It’s no secret that word is funny. One would think it had something to do with pulling things out of your ass. The truth is, it comes from the Greek for “proportion”, and we use it to show comparison.
I really like reading J. A. Konrath’s blog. For those that are unfamiliar, Konrath is an author, and he writes police procedurals, thrillers, mysteries, and horror. I heard tales of him wading into smut (my term for erotica written for the ladies, not that there is anything wrong with that). He is successful. He had an agent, and publishing contracts. Then something happened.
On his blog he addresses the monstrosity that traditional publishing has become. Most writers (like me) yearn for the legitimacy of contract deals with publishers. We have heard they come with advances and guest spots on talk shows. Konrath debunks that idea. Advances are very small, if at all, and a writer with a publishing contract gets paid at the end of the year with the money that is left over. If you feel the need to educate yourself on the process I suggest you start reading Konrath’s blog. It is not a pretty picture, but he does use entertaining analogies to illustrate it. I do not believe he is totally against the publishing industry (can we call it an industry since there are so few publishing houses left?), but I do think he has pointed out what needs to change if it is to survive in the digital age and it frustrates him. I’m pretty sure the big publishing firms that are left are not so much an enemy to him as they are potholes on roads he occasionally drives on. Minor, and he goes around them. Plenty of people went around them. Hugh Howey, Michael Bunker, and an army of romance writers, have become successful through KDP and self publishing. Most of the crap we were forced to read in high school saw the light of day as self published (Woolf, Whitman, and the rest of the crew). The point is, publishing has changed. It is a solo project, and a business you can run from home. Most of those ads you find while searching for how to lose fat or install solar panels are for self published ebooks.
I do not want to get into the ins and outs of self publishing. I am not qualified, I merely dabble. I do know ebooks make up a large market share and end up best sellers. There are “manuals” that advise on how to do it, Guy Kawasaki’s APE being the current go-to. APE addresses the general idea of ebooks and print on demand, not how to write a particular work. It is applicable to fiction and nonfiction, so I would recommend it.
What troubles some writers about the publishing environment is a little advertised battle being waged between a large publishing company and Amazon. Hachette, the publishing company, is refusing to negotiate a contract with Amazon, but still wants the company to sell their titles. Now Hachette is not some small fry. Stephen King and John Grisham are both published by them, and the list is even longer and filled with names we all know. Konrath has addressed the issues in several posts and he is coherent, logical, and to me it appears Hachette is a petulant child.
The latest post, Nonsense United, gives a decent overview of what is happening. It also ridicules one of the drum majors for the status quo to continue, Douglas Preston. Preston is a successful author who has contracts with Hachette. I find Konrath’s position on Preston’s group, Authors United, to be more generous than needed. Let me give you my own analogy, and in the process to break the veil and introduce Godwin’s Law into the mix. The self published/traditional/indie/Amazon/Hachette debate has been going on for months. In internet time that means it is old, and I have not found Nazi/Hitler comparison yet. I know people have been waiting for it, so I’ll do it.
Back in the day (1930s), in a far away land a man named Hitler took charge of the National Socialist Party in Germany. Many people signed up when he became the head of state. He talked a good talk (crazy if you ask me), and convinced the people of Germany they were to fulfill their destiny of occupying the prime real estate of Europe. He also wanted to rid the land of the Jewish people. Now some people were not on board with the Jewish thing, but that part about Poland seemed like a good idea. So they signed up for the Nazi Party, but just for the part about taking Poland, not committing genocide. The problem is they were still part of the group, regardless of their position on one issue. In for a penny in for a pound. Guilty of one thing, well I’m sorry but you are guilty for all of it. How does this relate?
Preston, and the Authors United, have signed up for Hachette’s deal. It’s their publishing company, not Amazon, that is screwing them. They agreed to Hachette’s terms. If a writer wants Amazon terms, they should go to Amazon. In case you missed it I am putting Hachette on the Nazi side. Amazon is not Poland or the Allies, they can just be Switzerland or Portugal. When a writer signs a contract with a publishing company they are subject to the whims and fortunes of that company. If Hachette can get it’s books in Walmart, there’s a market. Bob’s Whiskey and Book Emporium? That’s a market. Airport kiosks? Market. Libraries? Market. Amazon? Market. Hachette’s problem is Amazon disagrees with the terms and has decided to sell Hachette titles for the price Hachette has set. This makes Hachette mad. How dare you price our books at the asking price we set! We demand you mark them down so they will sell! Did I mention Hachette is based in France? Collaborators. I think the problem Authors United has is not with Amazon. Some of these very successful people are noticing upstarts without MFAs are getting noticed. Some of them are shunning traditional publishing companies, and even signing contracts for movie deals (Fifty Shades of Gray was self published). It scares them they no longer have an exclusive club. Indie publishing is the resistance movement, blowing up the rails and assassinating officers in cafes.
The problem is I like some of the writers that are signed with Hachette, and all of them signed on with Authors United. While I might enjoy their writing I do not appreciate what that says about them. They have signed on to a group that believes it can dictate what other people do with their business, property, or fortunes. While on the surface that seems to be the Marxist line, I do not view it that way for one reason. They are elitists, and they control who goes through their precious gates. They are wealthy and want to chip away at what somebody else has, just to keep them from getting anything, not because they need it. If King, Preston, Grisham, Baldacci, or any of the others want to sell on Amazon with the preorder buttons and discounts they can. The problem they have is the group they joined (Hachette) has other plans and they can’t.
I am starting to think if any writer wants to be successful they must do it themselves. This opens up a new market, and economy. Writers scribble away, formatters and editors fix problems, while those lucky few who can make a visual depiction create book covers. I contrasted writing to the music industry a while back. Today most bands do it themselves. They write their own music, buy some equipment and set up a studio in somebodies basement, record the tracks and somehow get them out in digital format (iTunes is my format of choice, but I’m old school). They pound the pavement and get gigs at bars and festivals, some play at college parties. They sell copies of their music at the shows, but for the most part you can get it from their website. The best bands do it. For cryin’ out loud! Metallica does it! The bands I listen to have limited contracts, tilted in their favor. They release songs all the time on their websites for free. They post professionally filmed videos to YouTube. The music industry evolved. Publishing is still trying to hold on to its small collection of Morgan Silver Dollars, believing it will be worth something someday. When? Today it isn’t worth crap. Publishing houses will crumble. They have failed to adapt. That’s not true. They refused to adapt. There is a reason we eat the lower animals, they are easy to catch. Hachette is about to be eaten. Publishing companies failed themselves. I could go on a rant about bloated salaries, the belief in their intellectual superiority, and poor decision making (that Snooki book deal really enlightened the masses). It’s pointless. If you are going to publish, throw some lines in the water. If you get a bite from a publishing company, great. If not, no big deal, do it yourself (that’s the way your grandpa told you to do it anyway).