Sycophants And Stockholm Syndrome: More Publishing Rhetoric, Yay

Blah blah blah, Amazon-Hachette.

Amazon put out a new offer which was very kind to Hachette writers, so kind, in fact, that it was untenable because it would hurt Hachette in the end: roughly the equivalent of saying, “We will give every author a pony and a jet-ski if all the executives at Hachette line up on television and punch themselves in the face.”

The offer may very well be an earnest one by a company that loves authors. The offer may be a plea to get the hearts of the authors without doing anything about it, because Hachette was always, always, always going to reject that deal. (If I know you’re going to reject a deal up front, I can offer you the world, appearing grandly magnanimous in what is predictably an empty gesture. I might suggest that Amazon’s kindest and most realistic move would simply be to return Hachette books to their original status — pre-orderable and shipping quickly. This wouldn’t merely be kind, but also help stanch the flow of buyers who are realizing they can buy books from, y’know, other places, thus altering their purchasing patterns and — oh, hell, this isn’t why I’m here.)

Point is: I do not know the hearts and minds of these corporations.

And if we’ve learned anything from Hobby Lobby and certain petitions:

Corporations are people and we’d hate to hurt their feelings.

Ahem.

I’d offer, however, the notion that authors are actually the real people here that are worth caring about — and the rhetoric and framing of this author-versus-author is total uglypants. So, in this instance, when Amazon makes its deal and several Hachette authors come out and say, “That’s lovely, but actually, I quite like my publisher,” they are noted as suffering from ‘Stockholm Syndrome.’ Which is to say, they are being compared to actual hostages who have been made to sympathize with their captors. It’s nasty language, suggesting that they are, in effect, abuse victims who have grown to like the licking they’re taking.

Please, understand:

Some writers like their publishers.

I know, that’s weird, particularly if you’ve taken the position that Self-Pub Is True And Mighty and Traditional Publishing Is Exploitative And Cruel. But, here’s a revolutionary idea: maybe traditional-publishing isn’t universally exploitative. (It can be! Oh boy, it can be.) Maybe, just maybe, people have agents who have negotiated for them strong contracts that don’t fall prey to a lot of the perils we hear: they keep copyright, they get good advances, they negotiate stronger percentages and escalators, they are free of various harmful non-compete clauses. Maybe every publishing deal isn’t a whip-crack against one’s bare ass.

Not every publishing deal is the Prom at the end of Carrie.

Some authors feel they are getting value from their publishers.

Editorial. Marketing. Distribution.

Some authors feel that they cannot do these things on their own, or simply don’t want to.

That’s not Stockholm Syndrome. (A term that proves itself false the moment you take a long look at it — a captor is one who has forcibly detained you. Authors willingly sign contracts. They are complicit from the get-go. If you’re another writer using this term: you should be a better writer and cleave to more precise — and less inflammatory — language.)

Some authors really are in uneven — even exploitative — relationships with their publishers. It’s true. And if you’re earnest hope is to help show them the light, you don’t do that by calling them names like a schoolyard bully, or worse, suggesting that they are in some way mentally ill. You do it by consistently showing them the freedom you possess that they don’t. (Not money. Going on about how much money you’re making, while honest, has the look of a rich kid crumpling up dollar bills and pitching them at your head.) Just open the door and let them see the Glittery Unicorn Wonderland in which you frolic — you don’t then also have to go up to them and punch them in the face because they’re not dancing around the same candy cane maypole.

And, just the same, when an author with a publisher says they’re happy?

Leave it alone.

Wish them well!

Consider that they might be:

a) earnest

and

b) not actually held hostage.

They are not sycophants for liking their publisher. Just as you’re not a sycophant for thinking Amazon is pretty whoa-dang cool for doing what it’s done. (Curiously, Amazon, when acting as a publisher, offers deals comparable to those on the traditional side of things.)

So, y’know — maybe tone it down a little.

Maybe accept that people have different experiences.

Maybe they’re not bound to their captors because they… aren’t held captive.

And maybe, just maybe, stop using a term that implies mental illness or at the very least makes you sound like a bully. One’s choices as an author-publisher are plenty valid without others having to make the same choice as you. As I said over the weekend: this isn’t religion, and this isn’t war. You don’t score points (outside of invisible social points that you can’t spend and that make you look like a wanker) for “winning.” You do what you do.

You don’t proselytize by cutting everyone else off at the knees.

PLAY NICE TOGETHER

DON’T RUN WITH SCISSORS

YOU’RE ALL AUTHORS NOT BEARS AND GLADIATORS

DON’T BE JERKS

NOW HUG.

HUG, I SAY, HUG.

*stares*

57 comments

  • Great post. I’m one of those who really enjoys working with my publisher. They have done things for me I am simply not prepared to do on my own. They provide value I could never provide on my own. At the same time, I recognize that self-publishing is a great path for some writers, and I don’t look down my nose at them for taking that path. Part of me wishes I had the business acumen to do it myself, but I know my own limitations.

    I think the worst thing about all of this is that it’s turned writers against each other. Like we have to pick sides. Like we can’t think Amazon is an innovative company with great customer service that also does some shady things. Like we can’t think publishers add massive value to our work without also thinking their contracts are sometimes shit and they suck in the innovation department. At the end of the day, I want writers to win. I don’t give a crap about Amazon. I also don’t give a crap about publishers. I want writers to come out on top.

    • “At the end of the day, I want writers to win. I don’t give a crap about Amazon. I also don’t give a crap about publishers. I want writers to come out on top.”

      Next time, I’ll just let you write the post, jeez.

      😀

  • Maybe everyone is just authors, but I think Chuck just found the solution for this:

    Survivor Season 238: Amazon and Hachette Execs v. Bears and Gladiators

    But it all seriousness – Well put, Chuck. Going straight for the insulting, degrading and dehumanizing language seems to be the go-to these days whenever two groups disagree, but there are other ways to present an argument without being assholes (or intentionally condescending) about it.

  • Chuck,
    Every one of your posts makes me chuckle and this one made me laugh out loud! I promise I won’t hug you but a big high five on this one. Thanks for refereeing this discussion. My first book was traditionally published but I Indie published the next two and will continue to do so for now until I become very rich and famous and a traditional publisher takes notice (maybe)… 🙂 I have a PR background so the business side of self-pubbing doesn’t worry me. I love Shaun’s comment but has this really turned writers against each other? It’s sad to think so… although I was the kid who always let go during Red Rover so that no one got hurt!

    Happy writing!
    Anne

  • It will be interesting to watch your writing on these issues change as your child grows up. Now we’re getting the toddler play group metaphors, highly appropriate. I can’t wait ’til he gets to high school and you introduce the vice principal and mean girls into the mix.

  • Yes. This.
    Not all publishers are evil, horrible creatures looking to rape and kill authors. Some actually have good people working for them who care about the publishing industry and want to help the author put out the best product available. If you ever meet these people you might be surprised at how much they resemble…
    *lowers voice to a whisper*
    Ordinary people. Just like us. Not robots, not monsters with claws and oogly eyes. Just regular people working to put out a product.
    And as with ordinary people there are good ones and bad. Bad ones tend not to run publishing companies for long because they lose money and authors and employees who leave. Good ones build up publishers from scratch because they love the words and the wordsmithing and want to make the world a better place.
    If you self-publish, good for you. I envy your skill and craft in taking on the business world alone, to take the risk and invest the money in putting out your product.
    If you go with a publisher, I see where you’re coming from. Maybe you’re not rich enough to risk self-publishing and NOT make the money back, as I am. Maybe you’re not ready to open up your own business.
    It’s all cool.
    Because in the end we’re all just the same – writing because we love words and love writing.
    Peace. Out.

  • July 9, 2014 at 8:39 AM // Reply

    What exactly are the complaints authors have against their publishers? I keep hearing about horrible contracts — are those usually with first-time novelists who don’t know how to negotiate? If anyone can explain or link, I’d love some back story on the kinds of Carrie prom scene deals people keep talking about.

    • Amanda, try googling Noble Romance Publishing, and I’m sure you’ll find some information on a horrible publisher. Mercifully, NRP is out of business as of last October, due to about a dozen of us authors banding together and putting pressure on them to do right by the authors.Hundreds suffered from their mismanagement and to this day, we all know they still owe us money, but they refused us and our lawyers full audits of the records, despite the guarantee of such in the contracts. For most of us, the money we’d spend on lawyers would eventually surpass the few thousand NRP owes us.

      After all, authors only see what the publisher wants us to see, unless they are a completely transparent operation. We have to take the publishers word for royalties, sales numbers, etc. Noble cheated many authors with non-payment, a horrendous 7 year contract which they parsed in their favor. Clauses that favored authors were interpreted by Noble much differently than the way they read. Their editing was notoriously terrible, they grabbed rights that weren’t allotted for in the contracts, and when we called Noble on all of it, they folded their kitchen table operation, called authors names and worse.

  • July 9, 2014 at 9:34 AM // Reply

    So wait. I am cornfused.

    Are saying that all people are NOT the same?
    That they can have different experiences which result in different outcomes?
    Which would logically grant them different view points on issues and such?

    Great, now I need a nap, or more coffee with some ‘additive’.

    My brain hurts…

  • I swear, I’ve been near assaulted with this whole “you should have self-published instead of going traditional” thing. And every time— EVERY TIME– what I hear is no different than this:

    THEM: Don’t get married, man, when you can go to strip clubs and see more boobs!
    ME: Uh, there’s more to marriage than that, you know.
    THEM: I don’t think you understood, man. More boobs.
    ME: I’m going to walk over here now.
    THEM: YOU’RE MAKING A MISTAKE! STRIP CLUBS ARE THE BEST!

  • I love this post! I also really like working with my publisher, and I have an amazing agent. My first novel comes out from Grand Central Publishing (Hachette) in a couple of months, and the whole experience of putting this book together has been a really good one. But I have friends who had terrible experiences with publishers and are now with Amazon, so I get why authors would go that direction. There are three things that I don’t hear brought up with the “Amazon is the savior of authors” group. First, from what I’ve read, the number of books sold by the average self-published author on Amazon is about 250. There are fantastic success stories of course, but I don’t think they are not the norm. Second, those that do make it big via Amazon are usually genre writers (mystery, thriller, syfy, romance, etc.). I don’t see a path to success through all the noise on Amazon if I’d self-published my “general” fiction. Third, what about foreign rights? My agent has sold my book in a dozen countries outside the US which has dialed up my “it’s nice to have extra money” writing income to “maybe I can quit my high-paying Silicon Valley job” income. I have no idea if Amazon can do that for authors. Does anyone know? Regardless, there’s lots of ways to get a book published. As authors, I’d rather we all just be supportive of each other and rejoice in whatever success we have and argue for a level playing field. It’s hard enough being a writer without your fellow authors in your corner. Thanks for the great post!

    • Well, Amazon won’t do that for self-published authors because that’s not what they do (I don’t know about their publishing arm, that’s a different story). But there are a lot of self-published authors who do deal with foreign markets. Sometimes they get the books translated on their own and distribute them on those markets. Other times, they have agents who handle the foreign rights. Self-publishing doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have an agent.

      The thing about self-publishing is that it’s extremely diverse, so you can’t really draw any average comparisons because there are so many variables. When you say that the number of books sold by the average self-published author on Amazon is about 250, you have to remember what that number includes–full-time indie authors, but also hobbyists, one-shot authors who will maybe only put out a single book, etc. That will bring down those averages.

  • July 9, 2014 at 9:46 AM // Reply

    “He was a warm and gentle voice of reason during a time of great madness.” Wait, that’s “Field of Dreams.” Okay, I stand by the “voice of reason” part.

  • Thank you for this post, Chuck – it made my morning. I’m both indie published and published with two traditional publishers, one of them Hachette. My agent and I spent weeks negotiating my Hachette contract, with lots of back and forth and firm positions on my part about what I would not accept. I was always clear that I wouldn’t sign a contract if I didn’t find the terms acceptable. When I finally did sign, no one forced me to do it. It’s a good contract and fits into my current publishing plan. It’s disheartening and frustrating when I hear friends and fellow authors essentially saying that my decision makes me an idiot or a dupe. On larger author loops I’ve pretty much given up trying to explain, since it’s now simply an exercise in frustration and insults. Much better to spend my time writing the next book.

    My husband (who is my writing partner) and I both used to work for a large trade union. When we saw Amazon’s latest “offer” to Hachette authors, we burst out laughing. We’d seen that sort of thing before – something that seems fabulous to the rank and file membership but which is impossible for the other side to accept. It’s basically a PR stunt and means almost nothing. Worse, it’s intended to sow division among authors. I’m not impressed with it, I gotta tell you.

  • I wish I had the courage to write some of these sentiments myself. I’m non-confrontational, so I’ve sat on panels at SF conventions next to angry self-published men with their arms crossed who glare at me and tell me that *I’m* the problem. I never argue. But the truth is that I actually like my publisher (Ace/Roc). I like my editor (Susan Allison). I have faith in my agent (John Silbersack). Oh, and this is my favorite, favorite part of your post:

    “Maybe every publishing deal isn’t a whip-crack against one’s bare ass.

    Not every publishing deal is the Prom at the end of Carrie.

    Some authors feel they are getting value from their publishers.

    Editorial. Marketing. Distribution.”

    Yup. I also appreciate the art department.

    • “I’ve sat on panels at SF conventions next to angry self-published men with their arms crossed who glare at me and tell me that *I’m* the problem.”

      Call me the next time that happens. I’d love to have a conversation with these thugs.

      That sort of mental abuse doesn’t need to be tolerated. I’m like you, patient but there comes a time when you have to push back.

      Punks.

      *makes angry noises*

      Tell me that to my face, ya jerks.

  • “You don’t score points (outside of invisible social points that you can’t spend and that make you look like a wanker) for “winning.” You do what you do.”

    –Thank you, Uncle Chuck, for the post of the morning. Hell, the post of the week.

  • July 9, 2014 at 10:18 AM // Reply

    “One’s choices as an author-publisher are plenty valid without others having to make the same choice as you.”

    So true. I’m tired of the idea that we have to take sides…

  • And on the flip side, self-pubbers aren’t no-talent rejected hacks who sit around doing nothing but coveting their shiny agent agreements and pub contracts. I hate this chasm where writers face off instead of working together.

    • This all the way. There is far too much inflammatory rhetoric between both indie and traditional authors. Both paths are valid depending on your needs. Stop shitting on other people just because they chose a different way.

      And all this pointless bickering takes attention away from where it really matters: what the publishers and the retailers are doing.

      • And, also of grave importance for any author, regardless of publishign path:

        What really matters is the story you’re writing. The work matters.

        Not to say publishing isn’t important — it’s a vital component to *how* people see your work, and *how* you make money off of what you’re doing.

        But so often we focus on publishing to the detriment of not focusing on the writing and storytelling first.

        — c.

  • This is great and your post made me laugh. I’m traditionally published and looking into self publishing. I’m also a big believer in never signing an initial contract without negotiating, no matter how long an author has waited for a contract.

    • You raise an interesting point: with traditional publishers you always negotiate your contract before you sign. Now you are considering self-publishing. But with Amazon you cannot negotiate any term of the contract. It’s take it or leave it. Yet, for many the take or leave terms are appealing.

  • July 9, 2014 at 11:03 AM // Reply

    “Stockholm Syndrome” is over-the-top rhetoric. So is “Amazon is fighting this war on our backs.” I see a lot more of that.

  • Always nice to have a small press writer tell me how I should feel about major NY publishers. I get it, you don’t want to burn any bridges or make a Konrath out of yourself just in case the stars align and you get a chance to publish with the big boys someday. Fine. But that doesn’t change the fact that NY publishing is a hot mess, and this Amazon led shakeup is exactly what authors and readers need.

    “Curiously, Amazon, when acting as a publisher, offers deals comparable to those on the traditional side of things.”

    Besides for higher digital royalties, flexible terms, and and their ability (and desire) to promote and sell books by new and mid-list authors, I’d say you’re right. Of course Amazon also works with you on your book in a way that makes you part of the team instead of an unfortunate component in the publishing process, which is all you are in NY, and anyone who says you’re not either publishing royalty or they haven’t been in the business long enough to see it for what it is.

    • A small press writer?

      *looks around*

      To whom are you speaking? Me?

      I have publishers up and down the spectrum, Nelson. Angry Robot. Amazon/Skyscape. Harper-Collins. Abaddon/Solaris. Plus, self-published work.

      My Amazon publisher, Skyscape, does indeed work with me on my book. I’ve been very happy with them. I’ve also had this experience at other publishers, sooooo. (And my Amazon publisher *is* in NY.)

      — c.

  • It’s depressing that this needs to be repeated so often. The Amazon/Hachette issue is two big companies having a dispute. It happens. It sucks, but it happens. It’s not a sign of the end times or that it’s time to choose the One True Path to Publication.

    We’re living in the single most exciting and challenging time to be an author. We should be embracing the wealth of opportunities open to us, and supporting each other, no matter what path we choose, not sitting in our corners jealously guarding Our Way.

  • Chuck I want to hire you to magically appear — like a genie — and word-smite people for me. I’m headed to the Romance Writers of America national con in two weeks. IMHO this is the year RWA pivots firmly toward indie authors and self-publishing. (Keynotes, workshops, etc.) As one of the evil TP (trad pubs, small press demon division) I smell torches being lit.

    • Um, no?

      I don’t get what you mean by “pivots firmly toward indie authors and self-publishing.” Do you mean the change with the RITAs? I think it’s better if it’s based on how good the book is and not how it was published, don’t you? FWIW, only 6 self-pubbed books finaled out of, what, over 70? Or do you mean the fact that there will be workshops geared towards those who are–or are thinking about–self-publishing? Well, yeah. That makes sense, doesn’t it? RWA Nats is all about helping romance writers figure out and work for the career they want, so all viable options are on the table. This includes self-publishing, but is not limited to it. Far from it. There will be editor and agent pitch sessions, a bunch of publisher spotlights, both large and small, publisher events, and workshops focusing on the experience of working with a publisher.

      I can’t imagine why you would think anyone would be lighting any torches. Sylvia Day is the Keynote speaker and while she’s no stranger to self-publishing, she’s not doing too shabby working with big publishers. (Ha, did that win for understatement of the year?) Marie Force, who sells like a bajillion self-pubbed books and continues to write for Berkley and Carina, is in charge of the self-pub track of workshops this year. She’s very vocal about how happy she is to be hybrid, and how wonderful it is for writers to have so many choices these days. I doubt you’ll find anything other than respect in the self-pub workshops. In fact, I think this conference is going to be all about celebrating the different paths to success, and what a great time it is to be a romance writer.

      Just my experience, but the least likely place to find an us vs. them mentality is in romance-centric places. Look, I get that there are some self-publishers who have said rude, patronizing, and very insulting things about those who choose trad pub. But I’ve never seen that come from the romance community. Just because somebody is the loudest or talks the longest doesn’t mean they are representative of others, and certainly not representative of the atmosphere you’ll find at RWA.

  • I had to quit all “writer” sites on Linked-in because they detest my pov that having a publisher is better than self-pubbing. The screenwriter sites are good. (Like you, I do both.) Now I feel a bit like one of those self-pubbing authors because you tell us that your agent works on your behalf. I don’t have an agent. That said, as a genre author who has published with erotica imprints of large publishing houses, I don’t feel exploited. I believe most authors get the standard deal. I’m sure some of the ones who consistently produce bestsellers for the imprints get more money, but that makes sense to me.

    I’ve been contacted by people who were happily self-publishing before it became the IT thing to do. They’re no longer making the money they used to because Amazon, in particular, is glutted with terrible, unedited, unprofessional “books.”

    Eventually Amazon will explode LIKE A NUCLEAR BOMB! If major American film production houses and big-shot American executive producers can crash like those 9/11 AIRPLANES, then so can Amazon. Writers who survive this HOLOCAUST will not be those who presently self-publish.

    • “Eventually Amazon will explode LIKE A NUCLEAR BOMB! If major American film production houses and big-shot American executive producers can crash like those 9/11 AIRPLANES, then so can Amazon. Writers who survive this HOLOCAUST will not be those who presently self-publish.”

      *shakes head*

      I think you better stick with the blue pill.

    • “Eventually Amazon will explode LIKE A NUCLEAR BOMB! If major American film production houses and big-shot American executive producers can crash like those 9/11 AIRPLANES, then so can Amazon. Writers who survive this HOLOCAUST will not be those who presently self-publish.”

      Yeah, whoa, what is happening with this metaphor, Madeline? Bombs, terrorism, and the Holocaust in one mention?

      Self-publishing authors will be fine. The good ones will, hopefully, be great.

      As for your POV — I don’t think having a publisher is better than self-publishing. Which is ostensibly the point of my many (probably redundant) posts: I think both choices are valuable ones to make. Different authors have different wants, needs, and skill-sets. And self-publishing has changed the landscape of what we can do with our writing — and changed it, ultimately, for good.

      — c.

    • “I had to quit all “writer” sites on Linked-in because they detest my pov that having a publisher is better than self-pubbing.”

      “Eventually Amazon will explode LIKE A NUCLEAR BOMB! If major American film production houses and big-shot American executive producers can crash like those 9/11 AIRPLANES, then so can Amazon. Writers who survive this HOLOCAUST will not be those who presently self-publish.”

      Gee, I wonder why they might have a problem with you…

  • There are a lot of similarities between fighting and writing. Both require hours spent doing something that makes other people think you’re insane, both have a negative effect on your social life and both require a huge amount of discipline to do well. Unfortunately both suffer from “my way is the best way”. Once the UFC happened more and more people started seeing the combining their approaches so they weren’t just strikers (who could be taken down and submitted by grapplers) or just grapplers (who could be kept standing and lamped by strikers).

    For the first time it became clear that if you over specialised you were vulnerable in the same way that writers who desperately champion one way of getting their work out are vulnerable to the unstable nature of publishing.

    I see hybrid authors as the MMA fighters of the writing world; able to switch their style to meet their needs. Hopefully no one actually has to bleed to learn that.

  • THANK YOU CHUCK.

    Speaking as a traditionally-published, Big-5-house author who does have a strong, fair contract and a wonderful relationship with my publisher … Yes. Yes to all of this.

    I’m very supportive of self-publishing, for those who make the decision as the right one for their business needs. I’m very supportive of traditional publishing, for those who make the decision as the right one for their business needs. I’m NOT supportive of anyone who makes any publishing decision based on ego, rhetoric, or the flavor of the month. One size does NOT Fit all, yo.

    Also? If my publisher ever tried to shiv me in the shower, you can bet your ass I’d beat them to it. Because … I write ninja books, and I have done my research. Rawr.

    In the meantime? This is a business, not a marriage. I’ve looked at my options and made the right decision for me. I’m happy with it. I hope other people can respect that, the same way I respect their choices.

  • Well said. The first two publishers on my list are ebook publishers, which I like to think of as somewhere between traditional publishing and self publishing. I’ve definitely considered all the options though, and in the end I’ll choose the route that feels right for the book–which might well change from book to book. In fact, I expect it will. And that’s fine too.

  • …Except you are dealing with two things that are horrible to mesh: Artist works and business.

    The best you could hope for is a thumb poke to the eye, a chair shot to the head, and then someone running in to do a flex down.

    This is why I jettisoned the idea of mixing art with business. Totally not worth the trouble.

    • “This is why I jettisoned the idea of mixing art with business. Totally not worth the trouble.”

      Perhaps not for you. But most artists live intermingled with the business of their art, which allows them to make more art.

      • To a point, perhaps, but I will offer a counterpoint to it.

        (Modern) Business is the act of reproducing the same thing (with some modifications) over and over, accepting the feedback, and making alterations based on the feedback from customers.

        Artists never do this.

        Sure, they might get mentors to tell them, they might have people who do beta reads give them tips, but it never goes to the (modern) business level.

        This is what we are reflecting on right here with this Hatchette deal. (Modern) business, not art.

  • Man, this thing has so overtaken writing blogs that it’s actually helping my writing. I’m tired of reading about it. I used to hang out from time to time at J A Konrath’s blog, but that sand box is now filled with vitriolic rants about anyone that has anything nice to say about Hatchette. It’s like stepping onto a beach barefoot, expecting a nice moonlit walk, only to find that the beach is filled with cat-turds and hypodermics. There’s no safe place to just discuss writing anymore. So, guess what? I’m writing more! Silver lining I guess, but, really…can’t everyone just take a breath?

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