So, I guess someone hosted a debate about blah blah blah, Is Amazon Your Friend or Is Amazon Your Enemy or something-something mumble-mumble Which Flavor Of Publishing Is Most Bestest. (I think Laura Hazard Owen said it best with: “Four brave white men decide future of publishing.” A headline that had me literally laugh out loud.)
I didn’t watch the debate because I have more important things to do. Like write books. Or horse around on Twitter. Or eat my own hands to bloody stumps.
I cannot and will not comment on the actual points of the debate but rather, instead, focus on the existence of the debate in the first place for a brief little reminder I like to call:
NO SUCH DEBATE EXISTS. LIKE, AT FUCKING ALL. NO, SERIOUSLY.
What I mean is:
Some folks would like you to believe in a completely false dichotomy that forces you to choose sides as an author regarding how you will (or hope to) publish your work. This argument will be expressed as being something so plain, it might as well be a pair of ruby red testicles dangling from the end of your nose — it’s just that unavoidably obvious. They will characterize this in an almost cartoonish, buffoonish way. One side is evil, exploitative, and callous. The other side is beneficent, sacred, heroic. One side is the censorious Empire. One side is the plucky Rebellion. And the sides move: the coins flip depending on who’s tossing them up in the air. The sides will be belligerent about this point, making you feel the fool for choosing one side or the other. Individuals from each tribe or army or guild (those words said with an eye-roll so dizzying it might as well be an amusement park ride) will choose proxies for their crusade — some company or corporation, or perhaps some mouthpiece or martyr. The rhetoric will be full of bad logic and injections of shame. They’ll lambast the successes on the other side as outliers while championing their own as heroes embracing good old-fashioned common sense. They’ll tell you how the water in that other well is poisoned and hope you don’t notice how many people are drinking from it and not only not dying but, in fact, quenching their thirst completely.
And when the debate seems over…
You’ll either feel pleased you chose the right banner to carry.
Or you’ll feel silly that you chose the wrong path and now are doomed, doomed, doomed.
But, I will say again:
It’s an illusion. A rub. A bit of chicanery and legerdemain.
No debate exists.
No sides exist.
All that exists are options.
Options that allow you a surprising amount of flexibility in how you choose to write your work and reach your audience. It’s not just traditional publishing and self-publishing — it’s those two broken down even finer. Big publishers, small publishers, digital publishers, Amazon, Smashwords, Payhip, blogs, Wattpad, Createspace, Lulu, White Glove, agents, no agents, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, B&N, blogs, podcasts, fanfiction, Oyster, Scribd, Kindle Unlimited, and on, and on, and on. Many of these options are literally new to the last decade or so — most, the product of a disruptive Internet, a glorious digital monster who is the true Godzilla in all of this, pulverizing institutions into rubble and forcing diversity and evolution where none before existed.
The thing is, when you’re asked to pick sides in this, you’re quietly also being asked to take one whole set of options and shovel them into a furnace and burn them. Further, once you have chosen your side, you will find that other battles are fought within your given tribe — oh, sure, self-publish, but how dare you not be exclusive with Amazon. Ah, yes, of course, it’s good you traditionally published, but why would you choose a publisher who is going to ask more than nine dollars for your e-book? It all gets shuttled from chute to chute, the path narrowing as you go.
And narrow paths are antithetical to the point.
Narrow paths are bad for authors. That is the Old Way.
THOSE ARE THE FORBIDDEN TIMES.
We want wide paths and myriad options.
Those that ask you to choose a side in this fake debate not only want fewer options for the writing world, but further, are often themselves selling something. They’re salespeople and politicians, shilling for a side because they gain if that side does well. Or they’re emotionally invested because they feel burned somehow — and they refuse to see how what happened to them is not emblematic of what happens to everybody. Sure, some people have been abused by huge publishers. Some have been destroyed by Amazon or Kindle Unlimited. And the reverse is also true: you’ll often hear how each side has changed lives and given hope where none existed before, which is true! But it’ll be framed as if the other side could’ve never given you that and has never before ever, ever, ever, done anything nice, and also, it kicks kittens into woodchippers just for the craven thrill. Because many folks have had their lives made by traditional publishing. Many have had it made by self-publishing. Some have been given a fresh chance through Kickstarter, or social media, or some scrappy small publisher you’ve never heard of before. Lots of writers find a different, comfortable fit across this wonderfully weird, diverse landscape.
A landscape that, as noted, has never before been this weird or this diverse.
(Never mind the fact that each option plays off each other, competing and keeping things flexible — all these forms of publishing big and small act as counterweights to one another.)
The only debate is for you, as an author, how you’ll write and publish your work. And that debate is not one with hard and fast sides — it’s one with a spectrum of colors, and one that will rage on, ideally, not once in your career but from book to book to book. Nuance exists, you see. Gasp. I know! How mad! Ah, but you see: each book may have a different fit. Your career may change skins like a chameleon. The environment will shift, too, and you with it.
But we need our options to be present, and flexible, and limber as a lubed-up, liquor-fed gymnast.
So: embrace options.
Don’t shout anybody down.
Be smart about your own career, but don’t assume that what’s smart for you is automatically what’s smart for everyone else. Recognize that not everybody will make your choice, nor do they have to — and hell, that’s not a bug, that’s a goddamn feature.
Keep the doors open, keep the rhetoric kind, keep the air moving through this once stale room.
Reject the war, the battle, the tribalism, the debate.
You don’t need to choose sides.
You can, in fact, choose all sides.
How cool is that?