… or, wait, maybe it isn’t …
The above capture is from the home page of the Writers’ Union of Canada. So, full disclosure, having been a member, here’s what I think about TWUC:
- They mean well.
- They’re doing the best they can with what they know.
- They don’t know everything.
- As a Canadian writer, I don’t feel they represent me.
Before I let my membership in TWUC lapse, I told them what they’d need to do to keep me (they asked, so I told them). Mainly, I needed help and advice – not in snagging a publisher – but in standing up to my publisher. In trying to get my publisher to help me sell my book. In trying to get my publisher to actually reply to my emails. TWUC listened, and made nice noises, and then sent me a letter saying they were sorry to see me go.
So, you’ll understand if I feel TWUC represents, not current writers and their current needs, but the established industry as they understand it.
Which, from the results of their own survey, is not making writers any money at all.
In fact, what this survey tells me, is not that this is a “cultural emergency for Canada,” but rather that writers represented by unions, associations, agents, and traditional publishers continue to lose money. This doesn’t surprise me. My traditionally published book is a money-making disaster for me.
TWUC states that “everyone — governments, corporations, institutions, and individual consumers — have a part to play in fairly compensating writers for the content they expect, need and enjoy.”
So, yes and no. I agree with the copyright part of this argument. Taking something for nothing is just wrong. Taking something (my writing) for free and making money off it for yourself, is despicable. A combination of weakened copyright laws in Canada, and the greedy piggishness of many institutions mean that universities can copy part of my book, put it into a coursepack with a bunch of other partially copied books, not pay me, or the other writers anything, and make money by selling that coursepack. And it’s legal.
That’s wrong, that’s immoral, and that certainly flies in the face of universities standing up for the best interests of their own graduates.
In this case, if you use something, you should pay for it – or at least get permission.
However, I’m less enamoured of the granting system in Canada. I’m not actually convinced grants have served our publishing industry very well. Because I was a Canadian author, published by a Canadian publisher, my publisher got a grant. That seems nice, and boosterish, and nurturing at first.
Until you’re on the other side of it, like I am now. Until you’re wracking your brains trying to figure out why publishers don’t always seem to put a huge amount of effort into selling books. Isn’t that best for everyone? Isn’t that how they make money? Or … wait … maybe not. Maybe quite a bit of money is made by just publishing books by Canadian authors. Maybe a lot of bills are paid that way. Maybe there’s less of an incentive to sell, sell, sell, if there’s less of an upfront risk.
So, governments … not so sure.
As for individual consumers – I’d say they are doing their part. You guys are doing your part! It’s not your fault that, when you buy a traditionally published book (for a lot of money) only a tiny percentage goes to the author.
When you buy my self-published books, I get up to seventy per cent of what you spend, and that’s good with me – that’s fair compensation – so thank you!
I hope you’ll keep supporting writers’ work by buying our books. And I hope you’ll speak up if you see somebody using a writer’s work without compensating them (there’s a simple word for that – STEALING). However, I also hope you don’t think the sky is falling.
I don’t think it is. I think the TWUC survey is a snapshot of a particular portion of the writing world in Canada, and I agree, that portion is not doing well. I think that’s too bad, and I think it’s an opportunity for everybody involved to take a good, hard look at their own decisions and choices and figure out how they want to move forward.
P.S. I was asked to fill out this survey but it was SOOO long that it would have greatly reduced my work-pay ratio for the month, so I passed it by. But to give a simple answer to the TWUC question – no, I am not getting paid less for my writing as time goes on. I’m not rich, but I’m moving forward. Which is all I’ve ever really wanted …