Change is always accompanied by conflict. To decry conflict is therefore to decry change. Which is why establishments purport to hate conflict. Let’s not unintentionally aid them in their propaganda.
Literary agent Ted Weinstein and I were going back and forth on this on the list serv, and Ted’s questions were (as usual) so interesting and provocative I wanted to reprint them here. As I say in the comments, if this is an example of “conflict,” I hope to see more of it!
How does anything that AU is saying or advocating affect any self-published author?
Hi Ted, I’ve addressed this question a few times:
“All this power, and it doesn’t even occur to them to say to Hachette, You want us to back you up in your fight with Amazon? We want a press release from you promising to change the following policies for all authors by X date. No press release? No support.’ That’s the kind of behavior you’d expect to see from an ‘Authors Guild’ even remotely worthy of the name.
“But you don't see that. Instead, a bunch of plutocrat authors are going to drop a hundred grand -- about the equivalent of anyone else buying a cup of coffee at 7-Eleven -- to take out a New York Times ad castigating Amazon. That’s how they’re using their ‘power’ on behalf of all authors.”
“Like a Democrat effectively saying, ‘Vote for me or I’ll turn the keys over to John McCain and Sarah Palin,’ the Big Five and their supporters are effectively saying, ‘Support us and our cartel-like business practices because Amazon could become even worse than we’ve been.’ I don’t buy that bullshit when I hear it from Democrats, so why would I buy it from legacy publishing? I’m willing to take that risk, recognizing the only way things might get better is if I’m willing to ignore self-interested threats to the effect that ‘Without us, it might get even worse.’
“To put it another way: the Big Five and its supporters in Authors United and the Authors Guild are playing a game of chicken with the 99% of authors who have been ill-served by the business practices the establishment refuses to reform. I’ll be damned if I blink first in the face of that.”
You haven't answered the question at all, here or in any of those links. How has what AU said or done DIRECTLY AFFECTED the ability of any self-published authors to continue to self-publish, via Amazon, Smashwords or any of the other self-publishing outlets?
Ted, before you asked, “How does anything that AU is saying or advocating affect any self-published authors?” That was a different question, and if you don't think I answered it in the quotes and links I provided, it's okay, we can just agree to disagree.
If, on the other hand, what you meant to ask was your new question, the answer is: I don't think it has.
But do you see the important differences in your two questions? The first asks about a global effect -- current and potential -- and on self-published authors generally, not just on their ability to self-publish. The second question focuses more on how what Authors United is doing affects self-published authors right now, and only with regard to their ability to self-publish. I think these are subtle but quite important differences.
It might be that we're not seeing eye-to-eye here because you’re looking at legacy-published and self-published authors as discrete classes. In other words, right, for someone who would under no circumstances ever consider legacy publishing and is certain only to self-publish, groups like Authors United probably don’t merit much more than an eye-roll (at least to the extent that such authors are motivated purely by self-interest and not by concern for authors generally). Bob Mayer, for example, often makes this case, and makes it well.
But for self-published authors who are hybrids, who are considering the legacy route, or who might consider the legacy route, of course what Authors United is doing matters a lot -- because, as I’ve said many times including in the links I provided, Authors United is fundamentally trying to maintain the legacy system with all its flaws, rather than seizing a great opportunity to help improve it.
I might be misunderstanding you, but it seems like the basis for your questions is the assumption that self-published authors only care about the larger publishing ecosystem insofar as that ecosystem directly affects their bottom line. This hasn’t been my experience. Certainly some people are motivated purely by self-interest, but people do also have larger concerns. I’m reasonably active against torture, warrantless surveillance, and drone strikes, for example, and not because I’m unduly concerned that I myself am likely to be tortured, droned, or surveilled. I’m passionate about gay marriage, too, even though I’m not gay and I am married and therefore unlikely, as you put it, to be directly affected by the ability or inability of gays to marry.
In fact, we could broaden things even further and ponder MLK’s dictum that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” But I don't think we need to go that far to understand why a lot of self-published authors are unhappy with Authors United.
Anyway, even hewing closer to the “Where’s the self-interest?” assumption, I think the better way to understand the reactions of so many self-published authors to Authors United is to recognize authors as part of a larger, common ecosystem, rather than as inhabitants only of discrete segments with no existing or potential overlap with, and unaffected by events within, other segments. Does that make sense?
Every one of your points for
why self-published authors might care about the larger publishing environment
can be turned 180 degrees to explain why AU and any other
traditionally-published author might care about (and not share all your views
on) what Amazon is doing in their self-publishing offerings, let alone their
larger book retail business.
don’t doubt that when Doug Preston looks in the mirror, he sees someone who
stands for the good of all authors looking back at him. But then I keep
returning to my questions about why nothing about lockstep royalties, why
nothing about twice-a-year payments, why nothing about life-of-contract terms,
why nothing about draconian non-competes, why nothing about B&N and S&S
and brick-and-mortar and Amazon-published authors, which unlike Amazon/Hachette
was and are real boycotts... why nothing about any of the things that affect
99% of authors a great deal and Doug Preston not at all?
The most vocal members of the
Axis of Indies (you, Howey, Konrath, etc.) are like Americans several
generations after the Revolutionary War.
prefer to think of us as more of a Galactic Empire than a mere axis, but...
You won. The rest of us wonder
why you can’t go and enjoy your independent country, instead of continually
hollering “England is a Monarchy! The Magna Carta is not a real constitution!
And the tax rates are too high there!”
think it must be because self-published authors identify with and feel more
affected by what’s going on in publishing at large than Americans do by what’s
going on in England.
I share your disdain for AU’s
unconscionably illogical, ill-informed stances and sloppy use of language. And
I share your frustrations with the traditional publishing world, who ill-serve
many of the authors they publish. And I also think that Amazon putting a banner
on top of an individual Hachette author’s individual book page saying “would
you maybe like to buy a different book?” is fucking sleazy, as is “it won’t be
available for 3-4 weeks” when it can be delivered from Ingram or B&T in
24-48 hours regardless of the status of Amazon’s contract w/Hachette. I don’t
defend ANY of these parties. I’m surprised you do.
don’t really think my stance is so hard to understand. Again, as I wrote just yesterday:
is why my attitude toward the legacy industry is, “If you want a shot at my
support, immediately double digital royalties to all authors; immediately begin
paying all authors once a month instead of twice a year; immediately eliminate
rights-of-first refusal, non-competes, and other draconian clauses from your
contracts. Short of that, I’ll know the only thing you’ll respond to is
pressure — and I’ll be sure to support the party that’s applying it.”
If Authors United would adopt a similar attitude, I think it would benefit far more authors (and readers) than their current stance.
Agreed on all of that, as I
have said frequently in many forums. But I’m still waiting to hear a
word of public criticism for Amazon from you.
This is probably a good place
to explain what I mean when I sometimes refer to “Amazon Derangement Syndrome.”
I’m not referring to all criticisms of Amazon, or even to most. For
example, I think Amazon’s cutting
off Wikileaks from Amazon Web Services at Joe Lieberman’s request was
pernicious, shameful, and cowardly. I’m glad there’s media scrutiny of
conditions in Amazon warehouses. And while still far better than anything
I’ve ever seen in the legacy world, Amazon Publishing’s contracts are showing
increasing legacy-like lard and legacy-like author-unfriendly clauses.
Certainly I don’t think these criticisms are deranged — after all, I’ve made
for now? I seriously have to get back to the new novel... :)
I was thinking more about this notion that conflict is bad because it impedes change... and the more I ponder it, the more I realize it's not just wrong, but pernicious.
Where do we see the most conflict in the world: within democracies, or within totalitarian systems? Again, I don't think there's much conflict at all in North Korea...
Indeed, America is actually built on the notion that conflict is inevitable. Look at Federalist 51. Did Madison say, "Let's eliminate all the factions but one so we'll have harmony"? Or did he say, "Let's empower all the factions so we'll have balance"? And we've had conflict ever since -- the very notion of a system of checks and balance is predicated on it.
Speaking of which: I would argue that America would be better off today if the systems in question would engage in *more* conflict, not less. If Congress protected its prerogatives, we'd have fewer undeclared wars. If the judiciary protected its prerogatives, we might have an actual investigation into torture and unconstitutional surveillance. If the Justice Department weren't in such harmony with Wall Street, we might have seen a banker or two prosecuted for global-economy-wrecking fraud.
Alas, things are very peaceful and civilized. Not much conflict at all.
In fact, has any significant social change in America *ever* been unaccompanied by conflict? Off the top of my head: ending slavery, women's suffrage, civil rights, gay equality. Which of these great changes was accomplished simply through civil dialogue?
Entrenched interests tend not to respond to reasoned discourse. It's one of the things that makes them entrenched. They tend not to listen and then say, "Golly, those are good points. You're right, we'll share." More often, you have to fight for change.
Which is why entrenched interests prefer to tsk-tsk at the noisy, angry barbarians demanding reforms. I get that. But why make it easier for them by parroting their self-interested, unsupportable rhetoric?