Theoretical Author-Publisher Coalition Response To Amazon Protest

As noted earlier here today — the Howey-led petition to give Amazon a tongue-bath feels almost creepily overblown. I have lots of criticisms: It’s too long by about 3000 words. It agitates. It takes a while to get to its point. It’s established as a “petition,” which is ostensibly a tool to accomplish something. It feels like a corporation ego stroke, as if right now Amazon is sitting in a bar somewhere, sipping on a bitter cocktail, wondering why nobody likes it. (Meanwhile Hobby Lobby, that bastard, is out living it up! Though without birth control, because Jesus hates IUDs.)

Anyway.

I do not think the petition works.

I think it speaks only to its most cultish base, which is probably not ideal. I don’t think anybody speaking only to their base is particularly interesting or engaging. I prefer, as always, a moderate approach. Point your megaphones to the people who aren’t listening rather than the frothing crowd already behind you.

So, if one wanted to cobble together a more sane and sound response to the Amazon protest letter penned by some industry giants (Patterson, Preston, Patterson — wow, they sound like a legal firm), what would it, or could it, look like?

It’d be short.

It wouldn’t be a petition.

It’d go to media, but also posted on relevant blogs to increase commentary and viral transmission.

It could be co-signed by a lot of self-publisher venerables.

It might read, in fact, like this:

“We respectfully disagree with the Amazon protest letter and believe that Amazon represents one part of a diverse publishing environment. We also feel that Amazon has helped to revolutionize publishing and is working for readers and authors, not in opposition to them. Amazon continues to put books in the hands of readers all around the country — in fact, the world — and has done more good for publishing than bad.

Further, we respectfully call on all publishers to work toward more equitable royalties and deal terms for their author partners. We support authors and want to keep as many avenues for those authors open — and as advantageous — as possible to maintain the health of books and book culture.”

Then, I dunno, you’d write THE END and be happy it was under 500 words. (Actually, I think that’s about 100 words, so huzzah for brevity.) Short and sweet. Still lots one could disagree with, and I’m not putting this out as my letter — rather, I just wanted to demonstrate what a short and moderate response letter could look like. I feel like this is sharp enough, middle-of-the-road enough, and still gets the message across without sounding like it’s time to pass the Flavor-Aid around the Jonestown campfire. It doesn’t demonize anybody, doesn’t throw anybody under the bus, doesn’t elevate anybody to Empyrean pillars. Sounds (theoretically) mature. I mean, if I were really the one writing it, I’d probably throw a couple “fucks” and “poop noises” in there, just to brand it as my own, but whatever. Your mileage can and should vary.

Of course, if you’re really truly confident that self-publishing is the way forward, then I don’t know why you’d need to write this response letter at all. You’d just drive by on your blinged-out jet-skis, throwing up devil-horns and spraying the stodgy old trad-pubbers in their dinghy with a mist of Cristal. Somewhere, the news would report on graffiti seen all over the world:

AUTHOR-PUBLISHERS RULE

TRAD-PUBBERS DROOL

WOOOOOOO

*jet-ski vroom*

(If you’d like another moderate look at it — here, Scalzi puts forth: “Amazon, Hachette, Publishing, Etc. — It’s Not A Football Game, People.”)

55 comments

  • As recently tweeted:

    “I pretty much want to take Patterson AND Howey and smack the shit out of both of them.

    Yeah, I said it. We’re all thinking it.”

    The “open letters”, the “petitions”, coming on one side from multi-millionaire authors who no longer even write their own books, and from the other side from preach-to-the-choir evangelists, perpetuates the bullshit that there are “Sides” to this at all. Knock it off. Don’t make me pull this internet over.

  • I keep hearing “Which Side Are You On, Boys” while I read the protests and petitions and what-not. Neither Amazon nor the trades are downtrodden workers, people.

  • Nice. I am with you here. Amazon has done good things and bad things but a total monopoly by any one company is not good for it or anyone else. Business is not philanthropy it’s about money. If the money dictates that Amazon has to shit on us it will. And when that time comes nothing will stop it, no matter how much lilac scented smoke we blow up its arse .

  • Eh, I’ll play devil’s advocate again because I love being a heel with a mic and a chair and STONE COLD, STONE COLD, STONE COLD!

    The rumblings of cutting more revenue from ebooks is probably what is prompting this in the first place. The drop from 70 cents on the dollar to 35 cents or even less from Amazon is a frightening prospect, even for the best sellers. This is why Amazon has their publishing arm in the first place. You can struggle in the wilds to earn your 10 percent on a sale, or you can come to the official publishing arm and earn more.

    Don’t think it isn’t coming, either. There are quite a few white papers in the wild pointing out that writing is a money losing product because words are cheap. This is why the algorithms punish 99 cent books and gives more credit to the $3.99 and $4.99 books as far as sales and positioning goes.

    In other words, you are seeing the birth of a megalith traditional publisher masquerading as a cutting edge electronic publisher. They will probably force the big five to be the big three after all is said and done, and it will leave poor Billy, Johnny, and Rosie the Pipe Fitter to wonder around their town trying to sell ebooks to their neighbors just like they did in the 19th century.

    These are rattles of people just catching on that the word is dying. It’s free. You word, I word, he words, she words…Well, they don’t word because that’s just naughty…but still…How many people have blogs today? What’s the count on the newspaper blog? How about celeb gossip, sports, horse feeding, and dog grooming? Sheep tickling?

    Everyone and their mother has words. As it is with money, the overproduction of words means they have very little value. When you reduce the words people have, you actually increase their value.

    Thus internet 3.0, with licenses to write, taxes to pay, and so on and so on (also referenced in white papers and politicians using it in their next election campaign, right after the gas / black box tax).

  • Thanks for the moderation, Chuck. If I were one of the innocent bystanders whose career was being at least temporarily vaporized by the conflict, I’d be pissed, too, so I can understand the enmity. But it’s simply a case of profit seeking and business as usual and BUSINESS, with all its cool indifference to things human. The bombs being tossed back and forth aren’t targeted specifically at authors; they’re just caught in the middle and forced to deal with the fallout, poisonous as it is.

  • I’m a longtime small press publisher and my house deals with Amazon constantly in a vendor relationship. I also drop a few outside projects into the KDP program for friends and family. I’m also a former Big 5 author. Amazon been very very good to me. Amazon been very very strange. Amazon is like living in a cage with a gorilla that has taken you under its arm as a pet but occasionally squeezes you until your eyes pop. And you know that it knows it could mash you to a pulp at any moment. And probably will, some day. So you spend a lot of time reading books about gorillas, trying to understand how they think.

    Everyone needs to remember that Bezos picked books as his start-up product, not because he cares about books or what they represent to culture, democracy, the sharing of ideas, etc., but because they fit his purposes re: the best product for building a customer base. And he’s used them ever since as a loss leader to sell other merchandise and build that base. He’s devalued books consistently, letting the company lose money on them to please customers while undercutting trad publishers and booksellers who have no other products to pad their incomes — all as a way to use books as customer bait. Bezos is dedicated to expanding the company’s reach into all global markets and all types of products. The basic takeaway from everything I’ve read about the company’s plans is “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

    The strategy with competitors is to buy them out or find ways to weaken them until they have no choice but to sell. The strategy with publisher/vendors may be based on the same philosophy — I don’t know, I only have personal experience to go by, and it could just be me feeling paranoid, right? But sometimes . . . odd things happen to sales in the months leading up to a contract negotiation. They drop off dramatically. No rhyme or reason. It’s the most bizarre thing. The timing, you know? And then they improve after the new contract is inked. How weird is that? Probably just something to do with the season of the year.

    Still, I feel a tad less trusting than the average author/publisher might.

    When I look at the big picture I see short-term gain for authors and publishers (when Amazon is playing nice) but the long term may be a disaster for all of us. Imagine Amazon with 80-90 percent control of the distribution of ebook and print for both publishers and indie authors; imagine prices set by Amazon with virtually no control from the content creators, and imagine the price of admission into KDP including your book going into the lending, sharing and free audiobook add on programs, with all content available in Amazon’s streaming subscription service or free through Prime. Welcome to the factory-writing world, authors and publishers. I don’t think my dystopian prediction is at all unlikely, given the current juggernaut that exists and the lack of governmental control over corporations. When will Amazon become self-aware and start sending Terminators back to find Sarah Connor? That’s the big question.

  • This. Then follow posting it on the relevant SP advisory blogs by encouraging the use of other tools to get your books to readers, like Smashwords, Payhip (to sell directly to readers), etc…. Use this as an opportunity to remind people who might be considering not shopping at Amazon that you, in your drive to embrace the new avenues in publishing, have diversified widely to be available in as many places as possible. That the Kindle is only one of many ways to get your book. Remind people how buying your title on Kobo via your local indie bookstore supports both self publishing AND indie bookstores.

    Basically, along with saying you value what Amazon’s done for self publishing, add that they’re not the only game in town. Foster a better conversation about the other platforms for self publishing. That’d be an excellent way to use this time to keep the whole environment thriving, AND make sure if (or when) the day comes that Amazon cuts self publishing royalties you’re not stuck with KDP as your only avenue to the market.

  • If you take the petition and add “rejected” in front of the word author, you begin to understand the animus.

    “You probably aren’t aware of this, but the majority of your favorite (rejected) authors can’t make a living off their book sales alone. Very few (rejected) authors could when New York Publishing was in charge. That is changing now that Amazon and other online retailers are paying (rejected) authors a fair wage…”

    It’s easy to paint traditional publishers as the bad guy to people who’ve been told that their baby is ugly.

    • I’m not the biggest fan of the petition. I think that it takes its merry time to get on a jet ski and mosey over yonder shark. But for the record, the people who drafted this were Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, and Barry Eisler. Not exactly what I would call rejected authors.

      It’s also easy to paint traditional publishers as the bad guy when people on the traditional publishing side make denigrating comments like this.

      • Yeah, it’s vital to note that actual published authors do not make a living off of book sales alone, and most have secondary jobs. This has nothing to do with rejection. I mean, I’ll admit that there’s a subset of author-publishers who are very driven by the way the system treated them (which may have been fair to their material or not, I dunno), and they continue to bring that rage against the machine to every blogpost and comment.

        I think that’s why it’s all the more important for folks at the top of the self-publishing game to be less the “pitchfork firebrand” and more the “practiced giver of wisdom.” Sometimes I feel like too many aspire to be the former because it gets attention, when really it’s the latter that actually *helps* people.

        (For the record, I would count you, Courtney, as the latter. Your posts are invaluable to people stepping into that realm.)

        As for the petition — it was just those three drafting it?

        — c.

    • Dear Mr. Ford:

      Inasmuch as I have never been rejected by a traditional publisher, and have no desire to be evaluated by a traditional publisher, and anywise sell enough books to keep me in discretionary funds for my indiscretions, my initial response to this point of argument is as follows:

      Fuck you.

      Strong letter to follow.

      Hugs ‘n Kisses,

      Me

    • They tried that with Apple and Agency Pricing in 2010.

      How well did that work out for them then, and why would a similar effort produce a different result now?

  • Hugh and I drafted it, Eisler had a pass, some other authors took a look before it went live.

    Your response is certainly brief, Chuck, but it isn’t substantive. The Preston letter, and the media, have been making false accusations and painting Amazon as the bad guy. Amazon is not the bad guy in this instance. But just stating that opinion is meaningless, unless we explain the situation in detail, and explain what Hachette and Amazon are actually trying to accomplish.

    Originally we wanted to keep it under 500 words. But, as the saying goes, we didn’t have enough time to make it shorter. We wanted to release it as a quick response to Preston’s letter (which he’d reportedly been working on it for weeks) so we did what we could in the few hours we had. That way, when the media covered his letter, we would hopefully get it to cover ours as well. And that’s what seems to be happening.

    Making it a petition wasn’t just to acquire signatures. It was to allow testimonials. Some of them are quite poignant.

    But here’s the thing: we did something. You didn’t. You simply complained you didn’t like what we did.

    I just fisked your last post. It was fun. :)

      • I am curious to hear how exactly you think they could go about reducing their 2400 word petition by 3000 words, as you suggest in your posts. I love the idea of a piece of writing with “minus” 600 words. It could be a great way to reduce the information overload caused by the internet.

    • I’m not an editor, I’m a writer. Besides, I don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze.

      (Edit: realized this is a comment on second post, not first; removed link to this post.)

      — c.

  • Here’s what I’m after (and both people who read my blog know): Better contracts for writers. Better pay for writers. Lower prices and no DRM for readers.

    I’m not against trad-published authors. Our open letter is in support of them. There are self-published authors who think I’m crazy for fighting for them, that I should let the e-book prices go up and continue to sell my books.

    Chuck, I give up a lot of money every month not to work with people who are treating authors poorly. I do this in private, and I don’t take credit or care to. I’ve already seen some progress because of these efforts. Everyone who knows me, even friends like Mike Shatzkin who disagrees with me on most things, know that I’m sincere in fighting for authors’ rights.

    I have turned down 6-figure deals with Big 5 publishers to pressure them into offering better contracts for all authors. I have turned down 7-figure deals with Big 5 publishers to pressure them into offering better contracts for all authors. Some of the good things that have happened for thousands of authors are completely because of my being an agitating prick to CEOs of corporations who were offering me a lot of merchandising power, and I told them to screw off and make changes that affected authors. I don’t embarrass these companies in public, because I want to continue working with them to improve conditions.

    I spent six figures in travel last year, not once promoting a single thing I’ve written, never asking anyone to buy my stuff at any convention or conference, and turning down speaking fees (big speaking fees) because I don’t want to be anyone’s shill and I don’t want to be paid for what I’m doing.

    In one case, I turned down 7-figures just to maintain a relationship with a Big 5 publisher. I had a digital-only deal, the first of its kind, but an existing publisher was uncomfortable with the precedent it would set for them. There was nothing in any contract saying I couldn’t take the money. It was right there. Free. I declined. I’m not so rich that this was small change, but it was an easy decision, because it was the right thing to do.

    I hope I don’t ever have to say this stuff again, anywhere, ever. Because I don’t like talking about myself. I like talking about writers and readers. When I started getting calls for interviews, I did everything I could to deflect to the real story, which is the unknown writers who are having success. When CBS cornered me at BEA to do a story on me, I pointed to a couple who saved their house and their family with self-publishing and told them the real story was right there. Every single day, I fight for all authors. Every single day. I spend more than half the year on the road doing this. Meeting with the top people at publishing houses and distributors, advocating. Advocating.

    The one time an author overhead me having one of these discussions with a major outfit, they came up to me afterward and said shit that made me bawl in the middle of a convention floor. They heard me turn down an exemption to a nasty clause, and my response was that I wouldn’t sign until every author had the exemption. They were offering me a lot of money, Chuck. I said no. You will probably benefit from this one day, and you won’t even know it. I don’t want any credit, either. I hope I never have to say this stuff again. I hate every word of it.

    But you seem really curious what I’m motivated by. You and I have sat together and broken break. We have had beers. We have been in stinky, crowded elevators together. We have exchanged emails. I hope you know enough about me to know that I’m being sincere with all of this. Do I sound kooky? Absolutely. Who else emails a guy whose writing he admires after that author drew heat on him and asks him out to dinner? Who cherishes what feels like at least a small friendship? So I really want you to believe me when I say that this is what I stand for: All authors. All readers. And the companies that get in the way of us can go to hell. Those who fight for us will earn my temporary respect.

    That’s what I’m trying to do. I make mistakes. I’m wrong at times. I try to learn. But my intentions are to make a difference and be a voice for those who aren’t being heard. Naive. Kooky. Weird. Yup.

    • I just wish you would focus some of that championing on helping with the problems with Amazon too. Like how they crippled free pricing and fast price changes to push Select, Or their refusal to add an Adult filter, instead choosing to tank books’ visibility for adult content.

      Why not advocate for all the other sales channels out there, or against the ‘you must have X reviews to advertise’ systems of Bookbub and similar promotion sites? Not only would that help a lot, but it’d be relatively easier for you to do than deflecting giant wads of money being thrown at you.

      • I give Amazon hell. I’ll take into consideration your idea that doing this in public would be more useful than doing it in private. You might be right. But my limited experience with this is that I’ve had far more success in a short amount of time by valuing my friendships with people at Kobo, Google, the iBookstore, and Amazon and working to make things better by not outing them with public negotiations or by embarrassing them when we do make progress. It hasn’t seemed to me that either action would serve any purpose.

        I took the same approach with publishers. Nobody sees the year that my agent and I spent in negotiations with the major New York publishers. The deals we turned down, the deals we fought for. We had their ear, their friendship, their respect, and we fought for change quietly while honoring the process. We thought we did some good, set some precedents.

        Publishers pulled back. I’m fairly certain (I have it on good authority from an inside source, who was so disgusted that he/she left the publisher) that the CEOs got together, discussed this precedent, and circled the wagons. Suddenly, even though I hadn’t campaigned against them in public, we were persona non grata.

        What were my options then? To continue to share my opinions to authors on my blog and elsewhere on their options and on what contract clauses I thought needed to be changed. We don’t have a functional writers’ guild, not like Hollywood does, so we are effectively powerless to get these changes. The wealthiest authors are out fighting to preserve the status quo, where beginning authors don’t get a chance to hone their craft or launch their careers. There is no voice. If we could draw up a platform, I think many of us would agree that:

        1) Authors deserve higher royalties, both on e-books and print book. And retail chains and publishers should increase efficiencies or decrease spending to help make this happen. (There are other ways, such as creating paying signing circuits that allow debuting authors to tour with bigger name authors, same as musicians having opening acts, to increase awareness and create “signed book” bonuses [which authors should get]).

        2) Term of copyright should be limited to a finite number of years in this day of e-books and print-on-demand. Life plus 70 years is onerous. The reason we don’t have a voice is because authors like Stephen King already get this deal. So why advocate? Hell, I already have this deal with a NY publisher. If I was corrupt, I’d buddy up to them, get more deals, and count my money.

        3) A rejection of DRM and an end to the wasteful fight against piracy. There are mixed studies, but more show no effect from piracy and some show increased sales due to piracy. DRM is just dumb and should be abolished immediately. It takes a few clicks for the crooks to crack and it makes life harder on readers.

        4) Authors should have some say on the price of their product in the negotiation of publishing contracts. I’ve had some success in this area. We need more fighters. A $9.99 cap from authors is a service to their readers; it increases the pool of reading; it allows each reader to buy more books; and it leads to better reviews and word of mouth.

        5) High discount royalty clauses should be abolished. These are pernicious, and they are getting worse. A higher percentage of books are being sold through big-box discounters like Costco, and they pay a miserly royalty compared to the regular royalty more prominently discussed in the publishing contract. Authors aren’t earning out contracts, and publishers are manipulating this. My agent and I have made some progress here, but not as much as I would like. We need fighters. We need author unity. We need a voice on this.

        6) Joint accounting. Too complex to explain here, but another really nasty habit that’s on the rise.

        7) Most favored nation clauses. Same as with #6. Nasty. I can discuss more if you suffer from insomnia.

        8) More print-only deals. The negotiation of separate rights, instead of an all-grab.

        So, those are things I’m public about. Why? Because all 5 major publishers do these things in lockstep. And they have agreed to hold these lines. They gobble up successful publishers who do things differently and create imprints out of them. They have been busted for colluding once, but it’s a well-known industry fact that they used to meet once a week to discuss business, and to think they don’t still talk and exchange notes with a long history of doing so, and with the visible evidence of identical contract terms and conditions, is trying really hard to see what one wants to see.

        The things I’m fighting for won’t please everyone. I will continue to fight with my publishing partners to improve. Hell, I took a very big risk with my authorearnings project. My partner still hasn’t outed himself for fear of Amazon reprisals. We “stole” (I like to think of it as borrowing) data from a company that loathes sharing data and made it public in a very big way. Amazon could have delisted my books or come down on my hard. I didn’t care. I no longer need to earn money. Not because I’m filthy rich, but because my costs of living are practically zilch (I would have to stop traveling and start advocating in my underwear, at home).

        So I’ve risked ultimate wrath from Amazon. I’ve put my earnings on the line. And since Chuck’s blog feels like therapy all of a sudden, I’ll admit to something pretty nasty (my hope is people stopped reading a long-damn-time ago): I do these things for selfish reasons. I admit that. I do it because it feels fucking awesome. Better than earning more money. Maybe it’s a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs thing, but going to sleep at night after trying to make a difference feels different than going to sleep worrying about your bank account. I realized once, decades ago when I was in high school, that the reason I held doors for strangers was for me, not for them. That made me feel icky. Like I was lying to myself and putting on a dishonest show in public. I was doing something nice just to make myself feel better about myself. Making someone else’s life better was a secondary and lesser urge.

        Or so I thought. I later realized that doing something good because it feels good might be the best reason to carry on doing them. Being good because of fear of reprisal (angry God) isn’t that noble. Being good because of hope for reward (giving God) is obviously not that great. Being good for the sake of goodness is the best, and expecting that to not *feel good* as well is nigh well impossible.

        So maybe I’m being a selfish prick. Hard to know. Still pondering these things.

        • this was amazing, Hugh… thank you for this. For all of it.

          and I think this story you’ve shared (which I know you hate) is something that you should also share on your own blog…

      • Wow. Really? I almost have no words…
        It’s like, thank you for saving me from being shot by that mugger but why didn’t you chase him down and get my purse back, too?

    • I think all of this is great. I do. And I genuinely appreciate that you’ve done these things and taken these stances. Do I think you’re sincere? If it’s important to you what I think, sure. I do.

      The problem, for me, is that your rhetoric doesn’t always appear to line up with these actions. In my estimation, and maybe I’m wrong, your rhetoric is often far too one-sided. I don’t mean one-sided in favor of self-publishing — I understand that, even if I don’t universally agree. I mean, one-sided in what appears to be unmitigated, unabashed appreciation for (or rather, adoration of) Amazon. It demands that we all acknowledge any abuses on the traditional side, but seems to casually let the eye drift over those by Amazon. And this is particularly true in the petition, which doesn’t just go in for the Amazon boycott being a bad idea (I don’t support the boycott, as I’ve noted, nor do I support framing Amazon as some mustache-twirling evil empire), but seems to emit an almost cult-like fragrance in favor of not authors, not readers (as it claims), but: a company. A company who done great things and done… some not-so-great things, and it refuses to acknowledge those not-so-great things in order to support your argument. It aims to paint a singular Amazon-colored vision of the self-publishing future, and that’s where it starts to sound like a compromised message. I recognize your sincerity, but I want you to understand that, reading that petition, the above comment does not seem to exist in the same universe as that.

      As always, though: YMMV, IMHO, etc.. I tend to seek the middle-of-the-road in a lot of things, because usually for me the truth is frequently hot-wheeling it down the center line on a unicycle while the rest of the world digs on each side of the road, yelling at one another. I’d like to see more “middle,” I guess.

      — c.

      • The open letter focused on Amazon because the letter it was meant to balance out focused on Amazon.

        If it comes across a little too adoring, maybe that’s because we’re trying to counter the “Amazon is evil and Jeff Bezos is Satan” rhetoric. It could very well be that we are overstating our case to balance out what is obviously, to me, an overstated case on the other side.

        If you wanted to show fairness, maybe you would attack their letter the way you attacked ours? Because it’s full of demonstrably untrue claims. It says it isn’t taking sides, and then it asks people to email Jeff Bezos and give in to whatever Hachette is demanding. There is no call for moderation directed toward Hachette. Instead, you’ve got loaded words like “banning books” which simply isn’t true.

        I don’t see all of your blog posts, so maybe there are some that tear down people like Steven Zacharius when he calls for a self-publishing ghetto. And maybe you’ve called people to task for calling self-published authors third class cattle. If not, maybe we should agree that neither of us are as middle-of-the-road as we like to think we are. I mean, everyone thinks they are a moderate and claims to be a moderate, but that’s because of our monkey brains, our selection of friends, and our biases.

        It could be that you dislike Amazon a lot more than I do, and that makes appreciation look like adoration and compliments look like fawning. Or it could be that you have the sounder perspective, and I’m a deluded twit. Maybe Amazon will reduce my royalties to 50% one day, and I’ll see the light. :)

        • I’ve been nothing but middle of the road. And it’s disingenuous to suggest I dislike Amazon, given my repeated statements to the opposite.

          I don’t attack everything that comes down the pike because I’m often not aware of it or because I’m not a chronomancer possessing of INFINITE TIME. (I probably wouldn’t even be writing these comments if I hadn’t just finished a book this week. A book I finished for my publisher: Skyscape. Who is owned by Amazon.)

          As for the Preston letter, I made it clear I don’t support their protest letter, either. It attempts to stir response based on specious claims (“boycotting books”). All told, I don’t feel particularly cozy toward the battle of two giant robots stomping on all the authors scrabbling beneath their feet. I support the authors, plain and simple. Which is why I suggest that the authors’ books are still available elsewhere sooooo, go buy them there. I don’t like Amazon’s corporate behavior, but I frequently don’t like the corporate behavior of some big publishers. And small publishers. That’s life in the big city. Scalzi nails in it his post: this isn’t a football game where you have to wave pennants around.

          I will give the Preston letter two points over the petition: first, it’s shorter (~500 words) and more effective in its presentation; second, it actually has a call to action attached to it, which is to say, if customers and readers agree, they should contact Amazon with their opinions. The Amazon love-petition would’ve been far better written as a shorter, edited letter that had a call to action attached — say, contact Hachette and say that you want them to treat their authors better, or you want them to give everyone a pony or… Something? Anything. I sympathize with the *aim* of the pro-Amazon letter (as a counter to the Preston protest), but found its execution incredibly sloppy — and, in many ways, slobbery. It reads like a dog noisily licking its master’s boot.

          Obviously, you don’t feel that way, and you stand by it, so more power to you. It’s earned you support from your base in much the same way that any political or religious screed will earn you support from the choir that already sings your song. If that was your intention, hey, goal scored.

          — c.

      • I will say that I read and then re-read the petition, and I still do not get your point that it sounds cult-like in its appreciation for Amazon. Can you give us an example of something the petition says that is not true, or that exaggerates the good things about Amazon? Where specifically does the petition veer off into a distorted appreciation of Amazon?

        And I still think your earlier statements that the petition does not thank readers and that it does thank Amazon are bizarrely inaccurate.

  • I’ll admit, it makes me uncomfortable to see two people (three or four, sort of, if we include Hugh Howey and the other writers) that I respect in this kind of a wrangle. But it just goes to show ya that there’s a lot of ways to look at this. You both have great points.
    I signed the petition, and posted it in my writers group to sign, because I wanted to make the point that Amazon wasn’t the sole bad guy here. As it happens, I have diversified across the e-reader, print and audio worlds.
    We do want all vendors and publishers to pay authors equitably, and to keep the price of e-books affordable for readers.

  • Hugh’s got a lot more class than I do, and he’s certainly nicer with his approach. That said, we have similar goals. We want to help writers.

    Hugh may consider that selfish. With me, it’s a character defect. I don’t like bullies. I don’t like people with platforms spouting nonsense. I don’t like someone telling writers what to do when they are wrong and potentially harmful.

    Shatzkin has a pet peeve about long responses. That’s a shame, because sometimes to explain a deep issue, you need more than 500 words. As with our letter. A blanket statement of “it could be shorter” isn’t helpful. What should have been cut? And if you don’t want to take the time to explain that, why take the time to blog about it, twice int he same day?

    No call to action? Really? Read the testimonials. That’s the call to action. Showing people what the actual dispute is about, and giving them a forum to share their feelings. Because until our petition, the media coverage was decidedly lopsided.

    Like Hugh, I’ve worked hard to inform writers, and to improve the state of the industry. I was one of the first legacy authors to self-pub their unsold novels. I was the first to share my self-pub sales figures. The first to turn down a legacy deal. The first to buy out my contracts and self pub. The first legacy author to sign a pub deal with Amazon. The first to get my rights back and then self pub. I’ve shared all of this with writers, step by step, to show them there is an alternative to legacy. And then I’ve spent a lot of time explaining, over and over, what legacy publishers are doing wrong with ebooks. I’ve shown how contracts are unconscionable. I was the first to explain what was so bad about agency pricing. I sent over a hundred pages of explanations to the DOJ to enter into evidence. I’ve ridiculed the AAR, AG, and many big name authors because they are worthy of ridicule, and I backed up my points with data and supportable logic. And, like Hugh, I’ve done things you don’t even know about that you’ve benefited from, mostly through dialogs with Amazon, who actually does listen, and actually does change when things are brought to their attention. The latest nonsense in publishing is the way the Amazon/Hachette dispute is playing out in the media.

    I do all of this because I care. Not for fame (I don’t do appearances or interviews anymore). Not for money. Not for thanks–I stopped counting thank you emails when I passed 10,000.

    You have a platform here, Chuck, with readers who listen to you. Hugh and I wrote that letter because we care, with a specific goal that we attained, and you lazily dismissed it, going for lulz instead of drawing attention to an issue that concerns all writers, you included.

    That’s your prerogative. Your house, your rules. You can criticize without offering solutions, make statements without supporting them, and shut down when you don’t want to discuss it anymore.

    My prerogative is to fisk writers who do that sort of thing, because I find it harmful, as well as self-indulgent and lazy. Maybe, with therapy and a support group, I can overcome that character defect, and someday be as nice as Hugh.

    But I doubt that will ever happen.

    • “I don’t like bullies.”

      At least I know you appreciate irony.

      Truth is, I like Hugh, even when I don’t agree with him point-by-point. I think he’s often doing good, or trying to, at least. I find his debate to be generally respectful.

      I think that used to be you, too. But those days are long gone. And as such, I’ve stopped listening to you. Nor is any response of mine going to reach you in a meaningful way.

      So — good luck in your space. I’ll be over here in mine.

      — c.

  • Joe, I saw where Chuck admits he never even read your fisking. It is hard to imagine how someone with a large online presence has not yet formed a thick enough skin to tolerate the kind of stuff you say in your blog. Like a strong topical antiseptic, tough words sting for a while but are actually good for you if they get you to deeply question your own thoughts and actions.

  • I am not a big fan of petitions and I don’t think, in the long run, they have much impact. But I do understand the need to counteract, what has been the one sided coverage that the Amazon/Hachette has been getting in the press.

    Whether the petition was too long or too fawning can be argued all day but they have succeeded in alerting the media and making the coverage a little more balanced. I have seen at least two online stories including this one

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/07/03/authors-weigh-in-on-amazon-hachette-dispute/

    that at least mentions that there is an opposing viewpoint to the Amazon is evil stance that Preston’s letter puts out there,

    • Thanks, Tom. There have been at least 5 stories about this, and both present it as a debate with two sides. We had from 9pm until 9am to make that happen. The other side had over a week. Our execution was absolutely sloppier than theirs, but the support for our statement has been overwhelmingly more positive.

      We consider what we did on short notice, with a massive effort from a dozen or so people, to have been a success. If we had the same time, the same influence with the media, and the same name recognition, it could have been even better. Hell, after seeing Chuck’s mastery of brevity, I’m thinking how well this could have gone if we had him involved.

      • “Hell, after seeing Chuck’s mastery of brevity, I’m thinking how well this could have gone if we had him involved.”

        SEE. NEXT TIME, CALL ME.

        *makes obnoxious ringy-dingy gesture with thumb, fist, and pinky finger*

        I mean, you probably won’t, which I understand, but PHONE LINES ARE OPEN.

        — c.

  • Hobby Lobby may in deep doo-doo. Seems that whole made in China syndrome is not playing out so well with some of its supporters, plus they could be losing some business from Mainstream America for their contraception stance.

  • July 5, 2014 at 1:06 PM // Reply

    It’s truly unfortunate when self-publishers start going after one another. It’s unfortunate that there’s only one way to do things for many people. It’s unfortunate that anyone who wants to try something different, or even advocates someone else try, is immediately jumped upon.

    When did the split in self-publishing begin? I guess the same time the Hachette/Amazon dispute began.

    Oh how I wish the successful authors would offer tips on how to become successful instead of just falling all over themselves on how much they’ve accomplished and how right their route was.

  • As has been so eloquently stated by Hugh and others, the petition wasn’t about stroking Amazon. It was about education.

    I attended a local writers’ conference a couple of weekends ago and I was shocked at the ignorance so many of the attendees showed about the business end of what we do. Like it or not, if your goal is to someday make a living, either partially or entirely, from writing, you’d better make yourself aware of how the business side of it works.

    So much misdirection, misinformation, and outright lies have been tossed onto the Internet by people and organizations budding writers inherently feel they should trust — like the Authors’ Guild, literary agents, and big name authors like Patterson, Turrow, et al — that it’s become incredibly difficult for them to make reasonable, informed decisions about how to approach their choice of careers. Add in all of the options writers have today that didn’t exist ten years ago, along with all the scam artists out there, and finding a path that works for you can feel like a journey through the Labyrinth.

    Readers too, should have an opportunity to understand why some ebooks are priced so high and some so low. And, if they’re interested, what the fight between Amazon and Hachette is about — as much as we can know at any rate.

    Amazon is neither saint, nor devil. It is a business. So are Hachette and the other major publishers. The problem has arisen because the business model that the Big 5 have used for so long is showing its age with the advent of ebooks and print-on-demand. Instead of attempting to adapt, they have chosen to stick to their guns and fight to keep their status quo, which they have every right to do. I, and many others, feel there are better paths to follow and it’s important to shine light there for people to see.

    • I completely agree that writers are best to educate themselves on the business side of things. My personal opinion is that neither letter/petition/protest did that (nor was that, I suspect, their intent). I think it’s good for writers to know all angles of the business, and that comes from all angles and all sides. — c.

  • Let’s be honest, most of us simply act from whatever position most benefits us. I didn’t have any success at all until becoming self-published. My money is made through Amazon and B&N and Kobo, and all through my own independent stuff. Enough money that I am comfortably writing full-time for the last three years.

    I only care about this as much as I want to see my livelihood and way of life continue.

    Clearly, Stephen King and James Patterson et al. come from the other perspective. Is it any surprise they are fighting for what helps them most?

    I do respect Hugh, one of the few people who seem to have their pick of the lifestyles, and has chosen to forge a tougher route in order to do what he feels is best for the most people. Most of us, however, are not like Hugh.

  • I love the idea of a guild, like the WGAw/e.

    But in order to make that happen, writers have to take down their work en masse in order to enact change. The traddies don’t have the power to do that, and the indies simply can’t snap food from their kid’s mouths.

    Until then, I will look to guys like Hugh and Joe to work with Amazon to effect change, and well….I don’t know who can do shit with the Big 5. I guess those authors will have to self-pub if they don’t like their contracts.

    Don’t see it happening.

  • Oh, geez, see, something like this WOULD HAVE MADE SENSE. (I probably still wouldn’t have supported it myself, but it would have struck me as, “Okay, I get that, and that’s a useful perspective for the debate that I’m glad is out there” rather than “what are these people ooooooooonnnnn.”) The advantages to Chuck’s hypothetical letter, for me:

    1) It frames itself as being in direct response to Preston’s, and thus sounds far less bizarre. Context is a useful thing.

    2) It responds to Preston’s letter without stooping to the same depths or below (alleged depths, as I haven’t read Preston’s letter, but so I’ve been told).

    3) It’s, for God’s sake, COHERENT. And though brevity may not be required for coherence, it sure as hell helps.

    4) It shows self-publishers as being measured, thoughtful, and capable of nuanced opinion.

    After reading the comments here and elsewhere, I get that the authors of the petition were trying to put out a quick response, no matter how sloppy, in an “anything is better than nothing” kind of approach. But I’ve seen a lot of more moderate readers and writers come out of this not wanting to hear the name of any of the writers of *either* letter again. How is that helpful?

    Seriously, guys, next time take one more night and call Chuck.

  • For what it’s worth, I did read that fisking. I didn’t know what fisking was, so the crash course education was nice. In the end, though, it really just seems like Mr. Konrath can’t abide the fact that someone on the internet doesn’t agree with him. Rather than actually making any sensible, reasoned arguments about the response that’s listed here, he makes a series of smarmy, knee-jerk comments about Chuck’s opinions. That doesn’t seem to be a terribly effective “fisk.” (Am I verb-ing that correctly?)

    Given that all of Mr. Konrath’s responses here show the very same condescending butthurt, I guess I can’t blame someone for not reading the “fisk.” (I’m getting tired of that word already.) As Chuck says, if there’s no meaningful conversation to be had, why bother?

    Now, on the other hand, had Mr. Konrath come here with something other than the aforementioned condescension and hurt butt, I’m sure he’d have a willing audience. You’ll notice that most people here were perfectly content to listen to what Mr. Howey had to say. Even disagreements can be productive, as many of them in this thread were today. Aside from Mr. Konrath’s, which were really just an irrational response to a respectful disagreement.

    Listening. Exchanging ideas, rather than focusing on butthurt. It can work. Most of us agree on the fundamental fact that authors deserve better treatment, even if we disagree with the presentation of the petition.

    All this toe-licking and side-picking is just sad.

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