Here’s the quote:
Several editors, agents, and authors told me that the money for serious fiction and nonfiction has eroded dramatically in recent years; advances on mid-list titles—books that are expected to sell modestly but whose quality gives them a strong chance of enduring—have declined by a quarter. These are the kinds of book that particularly benefit from the attention of editors and marketers, and that attract gifted people to publishing, despite the pitiful salaries. Without sufficient advances, many writers will not be able to undertake long, difficult, risky projects. Those who do so anyway will have to expend a lot of effort mastering the art of blowing their own horn. “Writing is being outsourced, because the only people who can afford to write books make money elsewhere—academics, rich people, celebrities,” Colin Robinson, a veteran publisher, said. “The real talent, the people who are writers because they happen to be really good at writing—they aren’t going to be able to afford to do it.”
I know a lot of self-pub advocates would violently disagree with me on this one, but… yes.
I’m upper-middle class. I have a well-paying day job that’s fulfilling and doesn’t demand onerous hours. I’m married to someone in more-or-less the same boat. We have no kids and own our house outright (no mortgage, no rent). We have passive income from business investments.
In other words: we’re pretty fuckin’ comfortable.
The thing about being “pretty fuckin’ comfortable” is that you get that way, in part, by Vimes’ Boots. That is: it’s easy to make (read: save) money when you do, in fact, already have money (read: are born into it).
Throwing $2,000 to outsource the production of a book in the self-pub market isn’t a huge outlay for me. I mean, it’s not pocket money, but if it was what I really wanted to do, I’d do it.
Obviously I didn’t do it, I shifted the cost onto a publisher. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t already (already!) accrued my own costs. I’m accruing some today, in fact, by getting professional mugshots taken for promo stuff. Other costs have been running this website, or even just mailing contracts back and forth to the States.
International postage is pocket money for me. But I know a lot of people where that’s not the case.
Some of them are really good writers, too. They’re probably the same sorts of people for whom even the current modest midlist advances would mean being able to eat for a week.
Here’s the cold, ugly reality: the devaluing of the profession of writing, be it plummeting book prices or outsourcing production, hurts authors. And, moreover, it hurts the most vulnerable authors, those who don’t have very much to start with. Yes, the bar to tradpub sucks–you must wait this long and jump this many hurdles to get in–but the bar to self-pub is, I think, in some ways even more invidious. Because it’s a Rich Kid game, and getting more and more so every day.
You must have this much money to spend on software, or computer access, or hiring skills. Even the barter economy–that is, the I’ll-edit-your-book-if-you-design-my-cover–still takes money because it takes time, and time is something a lot of people who are poor or working poor don’t have a hell of a lot of. So they can squeeze in an hour or two of writing in the evenings, to wind down from their soul-sucking jobs (in Amazon’s fulfilment centres, perhaps) and the worry they won’t be able to afford a doctor to look at their kid’s rash. But the rest of the stuff? Forget it.
And who are we talking about here, exactly? Whose voices are we missing out on?
If your answer was “women”, “people of colour”, “people with disabilities”, “people with mental illness”, “members of GSRM communities”, or some combination of the above then congratulations! You’ve been paying attention.
Surprise fuckin’ surprise, amirite?
(And don’t even get me started on the health care thing…)