Today I Lost a Fan

Working on the latest novel. Last week average: 14 hours each day.

Working on the latest novel. Last week average: 14 hours each day.

This is horrible. This morning I got an email from a guy I’ve known a while now. He said that because I was showing my ‘middle finger’ to all my loyal readers and fans, he was going to stop collecting and reading my books.

The reason?

Some time ago an author in America called Douglas Preston made public a letter he had written to the head of Amazon. You can see it here. It was published in some US papers on 8th August, and as you can see, many authors signed it.

Now, my reader took this as an attack on readers and fans. He said that I was ‘indifferent’ to the threat of publishers colluding to push prices up; that I was greedy; that I was taking an approach that was unfair to readers because they wanted a price commensurate with the format.

This really is a hard series of accusations. I think that the letter itself does not take sides as such. However, it points out that Amazon’s dispute with Hachette is currently hurting only authors.

There is a view, probably held by my reader, that all authors are wealthy. It’s not true. Most authors make a pittance. Author incomes have fallen by 29% since 2007 (see the ALCS report here) and now most authors cannot make a living income from their writing. Although my books are selling better and better, my income is still falling year on year. Most of my friends who are good, solid professional authors are having to scrimp and save. Authors do not make millions. Only a tiny, tiny percentage. Probably the top 2% take 75% of all writing income. The 98% have to share the rest. I have no figures to back that statement, but if you look at the millions of pounds taken by JK Rowling, John Grisham, James Patterson and a few others, it is likely to be true. Certainly in the UK the average earnings for authors is only £11,000.

In my case, I write two books a year. It takes me about six months to write, redraft, edit, copyedit, proof and publish each of those books, and most of the time I’ll be working up to fifteen hours a day, often working through the weekends too. For all that time, and the pleasure I hope I give to tens of thousands of readers, I really think my efforts are worth more than that.

The big question is, how much should the authors get paid? Right now, authors are piggy in the middle. We have no say on pricing, no say on discounts, no say on any aspect of the negotiations that define our livelihoods. My reader was concerned that I wanted to push prices up. No. I want my income to rise to a fair proportion of the money taken for my work. Where he wants a price commensurate with the format, I want a value on my work that is commensurate with the effort put in and the pleasure and entertainment my hard work provides.

Readers have never had access to so many books quite so cheaply. Publishers are making good profits. Amazon seems to be doing really very well. One group, however, is still being hit hard: the writers who generate all the profits and who entertain, amuse and educate the readers.

How could things be improved?

Well, how about the publishers fixing their price to retailers. All retailers. That way, Amazon could add their percentage for their profits and stop trying to force prices further and further down. Publishers would have certainty and could afford to budget. They would know how much they should pay their authors, too, and that would take away the current horrible environment in which authors never know how much they have earned until the twice-yearly royalty payment. No author can budget or plan.

The only thing that is certain is, the current approach is not working for all stakeholders.

What do you think? What would you think would be a fair reward for an author? Help! The publishing industry needs input from anyone who can push them through this current car-crash!


24 Responses to “Today I Lost a Fan”
  1. Considering Authors create the book from start to finish, I think they should get at least 75% of the proceeds, once the book has been formatted and produced, and I assume these days, set on a CD or DVD, further run-offs for a publisher should not cost them very much. But then I am prejudiced, having once been a victim of a rogue publisher.


    • I’d certainly agree. Apparently Lewis Carroll offered his book Alice to a publisher, and in those days the author got 75%, I think – the publisher got the 25%! Happier days!


    • There’s the editing (developmental, copy, and proof – three different jobs), book covers (which some are a stock image with text slapped on, others are not – the Waterstones blog quite often has interviews with cover designers talking through the various iterations), the new book cover because the major retailer has decided they didn’t like the first one, typesetting (which you think wouldn’t matter, but actually does. A lot. That’s how you know it matters: because you’ve never noticed it), ARCs, blog tours, publicising the fabulous reviews the book has got, corrections to new editions (because if a book exists, it will have an error in it) …

      There’s a bit more to it that just writing the thing and sending it in. A good publisher does a lot which never gets seen by the person standing at the till in the bookshop.

      I’m sorry you were taken in by a rogue publisher. There are so many scammers about, and they can sound very convincing. WriterBeware is a great blog run by Victoria Strauss which covers scams – if she hasn’t covered the company you used *do* let her know so she can warn others. AbsoluteWrite is a great site for learning about the red flags publishers throw up before you submit your work; there are a lot of industry professionals there, not always openly, who will have an answer for your every query.


      • Thanks for your comments, Theo – and yes, I agree with every point. I should say that the experience with the ebook publisher wasn’t a case of me being taken in, though. I will have to check what I wrote. The thing was, simply, that the meta data and marketing didn’t work. I don’t blame the publisher for that, it’s just a matter of good luck as to whether you hit the right market or not, I think. As things stand the book is starting to sell quite well now, and I’ll be looking to write a sequel as soon as I can. You’re right about editors, cover designers etc. Without a good cover, my first books wouldn’t have been picked off the shelves, and without good editors and copyeditors, proofreaders and printers, they wouldn’t have kept on selling. Publishing is a complex business!


  2. This is the other side of the argument: I received it in my email a couple of days ago:


    I’ve taken no action on this yet, pending a response from Hachette, but I won’t be hypocritical. I’m an Amazon customer, because it’s convenient and it’s highly competitive. If I take advantage of that in relation to other products, why should I expect there to the controls on mine.

    The truth is that the Hachette dispute with Amazon has sod all to do with authors. It is ALL about protecting share price of Lagardere, and its shareholders’ dividend income.

    I have two titles published through Amazon KDP and nowhere else. I am in complete control of pricing, and through its structure my royalty rate is almost three times that offered by Hachette.

    Considering this issue as an author, I ask myself one question. Why are Amazon paying me 70% of cover price, while Hachette’s ceiling is 25% of publisher’s net receipts, ‘net’ being less discounts offered to third parties, and VAT?

    Is 25% of an ill-defined sum, calculated by the publisher with no disclosure of the methodology to the copyright owner, for a product that has no on-cost after the initial digitisation, a fair reward for an author?

    Er, I don’t think so.


    • As you’ll imagine, I entirely agree. The dispute between Hachette and Amazon will only hurt authors. Still, I’m very nervous about the near-monopoly that Amazon now is. If there were no publishers, and all authors depended on Amazon’s largesse, with their enthusiastic offers of new terms to all KDP authors, would we be better off? I seriously doubt it. And yes, I have KDP books as well – three of them now. And the money’s much better, but I still think that publishers with experts in editing, marketing, proofing etc are essential to the health of book writing. There’s no easy answer, sadly.


      • Old Trooper says:

        I find that the degree of expertise and proofing is sadly lacking all too often. But, then again, only the author gets blamed.


  3. For some reason the Amazon author letter doesn’t seem to have copied: Another try

    Dear KDP Author,

    Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

    With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

    Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

    Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

    Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

    The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

    Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

    Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

    But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

    And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read). A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures. And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

    We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

    We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

    Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch:

    Copy us at:

    Please consider including these points:

    – We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
    – Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
    – Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
    – Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

    Thanks for your support.

    The Amazon Books Team

    P.S. You can also find this letter at


    • Yes, I got this too – I guess because we’re both KDP authors. Thanks for copying it up here!


    • I am not so sure that e-books will substantially help reading culture, simply because I know many people who “buy” lots of books on their e-reader when they are offered for free but never read them as opposed to (or at least it seems to me) when people buy a physical book, they usually do read it.

      I also have been concerned about the quality of many of the ebooks. I have downloaded some that are just terrible, full of errors, they didn’t need just editing but re-writing. Really awfully written and edited books, that would NEVER have been traditionally published but are published as an e-book does not seem to me a way to help reading culture.


      • I have a few hundred books I have never read, but I also agree that when people get something for free, they don’t value it. I have seen this many times with children. One time when I lived in LA, I put a beautiful wingback chair at the curb as I had no place for it. This guy stopped to ask how much I wanted for it. When I told him he could have it, he got back in his vehicle & drove away. People think free things have no value!


      • That is absolutely true. I work in an inner city middle school. The kids absolutely destroy anything you give them. For instance, if I give out pencils I have had students break them in half right in front of me. If I make them pay even a nickle they don’t. It is the same for the free tutoring available because it is free parents treat it as drop in babysitting or don’t avail themselves of the service at all because if you’re giving it away it must be worthless!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Quintin, for this historical explanation. I agree. Anything that gets more readers to read is a GOOD thing. We may not think some of these books are worth reading but who are we to judge? Many books that were banned in the past are not only bestsellers today, but are even taught in schools.
      Here’s to making the world a better place one reader at a time!
      P.S. The powers that be are the ones who don’t want readers. Reader are thinkers & Thinkers can vote them out of office as well as protest their wars!


  4. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    One successful writer is asking for your opinions. Don’t be shy, have your say…


  5. As a reader, I obviously want low cost books, however not at the expense of the authors I love to read. I can only imagine what is going to happen to quality writers, who perhaps are not in the top 1% getting the majority of the revenue, when they can no longer support themselves writing.
    It would seem to me that we will see fewer books from those writers as they have to explore other options to make a living and writing becomes a side gig.


  6. If all authors were wealthy, then I wouldn’t be looking for a part-time job while writing my book! It’s sad you lost a fan, but in all honesty it was ONE fan, and it wasn’t even over something worth putting his time and effort into in the first place. Hugs!


    • I never even saw the picture. What was the context of it? A protest?
      There are always people who take offense to things. Have the time they don’t even know what they are offended by; they just are offended! (Does that make sense?)


  7. Old Trooper says:

    The fan who has decided not to collect your titles anymore and actually decided to write to you about it apparently has *not* followed the income issue for the vast majority of authors which you and others have adequately explained. I don’t know where the disgruntled fan comes from but possibly it is not the U.K. You have quoted the average yearly income in GBP which is well below the national median income as of 2010. 11,000 GBP, at a recent rate of exchange, is 18,462.74 USD. That means that if you worked a 40 hour week in the U.S. at 10 USD / hour, you would be making about 2,500 USD (approx.) more than the median annual income of a U.K. author. We know that you work more than a 40 hour week putting a lot of effort into what you do. You also need to have a degree of skill to accomplish the writing that you provide your publisher. This does not include the need to ‘self promote’ (PR / advertising) as publishers no longer invest much in that area. I bet the ‘disgruntled fan’ did not have as much difficulty in filling the fuel tank to heat your home or wear as many jumpers last winter. As far as I am concerned, as a reader, the ‘disgruntled fan’ can take a title … sideways.


  8. Old Trooper says:

    I MADE ERRORS OF OMISSION in my last sentence above — “I bet the ‘disgruntled fan’ did not have as much difficulty in filling the fuel tank [or paying for any heating fuel as you did] to heat your home or wear as many jumpers [in an attempt to keep warm as you did] last winter. As far as I am concerned, as a reader, the ‘disgruntled fan’ can take a title … sideways.” I apologize for my negligence which proves my inadequate writing skills.


    • Your writing skills are plenty good enough, OT, and thanks for the support. It’s a pain, this dispute, because it’ll hit author incomes for the next 12 months. Just hoping it all gets resolved before too long.


  9. Buying real books I can hold onto is my one large indulgence, and I forego indifferent movies and cable tv in favor of books every time. I can read and reread them, pass them onto friends, talk about them, and that is one of the things that make life so enjoyable. Sometimes I order them at a slightly lower price, and sometimes I buy them on the spot at my favorite local bookstore. I agree wholeheartedly with “Old Trooper”.


  10. At the risk of sounding like everybody’s mum, that person was not really your friend. A friend is somebody with whom you disagree but who likes you anyway.

    I think so much of the emotion in this issue is coming from a place of entitlement. It’s one of the reasons I hate fandoms. I hate the attitude that if a person likes what you do and has decided – of their own volition – to spend their money on your stuff, and their time of reading/watching/playing it, then you owe them something. No. No more than I’m obliged to consent to horizontal funky times because you’ve provided me with alcohol. It’s not a personality flaw, or an affront to humanity, it’s simply the way I roll and I can only recommend you spend your money and time on somebody whose views on the matter are more in line with your own.

    I think there’s also an entitlement surrounding the idea of writing. I’ve seen significant number of people regarding Amazon as the person who gave them a chance to get their words out there. They support Amazon because the KDP program has allowed them to earn their living (even partially) as an author. They hate Hachette because they represent the “gatekeepers” who rejected them. These people wrote a book and, thanks to Amazon, they now earn their living (even partially, or they’re sure they will be soon) which means the “gatekeepers” were wrong. It’s not a business decision for them, it’s a matter of Amazon giving them the chance nobody else would. Which is as daft and incorrect as the notion that the big issue here is e-book prices.

    (As somebody has already mentioned the “Amazon gives me 70%” thing – NO! When you self publish you get paid to be the publisher AS WELL as the author. You are doing two jobs, you get paid for both, and there’s a lot more to publishing than sending in a CD with the words on.)

    Self-publishing is a brilliant thing for many different reasons, but I think its also responsible for the devaluation of books. Typical advice for new self-publishers is to have a series and make the first one free, and/or to run frequent promotions of low prices. The culture of expecting books for free has been created by the self-publishers, not the trade industry. There is always going to be somebody a little more able/willing to price lower than yourself (whoever you may be) and I have concerns about what that will do to books. We need to value them, and their authors.

    And before I write enough to earn me a PhD, I finish with the reminder that e-book prices are not the most contentious issue in this contract. I’m far more concerned about Amazon’s (rumoured) efforts to secure POD rights.

    I do wonder why there isn’t a wholesale model for books, or at least a percentage with a minimum to be paid.


  11. Jerome Dive says:

    I have never been involved in the publishing industry, except for buying books of course, but the way a percentage of sales is agreed between the author and the publisher, and then the publisher apparently set the price (or the discount from the price list given to retailers) without much input from the author (perhaps I am wrong here ?) seems rather different from other industries.
    Back to Amazon, it is interesting some buyers appear to be more involved with the virtual store from which they buy their books than with the authors; Amazon certainly are trying to develop and leverage this in their open letter.
    If they manage to build a dominant position as e publisher (on the back of their position in both physical books and ebooks), they may be rather powerful. A bit scary.
    The FT has some suggestions on how the publishers can defend themselves:


    • Many thanks, Jerome. It certainly is an odd business in which the originators of all the material that makes money for so many people are invariably the ones who earn the least!


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