Monday, September 15, 2014

Nonsense United

And Authors United confirms that a group can indeed be less than the sum of its parts when it acts in such a blatantly stupid way. But, like any group of likeminded people bonded together by mutual ignorance, they can persuade the legacy media tools at the NYT and The Bookseller to run their biased propaganda without any counterpoints.

Fails all around.

Their recent letter almost isn't worth fisking. Really. It's so poorly done, such a flimsy, whiny argument, that a child could deconstruct it.

But I didn't have a child available, so I did it.

If you want a refresher on the nonsense, start reading my blog from May 24 to present.

Now let's get to fisking. Lies and hyperbole in bold, my responses in common sense plain font.

Letter to Amazon.com, Inc. board of directors

The letter, with the list of signatories attached, will sent by Federal Express to each of the ten board members of Amazon.com. They are:

(A list of ten names and addresses)

Hmm. I wonder if Douglas Preston would like it if his address was put online.

Is that the point of using snail mail locations rather than email? A bit of the old "we know where to find you" intimidation technique?

Why not also show the board members pictures of their houses via Google Earth? Isn't that how the Facebook trolls do it?

Dear [name],

We are writing to you in your capacity as a director of Amazon.com, Inc. As we all know, Amazon is involved in contract negotiations with several media and publishing companies, including Hachette. About six months ago, to enhance its bargaining position, Amazon began sanctioning Hachette authors' books. These sanctions included refusing preorders, delaying shipping, reducing discounting, and using pop-up windows to cover authors' pages and redirect buyers to non-Hachette books.

Didn't take long for the BS to begin.

This began in January, not six months ago, because Hachette refused to negotiate with Amazon prior to their contract with Amazon expiring.

Amazon has had no contract with Hachette for several months. And yet it still sells Hachette titles, while under no obligation to do so.

Refusing preorders - Why should Amazon sell advanced copies of work when they might not be selling any Hachette titles in the future if an agreement can't be reached?

Delaying shipping - Amazon has said they aren't delaying shipping, they simply aren't stocking Hachette titles. If Hachette wants faster shipping, they should get their titles to Amazon faster.

Reducing discounting - Oh noes! Amazon is selling books for the prices that Hachette sets!

Using pop-up windows - First I've heard of this, and the few minutes I took clicking on Hachette titles on Amazon failed to produce any results. But if it is true, let's look at the big picture:

1. Should Amazon be allowed to do whatever it wants to on its own website? Sell what it wants to, for prices it wants to? Sell ad space if it wants to? Stock what it wants to? Ship how it wants to?

2. If a retailer isn't behaving like the supplier wants it to behave, should the supplier fight for better terms? Leave? Negotiate in good faith? Capitulate?

For some reason, Authors United believes that publishers have the right to tell Amazon, Bezos, and the board of directors, how to run their store.

Now, the US has a history of third parties trying to intimidate retailers. But at least the mob did it effectively. Authors United seems to be using the intimidation tool of shame.

Shame doesn't work. I know this for a fact, because I've repeatedly shamed Authors United signatories to stop their nonsense, and they haven't.

But I'll keep trying. And I won't have to try very hard. Seriously, read on, it gets extremely humiliating.

These sanctions have driven down Hachette authors' sales at Amazon.com by at least 50 percent and in some cases as much as 90 percent. These sales drops are occurring across the board: in hardcovers, paperbacks, and e-books. 

Sanctions? AU called it a "boycott" before, apparently because not one of the many great, wise, prestigious, bestselling, award-winning authors who signed the last letter knew the correct definition of "boycott".

What is a sanction?

Trade sanctions are trade penalties imposed by a country or group of countries on another country or group of countries. Typically the sanctions take the form of import tariffs (duties), licensing or other administrative regulations. 

Oops. They don't know what a "sanction" is, either. Amazon isn't a country, last I checked. And they aren't enforcing tariffs.

What Amazon is doing, as I've mentioned before, is engaging in the nefarious act of capitalism. Capitalism often involves negotiation.

Is Douglas Preston imposing a sanction on Hachette during contract negotiations when he holds out for more money? Is he boycotting Penguin Random House because he signed with Hachette? Does he think he's fooling anyone by misappropriating fear words while engaging in an emotional appeal fallacy?

And why isn't my shaming making him stop? Do I have to post his address?

Because of Amazon's immense market share and its proprietary Kindle platform, other retailers have not made up the difference. Several thousand Hachette authors have watched their readership decline, or, in the case of new authors, have seen their books sink out of sight without finding an adequate readership. These men and women are deeply concerned about what this means for their future careers.

Which is why we, Authors United, are writing to our publisher, Hachette, urging them to come to an agreement with Amazon.

Oh, wait...

We urge you to review our names at the bottom of this letter. No group of authors as diverse or prominent as this has ever come together before in support of a single cause. 

Except, you know, for that petition Howey and Konrath did, with eight times as many signatures.

We are literary novelists and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists; thriller writers and debut and midlist authors. We are science fiction and travel writers; historians and newspaper reporters; textbook authors and biographers and mystery writers. We have written many of your children's favorite stories. Collectively, we have sold billions of books. Amazon's tactics have caused us profound anguish and outrage.

This is a business negotiation. If you're serious about making Amazon do your bidding, don't sell your billions of books on Amazon, and maybe Amazon will be threatened by that and cave.

Otherwise, you're repeatedly stating how powerful you are, then not using any of that power as leverage. Way to influence. Way to show how much you care about this issue.

Translation: Way to cop out.

Russell Grandinetti of Amazon has stated that the company was "forced to take this step because Hachette refused to come to the table." He has also claimed that "authors are the only leverage we have." As one of the world's largest corporations, Amazon was not "forced" to do anything.

And no one is currently forcing Amazon to continue to sell any Hachette titles. Because Amazon and Hachette currently have no contract.

But Amazon is still selling them.

This is an obvious fact. We all have choices. Amazon chose to involve 2,500 Hachette authors and their books. It could end these sanctions tomorrow while continuing to negotiate. Amazon is undermining the ability of authors to support their families, pay their mortgages, and provide for their kids' college educations. We'd like to emphasize that most of us are not Hachette authors, and our concern is founded on principle, rather than self-interest.

So now Amazon owes authors a living?

I'm amazed by the permeating sense of entitlement in this letter. These authors believe the system owes them. And I say this as someone who was at the mercy of legacy publishers for a decade. I know what it's like to have my dreams, hopes, and finances screwed by the whims of a giant corporation.

But here's the thing: I signed those one-sided, unconscionable publishing contracts. I went into them willingly. And when something better came along, I got the hell out.

Authors United, your gripe isn't with Amazon. You didn't sign a deal with Amazon. You can self-publish with Amazon right now and get preorders and fast shipping and price your books as you wish.

Your problem should be with Hachette. Hachette, who wants to keep ebook prices high, even as you lament Amazon's lack of discounting. Hachette, who cares more about its part of the paper distribution oligopoly than it does about its authors. Hachette, who you HAVEN'T CONTACTED YET.

We find it hard to believe that all members of the Amazon board approve of these actions. We would like to ask you a question: Do you as an Amazon director approve of this policy of sanctioning books?

Do you, Authors United, approve with the policy of encouraging straw men?

The straw man fallacy is brought up a lot on the Internet. You'd think that all of those smart Authors United signatories with their assloads of awards would know what it means.

A straw man is a common type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on the misrepresentation of an opponent's argument. To be successful, a straw man argument requires that the audience be ignorant or uninformed of the original argument.

Amazon isn't sanctioning books. This is a misrepresentation of what is happening, and it requires ignorance for people to believe it. Classic strawman. I know that, and I don't have a single Pulitzer.

Efforts to impede or block the sale of books have a long and ugly history. Would you, personally, want to be associated with this? We feel strongly that such actions have no place in a common commercial dispute. Amazon has other negotiating tools at its disposal; it does not need to inflict harm on the very authors who helped it become one of the largest retailers in the world.

More appeals to emotion. More strawmen.

Amazon doesn't have an armada surrounding Hachette's warehouse, preventing it from selling titles. There is no flotilla blockade preventing Hachette's books from reaching readers. Their books are available elsewhere... including on Amazon.

Repeat after me: It's not a boycott, it's not a sanction, it's all fallacious, it's not a boycott, it's not a sanction, it's all fallacious...

Our position has been consistent. We have made a great effort not to take sides.

A great effort that includes not contacting Hachette. Ever. Because that's the real definition of how you don't take sides, by petitioning one side and not the other.

And they've sold billions of books. Really.

And really, see how shame doesn't stop stupidity?

But, to be fair, Authors United and I are using shame differently.

Authors United is trying to use shame to control Amazon. It's ineffective, and embarrassing, and transparent, and has no facts or logic to back it up.

I'm using shame to inform people about this issue. The Authors United signatories won't listen to me (though it would be a step in the right direction if they actually began to read the nonsense they signed). But other writers, and readers, who want to know the real core of this issue (since the legacy media won't tell them) can read about it here. Backed up with facts and logic.

We are not against Amazon. We appreciate that Amazon sells half the books in the United States. But Amazon has repeatedly tried to dismiss us as "rich" bestselling authors who are advocating higher ebook prices—a false and unfair characterization, as most of us are in fact midlist authors struggling to make a living. 

Then stop signing with publishers. Hachette has failed you. Hire a lawyer and go solo.

And we have not made any statements whatsoever on book pricing. 

If I join Greenpeace, is there an obvious understanding that I care about the planet and want to save endangered species, even if I never made a statement about saving whales?

And, just to be nit-picky, Authors United made a statement on book pricing just a few paragraphs previously when they accused Amazon of reducing discounting.

Even if I hated Amazon and spent my vacations happily gripping my socks for Hachette execs, I wouldn't sign a letter this sloppy. It's embarrassing.

Our point is simple: we believe it is unacceptable for Amazon to impede or block the sale of books as a negotiating tactic.

Amazon has every right to refuse to sell consumer goods in response to a pricing disagreement with a wholesaler. 

Uh... wha?

So it is unacceptable for Amazon to use negotiating tactics such as impeding book sales, but Amazon has every right to refuse to sell consumer goods as a negotiating tactic?

Did I even need to fisk this? Authors United just fisked themselves.

Jesus, did any signatory ACTUALLY READ THIS?

We all appreciate discounted razor blades and cheaper shoes. But books are not consumer goods. 

Books are not consumer goods.

Hmm. Kinda makes me wonder why publishers print the prices on the cover.

Books cannot be written more cheaply, nor can authors be outsourced to China. 

Books can't be written cheaply? I believe I wrote my first nine novels for free. And since leaving my publishers, every book I've written is for free. I don't get an advance.

As for outsourcing, I don't believe I'm owed a living, or that what I do is particularly important.

I'm not curing cancer. I'm not even saving whales.

In fact, I'm a damn lucky son of a bitch who gets to make a living doing what I love, which is more than most people can say.

Books are not toasters or televisions. Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual, a person whose living depends on that book finding readers. This is the process Amazon is obstructing.

We, at Authors United, are better than people working in China. We're better than people who make toasters and televisions.

We're special snowflakes, unique and quirky, and the lonely, intense struggle we endure for the sake of ART is much more difficult than coal mining or waitressing or mechanical engineering or brain surgery or conservationism or rocket science.

If I ever reach this level of self-importance, I want someone to slap the shit out of me.

Seriously. Slap me until I shit all over myself. It would be less embarrassing than agreeing with the above Authors United paragraph.

When all you have to do to humiliate someone is hold up a mirror, it's time to stop making public statements.

There has been much talk on the Internet about how traditional publishers like Hachette are "dinosaurs" defending a moribund business model. There have been claims that Amazon is leading the way to a new publishing paradigm, one that that pays authors higher royalties, allows anyone to publish, and cuts out the elitist gatekeepers. We agree that Amazon has spurred important innovations in publishing, including a wonderful self-publishing model that has given many new writers a voice.

Hey, we found something to agree on!

But what these commentators and Amazon itself may not realize is that traditional publishing houses perform a vital role in our society.

So did outhouses. Then that pesky tech upstart, indoor plumbing, came along.

Publishers provide venture capital for ideas. They advance money to authors, giving them the time and freedom to write their books. This system is especially important for nonfiction writers, who must quit their jobs to travel, research and write. 

Those poor bastards! Forced to quit their jobs so instead they can travel, research, and write! Someone pass the Kleenex!

How does this hardship compare to working on a factory assembly line, making discount razor blades?

Without an advance, for example, many aspiring writers would never be able to leave their jobs to write their first books. 

(Headdesk) Seriously, by a show of hands, how many of you left your job to write your first book?

No one? You mean (gasp!) you were working on your first book while also holding down a job? And keeping your family happy? And you didn't complain, because you were doing what you loved?

Thousands of times every year, publishers take a chance on unknown authors and advance them money solely on the basis of an idea. By assuming the risk, publishers expect—and receive—a financial return. What will Amazon replace this process with? 

Hint: Amazon already did. It's called KDP. It's when authors write their books for free, and then sell them. While keeping all the rights and the majority of the monies earned.

This model is working for tens of thousands of authors.

How, in the Amazon model, will a young author get funding to pursue a promising idea? 

By, um, working and earning money? Like 99.99% of writers did?

Thank goodness you clarified earlier that you aren't entitled, rich, bestselling authors, because without that disclaimer everyone reading this would certainly be thinking that you are.

And what about the role of editors and copy editors, who ensure that what ultimately ends up on the shelf is both worthy and accurate?

This! Because there can be no editing without editors, and the only editors that exist work at publishing houses.

Just like the only books worthy to exist are on bookstore shelves.

You know, except for the 1.5 million ebooks I sold.

So other than the fact that anyone can hire an editor, and that bookstore shelf space is no longer required for an author to make money, it was a good point.*

*That's sarcasm. It wasn't a good point.

We are certain that you, as an Amazon board member, prize books and freedom of expression as much as we do. Since its founding, Amazon has been a highly regarded and progressive brand. But if this is how Amazon continues to treat the literary community, how long will the company's fine reputation last? We appeal to you, with hope and goodwill, to exercise your governance and put an end to the sanctioning of books, which are the very foundation of our culture and democracy.

Cue the Star Spangled Banner, unfurl the flags, throw the ticker tape, and let's all hope Konrath doesn't fisk this and reveal how stupid we're being. In public, no less.

Sincerely,

[Each one of us listed below has read, approved, and signed this letter]

Then each of you should be deeply, grossly, unabashedly ashamed.

Addendum:

Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader makes some points that I missed, including the misquoting of Russ Grandinetti.

Hugh Howey takes NYT "journalist" David Streitfeld rightfully to task.

Jen Rasmussen has a hilarious, spot-on take,
http://jenrasmussen.com/authors-united-vs-amazon-a-primer

Addendum Deux:

There are more obvious points I missed, that are being brought up in the comments here and on Passive Voice. I'm repeating them to make sure they're read.

Dazrin sez: No comment on the "will sent by Federal Express" in the first line? You would think a thousand professional authors would catch that.

Joe sez: Maybe they expected their editors to catch it.

Barbara Morgenroth sez: "And what about the role of editors and copy editors, who ensure that what ultimately ends up on the shelf is both worthy and accurate?"

Stated in a missive that is both unworthy and inaccurate.

Joe sez: I wonder if there were any editors that signed this. If so, let this be a cautionary tale for writers seeking editing help.

Marc Cabot sez: Mr. Konrath, if you will print a nice copy of this fisking and FedEx it to each of the board members of Amazon - whom Mr. Preston has kindly provided addresses for - I will compensate you for the FedEx charges.

Joe sez: Thanks, Marc. I could probably "sent by Federal Express" without needing compensation. But I don't think I need to bother the board. If they're on the board, they're smart, and no doubt already aware of all this.

Uncle Jo sez: Wait, this is the big event all the blowhards were yammering about? A stern letter? Yet another publicity push?

Joe sez: Yeah. On September 4 Publishers Weekly quoted Douglas Preston:

“we are forced to move on to our next initiative"

No one blames you for this bold, rash, unprecidented move, Mr. Preston. I just hope it doesn't escalate to you ringing Jeff Bezos's doorbell in the middle of the night and then running away. Or--even worse--placing a flaming bag of dog poo on the porch before you bolt.

I pray you aren't forced to go to those extremes.

Hugh Howey sez: In this latest letter to board members, he says that Amazon could employ some negotiation tool that does not impact authors. I’d love to hear his ideas. Or at least one idea. How can Amazon hurt Hachette without hurting its authors?

Joe sez: Well, if Amazon wanted to escalate, they could send a letter to Hachette's board of directors. Wait... that would be silly and serve no purpose. Well, maybe they could find out where the board members live, then ring their doorbells in the middle of the night...

William Ockham sez: I hate to give writing advice to these folks, but using "sanction" in this context is a terrible strategic move. The word is essentially its own antonym. It could mean "endorse" or "penalize". Moreover, it carries a connotation of the subject (Amazon) having official authority over the object (Hachette titles). The assistants of the letter's addressees are busy people and you wouldn't want to generate confusion on their part when they read your letter.

Also, avoid using absolutes like "no group of authors as diverse or prominent as this has ever come together before in support of a single cause". This just encourages people to think about other literary causes that likely generated more widespread support. For example, hundreds of writers signed petitions supporting Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Graham Greene, W. H. Auden, Arthur Miller, John Updike, Truman Capote, and Kurt Vonnegut. Are you folks really more prominent than those guys? Seriously?

Timothy Wilhoit sez: “Since its founding, Amazon has been a highly regarded and progressive brand,” it says. “But if this is how Amazon continues to treat the literary community, how long will the company’s fine reputation last?”

Classic concern trolling. I really feel their concern for Amazon’s fine reputation.

Joe sez: The carrot and the stick. They used the appeal to fear, and the appeal to patriotism, why not the appeal to flattery as well?

Meryl Yourish sez: That’s not how Boards of Directors work. A CEO has to screw up really badly for any BOD to take action against them.

This is really just another empty piece of symbolism that will fool people who don’t understand business practices.

That would include most of the authors of Authors United.

Joe sez: This letter isn't for the BOD. It's for the media. To the extent the public cares, those who really do will seek out more info and find blogs like mine and those I've linked to.

Do you know if you sound out the word "guillotine" really slowly it sounds exactly like the word "gullible"?

It was much easier to be gullible without Google.

David sez: I’m still waiting for the letter that begins,

“Dear Amazon, we know that Hachette’s agreement with you expired months ago, and we’d like to say thanks for continuing to sell our books on your site despite the lack of a distribution agreement. In doing so, you’ve allowed our income flow to continue…”

Not holding my breath.

Joe sez: Me, neither. We live in a culture that prays for rain, then bitches when their shoes get muddy. How about:

"Thank you for stopping alongside the road and giving me your spare tire to replace my flat, but you gave me a sucky temp spare and now I can only drive under the speed limit."

Evie Love sez:  I mean, they just told Amazon that they NEED them and will starve to death without them. I'm not an expert, but I'm pretty sure that's exactly the opposite of what you're supposed to do while negotiating...

Joe sez: The law of unintended consequences runs strong in this group.

S. Elliot Brandis sez: Sales of your books are down because your publisher has failed to negotiate a contract with their biggest retailer.

Do you:

a) Talk to your publisher to find out what they’re doing to resolve the conflict. Their business dealings are having an adverse effect on your career, and you’re keen to know what they’re doing to improve the situation.

b) Talk to your people (lawyer, agent, etc) to find out what alternative options you have, should your publisher be unable to resolve the conflict in a timely matter.

c) Write a series of rambling, self-important open letters complaining about the retailer, because… well, why not? Something about Chinese razor blades?

Joe sez: Think about if you're on the debate team, and you're chosen to defend an untenable position, one that is so stupid that there's no way you can possibly win.

Then imagine your future liveilhood depends on you winning the debate and convincing others.

In the case of midlisters, this situation will sting, a lot. But they have some options. This will force them to self-pub sooner than they would have otherwise, but survivor instinct will kick in and eventually they'll free themselves from their publishing oppressors and start reaping the benefits of keeping their own rights, controlling pricing, etc.

In the case of the Richie Rich authors, they're hemorrhaging unfathomable amounts of money. Even if they self-pub, they won't make the same amounts once B&N folds and the Big 5 vanish. Granted, going from 15 mil a year to only 4 mil doesn't qualify as a tragedy, but they aren't giving that up without a fight. Even though the fight, so far, has been alternately cringe-worthy and hilarious.

Mike Coville sez: The bottom line AU is not getting is that Amazon is not obligated by law to sell any book. There is no law that forces Amazon to discount, allow pre-orders or maintain advance stock in a warehouse. Amazon did all those things to benefit Amazon’s customers. If Amazon determines that someone is acting against what they want to provide their customers (i.e. over pricing ebooks) they have the legal right to stop providing those perks.

Selling your book on Amazon is not a right, it is a privilege!

Joe sez: This is a point that isn't brought up enough. At least this time there were no accusations of Amazon being a monopoly and using predatory pricing.

The DOJ doesn't EVER go after companies for being tough competitors, or for fighting to keep consumer prices low. Via an email train, some famous authors were wondering if Authors United's next move would be to bring a suit against Amazon. I don't think that's likely. If anything, if the DOJ start seriously poking around the history of publishing, they'd see ample evidence of a price-fixing cartel--the Big 6--that hurt both consumers and writers (via unconscionable contracts). If someone went after Amazon in this way, so much dirty laundry would come out in discovery that reader and writer class action suits would explode.

William Ockham sez: This letter will make a great case study in a Media Relations class. Call it “Start with every possible advantage and squander them all with an exercise in public bellybutton lint-picking”.

Could this letter be any more self-absorbed? Did anyone spend 30 minutes finding out who these people are? That “publishers are venture capitalists” may work on your NYC friends, but there are real VCs on the Amazon board. Good luck with them. And there are several current and former tech execs on the board. Do you really think your neo-Luddism will play well with them? Whatever you think of Jamie Gorelick, she will know about the ebook antitrust suit, so ignoring it won’t help you.

But my fondest hope would be for John Seely Brown to write back to you. I am sure he has better things to do, but that would be fun. Because you aren’t expecting any response. This is all just a cathartic exercise for you. It gives you a feeling of empowerment to “do something”, even if that something is an embarrassing display of ignorance. But the board of directors of Amazon is made up of real people who have worked hard to get where they are. They would make my list of favorite people, but they aren’t idiots.

Joe sez: Any veteran of schoolyard Nerf football knows the Hail Mary Pass, where as a last ditch effort to score before the bell ends recess, you just chuck the ball and hope your team catches it.

Sometimes this last-ditch effort scores a touchdown.

Sometimes it results in an interception.

Not knowing who the board members are, how they got there, and what their likely reaction will be, can result in an interception.

Dustin sez: And I have to say, as an actual PHYSICAL production worker, that there is little that could piss me off more than their remarks regarding blue collar labor. I try not to take it personal but their elitism, their belief that their million-dollar contracts and high class living standard makes them better than someone who works in a job that is, very likely, destroying their body for a paycheck makes it pretty hard not to start to hate them.

They’ve made it painfully obvious they think we’re peons and barbarians at the gate, so I’m done feeling an ounce of sympathy for the decline of their way of life. We tried to be nice. We offered advice. Now it’s time to move on and step over their corpses when their careers die. I won’t miss them.

Joe sez: I worked as a waiter, in retail sales (I was the guy in Sears taking baby pics), as a construction worker, for a few factories, telemarketing, and several other low paying blue collar (and white collar) jobs. Working a double shift on Mother's Day at Red Lobster was on par with brick laying in 100 degree heat and being on the line at an English Muffin factory at 4am--they were all hard, thankless jobs that didn't pay enough.

I don't understand elitism. I busted my ass to make a living, busted my ass to get published, continue to bust my ass to write and sell books, and I consider myself fortunate. Straining over sentence structure or plotting in a WIP, or facing a pub deadline, is a thousand times better and easier than cleaning a grease trap at Burger King.

Having your publisher fight with Amazon is the very definition of a First World Problem. I've worked very hard for my entire adult life, and I understand how lucky I am.

Eric Welch sez: I’m curious as to how the AU organization actually works. Have they incorporated? Do they meet or communicate to discuss the next course of action? How much unanimity is there really? I have a suspicion that they may not be as united as some of them would like to appear.

Joe sez: After reading the letter a few times, I don't see how anyone with half a brain would sign it.

My face would be so red right now if I had. Really. I've made mistakes before, and wanted to just disappear, and I can't imaging the AU authors feeling any less humiliated to be associated with this drivel.

Unless they didn't read carefully.

We've all signed things we didn't read. Every time we click a User Agreement, we're just trusting it's the same old gobbeldy-goop.

Preston has repeatedly said that this is about Amazon hurting authors. Who would be for authors being harmed? I mean, if you were asked to sign a petition to help stop the spread of dihydrogen monoxide, which kills thousands of people per year and is found in acid rain as well as every every lake, river, and ocean, you might sign it without thinking too much.

I hope that was the case here. The signatories saw Hachette authors being hurt, and signed something to protest that.

It doesn't matter that the letter is nonsense, or that they're backing the wrong team. It just feels good to do something. Especially when your name is among so many prominent, award-winning, bestselling authors.

These bestselling authors have no agenda, because they said they don't. They just want to help the poor little struggling midlisters out.

It doesn't matter that they never helped out midlisters before, by petitioning publishers to give better royalties, or petitioning bookstores who actually do boycott authors.

This isn't about rich, entitled authors advocating high priced ebooks, even though they are supporting Hachette, which is probably delaying negotiations by demanding to control ebook prices.

This isn't about protecting the status quo paper oligopoly.

It's all about the little guy.

And if my argument sucked this poorly, and I couldn't win based on facts, that's what I'd try to do, too. To sway public opinion with sentiment and hope to effect change before anyone looked too closely.

Good luck with that.

BTW-Authors United, do you see what I did with my addendums? I took smart things that other people said, and used them to make my own argument stronger. They caught things I missed. You had over 1000 signatories. Why the hell didn't you do that?

108 comments:

Jim Thomsen said...

I make my living as a copy editor for self-publishing authors, and business is beyond booming. (drops the mic)

Dazrin said...

No comment on the "will sent by Federal Express" in the first line?

You would think a thousand professional authors would catch that.

D. U. Okonkwo said...

Oh my life the title of this post made me burst out laughing - and I'm at work - oops!!:o)

Melinda Moore said...

It's ironic that the authors don't seem to be able to articulate in writing.

Joe Konrath said...

No comment on the "will sent by Federal Express" in the first line?

Maybe they were expecting their editors to catch it.

Whoops.

Nathaniel Hoffelder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barbara Morgenroth said...

"And what about the role of editors and copy editors, who ensure that what ultimately ends up on the shelf is both worthy and accurate?"

Stated in a missive that is both unworthy and inaccurate.

John Ellsworth said...

"But what these commentators and Amazon itself may not realize is that traditional publishing houses perform a vital role in our society.

So did outhouses. Then that pesky tech upstart, indoor plumbing, came along."

Love this leap. And how extremely appropriate the metaphor.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

In all fairness, my first advance, spread out over a couple of years, allowed me to...

Oh, wait. I had to keep working through the writing of the next three books. I didn't get much sleep in those days.

Anonymous said...

This is the first time I've seen a list of everyone in Authors United and I'm surprised and disappointed by some of the names on it. Like a cover artist, and the owner of an independent bookstore. I wonder if anyone signed that letter because they were pressured by their writer friends. Some people I'm not surprised about because I used to follow them on twitter and they would rail against Amazon at every opportunity. It just started to get so fucking old that I unfollowed them.

Not gonna make me stop purchasing whatever I please from Amazon. 40-year-old long out-of-print first-edition hardcover? Just bought one. An unabridged library-edition audiobook on CD because an official unabridged copy of the same audiobook is not for sale in the US due to rights issues? Got that too. Another audiobook that was released 20 years ago on cassette and has never had another release despite being part of a series where other books of the series (before and after) are readily available? Got that too.

I am pleased that a large number of my favorite writers are not on that list.

Joseph Ratliff said...

I'm wondering what would happen if Amazon just stopped offering Hachette titles altogether?

Would there be some backlash? I think so.

Would Amazon get past it and move on? I think so.

Is Amazon evaluating each of these silly PR stunts for Hachette's weaknesses in the negotiation? I think so.

Will Amazon's board eventually come to the conclusion that this "high-school drama and nonsense" offered by these authors isn't worth their time from a business ROI standpoint? I think so.

And finally...

Everything that Mr. Konrath just wrote in this post.

If Hachette just read Mr. Konrath's and Mr. Eisler's blogs since about May 24th ... and then implemented their suggestions ... this would be a different scenario for Amazon.

But by continually lobbing Molotov cocktails at a bomb shelter, Hachette is proving their futility.

Marc Cabot said...

Mr. Konrath, if you will print a nice copy of this fisking and FedEx it to each of the board members of Amazon - whom Mr. Preston has kindly provided addresses for - I will compensate you for the FedEx charges.

Really, no foolin'. Just PayPal me an invoice. Regular overnight: there's no need to wake them up and disturb their dogs with First Overnight.

MC

John Ellsworth said...

Through the eyes of a lawyer who happens to read this blog:

I (the writer) have a contract with a publisher (my wholesaler) and wholesaler agrees to use its best efforts to sell my books.

Fair enough.

But if that publisher is looking out more for its own interests than it is for my interests, then it's not dealing with me in good faith and I can declare a breach of contract and go else (self-pub) for cover. Meaning, I can mitigate my losses by taking other, commercially reasonable, steps.

Hello? Is anyone in Santa Fe thinking in these terms? You should, because there's a contract involved. Contract, as in legally binding obligations entered into in good faith.

William Ockham said...

I hate to give writing advice to these folks, but using "sanction" in this context is a terrible strategic move. The word is essentially its own antonym. It could mean "endorse" or "penalize". Moreover, it carries a connotation of the subject (Amazon) having official authority over the object (Hachette titles). The assistants of the letter's addressees are busy people and you wouldn't want to generate confusion on their part when they read your letter.

Also, avoid using absolutes like "no group of authors as diverse or prominent as this has ever come together before in support of a single cause". This just encourages people to think about other literary causes that likely generated more widespread support. For example, hundreds of writers signed petitions supporting Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Graham Greene, W. H. Auden, Arthur Miller, John Updike, Truman Capote, and Kurt Vonnegut. Are you folks really more prominent than those guys? Seriously?

David A. Todd said...

"This system is especially important for nonfiction writers, who must quit their jobs to travel, research and write. Without an advance, for example, many aspiring writers would never be able to leave their jobs to write their first books."

I've published three (really four) non-fiction books while working my day job and traveling nowhere for research. Wonderful research tools abound these days, extending the writer's reach.

However, I think Amazon should offer Hachette a 1-year deal on their terms: They will sell all books (e-books, hardbacks, and paperbacks) for the price Hachette sets, no discounting. After a year Amazon will commence the negotiations by saying, "How's that working out for you?"

Paolo Amoroso said...

Ryan Holiday's first book explains how the legacy -- and new -- media are routinely persuaded to spread factless opinions with no logic.

By the way, I look forward to trying a toaster or television designed by AU.

Anonymous said...

It took me over a decade to become an amazon best-selling author, and it came from hard work, not handouts from big publishers. I haven't had the sales Mr. kornrath has, but I enjoy his books and his points are valid. I have been making enough to survive, and it has come from my hard work. A friend who used to work at one of the big houses has told me that I write like they wished they could have gotten their authors to write back when he worked there.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

I've know two writers who got life-changing, game-changing advances.

For both of them it nearly destroyed their careers because their debut didn't become "the next big thing."

For friend #1, all the checks cleared and it took him a decade to recover and is now firmly ensconced in the midlist and doing well.

For #2, the publisher killed the trilogy and let both book 1 and book 2 fade out of print. You can still get #1 as an ebook, but stock of the paperbacks is down to 4 (nearly 3 years after release.) He still did well financially, but only saw half of the 7-figure advance.

All other friends range from okay advances to non-existent. I know one who has well-earned out and one who should. But "quitting the days job?" Um, no.

(And Jim is my editor. Keep him booming.)

Terri

Walter Knight said...

Now that's it's established that the Hatchet is a guardian and foundation of our culture . . . oh we're in big trouble.

Smart Debut Author said...

No comment on the "will sent by Federal Express" in the first line?

Who the hell do you think you are, to criticize the grammar of Authors United?

After all, they are the finest writers of the English language.

They told us so, themselves.

Anonymous said...

Federal Express.

Whoa! Stop everything! These guys mean BUSINESS! If that board of directors is anything like the publishing houses I've dealt with, that super duper fedex sat in an assistant's inbox for a week before being brought into the director's office with an eye-roll.

Joe Konrath said...

Added another alliterative addendum.

York Lord said...

There are ways around fisking. Gaining popular support by painting the other argument as mean spirited or invalid is one. That is what the entertainment industry does—movies, TV, music, books—they have always done this because they are historically collusive oligopolies that have always ripped off talent. It's propaganda. Support families, pay mortgages, college tuitions, these are emotional appeals to sway opinion. The part about consumer goods and that books are unique seems to be a big part of that strategy. They are stuck with an emotional solution to a mathematical problem. And you're right, the mob did run things better (at least they knew the value of money). And by the way, do they realize how many lonely hours I spent in my garage late at night, toiling and sweating to perfect the first organic banana-seed toaster oven? It took years! Somebody better buy the fucking thing or I'm screwed.

Jill James said...

Especially in the romance field, still mostly written by women, most of us have a job (wife, mother) that we can't quit to write. We must write around everything else going on in our lives. Two well-known romance authors raised five children a piece while being authors. One Harlequin author just published book 19 or 20 and still has a regular job. The "lucky" few get to be writers and quit their other jobs. But we keep writing and hoping for that lucky break. It is what keeps us going.

Dana Stabenow said...

But books are not consumer goods.

Did they just say that? Really?

Joe Konrath said...

Did they just say that? Really?

Indeed. So there is no dispute, because consumer goods require monetary transactions, and as guardians of culture and democracy, the Authors United signatories give away their titles for free and therefore cannot be harmed by Amazon's actions.

To wit: books are not consumer goods, so Amazon cannot hurt authors via selling books, ergo there is no need to protest anything.

Thank you, Socrates.

Dana Stabenow said...

Went there, read that, yes, they did. They really did.

How about this: We all write to those board members and tell them Authors United is full of it?

Actually, now that I think of it, we don't have to. We could just send them printed copies of Joe's fisk.

T. M. Bilderback said...

But books are not consumer goods.

This has to be the most ridiculous statement in the entire letter.

Who the hell buys books if not the consumer?

Oh, my God, are they really this brain dead? Who writes their books for them? High schoolers?

As far as Joe's fisking, I haven't laughed this hard in days! Thanks, Joe!

Michael

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

Actually, I can make toast and watch Television on my E-Books, as they were made in China by slave labor or legacy authors--basically the same thing. Or is that sam ting?

Ann Christy said...

The pieces you fisked were almost gag-worthy in their stupidity.

Oh, heavens, aren't they just sooo precious.

samulraney said...

"Without an advance, for example, many aspiring writers would never be able to leave their jobs to write their first books."

Wow, how pretentious and disconnected do you have to be!?

Jeff Ezell said...

SFAU - Self Fisking Authors United

This acronym kept rolling through my mind. My quivering body and uncontrollable, uproarious laughter peeled through the restaurant where I sat reading this fisk (the best ever). Diners stared, wondering what could be so funny. They wanted in on it. How could I explain? My advice? Read Joe Konrath's blog.

You're the best, Joe.

Alan Spade said...

Shared on Google+ and Facebook.

That was one of the special occasions to fisking I mentionned before, and I'm glad you did it, Joe.

Authors united claims the signatories aren't only authors published by Hachette. Yes, but that claim would be far much convincing if these weren't people linked to the publishing establishment in a way or another.

Richard Fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard Fox said...

This sums up my thoughts on Amazon vs. Hachette after months of public sniveling:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_nPp64OrBc

*previous comment removed for typo

Katherine Hajer said...

Just came back here, because I thought if one more thing.... Kindle is "proprietary"? Really? Doesn't Smashwords and other vendors sell MOBI files? And there are dozens of third-party MOBI readers out there...

puzzled said...

"will sent by Federal Express"

AU must have outsourced their editing to China...

MJG said...

"Slap me until I shit all over myself."

Hilarious. Apt. Brilliant. Kudos Joe.

Suzie Quint said...

Another case of Stockholm syndrome. These authors can't conceive that their publishers might be the ones who aren't negotiating in good faith.

Alan Tucker said...

Shaking my head in disbelief here. I wrote a letter to Doug and Authors United on my blog last week when they threatened to take things up a notch. http://motherearthseries.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/a-letter-to-doug-preston-and-authors-united/

And they did. Blind ignorance has never been higher.

Phyllis Humphrey said...

Joe:
You made my day!

Meb Bryant said...

"If I ever reach this level of self-importance, I want someone to slap the shit out of me."

Finally...somebody who thinks like I do. This entire PR fiasco is like watching a TWILIGHT ZONE episode where the "Pig People" are running the world and think normal humans are hideous creatures.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

Wow. The most frightening thing to me is that Preston and friends may actually believe this stuff. It's like some kind of collective delusion.

Drink the Kool aid! Everything will be fine!

Meryl Yourish said...

Joe, those aren't personal addresses of the board members. They're the business that the board members are associated with (I presume) and are already publicly available online.

Norma Beishir said...

I think I'll just boycott Authors United authors.

Meerkatdon said...

"You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty." -Jessica Mitford

Kyra Halland said...

"Without an advance, for example, many aspiring writers would never be able to leave their jobs to write their first books."

My first thought was, when does this ever happen, except to a precious few who are already anointed darlings of the literary establishment?

Then I thought, Snooki.

Then I thought, did she actually have a job to leave?

Broken Yogi said...

The thing that gets me the most about these author complaints is when they keep referring to "my book", or "author's books", without acknowledging that they don't own their books anymore when they sell them to publishers. The publisher owns the books. The authors only get a royalty.

It would be as if an architect were to keep calling a house he built and then sold "my house", and complaining about the way its price and rent and so on have been hurt by some new developer in the area. When you sell a house, even if you built it, it's not yours anymore. And the same applies to a book you sell to a publisher. It doesn't belong to you, and you can't insist that a retailer is doing something to "your book", because it isn't yours.

I can understand the feeling of helplessness that motivates these kinds of letters. The Authors United group really does feel powerless and helpless and unable to do anything about their situation, because they really have no power here. They don't even own their own books. They signed over all their rights for an advance. How more helpless can you be?

So their rage is understandable. It's just misdirected at Amazon. The proper target isn't even their publisher, because they are the ones who sold it, and no one put a gun to their heads. So the real rage should be directed at themselves, for giving up ownership and control of their book to a publisher in exchange for an advance.

But people don't like to blame themselves when things go badly, so they look for someone else to blame, and someone as far from the actual scene of the crime as possible. Amazon had nothing to do with the actual problem, which occurred when the author signed away all his rights of ownership to the publisher. Amazon's beef is with the publisher, not the author. Amazon doesn't own the book, so it can't control what the publisher does with it, and it can't force the publisher to agree to reasonable terms.

It's not Amazon's fault that the author has ZERO negotiating power, and can't affect the outcome of these negotiations one wit. So these powerless authors are doing they only thing they can - whining in public about their sorry-ass state, and trying to blame someone else for it.

Interesting how you don't find self-published authors, who own their own books and don't sell off their rights, whining about their problems and trying to blame someone else. It's not like they're all rich. They just know that they can control their own fate, for better or worse, and so they learn self-reliance.

They don't get any advances in exchange for selling their rights, but they do get the satisfaction of actually owning their own book. When they say "my book", those words actually mean something. Whereas, with a traditionally published book, it's a self-deluding lie meant to placate authors who literally do not own the books they wrote. That's got to be a terrible feeling, and it explains the humongous piles of bullshit people like Preston and his Authors Unlimited keep leaving behind after their pity-party is over.

Patricia Lynne said...

"How, in the Amazon model, will a young author get funding to pursue a promising idea?"

It's called Crowdfunding/Crowdsourcing and I've seen a few authors do it. If a newbie author worked on their platform, made friends, and found followers, they could have no problem doing a kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for their first book.

Also, there's these things called credit cards. You use it to buy something with money you don't have and pay it back in increments. Hey aren't advances kind of similar?

Joshua Simcox said...

"Drink the Kool aid! Everything will be fine!"

It will be if I make it, hun. Lots of sugar and fresh spring water from the western North Carolina mountains. Though I do tend to leave out an ingredient or two from the Jim Jones recipe...

Mick Rooney said...

Joe, I have to admit, I had some sympathy for Preston up until today. I can forgive ignorance. I can't forgive deliberate and blissful ignorance. I thought Streitfeld's NYT piece was entertaining, but this letter just went way beyond that.

I think I feel another Downfall Parody video coming on with the gems of wisdom in this current letter, far outpassing my last one!

http://www.theindependentpublishingmagazine.com/2014/09/when-douglas-preston-put-his-vest-on.html

Jaime D Buckley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jaime D Buckley said...

Oh man, after a rough day of writing Joseph, this had me falling from my chair laughing.

I do so love your perspective and sarcasm!

_zZz_ said...

I am just a reader, but I am tired of one sided reporting from the media..

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/09/authors-united-wants-amazons-board-members-to-stop-the-feud-with-hachette/

I've linked to your blog in the initial comments. I hope it can shed some light on all the "bullshit" being spread

Anonymous said...

Great (and funny) job on pointing out just how stupid that letter was. Just like an ad in the print NYT was an out of date idea so is Fedexing the BOD. As if the BOD doesn't know all about this fiasco@!@ Clearly as you said Joe - its all about the publicity but that keeps backfiring too. How did some of those wonderful authors sign that mess of a letter?

Erica Converso said...

"Our point is simple: we believe it is unacceptable for Amazon to impede or block the sale of books as a negotiating tactic.

Amazon has every right to refuse to sell consumer goods in response to a pricing disagreement with a wholesaler."


I cracked up at this! Startled the heck out of my husband. :)

On another note, as Patricia Lynne mentioned earlier, crowdfunding is how the authors of the future will fund their "special snowflake" projects if they're unwilling or unable to step out on a limb monetarily before publishing. In fact, it's not even the authors of the future. Check out Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Patreon, and Pubslush (the last is created specifically for authors). The authors of today have already found a solution to that problem.

Jm Cornwell said...

I'm obviously stupid because I always thought books were consumer goods since consumers buy them. What was I thinking?

Having reviewed many of the signatories, I'm not surprised that accuracy and editing aren't their strong suits -- nor is story telling at times.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

The stupid, it burns. Thanks for making us laugh, Joe.

I would be embarrassed if I had supported such a letter.

Laura Resnick said...

"Those poor bastards! Forced to quit their jobs so instead they can travel, research, and write! Someone pass the Kleenex!"

I'm tired, cranky, and a little stressed tonight, so I held out for a while--but then this was where I couldn't help laughing. And then I kept laughing after that.

Still tired and cranky and stressed, but smiling now. :)

Dusty White said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dusty White said...

"Books cannot be written more cheaply, nor can authors be outsourced to China."

Two words Joe: JAMES PATTERSON

Oh yeah, two more: STEPHEN KING!

That is what a ghost writer is: outsourced labor to build a brand. Thanks for burying the lead Joe, no wonder you aren't an intellectual asswipe with a shitload of self-congratulatory awards. You buried the lead! The REAL story is the hypocrisy of these self-righteous toads who don't even write their own books, and then accuse their nemesis (whom they believe to be Amazon today, perhaps us--again--tomorrow) of the very tactics that make them rich AND famous. For shame I say, good sir! Why if you were here before me I should slap you with my glove (how French!) and demand satisfaction! Repeat after me: "No one who uses ghost writers should throw stones . . . " You know, especially if they write "ghost stories?"

Oh that was too funny for me! Stop it! I'm killing myself here. I feel you have been soundly thrashed. Now go forth and do . . . um . . . better next time! Ring the bells! Tell the square that those whom we worship have been nothing more than outsourcing "temp employment agencies." REAL AUTHORS WRITE. Hmmm . . . you seem to have that part down. Well, jolly good and off with you then. This isn't even a proper comment anyway.

Alan Spade said...

@Broken Yogi: you have a point when you say that the authors from Authors United should first blame themselves for signing these contracts as long as you are talking about unconscionable contracts which prevent to get back their rights, and new authors.

We both know that Hachette and other Big publishers contracts are like that these days.

But not all the publishers fit that mold. And even for Big publishers, there are some names (some names who signed the letter) who didn't sign unconscionable contracts, back in time, because they had the power to negociate far better deals.

Even if we use currently the terms "selling rights", the theory is that you lend your rights to the publisher, and that if the publisher don't succeed in selling your book, you can get back your rights.

For some bestsellers, this theory still apply, so they have the leverage to say to Hachette (through their agent): "if you don't sell my books, I will go to Harpercollins". Or: "I will self-publish".

So, Joe is perfectly right when he say that the authors should turn against their publisher, because the publisher benefits from the intellectual property provided he sells the books. That's the big "if".

But I agree that with these days' unconscionable contracts, you are no more lending your rights but completly selling them. Many authors know that, and that's why signing with a big publisher, if you don't have the leverage of a Stephen King, is now akin to vanity publishing.

Alan Spade said...

And we have to remember that the advance isn't, in theory, equal to the money you would get by selling your house. The advance is an advance that you have to earn back by selling your books through your publisher.

So, the deal is more complex than a classic deal.

Broken Yogi said...

Alan, authors may have some flexibility in who they sell their next book to (though many publishers have a right of first refusal), they have no rights in regard to the books they've already sold, unless the publisher has given up trying to sell them at all or they go out of print. And with ebooks, the case can be made that they never go out of print at all.

My point is that authors are actually powerless to influence even their own publisher in its negotiations with Amazon, or anyone else for that matter. Why? Because they don't own the book anymore. So there's nothing they can say to Hachette that can change anything. They can't tell Hachette to strike a deal with Amazon. And they fear what Hachette might do to them if they embarrass them in public by criticizing them.

Publishers often like to say, in a flatteringly meaningless way, that they are partners with authors, but that's never actually the case. The author is not a partner, because they have no actual say in how the book is sold once they've signed over their rights. The publisher has control of editing, scheduling, printing, cover design, marketing, distribution, pricing, and so on.

I'm not suggesting that authors turn against their publishers, because that would actually hurt them. But they should seriously consider self-publishing. Most of them are between a rock and a hard place, and I'm not being facetious when I say I sympathize with their plight, and understand their need to vent, and knowing that they can't vent against their own publisher, Amazon is the next best target. Most of them are afraid to self-publish, just as they are afraid to criticize their publisher.

For many, it would feel like burning their bridges behind them. They doubt they'd ever get another publishing contract if they self-published, and that scares them. No amount of reassurance can convince them that it's safe to do.

There are of course good publishers, but even then, the authors have no control with any of their publishers' decision in regard to negotiations with Amazon. They could still end up locked out of the biggest retailer in the world of publishing, if their publisher decides they value their own long-term print distribution channels more than their author's income from Amazon sales. That sort of thing is nowhere protected against in any writer's contract.

And that naturally has authors very pissed off and even worse, they are helpless to influence their publishers to change their stance. Because, of course, they don't own their book anymore. And they are afraid to threaten their publisher with leaving them behind, because they think they might never get another publishing deal, and even if they did, that publisher might refuse to negotiate to Amazon's satisfaction either. On top of that, they are afraid to self-publish, all of which makes them want to scream at someone, and Amazon is that scapegoat.

So none of this is very hard to understand if you look at it realistically, as there being no other real option for traditionally published authors than to yell and scream irrationally about Amazon ruining their careers. It may not be true, but it makes perfect sense that this is all they can do under the circumstances, and they have to do something.

It may just be the latest stage of their breakdown on the road to self-publishing, so it may turn out to be a good thing all around. But it may take a bit more screaming before they reach that phase.

Alan Spade said...

I agree with 99% of what you said, but you know, James Patterson is an Hachette author and his name is on the letter.

He has the leverage to negociate with his publisher. I wouldn't be surprised if, inspired by what you say ("They could still end up locked out of the biggest retailer in the world of publishing, if their publisher decides they value their own long-term print distribution channels more than their author's income from Amazon sales. That sort of thing is nowhere protected against in any writer's contract"), he would have his lawyers precisely adding that sort of protecting clause for the future.

I don't know if it would be legally possible for a group of authors to bend their strenght together and say to their publisher: "if you don't negociate quickly with Amazon, we won't sign another contract with you."

If there is only midlisters who say that, of course Hachette would laugh, but if there are midlisters and Patterson and Douglas Preston, and other major Hachette's authors among them, Hachette wouldn't laugh so much.

Why? Because it takes time and money to build a brand. You cannot replace an author like Patterson with a snap of the fingers.

I agree that in the history of publishing, we haven't see that, because as you said, it would have been detrimential for the authors' career.

But we are in uncharted territory, there. One of the worst weaknesses of the authors is for them to believe they are powerless.

This letter screams of that powerlessness ingrained in the authors' mind, but it hasn't to be that way. A previously unseen situation like that one calls for drastic new measures.

Sheila said...

"SFAU - Self Fisking Authors United"

How about Shut the Fuck-Ass Up? That's much more appropriate for this level of idiocy.

Seriously, I'm boycotting any author (or anyone else) that signed this letter, any of the previous ones and any future emissions from this cess pool.

Anonymous said...

What about the implied insults to Chinese authors and readers? I bet Amazon has more of both than these signatories.

Anonymous said...

"How, in the Amazon model, will a young author get funding to pursue a promising idea?"

Who cares? Get a job? Get some life experience so you have something besides pretty words to offer?

Work full time while writing in your free time, the way I and everyone I know who's a writer did it for his or her first book? And frequently for all his or her subsequent books?

Gosh, I wish I'd known about those full-living-expenses-covering advances when I was a young author. Silly me.

Evie Love said...

Just came back here, because I thought if one more thing.... Kindle is "proprietary"? Really? Doesn't Smashwords and other vendors sell MOBI files? And there are dozens of third-party MOBI readers out there..

It's proprietary because of DRM. The hypocrisy of publishers insisting on adding DRM that locks readers to a single device then complaining that readers are locked to a single device has been argued before by others far more eloquent than me, so I'll leave it at that.

Does anyone else think that this is simply a terrible negotiation tactic? I mean, they just told Amazon that they NEED them and will starve to death without them. I'm not an expert, but I'm pretty sure that's exactly the opposite of what you're supposed to do while negotiating...

Unless it's all part of some sort of super secret plan! Maybe these authors are secretly against Hachette but can't come out and say it so they're giving Amazon numbers on how much their business is being harmed in order to give Amazon a better edge!

Joe Konrath said...

I mean, they just told Amazon that they NEED them and will starve to death without them. I'm not an expert, but I'm pretty sure that's exactly the opposite of what you're supposed to do while negotiating...

Well put. I'm adding that to the blog post.

Lynn Osterkamp said...

I'm SO tired of the mainstream media putting out one-sided stories about this. Why don't some reporters look into what's really going on? NPR had a brief story this morning on Morning Edition, which again didn't explore Amazon's point-of-view at all. I went to the NPR site and put up the link to this blog post, suggesting people read it to get the other side.

Broken Yogi said...

Alan, yes, a few exceptions like James Spade and the other one-percenters, or one-percent of the one-percenters, can avoid most of these problems because their publisher needs them more than they need their publisher.

But even Patterson can't make Hachette settle with Amazon, at least not for his books separate from every other author they carry. Nor would he want to. Patterson makes most of his money on print books, which he has in airports and other key non-bookstore locations. He wants to protect print distribution as much as the major publishers do. As do most of the other big best-selling authors. So the chances that any of them will stick their neck out for the midlist authors is somewhere below zero.

That's the big hypocrisy here. These big name authors are pretending that they are doing this for the sake of "literature", or authors in general, when they are really trying to protect their own turf and keep competition from ebooks at bay. That's why they are on the publisher's side, rather than fighting for the interests of authors in general, who they could care less about. And that's why they resort of propaganda like this rather than rational arguments that make sense. It's one more way to put pressure on authors to stick with the party line, which only serves those who have a vested interest in the party. The rank and file get screwed, as usual.

Broken Yogi said...

James Patterson, not James Spade

Sue said...

Laugh out loud funny!

Joshua Simcox said...

"Seriously, I'm boycotting any author (or anyone else) that signed this letter, any of the previous ones and any future emissions from this cess pool."

It's great to know you'll only read made-up stories by authors with philosophies and lifestyle choices that you 100% agree with.

Has anyone associated with this letter ever written anything that brought you a few moments of pleasure? If so, what more can you ask of them? Their beef with Amazon is none of your business or mine.

Alan Spade said...

Broken Yogi, I agree with you regarding James Patterson 's and other big authors hypocrisy. It's in their interest to stick with their publisher (although they would be fools not to discuss other options with their agents).

But my point (and perhaps Joe's point, I don't want to put words in his mouth) there was to show their hypocrisy by demonstrating that they could choose to pressure their publisher into negociating. For in fact, the only leverage they have is with their publisher, not with Amazon.

They have chosen a PR war which benefits nobody rather than using their power appropriately, and at the same time saying they don't take side, that's the big hypocrisy.

That's why, even if I agree it's not realistic to think they would do anything against their publisher, Joe is right in raising that question. It's not so much a real suggestion than a way to demonstrate that they are taking their publisher's side.

But I think we shouldn't underestimate the power of the midlist authors published by Hachette. Because this PR war seems SO important for Hachette, if we had only, say, ten midlist authors published by Hachette who would publicly declare they wouldn't sign a new contract with Hachette because of the money they lost during these negociations, that would create a resounding bum note in Hachette's communication.

I'm sure there are midlist authors published by Hachette who won't have their contract renewed because of the current situation, and I'm not sure they feel adequately represented by Patterson, Preston&Co. They have nothing to lose, they could at least try that kind of argument to put a little pressure on Hachette.

Rather than being dropped by their publisher because they didn't sell enough during this period of negociations, they would take the lead by saying publicly that they would drop their publisher who didn't sell enough books for them.

Anonymous said...

Joe,

I'm a nonfiction author writing a gigantic history book (think Robert Caro scale). I quit my job to do this. I haven't had a paycheck in several years. It sucks. I could, if I really really tried, find a publisher that would give me a, what, $5000 or $10000 advance? Not worth it. I'm doing this entirely indie. I will own all the rights when it's done. It's worth it and yes, I'm doing what I love. Though the lack of income does sting, and does prevent me from doing far more research travel than I would like.

Broken Yogi said...

Alan, midlist authors are the least likely to speak out precisely because they are so vulnerable to their publisher's whims. They don't wield any power, either in the negotiations or with Hachette. No one would listen to them anyway, other than their editors, who might quietly drop them or otherwise damage their careers. And big-name authors are not going to speak out because they know who butters their bread. That leaves it to the most marginal types, such as self-publishers or trad authors who have just reached the end of their rope. And no one in the publishing world gives a rat's ass about them, other than their peers, and Amazon. Which is why the 900 authors of Authors United gets a thousand times more press than the 8000 authors of Joe's group.

And that's the biggest problem there - authors who want publishing to care about them, because they think that's the route to success. That's why they sign away their rights for small advances - they think they have gotten the big elite of publishing to at least care about them. They've made it to the big leagues, at least as a spot relief pitcher. And that's why they are angry at Amazon, because they are afraid of losing what little they've got. Writers are notoriously fearful, introverted types who want to be protected. So they lash out not at those who are exploiting them under the guise of protection, but against those who are changing the whole scene.

Let's face it, writers have great imaginations, but few of them are great and courageous people. As witnessed by this herd mentality behind Author's United. It can't help but be noticed.

Alan Spade said...

Broken Yogi, few of them are courageous people, yes, but when you are desperate, you become all the more dangerous.

If they know Hachette will drop them, if they know they wouldn't find another publisher because they didn't sell enough, if they have already planned to self-pub, why wouldn't they speak publicly against their publisher while they are published by Hachette?

Joe did the same with Hyperion at the time. And with Hachette.

They don't have a voice and they wouldn't be heard? By themselves, no, you are right. But if they contact Joe or Hugh Howey, if they have a featured blog post here, they could create a buzz among the indie community and on the social media, if big indie authors help them to be heard.

That would be a smart move for them, a way to get their name out there if they are sure to be dropped. That would be better than nothing.

Broken Yogi said...

Alan, those kind of writers are already leaving trad publishing, and so their influence on trad publishing is close to nil. Sure, they could speak out, but trad publishing won't care. We hear about a few of these types all the time, but only the people in the self-publishing world pay attention. To trad publishers, they have just fallen into a black hole never to be heard from again.

Even Joe, who's made a big success of himself, is invisible to trad publishing. They pay no heed to anything he says or does. To them, that whole Amazon self-publishing sector described by Hugh Howey's author earnings reports just doesn't exist. It isn't even listed in the industry reports of sales and so on.

So authors who get disillusioned and quit and go the self-publishing route and write about that, are invisible to trad publishing. They write them out of their universe. And as far as they are concerned, their universe is the only one that matters. The only time it gets mentioned is when trad publishers claim that Amazon is "destroying publishing", that's code not for the Hachette negotiations, but for the self-publishing option that they opened up. They never mention any self-published authors, because that would be breaking the code of silence their exile has required. It's a shunning game, that works only so long as no one pays attention to the rates of attrition. Eventually, it will pass a breaking point, but until then, it's a code of silence.

Victorine said...

It's really hilarious that they readily admit Amazon is a huge selling machine, and yet they totally ignore how Amazon became that big selling machine in the first place. (Um, by offering low cost books??) Hachette is the one fighting against low cost ebooks. Amazon's pricing will only help authors sell more books, and line their pockets with more cash. So, why are they writing to Amazon? Because no one wants to admit they have their nuts in a vice with the contracts they signed with their publishers. No one wants to risk being blackballed. And thus, they sign stupid stuff like this so they look united against big, bad Amazon, who they admit is the one selling most of their books. Insane.

Alan Spade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Spade said...

"Eventually, it will pass a breaking point, but until then, it's a code of silence."

For them, maybe (although the Huffington post and the Guardian, between others, mentioned the indie counter petition). But not so much for the authors, and perhaps even for the readers following big indies name on social media.

I agree that the journalists are mostly controled by the companies behind big publishers. But at the same time, they know that if they want to grow their audience, a conflicting story could be a good thing.

P. S. Power said...

Well, I for one don't think that we should be too hard on these folks.

They're scared right now. Their book sales are down, and their lofty positions on the top of the literary food chain doesn't seem nearly as secure as it did a year ago.

When people get scared, they often think a lot of fairly silly things sound reasonable.

So, while they are making a bit of a joke out of themselves, calling them names, even pointing out how wrong they are using decent logic, won't help anything.

On the good side this isn't something worth getting worked up over for most of us. Our sales aren't being harmed by this at all, and won't be. Even if that weren't the case, say if Amazon made a deal to screw over Indies in order to aid Hatchet and their crew, there would be nothing we could do about it at the moment.

*Oh, we'd find a way, but most of us aren't as afraid as all that. It leaves us with options.

Claire said...

As we say in Ireland - Christ on a bike, these guys are dumb.

Honestly, do they not understand that they have no actual business relationship with Amazon? As long as they're traditionally published and beholden to Hachette et al, Amazon can just ignore them. They have no leverage and no position to bargain with because their contracts are not with Amazon to begin with!

The negotiations are not between them and Bezos/the BOD. It's between Hachette etc and Bezos/the BOD/their representatives. Of those two parties, AU only conceivably have a business relationship (and therefore leverage) with the publishers. And yet, we've not seen any letters to Hachette in the same vein, no? Very telling.

To borrow another Irish expression - all they're doing is pissing into the wind with this stuff. It's past the point of silly and gotten plain embarrassing.

Pharosian said...

And another typo: "... Amazon is leading the way to a new publishing paradigm, one that that pays authors higher royalties..."

Note the repeated word "that." Guess none of them thought to have their editors look this over before they sent it out.

Laura Resnick said...

But Claire, you fail to take into account that they're REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT PEOPLE. So anything they say is bound to be of interest to Amazon, despite all that, because, you know... they're sooooooo important. Really! IMPORTANT.

Plus... WHALE MATH!!

Claire said...

Yes, very important - how dare Amazon persistently and aggressively ignore them!

Silas Payton said...

Oh, yes. These people are really important. And their books are special. So special that I think the government should step in. These people are so important that the State should pay them to create works of art that can be shared with the masses without them needing to worry about anything else.
Oh wait. Isn't that kinda like communism?

I know this isn't what they are asking for, but the whole 'we're special, our books are special' is really nauseating.

Mgon M Emjion said...

Hilarious, pitiful, unbelievably hilarious, baffling, and so very sad.

Truly "You can't fix stupid."

*sigh*

Kris L said...

Are we sure this letter was written by Authors United? I think it might've actually been written by Authors Untied. The typos are a dead giveaway.

I just want them to change the name of their organization. I'd hate for the general public to think they're representing all authors.

Come to think of it, does anyone happen to know if " A Trust" signed the letter?

Anonymous said...

Is it Devin Adair, that famous 'author,' or a publishing company? If the latter, another mistake: Devin-Adair Publishing Company.

Rex Kusler said...

Where does Walgreens fit into this mess? I don't think those bastards even sell books anymore.

Anonymous said...

[Each one of us listed below has read, approved, and signed this letter]
As I looked over the names, I did recognize a several of them, but one specific one did catch my eye:
William Buckley, Jr.
Now William F. Buckley, Jr. died in 2008. So maybe this is another William Buckley, Jr., but if so I haven't found him listed on Amazon or Wikipedia.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Stephen King uses a ghostwriter?

First I've ever heard that.

Anonymous said...

Teams

'will sent......'

What, they cannot afford an editor to check there scrap grammar errors?

In the history of own goals this turgid piece is right up there.

Anonymous said...

Joe says:

>Oops. They don't know what a "sanction" is, either. Amazon isn't a country, last I checked. And they aren't enforcing tariffs.<

You should check again. Sanction doesn't have to involve trade.

It's a threat or penalty for breaking a rule, generally speaking.

Whether Amazon do this or not is another matter. But sanction has a definition beyond foreign trade as a quick search will demonstrate.

Warren Caterson said...

Spewing hot coffee out of my nose is not an ideal way to start the day. But after reading this brilliant and funny commentary, slightly burned nasal passages and the loss of a few nose hairs was well worth it. Now someone hand me a napkin, please...

SpringfieldMH said...

Regarding Preston's and Streitfeld's claims of the Hachette and Author's United thing impacting Amazon's reputation...

According to the annual Harris Poll (just purchased by Nielson) RQ Summary Report, Amazon has had the top reputation of the most visible companies for the last two years, surpassing Apple.

Amazon's progress in Harris Poll of company reputations...
2012 81.92
2013 82.62 (highest for 2013)
2014 83.87 (highest for 2014)

By contrast, Apple (previously the highest)
2012 85.62 (highest for 2012)
2013 82.54
2014 81.76

To verify this, search on
"Harris Poll 201x RQ Summary Report"
substituting desired year in place of "201x".

The 2014 rankings list appears in the following
http://www.trackur.com/report-top-brands-increase-reputation-in-2014-amazon-coca-cola-apple-lead-the-way

I suppose their numbers could level off or start downward in the 2015 report...

William Ockham said...

I am starting to think that we should call this group Authors Demented. In real life, dementia is a terrible scourge, a name for various organic brain diseases which rob people of their mental faculties. The people behind this letter are suffering from a self-imposed form of mental deterioration. They are clinging to an outmoded worldview which impairs their ability to reason logically. They can join a group fronted by James Patterson and sign a letter that says "Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual". Imagine the cognitive dissonance that would inflict on a person with a functioning cerebral cortex. They partner with large global conglomerates and then want to avoid the reality of an increasingly digital economy.

Terrence OBrien said...

"How, in the Amazon model, will a young author get funding to pursue a promising idea?"

Day job.

Griffin Pelton said...

Sent by Federal Express, huh? They've edited their letter at least once on the website (without mentioning it). I wonder if they re-sent each newer version of the letter.

Not sure you should be giving proof of your after-the-fact editing to the people you are trying to scold. I mean, they have the original hardcopy of the letter that was sent to them to use for comparison, right?

Darren Sapp said...

http://www.bloomberg.com/video/amazon-targeting-hachette-writers-robinson-Y_4IkqysQeCWW~7sjkMk4Q.html

This guy is great and why I'll Special Snowflakes are stuck in my head.

Ron said...

I see the meme "Books are not a commodity" bandied about lately, for example by the science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin. That meme is wrong headed.

The syllogism:

A consumer good is any item which is bought and sold.

Books are bought and sold.

Therefore, books are consumer goods.

Ava Morgan said...

I hope AU didn't resort to padding their signature list with names of deceased authors. Perhaps it was a typo ;-)

Janjão said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janjão said...

Something I´m failing to understand, Joe: why the authors, instead of wrinting this, don´t change the seller?

Amazon isn´t the only one. There are Kobo, B&N, Smashwords.

It would be a game changer. Maybe they accept the changes Hachette wants.

I see this as a good change for authors. Competiton improves service´s quality, with more features offered by the seller to keep the author with them.

Audrey Kalman said...

Sorry I am so late to this discussion but just wanted to say THANK YOU. As someone who worked in traditional publishing in the early 1980s, wrote and wrote and wrote in my "spare" time, tried to get an agent in the 1990s, and finally self-published in 2011, I can say with confidence that the traditional publishing model is dead. The world has changed. Get over it.