Authors United, a group of now 1,078 American writers that has banded together to pressure Amazon to stop “refusing orders” of books published by Hachette, is elevating their complaint. In a letter posted on the group’s website, the listed writers ask the etailer’s Board of Directors: “Do you as an Amazon director approve of this policy of sanctioning books?” Elsewhere in the letter, they admit, “No group of authors as diverse or prominent as this has ever come together before in support of a single cause.”
The (my) hope is that after this dispute is finally resolved, Authors United will express similar outrage at the systems in place that enable one retailer to control the retail distribution of their books in the first place. Writers need to take more ownership of what happens after the publishing deal is signed. We can’t afford to look at our work as solely “the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle”. The businesses of book publishing and book selling are built on the creators of books, and we can no longer afford to be handled as “the talent”.
We should have first signatory power of our advances. Agents should provide receipts for all postage and handling and other expenses generated to sell our books to receive reimbursement. Publishers should deliver similar transparency enabling writers to be clear about how their royalty checks are calculated. We should be in the meetings sharing thoughts about how our work should be marketed, and to whom. We should also have more understanding and ownership of the retail deals and outlets associated with our work.
According to the Authors United letter:
“[Amazon’s] sanctions have driven down Hachette authors’ sales at Amazon.com by at least 50 percent and in some cases as much as 90 percent. These sales drops are occurring across the board: in hardcovers, paperbacks, and e-books. Because of Amazon’s immense market share and its proprietary Kindle platform, other retailers have not made up the difference. Several thousand Hachette authors have watched their readership decline, or, in the case of new authors, have seen their books sink out of sight without finding an adequate readership.”
Writers need to work with publishers and booksellers to ensure no one retailer can wield this much power over the livelihood of the business ever again.
Of course, writing is enough work, but the present paradigm is unacceptable.