Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Acquisitions Editor

INT. MORNING - Fourth Floor of the Hip Happening Building, New York

(Writer is escorted by an Assistant to the Editor's office)

Editor: Good morning! Assistant, can you bring me a cappuccino, skim milk, two Stevias? Writer, would you like something?

Writer: No, thank you.

Editor: Please, have a seat.

(Writer sits across the Editor's desk)

Editor: I'm excited to tell you we're epublishing your new novel. Aren't you thrilled?

Writer: I'm flattered. But there are still some things I don't understand. I was hoping you'd make them clear for me.

Editor: Of course. I'm here for you. We're partners now. Exciting times.

Writer: Yeah. Well, first of all, I'm trying to understand the royalty structure.

Editor: That's boilerplate. You get 25% of the net sales receipts.

Writer: With the agency model, that means I earn 17.5% of the list price.

Editor: (beaming) Not bad, huh? If it was one of those old-fashioned paperback books, you'd only be earning 8%.

Writer: But paperbacks cost $7.99. You want to publish my ebook for $9.99.

Editor: We've determined that's the best price.

Writer: How?

Editor: Pardon me?

Writer: How have you determined that's the best price? Have you done studies? Polled readers? Experimented with different prices?

Editor: We arrived at $9.99 by comparing it to the prices of paper books.

Writer: But paper books cost money to create. There's printing and shipping. And even with that, paperbacks are still cheaper than $9.99.

Editor: We're just following the market.

Writer: Actually, you're not. You determine the selling price. You're setting the market, not following it. And $9.99 seems high.

Editor: You should just let us worry about that. That's why we're partners. You concentrate on the writing, we'll handle the business end. It's part of the service we provide.

Writer: What exactly is that service, again? I mean, there's no printing or shipping...

Editor: Do you think those are the only costs involved in bringing a book to market? (forced chuckle) You writers are so naive.

Writer: Please. Enlighten me.

Editor: Well, we edit. Books need editing. We also create the cover art. Books, even ebooks, need covers.

Writer: Go on.

Editor: The list is so extensive, I have a hard time remembering it all. There's, um, catalog copy.

Writer: You feature ebooks in catalogs?

Editor: Well, no. But we do a lot of marketing.

Writer: How exactly to you market ebooks?

Editor: Because it's all so new, we're still trying to figure that out. But we just flew the whole office to Seattle to have meetings on how to market ebooks. We were there for two weeks. I think we're making some real headway.

Writer: (under his breath) Maybe you should have a meeting on how to better budget your money.

Editor: That meeting will be in Florida, next month. It's at the Ritz Carlton. We're paying Warren Buffett to be our guest speaker.

Writer: (sighing) Are there any other costs involved in bringing an ebook to market?

Editor: There's advertising.

Writer: You advertise ebooks?

Editor: We're planning to, eventually. Maybe on that Facebook thingy. The kids seem to love it. We also use Twitter.

Writer: Facebook and Twitter are free.

Editor: Facebook ads cost money.

Writer: How many Facebook ads have you personally clicked on?

Editor: None. Those stupid things annoy me.

Writer: So, let's be clear on this. There are no printing costs, shipping costs, or warehousing costs, and you don't do catalogs or advertising or marketing...

Editor: (snapping his fingers as if remembering something) We also format and upload the ebooks to retailers.

Writer: How long does all of that take?

Editor: Excuse me?

Writer: To edit a book and make cover art and format it?

Editor: Well, we could spend two or three weeks working on a single title in order to get it ready.

Writer: Nine months.

Editor: What?

Writer: Nine months, working 60 hour weeks. That's how long it took me to write my novel. That seems a bit longer and more labor-intensive than your three weeks. Yet I'm only getting 17.5% of the price that you set. Do you know what your percentage is?

Editor: Off the top of my head, no.

Writer: You get 52.5%.

Editor: Really? Huh.

Writer: To me, that doesn't seem fair.

Editor: You don't seem to understand that you need us. Without editing or cover art...

Writer: (interrupting) Let's say the ebook sells ten thousand copies. Which, at your inflated price of $9.99, seems unlikely. But let's say it does. That means I earn $17,500...

Editor: A respectable figure...

Writer: ...and you earn $52,500. Even though you only worked on it for three weeks.

Editor: But you gotta admit, we made a terrific cover for it.

Writer: True. But for fifty thousand dollars, I bet I could buy some pretty nice cover art on my own. I bet I could pay a doctor to raise Pablo Picasso from the dead and have him do the cover.

Editor: Don't forget editing.

Writer: How long does it take to edit a manuscript?

Editor: Excuse me?

Writer: In hours. How many are we talking? Ten? Twenty?

Editor: It might go as high as fifty hours, with multiple read-throughs and the line edit.

Writer: How much do editors earn an hour?

Editor: Excuse me?

Writer: Let's say fifty bucks an hour. I think that's high, and I also think your fifty hour estimate is high, but even if we go with both, that's only $2500. And according to the Artist & Graphic Designer's Market, book cover art should cost around $2000.

Editor: Don't forget formatting and uploading.

Writer: I can pay a guy $200 to format and upload the book. In fact, I can also pay a guy $300 to create a cover, and an editor $500 to do both content and copy editing. But you're not charging me $1000, or even $4500. You're taking $52,500. And that number can get even bigger. If I hire my own editor and artist, those costs are fixed. You continue to take your 52.5% forever.

Editor: You don't seem to understand. Do you know how much it costs to rent this office? We're paying $25k a month, and that doesn't even include utilities. I've got three assistants. We all have health insurance and 401k. Expense accounts. Do you have any idea what it costs to take agents out to lunch?

Writer: My agent didn't broker this deal.

Editor: You're missing the point!

(Assistant enters, with coffee)

Assistant: Here's your cappuccino, Editor.

Editor: There's another cost! We paid five grand for this cappuccino machine! How are we supposed to stay in business unless we take 52.5%?

Writer: (standing up) I think we're done here.

Editor: Wait a second! You need us! Without us to validate your work, you'll never be considered legitimate! You'll just be some unknown, satisfied rich guy!

(Writer turns to leave)

Editor: Think about what you're missing out on! When we do cover art, we do it without any kind of focus group, and we don't pay any attention to your wishes! We arbitrarily change your title to something we think is better, without any proof! We take twelve months to release a book after you turn in the manuscript when it would only take you a week! We pay twice a year instead of the monthly check you'd get doing it yourself, and our accounting practices are hard to understand and quite possibly shifty! Also, we'll drop you for no particular reason! You can't turn your back on all that!

(Writer pauses, then turns around)

Writer: Look, it's true that I do need a good editor.

Editor: See! I told you!

(Writer hands Editor his business card)

Writer: When your company goes bankrupt, and you're unemployed, I want you to look me up. Send me a letter. One page, double spaced. List your qualifications for editing my book, and your rates. Also include a SASE. If you don't hear from me in six months, no need for you to follow up--it means I'm not interested...