Just Pay the Writer Already!

There’s been much controversy this week over whether artists should be paid for their work. Until now I’ve remained silent because I didn’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction. I wanted to know my facts and present sound evidence as to why these arguments are so ludicrous.

Some of those arguments include:

  • I can’t afford to buy books because I don’t make much money. [Understandable, but not an excuse. KU is cheaper than Netflix, btw.]
  • I deserve to read any book I want without paying for it because I’m a special snowflake [yes, I’m paraphrasing this one specifically to be spiteful].
  • Authors shouldn’t make the same amount for the first copy as they do for the 500th since each copy isn’t a new item. [Let’s address this in a minute.]
  • Art should be free for everyone to enjoy. [And some art is. Enjoy that.]
  • If an artist wants to be paid he/she should get a patron. [Ha!]
  • I’m not really stealing. I just downloaded it from someone who did steal it.

Let’s address that last point:

Yes, 95% of us on the internet are guilty of downloading illegal content at some point in our lives. My point here is not to villainize those who don’t know any better. It’s to educate people so they understand why what they’re doing is wrong. Sadly, the majority of those involved in this self-entitlement hoohah are too young to remember the Napster incident. I admittedly still chuckle at the Napster Bad videos and comics making fun of Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield from Metallica. On a serious note, while they may appear more Neanderthal than man, they do have a point. File sharing sites are bad, because they subvert the system.

First and foremost: COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS ILLEGAL. ACQUIRING PHYSICAL OR DIGITAL GOODS WITHOUT PAYMENT UNLESS RECOGNIZED AND PROVIDED AS A GIFT BY THE OWNER OR CREATOR IS THEFT. It does not matter if you’re just getting it from someone else; you’re still stealing. You can go to jail for this, and you will deserve it.

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, sweetness, but that’s the cold, hard truth. Your “innocent” actions are breaking the law. You aren’t special. You can’t break the rules and expect preferential treatment [We are not even going to talk about that little jackass rapist in the news right now or I will have a stroke.]. END. OF. DISCUSSION.

Because we need some levity. And because the police are coming for you, you damned, dirty thief.


I sat down and did something very unusual for a literary type: I did math. [Insert awestruck gasps here.] Anyone who has a job should be able to appreciate what’s coming. This is a salary breakdown for writers. We as artists would love nothing more than to make our art our full-time jobs, but most non-artistics don’t understand just how much work goes into the things they think don’t deserve a price tag. So let me break it down for you.


Let’s assume I write one novel which tops out at 80,000 words, and I’m going to publish this novel in a traditional manner (i.e. through a publisher, small or otherwise). This means I’m not paying for edits, artwork, or formatting.

Now, let’s assume I’m an average-speed writer, fairly clean. I’m going to write 1,000 words per hour for decent copy. First novel draft: 80 hours of work.

Now we have revisions. Assuming clean copy and minimal self-editing is required on my part, we’re going to estimate another 15 hours for reading and revising. Accumulated total: 95 hours.

Then I hand my labor of love over to the publisher. I will then have at least one, possibly two or three, more rounds of edits with a professional editor. Let’s assume two rounds of edits at another 15 hours each. That’s 30 additional hours of work for this one book. Then it’s released into the wild.

Final total: 125 production hours.

For one book. Base rate. We aren’t going to factor into this the endless hours of promotion which goes with the successful release of a novel. Right now it’s irrelevant and the cost will increase so exponentially it will outweigh the benefit of writing the book. Today we’re figuring out how a writer can be full-time based on today’s financial standards JUST BY WRITING BOOKS.


Say my publisher is a generous one and offers me 40% of the net royalties for my book. If we list this ebook on Amazon at $3.99 (which, by the way, is MORE THAN FAIR for an 80,000 word novel), Amazon is going to pay the publisher at a 70% royalty rate, or roughly $2.80 per domestic copy. This, in turn, means I’m going to see approximately $1.12 per copy sold.


Minimum wage in the United States is currently $7.25. This means the average full-time minimum wage worker brings home $15,080 per year, pre-tax. Net income is going to hang out somewhere around the $12,000 mark.

Now, let’s compare minimum wage standards to a single title, shall we?


125 hours at $7.25/hour is $906.25 pre-tax. Once we make it, we’re going to have to put back 20-30% to pay our taxes because we’re contractors, not on payroll.

Assuming we’re steadily selling books, that’s 809.16 copies sold in a year JUST TO BREAK EVEN.

Now there’s a national movement to raise minimum wage to $15/hour because we’ve firmly established that American inflation rates make it impossible to support a family on $15,000/year. Let’s revisit the numbers under this new standard.

$15/hour means a gross annual income of $31,200 pre-tax.

125 hours at $15/hour is $1,875.00

That’s 1,674 copies I have to sell in one year. 140 copies per month.

This means an author making minimum wage writing full-time (while only being reimbursed for the time accrued by writing and editing) would have to publish 16 ½ novels a year. That’s 1,320 hours of work to produce enough fiction to make a living.

Unless an author is already established with a wide following, selling 1,700 copies of a book will take longer than a year. The average indie author is selling somewhere between 5 and 50 copies a month. Which means assuming the best (50 copies per month), we have to triple our output to 49 books per year. 

3,920 hours of work in one year to make a lower-middle class salary.

Let me point out here that a full time job consists of 2,080 hours of work per year. 40 hours per week for 52 weeks. That means to break even at “minimum wage” standards, we authors have to work 1,840 hours more per year than the average fry slinger at Mickey D’s without receiving overtime pay. That’s 75.39 hours of work per week to make the same money you make in 40… with no guarantees that we’ll even meet that minimum.

So please allow me to call bullshit on this self-righteous notion of art for art’s sake. You can take that shit back to MGM and let them keep it on their logo.

To those who want to say an author’s work should be prorated and they should make less per copy the more copies they sell, I pose this question to you: how would you feel if your boss approached you today and told you the following: “Yeah, we really like your work but you’ve been here several years and we’ve already paid you your value. We’re going to start paying you less money for each hour you work.”

You’re pissed just thinking about it, aren’t you? It’s unfair, right? Well guess what, sugarbritches… THAT is EXACTLY what you’ve suggested for us. It’s disgusting. It’s despicable. And to us, you’re now an asshole.

These epithets aren’t coming from the minimum-wage crowd, either. This is coming from the middle class – people who have the luxury of cars, cell phones, blu-ray players, coffee addictions, and expensive hobbies. You can pay $5 for a cup of coffee to enjoy once, but you’re too damned cheap to spend $3 on a book which will last forever? If that’s the case, then you don’t need the book. And if you’re willing to go to jail over $3, then please have a nice life, wherever it may lead you.

By the way, the days of patrons are pretty much over. The plebeians don’t need the support of the patricians because they can do most of the work themselves. That and the patricians tend to be the ones demanding freebies, so your argument is invalid.

This is why you need to stop poor-mouthing and pay the damned writer.

But you still want free books because somewhere five years ago your mama told you that you were special and you can have anything you want. Well, you can. And you want to know how to get them?

Become a book reviewer. Reviews are a form of currency in the literary world. Most authors and publishers are more than happy to hand over free books to reviewers – to people who actually leave reviews. Unfortunately, Amazon’s system is built on a review-based algorithm, meaning books with more reviews receive more visible promotion space. If you leave a review, good or bad, you’re helping that author.

Even if you insist on stealing the book to read, the least you can do is review it. If you refuse to pay money, you can significantly lower your douchebaggery level by giving two minutes of your time. And for god’s sake…don’t tell the writer you think all of their stuff should be free and pirate sites are a good thing.

There’s a pretty good chance you’ll get punched in the face.


LendInk, Fan Fiction, and Misinformation

I’m sure at this point everybody has had the opportunity to develop an opinion on the LendInk debacle. If you haven’t, check out these links to catch up:

Indie Author Blog
The Digital Media Machine

I’m not here to point fingers or play the blame game or tell anyone what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m here to defend my position as a small-press indie author. I’m not going to be mean or try to throw my weight around. I want to offer explanations for both sides in a way that makes sense for people who don’t care to wade through the technical and angry mumbo-jumbo the internet has produced in the last few weeks.

What saddens me the most is that authors, in an attempt to protect themselves and their intellectual property, have been viciously attacked by hundreds and thousands of people who are trying to pick a fight. This has nothing to do with the masses as a whole. This is a matter best left between the website in question and the concerned authors.

The last of those links has direct statements from the site’s owner. What truly upsets me is not his defense of his position, but the unceasing, unnecessary, vicious, violent and cruel attacks on a woman who attempted to apologize that followed in the comments. Hurting each other isn’t the way to solve this problem.

As eBook authors, we are at the forefront of a new industry. We are the trendsetters and the pioneers of the future of books. We are going to encounter tough situations and huge obstacles. It won’t be easy, but then again if we liked things easy, we wouldn’t be writers.


I write for four small press publishers under two names. I have seven stories in digital print with two on the way later this year and several others in submission. I write all manner of things, so I have a very scattered audience. I’m on multiple lists and boards for my publishers, literary groups and fan-based chat groups. I talk to people. I network.

I am also an author whose work is not lendable through any site at all. Regardless of the LendInk policies, it doesn’t really affect me one way or the other because my stuff shouldn’t have been available. I know my books were listed on the site, but I don’t know the status of their lendability. Before I could really check that far into it, the site went down.

The reason I couldn’t check? You have to create an account. Before I could create an account my computer threw up all manner of warning flags – expired certificates, javascript errors, and even antivirus warnings of dangerous content. That worried me.

I am also an author who attempted the self-pub route and found I wasn’t any good at it, so I stuck with the more traditional style. That means I have a publisher to play middle-man between the distributors and me.

As an author, I’m always going to look like the villain when it comes to touchy subject such as this. If I protect myself and my work, I will be demonized for it. If I state an opinion, someone will tell me I’m wrong (I’m used to that, though). If I present factual information, someone will inevitably misunderstand it, twist my words, and still make me into a monster. In short, no matter what I say or do, as the author, I CANNOT WIN.


First and foremost – I honestly and wholeheartedly believe that the owner of the site didn’t mean any harm when he set it up (I have more to say but I’ll get to that in a minute). As an author, I think a site like LendInk could be beneficial because it does become a sort of online library and allows people access to work they normally wouldn’t purchase without perusal. That’s the problem with digital publishing – you can’t go pick a book up off a shelf and read two pages to see if you like the style. You’re stuck with a cover, a blurb, a price tag, and (if you’re lucky) a set of reviews from other readers. It’s a tough market for us bibliophiles – yes, I’m guilty of the same thing because I like to stand in the bookstore aisle and read a little bit before I buy.

However, instead of putting up every book in every catalog on this type of site, it needs to be handled like a library – copies are distributed to libraries in limited quantities (the logistics of that one in ebook form are a nightmare, and not my point here), and no library has every book out there available for lending. By hosting the information on the site, to me it’s sort of like having copies of books on a shelf with a big sign that says “do not touch.” Yes, it’s exposure, but it isn’t really helpful exposure. It also leads to debacles like the one we’re experiencing now.

[From the ubergeek standpoint and playing Devil’s Advocate: If the technology can be created to link people with these titles automatically, chances are there will be someone else to hijack that technology and use it to break the encryption and eventually take copies from the sites… which becomes theft. I’m not saying that has happened… I’m just saying that it’s possible. There are plenty of people out there with enough free time and lack of concern for others that they’d do it just to prove they could.]

I definitely believe it’s necessary for sites like this to secure the permission of authors to host their work. Before I get pitchforked, let me explain:

♥ Yes, these rights are covered in publisher contracts that allow lending.

♥ Yes, these rights are covered with Kindle Digital Publishing agreements.

♥ No, those covered shouldn’t have to be obtained separately because those items are built into said contracts.

♥ Any work not covered under one of those first two items should (a) not be automatically hosted regardless of availability, and (b) have permission requested from the publisher prior to hosting. I say publisher here because the publisher is the one who holds the distribution rights. If the publisher says okay for its titles to be hosted, that will not only give the site the ability to do so, but it will give the authors peace of mind that their publisher thinks its legit.

Yes, that’s a huge undertaking, but it is something that needs to be taken into consideration by anyone wishing to build a library site. It is a very slow process. It is a lot of work, and there are a lot of angles to cover.

[On a personal note – As an author, I (and any other author out there for that matter) do have the right to request that my work be removed from ANY outlet not specifically approved by my publisher and listed in contract or policy documents. It doesn’t matter if the site is legitimate or pirate… if they don’t have a deal with my publisher, they don’t have the right to host my work. If I ask that it be taken down, then it needs to be taken down. But if my publisher says okay, then I don’t have a choice because I gave the ability to distribute my books to my publisher when I put my name on that contract.]

I say this not to be contrary, but to establish a simple fact:

There are copyright infringement laws in place. Whether you intend to go against them or not is irrelevant – if you break a law, you still break a law. It’s always better to follow the CYA mentality than the “better to ask forgiveness than permission” mentality. When it comes to the law, it’s dangerous to jump in without knowing the risks and I hate to see anyone in the hotseat when s/he doesn’t have a clue why.

Now, I’m going to jump back to my first statement about the owner not intending any harm. I’m going back a month to a panel I was on at Fandom Fest about Fan Fiction. It’s a wide leap, but bear with me. I promise it’ll make sense.

Fan Fiction authors, when writing their stories, don’t mean intentional harm against the authors and owners of the work they’re “borrowing.” I saw “borrow” because nine times out of ten, they don’t do anything with it but take the characters and the setting and manipulate them for fun. Regardless of the intent, unless these authors have specific permission from the author and/or publisher of the copyrighted material, they are still in direct violation of the law.

I know this… I used to write Fan Fiction. Lots of it. Before I became a published author, I never really thought about the legal ramifications. Sure, I understood that Anne Rice and several other authors absolutely do not allow it, so I stayed out of those sandboxes. I never charged money for it. I never claimed the characters as mine. I thought I was in the clear.

Nope. Now that I’m on the other side of the book, I’ve learned a lot, and one of those things is that no matter how much I twist someone else’s toys they never become mine, and unless it’s okay for me to use them then I’m breaking the law.

People are violently protective of their Fan Fiction. On that panel one of the audience members was extremely vocal about her opinion that we were wrong. She didn’t like what we had to say, and it made a couple of us a little uneasy. Regardless of her willingness to defend her hobby to the death, breaking the law is still breaking the law. That’s black and white. There’s no room for argument on that.

Remember a decade or so ago when Metallica took Napster head-on? Remember how the big issue was copyright infringement? This is the same thing, just with different media. If you use something that isn’t yours in public, you might not be “stealing” it, but you are using it without permission and it’s still wrong.

I also understand, having been one of those authors, that Fan Fiction is meant to be the highest form of flattery. I understand that and while yes, I would be flattered that someone would want to use my characters, they’re still mine and I would like to be asked permission first.


I look at LendInk much the same way I do Fan Fiction. It’s a flattering thought and a fairly ingenious idea, but it still pings on raw nerves. No harm is ever intended, and I understand that. I’ve been there.

While there may not actually be a law broken (that’s the big sticking point, isn’t it?), the masses need to understand that we as creative owners are all going to be a bit trigger happy. There are a LOT of sites that pirate our work, and most of the time we’re going to have to fight tooth and nail to get it removed. There are a lot of places that are not legitimate. And there are plenty of places that host our work without our permission, and as soon as one goes down, three more appear.

Remember the Hydra? Same principle and just as frustrating.

If that company’s name isn’t in my contract and I request that my books be removed from its library, that’s my right as the author.

Put the pitchforks down…I’m not done.

Understand that I’m not going to come out with guns blazing and throw around a DCMA notice. If I’m going to respond to something of this nature, it will be with a private, professional letter requesting removal of my work. I’m not interested in taking down someone’s livelihood or criminalizing anyone for being uninformed. I’m not interested in being the bad guy, but I am very interested in protecting my assets. I keep a cease and desist on hand because I’ve had to do this a time or two with pirate sites. It’s nothing personal. It’s for my protection.

It’s a natural and legitimate reaction to request that our work be removed from a strange site. If it turns out to be legitimate in the long run, then great… let’s negotiate. If having such a site will benefit me, then I’m all for participating so long as I’m assured my work won’t be used improperly. I’m always open for negotiation, because I’ll gladly work with anyone who is going to in any way help promote me and my work.

What this is, in reality, is a huge misunderstanding. There was a knee-jerk overreaction from a large group of people trying to protect their interests. They can’t be faulted for attempting to protect themselves. Tempers flared on both sides and a lot of things have been said that shouldn’t have gone public. People can be very hotheaded at times (Yes, I’m guilty of that too), but that doesn’t excuse poor behavior from anyone.

I do feel bad for the site owner because it’s obvious he put a lot of work into the platform. I also believe that he can rebuild it. It might require the help of outside people to address every comment. This is his dream, and no matter how tough it might be, I believe that the fight is always worth it if you believe in your product.

No, he won’t be able to please everyone because no one person can EVER please everyone… but if he really believes in it, then I’d love to see him take this beast head-on and turn it around. Contact the publishers for the right to host said work rather than trying to contact thousands of authors individually. I said why earlier. That fact remains the same. Let the publishers do their jobs.

You know what else I’d like to see? Since he’s having such a hard time with the whole Amazon vs. California issue, I’d like to see him set up his own storefront and request permission to host books for sale. As authors, we can always use another sales outlet. Pair that with the lending match-up service and he could build something great.

I believe he can do it, and I believe that he can make it better than before. I’m serious when I say I’d love to see him succeed.