The Authors Guild

Authors Guild Announces Support for Copyright and Marriage Equality Bill

As the 114th Congress begins on Capitol Hill today, the Authors Guild is lending its support to a bill that would close a loophole in the Copyright Act and ensure equal treatment for authors’ same-sex spouses. The bill, number S. 23, which has been introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, is identical to the Copyright and Marriage Equality Act Senator Leahy introduced last November, which followed an earlier bill introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Derek Kilmer, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Jared Polis.

The nation’s current split between states that recognize same-sex marriage and those that don’t creates a double standard under the Copyright Act. The law grants rights to an author’s surviving spouse only if the marriage is recognized in the state where the author dies. But what if an author marries validly in Vermont but dies in Georgia, which does not currently recognize the marriage? There’s the rub: if an author enters a lawful same-sex marriage but moves to and dies in a state that doesn’t recognize the marriage, the author’s spouse may lose out—particularly, the surviving spouse would lose the statutory right to terminate book contracts after 35 years.

The proposed bill changes the law to consider only whether a couple is lawfully married—not whether the state an author lives in at the time of death recognizes that marriage.

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Along Publishers Row

Alex Clark, a literary critic, wrote about “the most eagerly awaited fiction in 2015” in The Guardian.

Among the notable books due early in the year are Jane Smiley’s Early Warning and Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread in February. In March will be Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. Sarah Hall’s The Wolf Border is due in April, and May is publication month for Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins.

John Williams added to this list in the January 4 New York Times Book Review. He noted that Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child is due in April, Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno in September, and Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night in November. (Haruf died last month at 71.)

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Amazon Losing Support of Indie Authors

When Amazon started withholding or delaying the shipment of books of Hachette authors this past May during its dispute with Hachette, authors—mainly other traditionally-published authors—stood up in support of the Hachette authors and books being unfairly penalized by Amazon. And Authors United was born. But, as David Streitfeld describes in a front-page article in Sunday’s New York Times (subscription required), self-published authors also have much to lose from the loss-leader pricing and market pressures Amazon is able to impose because of its monopoly over the book market. In its drive to dominate the online consumer goods markets, Amazon has used books as a loss leader to draw in, and acquire data from, consumers with disposable income. In doing so, Amazon has run roughshod over authors, commoditizing and devaluing the books it sells.

Now, Amazon’s dominance in e-book publishing is allowing it to put a squeeze on the self-published authors who use its Kindle Direct platforms to release their own books, as well as traditional publishers and their authors. Just five months after Amazon launched its e-book subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, there’s growing evidence of frustration among independent authors, reports Streitfeld.

Independent authors who thought they had a partner in Amazon, to help them build a career are starting to feel victimized by its monopoly power. Authors are taking issue with the decreased earnings they receive when their books are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, which gives subscribers all-you-can-read access to around 700,000 e-books for $9.99 a month. Kindle Unlimited readers aren’t purchasing individual titles at the rate they had been, it seems. Romance writer H.M. Ward told the Times that, after a mere two months in the Unlimited program, her income dropped 75 percent. The sole purpose of the subscription model is to reel in even more readers and guide them toward other consumer purchases, not to make a profit, and certainly not to allow authors to be fairly compensated. Rather, the Unlimited Program’s all-you-can-eat model will inevitably lead consumers to think of books as essentially free, as many now do with music. “The books, in that sense, are loss leaders,” writes Streitfeld, “although the writers take the loss, not Amazon.”

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Season’s Greetings from Authors Guild Executive Director Mary Rasenberger

Dear Member,

I’d like to wish you a wonderful holiday season and a happy and healthy 2015!

I am delighted to be the new Executive Director of the Authors Guild. For over 100 years the Guild has been working arduously for the rights of authors to make a living—and providing services to enable them to do so. As I begin my tenure at the Guild, I can attest to the fact that the hard work continues. Our work is more important than ever in these turbulent times when many authors find it more and more challenging to make a living with their words.

It’s an exciting time to be at the Guild. The Council and staff have done a tremendous job laying the groundwork for a number of new initiatives and services. In the coming months, we will be focusing on new programs such as recruitment, branding, an ambassador program, and further development of the new website, together with our ongoing advocacy and litigation initiatives. We will also be fundraising to help us carry out these initiatives.

It has been a busy couple of months. For one, there has been much activity on the advocacy front. On December 3rd, we argued our appeal in the Google Books case, Authors Guild v. Google, to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. We expect a decision in two to six months, and, if necessary, may take the case to the Supreme Court.

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Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

The New York Times Book Review devoted last Sunday’s edition to “spiritual matters.” Writers were asked to recommend novels with religious themes.

Poet Christian Wiman suggested Fanny Howe’s Indivisible. He said, “Any real faith includes, rather than simply refutes, atheism.” This “brilliant novel . . . gives as stark and marvelous a rendering of this truth as any book I know.”

Novelist Christopher Beha named Evelyn Waugh’s The Sword of Honor trilogy. Beha said it is Waugh’s “most explicitly religious” work.”

Cynthia Ozick named The Second Scroll by Canadian poet A. M. Klein. Ozick said, “Think not of Roth but Blake.”

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New Books by Members

Last batch of new books by members before the new year! Check out this week’s recent and upcoming books, which include titles by Rochelle Alers, Patrick A. Durantou, Tess Gerritsen, Donna Grant, Amelia Grey, Joe Haldeman, Vlatka Herzberg, Susan Mallery, Karen Robards, and Kirby Williams. Titles below the jump.

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Macmillan Strikes Deal with Amazon, but “Irony Prospers in the Digital Age”

Macmillan CEO John Sargent announced yesterday in a letter to authors and agents that Macmillan has reached a multiyear agreement with Amazon for the sale of both print books and e-books. Under the deal, e-books will be sold under the agency model, which allows the publisher to set its own prices and avoid Amazon’s strategic discounting of key titles. This will allow Macmillan to sell books above Amazon’s artificially deflated prices, potentially leading to more income for authors, but it leaves in place the inequitable 25% of net proceeds royalty rate that Macmillan regularly offers authors on e-book sales. The agreement will take effect of January 5, 2015.

The deal makes Macmillan the third major publisher to announce a new agreement with Amazon after the expiration of the publishers’ settlement agreements with the U.S. government, which banned the agency model and required each publisher to allow retailers to discount e-books for a defined period. These agreements, known as “consent decrees”—whose durations were staggered at six-month intervals (Macmillan’s ended December 18)—were settlements of the lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice accusing five major publishers and Apple of conspiring to fix e-book prices in the lead-up to Apple’s 2010 iPad launch. After the publishers each settled, the case continued as U.S. v. Apple.

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New Sales Models Prove There’s More than One Way to Sell a Book

A page one headline in the New York Times’ business section caught our eye this morning: “Amazon Not as Unstoppable as It Might Appear.” The article describes Amazon’s susceptibility to competition from start-ups in the retail sector. We’ve noticed a similar trend in the publishing industry. Now there are more—and more inventive—ways than ever to buy books without logging in to Amazon. We’d like to highlight a few of them. In our view, the more ways there are to get our books to readers, the better things are for us all.

One of the major developments has been publishers’ experimentation with selling directly. Last week Hachette rolled out a new sales program, letting readers purchase select titles from the publisher by clicking a “buy” button embedded in an author’s Twitter message. The program pairs books with limited edition collectibles: it began last Thursday when Amanda Palmer announced in a tweet that the first 100 people to buy her new release, The Art of Asking, would get a signed manuscript draft page. The program also includes astronaut Chad Hadfield’s book You Are Here—accompanied by an outer-space photograph of the Greek island of Corfu—and an offering from the satirical paper The Onion. So far, these are the only books slated for inclusion in the program.

While most major publishers sell directly nowadays, HarperCollins has distinguished itself by sweetening the deal for authors. In October, HarperCollins launched an e-commerce platform that lets readers buy books straight from its web page—sans bookstore, sans Internet retail giant. Kudos to Harper for passing on some profit to authors when it cut out the middleman: writers who offer their books through the program receive an additional 10% net royalty on e-book, print and audio sales. This applies even when authors sell the books through their own web page.

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Along Publishers Row

by Campbell Geeslin

The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure was edited by C.D. Rose and reviewed in The Wall Street Journal by Dave Shiflett.

“Among the many types of failure that life has to offer,” Shiflett wrote, “literary failure ranks among the most devastating. It is sometimes even more painful than romantic rejection, which may simply be the result of mundane factors (crossed eyes, a small income). Literary failure, however, is a thing of the soul, made all the more toxic when it comes at the hands of that confederacy of Precious, Insular, Sanctimonious, Smug and often Young (work out the acronym for yourself) writing program grads who seem to rule the literary roost.”

Shiflett quotes from the dictionary: “The power of writing is one of the greatest things we have, whether it is read or not. I was there, I saw.”

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Bulletin Board

This week’s batch of contests include a residency for poets, a fellowship program, and an award for Civil War fiction writers. Deadlines range from Dec 31-Jan 15.

The Dartmouth Poet-In-Residence Award is now accepting applications for a six- to eight-week residency in poet Robert Frost’s former farmhouse. The residency begins July 1 and ends August 31, and includes an award of $1,000 from The Frost Place and an award of $1,000 from Dartmouth College. The Dartmouth Poet in Residence at The Frost Place will have an opportunity to give a series of public readings across the region, including at Dartmouth College, for which the Poet will receive a $1,000 honorarium. To be eligible, applicants must have published at least one full-length collection of poetry at the time of submission. Applicants should submit five poems from their most recent book, a resume, a personal statement, and contact information for two references. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: December 31, 2014. For more information, please visit the website.

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