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.”
* * *
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.