The business model for authors is broken. Let me amend that. The business model for the majority of authors is broken.
Think about it. Writing is a business where you can actually lose money. I’m not talking about freelance writers who can carve out a living from various writing projects. I’m talking about novelists. Most of us have one source of income – the sale of our book. That’s it. If I sell a book I make about a dollar. Meanwhile, that book may be read by two, ten, or even fifty people if it’s popular and gets passed around. Eventually it may be sold at a flea market or a garage sale for more people to read and enjoy. I’ve still made just a dollar.
There are days that I wish I was Jerry Mathers. Okay, that’s a lie. I’ve never wished that in my life, but I sure wish that writers got the residuals that some actors collect when their series goes into syndication. I wish that writers were more like musicians who can make money from concert and merchandise sales on top of their record sales. Even bar bands can sell T-shirts and other merchandise. I wish that writers had patrons and benefactors like some artists.
Writers don’t get it. We give away our work as though it is without value. We don’t sell merchandise. We buy it to give away. We don’t get paid for readings, attending writers groups, or other appearances. We are adept in convincing ourselves that these promotional expenditures will be returned to us many times over as our book sales soar.
Here’s the truth: Most of us won’t find an agent. Most of us won’t be published by one of the Big Five. Most of us won’t have our books made into a movie. Many of us will be unable to find any traditional publisher willing to publish our work. Many of us will spend our own money to self-publish. Some of us will never sell enough books to cover those expenditures. Some of us will fall into the clutches of vanity publishers and spend a small fortune.
So, what’s the answer? Actually, I’m optimistic about the future. I think we’ll see fewer free days and other mass giveaways. I think we’ll see more small publishers going out of business. I think we’ll see fewer authors, as writers get discouraged by their experience. I think we’ll see more small and medium-sized publishers begin to make the connections that will give them a chance to deliver on some of the rights they are currently taking from authors. We’ll be left with fewer, more serious authors. We’ll have fewer, but better, publishers. We’ll be on our way to correcting a supply/demand imbalance between the number of books out there for the number of readers available.
We’ll see what happens. I could be wrong.