The Author’s Guild…The Gatekeepers Gatekeeper

If you’re a writer, you fall into the niche of being the “talent”…you join the ranks along with actors or singers, comedians and musicians and now even reality television stars.  You use your gift to entertain the public.  You’re not in the background–although writing is more solitary work than performance art– you’re in the forefront.

In most talent driven industries, there is such a thing know as a guild.  A guild is basically an association that offers benefits to those who do what they do in the name of entertainment, it’s similar to a union for carpenters or ironworks.  Believe me when I say…guilds are everywhere and the perks are as deep as they wide.  The word itself evokes connection to the well know “screen actors guild”–which is one of the big award shows.

When I worked as a makeup artist I belonged to one, although it was called a “union” it essentially worked the same way.  The membership earned me lower insurance premiums, guaranteed wages for work and the chance to be part of “union only” jobs.  Naturally, I had to reach certain levels to meet the threshold of eligibility–to join in the fun…but, as a freelancer, I was able to earn my place in my past professions esteemed society.  I was able to write a small cheque annually and be ranked and counted.  Doors opened simply because I was a member.

Did you know there was an Author’s Guild?  An organization that allows it members–authors–free legal reviews of contracts, insurance discounts, website building, e-mail and domain name registration.  Oh, it also helps authors get on literary panels to discuss the inner working of publishing.

Yes, my friends, it’s all that…to the tune meager of $90.00 a year in dues.

But wait…before you rush off to sign up, there is something you should know….if you’re an Indie Author, you needn’t apply–they don’t want you there.  We, the unsigned masses, are outcasts of the inner circle.

The Author’s Guild is a subjective, members only club of traditionally published authors.  And, wait, it gets better– even if you’re traditionally published by a small house, there is a solid chance you’ll be turned away at the door.  Only small presses with national coverage are allowed into the inner sanctum of this guild.

NOT FAIR…you’re probably screaming at me through the computer.  I WROTE A BOOK–I AM AN AUTHOR!!!  Believe me folks, I’m right there with you, I know you’re an author, and I believe you’re entitled to same perks as anyone else in this profession.  But the fact is, in the eyes of some being an “author” means something totally different.  It’s not simply a matter of writing a book…you need far more than just that.

Writer and president of the Authors Guild, Scott Turow, recently did an interview with a local online periodical in Chicago, The Oak Park-River Forest IL Patch, that caught my attention.  It was toting the unfairness of Amazon, the way the business is “cheating” by becoming a publisher as well as a marketplace with it’s huge draw of readers.  Going so far as to likening the company we adore to villainous Darth Vader.

Scott did the interview at Brothers K Coffeehouse, a small indie joint (can you all but hear the sarcasm and irony dripping from my tone?) on the shores of Lake Michigan in my old stopping grounds, Evanston Illinois.  Yes, I lived there…and yes, I’d had my fair share of “The Count of Monte Crisco” lattes in my day.

Mr. Turow’s interview can be found here

But the cliff notes read like this:

Amazon is the equivalent of Darth Vader in the mind of Mr. Turow.  Amazon stands to break the hull of the ancient ship known as Traditional Publishing with its conglomerate publisher meets seller moniker.  Amazon is working with an unfair advantage, and is essentially on the cusp of becoming a full-blown monopoly, the likes of which are illegal.  With it’s vertical integration (described as management control) Amazon’s move of  becoming  not only the seller but also the publisher is an unwelcome, ill received, dirty move in the eyes of some.

To that…I laugh.

Nothing about Turow’s stance on Amazon makes sense to me–and I like to believe I’m a very sensible person.

Every book publisher, for as long as the internet has stood to host their individual sites, has had a shopping cart neatly posted in the corner of their respective page–encouraging visitors to browse and buy directly, essentially cutting out the middle man from the sale of their books.  Is that really, really, really all that different from the platform Amazon operates on?  I…don’t…think…so.

If you doubt me, I encourage you to visit Random House or Harper Collins or Hachette Book Group or MacMillan or Penguin Group or Simon and Schuster … they all offer a direct buy option for the book they publish.   Touche, Mr. Turow.

But, perhaps the greatest inconsistency I noted was one he never even mentioned.  One that probably wouldn’t have come up in an interview like the one he hosted.  One that is glaring and bright to my eyes…

If Mr. Turow truly stands on the side of lawful, righteous business practices…why is he the president of an organization that neglects to include thousands–if not multiple thousands–of authors?

An author is described as someone who writes books for a living.  Well, isn’t that what we do?  Maybe not full time–maybe we just wish it was full time–but if we write books, even in the wee hours of dawn or dusk–we are still authors.  And that little guild he presides over should be an inclusive place, no matter who does or does not publish our books.

P.S: You can buy Scott Turow’s books at …if you’re interested 🙂