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  • The HarperCollins Strike: Part 2

    What does this mean for authors? Why should you care?

    Welcome back to another post about the ongoing HarperCollins strike!

    Yesterday, I gave some background on why the strike is happening, what the workers are asking for, and the most recent developments.

    You may have spent that post thinking: okay, sure, it's a bummer that editorial and marketing staff is paid so low, but why should I care? I don't see how this affects *me*.

    Au contraire, mes amis!

    Publishing is a highly exploitative industry across the board, and that includes exploitation of authors!

    Beyond that, the exploitation of other workers in this industry does directly affect authors.

    Let's look at how.

    First of all, a common justification for the low wages in publishing is, "Well, you should be doing it for the passion, not the money."

    Spoiler! :
    Okay, yes: we are in this industry because we're passionate about books.

    But last I checked, landlords and grocery stores don't accept ~passion~ as a form of currency. A person's gotta live.

    The "do it for passion" justification not only affects the wages of full-time industry employees - it's also used to justify ever smaller advances for authors.

    Just as "passion" is used to justify smaller advances, the "slow sales" that are now being used to justify laying off 5% of HarperCollins's U.S. workforce have been used since the pandemic started - despite record profits! - to justify splitting advances into three, four, or even five payments.

    For context, the norm used to be two payments: one upon signing the contract (both author and publisher) and one upon delivery of the finished book (edits completed). More on payment splits in a moment.

    Wait, what is an advance?

    Spoiler! :
    An advance is paid to the author prior to publication. An advance is basically the publisher saying, "We think your book will make at this much in royalties."

    It's basically like getting an advance on your next paycheck, except that this is the norm for an entire industry. Authors do a LOT of unpaid labor - the initial writing and revising of the book, plus querying agents and/or submitting to publishers - so the advance is the publisher paying the author for the work they then do for the publisher (revising the book again, possibly multiple times).

    BUT because it's an advance against royalties, authors may never see another cent after the advance. For an author to actually get royalties (a percentage of profits per book sold), the book first has to earn out. If you have an advance of $20,000, this means your publisher must make $20,000 in royalties on your book before they start paying you those royalties.

    So you can't just sell $20,000 worth of books to earn out: you have to sell more. I'm not going to get into this math because we're going to do some different math momentarily, but this blog post explains advances, royalties, and how much your book has to make before you start getting paid royalties...if ever. Many books never earn out, despite receiving only modest advances.

    (If you kept up with the court case DOJvPRHSS - which blocked the merger between Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, thank goodness - you may remember that some Big 5 CEO said in his testimony, "$100,000 is actually quite a small advance these days." That is patently false. $20,000 is actually quite a GOOD advance these days. I know people who got advances as low as $500!)

    Not only are advances generally low, but they're also paid late and split into three, four, or even five payments.

    Spoiler! :
    Author Laekan Zea Kemp says to add 4-6 months to each date of payment your publisher gives you. If they say your first payment will come in March, expect it to actually come in July, August, or September. You can't send your revisions in whenever you feel like it, but your publisher can pay you whenever they feel like it. That's one issue.

    But this isn't even taking into account how slowly publishing moves in the first place! If you sign a book deal in 2023, your book - if it's not pushed back due to delays - probably won't be published until at least 2025.

    If you get a $20,000 advance, that may sound like a decent chunk of change. But first of all, 15% of that is going to your agent, bringing you down to $17,000. Then you're advised to set aside 25% for taxes (taxes vary and author taxes are kinda complicated), so that's down to $15,000.

    Now let's say your publisher is going to pay your advance in three payments (in which case you're lucky that it's only three instead of four or five). That's $5,000 per check. Which for me is about 10 weeks worth of wages, so it sounds pretty good...

    ...until you realize that the first check will come "upon signing," i.e. once you have a contract signed by both you and your publisher. (2023, after you get the countersigned contract from the publisher, but that could take months - yes, it can take months for someone at the publisher to sign and send the contract back! Then you're probably going to wait another 4-6 months until you actually see money).

    The next check will come "upon receipt," i.e. when you turn in your final edits. (Let's say 2024, depending on when your contract is signed and countersigned and when you get your edit letter and how long it takes you to do said edits and assuming your edits are then accepted instead of you having to do a bunch more. Again add 4-6 months to this timeline before you actually see money).

    The last check will come "upon publication," i.e. when the book releases. (2025, no longer "advance" because your book is out now, but whatever. You know what your release date is, assuming it hasn't been pushed back due to delays...but again add 4-6 months before you actually see the money).

    So that means that for three years - 2023, 2024, 2025 - each year, you're only making $5,000 a year. After publication, you won't see any royalties unless your book earns out...which most books never do.

    So for most authors, you get $5,000 a year for three years from your book as you work on it with your publisher, and then you'd better have another book sold or you're not making any money.

    (This is why I have no plans to quit my day job.)

    That's one way authors are directly exploited by the industry. But authors are also more affected by the low wages of full-time industry workers. The most prominent issue is that the team who acquired your book probably won't be the same team you publish with.

    Spoiler! :
    Just yesterday, in a Discord server, a fellow author popped in to panic about his editor leaving his publishing house. His editor had a great grasp of his books (it's a series) and loved them.

    Now he'll have a new editor. Will the new editor understand his books the way the old editor did? Will the new editor love them as much? Will the new team give the author as much support and care as the old team, or will this book no longer be a priority for them?

    There's no way to tell until the new team takes over. Since the new team is not the team that took your book on voluntarily, they probably aren't going to prioritize it. They may not love or understand it like the old team did. They may not even like it! A new editor may have a completely new editorial direction for you to go - potentially undoing months of work spent on revisions for the old editor - and a new publicist may have publicity ideas you don't like, aren't comfortable with, or that give your book fewer resources and less visibility than the old publicist's.

    And this is very common because of the burnout and turnover resulting from publishing staff being overworked and underpaid.

    So not only does the exploitation of full-time industry workers allow for similar exploitation of authors, but it affects actual book publication, which of course also affects authors!

    Who knows what will come of it, but mediation is happening right now. The union posted a video asking workers what they hope will come of it, which you can watch here. If you'd like to know more, your can also read this summary thread of the timeline from expiry of contract to mediation.

    And if you're on Twitter or can donate to the strike fund, be sure to leave striking HarperCollins workers a message of support!

    Snoink UGH. This is actually making me want to self-publish now. >.> This sounds icky.
    Wed Feb 01, 2023 5:55 pm

    BluesClues ngl I thought of you as I wrote this like "I'm just gonna scare Snoink right away from trad pub huh :,)"

    Self-pub definitely has its own issues and can be harder in different ways, BUT you can at least control aspects like offering freelance editors fair payment, knowing when you'll get royalties because there's no publisher taking a cut first, etc.

    My goal is to push through trad pub out of sheer spite and do everything I can to make it better from the inside. I mentioned author Laekan Zea Kemp in this post. She runs an online "boot camp" for debut authors, and one thing I love about it is that she is *always* focused on what you, the author, can do from the inside - not only to make sure you get treated more fairly, but that everyone does!

    For example, while she says you should expect to receive payment 4-6 months after the supposed due date, she advocates for you (or your agent) emailing your publisher *weekly* until you get paid. She advocates for telling your editor - who may not have control over it, but is likely to listen to your concerns and bring things up to the higher-ups - that many authors rely on on-time payments to make ends meet, and that a policy that prevents on-time pay can hurt marginalized authors the most and be discriminatory toward different groups such as low-income authors. She advocates for NOT turning in revisions early, even if you're done early, because you don't want to set a precedent that tells the publisher that they can pay you whenever they want while you will turn things in ahead of schedule.

    Basically she's not afraid to tell you about the bad things you'll likely deal with (especially as a marginalized author), BUT she always makes sure you know you can do something about it AND she makes sure you know you can advocate for and protect yourself and others <3

    Wed Feb 01, 2023 7:00 pm

  • The HarperCollins Strike: Part 1

    Why is the union striking? What do they want? And why am I talking about this today?

    Bad news out of the publishing industry today, and I am distraught.

    I thought I had posted about this before, but apparently not. So some backstory, with spoilers for length, and this is going to be a multi-part, multi-day post so as not to overwhelm you.

    Buckle up, because if you read these posts over the next several days...you're going to learn some pretty dismal truths about the publishing industry.

    Just keep in mind that I don't tell you any of this to discourage you, if you dream of trad pub. But it's important for you to know what's going on in your own industry, and it's better for you to be emotionally prepared for it than to go in without this knowledge.

    HarperCollins workers went on strike in November.

    For those of you who don't know, publishing is a very exploitative industry.

    Spoiler! :
    Some of this is at the expense of authors - more on that tomorrow - but a LOT of it is at the expense of editors, designers, publicists, and other workers involved in book production. It's not only an idea but an expectation that editors and other workers will "pay their dues," i.e. work for very little money for a very long time in the hopes that they can eventually make enough in publishing to pay their bills.

    Because of this, burnout is common and turnover is high. Despite record industry profits since the pandemic started, staff has been cut back at an alarming rate, resulting in even more overworked, still horribly underpaid publishing staff, in turn resulting in even more burnout and turnover.

    Now, this is obviously bad for publishing staff.

    Spoiler! :
    If it's been your lifelong dream to be an editor, and you finally get a job as an editor, you soon realize you can't afford to be an editor. Due to staffing cuts, you're doing the workload that used to belong to two or three people. Because you don't have enough time during work hours to do all your reading, you're expected to do unpaid reading at home - not that you have time then, either, because to make ends meet, you had to get a second (or even third) job.

    If you have family wealth or a rich partner or a trust fund, you can probably manage with just the editing job. Provided you're not burnt out, maybe you can make it until, ten years down the road, publishing actually pays you something closer to what you're worth.

    But if you don't have generational wealth? A rich partner? A trust fund? Boy, I sure hope you at least have some roommates.

    But it's more likely you end up leaving the industry.

    This is also bad for diversity.

    Spoiler! :
    Guess who is less likely to have those financial safety nets? Marginalized people, especially people of color! Publishers talk a good game about diversity, but as long as they're overworking and underpaying their staff, marginalized workers are not going to be able to stay in the industry.

    (Publishers talk SUCH a good game about diversity that many white authors mistakenly believe that "white people just can't get published anymore"...

    ...but if you look at the annual analysis of what books get published and who works in publishing, more than 80% of the industry is white (more, depending on what specific area you're looking at). So this is literally not a problem, and (as a white person), white people need to stop saying this. It's not true. If you're a white person who "can't get published," I promise you it's not because the door has opened just enough to let BIPOC authors get their pinky toe in.)

    It's also bad for authors. We'll talk about this more tomorrow, but keep it in mind.

    For now, focusing on publishing staff, here's an illustrative example.

    An ex-editor who had left the industry for greener pastures posted a Twitter thread about her time in the industry. What really staggered me was this:

    Spoiler! :
    Living in New York City, working as an editor - a career that requires a certain education and internships and various other things just to get get an entry-level paid position - this person made the same amount of money that I do, working as an administrative assistant in Northwest Ohio.

    Hopefully you immediately understand what's wrong with this picture. But if not, let me tell you: Northwest Ohio has one of the lowest costs of living in the United States, while New York City has one of the highest. These wages are not even enough for me to live on in Northwest Ohio. The only reason I don't have to choose between food and bills is because Matt has a job that actually pays well.

    What is the union asking for?

    Spoiler! :
    A $5,000 pay increase across the board - please note, this would not bring them up to anything like a living wage for NYC - which would increase HarperCollins's annual payroll by about $1M.

    That sounds like a lot of money until you remember that HarperCollins has (1) had record profits the last three years, (2) made multiple six- and seven-figure deals for books within the last year, (3) paid six figures to buy out another publisher within the last year, and (4) has a CEO who makes almost half a million a year as one person.

    As of January 29, the union had been on strike for 56 days.

    Now, that whole time, HarperCollins had refused to meet with them. For the most part, HarperCollins had refused to say anything at all, despite an outpouring of support from people across the industry - not only staff at other houses, but agents, authors, and booksellers as well. Because this industry exploits us all. Because what the union is doing, they're not only doing for THEM, but for all of us. Because we want
    - we need - a more equitable industry.

    Some long-time agents were shocked that HarperCollins allowed the strike to go on so long without coming to the table - didn't they understand the terrible optics? Didn't they understand that they were risking partnerships with agents and authors? Didn't they understand that they were burning bridges?

    I, however, was not shocked at all. I've known since the strike started that this isn't just about HarperCollins. HarperCollins is just the first domino. If the union wins a fair contract, more publishers will unionize, pay will go up across the board, and all our boats will rise.

    Will this cut into publisher profits? Yes. But with publishers having record profits in the last three years yet workers being still more overworked without any more pay...it's time for those profits to take a cut. Who are they for, if not the people who work to make books happen??

    Don't @ me, I know the answer is "the already wealthy CEOs and their stockholders".

    I knew what the stakes were, and it was obvious to me that HarperCollins knew, too. That's why they didn't care about the optics: they didn't want to be the first domino to fall in a much-needed industry shakeup. So I wasn't shocked at all that they let the strike go on so long without agreeing to negotiations.

    What DID shock me was when, on January 29, the union announced that HarperCollins had finally agreed to meet with them. I really thought the strike would reach at least 100 days - if not a year, as long as the strike fund didn't run out - and I was so amazed that it was only 56 days that I cried a little bit.

    However, even as I felt hopeful, I was cynical. I fully expected HarperCollins to offer the union a much lower raise than the already modest raise they're requesting. Or maybe HarperCollins would meet with the union simply to say, "Our offer is this, Senator: nothing."

    What I did not expect - but maybe should have - is what happened next...

    Why am I so angry and hurt today?

    Spoiler! :
    Last night, a memo from the HarperCollins CEO went out announcing that due to the fact that "sales have slowed recently," HarperCollins will be laying off 5% of its U.S. workforce.

    Some notes about this.

    • Sales have slowed, yes. But marginally. HarperCollins is not hurting for money. They are experiencing slightly less record profits than the last two years...but still record profits
    • If HarperCollins were hurting for money, we'd expect to see them lay off 5% of the overall workforce, or at least the workforce in multiple places, but they aren't. They're targeting the U.S. workforce, which is the workforce that has been unionizing and striking
    • Remember what I said above about staffing cuts in the last three years and publishing staff already being overworked - leading to burnout and turnover? Yeah, reducing the publishing staff even further is only goin to exacerbate these problems
    • In a typical unionbusting play, HarperCollins has been hiring replacement workers...at a higher pay rate than they were paying the striking workers in the first place. They could've paid the original workers more money. They just didn't want to

    It's a smack in the face to the striking workers. To everyone in the industry. It's worse than I expected, even though I fully expected them to try something dodgy when they came to the table so much earlier than anticipated.

    I'm angry, and hurt, and a bit despairing. I donated to the strike fund again today, with a message of support to the striking workers...but this is so much worse of a response from the company than I even imagined, and such an obvious ploy it's almost laughable.

    Tomorrow, Part 2: How does this affect authors? Why should you care? (Because it does affect authors, and you should care! We are also exploited by the industry!)

    In the meantime, if you'd like more information about the strike, follow HCPU on Twitter and check out their Linktree.

    Que <3
    Spoiler! :
    Thank you so much for making me aware!! I've been applying to some publishing jobs recently and that is really good to know. And terrible to hear as well. Thanks for breaking everything down and oof </3

    Wed Feb 01, 2023 8:08 am

    BluesClues <3

    Spoiler! :
    Yeah, like I said, I definitely don't want to DISCOURAGE people - but if you want to go into the industry, they're definitely important things to know! I would definitely not apply to anything with any HarperCollins imprint until and unless the union gets a fair contract.

    The good news is, there ARE publishers and various pub-based organizations that ARE actually committed to diversity and equity and doing the work! While I imagine those jobs and internships are more competitive (because everyone wants them), focusing on organizations that are paying people and aren't being so exploitative is one way to help make change in the industry!

    It's much like how a lot of retail and service jobs are starting to offer better starting wages due to the "Great Resignation": if workers make it clear they will simply not work for exploitative companies, no matter how badly they need employment, while companies that pay halfway decently have no trouble finding staff, then all companies either have to pay better or eventually go under due to staffing issues! We have a rare opportunity here where the workers are at least sort of the ones with power for once, so we need to strike while the iron is hot and stand together to make the industry better for everyone involved <3

    Wed Feb 01, 2023 2:44 pm

  • Oops, @Carlito beat me to posting this <3 Probably bc I. simply forgot. to post in here at all yesterday XD

    Carlito wrote:If you live in a place with barnes & noble, there's a preorder sale going on right now!

    You can preorder the E-Book of THE REMARKABLE RETIREMENT OF EDNA FISHER (aka Chosen Grandma) by OUR VERY OWN @BluesClues right now for 25% off!

    All preorders are 25% off! (online only)
    All hardcovers are 50% off! (online and in stores)

    go forth and spend all your money!

    Link to original comment

    Carlito lol
    i finished blessing myself with some more preorders and thought i should let the people know that they too could choose to bless themselves with preorders and then i was like wait. is blue's book at b&n?? (genuinely didn't know because i smashed that hanson house preorder button 7000 years ago) and i obviously had to spread the news!


    Thu Jan 26, 2023 10:29 pm

    BluesClues listen I definitely had to go check myself because while I know the e-book is at B&N I was like "does that count for purposes of this sale, or--" XD


    Thu Jan 26, 2023 10:48 pm

  • After much debate, I posted a how I got my agent post, kind of. It's less about my actual time in the trenches and more a bit of perspective, but I hope it will help people!

  • Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand it's official! I have an agent! I am an agented author!

    Mageheart YOOOO CONGRATS
    Wed Jan 18, 2023 2:52 am

    BluesClues thank you I am so excited and happy and relieved!!
    Wed Jan 18, 2023 3:10 am

  • Snoink Did you... not have an agent before???
    Mon Jan 09, 2023 1:03 pm

    Mageheart !!!!


    Mon Jan 09, 2023 4:59 pm

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  • A literary agent recently wrote a Twitter thread of publishing industry predictions for 2023, which got the 2023 debut authors talking in Slack. We ended up talking about how publishers are less and less likely to pick up an author's next book and more and more likely to want authors to use pen names if writing in different genres.

    But the funny thing is, your pen name can be really similar to your other pen name. Like if I were writing fantasy as BluesClues, I could write mystery as B.L. Clues and romance as B. Lues Clues.

    Everyone misreads my Twitter handle, which is a shortened version of my first name, middle initial, and last name, so I jokingly said I'd use the misread Twitter handle as a pen name.

    A friend said that must be my hardboiled crime fiction name, so I said this...

    oh, of course! I'm writing an old lady detective who's like a hardbitten Edna but she's named Nettie and she grumpily solves murders because she's tired of police incompetence, as she never fails to remind the reluctant but resigned detective who keeps running into her at crime scenes (she also always reminds him that she's a taxpayer and she pays his salary)

    ...and I didn't want or need a new idea, but this is a shocking amount of detail for something that didn't exist until that exact moment in time, and Nettie compels me.

    I'm not saying this is my next project, but. Nettie compels me.

    Mageheart i love her

    also that's legit what happened with #SkeletonWIP back in may. i was driving home from school and was thinking about how much i liked archeology stories, and then my brain just was like "oh the main character of this novel is a nineteen year old who goes on a trip-"

    and i didn't even have a novel in mind then xD

    Thu Jan 05, 2023 5:20 pm

    BluesClues why do brains do this to us!!! like how am I supposed to write a murder mystery even if it does involve elderly lesbians and magic???

    and yet

    and y e t

    I am literally in my story ideas doc rn writing down every single thought I'm having, which is astonishingly many considering this stupid story didn't EXIST two hours ago

    Thu Jan 05, 2023 5:26 pm

  • We're finishing up the year with over 1,500 GoodReads adds, over 1,000 entries into the Remarkable Retirement StoryGraph giveaway, two short stories published, two more short stories accepted for publication, a complete synopsis for an eventual middle-grades project, and planning well under way for ForestVibesWIP!

    I'm having weird and complex feelings about the end of the year this year, but I'm glad to be able to say that writing stuff went really well this year <3

    lliyah <333 woohoo! You're pretty awesome Blue! Cheers to a successful, happy, and blessed 2023!!
    Sun Jan 01, 2023 12:07 am

    BluesClues thank you so much!! here's hoping the hype continues up to debut day <333
    Sun Jan 01, 2023 12:25 am

  • Oh my gosh! My sister posted about my book on Tumblr, and Tumblr RAN with it. In two days, it's gotten over 8,000 notes, I've had more preorders, and my GoodReads adds spiked so high that in just one day I had new adds amounting to 10% of the existing adds that it took me seven months to get.

    Mageheart That's amazing !!! I saw the post on Tumblr and was like :eyes: when I saw the number of notes! That's what you and your book deserve <333
    Sat Dec 24, 2022 6:51 pm

    lliyah ohohoho! Well that's awesome, but very deserved! Happy for you Blue! <3
    Sat Dec 24, 2022 6:52 pm

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  • Guess who hit 1,000 adds on GoodReads today!!

  • Okay StoryGraph is clearly where it's at, because I literally posted this giveaway YESTERDAY and I already have 455 entries??? Oh my god

    I haven't been writing much, which is okay because I think the break will do me good, but whoa am I glad I don't have a two-book deal and a second book to worry about because...I feel like I'm spending SO MUCH TIME worrying about book marketing things. Not even marketing marketing, just like. awareness.

    "Hi everyone! I wrote a book and it exists!" <<< basically what I'm spending all my time doing right now

  • It's baby's first giveaway! 5 digital advanced review copies (ARCs) of The Remarkable Retirement of Edna Fisher are up for grabs on StoryGraph, a British-based, Black-owned alternative to GoodReads!

    The giveaway is open internationally. The format is digital, and again these are ARCs - so while they're close to the final version, they're not quite actually the final version!

    You can enter (or share) the giveaway here: Giveaway for The Remarkable Retirement of Edna Fisher on StoryGraph

  • Copy edits are DONE and I am relieved

  • Thanks to a friend, I am now the proud owner of a lil knitted Edna <3


  • This just in, turns out doing copy edits is super annoying!

    In case you don't know, here are the general types of editing:

    Spoiler! :

    • Developmental edits.

    These are your big-picture edits. Developmental edits deal with things like fixing plot holes, clarifying the setting, making sure the character arc makes sense, etc. On a smaller level, they're about making sure individual scenes make sense.

    For Remarkable Retirement, most of my developmental edits with my publisher were smaller. The main one that ran through the whole novel was developing Benjamin (and his relationship with Kiernan) more.

    • Line edits.

    Line edits are largely about making the writing pretty! This is the time to cut filler words and filter words, make sure your voice is consistent on a line level, and check the writing for flow and beauty.

    • Copy edits, aka Hell.

    Copy edits are like...Line Edits 2: Electric Boogaloo. Copy editors look for grammatical errors but also things like awkward wording and inconsistencies (like a character's eyes being blue on page 15 but brown on page 132). Copy edits are minor changes that nonetheless can have an effect on the entire manuscript.

    • Proofreading.

    Proofreading is a final check for any grammatical errors or inconsistencies the author and copy editor may have missed. For example, if a copy editor uses "find & replace" to change the word "pants" to "trousers" throughout the manuscript, and the manuscript consequently ends up with the word "occutrousers" in it...a proofreader should, hopefully, for the love of god, catch that before the book goes to print.

    (This example brought to you by this tweet. Did they not use a proofreader? Did the proofreader somehow miss it? Did they make this change after proofreading?? No idea.)

    Anyway, I'm finding copy edits very frustrating because...sometimes the copy editor introduces grammatical errors. Often, the copy editor rewrites sentences rather than suggesting rewrites, and the results are out of tune with the voice of the rest of the manuscript. For other authors, copy editors have even made racist or transphobic suggestions.


    The good news is, with my publisher, I can simply accept or reject every suggestion made by my copy editor without explanation. I can rewrite their rewrites without explaining why I didn't go with their version.

    (Not so authors with bigger publishers: one fellow debut told me she has to comment on every single change explaining why she rejected it.)

    The bad news is, apparently this way of operating is common amongst copy editors, so I'll get to repeat this joyful experience in the future no matter who I publish with :)

Okay, first of all, who names their dinner? I don't want to know my dinner's name. This potato--is this potato named Steve?
— Rick Riordan, The Sword of Summer