Prepping For The Publishing Doomsday

I am a fan of the show Doomsday Preppers.

If you’re not familiar, each episode offers segments that take a look at one or several “preppers” — people who are convinced that the world is on the cusp of destruction — in order to explain what they fear and what they’re doing to countermand the coming apocalypse. Each prepper has his own crazy-flavored vision of how the world is going to end: some fear economic collapse, others solar flares or EMPs or polar shifts or nuclear attack or mutant zombie hillbillies or whatever. The list goes on and on and on.

Some preppers are smart. Some are stupid. Many are fucking nuts.

It’s a fascinating show. You see people hoarding water, building compounds in the middle of nowhere, spending butt-tons of money on subterranean shelters, and damn near all of them are stockpiling guns.

But watching every episode, I’m struck by the thought: “These people are wasting their lives.” I mean that literally — they’re expending a great deal of time, effort and money to thwart a dreaded outcome whose likelihood is… ehhh, ennhh, y’know, not really all that likely. It’s one thing to prep a little bit — “Oh, if an emergency happens, we’ve got some supplies and a strategy.” But a little prep ain’t getting your ass on that show. These people are building armored bug-out buses. They’re running their kids through weekly panic drills. They’re spending hours a day in Ghillie suits, hiding in spider holes they build in their own backyard.

They’ve imagined the worst case scenario and they’re clinging to it like a tick.

So. Speaking of doomsdays…

Let’s talk about publishing!

Publishing pinballs drunkenly between the bumpers of optimism and the flippers of holy fucking shit-hell the meteors are coming fairly regularly. The Internet is good for this: we get to see every moment as it happens and we have zero time to process it. All our processing is done out-loud, together, and mass hysteria runs rampant. Every shadow that passes over our prairie dog heads seems like a hungry hawk when it might be nothing more than a harmless vulture or a passenger plane. Or, y’know, Underdog.

The most recent publishing news is, of course, that Amazon is being given a leg-up by the Department of Justice as the DoJ sues Apple and several big publishers for collusion.

(Sidenote: educate yourself about Amazon’s e-book strategy with this blog post from Charlie Stross.)

Once again the cries of panic have risen over the walls of our digital city. A big shadow is passing over our heads. Publishers and bookstores are in danger. Amazon is a mecha-robot stomping toward Bethlehem.

And writers feel lost. Worried. Bookstores are exploding like a landmine gophers! Books are on fire! Publishers are throwing writers out of windows! An army of self-publishers is marching on New York!

So you turn to me. Your drunken, pantsless Sherpa. Waiting at the top of Mount Penmonkey, stroking my beard seductively at you. *stroke stroke stroke* *comb comb comb*

Okay, you don’t really turn to me so much as I kidnap you in a van and yell at you as we barrel toward the liquor store at increasingly troubling speeds, but whatever. Just the same, let me tell you what to do:

Nothing.

Calm down.

Breathe easy.

In. Out. In. Out.

Maybe have a drink. Take a walk. Sip some oolong tea.

Then, when you’ve relaxed: keep writing.

Stay the course.

Let the squirmy anxiety-ferret you’re holding go. Free him. You don’t need him. He’s bitey.

Put all this bullshit out of your mind.

Stories aren’t going anywhere. Books still exist, both inside Kindles and on meatspace shelves. If a major publisher goes down in flames, a smaller publisher will wink, shake its hips, and step up to the plate. If a major bookstore chain shits the bed, indies will fill the gap, or another chain will rise. If libraries suck the pipe — well, that’s bad for a community and not good for books, but you, little Wordomancer, Inkslinger, Storyspinner, can’t do shit about that. You can’t control any of this. You can, however, control your output. And there exists an audience for your stories. Which is the key, isn’t it?

What, you’re worried about Amazon? Amazon Schmamazon. It’s done no favors to the publishing industry (or the government, given their lack of paying sales tax), but it’s done a lot of favors for overall reading habits. They’re an imperfect juggernaut of a company. You’re free to distrust them (I certainly cast them a wary gaze), but to reiterate: you don’t control them. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. And if things start to suck for writers, other solutions will slide into the gaps — new competitors, new services, or authors who sell their work DRM-free and direct to the readers.

People always want stories.

Book sales — e-books in particular — are up.

Authors have more options now than they had ten years ago.

The Internet is a disruptive-yet-equalizing force that even Amazon cannot fight.

Should you educate yourself? Sure. Should you be aware of your options? Absolutely. Read. Talk about it. Express frustration. But don’t let it get in the way of doing what you do.

Don’t let it get in the way of your stories.

Because all the publishing woes — or publishing successes — mean a soggy sack of dicks if you don’t have a finished story to bring to the party. So keep writing. Keep telling stories. Eye on the prize, Eye-of-the-Tiger.