Personal Royalties

So, here’s another fabulous letter from a fan. He read all of Midnighters 2: Touching Darkness in a book store. That is to say, he didn’t buy it, just sat there hogging the comfy chair, polished it off in one sitting (I guess).

Obviously, he really enjoyed the book, and so out of a sense of fairness he decided to send me a personal royalty statement: a money order for $5.


I quite like the tone of William’s letter. He doesn’t send the money out of guilt, but as “a token of appreciation.” After all, you shouldn’t feel that guilty reading in a book store. At some point there might be a socially awkward thing going on, but if you’re really wrapped up–I say go for it.

In general, I’m more of a copyleftist than a copyrightist. I want my readers to swap books with each other, write fan fic, donate to libraries, interpret and remix. That’s called sharing. “Pirating” is when you print my books and sell them without paying me. (You know who you are, Mongolia.)

Now, in this dog-eat-dog world you’d think getting a personal royalty check would be unprecedented. But this issue comes up a lot more than you’d think. Friends often borrow a manuscript or review copy of mine and laughingly say, “Well, I’ll just give you the royalty. What’s that? $2.50?” They start digging in their pockets, and I refuse.

What they don’t realize is, it ain’t just me. I have a whole publishing family to support. Editors, proofreaders, cover designers, printers, publicists, booksellers, tree-growers, tree-choppers, paper pulpers. If you, gentle reader, only pay me (even at William’s astonishing 30% royalty rate) they’ll all starve!

And then where would I be? All alone on the blistering plain.

We all support each other: my editors and proofreaders and book-binders, the readers who share their favorite titles, libraries that allow you to try out new writers, fan-fic writers who work hard to create new fans, and even massive book chains who let you hang out all day drinking their coffee without buying the book.

So I’m not cashing William’s money order. It’s partly out of solidarity with my bookselling and tree-pulping brethren, who I don’t want to cut out of the deal.

And partly because I’m gonna frame the sucker. It was a very sweet gesture, and much appreciated in return.

6 thoughts on “Personal Royalties

  1. I must admit, I have sat down in those extremely comfy book store chairs, and become so engrossed, I don’t even notice that its been an hour since I started. I love that William did that, it was so sweet!

  2. What I’m amazed about is the effort it must have taken to copy the address of the packager (it was sent to Alloy, not me), go to the bank to get a money order, and then mail it.

    I’m flumoxed every time I have to find an envelope, much less do all that.

  3. Haha, I guess we’re all so used to e-mail that we’re always in awe. every time we ever get a bit of mail, let alone one with a check in it. That was really sweet he did that.

  4. good point about writers not being the whole industry, and i appreciate all solidarity gestures … except that it’s a money order, which means the bank (or issuing agency) will keep the $$$ … so cash it and then give it to a fund for new writers or small presses or a library.

  5. Scott, I think you’re missing the bigger picture. I think on the whole our culture is going to move toward giving each other tokens of appreciation for experiences rather than (or in addition to) paying for copies of things. William is just a pioneer.

    All that sharing you describe is wonderful, and key to having a reading society, but what if it was easy for readers to do a single action that would pay royalty to you, your publishers and all the editors and the artists involved? Or to take another tack, what if someone really loved the cover but wasn’t crazy about the book and decided not to buy it. What if they still wanted to express appreciation to the cover artist? Or what if what they particularly appreciated was the book design or copyediting? In the current system, how is that appreciation expressed?

    You present it as thought it’s an either/or situation – if William was not going to give money to every part of the system, including the bookstore, his money should not be taken at all. But who does that really benefit? And why is it to your benefit to get no further reward from readers’ appreciation of a book or other creative effort past the first point of purchase?

    I discussed this topic in greater detail on my livejournal in March:

  6. why is it to your benefit to get no further reward from readers’ appreciation of a book

    Well, I do get a benefit from not cashing the check: that of keeping it as a physical object, a frameable memento of the event. That’s the main reason I’m hanging onto it, which is meant to be the point of the last line of the post. Maybe the rest of my pontificating sounded too serious.

    What if they still wanted to express appreciation to the cover artist? . . . how is that appreciation expressed?

    Generally, you express appreciation of the cover by picking up the book and thinking about buying it, which you probably wouldn’t have done if the cover sucked. This means better sales for better covers, which ultimately means more work for that artist.

    what if it was easy for readers to do a single action that would pay royalty to you, your publishers and all the editors and the artists involved

    Again, isn’t buying the book just such a gesture? Although the artists and editors don’t get a royalty per se, their incomes get paid by sales of their books. Like the members of a team, they stand or fall together.

    Now obviosuly, they get less than a writer does for any one title, but the division of labor allows them to work on a lot more titles than any writer.

    But clearly tokens of appreciation are wonderful things. I get all sorts of them: fan mail, Amazon reviews, recommendations to friends, a couple of guys who drove from Indianapolis to NYC for me and Justine to sign their books. Many are the ways.

    It’s just that William sending cash was, you know, especially amusing. And I’d rather have the check than the five bucks.

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