A Letter to Doug Preston and Authors United
Posted by Alan Tucker
Dear Mr. Preston, et al,
You don’t know me. Still, I feel like we have something in common: we love books.
I’ve been a voracious reader ever since I was a little boy. I read detective stories, science fiction, and fantasy novels by the hundreds. While I haven’t read any of your books, I have read many of the writers listed in the Authors United letter and I’ve greatly enjoyed the vast majority of those. I feel confident in assuming that they, too, love books. I’ve found it’s a largely universal reason why writers write.
Yet, it is here, with that very love of books, where the disconnect begins.
Along with loving books, you, Mr. Preston, also love your publisher — and why not? Your publisher has made your tremendous prosperity possible. In your shoes, I’m sure I would love and admire the entity that gave me such an opportunity just as strongly. If I felt they were being wronged, I would come to their defense, just as you have done. I understand your feelings and the actions that resulted from them.
What I don’t understand is this: equating books with publishers.
Why do I make that leap, you ask? Let me explain. The letter you originally penned claimed you were not taking sides in the debate between your publisher and Amazon, even though you only called on Amazon to take action to stop hurting authors. However, when Amazon made proposals to compensate the injured authors, the first of which MacMillan agreed to after their heated negotiations with Amazon a couple of years earlier, you dismissed them as being unfair to the publisher. You even called the idea “blood money”. Suddenly, the focus shifted from authors being harmed to the publisher. The underlying idea becomes what’s good for the publisher is good for the authors and their books.
Is that really true?
The big publishers have recorded larger profits for the last year or two. Random House even gave bonuses to all their employees because of the success of the Fifty Shades novels. Did authors get better terms in their contracts across the board? Was more money spent in marketing the slower selling titles because of the windfall publishers received from strong ebook sales at high profit margins? Were a larger number of new authors taken on to grow and nurture during this time of prosperity? The answer to those questions is no. You might point out that some authors, like yourself, received bigger advances for upcoming work and that is certainly true. At the same time, however, advances for new authors have shrunk to shockingly low levels. Would you sell your book to a publisher today for $5,000, paid over the course of a year or more? It would take more than twenty such advances to pay for the ad Authors United placed in the New York Times recently. Think about that. Twenty new books that those authors toiled over for months or even years. I submit that the economic gulf between you and the authors in harm’s way you purport to advocate for is much wider than you realize.
Mr. Preston, Amazon is a business. So is Hachette Book Group. This fact does not make either of them good or evil, sinners or saints. It simply means that both are trying to win a deal they feel is best for their company. End of story.
Now, I could ask you and your organization to use your influence and champion better contract terms, royalty rates, and accounting procedures for all authors from big publishing, but I won’t do that because it’s not a cause you believe in, as evidenced by your words and actions to date. What I will ask is for you to be truthful. Quit hiding behind straw men and come out and say what you really mean. The dispute between Hachette and Amazon is hurting your sales and you want it to stop. Accept your, and every other Hachette author’s, role as the child in a messy divorce case where there are no winners, only losers. Authors United has taken a side, despite your protestations of not doing so. Own it. By not asking Hachette to be equally culpable in settling their differences with Amazon, you have sided with your publisher. Your stance is emotionally understandable, as I stated earlier. Stop acting as if you’re championing authors everywhere by wielding your fortune and clout to rail against Amazon.
I love books. Books are created by writers, not agents or publishers. Certainly, editors, illustrators, and proofreaders can make a book better, but the book itself is written by a writer. Who, out of all the people I just listed, should receive the lion’s share of money from that creation? I think anyone who loves books will have a similar answer to that question.
I’ll say again, you don’t know me. I’m nobody. You’ll probably never see this letter, but if you do, I hope you’ll take into serious consideration some of the things I’ve said. Books don’t need publishers to exist, in fact, it’s the other way around. It seems to me publishers have forgotten that fact. Maybe you have too.
Alan Tucker, Lover of Books
(written in response to the Publisher’s Weekly article “Authors United Preparing New Amazon Initiative”)