So you want to be a novelist

Many of us harbor the ambition to write novels (and some of us, such as WalletPop's Tobias Buckell, have several in print already). Part of the dream for me is making enough money to allow me to concentrate strictly on fiction. Unfortunately, that dream is becoming less and less feasible.

Two disheartening pieces of news are buzzing the book world this week. The first involves Amazon, the 500 lb. gorilla in the field.

A growing number of authors have chosen to self-publish via print-on-demand companies such as iUniverse. An important part of their profit plan is distribution through Amazon. Now, however, Amazon has decreed that it will no long act as the middleman between POD -published authors and the public. Any POD author wishing to have his/her book on Amazon must have the book printed via Amazon's BookSurge POD service.

The move makes sense from Amazon's point of view; they won't need to keep a stack of actual books on the shelf waiting for orders, or spiff other companies to direct-ship from their warehouses. When an order comes in, Amazon will route the digital file to the printing process and voila, pop a book out the other end ready to shop. For the authors, things are not so rosy. Once Amazon runs competing POD companies out of business, authors risk losing leverage and the consequent income.

Another troubling story, in the New York Times, is the intent of publisher HarperCollins to launch a new group to publish books for which authors will be paid a share of revenues rather than an upfront against royalties. In the past, a writer would get a lump sum at the time the contracts were signed. If the book sold well enough to exceed the anticipated revenue on which the first payment was based, the author would receive additional money. If it didn't, the publisher ate the shortfall. Because the rewards of success derive primarily to the publisher, I believe the risk should as well. To ask the author, who has no control over production, marketing or placement, to shoulder that risk is a sad commentary on the state of the art.

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