and not just in terms of my occupation. My health is good, my children grown, their educations paid for. I’m sixty-four, which sucks, but it also means that nothing that happens in publishing—for good or ill—is going to affect me nearly as much as it affects younger writers, especially those who haven’t made their names yet. Even if the e-price of my next novel is $1.99, I won’t have to go back to cage fighting.
Still, if it turns out that I’ve enjoyed the best the writing life has to offer, that those who follow, even the most brilliant, will have to settle for less, that won’t make me happy and I suspect it won’t cheer other writers who’ve been as fortunate as I. It’s these writers, in particular, that I’m addressing here. Not everyone believes, as I do, that the writing life is endangered by the downward pressure of e-book pricing, by the relentless, ongoing erosion of copyright protection, by the scorched-earth capitalism of companies like Google and Amazon, by spineless publishers who won’t stand up to them, by the “information wants to be free” crowd who believe that art should be cheap or free and treated as a commodity, by internet search engines who are all too happy to direct people to on-line sites that sell pirated (read “stolen”) books, and even by militant librarians who see no reason why they shouldn’t be able to “lend” our e-books without restriction. But those of us who are alarmed by these trends have a duty, I think, to defend and protect the writing life that’s been good to us, not just on behalf of younger writers who will not have our advantages if we don’t, but also on behalf of readers, whose imaginative lives will be diminished if authorship becomes untenable as a profession.

I know, I know. Some insist that there’s never been a better time to be an author. Self-publishing has democratized the process, they argue, and authors can now earn royalties of up to seventy percent, where once we had to settle for what traditional publishers told us was our share. Anecdotal evidence is marshaled in support of this view (statistical evidence to follow). Those of us who are alarmed, we’re told, are, well, alarmists. Time will tell who’s right, but surely it can’t be a good idea for writers to stand on the sidelines while our collective fate is decided by others. Especially when we consider who those others are. Entities like Google and Apple and Amazon are rich and powerful enough to influence governments, and every day they demonstrate their willingness to wield that enormous power. Books and authors are a tiny but not insignificant part of the larger battle being waged between these companies, a battleground that includes the movie, music, and newspaper industries. I think it’s fair to say that to a greater or lesser degree, those other industries have all gotten their asses kicked, just as we’re getting ours kicked now. And not just in the courts. Somehow, we’re even losing the war for hearts and minds. When we defend copyright, we’re seen as greedy. When we justly sue, we’re seen as litigious. When we attempt to defend the physical book and stores that sell them, we’re seen as Luddites. Our altruism, when we’re able to summon it, is too often seen as self-serving.

But here’s the thing. What the Apples and Googles and Amazons and Netflixes of the world all have in common (in addition to their quest for world domination), is that they’re all starved for content, and for that they need us. Which means we have a say in all this. Everything in the digital age may feel new and may seem to operate under new rules, but the conversation about the relationship between art and commerce is age-old, and artists must be part of it. To that end we’d do well to speak with one voice, though it’s here we demonstrate our greatest weakness. Writers are notoriously independent cusses, hard to wrangle. We spend our mostly solitary days filling up blank pieces of paper with words. We must like it that way, or we wouldn’t do it. But while it’s pretty to think that our odd way of life will endure, there’s no guarantee. The writing life is ours to defend. Protecting it also happens to be the mission of the Authors Guild, which I myself did not join until last year, when the light switch in my cave finally got tripped. Are you a member? If not, please consider becoming one. We’re badly outgunned and in need of reinforcements. If the writing life has done well by you, as it has by me, here’s your chance to return the favor. Do it now, because there’s such a thing as being too late.

Richard Russo
December 2013

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Word About The Green-eyed Monster (and I Don't Mean Godzilla!)

Fair warning, this post might get ugly. That’s because I’m talking about the green-eyed monster today. Not Godzilla but something far, far worse. 

Author jealousy.

 I’ve never blogged about it before, but I’ve observed hideous author behavior over the last couple of years, some of it directed at me. Some of it directed at others. I think it's time to take a stand and call it out for what it is: wrong, wrong, wrong.

Everyone, at one time or another, feels like they are not living up to their potential. It’s perfectly okay to look at another author’s success and think, wow, what could I change about my writing or business practices to achieve that?  I don’t think that’s jealousy. Real jealousy is when an author takes an action to sabotage another author’s success in order to make his or herself feel more successful or potentially gain traction on the charts.

Just in case there is any confusion, the following actions are deplorable displays of author jealousy. None of these are good sales strategy or “guerilla” marketing. I don't care if you read about it in an Indie publishing book or heard about it at a conference; these things are unethical

The Obvious

Leaving bad reviews of a competitor's book

Whether you’ve read the book or not, you have a conflict of interest. You cannot possibly rate a direct competitor’s book fairly. And, if your review magically contains a link to your own book, give yourself a big frowny face on your author card. Not cool.

Spreading rumors about an author or book on social media or in private groups

I recently had an author tell me that another competing author had solicited negative “helpful” votes on one of my books from a private group of authors. Apparently, I've heard this has become common practice for some authors and publishers. 

Reporting a book as having inappropriate content when it doesn’t

This one requires no commentary. Awful.

Listing or tagging a book inappropriately in order to attract the wrong audience (and therefore negative reviews) 
The specific instance I’m thinking of was the author of an adult’s only novel finding her title on a list recommended for ages 9-16.

The Not So Obvious

Telling a critique partner his/her work isn’t ready when it is, or that it is ready when it is not
(This one needs no commentary.)

Giving purposefully bad advice 
(Ex: “Don’t worry about hiring a copy-editor. Waste of money. People expect self-pubs to have some errors.")

Discouraging success 
(Ex.: "That blogger/conference/agent represents really big authors. Don’t even bother querying them.")

Attributing someone’s success to things other than their writing
(Ex: “Wow, you must be really good at marketing!” ...because your success couldn’t possibly be due to your writing. “You really got lucky going free around Christmas!” …because otherwise no one would have downloaded your book. “Smart to write a sci-fi when everyone else was writing romance. Now there’s no competition is your genre!” because if there was you wouldn’t be ranking.) These types of comments insidiously undermine an author’s confidence.

Which leads me to this…

Five Reasons You Should Avoid The Green-eyed Monster
  1. Success begets success. Good writing in all genres attracts interest in that genre. A good angel book gets readers interested in buying more angel books. The Hunger Games launched a huge following for dystopian. Sabotaging books like your own only sabotages YOU.
  2. Scheming Undermines Learning. All that time you are spending to feed the green monster could be time spent writing your next book or reading a book on craft. The green monster is a huge time waster.
  3. No one defines your success but you. If you are not happy with yourself selling 300 books per month, you won’t be happy selling 30,000 per month. Self satisfaction comes from within, from knowing how much of yourself you poured into a book and how far you've come.
  4. You miss out on being a part of someone else’s success. It’s a great feeling to watch someone you know really blossom. Even better if you get to be the wind beneath their wings.
  5. It may come back to haunt you. Amazon and others are getting much better at tracking inappropriate activity. No one wants their name associated with an article like this after all. 

What about you? Do you feel author jealousy is a problem? Have you experienced this on your own publishing journey?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Why you DON'T want him to buy you jewelry for Christmas

Every year, I inevitably find myself in a social situation where the question is posed, "What do you want for Christmas?" Every year, inevitably, someone in the group will say, "jewelry." This always leads to a discussion about why jewelry will never make my list and why I choose not to wear much of it, even though I can afford it. Truth is, my husband knows better than to buy it for me!

I get it. I know. That feeling of longing when you see a woman with a truly stunning piece of jewelry, a diamond the size of a golf ball or a necklace that would fit in comfortably with the crown jewels.  We've been conditioned to think that gems are a good investment that convey love and permanence in a relationship, and the bigger the gem the bigger the love, right? Wrong. So wrong! And ladies, you are the only ones who are going to change the perpetuation of the myths around jewelry.

Myth #1: Jewelry is a good investment

Sorry, no. Most jewelry is marked up at every stage in the production and distribution process to well above its actual value. Diamonds especially depreciate significantly the moment you leave the store. The only exception might be the well timed purchase of gold, but most jewelry you wear isn't a pure enough gold for you to see a return on your investment.  (Source: CNN Money)

Myth #2: Jewelry shows an investment in the relationship

There are much better ways to show you are invested in a relationship than jewelry. Jewelry is a "one and done" gift. He gives it to you and then walks away. On your finger or around your neck, it acts as a repellent to others who might be interested in you, but the jewelry does not have an equal effect on your man. Compare this to a gift of an experience, like concert tickets. Concert tickets require planning for the future and thinking about your likes and dislikes. Concert tickets mean he really believes he will still be with you a month from now when Beyonce comes to town and that he recognizes that you love Beyonce (even if he doesn't). Plus, going to that concert will create a shared experience that you can talk about for a lifetime. In fact, research shows that people who buy experiences rather than stuff are generally happier. (Source: Forbes)

Myth #3: Jewelry doesn't hurt anyone…

Hey, it's just a fashion choice with sentimental value, and it's not hurting anyone, right? Well…truth is it might be. Gems are mined. Mining is both bad for the environment and often employs unsafe working conditions and child labor. Plus, have you heard of blood diamonds? Diamonds are sometimes used to finance conflict and social injustice around the world and to launder money. In a jewelry store, you can't tell which diamonds have dirty little secrets behind them and the sales person isn't going to know.

Full disclosure, I do have a small diamond in my wedding ring (one purchased before I knew about blood diamonds) and each girl in my family has a special, matching platinum necklace with heavy sentimental value. I don't judge people who wear jewelry and often admire artistically designed pieces. But for the reasons mentioned above, my jewelry purchases are few and far between, and much more conscientious than they used to be.

And jewelry is not on my Christmas list.