Once upon a time, I translated the entire Egyptian Book of the Dead from hieroglyphs. It took me about 10 years. I was asked by my then father-in-law if I thought I would be able to make a profit of $40,000 a year through my writing. I have to say up front, I’m not married to his son any more, and I was never in this business of writing and translating for the money. I was in it for the long haul, because it is through language and thinking about language that I process and experience the world. (For more on why writers really write see Lynn Pruett’s Nov 18 post.)
This afternoon, however, I found a letter in my mailbox from the current publisher of my book Awakening Osiris (1988) asking me if I would amend my contract with them. They’d like for me to give them the rights to sell my work as an e-book for 15% royalty.
This is one of those times that thinking about money rather than words might be a good thing. You see, I distrust e-books. (See my previous KaBoom post on the issue.) I am, by goddess, a hard-core paper and ink kind of writer. I realize that in our digital days/daze more people are reaching for their Kindle. Most of them buy their e-books from Amazon.com.
And I don’t really like it when Amazon starts to sell hardback copies of my NEW book –just released a month ago—at a discount price that is so steep I can’t afford to buy it at that price because the shipping and handling costs me nearly 100 times more than the royalty I’d earn from the book. What sense does this make? If there is relatively little cost to the publisher to produce an e-book, what advantage do I, the author who spent 10 years writing it, have to give away the pittance of royalties I do make? The e-book takes money out of my pocket and seems to put it into theirs. (See a literary agent’s calculations of the actual cost: http://andyrossagency.wordpress.com/tag/royalties/)
Might there be a copyright infringement problem with e-books down the line? Heaven knows I already see much, too much of the inside of my books on Google Books or Amazon’s “Click Here to See Inside” feature. Heck, I can even search my own text and footnotes faster online than I can by going to the bookshelf right next to me and looking in my own book. So I am not sure I like this new publishing world. It worries me. It should worry any author.
Let’s face it, Gutenberg all but ruined the beautiful illuminated text of the Middle Ages. Then what about all those beautiful hieroglyphs that got turned into hen scratches which became the demotic and Greek alphabets. I realize, of course, that writing as a product changes as the world that produces these texts changes. I just don’t want to let go of my paper and ink just yet, or my royalties. Sadly, even the paper and ink money is about to bite the dust. All money is virtual anyway.
But wait… Isn’t my contract written on paper, and doesn’t my signature need to be in ink. There must be some value to paper and ink after all, right? Okay, if it were your book, what would you do?