[HNW] From the Copyright Scold

Lavolta Press fran at lavoltapress.com
Sat Jun 30 14:23:58 PDT 2007

The poor benighted author
 > never does get much unless they are publishing themselves.

That depends. Sometimes self-publishing is a more profitable route (and 
it's becoming increasingly "reputable" and popular). Sometimes it is 
not. It depends on the book (some kinds of books just do not sell well 
if self-published), the book's audience, and the publisher (if this is 
not the author). Successful self-publishing depends a great deal on how 
much expertise (in many tasks besides writing), work, time, and money 
the author is able and willing to put into the book.

At any rate, your personal estimation of how much money the author or 
the publisher makes from the book, or ought to make, has nothing to do 
with its copyright protection.  There are legal realities here: It's not 
just a question of "how you personally feel" about the validity of the 
book's copyright.

  The publisher
 > puts a deal of money into the book and takes the chance that the 
public will
 > buy it at whatever price they decide to put on it.  If, like the Soup for
 > the Qan book, the idiot publisher puts a price of $225 on a book (the
 > Authors have NEVER seen a dime from this book) very few books will be 
 > except to libraries (if that) and the publisher grandly points to the 
 > figures to show that no one is interested is such stuff.

Unless the book's sales figures are publicly released, there is no way 
anyone can know what they are, or what the publisher's investment in the 
book was. Or, how much money and time the author invested in the book 
before submiting it to the publisher. I will tell you that although I 
run a tiny (though professional) publishing company by industry 
standards, I've spent several hundreds of thousands of dollars to date 
in hard cash layout. This is money I've paid for expenses. It's 
irrespective of any payment for 14 years of my work, or my husband's, or 
that of relatives and friends who have contributed time here and there.

Of course, all the following depends a great deal on the book, and its 
author. But judging not only from my own experience but the 10 years I 
spent as an editor and writer for other publishers before starting my 
own business, an author often spends a year or two of full-time work 
writing a book before finishing it.  As writing is not generally a very 
lucrative profession, it often takes the author several years longer to 
actually produce the book, because he or she must work at another job to 
pay the bills during the writing process. It's a rare (and usually very 
happy) writer who can afford to give up the day job to write full time.

Unless this is a big-name author, most publishers will not give the 
author any advance against royalties until all or most of the research 
and writing is done. Publishers don't want to spend money on a project 
that may never be completed. Even if it is completed, they don't know 
when the author will actually turn in the manuscript (from my personal 
observation, strictly enforcing a contract schedule often just results 
in receiving a low-quality or partly finished manuscript). And they 
don't know whether the manuscript will be any good when they get it. 
Better to let the author finish the manuscript, or mostly finish it, and 
then see whether you (the publisher or acquisitions editor) have any 
interest in it, before signing a contract or advancing money.

This means, of course, that an author risks spending several years of 
his or her time--and often money on things like research materials, 
research travel, and general business supplies and expenses--without any 
guarantee of ever making any money at all.

With books that are heavily dependent on original photos and/or 
drawings, the publisher not infrequently requires all the illustrations 
to be submitted with the manuscript for potential acquisition.  This 
means the author has to hire the photographer (and often for clothing, 
models) and/or illustrator before the publisher pays the author 
anything.  Although some professional photographers and ilustrators will 
work for a share of the royalties, many will not, as that makes their 
payment very iffy.  With books that depend heavily on obtaining 
permissions for second rights to use photos, not infrequently the 
publisher requires the author to bear this time and expense.

As publishers try to cut their costs, some of the tasks they used to do 
are now being shoved off onto authors. It is now often advised that 
authors hire a professional editor to edit their manuscripts thoroughly 
_before_ submitting to them to any publisher for consideration. A few 
publishers even require authors to do page layout. Authors are also very 
often expected to invest much more marketing time and expense than when 
I started out 24 years ago. This includes not only stay-at-home blogging 
and website creation, and neighborhood bookstore signings arranged by 
the author, but tours and lectures given at the author's time, expense, 
and financial risk.

The largest publishing houses typically require authors to go through 
agents, who are paid with a percentage of the author's royalties.

Just the same, book publishers _do_ bear significant work and expense. 
They hire, on a freelance or full-time basis, several levels of editor. 
The number of editors, their exact titles, and the organization of the 
editorial and production departments depends on the publishing house. 
I've worked in-house for several book and magazine publishers; they were 
all organized somewhat differently.

As a very general rule: An editor-in-chief guides the overall direction 
of the house and supervises the acquisitions editors. The acquisitions 
editors find authors and negotiate contracts. The managing editor is 
usually in charge of overall scheduling of the list, and supervising the 
project editors.  Project editors are project managers and coordinators, 
scheduling and supervising various other employees on several book 
projects at a time.  Often acquisitions editors also do this job, but 
sometimes not. In my last full-time job I was a senior project editor 
for a midsize house, but did not do acquisitions--the acquisitions 
editors turned the projects over to us as soon as the contracts were 
signed. Then there are the line editors, who are often freelancers. 
Some publishers use two levels of line editor, one to do rewrites, the 
second to do mechanical editing (spelling, grammar, and general 
consistency and fine tuning). After the customary short stint on the 
career ladder as an editorial assistant, I became a line editor. 
However, often a manuscript requiring extensive work is sent back to the 
author for rewrites, sometimes several months' worth of revision, and is 
then sent back to the editor.

The editorial department may hire indexers. But sometimes it is the 
house policy that the author provide the index, by either, at their 
choice, personally indexing the book or by hiring an indexer.

The production department designs the book cover and interior, lays out 
the pages, and finds book printers and supervises them (believe me, you 
don't just ship the files on disk and a check and say, "Just do it"). If 
the publisher is providing the illustrations, the production department 
hires and supervises the illustrators.

Proofreading may be the responsibility of the editorial department, the 
production department, or both. Often there are two or more stages of 

Once a manuscript is received, the time before publication often runs 
about 9 months or a year. While a book may spend some of this time 
sitting around in the queue, the editing and production process itself 
lasts some months. After that, it takes at least two months to get the 
finished books from the printer, in my experience.

There are exceptions.  For a very, very, timely book, it is possible to 
rush a project through in a few weeks. I've seen it done, though 
thankfully did not have to supervise any of those projects myself. But 
this not only produces a low-quality or at best a lightweight book, it 
puts all parties who work on it under tremendous stress, and it involves 
paying the printer a premium for rush service.

The publisher also pays marketing staff, accountants, laywers, and 
everyone else needed to run the business.  The publisher pays not only 
salaries, but rent on the building, computer expenses, and all other 
general overhead.

Usually a midsize or larger publisher also provides warehousing. 
Neither print on demand nor e-books, BTW, is a panacea. Print-on-demand 
is currently a print run of 500 or fewer copies, not a one-by-one 
printing process. It is lower quality than offset printing--about 300 
dpi compared to about 2400 dpi for offset printing--which low quality is 
particularly evident in illustrated books. POD color printing is 
especially bad, and many publishers of POD books have the color covers 
printed by offset.

POD is also more expensive than offset printing. The unit cost (cost of 
printing one copy) is significantly higher. This in turn means that even 
though the book is of lower quality, the publisher has to charge 
consumers a higher cover price.

I wouldn't even think of publishing with the current generation of POD 

E-books are regarded by many publishers with justified suspicion, as 
being very difficult to protect from piracy. All of the current 
protection systems are crackable by someone, who in turn can distribute 
the cracking system or the book files to people less technologically 
clueful. While it's true that, as they chant on the piracy b-boards, 
"You can't keep a tree book from a scanner"--digital cameras are also a 
popular piracy method--the less effort required to pirate a book, the 
more people demonstrably do it.  There is also some industry doubt as to 
whether, and if so using exactly what equipment, most people really want 
to read books on-line.

As for the book cover price: There are a lot of middlemen in the book 
business.  Many publishers, ourselves included, do not sell most books 
directly to consumers. Some publishers refuse to sell to consumers at 
all.  This is because such sales require a huge amount of direct 
marketing and fulfillment work, which is not necessarily well paid for 
in proportion to the time spent.  But every level of middleman has to 
make a profit. So, the publisher has to give a deep discount to the 
highest level of middleman, who in turn gives a lower discount to the 
level of middleman that _they_ sell to.

Most books are sold by the following route: To one of the major 
wholesalers, who then sell them to bookstores or libraries. (Some 
wholesalers specialize in either bookstore or library sales, and all 
have some emphasis on one or the other.) Bookstores, in turn, sell books 
to consumers.

There are also wholesalers who specialize in other kinds of outlets that 
do not emphasize books, but where some books are sold. These include 
businesses like fabric stores, or sporting goods stores, or health food 
stores, depending on the book's subject. However, in my experience many 
of these outlets are willing to buy direct from publishers.  It depends 
on the kind of outlet.

Bookstores, on the other hand, vastly prefer to buy from one of the 
major wholesalers, because it simplifies their ordering and accounting a 
great deal. Plus, the major book wholesalers are known to not accept 
books that are not of professional quality, and that do not sell at a 
certain level (make enough money for that wholesaler, as well as 
bookstores). One particular wholesaler is the 800-pound gorilla of the 
selling-to-bookstores market.  If a publisher wants good bookstore 
sales, they pretty much _have_ to "get into" that wholesaler. Said 
wholesaler fluctuates on their small press policies, starting one small 
press admission program, ending it a few years later and dumping many of 
the participants, and then, after a year or two, starting a different 
small press program.  However, they are, basically, not all that 
thrilled about admitting small presses (the sales level is too low for 
them). They _did_ admit us, when we had only one title in print; and we 
have since maintained a sufficient sales level to survive several purges 
of unprofitable small presses.

Wholesalers do not do any marketing, although they allow publishers to 
buy expensive ads in their marketing publications. They merely fill 
orders that have already been stimulated by the publisher's marketing 

But:  There are many excellent small press books whose publishers have 
been rejected by this wholesaler as being too unprofitable. For these, 
there is yet another level of middleman called a distributor. A 
distributor forms a catalog of books from a large number of small 
presses, gets them listed by wholesalers (because the distributor is the 
wholesaler's vendor account, not the small presses), also sells to 
bookstores and/or libraries, provides some level of marketing (though 
there are many publisher complaints about the quantity and quality of 
same), and often, warehouses at least some of the books.  Discounts to 
distributors run 70% to 80% of the book's cover price.

 > I am more than willing to scan my books printed in the 1800's (note 
that I
 > own these books in their original printing) to give to friends or 
those in
 > need.  Public Domain is where the lawmakers who originated Copyright
 > intended the work to end up, just like patents.  Not frozen until the 
 > death of the Universe.

Hardly until the heat death of the universe. Here is an online chart 
that may help you, titled "When Works Fall into the Public Domain":


Note that the purpose of having copyright endure after the author's 
death is so that his or her children, or other heirs, can benefit from 
the author's work. As many books are paid for only in dribbles, on a 
royalty basis, it can take the author a long time (if ever) to recoup 
his or her investment of time and money and start making a profit.  If 
the author had instead invested in real estate, stocks and bonds, or a 
family business manufacturing widgets, none of that tangible property 
would suddenly be public property (taken away from the heirs) the minute 
the author died.

 > Thankfully, Microsoft and Google and Project Gutenberg are making 
this less
 > and less necessary.

While they may be making public-domain works more available, it is not 
legal for them--or anyone else--to put a copyrighted book into the 
public domain merely by scanning it (as far as I can tell without 
proofing the text they OCR, by the way). Only expiration of copyright, 
or the copyright owner _expressly_ saying, "I put this work in the 
public domain," can put a book in the public domain.

Project Gutenberg requires the books posted on their site to already be 
in the public domain, and as far as I can tell they are all old works. 
So does the Microsoft project--I haven't actually seen any results from 
that project, but I may have missed something.  At any rate Microsoft is 
making it a big PR point that their project does not violate copyrights.

This is in opposition to Google, who is prominently being sued over 
their "opt-out" policy for books not in the public domain. (They have 
also legally scanned and posted books that are in the public domain.) 
Until the suit is settled, if a copyright owner wants his or her books 
to be excluded from the Google project--and I've excluded mine--they 
have to go to the Google "Partner Program" web page and fill out an 
online form listing the titles of the books, the ISBNs, and other basic 

Note that Google does not make their files of legally scanned, public 
domain books easy to access. As far as I can tell, you have to view them 
page by page, not download the whole book.  Google does not seem to 
proof their OCR. They have announced plans to sell those books at some 
point, meaning the free postings may be withdrawn.  It all depends on 
their strategy, which they never seem to fully announce.

But don't think Google has not entered the publishing business to make 

As for the copyrighted books Google has scanned for their website, the 
system is supposed to be set up so that users can only see short 
excerpts, which are supposed to motivate them to buy the book at an 
online site such as Amazon.com (note Google's ads!). The thing copyright 
owners are objecting to, re Google scanning copyrighted books for this 
use (unless the copyright holder opts out), is the ability of hackers to 
get at the whole book anyway.

There are also copyright owners who agree to be in the "Partner" program 
because they think it's good marketing and safe enough.

  Such a shame that the intense work done on subjects in
 > the late 20th century will continue to be the province of a very few. 
 > one hope is the number of authors who have made their work accessible to
 > anyone who wants it by giving it a special use copyright and putting 
it on
 > the web.

Having to buy a book does not put it "in the province of a very few." 
People can obtain the information by buying the book, by borrowing a 
copy from a library (which is legal, if they do not copy it), or from a 
friend (also legal, if neither party copies it).  People learned from 
books, or were entertained by them, for centuries before there ever was 
a World Wide Web.

When I wrote the above, I was trying to make people realize that a 
tremendous amount of work, time, and money goes into writing and 
publishing a book. That is, several years of time, and tens of thousands 
of dollars, even for a very modest publishing project. Most copyright 
owners; the publishers who help them produce their book;, and the 
freelance editors, illustrators, book designers, indexers, and marketers 
hired by either party, simply cannot afford to invest all this time and 
money without recouping their investments and hopefully making a profit.

Frances Grimble
Lavolta Press Books on Historic Costuming and Needlework

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