Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Collective Narcissism

Like many writers, I waver between having the world's biggest ego, and no ego at all. You have to be somewhat narcissistic to believe that what you write will be so desired by readers that they'll pay you for it. At the same time, the unique structure of the creative mind, coupled with the loneliness and isolation of this profession, the reaction (or lack thereof) of readers, and the constant rejection by agents and publishers, makes writers a perfect candidate for depression.

Laura Hazard Owen recently did an article on GigaOm called "Elites or freedom fighters: How the Amazon-Hachette battle took on the rhetoric of class warfare" and there has been some interesting discussion about it at the Passive Voice.

I was going to add a lengthy comment, but it got so long I figured I'd just turn it into a blog post about about rhetoric, narcissism, and motives in this industry.

I originally posted a writer's declaration of independence  in 2012, and I was advising authors to self-pub as early as 2010.

At the time, I was considered an outlier, and largely ignored by the mainstream press. But more and more authors began to self-publish, and bit by bit the word spread.

Barry Eisler coined the term "legacy publishing" and he and I have repeated it so many times on our blogs it has become part of the lexicon. As earl as 2009 we were talking about digital self-publishing as a "revolution" and I've recently begun describing indies as a "shadow industry".

This language is deliberate and purpose-driven, as is fisking high profile authors and publishers. In any revolution, getting the message spread is essential, and that has been difficult when the mainstream media is anti-Amazon, treats indie success as human interest stories rather than business stories, and promotes legacy propaganda on a regular basis.

But we're gaining ground. Preston's PR hopes for his letter were largely nullified by the letter we wrote. After five years, some media outlets are actually mentioning our efforts.

Humbling the mighty, burning effigies, and showing data to support conclusions, are all grassroots forms of spreading awareness. Unlike the Tea Party, which Laura compares indie authors to, self-publishing isn't a fringe reactionary movement. It's emancipation. And we have the facts to back that up. My goal is to make writers aware of those facts, so they can make informed decisions about their careers and set appropriate goals.

There is no class warfare between writers. Those with legacy deals have no power over those who choose to self-publish. Those who self-publish have no equivalent of the Authors Guild. We aren't a unified force like the Tea Party. We're just a bunch of individuals with similar goals.

I have no dog in this fight. It doesn't matter to me who wins the Amazon/Hachette dispute. But the dispute is an opportunity to show more authors that there is finally a choice.

Why should I care?

Because no one helped me.

I'm the guy who had five hundred rejections for nine unsold novels before I landed a three book deal. For ten years I busted my butt to break into this business. A business that I soon discovered was archaic, corrupt, and treated authors unconscionably.

I'm the guy who did one of the first successful blog tours. I did this because my publishers weren't doing enough, and I figured it out on my own.

I'm the guy who sent 7000 letters to libraries, asking them to carry my books. I did this because my publishers weren't doing enough.

I'm the guy who handsold 100 hardcovers in a bookstore in one day. I did this because my publishers weren't doing enough.

I'm the guy who visited 42 states, self-promoting.  I did this because my publishers weren't doing enough.

I'm the guy who signed at over 1200 bookstores. I did this because my publishers weren't doing enough.

I'm the guy who earned out his advances, got into multiple printings, and got dropped by his publisher because they decided to stop selling thrillers.

I'm the guy who started a second career under a pen name, Jack Kilborn, and earned out that advance before getting screwed by my publisher.

I'm the guy who started self-publishing in 2009, and posted my sales figures. I did this to inform and empower other authors, because my publishers weren't doing enough.

I'm the guy who predicted much of the reality of the publishing industry today.

I'm the first guy to reject a legacy deal and sign with Amazon--a book that has gone on to sell over 100,000 copies. That paved the way for Amazon imprints.

I'm the first guy to buy out my legacy contracts to self-publish. I took that risk before anyone else, and I shared my numbers.

I'm the first guy to hire a lawyer to get my legacy rights back, to self-publish. I took that risk before anyone else, and I shared my numbers.

I'm the guy who sold a million ebooks, mostly by keeping control of my IP.

I'm the guy who continues to bash legacy publishing because I know how harmful it is, and support self-publishing because I know how awesome it is.

I'm the guy who has been thanked over 10,000 times for helping writers.

I've been rejected, mistreated, taken advantage of, lied to, misquoted, bullied, misunderstood, and hated. And I still continue to fight for authors' rights, share what I've learned, and try to make this industry better even though I don't have to. Even though I'm not benefiting.

I do this so authors don't have to go through all the shit I went through. It's my public service.

There is no Us vs. Them. But there is what's best for authors.

I know. I've been on both sides.

I got really lucky with my self-publishing endeavors. But it was luck that relied more on my efforts than on the whims of an uncaring corporation. I'd improved my odds by abandoning legacy publishing, and I'm not the only one. The data on www.authorearnings.com supports my position. Writers are being liberated.

I am an activist and a populist. That is my main motivation. I'm not in it for the money, for the fame, or for the revenge (besides, the best revenge is living well, which is what I'm doing.)

There cannot be class warfare when all writers are in the same boat and want the same things. We all want to be read. We all want to make a buck.

I've explained why I continue to blog. Patterson, Turow, and Preston all have a pretty transparent motive: the legacy system made them rich, and they want to preserve the status quo. That's pure self-interest.

So why are there so many midlist authors who agree with them?

I believe the defensiveness of legacy authors, and the whole legacy industry, is a perfect case of group narcissism.


Here are the symptoms.

I wish other people would recognize the authority of my group

Self-pubbed authors have no group. But many of us strive to be heard because we want to help, not because we want our authority recognized. Whereas the Authors Guild is recognized by the media, and many authors, as having authority.

My group has all predispositions to influence others

Self-pubbers don't predispose to influence. We want to help. Legacy folks believe they are part of a special club. It is an ideology to them.

If my group ruled the world it would be a much better place

And for decades, legacy did rule the world. Which is why they dislike Amazon, and have no respect for indie authors.

My group is extraordinary

You just have to read Richard Russo's letters to see this in spades. Meanwhile, self-pubbed authors are treated as an outgroup.

I like when my group is the center of attention

Patterson's ad is but one example of seeking out media to support their viewpoint.

I will never be satisfied until my group gets all that it deserves

Which is a return to the old ways, when publishers ruled the world. Speaking for myself, I never felt I deserved anything. I simply got lucky.

I insist upon my group getting the respect that is due to it

I personally don't care if I'm respected. I just want to have the choice to publish however I want to. But when legacy authors keep calling for government intervention, they're demanding to have their opinions backed up by lawmakers.

Not many people seem to understand the full importance of my group

Which is why legacy folks keep insisting books are special snowflakes, and the legacy system is the only thing saving our literary culture.

I admit to having some narcissistic tendencies, but the indie revolution isn't collective narcissism. It's a bunch of individuals sharing information. But the legacy publishing world is a textbook example of collective narcissism.

This isn't a good thing. As explained in the Wiki entry, it tends to make legacy folks to perceive negativity against them when none exists (Amazon being the bad guy, indie authors as bullies). It leads to a kind of ethnocentrism, which encourages discrimination. If you scroll to the bottom of the entry, you see links to similar topics, which include: Cabal, Elitism, Cronyism, Nepotism, Old boy network, and Peer pressure. I've seen all of these in the legacy industry, whereas the self-pub world has very little.

In the Russo letter I fisked with Barry Eisler, I said that people tend to value rarity and exclusivity and clubs that don't allow everyone in. Clubs like legacy publishing. It makes them feel special. Amazon is making something that was once an exclusive club into something that is no longer special because anyone can join.

So I disagree strongly that there is class warfare happening right now.

What I see is an archaic industry trying to retain the status quo, and resorting to skeevy negotiating tactics and collusion in order to do so. I see some writers in that industry--the really rich ones--trying to influence public opinion via the media, because they want the gravy train to keep flowing. I see Stockholm Syndrome, and group narcissism. I see legacy authors afraid to jump ship, or criticize their publishers. And I see no good data or arguments to support any of their viewpoints.

And from indie authors I see earnest efforts to inform and help each other, and legacy authors as well. I see plenty of data, and logical discourse.

Class warfare is about the haves and the have nots. With the advent of self-publishing, there are no longer any have nots. Now we are all haves. I'm not a freedom fighter. I already have freedom.

Legacy folks will probably continue to resist change until the very end. And folks like me will continue to offer an alternate viewpoint. But the future is inevitable no matter how much hot air either side spouts. Ebooks will replace print as the preferable method of reading. Bookstores will close. The legacy midlist will vanish. Publishers will merge, and eventually go away. And most authors will end up self-publishing.

This isn't a war. It's a PR campaign unsuccessfully battling the future. Change is upon us, and all the closed-minded establishment players will be forced to adapt, or die.