Trade-book publishing, the wing of the industry that fills up your local chain store, is a very modest subset of book publishing… It’s rather irrational, makes very modest profits, is full of well-meaning ex-English majors, and is forever being invaded (and wreaked havoc on) by conglomerates that think they can run it like a conventional business, and who always fail to turn the trick. Despite the celebrated star authors and the occasional celeb execs and agents, there’s rather little money to be made here. And most of that money is as flukey and moody as the money that sloshes around the moviebiz. You’d be surprised by how many name authors don’t manage to make a living at their trade.
For the ultimate novel about the writing trade, go to Project Gutenberg and download New Grub Street, the 1891 masterpiece by George Gissing. See if the quote below, from the writer-character Jasper Milvain, doesn’t still ring true today.
Putting aside men of genius, who may succeed by mere cosmic force, your successful man of letters is your skilful tradesman. He thinks first and foremost of the markets; when one kind of goods begins to go off slackly, he is ready with something new and appetising. He knows perfectly all the possible sources of income. Whatever he has to sell he’ll get payment for it from all sorts of various quarters; none of your unpractical selling for a lump sum to a middleman who will make six distinct profits.
Whoops. Considering the rights grubs, er, grabs, that so many publishers pull off these days at writers’ expense regardless of the Tasini decision, the Milvain act isn’t as easy as it used to be.
TeleRead would hardly turn the typical author into a millionaire. But, beyond popularizing books, it would make the industry more efficient so a higher percentage of the cash ended up in the pockets of actual writers.
(2Blowhards material found via Jon Jeremy’s just-posted item for the eBookCommunity list. “Next time someone tells you that DRM is to ‘protect author’s incomes,'” he suggested, “utter a hollow laugh” and “cry, ‘What incomes?'”)