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.
William Ockham June 19, 2014 um 7:00 pm
Miller is basically engaging in concern trolling self-pub authors.
Nate Hoffelder June 19, 2014 um 7:07 pm
I had never heard of that before, but I don’t think most of the definitions match with what Miller is doing:
fjtorres June 19, 2014 um 7:37 pm
I think this one fits:
"The intent is to derail, stifle, control, the dialogue."
The dialogue in this case being an honest assessment of an author’s options for bringing a book to market.
Nate Hoffelder June 19, 2014 um 8:01 pm
Maybe its my Asperger’s getting in the way, but I don’t understand enough about Miller’s motive to tell whether you are right or wrong. You could be assuming an ulterior motive which does not exist, I don’t know.
All i know is that there are serious flaws in her piece.
fjtorres June 19, 2014 um 8:37 pm
The gang at TPV looked her up.
She is reportedly a book critic and tradpubbed author.
Not much mindreading needed after reading that tirade.
William Ockham June 19, 2014 um 8:38 pm
She is pretending to have the interests of self-pub authors in mind, but in reality she is a Hachette published author (which she does not disclose in the article). If Hachette loses, she loses. She is arguing that self-pub authors should engage a particular course of action that has no obvious benefit for any of them, but clear advantages for her.
As a bonus, her inflammatory rhetoric is guaranteed to provoke a reaction that reinforces the ideas of her allies. Just see Deborah Smith’s comment below. Like a lot of Salon’s article, it is classic concern trolling.
Nate Hoffelder June 20, 2014 um 12:13 pm
I concede the argument.
I just had a discussion with her on Twitter. She argued the Shatzkin theory of why indies should like high ebook prices at Hachette (less price competition for indies), and that has convinced me that you are right.
fjtorres June 19, 2014 um 7:20 pm
That kind of debate is what ensues when people find their longheld core beliefs being challenged and they have no rational counter. Instead, they seek the comfort of fellow travellers, seeking to swamp out the unpleasant challenge with a chorus of nodding agreement.
You don’t find it just in politics or religious debate (both of which are too contentious to float examples) but also in sports and in product identification wars. Which we have all seen enough of, rightt?
The innuendo and insults vary but the intent is the same.
fjtorres June 19, 2014 um 7:24 pm
Try this quote, referenced at TPV:
“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong.
When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance.
And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize,ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”
? Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
Deborah Smith June 19, 2014 um 7:30 pm
Disagree or not, her point was proved when she was mobbed with an ugly wave of enraged responders. And at Twitter she’s been attacked by a foul-mouthed self pub named Richard Evans who gleefully calls traditionally published authors "aristo rats." I can honestly say I’ve seen that level of paranoia and vitriol only from self-pubs and their spokespeople.
Nate Hoffelder June 19, 2014 um 7:47 pm
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Process by which one’s expectations about another person eventually lead the other person to behave in ways that confirm these expectations.
Will Entrekin June 19, 2014 um 10:13 pm
"I can honestly say I’ve seen that level of paranoia and vitriol only from self-pubs and their spokespeople."
Really? Just google "self-publishing," "volcano," and an expletive for fecal matter. Or "freight class." That would probably work, as well.
Nate Hoffelder June 19, 2014 um 10:25 pm
No need to Google. I gathered those links into the second paragraph of this post:
And thanks for reminding me about those stories; they are exactly the same type of post as what Miller wrote. I hadn’t realized it before, but they are equally flawed.
Martin Lake June 20, 2014 um 8:29 am
Indie writers suffer more than just vitriol. One of the largest booksellers in the UK withdrew all Indie books following a rabid Daily Mail rant about erotica. My books contain nothing erotic but they’re still not available to readers. If I was published by a vanity press they’d probably be available.
fjtorres June 19, 2014 um 7:34 pm
Now, do you want to discuss the reason for the hissy fit?
Or is that a topic for another day.
Nate Hoffelder June 19, 2014 um 7:51 pm
Whose hissy fit? I’m all ears.
fjtorres June 19, 2014 um 8:30 pm
Miller, for starters.
The whole anti-indie crusade rabble rousers.
It’s driven by fear, no?
And you’ve documented the source of that fear: numbers.
Deborah Smith June 19, 2014 um 9:56 pm
This idea that traditional publishers are terrified of indie publishing is completely at odds with every statistic and every bonafide bit of evidence about the financial status of the Big 5 houses and their global, big-franchise, multimedia platforms. As Miller said in her article, they use the self-pub world as a kind of "new midlist" or farm team to identify hot new prospects without having to invest in the high-risk task of holding try-outs. It’s a win-win for them. The only large publisher that’s been damaged (not a Big 5 house) is Harlequin/Silhouette, due to the dynamics of the romance genre and specific peculiarities inherent to its readership. Even so, Harlequin will come out of this doing just fine under the corporate umbrellas of new ownership. There’s plenty of common ground among self-pubs, hybrids and publishers. And plenty of us are working together comfortably, far from the shadows of these straw men and extreme voices.
Nate Hoffelder June 19, 2014 um 10:05 pm
If none of the Big 5 have been hit then why did their revenues peak in 2008?
It looks to me like they’ve all taken a hit from the shift to digital. It might not be due to self-pub, but they look like they took a hit.
fjtorres June 20, 2014 um 6:19 am
Torstar sold Harlequin because Indies have eaten up their customer base.
In their last two quarterly financials they cited indie competition as a challenge and a cause of declining sales.
Kensington CEO Zacharious has publicly said he wanted Amazon and Nook, et all to list indie titles separate from his, as Overdrive has so obligingly done, or better yet at a separate website.
Last year, the talk out of the Manhattan mafia was of successful indies going tradpub, how many have they trotted out lately?
Instead what we hear is of successful indies walking away from tradpub offers or, worse, laughing them off.
Sooner or later there is going to be a new DUNE, except the author isn’t going to spend years looking for a publisher. There is going to be another 50 Shades or Harry Potter… and the odds it won’t reach market through one of the BPHs grows by the day.
Plenty of nightmare scenarios loom for tradpub just beyond the horizon and plenty of reasons to fear the day newcomers default to selfpublishing and never consider going tradpub, the day there are no unwary signing contracts with 21 years of first refusal chains.
William Ockham June 20, 2014 um 4:36 pm
I don’t know if you saw my response to your comment on this article at TPV (http://www.thepassivevoice.com/06/2014/amazon-is-not-your-best-friend-why-self-published-authors-should-side-with-hachette/#comment-219840).
The idea that the Big 5 are terrified of inexpensive ebooks comes from the CEOs of the Big 5. Every one of them has made comments to that effect and engaged in a criminal conspiracy to prevent their own books from being offered at less than $12.99. I don’t know whether the Big 5 are worried about inexpensive self-pubbed ebooks, but they should be, in my opinion. Certainly, many people who in traditional publishing exhibit behavior that I associate with distress at the success of an upstart business rival. In particular, I see well-known writers, editors, and publishers spreading FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) about self-publishing.
Maria (BearMountainBooks) June 19, 2014 um 8:56 pm
I read the article and thought it hogwash. Indie authors have no real bone in this fight, and we certainly have no say in it. In short, one topic has nothing to do with the other. It’s possible the only pertinent line is that if Hachette books go to full price indie authors may benefit, because higher prices might push readers to shop for lower cost items. But even that idea is questionable. Indies, our feelings towards publishers or Amazon are meaningless in the Hachette/Amazon dispute.
I couldn’t figure out why the article was even written. It seemed a mismash of ideas where someone was able to lump indies in a bucket and then espouse a bunch of opinions on the Hachette/Amazon fight. Perhaps she was asked to write the article and was desperate for a new angle so she grasped at a link that wasn’t there.
Nate Hoffelder June 19, 2014 um 9:13 pm
Yeah, the piece really doesn’t prove the point in the title: that indies have a dog in this fight. It is possible that you do, but Miller completely fails to prove it.
Deborah Smith June 20, 2014 um 3:04 pm
I’m astonished that self-pubs can’t understand how they’re part of the greater publishing scenario. How the price of books and the consumer perception of content value doesn’t affect them. How sales channels and distribution matters no matter who pushes the "publish" button. And how being a slave to one or two middlemen is no different from being a slave (in the indie view) to a trad publisher.
Felipe Adan Lerma June 21, 2014 um 1:31 pm
"being a slave to one or two middlemen is no different from being a slave (in the indie view) to a trad publisher." –
first key point that makes real sense, not in regard to being a "slave," but at least within the idea that the agency pros and cons usually tilt toward a middleman or publisher, and not the content creator
we really really need a widely accepted "author" model, which would put the pros and cons of the agency model in perspective
Will O’Neil June 19, 2014 um 10:38 pm
The response to the whole Amazon-Hachette kerfuffle has been beyond absurd. No one outside of the executive ranks of the two companies actually knows what it’s all about. Some people have taken sides because one company or the other (mostly Hachette it appears) have made it worth their while. People like the NYT seem to have taken Hachette’s side because it’s the NYC home team (sort of). All the rest are merely expressing tribal loyalties and prejudices. I have several friends who are put out with me because I won’t join them in ardently criticizing one side or the other, but as a self-published indie author I can’t see the slighted reason to cheer for or against either elephant in their fight over whatever the issue may be.
fjtorres June 20, 2014 um 6:27 am
Actually we do.
The Hachette CEO let it slip in an interview out of europe: Amazon wants a return to pre-conspiracy wholesale terms for ebooks, and Hachette wants a return to agency with no discounts. Nate linked to it earlier this week.
puzzled June 20, 2014 um 7:19 pm
Isn’t the NYT owned by News, which owns one of the big 5? In that case, they aren’t on Hachette’s side because of NYC, they’re on Hachette’s side because they are on the same team.
Nate Hoffelder June 20, 2014 um 7:23 pm
The NYTimes is owned by the NYTimes company.
Bart June 20, 2014 um 2:34 am
I’ve been a writer and editor for decades, and I can understand both sides.
The Salon article made good sense to me. It’s a standard way of looking at things. Professional writers would say, yeah, that’s right and go on with their business. We are used to lack of recognition, and accept that you’ve got to play the system. We don’t love the publishers but they are familiar. The suspicion about Amazon is partly old-fogeyism, and partly justified. Big companies do not care about writers and writing.
Otoh, I can identify with the indy authors. Amazon and ebooks have opened up possibilities that the experts said would never / should never be open to the unwashed masses. After years of being disparaged and humiliated, one is in no mood to be reasonable. Off with their heads, the smug bastards!
This is a confusing and an exhilarating time to be an author!
Dan Meadows June 20, 2014 um 10:34 am
So she’s published by Hatchette and didn’t disclose it? That’s deceptive and massively unprofessional. Who’re the amateurs here? To be fair, I have no love for trad publishing. I got it honest, I’ve worked for some of these parasites in varying capacities. I don’t care for the way they do business, and they way they infantalize writers and put them through a desperation squeeze to better force lousy contract terms does enrage me. But you’re right, I have no dog in this fight between Amazon and Hatchette. I watch and comment because I find it fascinating and every now and then I glean a little knowledge from other peoples mistakes. (much more knowledge from my own, admittedly). I also don’t think thinly veiled corporate PR should go unchallenged, whoever it comes from, especially when it talks down to writers like this one does. One thing she overlooks is that Indies are free to speak our minds. Authors under contract to one of these publishers aren’t outside of approved memes.
Deborah Smith June 20, 2014 um 3:07 pm
She has not hidden the fact that she’s published by Hachette. Oh, please. It’s all over the Internet.
puzzled June 20, 2014 um 7:20 pm
Yeah, but it should have been disclosed in the article.
Mackay Bell June 20, 2014 um 11:19 am
If you want to know the purpose of the article, it seems pretty obvious to me it’s simply to repeat the same talking points sent out by whoever is behind the Hatchette PR spin campaign against Amazon and self-publishing. That’s why it reads like a political hit piece. It’s following the same method where talking points are sent to various political operatives who reframe them in various articles and interviews so they are repeated over and over until someone believes them.
These are the talking points that she makes sure to repeat:
1. Only losers self-publish: “…given that many had tried in vain to publish their books with traditional house…”
2. Self-publishers are irrational, angry, delusional, naive: “… most self-published authors really, really, really hate traditional publishing… intense rage such experiences instill can lead to strange glitches in logic…”
3. Readers prefer traditionally published books: “ …readers remain willing to pay more for books by name-brand authors… from the perspective of many readers, this (traditional publishing) is a meaningful testimonial… top sellers remain dominated by traditionally published e-books, despite their higher prices…”
4. Self-published books are not as good: “… many readers express wariness about self-published books…awful lot of unedited dreck… casual readers have been put off… …wade through the self-published chaff in search of those precious few grains of wheat… ”
5. Amazon is evil: “… this affair should serve as a cautionary tale about placing too much power in the hands of a single retail outlet…”
6. Amazon will turn on self-publishers in some evil unspecified way: “… A self-publisher is still a publisher and occasionally all publishers clash with the retailers who bring their wares to market.”
7. One slightly new talking point is that you can’t trust hired editors “… an editor-for-hire is much less motivated to displease her client…” Although this fits into an older talking point that writers don’t know how to write good books on their own without the guidance of a traditional publisher’s editor. (Also, take note of the new “these people hate New York” spin being floated.)
The supposed topic of the article, that self-publishers should welcome higher prices by traditional publishers, is simply a cover so she can repeat the above points that others have hit before. If she removed the talking points she could have made a more persuasive argument, but her goal wasn’t to sway self-publishers. Obviously, since she starts by insulting them.’ (The argument that self-publishers should be happy about higher prices for traditional novels doesn’t really work very well anyway. Most self-publishers believe their books have a unique appeal, and the reason to charge less is to make them an appealing impulse purchase for readers, not because they seem cheap in comparison to other books. If brand name best sellers also cost less, the more logical argument is customers will have more money to spend on books in general. Many self-publishers are making the argument that cheaper books encourage more reading, so all boats will rise if traditional publishers lower prices and embrace ebooks.)
I don’t think this is about preaching to the choir (who is already on their side). As I suspected when the “Shit Volcano” was first floated (along with the “Fart Book”), the goal of the Trad spin campaign is to simply throw as much shit as possible on this incredible self-publishing Cinderella story. Like many a political smear campaign, the purpose is to tarnish and bruise your opponent. Thus her focus on all the negatives: “… rage… clash… awful dreck… cautionary tale…” Doesn’t matter if it’s true, doesn’t matter if it makes sense, just throw out as much slime as you can. If the general public hates you in the process, fine, they’ll at least end up assuming both sides are wrong since there must be at least some “truth” to the accusations.
The true story of self-publishing is simply amazing. It’s a very pure, sweet, wonderful thing that anyone who wants to be a writer can get a book out to the world for anyone to read. It’s incredible that a small number of those writers can also make a living doing it, and that some are making a good living. It’s also sweet and heart warming that all these self-publishers share information with each other and provide support and encouragement for each other. And that professionals are finding they can make a living designing covers and providing editing services for this tiny but growing cottage industry.
If big publishing doesn’t respond, that will be the story. And it’s a damn good story. So… change the story. Throw shit on it. Self-publishers are angry losers. Self-published books are crap. Big publishers will win in the end buy snapping up the minor leaguers. Evil Amazon will turn on them. Etc. And it’s kind of working. Strikes me they hired some real PR pros to come up with this strategy.
What’s the big 5’s long game? I think simply to stall. As J. A. Konrath has noted repeatedly, they seem to be just trying to protect their print market for as long as they can by overcharging for ebooks. And the contracts they’re offering to new writers are just short of slavery, but they probably can still get plenty of writers who remember the glory days of print to sign them for a few extra years. Those contracts will lock in some writers for decades. Even if they just delay the self-publishing rush for another three or four years it’s worth the spin campaign. And who knows, in the meantime they might find a good way to ghetto self-published books or figure out some other strategy to marginalize it. Maybe Amazon will fumble or join their side. Big media corporations have a good track record of figuring out clever ways to dominate new media eventually. (It’s kind of scary what You Tube is trying to do to indy musicians.)
Without this classic negative spin campaign, the danger is the positive side of self-publishing would simply overwhelm the media with heart warming tales of creative freedom and rags to riches opportunities and speed up it’s growth. Better to make angry loud arguments about how angry and loud self-publishers are. Anything to distract from the positive aspects of self-publishing.
Now, does that mean that Miller had all this in mind? Not necessarily. She might actually believe the talking points that were fed to her. But there is little doubt in my mind that someone encouraged her to include all those points and that the oddly negative tone is not an accident. At the very least someone is whispering in her ear.
Deborah Smith June 20, 2014 um 3:10 pm
Self-pubs are convinced that everyone is out to get them, when, in reality, the marketplace is pretty ambivalent. Cream rises to the top, and that’s always good. Notice that most self-pubs who hit it big will quickly sign with trad pubs to manage their business and take their careers to the next level. Cooperation is a beautiful thing. Hugh Howey did it. But he never gets called out as a "traitor," right?
Nate Hoffelder June 20, 2014 um 3:23 pm
Looking at Miller’s piece, and looking at the articles linked to above, is it any surprise that indies feel that way? It certainly looks like some people have an axe to grind.
Will O'Neil June 20, 2014 um 4:10 pm
Having been a high-level executive in a non-publishing corporation on the same level as the big 5 in terms of sales and revenues, and having dealt with executives in other industries, I can say with some confidence that corporate executives as a class yield nothing to self-pubs in terms of paranoia. My sense here is that Deborah Smith is a case in point, whether first hand or by proxy.
And having published both with Norton and as an independent, I can say that neither offers any rose-strewn path. There are things to be said for each, quite different things for the most part.
As for price, is $0.99 a low price? For a "book" of fiction less than 5,000 words long (as many are)? I suppose it’s all in your point of view, but to me it seems fairly high. Is $50 a high price? For a book that contains information absolutely essential to your livelihood? Again it’s a matter of choice, but I have willingly paid that much and more for self-pub books.
As an economist I scoff at the notion that buying choices are price-insensitive. There can be no question that perceptions of the general levels of price and satisfaction to be found in the book market influence which medium shoppers turn to in these days when so many alternatives are presented. At the individual level the price has a big influence in the level of risk people are willing to take on a chancy purchase. They are naturally wary of unknown quantities and will be more inclined to experiment when the risk (price) is low. An author who’s a known quantity is in a position to charge more, whether through a trade publisher or as an independent. I know people who eschew Jane Austen, but if she were still around I’d buy her next book at almost any price within the normal range for fiction. Many people waited eagerly for each next title from Tom Clancy, but I read one of his books and decided that I would’t read another if it were given to me. He could charge high prices for loyal readers without worrying about marginal customers; to a first approximation everyone had already decided.
The market effect of the imprint is non-zero, but much less. Rampant corporatism in the trade has degraded the product differentiation that imprints once offered. Everyone who reads at all widely knows that the level of quality in matters such as editing and production has suffered very badly in the era of vertical dis-integration, even for what once were very prestigious imprints.
Inter alia, one of the benefits of self-pub is the opportunities for fine-grain market information. Like many indie authors I get e-mail asking when my next book will come out. I engage in a certain amount of correspondence with some of these readers, gaining a good deal of insight into my market.
Mackay Bell June 22, 2014 um 7:17 am
What’s amusing is how quickly the arguments attacking self-publishing shift. Barely six months ago the big warning to those considering self-publishing was that they would be blackballed for life. Publishers quoted by George Packer in his Feb. 17, 2014 New Yorker attack piece on Amazon said “You’d have to consider the time you spent with Vichy when you’re looking for work after the occupation.” Writers were warned that by self-publishing they might never get a chance to publish with "real" publishers because the taint of self-publishing would never leave them.
Now we hear that because Big 5 companies are making deals with self-published writers that vindicates traditional publishing. Nope. It doesn’t. First, there are still plenty of self-publishers that reject traditional publishing deals and you can find tons of posts about that, including exactly why (deal wasn’t good enough). Second, when a traditional publisher does offer a sweet enough deal to a self-publisher, of course many self-publishers say yes. Why wouldn’t they? But you can be damned sure it’s a better deal than they would have gotten if they hadn’t self-published. But what happens to all those gatekeepers at the big companies if that becomes the norm? They go away, right? Which is supposedly what “angry” self-publishers want. (Actually, I think most couldn’t care less.) Moreover, it kind of wipes out all those other arguments against self-publishing, doesn’t it? That self-published books are lousy, badly edited, too expense to produce, can’t be found by readers, are rejected by readers who prefer established names… oh, and result in big deals with traditional publishers. Hmm. How does that argue against self-publishing? And why, if traditional publishing is such a brilliant well-oiled machine, would they need to scoop off the cream of self-publishing? Why can’t they create enough cream of their own (under lousy standard contracts)? And what does it mean for the writers who toil under traditional deals and suffer through year long delays in getting their books out in the hope that their career will be managed by wise professionals? Why did they sign long term contracts only to find their publisher is chasing after the latest popular self-published writer and offering a better deal?
As for self-publishers being paranoid: as they say, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. Any creative individual with a hint of business savvy, or a modest knowledge of history, should be wary of big corporations exploiting them. And when writers like Miller write obvious smear pieces on a promising new creative outlet, pointing out that she, and others writing in a similar vein, are very wrong seems appropriate. To paraphrase Malcolm X, aggressively defending yourself when you’re attacked is a sign of intelligence.
If such hit pieces against self-publishing disappear, or if the arguments at least stop shifting long enough to have been answered, I suspect you’ll find most self-publishers will be happy to go back to talking about what makes a good cover, which genre’s pay the most, how to promote your book, etc and would be more than happy to ignore traditional publishing altogether. Except what to demand in a contract when they come calling.
Sheila June 23, 2014 um 8:44 am
Do you get paid to spout this nonsense?
"Self-pubs are convinced that everyone is out to get them, when, in reality, the marketplace is pretty ambivalent."
Since you brought Hugh Howey up, have you read his posts about how sales are breaking down between traditional publishers, small presses and self-publishers? His data shows that the market place is rather gung-ho towards self-publishers, and getting more so daily.
"Cream rises to the top, and that’s always good."
Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. Just like it’s always been for writers.
"Notice that most self-pubs who hit it big will quickly sign with trad pubs to manage their business and take their careers to the next level. "
Actually, when was the last time this happened? I’ve been seeing reports of the reverse happening, with self-publishers turning down deals with traditional presses.
"Cooperation is a beautiful thing. Hugh Howey did it. But he never gets called out as a “traitor,” right?"
Hugh Howey signed a print-only deal, which he has stated he regrets and how much he’s looking forward to getting his rights back. I’ve never seen any self-publisher who signed a deal with a traditional publisher called a traitor. Any time I’ve seen them report they’ve done so, they’ve been congratulated and wished the best.
Look, you can suck on the traditional publishing teat if you want. It’s nothing to me, and in fact I wish you the best of luck in your career. But if you’re going to beat the drum for them, you should at least look at the sheet music and make sure you get the notes right.
Robert Gregory Browne June 24, 2014 um 9:04 pm
Beautifully said, Sheila.
Sheila June 25, 2014 um 10:36 am
Thank you. 🙂
Richard Herley June 20, 2014 um 4:36 pm
>It’s a very pure, sweet, wonderful thing that anyone who wants to be a writer can get a book out to the world for anyone to read.
Ditto to the rest of your post.
Felipe Adan Lerma June 21, 2014 um 1:44 pm
"If brand name best sellers also cost less, the more logical argument is customers will have more money to spend on books in general. Many self-publishers are making the argument that cheaper books encourage more reading, so all boats will rise if traditional publishers lower prices and embrace ebooks.)" –
one of the big reasons i feel subscription services like Scribd & Oyster are the beginning of what’ll make much of this whole argument, well, different
Felipe Adan Lerma June 21, 2014 um 2:37 pm
Mackay, you had so many good points, had to divide up my replies 🙂
"who knows, in the meantime they might find a good way to ghetto self-published books or figure out some other strategy to marginalize it. " –
not that i think the OverDrive issue is the same as here, though maybe related in some way, but there’s a good post here, on The Digital Reader, and on TPV, about the possible ghettoization of indies to libraries. See :
the articles are great, and there’s much much in the comment threads, of course 🙂
Mark Coker has some good info in the comments (distributor to OverDrive), and many others have links and info about access to OverDrive
Angela Booth June 21, 2014 um 2:26 am
I refuse to read Miller’s article, and here’s why. I don’t need to.
The title is enough: "Amazon is not your best friend: Why self-published authors should side with Hachette."
So, OK, I did break down and read the first paragraph…
Miller starts the article with Big Publishing’s usual line of self-aggrandizing hypocritical propaganda: "QUESTION: If books are an important part of the culture—and I believe they are—does it follow that the way we publish and sell books is an equally important part of the culture?"
So books are "an important part of the culture"? Huh. And the publishing conglomerates are really just do-gooding patrons of the arts?
Cue rolling of eyes, snickering, and a strong impulse to hurl.
Miller’s hoping for another book contract; that’s the only possible reason she could have for blatantly running with Big Publishing’s usual line of BS.
As other commenters have pointed out, Amazon’s battle with traditional publishing has nothing to do with indie publishers.
Heck, if Amazon turns around and kicks indies in the head after Amazon deals with Hachette and co, indies will deal with it.
Amazon’s not the devil and traditional publishers are a long, long way from being angels, so Miller’s article title "Amazon is not your best friend: Why self-published authors should side with Hachette" is a troll for reaction, pure and simple.
I guess she got it. :-
Greg Strandberg June 21, 2014 um 3:00 am
In politics you spend several months of the year saying how stupid the other party is, all the while knowing you’ll have to work with them later. I’m not sure that’s the case in publishing, so I’m not sure it’s a fair analogy.
Does that mean you shouldn’t speak to your followers, point out the faults and mistakes of the other, while generally trying to take your team across the goal line?
Maybe it’s that kind of thinking that turned the Big 6 into the Big 5.
Why on earth we’d think the other side isn’t doing the same is beyond me.
Anne B June 21, 2014 um 1:41 pm
You are not wrong in your analysis of this article. I knew there was something hinky about it, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. For the record, I don’t "hate, hate, hate" traditional publishing.
Nate Hoffelder June 21, 2014 um 2:12 pm
Do you know the worst part?
Until I analyzed this piece, attack posts like this passed for legitimate discussion.
Will O’Neil June 21, 2014 um 4:09 pm
I agree. You’re doing a service to everyone who values the truth and doesn’t want to be misled by propaganda.
Felipe Adan Lerma June 21, 2014 um 4:12 pm
ditto will, nate
David North March 23, 2016 um 1:48 pm
Evry article by an "undustry expert" that makes its point by denigrating all indie authors or self-published works instantly looses credibility. Period.
They are nothing more than thinly veiled ad hoc attempts to self fluff one’s own feelings.
David North March 23, 2016 um 1:48 pm
…and I knew those typos were there. Really.