Masters of the Universe vs. RWA

In one corner we have The Masters of the Universe at Google - fighting non-stop to be allowed to digitize all written content (preferably without worrying about pesky obstructions like copyright law). They think it’s worth millions and millions of dollars of investment to put as many books as they can online.
In the other corner - The Powers-That-Be at RWA are fighting to convince us that epublishing is not a viable career route for writers.
Hmmm, who do you think will be right?

I think e-publishing is here, not only to stay, but to flourish. It won't (I hope) replace print books. But it will provide a viable career path for writers.

It's not clear to me why RWA is being so stubborn on the subject. I think all writers, and especially those who write romance (the biggest category of epubbed books) could benefit from more information, not less.

I don't like the way RWA excludes their epubbed members from all the membership benefits that other members enjoy. I don't excuse the condescending attitude, the divisive mentality, and the obsession with the $1,000 advance.

But, I do agree with RWA that writers can be exploited via the epubbed model, and I think all writers considering this route should understand the issue.

(All my numbers and assumptions have been approximated for simple math.)

Let’s say you publish a story with E-KnowNothing. Your story sells for $6, you get a 1/3 royalty (which will be $2 per book sold) and you sell 100 copies your first year. The book takes in $600, the publisher gets $400, and you get $200. Not too impressive for any of you, right?
But here’s how the multiplier effect works for the publisher. They have 200 authors. If each author published only one book a year and each book sells only 100 copies, the publisher still collects $80,000. Now that’s not a viable business model, because the publisher does have real expenses. But if each author publishes 2 books, the publisher’s take increases to $160,000, though each individual author only gets $400. Are you with me? Two books, everyone doubles their take. Four books, you double again. (The author is still only getting $800.)

Now let’s assume each of their 200 authors sells 1,000 copies of any book. Each author gets $2,000 (1/3 of $6,000, or $2 times 1,000 copies) and KnowNothing gets $800,000 ($4,000 from 200 authors). Now we’re talking money. For the publisher, that is.

That is the valid point that I think RWA makes. Any individual author can toil a long time for little money, but the publisher can do well if she has enough authors, even though each individual author may earn very little.

Where I disagree with RWA is in their solution. (Stick head in sand? J/k, the advance is a legitimate attempt to certify that the publisher believes enough in the author to make a financial investment.)

But a better answer, to me, seems to be for RWA to make a concerted effort to educate their membership on the opportunities as well as the pitfalls of epublishing. The digital world is here to stay. How can RWA members best benefit from it? What are the traps we can avoid?
To me, that should be RWA’s goal. Inform us. Educate us. Don’t deny us a seat at the table to “protect” us.

So here’s the workshop RWA should present at the upcoming conference: What Do You Need to Know before Signing an Epublishing Contract.
Let me add that EKnowNothing is not representative of epublishers. I have simplified the point about "author mills" to illustrate a pitfall that can befall writers. In reality, it's a very diverse industry (and no ill intent needs to be ascribed to anyone. Doesn't the lowliest publisher hope your book sells millions of copies?). There are several reputable electronic publishers who are working hard to ensure that their authors prosper in conjunction with the company. And from what I see as I learn this business, I see a lot of hard work on all sides - authors, editors, agents. Speaking more specifically of the epublisher with which I am associated, I see a dedication to quality and to their authors that might surprise (and I mean this sincerely, not snarkily) some of the folks at RWA.

It will be interesting to see what happens with respect to the RWAChange effort.


Jennifer Leeland said...

Very good breakdown.
However, this is the exact same system print publishing also has. Harlequin puts out a huge number of books/authors. Some sell. Most don't.
And in print publishing, there is the dreaded returns, the possibility of being "dropped" as a low seller and only 7% royalties.
The bottom line is that the publisher takes on many authors to make their profit. No surprise there.
What new authors need to know is how to protect themselves from epubs that take this "no overhead" to extremes. (I cite Dark Lords Publishing and their sudden demand that authors pay for the models on the covers.)
You've covered this well, however.
The truth is that best selling authors make it possible for the lower sellers to continue to make a name for themselves.
It's that way at every publisher, print or electronic.

Crista said...

Great post - thanks for sharing some of the theoretical math.

I'm only signed with two e-pubs at the moment, but I think it's worth mentioning that one of the e-pubs I'm with (Liquid Silver Books), USED to offer higher royalties based on sales. For example, if your title sold over 400 copies of a single title, your royalties went up to 45%; and if you sold over a 1000 copies, they went up to 50%.

The key words are "USED TO OFFER". I wasn't around when they changed that model, but it would interesting to see if any other e-pubs out there offer a profit sharing model like that.

Diana Castilleja said...

Interesting post, and valid, but Jennifer is right to point out that NY does the same thing. One publishing house has a stable of authors they put out every year or two years. Those authors are actually making only PENNIES per book while the publishers and distributors take the majority. The model is the same one both sides of the industry.

But I wholeheartedly agree with the education. RWA had nothing to do with mine, or offer to me when I joined when it came to epublishers and education.

Carly Carson said...


Yes, NY has the same model. It's the divergence that's interesting to me. NY has more money at risk since they pay advances, have to print and ship, etc. So the author they take on is guaranteed some level of pay. The epubs on the other hand, open the door to many more authors, some of whom will do really well. But others will earn very little for their hard work. Epubs do offer an opportunity for many more authors to make a name for themselves. I don't think it would hurt for RWA to acknowledge this fact.


P.A.Brown said...

Good article and I too am interested in seeing how this will play out -- though from what I've heard there have been people advocating change in RWA for years and so far nothing has changed except RWA digs in its collective heels. But it's not just epubs that suffer from this stupid stance about high advances. A lot of smaller paper pubs don't give an any advance of they give small ones. These too are excluded. So the only pubs that matter to RWA are the big ones? Even though the vast number of books, especially romance books, are put out by small pubs? Frankly I think the best thing people could do right now is take their money where their mouth is an cancel their memberships. Trust me, money talks and even RWA would have to listen if enough of their flock left.

Carly Carson said...


I hadn't heard that about LSB. Too bad it's a "used to" model. I wonder if too many authors were busting through the 1,000 mark?


Yes, the model is the same one, but with important differences, most of which I think have worked to the advantage of authors (more opportunity; the publisher doesn't have to stick to the middle of the road). We all want to keep our eyes open and our minds informed.


Nicole North said...

Great post, Carly!!

Carly Carson said...

Thanks, Nicole. Writers don't always enjoy numbers, but it's numbers that keep our bank accounts flush.


I think the local chapters are the hook RWA has in many of its members. It's a shame the situation has deteriorated with respect to epublishing, because RWA has done good things for romance writers. I think of their stance towards epubs as their Maginot Line. While they are busy defending their turf, the "enemy" is outflanking them over there in Belgium.