If you've been following the media circus that is the contract dispute between Amazon and Hachette this past week, you may have noticed a couple additions. Groups of authors have started taking sides in large numbers, adding their own sideshows to the main event.
On Wednesday Doug Prescott circulated an open letter calling on Amazon to end its rough negotiation tactics. That letter was shortly seconded by the SFWA, and a day later leading indie author Hugh Howey responded with a similar open letter posted at Change.org. Howey's letter was ostensibly written to readers, thanking them for buying books, but in reality it was a thinly veiled partisan criticism of Hachette and traditional publishing.
I have largely been avoiding writing about that part of the Amazon-Hachette media circus, but I decided to mention it today and second n opinion expressed by author Chuck Wendig. Wendig and I don't see eye to eye on many topics, but last week he posted a critique Howey's open letter and I wanted to reiterate what he wrote:
So, if one wanted to cobble together a more sane and sound response to the Amazon protest letter penned by some industry giants (Patterson, Preston, Patterson — wow, they sound like a legal firm), what would it, or could it, look like?
It’d be short.
It wouldn’t be a petition.
It’d go to media, but also posted on relevant blogs to increase commentary and viral transmission.
It could be co-signed by a lot of self-publisher venerables.
It might read, in fact, like this:
"We respectfully disagree with the Amazon protest letter and believe that Amazon represents one part of a diverse publishing environment. We also feel that Amazon has helped to revolutionize publishing and is working for readers and authors, not in opposition to them. Amazon continues to put books in the hands of readers all around the country — in fact, the world — and has done more good for publishing than bad."
"Further, we respectfully call on all publishers to work toward more equitable royalties and deal terms for their author partners. We support authors and want to keep as many avenues for those authors open — and as advantageous — as possible to maintain the health of books and book culture."
Then, I dunno, you’d write THE END and be happy it was under 500 words. (Actually, I think that’s about 100 words, so huzzah for brevity.) Short and sweet. Still lots one could disagree with, and I’m not putting this out as my letter — rather, I just wanted to demonstrate what a short and moderate response letter could look like. I feel like this is sharp enough, middle-of-the-road enough, and still gets the message across without sounding like it’s time to pass the Flavor-Aid around the Jonestown campfire. It doesn’t demonize anybody, doesn’t throw anybody under the bus, doesn’t elevate anybody to Empyrean pillars. Sounds (theoretically) mature. I mean, if I were really the one writing it, I’d probably throw a couple “fucks” and “poop noises” in there, just to brand it as my own, but whatever. Your mileage can and should vary.
He's not wrong. This is exactly the calm, neutral, non-partisan response which Howey should have written. There was a high ground here, and Howey failed to seize it.
IMO the mistake Howey made was that he forgot indie authors don't owe Amazon anything other than a commission. Yes, Amazon has created new opportunities for authors and expanded the industry, but any obligation that may have created was cancelled out by the money Amazon earned.