Toxic Tempers And Fevered Egos In Publishing

Dear Humans of the Internet,

As of late, we’ve seen a lot of hoo-ha and fol-de-rol about “legacy” publishing and self-publishing. We’ve seen words like “house slave” and, I dunno, something about frogs and monkeys sexually assaulting one another? I don’t want to look too closely at that one. Eeeesh. Some of the voices think that all this is a-okay and that tone doesn’t matter (a curious exhortation when made by a writer, a person for whom words and tone should matter). Some of the voices recognize that those terms added little to the debate (with others placing most of the fault on those who were offended rather than those causing the offense — “I’m sorry you’re offended” is different than “I’m sorry I caused you offense”).

You know what? Hell with ’em.

Stop listening. Stop paying attention. Stop shining lights in dark corners. Let the cults tend to their leaders. Let the Jonestowns grow more insular and paranoid and leave them to their invective.

The loudest of those voices are swiftly becoming irrelevant — they keep saying the same things ad nauseum. They have one trick up a well-worn sleeve. The hypocrisy and hyperbole are slopped like gruel on an orphan’s tray. They’ve resorted to, in the best of circumstances, trollish behavior. And in the worst, the behavior and language of bullies. Any points they may have — points that, in some cases, make a lot of sense and others that are woefully narrow — are lost in the eye-rolling rhetoric.

They want attention.

So, let’s stop giving it to them.

They’re going to do what they’re going to do. Which is their right to do so. They’ve got their ideas. They’ve got their opinions. Good for them. Just the same, the discussion has hit a wall. And the whole conversation has become a bit of a circus. Or, worse, a circle jerk. Remember: last one on the cracker has to eat it.

Nobody wants that job.

Let’s also be clear that toxicity and egomania is not unique to self-publishing: I’ve seen many in traditional publishing make brash and unreasonable statements about the DIY thing, too. Don’t let anyone tell you that self-publishing is not a viable part of the ecosystem. It is. It is a legitimate and equal choice where once it was not. Let the zealots on both “sides” have their barbed wire fences and jungle compounds and false dichotomies. Leave them to their eager-to-please sycophants: a manic chorus like the buzz of cicadas.

They’ve got their way.

You find your way.

I’ll talk more about this next week in a post called “Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law,” but for now, just know that every writer digs his own tunnel and detonates it behind him.

(Actually, I see that Will Entrekin has a good post on this today, actually — “There’s No Such Thing As The Publishing Debate.” A good quote from that: “If only we could acknowledge that there’s really no debate about publishing, we could start really helping readers find new writers, and vice-versa, and really, isn’t that what books are really all about, anyway?” Check it out.)


Little Chucky Wendig

Age 8-and-a-half

Oh, and P.S. —

To the dude on Twitter yesterday who accused me of blocking him because, apparently, I hate self-publishing? I clearly, plainly, certainly do not hate self-publishing. I do not advocate against self-publishing. I have six self-published books. They have earned me not insignificant income this year. (Though, also to be clear, I’ve made more money publishing traditionally and with work-for-hire during the same time frame. Goes both ways.) I, in fact, at the time of your accusation had not blocked you at all and I remain unclear as to how you came to that conclusion. I’ve since blocked you, of course. I’m happy to have a conversation, but I’m not happy to participate in a fruitless discussion where you see fit to fertilize the conversational lawn with bullshit. I don’t brook bullshit — especially when it’s about me or people I respect.

*drops a smoke pellet and disappears like the Motherfucking Batman*

53 responses to “Toxic Tempers And Fevered Egos In Publishing”

  1. I’ve made a point of refusing to talk to anyone on Twitter who, when I check their feed after they follow me, it’s a monomaniacal focus on one side or the other of this screaming match. (Because it is. Debates may have people yell, but at least there’s a chance of communication. These fanatics, they’re speaking a common language but unable to communicate.)

  2. Great post, Chuck! I was appalled myself to see what one of the loud voices turned to yesterday in the same post and comments where the other was trying to move past his earlier insulting language and bring things back to where communication was possible. We’d all be much better off paying attention to folks like you who understand that this is not necessarily a duel to the death with (often-adolescent) words.

    Always appreciate your ability to nail the real point. Thanks.

  3. ” *drops a smoke pellet and disappears like the Motherfucking Batman* ”

    Thanks Chuck, now everyone at work is looking at me after I guffawed like a donkey on crack.

  4. Oh, man. Toxic. So damned true. It’s not just toxic like it stinks and you’ve got to drive around the damned lake; it’s the sort of toxic that, if you get to close, starts to rub off.

    I think I started to get toxic for a while there. There was bitterness coming through.

    But then my life got better. I got a good job. Met a great gal. Moved to a terrific city.

    The one thing that might have been most cathartic was publishing my work. Stories I’m proud of. It’s such a relief to have them up and available. Makes me happy.

    Helped relieve me of some of that toxicity. And lately I’ve been following that, rather than arguing (with anyone set in their ways and obviously set against others, regardless of what those ways are). Rather than giving attention to those who quite obviously seek it through whatever means necessary.

    There’s work to be done, after all. Stories to write and share!

    And thanks for the shout-out there. Glad you liked the post. Partly inspired by this very site; one of your readers commented on the tedium of the debate. And it made me realize that all readers want, in the end, is good books and stories. And our job is to provide them, not to bicker endlessly and call each other names.

  5. This was bound to happen. Somebody wants Chuck pellets. This is like the birth of a new industry. Chuck, start producing so we can drum up demand.

    My stance on the die-hards on either side of the publishing debate is this: eat a dick. If anyone tells you anything, just respond with eat a dick (warning: do not try this with doctors or judges). They have (usually) taken an unreasonably polarized stance and can, in fact, eat a bag of dicks.


  6. Publishing has become like religion and politics… Become to extreme and fundamental one way or the other and you look like a maniac. Before you know it war breaks out and in the end nothing gets better.

  7. I think said person forgot they were on a social network. That doesn’t sound very social!

    But that is why I rarely engage anyone who is confusing passion for hard-headed soapbox standing. Please don’t shout – we can hear you already.

    And I unfollow or block people that just flat out annoy me. That’s my right, not to be annoyed. Right?

    Right on Chuck – right on!

  8. Thank you, Chuck!

    This “debate” has been getting under my skin, especially the hypocrites who are either pounding their pulpit about how self-publishing is the only way to go (while at the same time are signing contracts with large publishing houses) or telling people “You should self-publish because you know what the audience wants…” when these authors are coming into the argument with audiences they have spent years cultivating from their (wait for it) large publishing houses. The point you bring to light is there is no magic bullet. There is no sure-fire path to success. Today’s authors face many avenues, and we need to select routes with the best scenic overlooks. And yeah, we might have to pick more than one.

    Anyone who thinks they can predict what THE FUTURE in publishing will be really should take this superpower of theirs and go to Wall Street. They would make a killing there. Right now, there is too much change to effectively say what will or won’t happen. What you can say with certainty is that being an author is different from the way it was five — or even ten — years ago. You have to explore options and find the best fit.

    Thanks again, Chuck. This “calling to the carpet” was sorely needed.

  9. Hi Y’all. There’s been a lot of rhetoric on both sides.
    Transitions be hell.
    Traditional pub are looking to their livelihoods in the only way they know how, meanwhile some of the chickens have found the hole in the fence.
    I always enjoy reading your blogs, Chuck. Funny, informative, inspiring.
    Triggers a lot of writer response.
    Communication; always a good thing.

  10. I find it interesting that those tossing around the term “house slaves” when it comes to discussing authors signed with a publisher…

    … are themselves Amazon “house slaves”, by the same definition. I don’t see any difference between Amazon’s publishing lines and those of regular publishing houses.

    Other than the NDA all authors have to sign and no discussion of advances, royalties, etc.


    • @Sheryl —

      Well, there’s part of the hypocrisy, innit?

      I mean, Amazon’s another publisher. And perhaps an excellent one — I have no judgment on that or any of the authors who publish with them. But this group often hangs their hat on that 70/30 split and hammers that home so stridently — and yet we can be fairly sure that’s not what Amazon the publisher offers.


      — c.

  11. Well said, as usual. If anything has soured me on the whole idea of self-publishing, it is the high-handed telling me I’m a fool for not doing so, that the rest of my career is utterly wrong and all the choices I’ve made in my writing life are stupid.
    And I swear, whomever calls me a “house slave” to my face will get a smack in the mouth. With a fist full of my royalty cheques.

  12. Dear Little Chucky Wendig,



    Little Tracey Hansen

    PS- I will be published soon through a non traditional publishing house. So, I guess that means I’m taking the non traditional, traditional route. I think I just confused myself.

  13. Just makes me want to scream: Hey, We Are On The Same Team!

    Who made these opposite teams? This isn’t like Team Jacob and Team Edward. Gag!
    We’re all Team Author. FFS.


  14. I’m sorry if I accused you of blocking me when you had not. That is what Twitter was telling me when I tried to continue our conversation.

    However, that doesn’t excuse your behavior or the behavior of your sycophants after that. You acted like the spoiled child you accused me of being.

    It was like a game where everyone is throwing rocks and the first one who gets hurt starts saying the game is unfair.

    Since you were linking to Paul’s article saying “No, it isn’t.” about self-publishing like some bad Monty Python sketch, it was pretty easy to lump you into that group and looking at the fact that you are going to be published by Angry Robot, a company with notoriously low advances, it is pretty easy to put you on one side of the fence and let you stay there.

    Paul makes his living as one of those House Slaves. He can’t benefit from his own hard work beyond the reach of the end of his leash. He seems like a great guy, but hiding behind your masters skirts when people are trying to tell you to take off the collar and run for the hills doesn’t seem like a bright thing to do.

    Come out here into the sunlight on the other side of the fence with the chickens who have escaped. Its pretty cool over here and the grass really is greener.


    • @Evil Avatar —

      I would say I appreciate your apology, but you seem content to sling further invective.

      Slaves and fences and sycophants and what-not.

      It’s all very exaggerated, this rhetoric, and it again makes use of misinformation above fact. It assumes you know things about other people’s writing lives or publishing deals when, explicitly, you do not.

      If you’re happy self-publishing — in which you claim to be making money hand-over-fist, which I assume means you don’t have a day-job and roll around in piles of cash from your pseudonymously-published fiction — then good for you. I’m happy self-publishing, too. I’m also happy traditionally publishing. And giving stuff away here at the blog. And doing freelance work-for-hire.

      If my happiness — which is not happiness in slavery, but rather, genuine contentment and satisfaction in doing what I do (and, not coincidentally, making lovely money doing so) — threatens you, then that’s on you, not on me.

      — c.

  15. It’s irritating to hear them spout how “They made more money than you” and are “getting rich” and “you are an idiot if you disagree.”

    Thanks for taking the high road, Chuck!


  16. Your post hits at a far greater problem than disagreements about publishing methods. This is where we’ve moved as a country and possibly a world. Hyperbole, personal attacks and fear-mongering are the currency of modern debate, and these people are far too willing to spend heavily. What happened to discussion?

  17. Yeah, after my experience yesterday, I’ve sworn off defending the rhetorical excesses of the folks whose positions I largely share, even as a Devil’s Advocate. Sometimes an asshole is just an asshole.

    It does make me realize, though, that when one of the louder voices admits that it’s purely to drive traffic, increase comments, and thereby increase his knowledge in order to increase his sales…. That there is perhaps a niche there to be filled, offering genuine “here are the tools at your disposal in this wild new frontier — go forth and kick ass” advice.

    You’ve got the BTFO advice regarding writing covered here — perhaps I should return to my idea of the “Insurgent Creative” podcast and offer the same for publishing.

    Y’know… with all my free time. 🙂

  18. >”I would say I appreciate your apology, but you seem content to sling further invective.

    Slaves and fences and sycophants and what-not.”<

    Those are only the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

    Why should the verbiage bother people so? Are we not writers? Shouldn't we bathe in the pageantry when we can. Wrap yourself in the flag of your countrymen and choose sides. Let slip the words of war.


    • @Bob —

      To be clear, I don’t believe Tobias was referring to indie authors as fuckwads. At all. I assume that’s what you’re referring to? Buckell was taking aim at some of the specific instances of rhetoric — which conjure whiffs of racism and sexism and bullying — and calling a specific sub-set of people out. Not indie authors in general (which Buckell is and supports).

      Now, you may not like the tone of his post — which I understand — but he’s not talking to the mass of indie authors. He’s speaking to very specific offense, here.

      — c.

  19. Well said, Chuck (and I include your replies to PD in these comments). We choose our own path and thanks be to Gravy Jeebus there’s more than the one option these days.

    We should celebrate that and make the most of it… not squabble over which is best to the detriment of all of them.

  20. >”Only problem is, this isn’t a war.”<

    It is and it always has been. Only until now there was only one side and no fighting. The author has always been the red-headed step child of big publishers.

    There is always going to be a gap beween the people who sell "art" (for lack of a better word) and the people who make art. Until the sudden change in technology and the rise of the eBook authors never had a choice.

    If you wanted to make money and you wanted to be published you had to go the one traditional route where the people who are buying books aren't buying them based on the quality of the product, they are buying them based on some marketing plan made up by someone who doesn't read books or care about books.

    Suddenly for the first time in… well… forever… authors have an opportunity to go out on their own and make it or fail based only on the quality of their story instead of the decisions of some guy in a suit sitting in an office in Manhattan.

    Because there was only one way to do things, a ton of people are going to stand around on the side of the enemy… the only side of things for a long time… and try to defend the fortress as it begins to sink down into the swamp.

    It doesn't have to be that way. People like Joe and Amanda and Barry are showing you another way to do things. The best way to do things (not the only way, just the best way).

    And then there is you. Caught up in worrying about "how" someone says things instead of what they are saying. If you are that scared of harsh language, you probably shouldn't have a blog or be on twitter or even have an internet connection in your home.

    Embrace the humor in calling people "house slaves" and learn from the lessons people like Joe are trying to teach us.


  21. Actually, let me explode this out a little bit, as I think it merits the extrapolation —

    Inevitably the comparison arises that the “fuckwad” commentary is on par with the rigorous anti-tradpub rhetoric on the other side, but here’s where that falls down —

    One side wants to call you stupid for a business decision that’s all your own (“you” being the generic “you,” not anyone in particular). Further, they want to use what many believe is language that is, if not fully racist and sexist, then is at least charged in that direction.

    The other side is calling out *that specific behavior* and taking them to task for what is, at best, a tone-deaf insensitivity and, at worst, something that smacks of racial and sexual intolerance.

    As a bi-racial author, I’m content to understand Buckell’s vitriol, here. Not that he, or anybody, needs my permission, of course.

    It may seem like Buckell is just choosing sides in this so-called “war” but I don’t think that’s what’s happening. He’s speaking to intolerance, which is capable of arousing significant anger.

    His post, if any need the reference:

    — c.

  22. @PD:

    Yes. And then there’s me.

    Amazing, a writer exhorting people to think about *how* they say something in addition to *what* it is they’re saying.

    You’re right. I should just come out from behind my “masters skirts” (I don’t know why my master is wearing a skirt, exactly, though the lack of a possessive apostrophe there suggests perhaps that “masters skirts” is its own thing) and start suckling at the teats and gulping the milky white seed of wisdom.

    Enough about me.

    But let’s talk about you.

    You claim to me having better success than a number of traditional authors, myself included (though how you have private access to all my financial information remains yet to be seen).

    So. Point us at your books. I assume these two zombie shorts are yours —

    But you’re also publishing under another name? Go ahead. Pimp your stuff. One assumes you’re quite proud of it, so — here’s your chance to show us your work.

    — c.

  23. >”It may seem like Buckell is just choosing sides in this so-called “war” but I don’t think that’s what’s happening. He’s speaking to intolerance, which is capable of arousing significant anger.”<

    The point to be made here is that in his article he says to listen to the people making the most money — that would be Joe — the same guy he says not to listen to.

    He also goes on and on about Joe not being "self published". He is. The bulk of his portfolio are direct-to-Kindle KDP titles. Joe has ONE book published through Amazon's author program and Joe goes even further out there and has his own store.

    Joe offers several of his books for free download from his main author website. The same books you can buy on your Kindle for $2.99.

    He represents about the most vocal and successful of the indie publishers.

    Why should people listen to him? I'll give you one hell of a reason.

    Because he isn't very good. He isn't a very good writer. I've read his stuff. It isn't bad. It isn't great. It doesn't come close to some of the real high quality stuff I've found (and I buy books the way an 8-year-old buys Pokemon cards).

    If someone who is an average-to-good writer can make the kind of money Joe is making, you had damn better be listening to him.


  24. I’m glad you’re asking people to ignore the toxicity, because I’m convinced it’s done deliberately and for very cynical marketing reasons. Some self-publishing advocates genuinely want to help other authors. And some want to sell their books at any expense, and creating a scandal is the easiest way to get free publicity.

    (I learned this lesson recently when a bad review of one of the books I’ve written under a pen name received a bad review for its controversial content…and saw my sales spike as the flame war–in which I did not participate–ensued.)

    My point is, some folks can be counted on to trot out a house slave or raped frog at regular intervals so that people will keep talking about them. I’m not saying it isn’t smart. I’m just saying that I don’t want to be manipulated and used in such a fashion.

  25. It’s amazing that all P. D. is doing is proving the point of this post. Compliant to my earlier comment, I return to the peanut gallery with the words “eata bag of dicks. ”

    Actually, I’d say you went the extra mile. Please to accept this ticket, good for a thirty gallon drum of dicks for your chewing pleasure.

  26. >”But you’re also publishing under another name? Go ahead. Pimp your stuff. One assumes you’re quite proud of it, so — here’s your chance to show us your work.”<

    Yes, most of my work is under a pen name. I'm not going to share it, that is the whole point in having a pen name.

    Yes, I've made more money in the first 5 months that my book was available than Angry Robot offers as an advance and that IS quite a bit more money than many mid-list authors get in advance for their novels.

    I guess that is why I'm so adamant about the self-publishing thing. I've had my 'see the light and come to Zombie Jesus' moment.

    It was the moment Amazon made the direct deposit into my account.


    • P.D. —

      So be it, then. I figured you were quite proud of your e-books. Why publish under a pen name?

      And again, I’m not sure precisely why or how you think you can comment on anybody’s Angry Robot advance, but apparently, you’re a publishing insider.

      — c.

  27. “I guess that is why I’m so adamant about the self-publishing thing. I’ve had my ‘see the light and come to Zombie Jesus’ moment.
    It was the moment Amazon made the direct deposit into my account.”

    …and yet, in your blog you write:

    “I’m firmly in the “I want to be traditionally published.” club and I see Kindle sales as a way to prove to Agents and Publishers that I’m a voice that cries out from the darkness to be heard.”

    …and this post, from August, mentions your Amazon sales going back to APRIL.

    So I guess that “come to Zombie Jesus” moment didn’t really come when they made their deposit, after all.

    You’ll understand, of course, that given this apparent contradiction (some might less kindly call it rampant bullshit), coupled with the “my super-secret pseudonym is totally making the Phat Lewt, but I won’t tell you” ridiculousness, you come off as somewhat less than believable.

    Your hero is always exhorting people to be open with their numbers. Apparently you haven’t drunk that particular glass of kool-aid just yet?

  28. >”Your hero is always exhorting people to be open with their numbers. Apparently you haven’t drunk that particular glass of kool-aid just yet?”<

    Some of the numbers you are asking for are right in that blog entry. I talked in there about how well a couple of my products were doing.


    • @PD —

      Whatever it is that makes you happy in writing and publishing: go and do that.

      My only advice to you is to not expect everyone to do the same, and not to consider them morons, slaves, or some other insult, if they do not do the same.

      One man’s anecdote is not every man’s data.

      Good luck to you.

      — c.

  29. “Why should you listen to Joe? …. Because he isn’t very good. He isn’t a very good writer. I’ve read his stuff. It isn’t bad. It isn’t great…. [and he’s rich, bitch].”

    I haven’t read any of Joe’s books, so I can’t say if this is the case or not. But even Amazon didn’t pick any of Joe’s books — or any self-published books, for that matter — for their “Best of 2011” list this week. So, safe to say, by Amazon’s own admission, traditionally published books are still the cream of the crop when it comes to quality writing. However, we all know that the best books aren’t always the ones that find success in the marketplace. Sometimes — maybe a lot of times — crap floats to the surface. Talent is only part of the equation when it comes to success.

    “If someone who is an average-to-good writer can make the kind of money Joe is making, you had damn better be listening to him.”

    If I’m a small restaurant owner, I’m sure the CEO of McDonald’s has a lot to say about how to sell hamburgers, but that doesn’t mean I had “damn better listen to him.” Especially if said CEO laces his advice with divisive rhetoric.

  30. Psst. Hey, remember this sign? It says “Don’t feed the trolls.” Really.

    I think the folks who frequent this blog on a regular basis can smell bullshit when it’s heaped out in flowering prose. Don’t worry about it. Seriously. Please. Or I’ll rant. And nobody wants that. Because… because nobody likes me when I’m… hungry.

    • @Karina:

      I do love to see you rant (it sates me like honey) but I see your point. Especially since this post is a long-winded way of saying, “Don’t feed the trolls.”

      — c.

  31. I’m pleased to see a sane middle ground evolving in this artificial debate between “publishing” and “publishing.” People like Chuck and Will share well-reasoned, balanced opinions, and other writers are listening. This makes me inordinately happy. It’s so hard not to polarize when you have one side or the other shouting at you.

    How are you guys at party politics? We could use you there too 🙂

  32. Amazing, a writer exhorting people to think about *how* they say something in addition to *what* it is they’re saying.

    This is, perhaps, the dumbest part of the whole shitstorm. Writers being called on making facile and offensive comparisons try to excuse themselves by saying ‘dude, don’t look at what I actually said, try to grok my larger point’. Because surely one can’t expect a writer to say what they mean and then stand by it.

  33. I’m sort of done with the debate as well. If you want to make a quality book, make a quality book and do whatever it takes to make that product. If you can get the help of an agent, great! If you can hire an editor and do it yourself, also great!

    Write stuff you want to write, stuff you are happy with and people want to read.

    I honestly think the debate distracts more from the process of writing good work than anything else.

  34. As an editor-for-hire, I have no idea that there’s a war on. Also, I have no idea about any ideas of slavery as people take up sides that I didn’t know existed.

    I thought the point was to do whatever you could to get your book(s) published, so what’s all the fighting about? If people want to go some traditional way, that’s cool. If they want to be all DIY, then good for them, and let’s all celebrate by being successful together.

    What’s always bothered me about people who want to make this a numbers game, is they are very often not willing to talk about the art and craft – as if you can/must either focus on generating income (and get your Scrooge McDuck on) or the art, maaan, which is the polar opposite of money because that’s like selling out (or something, I’m not really in touch with my inner angsty younger writing self anymore).

Leave a Reply to Angela Perry Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: