by Robert J. Sawyer
I was the only author invited to give a solo talk at this year’s Canadian Book Summit, which had the theme of “Hot New Models” — the implicit assumption being that new technologies and ways of doing business, such as ebooks and print-on-demand, were going to be the salvation of traditional publishing.
My talk was widely regarded as the most controversial of the day: I started by recounting how, a few months ago, I’d had fellow science-fiction writers Robert Charles Wilson and James Alan Gardner over for pizza; at that dinner, I’d told Bob and Jim that I feared there was only a decade left in which anyone could make a comfortable living writing science-fiction novels, and urged them to plan their careers and finances accordingly.
My talk at the Canadian Book Summit was given only a week ago, but in the interim I’ve had much cause to reflect on one of the core conceits behind the notion of “hot new models,” namely that authors will find some way other than royalties from books actually sold to make their livings, and that these opportunities will abound.
(At the conference, many people cited the band model now prevalent for successful acts in the music industry: give away your music and make money off of live performances and T-shirts. I debunked that at the event by pointing out that the venue we happened to be in — Harbourfront Centre in Toronto — is home to the the International Festival of Authors, the world’s best, most-prestigious literary festival, a festival which, if you’re lucky, you get invited to every four or five years, and that this top-of-the-line opportunity to perform in front of an audience pays around $300, and might, with real luck, sell 50 hardcovers, of which the author’s share of royalties might be another $150.)