More Book Stuff

Remember my last post about Portland = literate city. And something about bike messengers and paperbacks and reading and Portland. You do? Okay, good, I didn’t want to go through the whole thing again to tie in a post about books to Portland.

So I have this bug up my butt lately about writing and the wages writers are (not) paid and how if readers really spent a moment examining the publishing process and how little writers are paid in relation to how important books and news and, well, information is, then maybe there’d be a wee revolution like there is with food — you know, people advocating that farmers get paid more and then consumers going to places like farmers’ markets where the produce is more expensive but the farmers get more money for their better quality food.

And I love to wield my incredible influence here at Metblogs. Today, the revolution starts in publishing — tomorrow, the world.

So I wrote this article for today’s Oregonian (see, Portland connection) about product placement in books. I interviewed some very interesting people, but about halfway through the process of writing the article, I went from being nauseated by the very idea of product placement in novels, to thinking, well, shit, it seems that advertisers are the only ones who are willing to pay writers fairly for their influence, reach and hard work.

I also write in the article about books being devalued, which is something I’ve been really horrified by since I started at my first indie bookstore and had to explain to customers that no, we didn’t discount our books, and that would be just fine if they headed over to Borders to pick up that bestseller, however, by supporting corporate bookstores, you’re supporting homogenous publishing and the decline of small locally-owned business. People don’t give a shit. They want the discount.

Why is supporting corporate bookstores not in the reader’s best interest? Well, the books for Borders and BN are ordered centrally, which means that there are a few people who select the books for the whole chain of stores. So, in my case, that meant that neither one of my novels in hardcover were represented at my local Borders because the buyers in New York didn’t fancy them. My books are at these stores in paperback. Small, local bookstores each have their own buyer who has varying tastes, which means a broader array of books are represented if a community has several indie bookstores.

Back to product placement. By the end of the article, I still thought it was a disgusting practice, but a realistic one. As I look around, as a professional writer, I think people love the written word. Magazines, newspapers, blogs like this one, all make money off the backs of writers, and yet writers don’t get paid dick. Readers want integrity, but I can’t cash an integrity check. My mortgage company isn’t like, oh, well, you’re a writer? You get the integrity discount. I need to feed my kid, you know?

It seems that in every other profession, no one bats an eye at employees taking a look at their pay check, deciding it’s not enough and then going hunting for the person who will pay them what they’re worth. Why shouldn’t writers do the same?

If you don’t want to read product placement in your books, then what are you willing to do so that writers are paid according to the value you place on the written word?

I’m excited to read the comments, but before you post, please read my O story too. Also, please be civil. Conversations are more interesting than flame wars — can I put that on a t-shirt?

4 Comments so far

  1. Steve (unregistered) on March 2nd, 2008 @ 10:08 am

    The sad, honest truth is that the printed word is dying out. Newspapers and books are dinosaurs. I mourn their decline, but I’m also cautiously optimistic about the digital future for writers.

    Writers could learn a lot from musicians, who also have been historically screwed by a corporate publishing machine, but who are increasingly capitalizing on digital media to take control of their art and the revenue streams it can generate.

    Sure, self-publishing is low-rent taboo, just like the old self-released cassette album used to be.

    But today, there is no shame in a mid-level touring act producing, releasing, and distributing their own recordings — and capturing 100% of the profit, not the 3% that was common in the old corporate music industry model.

    With print-on-demand and the internet, there’s no reason writers can’t break free of the corporate publishing shackles. Sure, it’s still more prestigious to have a big-name imprint, but when you take an advance of, say, $15,000, and work a year (or even just three months) on a book, the "cool bucks" of that imprint don’t go very far towards putting food on the table.

  2. Julian (unregistered) on March 2nd, 2008 @ 10:38 am

    "It seems that in every other profession, no one bats an eye at employees taking a look at their pay check, deciding it’s not enough and then going hunting for the person who will pay them what they’re worth. Why shouldn’t writers do the same?"

    Exactly, why shouldn’t they? I don’t understand why writers wouldn’t. I might be reading this wrong, but it seems you are implying they don’t or can’t.

    Writers can self-publish, write ad copy, edit, blog with ads, even teach. None of these might be ideal, but they do exist. In the US, it is sadly all about money for the most part.

    Lastly, I don’t see anything wrong with product placement in fiction if it doesn’t later the story. Children’s books are different, but we need to work on advertising to children period in this country.

    Like you stated, this blog, newspapers, magazines, etc make money off people writing. If they can make more by using some basic product placement, why not? I know it might feel wrong, but reality trumps idealism, and just today you’ve written in two places that are supported by ads.

    rewrite this and say…"While I was drinking a Pepsi", and take that money :)

  3. brewcaster on March 3rd, 2008 @ 11:46 am

    Entertainment as an industry is always facing challenges such as these. I think it is something one must consider when they decide to enter a entertainment industry as their career. There is lots of money to be made, but by not many people. Similar to actors, bands/musicians, comedians etc…. I enjoy playing music, and had the chances to do it as a career, but I decided that paying bills and having the financial freedom to other things made music a hobby and not a career.

  4. msblake on March 6th, 2008 @ 12:00 pm

    I read your article when it came out in The Oregonian and thought you did a great job. I was wondering if you had read the post on regarding the same issue? (

    If heavy product placement represents the future of youth fiction then I am seriously worried about the next generation.

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