Publishing Is Not A Religious War

Dave presses his eye against the scope.

He sweats and squints. “Which one is which, again?”

Harry, behind him, squats down on a rock and peers through the binoculars. “The fat one — one that looks like a bean bag chair that grew pipecleaner legs and started tottering around, that’s Simon. The skinny one, tall and lean as a Virginia Slim cigarette, well, that’s Schuster.”

Deep breath. In, out. In, out.

Dave suddenly pulls away from the scope. “I dunno if I can do this, Harry.”

“Godsdamnit,” Harry says. He sucks in a snot, chews it a little, spits it against the rock — spat. “You picked a side, Dave. Time to tell them Big City Publishing types that they can’t tread on us.”

“Were they treading on us, though? I mean, seems like everybody’s allowed to do their own thing — it’s just, y’know, it’s just business –“

“Business?” Harry barks, incredulous. “Business? By Bezos’ balls, Dave. This ain’t just business. This here is idea-ology. They got ideas that ain’t our ideas and that’s a no-no. Can’t have folks running around willy-nilly thinking that they can just do different things. This is a war for the spirit. A war over freedom and independence. Now kiss that Kindle and take the shot, Dave.”

Dave nods. Grabs the Kindle dangling around his neck, gives it a kiss, then stoops back to the rifle. He blinks away stinging sweat.

Harry, in his ear: “Take the shot, Dave. Take the shot.”

Bang. The gun kicks like a scorpion-stung horse. The rifle report ripples across the valley — the sound of a bullet ripping the sky like a piece of paper moments before it unzippers Simon’s robot head, sending up a rain of sparks. Schuster warbles and screams and runs for cover. Even here they can hear its legs clanking.

“The other one’s running,” Dave says.

“That’s all right,” Harry answers. He claps Dave hard on the back. “We’ll get him later. For now, we gotta move down into the canyons. I hear there’s a camp of those Smashwords heretics that needs some education. Now, before we go –” He bows his head in sudden prayer. “May Amazon find us and bless us and keep our royalties high.”

“Ay-men.”

* * *

The publishing chatter has gotten weird again.

This time, it might be weirder than ever. For a while there, it felt like we were learning toward a matured, more nuanced conversation. Less cheerleading, more caretaking. Fewer Anakin Skywalkers running around, angry enough to lightsaber children, and more Obi-Wans dispensing wisdom and keeping his lightsaber mostly holstered.

We are, sadly, experiencing a minor hiccup in good sense and reason.

Because once again, we are treated to writing and publishing becoming an US versus THEM dichotomy. False dichotomy, actually, because it’s an absurd notion, that we exist on opposite sides of things — writers, who are ostensibly bent toward writing good stories, aren’t in opposition with one another no matter how we put those stories out into the world.

But that’s the language we’re once more hearing. Because two big companies (Hachette, Amazon) are having a slap-fight in public view. And various pundits and polemicists have ascribed almost cosmic significance to the battle — a battle whose exact permutations are veiled behind clouds of PR and propaganda. The Guardian reminds us that “authors take sides,” and I’ve seen talk that compares publishing to war and revolution.

I just want to inject a little sanity into the conversation and say: while I quite like Scalzi’s “football” metaphor, some of the rhetoric surrounding publishing sounds more like we’re arguing religion or politics. It has the whiff of left-wing versus right-wing, atheism versus Christianity, good versus evil. Propaganda has a clever way of making it seem like, if we let THOSE OTHER PEOPLE “win,” then next think you know we’ll be gay-marrying our guns and have to drink organic pesticide out of terrorist hand grenades. Cats marrying dogs and Felix stabbing Oscar in the shower and all that.

It’s fine to think about these things. It’s good to have strong opinions about these things. Problem is, treating this like a war isn’t a very good way to make decisions about your art or the business of your art. Seeing two sides in publishing — whether it’s Amazon versus the Big Five or self-pub versus trad-pub or what — is almost dipshittedly reductivist, but also convinces you that your choices are far, far fewer than they actually are.

(My god, AMAZON VS. THE BIG FIVE sounds like a comic book, doesn’t it?)

I mean, even inside self-publishing, you can see various schisms — a visit to a forum like kboards reveals disagreements aplenty, some of which are helpful to watch, others of which are almost scary in their ideological posturing. Some traditional publishers love Amazon. Others despise them. Others still are like, “Ennnh, whatever gets it done?” Some go hybrid. Some don’t have the time, energy, inclination or skill-sets.

Presenting this as if it’s TWO SIDES, SO PICK ONE completely misrepresents the sheer potential of the landscape. This is a truly bad-ass time to be an author, and this makes it sounds like we’re fighting some fucking apocalyptic hell-battle on steeds made of Kindles and jousting ostriches ridden by slavemaster Big Five editors. You can do so much with your work, now. And when you find that one door closes — you can just take that other door over there. Or that one, or that other one, or that window, or you can stay right here and publish stories for your cat. You have a bonanza of options, grabbing hold of the advantages and disadvantages intrinsic to each.

We have choices.

More than we have ever had.

I fucking love having choices.

I like that I can buy things online. Or go to Target. Or the grocery store. Or the farmer’s market. Or eBay. Or Amazon. I can get a nice couch from the furniture store or one stained with blood and serial killer jizz from Craigslist. I can buy beef jerky made from a cow I just met a few weeks ago or I can eat Slim Jims made by enslaved sea creatures. (That’s the only thing that can explain the existence of Slim Jims.) I can, as an author, publish myself. I can hire an editor. Or not. I can talk to my readers. Or not. I can answer questions on Goodreads, I can submit to agents, publishers big and small and in-the-middle. I can stick, feint, duck, move.

I can do whatever the hell I want.

Picking a side by pretending there are only two will fuck that all up.

Do not do it.

When you see this kind of agitprop, call it out as what it is.

It is hot, bubbling monkey menses.

That’s not to say this stuff isn’t important. Or that you cannot or should not make business decisions and vote with your dollar. You can, and jolly well should. But once again I call for an end to lazy thinking and zealous cult-leader posturing put forth by camps who, surprise surprise, benefit when you join their army.

Approach this with empathy and logic.

Know yourself and know what works for you, and don’t let anyone try to take choices off the table. Traditional authors are not slaves. Self-published authors are not idiots. Hybrid authors are, admittedly, time-traveling terminators — though be assured that we’re totally cuddly and surely harmless. Remember too that in asserting the false dichotomy, you’re risking telling other people that their choices are invalid. You don’t want them to say that to you, right? You don’t want them to take away the validity of your choices — or take away your choices in general? Remember that the things you say have the potential to hurt authors and limit the choices of readers — because this is about their choices, too. Readers don’t have to buy from Amazon. They don’t have to read only work curated by Big Publishing. They, like authors, don’t have to pick sides.

They want good books, goddamnit.

So let’s give them good books in whatever way suits us.

Support authors and support readers.

Support the culture of stories and publishing as a means to get those stories into the world.

Stick. Feint. Duck. Move.

This isn’t a crusade. This isn’t Blue versus Gray.

Neither side has Vatican assassins.

Fuck false dichotomies and made-up publishing gods.

You don’t have to join the revolution or choose targets on the other side.

Otherwise, you might dig your heels in so hard the horse you’re riding dies underneath you.

88 comments

  • Someone rage-quit my site the other day because I said that I don’t read self-published books. Just generally speaking, not as a forever mandate or anything like that. But just saying that I don’t read them was apparently “hateful” and “bigoted.”

    I was all, ??

    People often get up in my face about how I’m an “indie” because I’m a blogger and I MUST support other indies because, idk, I guess they subscribe to that “this is war!” idea and that, if I prefer to read books that fit a particular profile and have the best luck finding those books through traditional publishers, I’m against self-publishers forever and must be boycotted. I wish these kinds of ideas would go far, far away.

  • Blessed good sense. Thank you. If it isn’t too big a pain in the ass and doesn’t take away too much of the time you need to devote to writing fiction, please keep reminding us to be discerning, to embrace ALL the publishing possibilities . . . and, most important, to avoid the seductive calls of self-appointed High Priests of the corporations currently doing battle for the biggest buck.

  • I’m a time-traveling terminator?!? SWEET! And yes, yes, YES to “the sheer potential of the landscape”, which gives us so many options if we’re just willing to open our eyes and try something new and out of our comfort zones.

  • As ever, I love-love-love your thoughts and totally concur. Thanks for taking the time to share.

    >>>the sheer potential of the landscape . . . And when you find that one door closes — you can just take that other door over there. Or that one, or that other one, or that window, or you can stay right here and publish stories for your cat. You have a bonanza of options, grabbing hold of the advantages and disadvantages intrinsic to each.

    We have choices.

    More than we have ever had.<<<<

    And it is so wonderful and so exciting! I feel really fortunate to be writing today (which makes some people shake their heads and think–even say–that I'm an idiot. :)

    A fellow, freaking stoked, time-traveling terminator . . . .

  • Dave and Harry? Nice of you not to name them Joe and Hugh. :p

    You’ve got it right though. This whole debate has descended into craziness. The evangelicals are driving everything screwy. Those of us with sensible opinions are ignored for the fervent backers of giant corporations.

  • I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: While the masses are all torches-and-pitchforks, lobbing bricks at each other over The One True Way, I’ll be over here, making a living — just like I’ve been doing for the past decade. Rah-rah for a “side” doesn’t make me any money — so I don’t waste my time.

  • I sorta figure we are all little birds walking around in the mouth of a crocodile. And we pick the crocodile’s teeth so it doesn’t get cavities and we get to eat. Mutualism at its finest!

    And do little cleaner birds in the real world form religions that claims that the Great Maw of Hachette shall never close? Or that Bezos the World Crocodile loves them? Do they chant that their particular crocodile is the BEST crocodile and all other birds are stupid for being in the mouths of other crocodiles?

    …god, I hope so. Because that would be ADORABLE.

  • Amazon is the worst thing that’s happened to publishers and writers since publishing and writing began. Because some writers make a lot of money dealing with Amazon does not make Amazon good, or any less evil. Sometimes it is us against them, and this is one of those times. No, it isn’t a football game. Who the hell said it was? But it is business, and business s a hell of a lot meaner, tougher, and more dangerous than any football game.

    Do you know what the phrase “It’s just business” actually means? It means, “I’m making money from it, so it’s a good thing, and screw you and everyone else.”

    There are always sides. Always. Too many pick the side their own bread is buttered on and either don’t know or don’t care what this means for others, or for them ten or twenty years down the road. Amazon really is evil, and horrible for writers and publishers. Period.

    As for self-published books, the only way I’ll read one is if the writer has proven his worth at a commercial publisher. Like it or not, 99.9% of self-published book are just shit on a shingle. They’re horrible. I don’t have time to wade through an ocean of shit in order to find one pearl.

    I have no shortage of good books to read from commercial publishers. I have, in fact, well over two thousand books already in my TBR pile, and publishers keep releasing good books faster than I can possible read them, so I have zero need on any self-published book.

    It matters not at all whether self-published writers are idiots, though many are extremely foolish, and have no knowledge whatsoever of how business works. What matters, what always matters, is the writing, and only a tiny fraction of one percent of self-published writers can write any as good as the poorest books I read from commercial publishers. That’s just how it is.

    Did I say Amazon is evil? Well, it is, but even Hitler got things right every great once in a while, and in this case, Amazon is right.

    • I have no interest in this kind of talk, James. I haven’t been fond of your commentary in the past regarding women and politics, and here I don’t like you invoking Hitler.

      You’re *thisclose* to the spam oubliette.

      — c.

    • Is it allowed for some of us who make significant income from eBook sales of backlist works to disagree? One can hope for competition for Amazon, but so far the competition has been weak and failing, in part because Amazon for whatever reason put building it’s structure and delivery system ahead of quick profits, and hold about 90% of the market share for electronic books. Incidentally, while Amazon has about half the market share in paper published works, that seems to have come from the Big Chains; Independent Book Stores, peace and success be upon them, seem to be growing.

      Amazon publishing has allowed a lot of junk to appear, and because of the nature of eBook publishing, to stay around for a long time. It has also allowed a number of new authors, not successful with traditional publishers, to thrive, some spectacularly. Economic principles would say that as Amazon ammasses more profit, more investment will go into competition; but until that happens, they are about the only game in town for authors who still have popular works but aren’t doing much new writing; that is one source of Amazon income. They take 30% of the cover price, and send 70% to the author. They do so monthly.

      Traditional publishing houses want to offer writer about 30% of cover price of electronically published books, and pay royalties every six months, this not for the previous six months, bu six months before that; and at least one has decided it is fair to withhold reserves for returned works. One hopes that notion will fail.

      Comparing Amazon to Hitler is both unfair and incorrect. Most of the fear of Amazon comes from what some think they will do when they achieve monopoly status — a fear most of us not unreasonably share — but the fact is that until now Amazon has played quite farily with authors. they pay us 70% instead of the much lower rates offered by traditional publishers, and they pay us in a timely way. When there are problems it generally takes a couple of weeks to get past talking to robots before we are dealing with a human being, but after that the problem is often resolved in hours. I have been friends with many traditional publishers, including Tom Doherty and Jim Baen, and even so found it takes longer to resolve fairly simple issues given their procedures (and their need to consult their ‘conglamorate’ owners as Tom Doherty used to put it.

      I have books self published with Amazon and books published through traditional publishers, and I’ve made a living at this business for many years; and while I wish mightily that someone else would come up with a formula for successful competition with Amazon, I cannot accept the proposition that Amazon is evil.

      • It is amazing that none of Amazons competitors can manage these basics including Bookish which took 3 of the big 6 (at the time) 5 years to put together:

        1. Ease of use – good search engine & algorithms
        2. Ease of adding to cart & checking out
        3. Ease of finding all of an authors books on a single page

        It doesn’t seem too much to ask for: to be able to search by title or author & have the book/author’s books show up. But it does seem more than anyone else can manage. Blows my mind.

    • As a Jew I’m speechless with the ignorance of your comment as well as offended. As a reader, a budding author, and a friend to many authors I’m going with you are wrong in so many ways.

      Just because you have the money to buy 2k in trad published books doesn’t mean everyone does. Frankly I’ve read plenty of drek from trad publishers as well as from indies. I’ve also read good stuff from both. Everyone’s taste are different and we bring our preconceptions and prejudices with us.

      I love that independent bookstores are making a comeback. I love that we have choices both writers in publishing and readers in what to read. Choices are great. You can choose to stay in your little world and I can choose to live in a big world made up of tons of options. It’s great. You don’t have to shop at Amazon. If you write you can ask your publishers not to sell your books at Amazon (or self-publish & then you don’t have to sell at Amazon). See its a wonderful world.

    • Wow. That’s one of the fastest descents into Godwin’s Law I’ve ever seen. This is 4Chan worthy.

      To call Amazon “evil” is a fundamental misunderstanding and misappropriation of the term. Invoking Hitler? Over an internet retailer? It’s so laughably ludicrous as to discredit any point you might have been trying to make.

    • Response to “Stop treating Hachette vs Amazon like it is a good vs evil apocalyptic battle”? Compare Amazon to Hitler.

      Someone seems to have missed the point…

  • When I hear all this inane chatter going on, I always feel so refreshed when I hear a voice like this pointing out that it isn’t and shouldn’t be such a battle between different types of publishing. I firmly believe that both have their benefits, especially as I intend to be a hybrid myself. Some of my work fits into a traditional scope, some of it is more suited for an independent path. Thanks for continuing to be a voice for logic and reasonable business, man.

  • I like (hm, make that luv) choices as well. We don’t have a bookstore here in my little town. To buy books I use Amazon, b/c I otherwise have to drive no less than 45 minutes to get to a brick/mortar store. And I do that too periodically. I like to try and understand both sides of any position. Nine times out of ten, I can see the opposite viewpoint or at least where they’re coming from. It would be nice if we could view matters like being on a playground – on a see saw. You don’t get to go up/down/up/down unless I’m on the other end. A.k.a. finding common ground.

  • The indie paranoia bewilders me. I understand that many writers feel unfairly shut out of traditional publishing, leading to their attendant snark and bitterness, but how’d that translate to “the Trads are out to get us?” mentality and the “they want to shut down our Amazon god-link” add-on?

  • (My god, AMAZON VS. THE BIG FIVE sounds like a comic book, doesn’t it?)

    When the other members of the Justice League go rouge, it’s up to Wonder Woman to take them down…

  • I like this post. It’s insightful and centred.

    However, I have a question:

    If this was a religious war, could we, traditional authors, be the Templars? We’re usually richer, better-looking, we’ve been around the longest AND we’re a few steps away from being betrayed and killed by the king of France.

    Okay, on a more serious note. Chuck, if I may ask, what do you think of web serial novelists? (Specifically the kind of authors who publish their work for free and rely mostly on donations). I know it’s kind of off-topic (whereas ‘kind of’ means ‘completely’), but you’re one my favourite authors and I’d like to know what you think about that path.

    • “Chuck, if I may ask, what do you think of web serial novelists? (Specifically the kind of authors who publish their work for free and rely mostly on donations). I know it’s kind of off-topic (whereas ‘kind of’ means ‘completely’), but you’re one my favourite authors and I’d like to know what you think about that path.”

      THOSE PEOPLE ARE RUINING EVERYTHING

      Okay, no.

      To them, I’d ask:

      Are you happy doing it?

      Does it work for you?

      Then keep on keepin’ on.

      I don’t care if you write a story on little slips of paper and shove them up a city pigeon’s ass. Whatever makes your grapefruit squirt.

      — c.

    • We usually end up publishing our webnovels as ebooks/POD anyway. Like webcomics, there are a lot of people who want to buy the collected version.

  • here is one author’s response to all the blathering, that I thought was great on a a lot of levels. She has started “digital book day” She says “With all the chaos surrounding our industry, we thought it time to focus on the one person publishing can not survive without: The Reader.” For info (or to participate) http://www.digitalbookday.com/about/

  • Yeah, but this is war. A business war at least. Hachette has made it clear they want agency while Amazon wants wholesale. Amazon may also be asking for a bigger margin like they are in Germany. Hachette writers are worried about their livelihood. Other writers are pissed off at the way they were treated by their publishers. And there’s still four big publishers left. So things are going to get even more interesting.
    Its options provided by Amazon, Smashwords and others that have emboldened many writers to speak up against some of the practices of the Big Five.
    And people get ridiculed for bad business decisions all the time. If someone signs a stupid contract they get laughed at. If someone puts out a book with no editing or a crappy cover they are usually laughed at or worse, ignored.

    • No, even then, it’s not a war. It’s an unpleasant business negotiation, and those happen between companies, *usually* without the public being made aware of them.

      War is when people fight and people die.

      This is business. Not saying it’s fun or healthy or helpful to the authors — it clearly isn’t — but to frame this as war makes this sound far bigger than it really is.

      — c.

      • “War is when people fight and people die.”

        Word.

        Let’s not get caught up in the hyperbole, folks. There are people who love to drum up hysteria with terms like this because it’s easier to get emotionally involved and froth at the mouth as you “fight” “THEM” and all that.

        No one is living or dying because of this. No one is losing their limbs, no one is coming home traumatized or emotionally damaged.

        This is NOT war.

        Once you scrape off the hyperbole it gets a whole lot less crazy, IMO.

      • July 7, 2014 at 3:00 PM // Reply

        Yes, you’re right. This is not actual war. No one is getting blown to bits. Julius Bezos did not cross the Rubicon. He didn’t kick the Big Five ambassador into the well and yell, “This is AMAZON!” The barbarians aren’t actually at the gate.
        But livelihoods are threatened, careers and profits are at stake. Both sides and their supporters are trying to improve the bargaining position and public perception of their respective sides. And this will continue despite your wishes for peace and understanding because, thanks to the options provided by Amazon et al, writers don’t have to kowtow to the Big Five anymore.

  • I’m not sure what to think about all of this. Except maybe…that people love controversy. And taking sides. And arguing on the internet. That indie publishing is awesome, and freeing, and revolutionary. But sometimes it sucks. That traditional publishing has its merit, has done some great stuff. But sometimes it sucks.

    And the guy on here bringing Hitler into all of this is getting the most attention.

    What I do know? I’ve got a load of editing to do before the 15th. I’m sitting out here in my little three-season room with the windows open, listening to the night songs of crickets and frogs who are blissfully unaware of Amazon vs. The Big Five. Today I took my kids to a little farm and I scratched the forehead of a draft horse while he stared at me with these knowing eyes. He could’ve been at the back of the pasture under the shade. But instead, he’s standing there, sweating, watching us.

    I’d be watching us too. We’re a freak show.

    • July 8, 2014 at 2:18 AM // Reply

      LOVE this. It made me laugh out loud more than once. “…listening to the night songs of crickets and frogs who are blissfully unaware of Amazon vs. The Big Five.” Simply brilliant.

      • Really? LOL…well I almost didn’t post it. I so hate getting involved in this stuff. I want Rick Moranis to shrink me so I can live with the crickets.

        • Me too. I’ve been trying to stay out of it. Enough people are saying everything there is to say.

  • Great post. When we’re looking at this particular shit storm, I suspect the trick is to take our emotions out of the equation and look at it as entrepreneurs. Because I’m a self published and I would never give Amazon exclusivity to distribute the tens of books I sell every year (mwah hahahrgh). This whole thing, to me, is just bollocks. OK, so if I look at it as a business woman.

    First of all, what does this posturing achieve? Nothing. Nothing we do will affect the outcome between Amazon and Hachette. That outcome will be decided by a bunch of executives and lawyers conversing in a room – probably for a long time. The bad PR might make both sides try to hurry it up a bit but that’s all. Furthermore the details are not public so we can only speculate as to what is really going on. I’m not going to nail my colours to anybody’s mast unless I know EXACTLY what’s going on.

    Second, what with Self Publishing in the publishing industry being compared to punk rock in the music industry I ask myself, as a self published author and former punk, how would Johnny Rotten handle this? I can’t be sure, but I suspect he’d tell everyone to piss off and carry on with whatever he was doing.

    Thirdly, Amazon and Hachette are companies, they do good stuff, they do bad stuff and they don’t care about us, they care about what makes them money. Leaping in and banging the drum pro or against either is like jumping drunkenly into a pub fight when you don’t know why it started. I think folks should save their idealistic zeal for an issue that really matters. This is like stepping up to lay down your professional life over whether blue or pink is the trendiest colour this summer.

    What it does do is highlight that if we want to keep the fantastic world of choice that we have open to us now, we should use it. I don’t sell jack shit on iBooks but I’ll never take my stuff out of there because even if they all buy on Amazon and use the Kindle app, Apple users should have the choice.

    Listen, my self published fellows. I used to work for a great big company like Amazon, doing marketing/communications – that is, manipulating people into buying our product and loving our company. Trust me, I know how this goes down. Amazon is not your friend, that’s just their public relations department messing with your head.

    Cheers

    MTM

  • Thank you for cheering me up today, Chuck. *Virtual hug!*

    I’ve been reading a how-to book on writing science fiction and fantasy this week, and this morning I got to the chapter that cheerfully informed me that all novel writers need to have had a ton of short stories traditionally published in the relevant magazines before even an AGENT will consider looking at one of their novels,(don’t even bother going straight to a publisher in such circumstances – you’ll have minus-zero chance) and even if they agree to represent you (several months later) it’ll still take YEARS before they get it sold to a publisher and then it’ll take YEARS for them to publish it – unless they change their mind at the very last minute, of course…

    No mention is made of self-publishing in any form, so I’m guessing the book was written before that took off, and for all I know you and all the other published authors out there are reading what I’ve just written and are saying “Well, duh – yeah, of COURSE that’s the reality of getting published, Little Miss Pollyanna Naive!” And if that’s the case, of course I’m gonna have to just suck it up. It just wasn’t the ideal thing to read right before sitting down to my computer to work on my w-i-p… ;)

    *pokes at exposed arm* Come on epidermis – you’re gonna have to bulk up faster than that…

    • That isn’t the reality of getting published though with a traditional publisher. There is no “set” reality for every author, but most agents do not require you have short stories published and in most cases if your MS is going to sell, it doesn’t take YEARS and it doesn’t take YEARS for a publisher to publish the MS. Contrary to whatever people think, a pub isn’t going to sit on your MS for no reason. They’re in it to make money and the only way they can make money is to get it published. But does it takes years for some authors to get a book deal? Yes. But not nearly all. Does it take some publisher years to publish a book? Yes. But no where near in every case. Do some agents require some kind of publication history? Probably, and they’d be the last agent I’d ever query or submit to.

    • “all novel writers need to have had a ton of short stories traditionally published in the relevant magazines before even an AGENT will consider looking at one of their novels”

      BOLLOCKS. Seriously. I had zero short-story sales when I got my agent, and a whopping ONE when I got my book deal. Short story sales don’t translate into novel sales.

  • Excellent, balanced commentary Chuck.

    Your two best points here are “we have choice” and “this is not a religious war.”

    But I disagree with the impression I got of your “hand-waving” the incredibly fast evolution of the publishing industry away.

    Things do change, traditional publishing (re: Big 5) must evolve faster, and right now regardless of how you feel about Amazon … they must be doing something right or people wouldn’t evangelize them.

    Granted, they aren’t doing everything right, they have their issues … even some less than ethical (some non-ethical) practices. But they are doing a good job of providing a platform (as a middle man) for those people who want to share their stories that couldn’t before.

    Traditional publishers have controlled the channel in the past, and now that they see that control slipping away (the evolution of publishing, not a revolution) … they are reacting in desperation to maintain the control they once had.

    But Amazon brought out the Kindle at a time in history where the Internet could help them leverage the ability to bring a “new” publishing platform into a shining sunlight. Many authors have capitalized on this opportunity, and that is where the “evangelizing” began.

    If you had the opportunity to turn your life around by doing something you couldn’t before, by becoming an “early adopter” of a technology when it was in its prime, wouldn’t you be proud enough of that moment in time to evangelize it a little Chuck? I know I would.

    But you’re right this shouldn’t be an “Us versus Them” battle. It is though, because of the control of the channel the traditional publishers want to maintain, and on the other side, the newer “strength” of the self-publishing channel and authors that support that (you could always self-publish, but it’s easier to do now).

    The mainstream media isn’t helping either, portraying this “battle” as an “Amazon versus Hachette” scenario, when it is actually just a contract renegotiation that might have implications (for now) on the publishing industry.

    If traditionally published giants like Patterson, etc… and the “Big 5″ are going to “protect their income” … can’t we stand up for our ability to get stories into the readers hands, and protect our income as well?

    Or, do you think there is no need to do that from EITHER “side?”

  • Great post. Thanks for the insight and the humor :-) I absolutely agree that the plethora of choices out there for authors is wonderful. Once upon a time, you had to do the agent / publisher thing if you wanted your book to see the light of day. Now there are so many viable options. Freedom. Embrace it :-)

  • Joseph Ratliff Hi! I just want to clarify your point about Big 5 “protecting their income,” which often comes up in indie circles as code for “being greedy.” Big 5 make money off selling books, and nothing else. Amazon makes money off selling everything else, with books as a loss leader, for the most part. Which is why Amazon isn’t threatened with a loss of significant income in this negotiation, while Big 5 houses *are.* (As are smaller publishers, because as a small publisher/vendor with Amazon I can tell you that we’re all being squeezed to give up more of our already sparse profits). On another point: how is it that this negotiation threatens indies’ ability to make a living? I keep hearing this linkage and it just doesn’t compute.

    • Yeah, that’s the part I can never quite figure out: what dog do indie-authors have in this fight? Like, Hatchette authors, they’ve got skin in the game, so I get it. But why do indie-authors CARE, beyond somehow being against one of the Big 5, just because.

      • July 8, 2014 at 2:26 AM // Reply

        Speaking only as someone who has read a lot about both sides of this issue, indie authors are concerned about big-name authors like Patterson calling for readers to boycott Amazon. If enough readers do follow through with a boycott, the livelihood of many indie authors–whose biggest sales are usually through Amazon, could be compromised.

  • July 8, 2014 at 2:36 AM // Reply

    I really appreciate this post and the levelheadedness it brings to the table. I’ve had to take breaks from some of my favourite writing blogs when they’ve gotten too preachy. I grow weary of being told that I’m a complete moron, and an insecure one to boot, if I want a traditional publishing deal. Or hearing traditionally-published authors dismiss everything indie as crap. (Or anything popular as crap.)

    Getting and keeping the attention of the Big Five is incredibly difficult. You have to write something popular enough to sell, but not so popular that it’s like what is already selling. If you have, say, an Armenian dentist in your novel, you may be rejected simply because a publisher already has a novelist in its stable writing about Armenian dentists. Not everyone who self-publishes writes crap, even if they weren’t traditionally published first. There could be a million different reasons traditional publishing wasn’t for them.

    So I love Chuck’s point that there are many choices, and it’s up to the authors to decide what works for them. Thank you! I’m so tired of reading blogs that say, “This worked for me, so you’re an idiot if you do anything else.”

    But then again, I don’t think religion should be a cause for war, either. Just call me a rebel.

  • Wonderful post. JC and I are “hybrids,” but we have good friends who have followed either the traditional path or the path of self-publishing entirely. I do my best to both help market and support their work. I’ve never understood all this antagonism and name-calling. Writers need to support and encourage each other.

  • Reading this post this morning, I got to thinking, ‘where have I heard this conversation before…?’ And then it dawned on me: college radio, 1989-1992, just before and as it got “big” with Nirvana, et al. On the one side we had the DIY punks and the self-professed nonconformists who questioned authority and refused to sign to a major label (read: the self pubbers), and the musicians who *wanted* to sign to a major and get airplay and sell records (read: the trad pubbers). Just before the Great Grunge Revolution, both sides were arguing with each other in pretty much the same way. The trads sold out and their music sucked! The self-releasers couldn’t sing or tune their guitars and just sucked on principle! And so on an so on. And it even bled into college radio itself–I even had an argument with the college station program manager who yelled at me for playing the Cure because “they were mainstream now.” Completely effing ridiculous.

    And meanwhile, there was a shit ton of great bands, both mainstream and indie, who were coming out with great stuff and not giving two craps about whether or not they were selling out. They were doing their job and focusing on the music.

    Point being–you’re right. There’s no one-or-the-other. There’s a lot of room for movement, innovation and evolution out there. There’s no need for limiting ourselves to just black and white.

  • Chuck, not a bad post, all things considered. However, one thing bugs me, and it’s not the first time you’ve done it (I’m not even a regular reader, and I’ve still noticed). If your core argument is that there aren’t (or shouldn’t be) any “sides,” why do you lead off with a little tale featuring homicidal Amazon-worshippers preying on poor, innocent publishers?

    No matter how many times you proclaim that you’re “Middle of the Road” Chuck, stuff likes that makes it hard to believe.

    Still, everything after that is pretty even-handed, even if I’m not completely convinced of your sincerity. Taken on its face, its good advice.

    • @Dan —

      It’s a fiction, though. I also paint traditional publishers as actual robots, which I don’t think is particularly complimentary toward traditional publishers.

      If you’re not inclined to believe my sincerity, that’s fine. I would think my actual *actions* suggest a fairly middle-of-the-road approach.

      I am:

      a) Published with a smaller publisher (Angry Robot).
      b) Published (soon) with a larger traditional publisher (Harper Collins).
      c) Published (now, and continuing) with Skyscape — Skyscape being owned and operated by Amazon
      d) Published by myself as author-publisher, and published through a variety of channels (including selling direct through this very website).

      And really, that doesn’t even cover the scope of how I write (and make money via that writing).

      I worship none of my publishers or distribution systems.

      I like them all, however, and very much want to see all of them remaining in this world as options for me and other authors.

      If somehow the fiction at the fore of the piece has convinced you I’m insincere, I apologize, but I also don’t know what to tell you.

      — c.

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