I’ve not done a publishing post in forever. It’s not really what I talk about anymore. However, given even the NYT is weighing in these days, why not?
Everyone seems to be talking about Kindle Unlimited, an “all you can eat” way of getting ebooks. For $10 a month, Amazon will provide unlimited access to a library of some 700,000 titles. As an author, I can participate in KU by granting Amazon exclusivity and accepting whatever they feel like paying me for that right.
Now I’m not in KU, nor do I have membership. I could wax lyrical about the devaluation of my work, the lack of value to the consumer the library provides, and the dangers of putting all my eggs in Amazon’s basket. But others will do that more concisely and eloquently than I ever could, and besides, that’s not what’s pissing me off. This is:
“In the old days, you had to type the story on actual paper,” said Michael Henderson, a former lawyer now living in Venice, Italy. “Make your changes and retype it, or hire someone to do it. It was a herculean effort to get a 400-page manuscript ready. Now any monkey with a computer can do it in hours. Shazam, everyone is a writer.”
Mr. Henderson’s “Self-Portrait of a Dying Man” came out at the beginning of the month on Amazon. It has sold exactly zero copies.
That, there, from a NYT article about KU, sums up, for me, everything wrong with modern publishing.
No, not Mr Henderson’s grousing that “any monkey with a computer” can be a writer. It’s his elitist, arrogant attitude which galls. He thinks that because he went to the effort of writing a book and giving it a pretentious title, people should be falling over themselves to read it. More than that, he thinks people should be falling over themselves to pay to read it — because KU ain’t free, remember, even if it seems that way at the point of sale. And short of giving his books away, he can’t think of a single other way of enticing people to give up their valuable time and money to read it.
And doesn’t that say everything a discerning reader needs to know about the true worth of his book?
Sadly, the self-publishing world is full of Mr Hendersons. People who think the world is waiting with bated breath for them to foist their opus upon it. And when it doesn’t sell, and they’re not overnight millionaires, do they look at themselves, their book, their marketing strategy, and make changes like any sensible businessperson would? Nope. They bitch that there’s too much competition.
Reality check: there has been too much competition since the dawn of time. Ever since man first strung two grunts together and created meaning, people have been telling stories. And stories are eternal. Today I can read books which predate all the major world religions, before half the countries in the world had even been discovered, practically from before history began, or I can read something written yesterday, or everything in between. Any reader choosing any book is honouring the author. As Mr Henderson points out, any idiot can write something. That doesn’t mean it has a right to be read. And being a retired lawyer now living in Italy doesn’t make him any more entitled than the single mother living in a trailer, working two jobs, and scribbling away in an old jotter at three in the morning.
Publishing ain’t fair. For every copy of Fifty Shades sold, there are a hundred good — very good — BDSM titles languishing on the virtual shelves. Why should EL James’s kink-phobic piece of trash be the one to break out? Did she deserve it more than the people in the lifestyle, and the people who did their research, who put more time and effort into it, who spent a fortune on editing and did it all with nary an inner goddess in sight? I don’t think anyone would argue so, but the public have spoken and it is what it is. That’s publishing for you. A bad fan-fiction writer can file off some serial numbers and rake in the cash, and a former lawyer now living in Italy can devote years to his title and sell nothing.
Mr Henderson, life sucks. Get over it.
If I sold a book every time I see a noobie author complaining that it’s too easy to publish, there are too many books available, and it’s too hard for them to get a toe on the ladder, I’d be a very rich lady. It amuses me that none of these authors thought there were too many books before they introduced theirs to the world. They all want the drawbridge lifting and the doors locking, but only after they’ve been allowed inside.
As a reader at heart, I welcome more books into the world. I won’t enjoy them all, but I’m glad they’re there. Competition fuels improvement, it makes us strive to be better if we want to reach the top. All our advances, from science and industry to technology and the arts, have come as a result of healthy competition. I’ve seen M/M grow as a genre from a tiny niche to an outright phenomenon in the last three or four years, and I’ve seen the quality of the books I’m reading improve in leaps and bounds. I welcome that, as should we all, reader and author alike. I cannot conceive of the mindset which sees improvement and wants to stifle it in order to get ahead.
What authors need to remember, every time they go on a rant about their lack of sales, is that underpinning the entire publishing industry are readers. Ordinary, hardworking people who choose to spend their precious time and money on buying books, rather than watching TV or a movie or playing sport or board games, or doing one of a billion other things they could be doing with their time. No author has the right to expect people to devote their time and effort to their books. We need to woo them, court them, win their affections, and the way to do that is not by belittling their choices and slamming the competition.
Publishing has become a very petty industry, full of egos thinking the world owes them a meal ticket. There is a fundamental lack of respect for the people who pay all our bills, the readers who might want to hear our stories and, in so doing, make our dreams come true. I’ve said it many times, but no author can ever thank their readers enough, be that a causal browser who picks up their book on a whim, or a rabidly-devoted street team. It is no exaggeration to say we owe them everything, and we should always remember they owe us nothing. The least we can do is respect their choices.