Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors

The Authors Guild is committed to an inclusive, big-tent approach to its mission as the published writer’s advocate. The recent clash between Amazon and Hachette Book Group has called attention to the contrasting viewpoints of traditionally-published and self-published authors. During this dispute the Guild has spoken out against Amazon’s tactics—which needlessly imperil the livelihoods of authors who are not involved in the negotiations—while also challenging the major publishing houses to revisit the parsimonious stance they’ve taken on authors’ e-book royalties.

The Guild recognizes all authors’ rights to make a living from their books and to pursue the most suitable audience for them. It is a sign of the strength and diversity of our membership that two of our Council Members, Douglas Preston and CJ Lyons, have taken different public stands in defense of serious authors.

Douglas Preston has composed an open letter to Amazon calling on the corporation to resolve the dispute without further hurting Hachette authors. “Without taking sides on the contractual dispute between Hachette and Amazon,” Preston writes, “we encourage Amazon in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihoods of the authors on whom it has built its business.”

In response to Preston’s letter to Amazon, self-published authors circulated a petition to Hachette asking it to “work on a resolution that keeps e-book prices reasonable and pays authors a fair wage.” Authors Guild Council Member CJ Lyons was a prominent signatory. In a cover letter addressed to their readers, the self-published writers praised Amazon for keeping prices low and the Amazon platforms for “giving all writers a chance to reach an audience.”

After these letters had been circulated, Authors Guild co-Vice President Richard Russo published an open letter taking the long view, noting that the outcome of the present dispute is dwarfed by the need for a healthy publishing landscape that can support a diverse and inclusive community of authors. “The primary mission of the Authors Guild has always been the defense of the writing life,” he began. “What we care about is a healthy [literary] ecosystem where all writers, both traditionally and independently published, can thrive.”

One way or another the Amazon-Hachette dispute will be resolved, but the issue of fair compensation for authors will remain a central concern to the Guild. “We’re committed to supporting working writers,” says Authors Guild President Roxana Robinson. “Writers should be able to make a living at what they do – which is to provide an essential contribution to society. However the publishing world changes, writers will still be crucial to it. No matter how the written word is distributed, only writers can write. They deserve respect and support.”

Comments: more
  • DXW

    Everyone who thinks the “Author’s Guild” is doing a bad job representing authors, I suggest you look thorough the names in their member directory and email as many members as you can and try to convince them to cancel their membership.

    Maybe a massive loss in membership will encourage the “Author’s Guild” to wake up and start representing author’s best interests instead of the publisher’s.

  • DXW

    It’s always nice to open with a nice joke, but this… “The Authors Guild is committed to an inclusive, big-tent approach to its mission as the published writer’s advocate.” …is a bit much.

    Any authors out there who are members of this ridiculously ineffective group should seriously rethink their membership.

  • Andrew Ashling

    You censored my two previous replies, but I’ll try again.

    “Writers should be able to make a living at what they do,” says Roxana Robinson.

    What a pity then the likes of Hachette make that impossible. There may have been a time big publishers nurtured talent. These days they’re more likely to either crush it or keep it in bondage and poverty.

    And the so-called AG is aiding and abetting the likes of Hachette.

  • Heywood Jablowme

    Hey, Author’s Guild, you misspell “Publisher’s Shills” everytime you write “Author’s Guild.”

  • Laura Resnick

    I have been making my full-time living as a traditionally published writer for over 25 years. I now also self-publish, but I have no plans to abandon traditional publishing.

    And 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. (Needless to say, I am not an AG member.)

    The AG actively advocated in favor of the collusive price-fixing scheme, even though, in addition to being a violation of federal law (and it’s jaw-dropping how the seriousness of that consistently eludes the AG), it removed money from the pockets of writers =and= readers.

    As has been pointed out by other commenters, 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.

    Let me reiterate: I am a full-time, self-supporting traditionally-published writer and have been for over 25 years–and there is no sense in which the AG represents my interests or pursues advocacy from which a working writer like me benefits.

    • Heywood Jablowme

      You go, girl.

  • Hachette Author

    Thanks for censoring my other comment. I feel like giving up, but I’ll try again.

    I’m an author published by a Hachette imprint, and my sales are down at least 30% because of this protracted negotiation.

    I’m not financially successful enough to wave away the repeated offers of fair recompense for the financial damage I’ve suffered. I have no idea why Hachette, the Author’s Guild, and some of Hachette’s most successful and renowned authors have all decided to turn them down on my behalf. I don’t dare put my name to any complaint, however, because I don’t want to jeopardize my relationships with my agent and my publishers. This is precisely why we need a functional Author’s Guild.

    It’s all well and good to grandstand and make bold gestures when you’re rich and successful, but I’m not. I’m a struggling writer who feels hurt and let down by the organizations and people who take my money in dues and are supposed to be helping me.

    Why doesn’t the Author’s Guild speak for authors like me? :(

    • Another Hachette author

      Not that it will make you feel better but you’re not the only one in this position.

      I’m extremely disappointed in those supporting Preston’s letter. My contract is with Hachette, not Amazon so why spend the time, money and PR to bash Amazon? If it’s true that Hachette is not showing up at the negotiating table, they’re the ones the AG should be talking to but it’s clear which side of the dispute that the AG falls on. I won’t be paying dues to the AG again and I won’t be looking at legacy publishing again either.

    • Laura Resnick

      My sympathy goes out to both of you. The AG has abandoned you. Hachette has abandoned you. Mega-selling authors and media stars keen to protect their own status have abandoned you.

      And while their self-interest is not incomprehensible, and they were indeed all bound to abandoned working writers and throw you under the wheels… what is so GALLING about it is that, while doing so, hey keep CLAIMING to be thinking of you, acting on your behalf, protecting you, blah blah blah.

      But no matter how often they keep repeating that lie, you know it’s not so–and so do thousands of other working writers.

  • Mirta Ana Schultz

    Maybe I’ll believe you are the guild for authors when you take publishers to task for ridiculous rights grabs, low royalties, and requiring agenting (ie, give up 15% right off the bat, peons). Please take on Hachette’s offenses against writers; then you’d have credibility with some of us to take on Amazon’s offenses.

    And if you really gave a damn about the not-rich, midlist authors, maybe push to accept one of Amazon’s author-compensation gestures. Demand Hachette pick one and follow-through. I won’t hold my breath.

  • Dan DeWitt

    If the issue of fair compensation is such a “central concern” to the AG, I’d think that they would realize that they don’t need to wait for a resolution between Amazon and Hachette to pursue it. One issue has nothing to do with the other. The AG could be demanding better terms from Hachette right now. Except they won’t. Once upon a time, maybe. But the current incarnation of the AG is fully in the pocket of big publishers. The only people who are (loudly) advocating for better terms for tradpub writers are, oddly enough, self-published authors.

    Also, as others have noted, the linking in this post says far more than the actual words do.

  • Ricardo Fayet

    I liked the “neutrality” of the post until I figured that it links to two petitions, but not to the most backed one. You cannot take a neutrality standpoint like this and not go all the way, it just seem hypocritical. Like Douglas Preston saying “Without taking sides” when he obviously does. If you do want to represent all authors, you should have a look at the comments below. They’re authors too, and I’ve got the feeling that they don’t feel that “represented” by the Authors Guild.

  • David Gaughran

    The Authors Guild is a joke. How can you link to two of the petitions and not link to the one which has had the most overwhelming support? The Authors Guild is on the wrong side of history once again, just like it was about e-books, price-fixing, and Author Solutions.

    • David Gaughran

      Nice to see my comment was actually published this time. I wonder how long it will stay up before it is censored by the Authors Guild – who have censored all my previous comments on this issue. Good job guys.

  • MPMcDonald64

    What I haven’t understood through this whole mess, is why the authors aren’t demanding better contracts from Hachette. Hachette is the entity who determines how much the authors earn–not Amazon. It would be like actors storming into movie theaters and demanding that the theater charge more for the tickets. That would be silly, when if they aren’t happy with their compensation, they should go to the people who write the check and negotiate a raise.

    • michaelsullivan

      Do you actually think we don’t try? Trying and getting are two different things. At the end of the day you have to sign or walk.

  • Hugh Howey

    Interesting that you linked to the two pro-publisher letters but neglected to link to the pro-author and pro-reader petition. No matter. Our petition has 7X as many signatures as the pro-publisher letter.

    Nice job once again, Publishers’ Guild! Your bias shines right through.

  • Dan Gillmor

    In citing the petition from “self-published authors” — which has vastly more signers than the A-list letter, including many authors who’ve worked with traditional publishers — you left out the first part of what they asked, namely that Hachette accept Amazon’s offer “to create a 50/50 joint fund to support your authors.”

    Perhaps coincidentally, you also left out a link to that petition. Here it is for anyone who’s interested:

    • Hugh Howey

      I love the derision with which “self published” authors is used. I wear that badge with honor, but I’m also published with Random House and Simon & Schuster, and I signed that letter. I’d wager a good percentage of those who signed have been with major publishers.

      The AG continues to fight for bookstores and publishers and the top 1% of the 1% of authors. Everyone else is on their own with no representation. Absolutely shameful.

      • Robgb

        I signed the petition as well and I’m not only self-published, but published over a dozen books traditionally, several of which are still in print under my own name and others, with Big 5 publishers and also next tier publishers like Harlequin. AG does not represent me and, at this pace, never will.

  • nitpicker

    You link to the “open letters” of Russo and Preston, but no link to the “self-published authors” open letter. Why is that, AG?

  • Jeanne Tomlin

    BS. Authors Guild is deep in the pocket of publishers. Denying it won’t change the simple fact.