Originally posted on at 3/21/16 at my old website.
It’s interesting (and sometimes infuriating) to see some of the things that fans blame on authors. Authors who are traditionally published often have little control over their published properties. That’s simply part of the way that the business runs.
But authors still take heat for some of these things. Recently an author had a book released, and for some reason, Amazon didn’t release the ebook on time.
And fans sent hate mail to the author.
Can you really call those fans?
So I’m going to put down here a list of Things that Traditionally Published Authors Generally Don’t Control.*
The Release Date
Yes, we don’t have much say over when our next book is coming out. Our publisher sets up a scheduled date and everyone races toward getting things done on time, but if we miss a crucial part in the publication process (say, for example, edits just take too darn long or surgery kept the author from getting a manuscript turned in on time) then the book might get bumped. Not to the next month, but to the next open slot in the publisher’s schedule….which might be 18 months away.
(That’s a simplification, but essentially, moving the publication date is difficult.)
((An author’s writing speed is another factor, although that’s not usually controlled by the publisher. Some authors can put out 4 books per year. Others put out one book every 7 years. It’s art, people, and not all artists move at the same pace. Be patient, please.))
Releasing ON the Release Date
This happens all the time. Books don’t get put out on their release date. Snags happen in Amazon’s or B&Ns ebook delivery, and the ebook doesn’t appear in the device on time.
This is INCREDIBLY frustrating to authors, too.
An author I know had a book come out in early February, and the nearby B&N still doesn’t have it on the shelf. They have 6 on order. I’ve asked. Those six are supposedly sitting in the warehouse, but for some reason, they’re simply not being shipped to the physical store. The customer service people don’t know why. I’ve been in to ask about it twice, and they’re supposed to call me when it comes in, but not having the books there two months later doesn’t help an author with first week/month sales.
Sadly, there’s little the author can do about it. We can email Amazon. We can contact our agent or our editor, who can contact someone else, but sometimes things just don’t get done.
Please don’t be angry at the author. I guarantee they want that book on the shelf, in the mail, or on your device.
If we’re talking about a traditionally published book, then no, the author has almost no say over the price. Currently, my older trade paperbacks are hovering near $15. I would LOVE to see them at $9.99. But it’s not going to happen.
I would love to have my ebooks go on sale. It’s not going to happen. I can ask, my agent can ask, but we don’t make that decision. Amazon points out on its page that these are the publisher’s prices, publishers have negotiated with Amazon, and the rest of us are stuck with the results.
So why not just give everything away for free?
Seriously? This is our job, and we should be paid for our work. Yes, we’ll post an occasional free thing. Yes, we like making things available to new readers. But we need to earn money, too. We have to pay our rent, and for genre fiction, at least, the best way to do that is via a traditional publisher right now.
This is related to all of the above. See where I talked about the book that’s still not on shelves after almost 2 months? It happens a lot when a book comes out.
It also happens when a book is older. We cannot force Amazon to carry a book in stock. We can’t force B&N to carry all the books in our series. And we certainly don’t control used book sales.
(Martha Wells once told me an angry fan suggested that she was making The Element of Fire hard to find so that she could drive up the price of the used books. This is a ridiculous claim, first because an author doesn’t control the number of used books floating around and secondly because the author doesn’t get a penny from the sale of a used book. Ugh!–This was years ago, of course, before ebooks made out of print books easier to find.)
But there’s also a problem with that book that’s out of print. Being out of print doesn’t mean that the author can just put a copy up in their website. Since we’re talking about traditional publishing here, the author has a contract with the publisher for each book, and that contract determines who has the right to put the book out (in any form). Because publishers invested money in those books, they like to hold on to the right to reprint a book for….well, a long time. It varies.
But it often takes the author years to get the right to publish their book back. Sometimes it never happens (if it’s a particularly draconian contract–this is why we need agents).
And once the author gets those rights back, it may not be worth their while financially (or in stress) to try to self-publish a novel. Life may interfere and make a book unavailable.
Continuing/Finishing a Series
Yeah….this is problematic. If a publisher bails on a series, the author’s caught in a conundrum. We have limited options at that point.
A) We can convince another publisher to purchase the remaining parts of the series. This is MUCH harder than it sounds, because any publisher will know that they can’t control the books that are already published by another publisher. (It would stink if they published books 4-7, but no one could get their hands on books 1-3 because the original publisher decided to let them go out of print.)
B) We can self-publish the remaining books. The downside here is that we’re never guaranteed that we’ll make a profit on this. The novella I published back in October is still not quite in the black. After a couple of tries at that, selfpublishing becomes a daunting prospect fraught with snowballing expenses and vast amounts of time sucked in. Not everyone wants to chase that rabbit.
Authors are in a Catch 22 situation here: people get upset if they never publish the next book, and yet the author may never see a payoff equal to the amount of money and time they put into it. (Essentially the publisher decided that readers weren’t willing to pay enough to read the author’s word to make it worth their while to publish more…and sometimes that’s proven out by the lack of response to a self-published book.)
What Can an Author Do?
These are just some of the situations where an author has limited control, but basically, all an author can do is ask people to buy their books. Even if those books arrive a day late. Or are hard to find. Or are slow coming out.
We can ask people to buy, to review, to recommend.
What Can a Reader Do?
A reader can play the other end of the line. Buy the book, leave a review, recommend it to a friend. You can ask your bookstore to carry a book. You can suggest it to the library where you borrow books. You can suggest it for your reading group.
But please don’t write an angry email/blog post/review because of a factor that the author can’t control. Don’t write and tells us we suck because your kindle book cost more than $7.99.
That’s the sort of thing that makes writers want to quit publishing.
Publishing is hard. Be nice to your authors.
*Here are some other, excellent posts on the same subject: