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Authors vs. authors?

Posted in: Understanding Publishing on July 7, 2014 Leave your thoughts 💬

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Hi. At Reedsy we live, sleep, and all but photosynthesise self-publishing news and discussion. Even if you were living under a rock, a massive rock, like a boulder, you wouldn’t have been able to avoid the suddenly very loudly proclaimed views of authors both traditionally published and self-published over the whole Amazon-Hachette blood war that’s been happening for over a month by now.
So we had to say something. In fact, we said two things. Below you can find Ricardo’s take, and you can find Dave’s perspective over here.

Petition vs. petition

One thought came to my mind when I read Barry Eisler’s article on last week’s two recent and infamous (in certain circles anyway) petitions: Have you guys forgotten that you’re all authors? Shouldn’t you all be on the same page?

A little context for those totally unfamiliar with these things. You’re probably aware of the Amazon vs Hachette clash, right? But you probably don’t know why these two publishing giants are at each other’s throats (because, by the way, Barry is right: Hachette is part of the Lagardère group, which is also a giant). Well, don’t feel bad about it - it’s starting to seem like no one else is much more informed than you are.

When trying to research what exactly Amazon and Hachette are fighting about about, it’s difficult to get any details more specific than ‘pricing and distribution’ (who could have guessed, right?). Whatever’s going on, everyone is worried this could affect… well, everyone (even self-published authors?…)

On Wednesday Douglas Preston published an open letter to readers, asking them to email Jeff Bezos to tell him… something. To be nicer to Hachette, maybe? Because when you don’t know what the problem is, it’s difficult to ask for solutions.

Rather than emailing Amazon, Hugh Howey, Barry Eisler, and other self-published authors responded with with their own petition, including plenty of persuasive detail about everything Amazon has done for them (making self-publishing possible), and their bad experiences with traditional publishing. This makes Howey Bezos’s defender.

Where does that leave us (meaning, still, readers)? Who should we be listening to? Speaking totally personally, I like what Howey said. More importantly, even there’s a lot of truth on both sides, I feel I can endorse Howey in a way I just can’t endorse Preston et al. Why? Because they speak with clarity. They say they side with Amazon and against Hachette, and say it plain and clear. Preston’s letter is eloquence without effect, reiterating a problem without resolving it: “we are not siding with anyone”. Come on…

An author voice for the publishers?

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I actually think this raises a much bigger question. The relative incoherence of Douglas Preston’s letter does not mean they don’t have a point. It means they don’t know how to express it.

Hugh Howey, Barry Eisler, and the whole self-publishing community have been talking at panels, hosting conferences, gaining presence at book fairs, and frequently defending Amazon for years now. They’re trained at promoting themselves, and self-publishing in general.

In terms of communication skills, the cream of self-publishing is excellent and well-rehearsed, because they’ve been saying this for years. Traditional published authors have remained pretty much silent on what’s been happening to their sector. Now, they’re being forced to publicly defend themselves against Amazon, and it’s not going great.

Whether they had a reason or not to “blame” Amazon (no one knows), they just weren’t persuasive about it. And because of that, it’s very difficult for us readers not to side with Hugh.

So what am I getting at? Porter Anderson has expressed it better than I ever could in his last piece for Thought Catalog:

“You want both sides of any question when you can get them, and especially where it concerns your career.

And as much of a service as Howey does us in formulating a slate of issues and positions about self-publishing, I remain sorry that we don’t yet seem to have the traditionalist Howey.”

This was aimed at authors. But it’s the same for us readers. We want the other side of the question, and after reading Douglas Pearson’s letter, I still don’t feel like I’ve had it.

Is this trad. vs self?

Let’s end with a question, which has remained unanswered. Do these two petitions represent a battle between the traditional world (from an author’s perspective), and the self-publishing one? In other words, is Douglas Pearson and his fellow petitioners representative of mainstream publishing?

This is what Porter asked self-publishing author JA Konrath on Friday during a passionate #Futurechat.

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Well, I’m afraid we still don’t have an answer to this vital question. For now, it’s self-pub authors vs. “some trad” authors. And that’s bad enough. Were it to be truly trad. vs. pub, that would be worse.

Until now, I’ve always seen mutual respect between self-publishing authors and mainstream ones. Hugh Howey’s battle was against publishers and bookshops, not against authors. As a reader, I don’t want that to change.

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