Some authors think that the Authors Guild would be more aptly named the “Publishers Guild” these days.
A blog post on the Authors Guild website this week caused an eruption of angry comments from authors calling the Guild “ridiculously ineffective” and suggesting it should be named “Publisher’s Shills.”
The post, titled “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors,” was about how the Guild represents both authors who have supported Hachette in its recent business dispute with Amazon and those who have supported the retailer. Douglas Preston, whose open letter on the topic has garnered hundreds of author signatures and has led to the formation of Authors United, is a board member of the guild. So is prominent self-published author C.J. Lyons, who joined thousands of other authors signing a rival letter largely in support of Amazon and spearheaded by self-published authors.
“We’re trying to make it clear that we’re in support of all professional writers — self-published writers, independent writers, writers who want to be more than hobbyists,” said Roxanna Robinson, president of the Authors Guild, who helped craft the blog post along with other Guild members.
Several of the authors who commented, skeptical of the premise of the post, are prominent critics of traditional publishers and open supporters of Amazon, like Hugh Howey and David Gaughran.
But several are not.
Laura Resnick, a science fiction and romance author of dozens of titles, wrote:
I consider the Authors Guild such a travesty that I would genuinely prefer to burn my money rather than lend my support the AG by making due payments.
The AG actively advocated in favor of the collusive price-fixing scheme, even though, in addition to being a violation of federal law … it removed money from the pockets of writers =and= readers.
The AG has not taken a stand against egregious “industry standard” e-royalty rates, egregious “industry standard” reversion clauses wherein a writer’s intellectual property is controlled by the publisher until well after her death now, egregious industry-wide non-compete clauses designed to prevent freelance writers from working and earning, and inadequate industry-wide accounting, reporting, and payment systems.
Apparently the AG has no time or energy for focusing on ANY issues, such as those above, which are matters of advocacy for authors’ rights, earnings, and professional well-being, because it’s so busy campaigning against one online bookstore that is the most prolific channel of profits for traditional publishers -and- which has been a key player in the e-volution that has ensured many more writers (does the AG remember what a writer is?) now earn income from their work than ever before.
The AG’s -only- real-world functions by now appear to betaking sides against that bookseller and in favor of the egregious practices of the massive publishing corporations whose contracts and fiscal terms exploit writers while enriching corporate CEOs and stockholders.
Resnick also added that she isn’t a member of the Authors Guild and is both a traditionally and self-published author. She is a member, however, of Novelists, Inc., an organization for career novelists that she believes better represents her needs (she’s also a past president of that organization). She didn’t sign the Preston or self-published authors letter and feels neither was fully true and fair or relevant to her. She doesn’t support Amazon or Hachette in their dispute, as opposed to many authors who seem to have taken sides, and believes that they are “two big corporations arguing over their own profit margins, each of them trying to secure as much of the revenue as they can for their own benefit.”
“I’m just disgusted with the Authors Guild claiming it represents the interests of working writers when the organization’s public statements instead represent the interests of large corporations — at the expense of writers and readers,” she said.
Dan Gillmor, who also left a comment on the post, believes the Guild does do some good for writers, helping them get insurance, for instance, but also thinks the organization has lost its way in some of its advocacy.
“They have taken the side of the A-list authors and big-five publishers when it comes to dealing with digital change,” said Gillmor, who is a member of the guild and has published a book with O’Reilly and also has self-published, adding, “The Authors Guild appears to take a stance that assumes all authors are like the A-list authors.”
Authors like Gillmor and Resnick see the Guild’s apparent support of big publishers as opposite of what it should be doing: pressing them for higher ebook royalties, more favorable contract terms and on other issues important to authors.
Robinson, the Authors Guild president, contends that the Guild can both condemn Amazon for its tactics in its current negotiation with Hachette as well as press publishers on other important issues.
“We don’t support Amazon’s tactics,” she said. “At the same time, we are protesting the level of ebook royalties – it’s too low. And we have been protesting that since the beginning.”
In the blog post itself, the Guild claims to work for all authors, even those who are on opposite sides of important industry debates. It points out that prominent self-published author C.J. Lyons is on its board. It quoted Guild co-vice president Richard Russo as saying the organization’s mission is the “defense of the writing life.”
“For some people, the best way to be a professional writer is through Amazon and for some people that’s to do it through traditional houses – neither way is perfect,” said Robinson. “It’s surprising to be attacked by one set of writers who choose to believe that we don’t support them, too.”