Toward an Author Bill of Rights

One of my most useful souvenirs is from the gift shop at Alcatraz—the notorious, now-closed penitentiary perched on a rocky island off the coast of San Francisco. The utilitarian black coffee mug is printed with these white letters:

REGULATION 5:

YOU ARE ENTITLED TO FOOD, CLOTHING, SHELTER, AND MEDICAL ATTENTION.

ANYTHING ELSE YOU GET IS A PRIVILEGE.

The Book Camp crowd gets its marching orders

Marching orders issued at Book2Camp

When I used the mug last week, it reminded me of Book²Camp, the “un-conference” I had just attended in New York.

“Book Squared” is an informal, no-cost gathering of writers, book producers and publishers. The group sets the agenda, so any attendee can suggest a topic as long as he or she is willing to lead the discussion.

Guy Le Charles Gonzalez, Library Journal’s Director of Content and Digital Product Development, held court over a raucous session he called “(re)Building the Perfect Business Model.”About halfway through, I heard over the din: “Publishers should give a bill of rights to their authors.”

The speaker was Matt Mullin, Community Relations Manager of Digital Book World. Matt has a unique overview of the industry. He sees how publishers are hurt when an author’s brand “goes out” –  that’s an inside term for when an author decides to self-publish.

To combat the impression that “my publisher hasn’t done anything for me,” Matt says publishers should make open declarations such as:

WE PROMISE WE WILL LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES.

WE PROMISE WE WILL TRY NEW THINGS.

WE GUARANTEE WE WILL HAVE SALES REPS PUSH YOUR BOOK TO THE INDIES.

To Matt, a “value add” would be to offer this lagniappe:

I CAN BE YOUR GLOBAL CONCIERGE.

From an author’s perspective, the road to self-publishing is getting easier, but deciding whether to take that route remains difficult. It would be reassuring if traditional publishers offered some guaranteed basics, just as it must have been for prisoners on The Rock.

3 thoughts on “Toward an Author Bill of Rights

  1. How many indies are left for them to “push” the book to? How many books are they “pushing”?

    Publishers have long viewed authors, other than their top 5% brands, as replaceable parts. Now those parts are walking away. They might find replacements, but that will fade. I’ve done all the deals from nice to major and prefer doing it for myself.

    I don’t see any publishers really reaching out to authors to learn what they can do. They never have in the past. Most panels at these conferences are dominated by industry “insiders” and “gurus” and few authors. The people publishers and insiders could learn from are the true insiders. Indie authors who are succeeding.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Bob. It is true that I was one of the only authors at the Book2 Camp, although some people said they write in addition to their publishing jobs. I mentioned in one of the sessions that if traditional publishers were smart, they would join self-publishing groups, where many “true insiders” share their thoughts and experience. I told them they might discover people like me who are on the fence about which way to publish and have interesting projects that are ripe and ready which they might want to intercept. People like BookTiq and Maz Digital came up to me afterwards, but nobody from traditional publishing.

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