Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

The Author/Reader Disconnect or Why Can’t We Just All Get Along?

There seems to be a reader/author disconnect. When the Plagarism issue arose, there were many readers who just didn’t see what all the fuss was about while the industry related bloggers and posters were up in arms. I saw the same disconnect in the responses to the sale of ARCs. No reader seemed to think that it was as big a deal as the authors. Many readers who posted at Smart Bitches thought that ranting about it served little purpose but to turn readers off. One poster pulled the “I have to feed my children” card.

Obviously the disconnect comes from perspective, but what is the motivation behind the disconnect? Neither the plagarism issue nor the ARC sale affects a reader personally. Further, it doesn’t seem apparent that authors are hurt by either action. Are readers subscribing to the “no harm, no foul” rule? Does a reader have a social or moral obligation to the publishing industry including publishers, authors, and “good” reviewers?

For the authors, it seems a deeply personal issue. Probably McCafferty feels violated in some way that her hard work was used to garner someone else a half million dollars. Cast feels personally violated that she doesn’t get the review promised, other “good” reviewers are slighted, and someone else is profiting from her work without her getting any benefit (either in the form of a review or in the form of royalty payments). While acknowledging the sale of ARCs is not illegal, she still views it as a theft.

I often think that no matter how much authors like to say that they don’t mind used bookstores, they really do because every used book purchased is money that they are not getting. Remember the furor over Amazon listing the “used’ sales right under the new sale price? Readers view UBS as a godsend. How else can we fulfill our voracious reading appetites. Readers bemoan the increased prices on books, but that only increases the royalties to authors (assuming that royalties are percentage based). Is it possible for readers and authors to get along or will self interest always keep us apart?

Best,

Jane

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

17 Comments

  1. sybil
    May 11, 2006 @ 00:24:08

    ohhhh the selling of ARC’s completely pisses me off. I can understand it to a point used and way after the release date but would personally never sell an ARC or buy one.

    To me an ARC is given out for review or for ‘prizes’ in good faith and selling it before the release is wrong. End of story. Of course I prolly feel that way because I have ARC’s and it just seems wrong.

    I would pass an ARC on to another reader or blogger, if I had permission to do so but could never bring myself to sell one. Of course I pick up Hard to Find out of print books and trade them. Part of that is I am lazy and part is, as a reader I LOVE to find that OOP I have been dying for at a library sale for a .25 and I still love to find it when I know a friend wants it.

    I buy used books… lots and lots of used books. And there are more authors than I care to think about right now that I have an entire backlist sitting on the shelf waiting to be read, where most or all the backlist (still on print) were bought new due to a used book I enjoyed. Of course when I first started reading romance not too long ago I was making much more money so I paid no attention to book budgets.

    So many authors are readers and I think they do understand the fact that few people can buy all their books new. And I really think many are happy to be read, period. Because a few used book sales could make a long term reader. At the same time, yes of course all authors WANT everyone to buy new.

    Personally I try to rotate. If I buy author X book new and author Y used. Then next new book author X will be used and Y new. Unless it is an autobuy or my OCD kicks in ;).

    Of course I could be wrong and all authors are secretly hating people who buy used.

  2. Jennifer
    May 11, 2006 @ 01:06:35

    I love to read, and I write. I have to admit I buy most of my books from a small, private bookstore because 1) it’s part of the village and I don’t want it to close. 2) it’s nice knowing that authors will be getting royalties from the books I buy.
    If I can’t slake my reading thirst fast enough, I head over to the public library. They are also a good source of income for writers, as libraries buy books too.
    For older or out of print books, I try to look through used book stores.
    See – I’m a writer too, and I know the business from both ends. Most writers don’t make enough to make ends meet. We write because we love to write, because we have stories to tell.
    Our books get published and we get 7% cover price for royalties when our books are sold full price in regular venues. ARCS don’t earn us royalties. Discounted bookstores earn us discounted royalties. Each book returned is deducted from our royalties. If I presell say, 2,000 books, and 1,000 come back as returns, I get that deducted from my royalty count. Most authors get an advance, and never see another cent of money – they simply don’t ever earn out the advance in royalties.
    Readers want more books for less. Authors want to be able to keep writing – and that means earning out their advance so their publishing company offers them another contract.
    It’s sort of a no win situation. The only ones making money are the publishers.

  3. Karen Scott
    May 11, 2006 @ 02:35:01

    I think it’s wrong to sell Arcs, but it really doesn’t trouble me enough to give it a second thought.

    I feel pretty much about the whole plagiarism issue too, it’s wrong, it happens, but I don’t lose any sleep over it.

    I know I feel this way because I’m not a writer. If it happened personally to me, then maybe I’d react differently. Maybe.

    By the way, thinking about it, I haven’t actually bought a used book this year. In fact, I’d probably have to go back to last summer, to find the last time I didn’t splash out on a new book.

  4. Bev (BB)
    May 11, 2006 @ 05:55:45

    Um, not to be dense here, but why expect readers and authors to agree in the first place?

    Not so much on either of these issues which I haven’t really thought that much about, except to know already that plagarism is simply wrong. But in the broader sense, I’m not sure how disagreement on anything means a disconnect has arisen because to me the disconnect exists to begin with so disagreements are perfectly natural.

    Okay, I do believe I need coffee because I’m not even sure that made sense. You tell me. What’s wrong with different points of view existing?

  5. Karen Scott
    May 11, 2006 @ 06:14:55

    Very true Bev, authors are sensitive souls anyway, so are likely to take book-related issues much more personally, than Jo Reader.

  6. jmc
    May 11, 2006 @ 07:16:49

    I used to assume that readers andwriters should have similar perspectives on a great deal of things related to the publishing industry and romance, but that was naive of me, I think now. More and more, I’ve come to see the relationship more as a commercial producer/consumer relationship, and less about any kind of art or art-appreciation.

    FWIW, as a reader, the plagiarism problem had me up in arms while the ARC issue does not. To me, plagiarism is the theft of intellectual property; someone has taken your work without attribution and presented it as his/her own. Frowned up in academic and publishing circles, and translatable into a cause of action through copyright infringement or civil fraud allegations.

    Selling an ARC, even one stamped “Not for resale” doesn’t strike me as a violation of anyone’s rights, property or otherwise. The publisher/author chose to send out ARCs, presumably after considering the risks and deciding the benefit of a review or good word of mouth was worth it; once out of their hands, the treatment of those ARCs is out of their control. Unless the publisher or author has an agreement of some kind with a reviewer, how is that stamp enforceable? Maybe the stamp does create some kind of duty/obligation if there is an established relationship between publisher/author and reviewer/recipient, but I find it hard to believe that the duty (if any) extends beyond the initial recipient of the ARC. Putting the stamp on an ARC feels like me giving someone a gift and then telling the recipient what to do with a gift, or like giving a hand-me-down and then telling not to give it away or throw it away when they are finished with it or don’t want it.

    Also (probably no surprise after that last paragraph), I have no problem with UBSs.

    Am I hairsplitting? Maybe.

    My $0.02.

  7. Jane
    May 11, 2006 @ 07:25:22

    JMC said:
    I used to assume that readers andwriters should have similar perspectives on a great deal of things related to the publishing industry and romance, but that was naive of me, I think now. More and more, I’ve come to see the relationship more as a commercial producer/consumer relationship, and less about any kind of art or art-appreciation.

    I think that was my initial understanding. I also think that the internet community helps to foster a symbiotic relationship between readers and authors but more and more I see a great divide between the two. We just have really different self interests which sometimes overlap, but more often than not, are in conflict with each other.

  8. Tara Marie
    May 11, 2006 @ 08:38:28

    I think most readers will come down on the side of authors when it comes to plagiarism and even the sale of ARCs, but what I find insulting is disconnect some authors have from their own fans. How desperate does a reader have to be to pay $30 for a book that in a few months will be available for under $15 for trades and $7 for MM? Supposedly authors love their rabid fangirls, I guess that only extends to when they don’t get pissed off with them.

  9. Cece
    May 11, 2006 @ 09:16:34

    UBS’s are a great way to find out of print books (as sybil said). Books are expensive. I’m a single mom with two kids (and a writer and I have a full time job). IMO people who are going to spend money on books (new or used) are going to do so regardless(me included)—but nothing irks any of us more than spending out hard earned money for a book that sucks toilet water.

    I remember a while back Pbackwriter posting a great perspective of UBS’s–it’s a great way to try authors you might not otherwise, and if you like their work, there’s a good chance you’ll be on the lookout for newer works when they go on sale, which means the reader has just earned a new fan (IMO worth the loss of that 7-8 cents on the dollar–sort of a pay it forward type of thing).

    The sale of a few ARCs, IMO isn’t gonna break an author. Even if it is irksome to the (did I just use irksome?) writer. Chances are it’s going to a fan/collector though paying 30.00 for a book is rather heinous IMO. I wouldn’t even pay that for a new book!

    FWIW I bought every Kay Hooper book I could find, including some of her old Loveswepts, off ebay, and I STILL buy her new books in hardcover. *shrug*

  10. Journal of An Avid Reader » A Matter of Perspective
    May 11, 2006 @ 12:26:02

    [...] As a reader I’m not obligated to the author or to  his/her causes or issues.  I can sympathize  from afar but to assume a reader/author relationship  exists  because I buy his/her books is a  silly assumption. Dear Author   explores the relationship between readers and writers. All I have to  add to that  is that authors are not personal friends. They are selling you a product, period. [...]

  11. Jay
    May 11, 2006 @ 13:20:42

    I tend to agree with whoever it was that said secretly authors probably don’t like UBS’s anymore than they like the passing out of arcs. I dont see how you could be for one but against the other. Either way, that’s one less person that’s spending the money on a royalty-earning book.

    At the same time I agree with Cece who said that anyone paying a crazy amount for an arc is probably a rabid fan/collector. While I’m always happy to get an arc, and don’t at all mind having to “pay” for it with a review, I would never buy an arc just to have it before anyone else. And I certainly wouldn’t pay more for an arc than the actual book would cost new. Just call me Cheapy McGee.

  12. AAR Rachel
    May 11, 2006 @ 21:12:43

    I’ve seen this same discussion come up many times since I’ve been reviewing romance online, and I just can’t bring myself to care anymore. ARC’s are promotional tools, just like ads stuck in your windshield or free razors that you receive in the mail. If they work, fine, if they don’t – well, don’t send them out the next time. I don’t sell them, I don’t buy them, but I don’t feel like I have to destroy them after I’ve read them like they’re a manifestation of some secret contract I have with the author. I donate mine to the library when I’m done with them so that a tree didn’t die in vain. If the library makes $.25 on them in a booksale, well, the world keeps on spinning.

    I’ve written something like 270 online romance reviews and not been paid for any of them. The ARC is my “paycheck” and I can do with it what I like.

    I think the antagonism comes down to – surprise, surprise – money. I think authors want to make a living writing, which is understandable. It’s hard work writing a book and time consuming as well. But it’s a form of ART and art has never been well paid. You have to do it because you love it, because it fulfills a need for you. If you get paid for it, that’s great, but I don’t think the average writer can reasonably expect to quit her day job early on, if ever. There are big name authors who rake in the dough and authors who can pay the bills because they’ve found a niche (such as category romance) and they produce. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the end result is seldom artistic. In a perfect world artists and teachers and librarians and social workers would get paid equivalent to professional baseball players, but in this world, it’s just not going to happen. If you expect it to, you will be bitter when you get your royalty checks and start calculating how much those ARC’s cost you and just how much you lost on every used bookstore sale.

  13. May
    May 12, 2006 @ 10:08:10

    I write, but I buy used books anyway.

    I’m a student, I can’t afford to buy every single book brand new–unless she/he is an autobuy. And yes, I go to the library, but my library stocks a more ‘mainstream’ collection. I use it very often (I usually have 8 books out), but I still buy, used and new.

    I think that at some point, you have to bite your tongue and appreciate the fact that there are people buying and reading your books. That’s what writing, at the heart of it, should be about.

    As for the sale of ARCs… Well, I see it as promotion. Yeah, it sucks, because it was sent out free for review. But I figure that ARCs are usually bought by collectors. ARCs are things readers adore.

  14. Cynthia @ Book Stop
    May 22, 2006 @ 15:54:32

    Okay, here’s my opinion on the buying and selling of ARC’s: Before I owned a bookstore (way back one year ago), I did most of my book buying at Powell’s in Portland, OR, many of them ARC’s. The powers that be at Powell’s didn’t seem to be having a moral dilemma over it either. Now that I own my own bookstore, I receive more ARC’s than I could EVER read, sometimes I receive multiple copies from authors, distributors, publicists, etc. I try to read as many as I can, but I’m only one woman. So, I came up with what I believe is a happy medium. Any ARC’s that have been read, or that no one is interested in, are placed on the shelves, priced at 50% of the suggested retail price. Every three months, we add the ARC sales to the Bargain Book profits that we donate to one of the school libraries here in Hood River, to purchase books for the students. I have a hard time believing ANYONE would have a problem with my solution and everyone wins!

  15. Jane
    May 22, 2006 @ 16:02:02

    Here’s the problem. Authors obviously are not clued in as to where the books go. It was apparent from Cast’s post that she thought they only went to reviewers and those reviewers owed her an obligation to review it. The discussion clearly shows that the distribution of arcs is pretty haphazard and that if the publisher doesn’t do a better job of direct marketing with the arcs (i.e., identifying a positive reviewer) then the sale of ARCs and potential loss of revenue and reviews will continue.

  16. Dear Author.Com »Blog Archive » Is the internet bringing us together or moving us farther apart?
    Jun 12, 2006 @ 22:02:11

    [...] Previously I blogged about the reader/author divide. Since that time I have noticed an increasing mark between ONLINE readers and authors. Take blogger Indida. [...]

  17. Bonnie Dee
    Jun 13, 2006 @ 12:16:23

    In a perfect world artists and teachers and librarians and social workers would get paid equivalent to professional baseball players, but in this world, it’s just not going to happen. If you expect it to, you will be bitter when you get your royalty checks and start calculating how much those ARC’s cost you and just how much you lost on every used bookstore sale.

    This was an eye-opening thread for me. My expectations of having financial success along with enjoying my craft are dashed. I had hoped if I made the crossover from e-publishing to paper publishing all would be well. Now I see that it doesn’t ensure a steady, reasonable paycheck at all.

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