[HNW] From the Copyright Scold
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
> puts a deal of money into the book and takes the chance that the
> 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
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
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
> own these books in their original printing) to give to friends or
> 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
> 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
> 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.
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