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Originally published July 21, 2014 at 10:27 AM | Page modified July 21, 2014 at 10:30 AM

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Guest: The publishers, not Amazon, keep authors down

Amazon.com has allowed authors to take control of their writing careers, writes guest columnist Frank Schaeffer.


Special to The Times

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Join book authors Frank Schaeffer and Peter Brown for an online live chat Wednesday at noon about the dispute between Amazon.com and Hachette and how it’s affecting them. To join the chat, go to: seati.ms/amazon-op-chat

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@2easyrider And yet here you are complaining about it on the internet. MORE
I'm a huge fan of Amazon and CreateSpace. For new authors, like me, who write in genre's that are not main stream... MORE
The publishers most certainly are the problem and they are very greedy in their efforts, particularly when it comes to... MORE

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BY denouncing Amazon.com over its negotiations with book publisher Hachette, some grandstanding mega best-selling authors are siding with the book-publishing conglomerates against midlevel working authors like me.

James Patterson paid for a full-page ad in The New York Times criticizing Amazon, Scott Turow talked about the “nightmarish” future that Amazon will bring and Stephen King signed a petition decrying the Seattle online retailer.

They do this as if they are fighting for the little guy.

They aren’t.

The “1 percent” mega best-selling authors side with giant publishing corporate entities because they make a lot of money from them. The rest of us don’t.

While publisher Hachette Book Group and Amazon are arguing over how much each company should receive for e-book sales, Amazon has restricted sales of books by Hachette authors.

Let’s remember that if publishers were such good guys, authors wouldn’t need agents to protect them.

Amazon has allowed me, as a midlevel un-famous author of more than a dozen books, to take control of my writing career.

Let me tell you about the good old days pre-Amazon.

When Laura Bush read a paragraph from one of my Washington Post guest columns on “Meet the Press” in 2002, the book my article referenced — a work about my Marine son called “Keeping Faith” — sold out in moments.

Had there been a print-on-demand book from a service like Amazon’s CreateSpace back then, I think it would have made the best-seller list.

Instead, the publisher, which never had enough faith in that book to order a significant print run, ran out of hardcovers. It was eight weeks before the book was back on shelves. Only because Oprah later interviewed me — after the publisher ordered a second print run — did the book finally make it to the best-seller list.

Over a 30-year writing career, every time I turned around, whatever publishing company I was with was bought and folded into a bigger conglomerate.

Five publishing conglomerates now control more or less the entire publishing industry. The names of the smaller houses that were bought up have been kept by behemoths like Hachette only for appearance’s sake.

What writer-editor relationship? What nurturing of talent? My editors got fired, moved on or were otherwise shoved aside.

Publishers nurture new writers only in their dreams. Author tours? Those were now my speaking gigs through which publishers asked me to promote my work. Marketing? The message from my publishers: Use your own social media network; we don’t have a budget.

As e-books have moved into center stage, my traditional publishers overpriced them, doing everything they could to hang on to print in a digital age. Traditional publishers are clinging to an inept, sometimes dishonest and always backward book-selling system where cozy insider gatekeepers — agents, editors and celebrity authors — scratch each other’s backs.

The publishers are like 19th-century icehouse owners who thought they owned the right to market ice perpetually, insisting on still cutting ice from a pond and complaining when freezers were invented. I’m done with them. So, though several publishers would have published it, I just self-published my latest book through Amazon’s CreateSpace.

How’s it going? If it were up to me, CreateSpace would run the country — instant response, fair pricing, help when I needed it.

And by the way, I’m not leaving out my friends in the small bookstores. In September, my book will be distributed to traditional stores by a trade distributor. The stores might not like the fact Amazon had the book first, but this is not a zero-sum game: More is more for everyone. Kindle buyers would not buy the print book anyway, but they will (hopefully) be talking it up.

Amazon pays me more from the sale of a $3.99 Kindle download than my publishers pay me from a $26 hardcover sale.

With each Kindle sale, I get 70 percent. With a publisher I see royalties once or twice a year — after they hold back a reserve against books that might be returned, which are never clearly accounted for to the author. Amazon pays every month, and I can go online and see what my book is earning.

Traditional publishers are opaque and backward in their marketing and accounting. Unless you are a celebrity author married to the clueless publishing world and afraid of the future, it’s time to wake up to the fact that Amazon is a bookseller — in other words, a friend to working stiffs like me.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer based in Salisbury, Mass. His latest book is “Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God: How to give love, create beauty and find peace.”



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