Laura Miller’s Salon Piece on Indie Authors, Amazon, and Hachette Shows Much of What’s Gone Wrong in the Trad Pub / Indie Pub Debate
A couple days ago Salon.com weighed in on the Amazon-Hachette dispute with a new angle. In a piece ostensibly written to self-published authors, Laura Miller makes a case that indie authors should side with Hachette against Amazon.
If you follow publishing news I am sure that you have already read the article, but it’s okay if you have not. I don’t plan to debate whether she is right or wrong; instead I plan to discuss the type, tone, and context of Miller’s arguments.
Miller’s article has given me an insight into the landscape of one ongoing discussion in the publishing industry, and for the sake of moving the discussion to a more productive place I would like to point out what is wrong with Miller’s piece.
I read it on Tuesday, when I discarded the article after identifying it as a typical Salon.com in the vein of their Amazon coverage. (I won’t go into that here.)
And then, I read it again today. Someone I respected tweeted the article, expressing approval, and after reading her subsequent tweets I realized I had to reevaluate my position and see which one of us was right. I still can’t answer that, but in analyzing Miller’s piece I found that this article is not actually trying to get into a discussion with self-published authors (or me, as a self-pub booster).
Instead, Miller is preaching to the choir.
Please read the first 5 paragraphs of the article and tell me what you see:
Anyone who has followed the coverage of the ongoing Amazon-Hachette dispute knows that some of the most impassioned voices on the pro-Amazon side of the argument come from self-published writers. It’s easy to understand their impulse to defend Amazon’s e-book publishing programs, given that many had tried in vain to publish their books with traditional houses before opting for, say, Kindle Direct Publishing.
However, the dispute with Hachette has nothing to do with Amazon’s publishing programs and everything to do with the way traditionally published books are retailed, a distinction that self-published authors ignore at their peril. This is one quarrel where the self-published authors would be smarter to side with Hachette and the other “Big Five” houses.
One reason for the crossed wires here is that most self-published authors really, really, really hate traditional publishing, which has either rejected them or (in the case of authors who use Amazon to make their out-of-print titles available once more), let them down. The intense rage such experiences instill can lead to strange glitches in logic, such as the charge that it is publishers who have engaged in “monopolistic” practices because not everyone who wants to publish with a traditional house has succeeded in winning a contract.
“Big Pub basically runs its own monopoly over writers,” a commenter on a New York Times article retorted, and I received an email about the Amazon-Hachette clash in which the writer complained of “the impossibility of a non-NYC writer just getting his foot in the door without sleeping with professors, visiting authors, publishers; without an M.F.A.; or without publications in major magazines (100 percent of which are supplied by agents). Talk about monopolistic!” [Note: The Big Five — until recently the Big Six, but conglomeration is an ongoing reality when suppliers must negotiate with a single enormous retailer — compete with each other for the books they want to publish. The fact that none of them want to publish a particular book is not proof that they are conspiring against the book’s author, however frustrated the author may be by the experience.]
In fact, it sometimes seems that self-published authors hate traditional publishing far more than they love Amazon, and because they believe Amazon will destroy traditional publishing, they’re happy to cheer it on. Whether, in the long term, traditional publishing will vanish or be significantly transformed is beyond the scope of this article, but here’s why self-published authors ought to consider supporting it in the dispute happening right now.
In an article titled Amazon is not your best friend, Miller doesn’t actually talk to self-published authors; she is pointing at self-published authors and talking about them. In the first 5 paragraphs, Miller talks about self-published authors multiple times but doesn’t talk to them once.
Indie authors might be the subject of this piece but they are not the audience; Miller is talking to other people in traditional publishing. And once we realize who Miller is talking to, it is easier to understand the arguments she is making.
Let me give you a few examples.
In the first paragraph, she refers to self-published authors in a negative way, saying that "many had tried in vain to publish their books with traditional houses". In the third paragraph, she makes an unsubstantiated point that "most self-published authors really, really, really hate traditional publishing", labeling the entire group with a single viewpoint which is bound to piss at least some of them off. And then, in the fourth paragraph, she singles out one random commenter from a NY Times article and the sender of an anonymous email to stand as spokespeople for self-published authors.
Do you see what she is doing, now?
I do. Miller’s piece reminds me less of a thoughtful piece on publishing and more of an example of one of the less savory types of partisan political debate.
In writing this piece, Miller is the equivalent of rightwing/leftwing person who, speaking to an audience which agrees with her, points to the other political party and explains what is wrong with that party while using the nastiest terms possible.
I cannot give you an example of a political comments similar in type to Miller’s; I will not attack one side or the other. But I am sure that I have properly identified the type of arguments Miller is making.
Miller’s piece is not constructive; it is an example of how not to convince your subject to agree with you. I cannot speak to her motive, but I can say that Miller’s piece does not contribute to the ongoing discussion in publishing. Far from winning self-pub authors over to her side, this piece works to widen the divide between the subject of her piece and the people who agree with her.
And that does not help anyone.
Or am I wrong? The comments are open.