Sunday, July 06, 2014

Fisking Hugh Howey

Didn't expect that blog title, did you?

Today, Hugh did what he does on a regular basis; he wrote a well-reasoned piece explaining an important issue, providing ample examples and an easy-to-follow chain of logic, to support a largely unrepresented group or writers.

His topic was Do Writers Need A Union? It's a topic I've given a lot of thought to over the years. Not only since I became involved in self-publishing in 2009, but since I signed my first contract in 2002.

In 2005 I started this blog. I wasn't the first writer to do so. But I was new in this biz and I'd already spent a lot of hours trying to figure out how this industry worked. Which is why I wanted my blog to be about publishing, and the newbie writer's place in it.

In those early years I was hopeful, almost to the point of naivety, and determined to succeed and share with other writers tips they could use to further their own careers, whether it was giving pointers on how to find an agent and a publisher (back when they were the only game in town) or how to self-promote.

Two things happened that overlapped. First, I became increasingly disenchanted with the publishing industry. It chewed up the vast majority of writers and spat them out. To say I busted my ass trying to promote my books is like saying Ahab had a slight preoccupation with a certain white cetacean. I worked harder than perhaps any author in the recent history of this biz to self-promote. And for my efforts I was dropped by one publisher, mistreated by another, and watched the small income I had--along with a fanbase that was strong enough to help me earn out all of my advances and force my titles into multiple printings--begin to whither.

Around that time, when I was making up pen names to put food on the table, Amazon invented the Kindle.

I'd had free ebook pdfs on my website for years, and while they'd gotten downloaded and read, no one before Amazon had been able to truly monetize this new way of looking at books. Who could have guessed what it would become? I knew ebooks would be a thing before the first Kindle came out, but I didn't think it would be the thing that saved my career, and the careers of thousands of authors.

So I began to talk about ebooks. I shared my numbers, sales data, and experiences. (at this point I'm going to stop linking to old blog posts--just start in June 2009 and read until now to see how big ebooks have gotten, and how legacy publishers' behavior has gotten worse even as some misguided authors continue to support them).

Which brings us to the present. J.A. Konrath, staunch supporter of legacy publishing and self-promotion, has become Joe Konrath, loud-mouthed cheerleader for indie authors, despised by many of the peers he used to break bread with at conferences.

There has always been a writer schism in publishing. Publishers have always been unconscionable, but writers fell into axiomatic pecking orders. Bestsellers were deities. Hardcover authors had more status than paperback authors. If you had foreign deals, you were the subject of envy. Newbies were dismissed as not worthy, and self-publishing authors--well, they went to vanity presses because their writing was so bad they'd never be able to get an agent, let alone a deal.

How quaint it was that while being subjugated and marginalized by agents and publishers, we also chose to subjugate and marginalize each other.

Then, with the Kindle, I took it upon myself to evangelize this alternative to the status quo. I was looked upon as an outlier, until hundreds, and then thousands, and then tens of thousands, of authors began self-publishing just like I was. Some we able to pay bills for the first time. Some were able to quit their day jobs. Some make more money than I do.

This is a boon. A gift. A better choice. And I've been blowing my little horn for five years to inform writers that there is a robust, preferable alternative to what had been drilled into our heads by a previous generation: The only way to get published is to find an agent to submit it to a Big NY House.

Many of that previous generation fear the future. The past was good to them, and they want to cling to it. This includes publishers, agents, and writers.

I can't fault them for wanting the status quo to persevere. Had I been luckier, with a bigger push from my legacy publishers, I might still be among their ranks.

Instead, I find myself taking them to task, and it has become a full time job. Because it grates at my very core that some entitled minority of haves seem intent on eliminating opportunities for the have nots.

But let's get to fisking. Here's what Hugh Howey has to say, along with my point-by-point commentary.

Hugh: SFWA (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) is drawing heat in some quarters for endorsing Hachette’s side in the ongoing negotiations with Amazon. The move was made unilaterally and without the consultation of its members (of which I am one). Author Don Sakers posted on his blog that SFWA does not represent him, and I add my voice to Don’s.

Joe: Most old-school writing organizations are still mired in the old class system. The Authors Guild is a joke. MWA, SFWA, HWA--they thrive on being separatists, distancing themselves from self-pubbed authors because they weren't annotated by the Holy Appointed Order of Legacy Publishers.

These organizations have made themselves outdated and obsolete. 

Strangely, the RWA is an exception. They allow indies. Maybe because the years of exploitation by Harlequin makes them appreciate the value of self-publishing more than other genre writers.

Hugh: On the website ThePassiveVoice, commenters bring up trade and labor disputes and organizations, and I think these and class warfare comments I’ve seen elsewhere are spot-on. Trade fiction and narrative nonfiction authors do not have any meaningful representation. There is no group busting balls on behalf of writers, and there are a lot of balls out there to be busted. Amazon, the Big 5, B&N, Apple, Google … no one is fighting these people for better terms and pay. The Writers’ Guild seems to exist to fight Amazon and stands for the rights of bookstores and major publishers.

Joe: Legacy Publishers supported an entire food chain, and everyone wanted to be a part of it. With so many parties desperate to be part of system, the system can make any demands it wants. They were an oligopoly that controlled the market. So we've accepted being mistreated as par for the course. We signed the unconscionable, one-sided contracts. We crossed our fingers and pleaded with the universe that we might some day become one of the Annointed Bestsellers.

And we let publishers get away with murder.

Of course there were no labor disputes. Any dispute could lead to banishment. Or course there were no trade organizations. Legacy Publishing had the power to blacklist anyone who didn't tow the company line.

We have never had anyone to fight for our rights, because according to publishers we had no rights. They took them the moment we signed on the dotted line.

Hugh: I’d say the closest thing we have to a trade rep is Passive Guy himself (not sure what he would say to hear this. Maybe he’d want to slap me). His blog, his advocacy, his smarts, his law degree and decades of experience with contracts, his familiarity with self-publishing (not just from being part of a household that does it, but from his blog, which is like a reading room at a law firm, cardboard boxes everywhere), and last (and in someways certainly least) his admirable and immortalized role as the lone and oft-interrupted voice on That Panel.

Joe: Passive Guy can only represent you if you hire him. If you are in a dispute with your publisher over anything at all, perhaps you should. (But I am not a lawyer, and in no way offer legal advice on this blog.)

Hugh: The Passive Guy’s blog, forums like KBoards, all the private FB groups, all the writers’ blogs, and all the interconnected readers and writers via social media have reached a tipping point, I believe. When a third of all bestselling ebooks on the largest platform are self-published, that signals a groundswell of support over content. Threaten that content . . . and watch out. Hachette’s supporters seem to be threatening that content.

Joe: Calling this a tipping point is optimistic--something Hugh is known for.

I don't believe we're at a tipping point yet, because I don't think anyone actually believes there are any issues to debate.

The entitled still control the lion's share of the publishing industry, and they still feel entitled. Most of them don't believe the shadow industry of self-publishing is much of a threat.

The media are so wedded to "Amazon is Bad" that the coverage indies get amount to fluff pieces, not coverage of the revolution. AuthorEarnings.com should have been a Time Magazine cover story. A billion dollar shadow industry that doesn't need Big NY Publishing. Instead, indies are treated as a curious, quaint fringe that no one knows about because no one cares to learn.

Hugh: So what we’re seeing is a protest of a lot of little voices, and they add up. It’s what a union is supposed to do, to unite a bunch of smaller, weaker forces so they can negotiate with a single, larger force. Writers have never had this before. I’m not confident they have it now. There is excitement from some, but also a call from others to get back to work, that this doesn’t affect us. Protests pop up now and then, but they rarely sustain themselves. They fizzle.

Joe: This particular Hachette/Amazon protest will pass without many remembering it. Maybe Amazon will hold out and retain control over book pricing on its site. Maybe Hachette will gain the upper hand and shoot themselves, their readers, and their authors in the foot by trying to keep prices high.

Ultimately, all but the richest authors will make their way over to the indie side. That will result in bookstores closing and the end of the midlist. It will result in more publishing mergers, then layoffs and bankruptcies. The system will implode, and a lot of people will be left scratching their heads, wondering what happened, when we've known it all along.

Hugh: Here’s the tricky thing, I’m learning: How can anyone represent so many disparate interests? I sympathize with unions and trade groups like never before, as people are emailing me to ask me what authors stand for. I can’t speak for writers. We stand for a lot of shit. Our stances contradict. I would never expect us to agree on anything, much less everything.

Joe: I'll opine. Here's what we stand for:

When in the Course of publishing events, it becomes necessary for writers to sever their ties with the industry that is supposed to have "nurtured" them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that we should declare the causes which impel those writers to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all writers should have an equal chance to find readers. That their successes or failures should be dependent upon their own actions and their own choices. That they should be paid fairly for their work. That they should have control over the works they produce. That they should have immediate and accurate access to their sales data. That they should be paid promptly. That they should not be restricted from reaching those who may enjoy their work. That whenever a publisher or retailer becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of Authors to abolish all connections with the offending parties.

The history of the legacy publishing industry is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over writers. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

They have given us take-it-or-leave-it, one-sided, unconscionable contracts.
They have failed to adequately market works they have acquired.
They have artificially inflated the price of ebooks.
They have refused to negotiate better ebook royalties for authors.
They have forced unnecessary editing changes on authors.
They have forced unnecessary title changes on authors.
They have forced crappy covers on authors.
They have refused to exploit rights they own.
They have refused to return rights they aren't properly exploiting.
They take far too long to bring acquired works to market.
They take far too long to pay writers advances and royalties.
Their royalty statements are opaque, out-of-date, and inaccurate.
They orphan authors.
They orphan books.
They refuse to treat authors as equals, let alone with a reasonable measure of fairness.
They make mistakes and take no responsibility for those mistakes.
For every hope they nurture, they unnecessarily neglect and destroy countless others.
They have made accessories of the authors' ostensible representative organization, the quisling Authors Guild, and are served, too, by the misleadingly named Association of Authors' Representatives.
They have failed to honor promises made.
They have failed to honor their own onerous contract terms.
They've failed the vast majority of authors, period.

This blog has documented nearly every stage of these Oppressions, and in many cases offered solutions to publishers, and has been answered with only silence and derision.

But that's okay. Because now authors have a choice.

We shall never be taken advantage of again. We shall not support any publisher or retailer that continues the abuses listed above. And we demand to share in the rewards we've busted our asses for.

I don't know if that unites all disparate interests, but I think it's a start.

Hugh: Our readers are probably the one thing I can say with confidence that we love and adore. Without them, we in this trade are whispering to ourselves. Starting from there, I might be comfortable saying that anyone who serves our readers and facilitates our getting together with them is better than anyone who abuses our readers and works to keep us apart. I would sign that charter, and I think most writers would.

Joe: I said it years ago: the only two groups required in a reader and writer relationship is the reader and the writer. Everyone else is a middleman that needs to prove his value.

Hugh could not be more correct. Those who help readers and writers find each other in the most mutually beneficial way are those who deserve our support. 

Those who don't deserve our derision.

Hugh: When physical bookstores decided to ban Amazon imprint titles, thinking that attacking a tiny fraction of larger Amazon was worth decimating the individual authors, they fell into the coming-between-us camp. When 5 out of the then-Big-6 got together to raise prices on consumers, they fell into the coming-between-us-camp. When B&N refused to stock Simon & Schuster authors last year, and when they decided to manipulate their online bestseller lists, they fell into the coming-between-us-camp. These middlemen work to blockade. Whatever you think of Amazon’s faults, they have worked to unite storytellers with listeners and readers. They have done this like perhaps no other entity in history.

Joe: At this very moment, and for the last several years, the goals of writers and Amazon have been aligned. Even in the midst of this Hachette dispute, Amazon has been staunchly pro-writer.  

I don't suffer fools well, and the world is lucky I'm not Jeff Bezos. If Hachette didn't want to reach a suitable negotiation, I'd stop selling Hachette titles. If authors wrongly demonized me, I'd remove their buy buttons. I certainly wouldn't offer to monetarily compensate a bunch of whiners who bitch about me publicly.

But I am not Mr. Bezos, and that's no doubt a good thing. 

Some may worry about The Day When Amazon Eats Their Faces. And they want to fight that imaginary day by allowing legacy publishers to... well... eat their faces today.

Nonsense logic. You don't worry about the wolf that might eat you someday when there is a lion currently feasting on your leg.

You don't live your life thinking the asteroid may hit and destroy the planet, when there is no evidence the asteroid even exists.

You don't demand control over book pricing and keep those prices high because you're worried some day that Amazon will raise ebook prices.

Hugh: So when this division broke, there was of course a 1% element to this movement not unlike many other protests. A small group of elitists think the universe aligns with their ideals. The system that made them rich is to be preserved, and screw anyone who disagrees. When you gain power, you tend to use it to maintain power, not to empower others. Human history is littered with these stories. But all it takes is a few megaphones in the crowd and gathering bodies to show them the other side.

Joe: I've been a megaphone for years. During those years, I've seen more and more authors try self-publishing, more and more authors leave legacy publishing, more and more authors not even bother submitting to agents or legacy publishing.

I'd like to think that, in my own small way, I contributed to this movement.

I didn't do it out of self-interest. I've gained nothing from the thousands of hours I've blogged about this topic. But I've been thrilled to see others taking up this cause. 

I've called this a revolution before. According to Wikipedia: 

A revolution (from the Latin revolutio, "a turn around") is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.

The balance of power has changed.

"Of course it has!" you may say. "That monopolistic bully called Amazon is now in control!"

If you said that, you'd be wrong.

The power hasn't gone to Amazon.

The power has gone to the writers.

Because we can keep our rights. We can decide how and where to reach readers. We're no longer at the mercy of the Big Five.

That's the story no one is talking about. 

Choice. 

And not just for writers.

In its zeal to demonize Amazon, the media, the publishing industry, and the Stockholm Syndrome authors, all blame a corporation for the changes currently happening.

They should be blaming writers like me for giving the establishment the finger and leaving it behind.

They should also be looking at readers, who are the ones voting with their dollars.

Readers want low prices. Readers want wide selections. Readers want convenience and good customer service. And readers want to be allowed to read what they want to, not something sifted by some multinational conglomerate.

Hugh: A few nights ago, an email popped into my inbox. It appeared a letter in support of Hachette had gone “viral.” I searched for this letter and could not find a copy, because it had not yet been released. The pro-traditional news source claiming virality seemed to have hopeful aspirations more than news coverage in mind. But the threat of this letter’s impending release sickened me. More of the one-sided debate from those with the most money and the most power, and what they are calling for will harm those with the least of both.

Joe: When the entitled 1% feels the need to tap into the media to spread nonsense in order to influence public opinion, there's fear in the air, motivated by intense self-interest.

Hugh: I reached out to a dozen or so others, and we cobbled together a messy open letter to explain many of the gross misrepresentations that have emerged during the Amazon/Hachette debate. A Google Doc buzzed with so many cursors, it was impossible to keep up with it all. We had a few hours to craft a response to what the other side had worked on for a week. Our hope was that any coverage of this debate would include both sides. That’s all we wanted. Maybe a few hundred people to say that we do not stand for this. We will not stand for this.

Joe: When some populist authors get together who have nothing to gain from this debate other than the desire to help others and make the world a better place, that's a much nobler motivation, IMHO.

Also, we all joined hands and danced in a meadow of dandelions and sang Kumbaya.

Actually, we didn't. Well, maybe Hugh did. But my motive was altruistic, as it has always been.

Urging readers to email Jeff Bezos and tell him Amazon is hurting authors isn't altruistic. It's self-interest, and it's base on falsehoods. I have no doubt these authors are concerned. But they are either ill-informed about the situation, afraid to confront the real problem (their publishers), or evil, greedy monsters who are willfully deceiving the public in order to maintain their place in the pecking order.

In an email, David Gaughran (who just blogged about this topic) made some wonderful points about the Douglas Preston letter, some that Hugh also touched on earlier:

(a) Where was the Open Letter criticising B&N for actually boycotting S&S new releases last year (as opposed to just taking away pre-order facilities)? 

(b) Where was the Open Letter criticising indie booksellers and B&N for refusing to stock Amazon-published books? 

(c) Where was the Open Letter criticising WH Smith (2nd biggest book chain in the UK) for kicking out all self-published titles from their e-bookstore in October last year, and still refusing to stock any titles seven months later? 

(d) Where was the Open Letter criticising Penguin for purchasing the world's biggest vanity press: Author Solutions?

I'll add:

(e) Where was the Open Letter criticizing all major publishers for their lockstep 25% ebook royalty rates?

(f) Where was the Open Letter criticizing five of the six (at the time) major publishers for colluding to raise ebook prices?

(g) Where was the Open Letter criticizing the Agency Model that Amazon was forced to adopt, which resulted in smaller profits for authors?

Now, I don't know why Preston et al haven't written any of these open letters. Maybe, just maybe, they really don't care about readers or the majority of writers. Whereas Gaughran and I have touched on all of these topics, many times, as have other indie bloggers. 

Hugh: Right now, those voices number 4,792. Thank you if you are one of them.

Our open letter was posted on Change.org, because more people wanted to sign the Google doc than I could manage. What we needed was a petition. What we wrote was a letter to readers. We ended up with something of both. The testimonials are as heart-wrenching as some of those we saw on this thread and in this thread. And it’s not just writers chiming in. Readers have taken to social media to show their support. Many have signed what started as a letter to them and is now a letter from us. Change is messy, people.

Joe: A shadow industry, previously known only by the companies supporting it (Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Nook, iBooks) and those who bought and sold within it (readers and writers) is finally being revealed to the public as whole.

Preston doesn't speak for us. Hachette doesn't speak for us.

And "us" is pretty damn big.

Hugh: My fear, however, is that nothing will change. Nothing will come of this. I think the power is in the hands of our opponents, because they own the media (actually, the media owns them. Several of the major publishers are owned by companies like CBS). They have the bigger names. They also have the support of a lot of mid-list writers who really want to make the jump up and win the respect of those above them. And there are a lot of readers who haven’t given indie books a chance and see us as ditherers and cranks.

Joe: I understand your fear, Hugh. It's been an uphill battle from the get-go, and it remains one.

Revolutions aren't easy. Those with power tend to fight to keep it. 

But change is coming. Remember your Schopenhauer.

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

I'd say we're at the violent opposition stage. 

Hugh: So I don’t have my hopes up, which is rare for me. My unabashed optimism is on hiatus. What I do see is the potential, the response to be had if there’s the right spark. And it highlights for me the need for a trade organization that represents writers, an organization with a focus on those who NEED representation, not those at the very top.

Groups like the aforementioned SFWA have minimum requirements for membership. I think there should be maximum requirements for representation. That is, once your earnings hit a certain level, your rights are no longer the focus of the group. Those rights might align at times with the focus of the group, but it won’t be an active concern.

Why? Because labor unions shouldn’t exist to win raises for the managers and the foremen. They sometimes devolve into this, and that’s the beginning of the end of their usefulness. Our guild long ago subscribed to that philosophy. I like to think it happened unintentionally and innocently, bias building upon bias, closed rooms echoing, monocultures spreading. I think some of the people who have it all and are fighting for more aren’t bad people; they just aren’t exposed to enough dissenting opinions. Many of those fighting for Hachette have no clue what is happening in the publishing trenches right now. They’ve been in tents with generals for far too long. It’s a rare sage like Val McDermud who understands those two worlds and the current gulf between them.

Joe: I second the motion for a union that truly represents writers. And I nominate Hugh Howey as President.

Hugh: I hope the outcome of this is at least awareness. There is a new world out there for creators and those who wish to be entertained. It can be a beautiful world, but it can also be a bleak world. Hollywood has been struggling with these same issues. Just this week, there was this depressing account of current trade representation in the film industry. Another movement of the 1%.

If you have a print copy of any of the self-published editions of the WOOL series, you may have noticed something strange on page 99 of each book. Doesn’t matter which book in the series, they all have as the page number: 99%. That’s the rest of us. Of course, another writer pointed out to me while we were crafting this open letter that he and I are now in the 1%, but I don’t think that’s true. We get to choose which side we stand on; our income doesn’t decide for us.

Joe: I was that other writer. But Hugh is right. It is easy to see why Patterson puts ads in papers asking for the government to intervene to save bookstores, and Turow demands we fear Amazon, and Preston and his cronies sign a letter to get readers to support their publisher (and by extension all Big 5 publishers). 

Self-interest is a powerful motivator, and it can also make otherwise smart people extremely myopic.

What's Hugh's motivation? What's mine? 

To protect Amazon?

Amazon doesn't need our help. They're doing fine without our support. And both of us would turn on Amazon if they began treating authors as badly as, say, Hachette does. All the major indie bloggers I know would turn on Amazon if that happened.

To protect our income?

Amazon has helped me make a lot of money. But I've fought with Amazon, publicly and privately (privately more than any but a select few will ever know). 

Nope, I'm motivated by something different than self-interest.

I was kicked around for more than twenty years by the legacy system. And if I can prevent that from happening to any other writer, then the thousands of hours I've spent being a megaphone have been worth it.

Hugh: I have been called a shill for taking this side. I have been accused of being shrill. I’m a crank and a kook. A lot of us are. Anyone fighting for progress should wear these accusations with honor. It means you’re finally being heard. I means you’re now hitting a nerve.

4,792. That’s a lot of voices. I hear you. I don’t speak for you. No one does. I don’t want to speak for anyone but myself. And again, maybe no one else does.

But perhaps someone should.

Joe: Our letter/petition is on Change.org.


That's a fitting place to host it, as this is what the whole issue is ultimately about. Change.

People need to know that self-publishing has offered the majority an unprecedented opportunity. We writers keep our rights. We control our careers and our fates. The playing field has been leveled. And readers get a wider variety of books at lower prices than ever before. 

Maybe some day, writers will have a union.

Maybe some day, the government will step in, to look at the history of the publishing industry and see how the publishing cartel has harmed so many authors and readers.

Maybe some day, big name authors will stop trying to use the media to take away choice; the first real choice readers and writers have ever had.

Until that day, we have this petition.

Add your name. Add your comments.

Show the media, and the world, the change you want to happen.

43 comments:

Michele said...

"Joe: I said it years ago: the only two groups required in a reader and writer relationship is the reader and the writer. Everyone else is a middleman that needs to prove his value."

Bravo. Why can't everyone see it this way. It's so damn simple!

Bridget McKenna said...

I think one thing a union / guild would do for indies is to expose the rest of the world to our numbers and power (by which I mean earnings). If the war is being fought in the media, forming an organization could help take us from the odd fluff piece about "the little author who could" to actual news stories that might reveal the power we have as a shadow industry, using figures like the Author Earnings reports. An "authors guild" that actually looked out for authors. The mind boggles.

Nirmala said...

I take back what I said in response to your previous post. There are intelligent people discussing this out there for you to fisk....but then I already knew that about Hugh. Still, nice to see this summary of the whole situation. I especially like the Declaration of Independence metaphor. Every revolution can use a rallying cry.

Darren Sapp said...

I watched the film 42 with my family yesterday. Two of my five kids are adopted: one from China and one from Ethiopia. They’re young and didn’t understand the significance of Jackie Robinson’s trial and triumph. I told them that he and others have endured the good fight so that you will not have to. They’ve paved an easier path for you.

Joe Konrath / Hugh Howey / Barry Eisler, et al. Thank you. I’m not suggesting what you’re doing is of the same degree as Jackie Robinson, but it’s an apt analogy. As a newbie writer with one completed novella and having written most of my first full-length novel, I’m thankful for your voices. For your collective reasoning that may at some point become collective bargaining. You give me hope for my writing.

I see no reason to seek traditional publishing. They offer me no hope for my writing. But I’m glad they’re available. I’m thankful for authors going that path, finding success, and readers buying their books at stores or online. I’m also thankful for Amazon. Fair competition breeds quality, opportunity, and value. Risk and reward.

Hugh Howey said...

Joe: I second the motion for a union that truly represents writers. And I nominate Hugh Howey as President.

Dude, you and I are DONE!

Glen Krisch said...

Not that it changes the discussion at all, but HWA is currently voting on adding guidelines for inclusion of indies.

Joe Konrath said...

Dude, you and I are DONE!

Now I may start one just to elect you. ;)

Josh Guess said...

As an author, I'd love to have a union with Hugh as president. As a reader, I can't imagine it would be good for his productivity, and I needs his books, precious. I NEEDS THEM.

Thanks for giving me that particular conundrum, Joe.

In all seriousness, a union would be a great thing were it possible to manage that sort of madness. I'd be open to helping in any way I could to get such an effort off the ground.

P. S. Power said...

I love the talk about the 1% protecting their positions...

Isn't that what Joe and Hugh are also doing?

Not that it makes either of you wrong, but be aware that for Indies you ARE the 1%. Heck, I'm in that 1% too, and almost no one has heard of me yet!

The fact is, backing Amazon right now is very self serving for some of us. Denying that just makes everyone think that it's all about what Amazon can do for us, personally.

I think that we need to remember everyone else at the same time. This isn't about Hugh Howey, who does good work, but also got incredibly lucky...

Or J.A. Konrath, who came from the Legacy world, and then turned on them in spectacular, and eye catching, fashion...

Or even humble P.S. Power, who simply writes so much that people are eventually finding the name. (And who just put his own name next to Hugh Howey and J.A Konrath, as if it fits! I almost feel clever or something.)

This has to be about the others. I think, in their own way, that's what this is about, but the real voices that need to be heard aren't more one percenters, but everyone else.

The ones that the big five don't care about at all. The people that sell a few hundred, or thousand books a year that they;d love to have shut down, fearing that those sales will detract from their bottom line, eventually.

Those are the people that this needs to be about. I just hope that it become that, in the end. In life things rarely really do.

liebjabberings said...

Just because someone is a good playwright/speaker/engineer/musician/... doesn't mean he or she is a good candidate for President of anything.

It is incredibly difficult to truly be just a figurehead - though sometimes it is necessary.

I nominate Joe. He has the right attitude.

Not that I don't love Hugh - but he's too nice.

Joe, now, President Konrath... that has a ring - and a power.

The only thing we truly need of a president is for him or her not to be in it for the money (that's where many organizations - from unions to democratic republics - go wrong), because the President already has enough for now.

If that's true, and he will serve, I nominate Joe - for his jaundiced eye.

Alicia

Norma Beishir said...

I second the nomination for Joe. He's already our unofficial ringleader.

I was once told by my Big Five publisher that the marketing guys had to be allowed to change the title of my third novel because "we have to give them something."

When I regained my rights and self-published that book, I switched back to the original title.

Anne Kinsey said...

I don't think you can actually have a union with contractors and freelancers. Wouldn't a union have to represent employees and workers?

Okay, I know, it's a matter of semantics.

As an aside, if they were saying Preston's letter went "viral" with a few hundred signatures, what can they say about 5,000?

I'd really like to see the standoff with Hachette and Amazon end. I hope this letter puts some pressure on Hachette. At least they'll have to see that starting an anti-Amazon media campaign may well backfire.

Joe Konrath said...

I'd make a shitty leader. I'm better behind the scenes, causing trouble.

Hugh and I know this isn't about us, P.S. We're not siding with Amazon because we make money via Amazon.

We're siding with Amazon because so many others make money via Amazon, when they couldn't before.

I write A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, not A Pros Guide to Staying Wealthy. ;)

JC Andrijeski said...

I nominate Hugh. Nice doesn't equal weak. I think he's already shown himself to be an extremely talented spokesman and politician (I don't mean that as an insult, quite the contrary). I'm more like JAK, actually, I'm a fist waver and a ranter, and we're better as information spreaders and, well, ranters...not negotiators, which requires a better grasp of finding common ground and bringing people together over mutual interests and benefits.

That being said, I can totally understand why Hugh (or anyone, really) wouldn't want to do it. : ) Yikes. Just thinking about it is daunting...

Bianca D'Arc said...

Being a romance writer, I think I've seen this unfold quicker and bigger than my mainstream counterparts. There are a LOT of us romance writers making a LOT of money - very quietly, without a lot of hoopla. The midlisters - at least in the romance genre - are finally earning a living...and then some.

I've been published all three ways - traditional, small press and now indie. I've finally made the break to go pretty much all-indie all the time and the reason, pure, simple and as crass as it may be, is the money. And the ability to keep my rights and use them (or not) at my discretion.

As for professional writing organizations... RWA is ahead of the curve, but please don't think it's all pink fuzzy slippers and roses. This is an organization of women - with all the infighting and cattiness that sometimes implies. There are still those legacy-types that look down their noses at others and slow moving rule changes at every level. However, they are leaps and bounds ahead of SFWA.

The reason? Readers. Romance readers are among the most voracious and loyal readers anywhere. They don't really care who publishes a book - as long as it's good. You write a good book and do some promotion, they'll find you. There is a thriving and healthy midlist of romance authors - of which I am one - that has been able to quit their day jobs (I was a NY lawyer *gasp!*) and live the dream of being a full-time writer.

We can do that because the readers are driving the train now - not all the gatekeepers of the traditional publishing machine. We've been able to eliminate most of the middle men and bring our work directly to the consumer.

RWA has had to recognize that because more and more of its membership has fought for recognition of their indie success. I number quite a few indie-only success stories among my immediate group of friends/colleagues. RWA couldn't just ignore the huge readerships (and incomes) of certain authors, and had to grow and change with the times. Thank goodness! I can only hope some of the other writing organizations follow suit.

Aimless Writer said...

How I wish you were in charge of Amazon. It would be entertaining.

Ksenia Anske said...

Can you guys, like, stop writing these smart blog posts AND comments, cause my head hurts and you're making me feel stupid and I will now go and shoot myself... *shots herself* (Cause I'm a writer and I'm supposed to be smarter, right?)

All right. Fine. FINE. Jokes aside. Thanks for shedding the light on this for newbies like me (only been writing for 2 years, not much experience, not many sales to speak of, all my ebooks are are FREE on my site, you know the story). I've been following it from the start, and slowly my mouth began to open wider and wider. I've somehow avoided most of this, burying my head in trying to write as much as I can, to write more books, to sell more books (obviously), and I don't belong to any organizations, AND I'm not American originally (from Russia), so the idea of unions is not native to me...but. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, for educating us, the green masses. Please, continue. This is quite entertaining as well as educational, and I can't wait to mature to start saying smart things as well.

Also, I think the president of the guild should be a cat. For voice neutrality.

Liz Borino said...

YES! YES! YES! Thank you, Joe and Hugh. Joe, I must admit that I got a little nervous when I saw Hugh's name up next to be frisked, I worried that you would have a mass exodus of blog followers on your hands. But I'm happy to hear you're of the same opinion. :)

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

I would think the last thing writers need is a union. Chosen third parties as representatives of a group's interests must be given a quantum of power to act. Those parties like most human beings, will seek to maintain and increase that power. Hey author, you want somebody to represent your interests? Get a lawyer if you need legal counseling. Otherwise, it is this loose cabal of Joe, and Barry and others of similar design that serve our needs by educating authors, by shining that light to the truth that legacy is not required anymore. Personally, I do feel a sense of accomplishment having been legacy published by one of the big boys, long ago, but now, who gives a rodent's posterior? I can get my literary leavings out there served up hot and fresh with a pickle in the middle just like I want to, and maybe even make some money to cover a cheap glass of whiskey now and then. But a union? I dealt with construction unions for about ten years during my 33 years as an attorney, and those guys who were supposed to represent the little guys? Uh uh. Sorry, wrong number. I think that would happen in writing too, if possible. The writer and reader are the only ones that matter, plus maybe--and I mean maybe--a few skilled tradesmen to help put the book building together. One of the benefits of a Konrath is he is an iconoclast--and a very generous one. We don't need organizations. I was an HWA active status member for years, and it did absolutely squat for me. We don't need unions. Writers need their brains, their wit, their balls (or the female equivalent) and the freely given guidance of our guides in the darkness like Joe and Company.
And they need amazon at present.

Phyllis Humphrey said...

Joe:
Thank you for a great post. I began reading about you when you were still with legacy pubs and going to 1200 bookstores to get your name out. I was impressed by it, and hoped some day I could emulate you. Now I can. I knew I could trust your advice, so when you dropped legacy for self-publishing I gained courage to do the same. I'm just starting, but already paying a bill or two with an occasional check from Amazon or a small press. You are my hero.

Josef Black said...

I'd nominate Barry E as Security Officer.

Given Hachettes threat of Anglo-Saxon muscle we obviously need to contemplate some rendition protocols because I suspect the teamsters got nuthin on NYC's execs.
Forcing the CEO of Hachette to read through Patterson's backlist endlessly in a small cell in Tunisia should be more effective than water boarding.
And since they love paper you can then beat them to death with it when they fail to agree reasonable royalty terms.
Not so much anglo-saxon muscle as interactive literature. 'The next generation reading experience. Feel the violence like never before. Around your fucking head.'

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I think a formalized union might be too easy to eventually become co-opted and sold out to "the man." Better to construct a loose organization, sort of like what's organically happening through Joe, Barry, Hugh, Passive Voice, and others.

Allow these central places to occasionally (when necessary) become hubs from which action can be taken when necessary.

Don't just turn it into another big, clumsy organization that will ultimately become corrupt.

Thanks for everything you guys do,

Aaron Niz

Leigh J said...

Hi Joe...always read your blog, love it, rely on it. I just wanted to say thank you. I am a newbie author and your blog (and everything you are doing for writers) means so much. xx

T. M. Bilderback said...

I'll be plugging this entry of Mr. Konrath's blog in my own blog tomorrow, along with the link to the petition. I'm also going to include Jeff Bezos' email addy, just like Mr. Preston, and ask my readers to email the man...and to thank him for keeping prices low. I don't think that I can say much that adds to what has already been said, but I'll certainly try to keep the word spreading!

SM Barrett said...

If we had an organization of some sort, it would have to provide more than just a united voice for authors and their readers. Amazon has grown to the point that it could dump books completely and not see a sizable drop in profit, so while it may listen to the concerns of a writing organization, those concerns would not likely be the determining factor in Amazon policy.

What real benefits would we get from organizing? Health, dental and vision? Legal assistance and advice? A marketplace for editors, formatters, cover artists and beta readers? Voting on current issues so that the org officers represent the majority of the membership?
These are all nice ideas, but they would require dues, and officers to moderate and manage certain areas of the organization. And then you get to deal with the politics inherent in such a system, and the inevitable corruption.

Most of us already visit this blog, Passive Voice, Writer's Café at Kboards.com and Hugh's blog. Having something more centralized might be doable, like a large forum or message board; call it something like Shadow Scribes or IndieInk, I don't know.
I think we can get word out quickly and speak with an organized and unified voice right now (this petition is evidence of that). Maybe we don't need a formal organization, just a place to call home with a big "Welcome" sign over the door, a place where ripples don't have to travel far to reach every shore and screen.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

A little note about the control you mentioned This is truly the most important thing to me. Controlling my content, my cover art, my marketing. There is, to my mind, nothing more valuable.

I mentioned this to a Mr. Shatzkin (spelling?) on his blog recently, and his response was—essentially:

"Control can be fatal."

Unless, of course, that control is in the hands of traditional publishers. Because authors need to just put their aprons on and stay in the kitchen and cook. They can't be expected to succeed in the real world...

Anonymous said...

Let me say this again. I DO think we need a union--but just not in the "old" way that unions or formal organizations typically work.

Look at the way Occupy Wall Street went down--that was great. De-centralized is key, it helps keep power from gathering at the top as much as possible.

At the same time, if our interests do in fact align, we writers need to be able to mass and act quickly in our best interests as a group, and occasionally flex muscle just like the big boys do.

I think at some point it may require something real serious to be done--but we won't know until that day happens. For now, just keeping in mind that Joe, Hugh, Barry, etc etc are swift and thoughtful and very plugged in is enough.

Someday we might need them to mobilize just like this, for something far more important. I consider this more of a test run, but a good test run and successful nonetheless.

Aaron Niz

Silas Payton said...

I tend to agree with Adam, Aaron and SM on concerns of a union. With the growing movement of self-publishing as evidenced by authorsearnings.com, it is inevitable that there will be continued awareness of readers. Readers will make the choice in this battle and the traditional route can't win. The old system is too slow and costly. It is only a matter of time. If self-published authors keep working hard now, they will reap the rewards as more and more readers switch to ebooks.

I have concerns of what would have to be given up with a union and question whether much would be gained. Instead, I'd like to see self-pub authors continue to help inform new writers of their options, and readers of what's been going on behind closed doors. The readers will ultimately vote. Whether it be for the underdog, for what's best for the authors or what's cheapest...either way, we win. Traditional publishing can't compete.

SM, I can't see Amazon getting out of the ebook business...it's easy money for them. I do though see them dropping paper some day, or at least, the prices will have to go up because of the costs involved. If however, Amazon did ever drop ebooks, someone else would move in and replace their market share. Simple as that. Well not really simple...change is always stressful, but someone would see an opportunity and they would be the new source for ebooks. How's ebooks@konrath.com sound?

SM Barrett said...

Silas, fine by me, but not my call :).

However, just to clarify, I don't think Amazon will drop books of any form, or raise their take of profits to unreasonable limits, or any of that other doomsday talk. My point was that books represent such a small part of their overall profits that I don't know how much real influence a writer's org would have. I'd be concerned that even a sizable organization would be a drop in the bucket, and may not be able to muster any real change, should the need arise.

That is why I'm all about a community, and less about a formal guild/union/fellowship etc.

Klawzie said...

I will now and forever see Hugh Howey as a sort of modern day George Washington thanks to this post.

Wm. L. Hahn said...

It's all brilliant of course. That can't be overstated.

I remain more pessimistic about the future in an Amazon-dominated world. I think it's still likely that the publishing function will continue to fragment and disappear as a separate entity- the Zon proves it's all about distribution in the e-book/a-book world, and for at least a time, there's a good chance they will be it. But we may, MAY be able to fight them for enough autonomy to matter.

No former history teacher can fail to love the Declaration metaphor- one thing I'd love to see is a succinct analog to "lives, fortune, sacred honor", a list in ascending order like that one, of what we will commit to the cause. Personally, you could lob in a mention of God too, but in the current climate I'd understand.

adan said...

Great summary and extensions Joe, one of the best, thank you! :-)

Alan Spade said...

I'll add my voice to that of Adam, Aaron SM, and Silas. Writer's blogs are our best union. In fact, Internet is our best union. It will allow us to have concerted actions if needed, I think. And with the Internet, you can be sure not to leave any indie behind (except those who are not on the internet, of course). With any organization, you have selection, and that is not in the indie's spirit.

josie downey said...

You know after spending good money to get my novel in shape, I was about to start seeking a legacy contract, but then I stumbled upon some indie authors who pointed me towards indie publishing. I'm glad they did and I'm glad there are still authors out there bringing to light information for newbies like me. Makes my life so much easier.

JKBrown said...

I made sure I signed the petition immediately. I was impressed to get an email back (was that automated?)

I remember it was either you Joe, or someone else who suggested we form a writing group for healthcare. I'm all for that. I'm at a underwhelming, underpaying job because it has good healthcare benefits. Assuming I don't sell so well that I don't work anymore, I'd love for us to join forces for that reason alone. It'd really unlock my potential.

I've dealt with unions before, and though my current one has treated me well recently, over the course of years they've done nothing for me except take my dues and spend it on politicians and lobbying efforts. Doesn't matter if I agree or not. What a waste. If a union is formed, the potential for it to transform into something like that is very likely.

I have an interesting question for you, Joe: what happened to that old Joe you referred to in your post? You lured me to this blog with good writing advice that greatly improved my craft. I have no issue with you now, but howcome you don't do posts like that anymore?

Ques

Anonymous said...

As a casual observer to all the screaming and hollering and blaming and name-calling, it seems to me that everything in publishing is getting over-thought, over-analyzed and most of all overly-hostile and disrespectful, from all sides.

The options available to authors in today's market are not a mystery. Write your book, chose the option best for you, and move forward. Chill out. Life is short.
RJ

Kevin Hallock said...

Thanks for the great blog! I share the concerns of some about forming a indie writing union, but that's probably more about the "union" word than what it would represent because I'm less apprehensive about an indie author society. I guess its all about word choice for me.

Larry Mitchell said...

Petition is over 6000 at this moment. I certainly been pushing it on Facebook and twitter.

Kiana Davenport said...

I''ve been published all three ways. Legacy, indie, and Amazon. I will never go back to traditional publishing. NEVER. (Well...offer me a million bucks an, as Joe said, one might just take the money and run.) Thanks to Joe and other knowledgeable spokesmen/bloggers I've come to understand how legacy publishers have been anally penetrating authors for decades. Why? We were virgins, we didn't know better. We thought this was how it was done.

I'm tougher now, maybe a little smarter. And since I've had a taste of all three worlds, I agree: YES. Indie writers would profit enormously by unionizing, and having representation. It will be a long, laborious process. But then so is writing novels. I'm game.

PS... I do not think Joe would make the best union president. He's too brilliant, and iconoclastic. He works best behind the scenes, stirring the shit and playing the devil's advocate. Let him do what he does best.

Sign that petition, guys! And Imua, Press On!

Jim Self said...

Hugh might be overlooking one thing. The original purpose of unions was to allow people to organize so that they could bargain collectively. In these modern times, we already have that organization. We have our own "newspapers" with The Passive Voice and other sites. We have places like Kboards to speak our minds and debate, and to hear debate.

The only thing that we don't already have that a union would provide is the ability to act in lockstep with collective bargaining. And that's a good thing. We aren't all going to have the same interests or goals or career strategies. We don't need to hand our negotiating power over to a governing body. We just need the ability to get together on the subjects that matter, act, and then go back to our own private business.

Alan Spade said...

"And I still hope Bezos announces 75% for all ebooks in KDP from 99 cents to 9.99. A juicy finger shot at Big 5 and iBooks.

I want them to do that so bad..."

I, too, Mir Whites


"the problem is in the contract between us and the publishers." Anon couldn't be more right.

Laura's stance makes me thing of somebody who would want a war with no collateral damage. Or, no war at all. The status quo.

But what is the status quo? It is big companies extorting money from authors with horrible contracts (often with the help of literary agents). More and more money. More and more power to these publishing companies who keep exploiting authors.

It is not as if they weren't any other options for authors, once they get rid of these evil companies.

So, yes, Amazon is here for the money. Yes, they might lower royalties to authors if there are no more big publishing companies. But the numeric field is not the material field of yesterday. When you base your decisions on fear, fear of the future, fear of what will happen if..., those are always bad decisions.

Joe said it better than me: "You don't worry about the wolf that might eat you someday when there is a lion currently feasting on your leg."

Sorry, but the best way to get rid of the lion is in this case to side with Amazon, to offer a different point of view than what we see in the news.

Anonymous said...

The Society of Authors

http://www.societyofauthors.org

Jo said...

People continue to call Amazon a publisher (and yes they do own a publishing company) but they are mainly a retailer. In their ebook retailing they take 30% cut for ebooks between $2.99 and $9.99 price and a 65% cut for ebooks sold at higher or lower than that. But if other publishers dissappear their retail term may not change at all. Their retail terms will only change if there is a change in other ebook retailing competitors.

The Publishing in KDP means that authors can publish and their works and retail through Amazon.

Maybe I'm a bit picky about the difference between the terms but I see publishing and retailing as two differnt things.

If the big traditional publisher go away the ebook retailing part of Amazon should not change much unless the other ebook retailers to some thing to challence their market position.