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.
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.
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:
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
HUG, I SAY, HUG.