Thursday, May 29, 2014

James Patterson BEA Fail

James Patterson just spoke at Book Expo America.

He's trotting out the same old nonsense. So I'm going to expose it for nonsense it is. Again.

Patterson: Hello, I'm Jeff Bezos.

Joe sez: No, you're not. Bezos is smarter and richer than you are.

Patterson: No, I'm not, but I'm sorry, I can't do that maniacal laugh ...

Joe sez: I'm guessing it's a laugh that shows the publishing world he's right and going to triumph, and they're wrong and going to lose.

Patterson: I'm trying to get people to focus on the perilous future of books in this country. And that future is happening right now, this year.

Joe sez: The perilous future is apparently more authors than ever making money, and major publishers posting record profits.

Sounds awful.

Patterson: There is an evolution/revolution going on and it affects everybody who reads, everybody who writes, everybody who publishes books.

Joe sez: I agree. But for many writers and readers, it affects them for the better.

Patterson: Small bookstores are being shuttered, book chains are closing, libraries are having serious trouble getting funding, especially school libraries.

Joe sez: Bookstores are closing because people are buying their books online.

That's like saying, "all the laundromats are going out of business!" which implies people aren't washing their clothes, but ignores that every home now has a washer and dryer.

Patterson: Every publisher and the people who work in these publishing houses is feeling a great deal of pain and stress.

Joe sez: So? We don't need publishers. We need authors, readers, and a way to get books to those readers. Publishers are a value added service, not a necessity.

Patterson: If we don't fix those problems, the quality of American literature is going to suffer. Fewer or no more Infinite Jests, Blood Meridians, or Book Thiefs, less of a chance for young writers, like James Patterson back in 1976, to be published — or maybe that would have been a good thing?

Joe sez: Why do you think writers will stop writing if publishers disappear? If anything, there are more writers than ever before. And these books can reach readers directly. They won't risk being passed up by the gatekeepers, like many great books have been. And they'll never go out of print because publishers did a poor job promoting them.

And why did you pick those particular titles, all bestsellers? Surely you know not every book that publishers deign worthy enough to release is a masterpiece, or a huge hit. With publishers as vanguards of American literature, I argue we can use some new vanguards.

I have a wacky idea. How about letting readers decide for themselves what is worthy?

Patterson: I'd like you to think about this, and I'd like the press to think about this: Publishers are not terribly profitable. If those profits are further diminished, publishers will produce less serious literature. It's just a fact of life.

Joe sez: Publishers don't produce literature. They release it. Writers produce it.

Patterson: And that's one of the reasons why right now, the future of our literature is in danger. I will say that there are no clear-cut villains —  yet — but there are no heroes either,

Joe sez: I can point to plenty of heroes.

  • H.M. Ward 
  • Hugh Howey 
  • Data Guy
  • Barry Eisler 
  • Bob Mayer 
  • Kris Rusch
  • David Gaughran 
  • Passive Guy
  • Dean Wesley Smith 
  • Joanna Penn
  • Amanda Hocking 
  • Bella Andre
  • Selena Kitt
  • Blake Crouch
  • Mark Coker
  • Darcie Chan
  • C.J. Lyons
  • L.J. Sellers
  • Marie Force
  • Liliana Hart
  • Courtney Milan
  • Russell Blake
  • Michael J. Sullivan
  • Theresa Ragan
  • Jeff Bezos and Amazon

And villains? I'm not going to be so mean as to name names, but you can spot many of them within these groups:

  • Legacy publishing
  • The Authors Guild

Patterson: and I think it's important that major players involved in publishing, as well as the press, and our government, step up and take responsibility for the future of our literature and the part it plays in our culture.
[Big applause.]

Joe sez: Rah rah rah. Cue the Star Spangled Banner.

I'm not sure what hurts more, a smart guy like Patterson sporting bullshit, or the crowd eating it up like it's free brownies.

Yes, let's get the press and the government involved in saving the publishers. Publishers, those philanthropic innovators who spent the last fifty years screwing authors, trying to stall technology, and charging readers too much. Because publishers are so inept, so clueless, so greedy and stupid, that only a government bail-out can save them.

Because only a few enlightened people in NY can safeguard our culture.


Patterson: Right now bookstores, libraries, authors, publishers, and books themselves are caught in the crossfire of an economic war between publishers and online providers.

Joe sez: Pretend there's a humorous cartoon here of a novel dodging bullets in a battlefield. The novel says "Cultural American Literature" on it. The people firing guns are labeled "Amazon".

I like how Jim said publishers are caught in a war between... publishers. That implies they're shooting themselves, which metaphorically they are. But I'm guessing Jim just screwed up his speech there.

Patterson: To be a teeny, tiny bit more specific, Amazon seems to be out to control shopping in this country. This will ultimately have an effect on every grocery- and department-store chain, on every big-box store, and ultimately it will put thousands of Mom-and-Pop stores out of business.

Joe sez: Because Amazon is forcing everyone to shop with them.

Oh, wait... people are shopping at Amazon willingly. Because they prefer to.

So that would mean Amazon isn't putting anyone out of business. CUSTOMERS are putting people out of business.

Patterson: It just will, and I don't see anybody writing about it, but that certainly sounds like the beginning of a monopoly to me.

Joe sez: Which is why Jim demanded all of his books be pulled off of immediately.

On the off chance that Jeff Bezos is reading this, please take Patterson's books down right now. We don't want Patterson to look like a hypocrite, do we?

Patterson: Amazon also, as you know, wants to control book selling, book buying, and even book publishing, and that is a national tragedy.

Joe sez: A national tragedy that includes more choices, lower prices, and more people reading.

I can almost hear "Taps" playing in the background. It's heartbreaking.

Patterson: If this is to be the new American way, then maybe it has to be changed, by law if necessary, immediately, if not sooner.

Joe sez: Apparently Jim didn't read my prior fisk, or he would have gotten rid of the monumentally stupid line "immediately, if not sooner." And stopped the patriotic culture nonsense.

Patterson: I think that might have been a worthy subject for this BEA. I think it's a subject that Indie Bound, the PEN American Center, the National Book Foundation, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Huffington, and NPR should latch onto with vigor, with passion, with urgency.

Joe sez: What subject, Jim? You didn't actually say anything substantive. And what you did say was either false or made no sense.

Patterson: Thank you for this generous honor. It means a lot to me, it really does. I'm pretty emotional about it, more than I ever am at speaking engagements. It means a lot to my wife Sue who's here, and to our son Jack, who has become a big reader primarily because of independent bookstores pushing books at them. Thank you very much.

Joe sez: Patterson got the Indie Champion Award for pledging $1,000,000 to help indie bookstores. So I can understand his speech being slanted to his audience.

But he could have focused on what indies can do to compete with Amazon. Blake Crouch and I had plenty of ideas.

Instead, he went the lazy route for easy applause, spouted a lot of nonsense, and offered no solutions other than let's get the press and the government against Amazon.

I'm getting tired of calling out Patterson on his bullshit. But he keeps spreading it around, and people cheer and get all patriotic and riled up, and common sense flies out the window.

We can't allow that. Not as authors. Not as readers.

Please retweet, comment, and link to this. Let's spread a little sanity and common sense to make up for the silliness.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Amazon Speaks

(Now with three addendums! See the bottom of the post.)

The Amazon Books team says:


We are currently buying less (print) inventory and "safety stock" on titles from the publisher, Hachette, than we ordinarily do, and are no longer taking pre-orders on titles whose publication dates are in the future. Instead, customers can order new titles when their publication date arrives. For titles with no stock on hand, customers can still place an order at which time we order the inventory from Hachette -- availability on those titles is dependent on how long it takes Hachette to fill the orders we place. Once the inventory arrives, we ship it to the customer promptly. These changes are related to the contract and terms between Hachette and Amazon.

At Amazon, we do business with more than 70,000 suppliers, including thousands of publishers. One of our important suppliers is Hachette, which is part of a $10 billion media conglomerate. Unfortunately, despite much work from both sides, we have been unable to reach mutually-acceptable agreement on terms. Hachette has operated in good faith and we admire the company and its executives. Nevertheless, the two companies have so far failed to find a solution. Even more unfortunate, though we remain hopeful and are working hard to come to a resolution as soon as possible, we are not optimistic that this will be resolved soon.

Negotiating with suppliers for equitable terms and making stocking and assortment decisions based on those terms is one of a bookseller's, or any retailer's, most important jobs. Suppliers get to decide the terms under which they are willing to sell to a retailer. It's reciprocally the right of a retailer to determine whether the terms on offer are acceptable and to stock items accordingly. A retailer can feature a supplier's items in its advertising and promotional circulars, "stack it high" in the front of the store, keep small quantities on hand in the back aisle, or not carry the item at all, and bookstores and other retailers do these every day. When we negotiate with suppliers, we are doing so on behalf of customers. Negotiating for acceptable terms is an essential business practice that is critical to keeping service and value high for customers in the medium and long term.

A word about proportion: this business interruption affects a small percentage of Amazon's demand-weighted units. If you order 1,000 items from Amazon, 989 will be unaffected by this interruption. If you do need one of the affected titles quickly, we regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors.

We also take seriously the impact it has when, however infrequently, such a business interruption affects authors. We've offered to Hachette to fund 50% of an author pool - to be allocated by Hachette - to mitigate the impact of this dispute on author royalties, if Hachette funds the other 50%. We did this with the publisher Macmillan some years ago. We hope Hachette takes us up on it.

This topic has generated a variety of coverage, presumably in part because the negotiation is with a book publisher instead of a supplier of a different type of product. Some of the coverage has expressed a relatively narrow point of view. Here is one post that offers a wider perspective.

Thank you.

Joe sez: I'm surprised that Amazon decided to release a statement, since they rarely do. And I'm tickled by what they said.

They haven't stated that Hachette is pushing for the agency model (I believe William Ockham is correct and Hachette is pushing for that), but apparently negotiations won't be resolved soon.

Amazon is encouraging its customers to buy Hachette titles from third-party sellers, or a competitor. That kind of invalidates the whole "Amazon is a monopoly trying to ruin competition and must be stopped by the DoJ" debate. Since Hachette books are available for pre-order elsewhere, and since Amazon doesn't have a league of enforcers preventing people from buying Hachette books elsewhere (Amazon is even encouraging it), I can't see how the anyone can still make that silly argument.

As for the authors being harmed by these negotiations?

Amazon is willing to help them through these hard times by paying them... if Hachette kicks in half.

Apparently Amazon made this offer to Macmillan two years ago. Since this is the first I've ever heard of it (Amazon rarely makes public statements) I can only assume that Macmillan DIDN'T take Amazon up on that offer. And my assumption is solid, because I know several Macmillan authors, and none of them got any sort of bonus check.

How embarrassing for Macmillan. Their authors, and the public media, were vocal about at the injustice of having the buy buttons taken away by Amazon when Macmillan tried to force Amazon to raise ebook prices.
Maybe those authors should be wondering why the their publisher, Macmillan, didn't help assuage their pain. (actually, I was wrong about this. see addendum #2 below)

Hachette now has this offer on the table. Regardless of the negotiation, Hachette can ease their authors' financial woes by contributing to a fund to help them.

Does Hachette care about its authors?

We'll see...

I'm also eager to hear what Scott Turow, James Patterson, Lilith Saintcrow, and Charlie Stross have to say about this.

Addendum #1

Here's the data that Author Earnings gathered about Hachette titles. Must read.

Addendum #2

Apparently I spoke too soon about Macmillan, and I'm wrong. Someone in the comments posted a link stating that Macmillan and Amazon did indeed pay authors a bonus.

For the link lazy:

In a letter to authors accompanying Macmillan royalty statements, CEO John Sargent has two surprising announcements: one, that many authors will be paid at a higher royalty rate than the company is contractually obligated to pay — 25% of net receipts, instead of 15% of list price. And, second, that the company has decided to pay royalties on sales that were lost during the infamous Amazon “buy button” fiasco. According to Sargent, “We believe it was not fair that authors should suffer from the Amazon buy button takedown imposed on us for a week last year when we switched over to the agency model. So we estimated as best we could what Kindle sales would have been for that week and processed the royalties on those sales as if they had happened.” The payment is tactfully being called an “Amazon Kindle Outage Adjustment.”

What’s even more surprising — indeed, almost impossible to believe — Amazon has agreed to split the cost of these royalty adjustments.

Elsewhere in the letter, which is worth reading in its entirety, Sargent takes credit for fostering much of the health and expansion of the e-book market over the last year. “Since we moved to the agency model,” he writes, “Apple has entered the market, Barnes and Noble has increased its investment in the business, and independent booksellers, working with Google, are now selling your books competitively in the electronic book market.”

Joe sez: I do remember that letter Sargent sent to authors, asking them to opt-in to the 25% royalty rate. I remember a peer not signing it because, if memory serves, it included some one-sided provisions in exchange for the increase from 15% to 25%.

Here's an archive of the letter. If anyone has a copy of the contract amendment they'd like to share, or any proof that they actually got paid by Macmillan/Amazon, please contact me.

If you missed me saying it earlier, I was wrong. I'd still like to get more data confirming that, but if Amazon and Macmillan did compensate authors, I leaped to a lazy conclusion in my haste to chastise a publisher, and I apologize for that and am grateful someone corrected me. Good going, Macmillan, for taking care of your authors.

And for those who are curious, crow sort of tastes like chicken. Humble chicken. I don't have a problem admitting when I'm wrong.

Addendum #3

Hachette has responded:

It is good to see Amazon acknowledge that its business decisions significantly affect authors’ lives. For reasons of their own, Amazon has limited its customers’ ability to buy more than 5,000 Hachette titles.

Authors, with whom we at Hachette have been partners for nearly two centuries, engage in a complex and difficult mission to communicate with readers. In addition to royalties, they are concerned with audience, career, culture, education, art, entertainment, and connection. By preventing its customers from connecting with these authors’ books, Amazon indicates that it considers books to be like any other consumer good. They are not.

We will spare no effort to resume normal business relations with Amazon—which has been a great partner for years—but under terms that value appropriately for the years ahead the author’s unique role in creating books, and the publisher’s role in editing, marketing, and distributing them, at the same time that it recognizes Amazon’s importance as a retailer and innovator. Once we have reached such an agreement, we will be happy to discuss with Amazon its ideas about compensating authors for the damage its demand for improved terms may have done them, and to pass along any payments it considers appropriate.

In the meantime, we are extremely grateful for the spontaneous outpouring of support we have received both privately and publicly from authors and agents. We will continue to communicate with them promptly as this situation develops.

Joe sez: Hachette, the fourth largest book publisher in the United States, is owned by French media group Lagardere. Its CEO Arnaud Nourry said on Wednesday he hopes for an early end to the dispute, adding that it should not affect online sales this year.

(thanks to Dan DeWitt for that above link)

So what do we know and what can we guess?

Know: Amazon and Hachette cannot agree on terms.

Guess: This is about money, specifically pricing, specifically Hachette wanting the agency model.

Know: Amazon doesn't see this ending early.

Know: This is definitely hurting Hachette sales on Amazon, as evidenced by the Author Earnings report.

Know: Amazon offered to fund 50% an author pool, to mitigate the impact of this dispute on author royalties, if Hachette funds the other 50%.

Know: Amazon did this previously, with Macmillan authors, during their disagreement on terms.

Guess: Macmillan authors got that money (the ones I have been in tough with, or who have commented on this blog, can't remember),

Know: Hachette is lying when it stated "By preventing its customers from connecting with these authors’ books..." Amazon is not a monopoly or monopsony. It doesn't have the power to prevent book sales, and on third party sellers are selling Hachette books, as is Amazon.

Know: Hachette has Special Snowflake Syndrome, thinking books aren't like other consumer good and should be given special treatment because, well, because they said so. (Technically they aren't. Goods like food and fuel and clothing are necessary for life, whereas books are not.)

Know: Hachette are currently not agreeing to Amazon't author fund idea, but will discuss it after an agreement is reached.

Know: CEO Arnaud Nourry believes this dispute won't affect Hachette online sales.

So it seems like there is no bullying by Amazon, just plain old negotiation, which is completely legal.

It seems Amazon is willing to help authors with lost royalties, and at the moment Hachette is not.

It seems that Hachette isn't concerned about lost online sales.

Prediction: Amazon will remove Hachette buy buttons from its store, as it did with Macmillan. Hachette authors, who should be angry at their publisher, will stay angry with Amazon due to Stockholm Syndrome and situational stupidity. Hachette will whine about it, and eventually accept Amazon's terms. And this whole negotiation will have been about the agency model.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Amazon is trying to cut Hachette profits in half, even as it offers to help authors. Maybe Amazon will start feeling bad and return the pre order buttons. Maybe Amazon will realize books are a different commodity, as important as food, shelter, and love, and by not agreeing to Hachette's terms they are destroying culture.


Fisking Charlie Stross: More on Hachette/Amazon

I don't know Charlie Stross, but he's a Hachette author who just commented, wrongly, on the Amazon/Hachette situation. I've already fisked Lilith Saintcrow on this issue, and blogged about the silly things said by James Patterson and Scott Turow.

Barry Eisler calls this "situational stupidity". To quote Barry:

"It’s when an otherwise intelligent person feels so strongly that his emotions obstruct his ability to access his reason, rendering him functionally indistinguishable from a person who is natively stupid."

I agree with Barry, and also believe that's why Lili, Scott, and Jim seem to be arguing via the argumentum ad passiones logical fallacy. That's when people try to use emotion to persuade because they can't using logic.

Lili is a textbook case of author Stockholm Syndrome. To quote her:

"she(my editor) advocates for me tirelessly in editorial and marketing meetings. She fights for my books, she fights to bring my books to you. She is everything an editor should be, and it’s largely because of her faith in me that I can write full-time and pay my mortgage."

She truly believes that her editor's faith and efforts within the publishing house (which should be doing everything it can to promote Lili's books without an editor having to tireless fight for them) are largely the reason she can pay her mortgage. Not her own writing and talent, but her editor.

She appeals to emotion by using loaded words instead of facts. Amazon is a "behemoth" (as opposed to Hachette, which David Gaughran just pointed out is part of Lagardère Group, a giant worldwide media company - magazines, radio, television, online, digital, and books - with annual revenue of approximately $10 billion dollars).

Amazon was "squeezing" Macmillan for more cash (no they weren't, Macmillan was trying to force Amazon to raise ebook prices. In a legal business negotiation each party tries to get the best deal possible and can walk away at any time, there is no squeezing).

Amazon's "blackmailing" her publisher (she meant "extort" but neither definition fits any of Amazon's business practices. They don't have dirt on others they are saying they'll reveal, and they aren't coercing others to do business with them via threats).

Amazon is a "greedy organism" that will "metastasize". Actually, Amazon is a business in a capitalist society--both of which are not just legal but heartily endorsed by our government and our people. Like any company, they seek higher profits and market share. What company doesn't? All companies that try to succeed are cancer? Really?

Patterson appeals to patriotism with the loaded terms "American way" and "American literature." He uses scare words "battle tactic", "war", "pain", "suffering", and "stress" and calls for laws to change things. All without any data, facts, logic, or evidence.

Turow calls Amazon's removing buy buttons "the most daunting exercise of brute market power". Since when are retailers required to sell what Turow wants them to sell? Or price according to how wholesalers want them to price? He says Amazon has "untoward power" (as if the Big 5 don't) and that "It’s a head-scratcher why anyone with regulatory authority would tolerate it." Hint: Because it is legal. The DoJ went after publishers for colluding, not Amazon for being a monopoly or monopsony. Who don't think the Big 5 publishers had lawyers who tried their damnedest to play the monopoly card with Judge Cote?

In the last few days, we've seen emotional appeals devoid of facts and logic, serious situational stupidity, and Stockholm Syndrome.

And now here's Charlie to add to the nonsense with this blog post.

Charlie: Amazon: malignant monopoly, or just plain evil?

Joe sez: When Barry read the tile to the Charlie's post he said to me:

"I would ask him if he really means that. Because if he does, I don’t see how in good conscience he can allow himself to be part of something like that. Isn’t it the same as investing in apartheid South Africa or something similar? If you voluntarily take part in something you know is — something you publicly accuse of being — a “malignant monopoly or just plain evil,” doesn’t that make you malignant or evil yourself? I’m genuinely curious about how Charlie rationalizes his contribution to something he knows is malignant or evil."

Joe sez: I'd guess Charlie is going with hyperbole here. But even if he really feels Amazon is a cancerous corporation who controls prices in order to keep them artificially high, or Satan on earth meant to destroy humanity, Charlie doesn't have a choice on whether his work is available on Amazon or not. 

That's up to his publisher, Hachette.

Though it does beg the question why he's upset that his pre-order buttons were removed and his shipping delayed. If you believe something is malignant or evil, as Barry said, you shouldn't want to take part in it. According to his title, Charlie should be thrilled that Amazon is doing this, because who wants to be associated with a malignancy, or an evil?

Charlie: (I've written before on this blog, notably in 2012, about how to understand Amazon's business strategy. Consider this an update.)

Last week, began removing the pre-order links from titles by the publishing group Hachette. This is a cruel and unpleasant action, from an author's point of view; if you're a new author with a title about to come out, it utterly fucks your first-week sales and probably dooms your career from the outset.

Joe sez: Charlie, I am truly sorry your pre-order links are gone. But to paraphrase what the pseudonymous William Ockham said via Twitter:

"Hachette authors who are complaining about Amazon: remember that advance check you got? You signed away your right to complain about it when you signed a contract w/Hachette and gave up distribution rights. It's wrong to blame Amazon because your publisher fails to get your books into stores."

In the legacy system you are a part of, Charlie, first week sales are indeed important, and poor sales can hurt your career... within the legacy system.

But your career isn't dependent upon Hachette, or any other publisher, and you shouldn't believe it is. I'm guessing your experience, and things industry folks have told you, have convinced you how important first week sales are to them. So you are about to have your first week sales utterly fucked because of what you publisher is doing, and how the industry is set up to weigh first week sales heavily. 
And you still think Amazon is the one being cruel and unpleasant? They didn't force you to sign an unconscionable, one-sided contract with a publisher who doesn't care about its authors. 

Charlie: And if you're someone like me, with a title about to come out, it frustrates and irritates your readers and also damages your sales profile and screws your print run (because if Amazon don't order your books in advance in dead-tree form they don't get printed, and if they aren't printed and in the warehouse they can't be sold elsewhere). Make no mistake: Hachette may be hurting, but the people who take the brunt of this strategy are the authors.

Joe sez: Hachette can end this whenever they like. But they are apparently holding out, while simultaneously refusing to explain what the terms of the negotiations are to their authors. Which means your print run will suffer because your publisher cares more about controlling pricing than it does your new release.

Charlie: (Disclaimer: I am published by Orbit, a Hachette imprint, in the UK. Amazon is not currently removing the pre-order option from titles sold through My Orbit books in the UK are published by Ace, part of Penguin group, in the USA. And I've got another series published (on both sides of the pond) by Tor. However, Amazon have played this nasty trick on Tor, Ace, and Hachette at different times: I've been caught up in it more than twice, and if they extend this strategy to again, my UK readers are going to be unable to buy "The Rhesus Chart" from Amazon.)

Joe sez: You call it a nasty trick.

Did you follow the agency model DoJ suit? The real nasty trick was perpetrated by big publishers, who colluded to control ebook pricing. That's illegal. That's why they lost. (Tor and Ace are part of Macmillan, who tried to force Amazon to accept higher ebook prices.)

What makes you think Amazon is throwing its weight around, when there is no evidence of that? The precedent shows publishers trying to throw their weight around. The agency model, windowing, high ebook prices--big publishing is guilty of all of this. And more.

Charlie: Forbes mostly calls it right, at least at the corporate level, and until the end of this paragraph, where their 'free-market' knee-jerk kicks in and they bottle it:

Joe sez: Free market is a knee-jerk? You do know the definition of a free market is one free of price-fixing, and Hachette was guilty of collusion in order to price-fix?

People have a choice on where to buy books. Amazon being the biggest bookseller on the planet doesn't make them a monopoly or monopsony. If readers demand Hachette books, Amazon has not prevented them from being sold. There are thousands of other retailers who sell Hachette titles.

I have five books published through Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint, and more than a dozen self-pubbed through Createspace. Guess what? Indie bookstores and B&N don't stock my paper books. And they are allowed to make that choice. And I don't publicly whine about it.

This is the part of the Forbes article Charlie quoted:

Forbes: What we're really seeing is a battle between the people who make the product and the people who distribute it as to who should be getting the economic surplus that the consumer is willing to hand over. Like all such fights it's both brutal and petty. Amazon is apparently delaying shipment of Hachette produced books, insisting that some upcoming ones won't be available and so on. Hachette is complaining very loudly about what Amazon is doing, entirely naturally. The bigger question is what should we do, if anything, about it? To which the answer is almost certainly let them fight it out and see who wins.

Joe: My take is different. I agree with William Ockham. So here's William...

William: If you want to understand what a party is doing in a negotiation, a good place to start is with their public statements. In this case, we know exactly what Hachette was planning to do in this negotiation because they published their strategy. In a letter to the federal court in the ebook antitrust case, believe it or not. When the proposed final judgment for Apple was announced, it included a provision that prohibited Apple from entering into agreements that would limit its ability to offer retail discounts. The Big 5 legacy publishers got together an wrote a whiny letter to the court objecting that this violated the terms of their settlement (the court rejected this argument because, well, it was stupid). Here's what the Big 5 said:

"Each Settling Defendant entered into a carefully negotiated consent decree with Plaintiffs. For the original three Settling Defendants, the negotiations with Plaintiffs lasted nearly one year. Although the DOJ initially sought to include a five-year prohibition against the agency model—identical to Section Ill.C in the Proposed Order—the final consent decrees permit the use of the agency model while also expressly allowing for retailer discounting for a period of two years. Once that "cooling off' period has run, each Settling Defendant may negotiate unilaterally with e-book retailers to enter into any distribution arrangement, including an agency model."

Let me translate that from legalese to English. The Big 5 are saying that as soon as the two year "cooling off" period is over, they want to get rid of retail discounting. Literally their only objection to the Apple settlement is that it will leave one ebook retailer who must maintain the ability to discount. The Big 5 have been waiting for two years for a chance to get rid of retail discounting. And take special note of that word "unilaterally". That means that the Big 5 each have to negotiate independently with their retailers. Those "original three Settling Defendants" are reaching the end of their "cooling off" period in September. They are negotiating new contracts with retailers right now. Unilaterally. Which means only one of them (at a time) can try to impose their preferred "no discounting" policy on retailers. One of them has to go first.

I have a clue as to which of one of the three is doing it. The only time a single one of the Big 5 tried to negotiate a no-discounting agency agreement with Amazon, Amazon removed the "buy" buttons from their books (that was MacMillan in January 2010). So, I think it is pretty safe to assume that Hachette is the one trying it now.

But maybe that's not enough evidence for you. Let me suggest that you find a few Hachette ebooks which are not available for pre-order on Amazon and then go over and look at the prices on Barnes & Noble's web site. Carefully note the paper list price and the ebook price. When I did this, every single title I checked fell within the non-discountable price bands in Apple's illegal proposal from January 2010. And if you check the ebook prices for the same books in the iBookstore, you will discover that Apple is offering most of them for less. Because Apple needs to keep its nose clean during its appeal. Hachette has pretty clearly already got B&N to sign on to the non-discountable agency prices (because B&N would love not to have to compete on price with Amazon).

I really don't understand why this is such a big mystery to people. Hachette is doing what they said they were going to do. Amazon is reacting exactly the way we would expect them to.

Joe sez: Really? You don't understand why people aren't getting it?

William: Ok, I do understand it. Nobody is paying attention to what is really going on. It's just too inconvenient to spend your time reading a bunch of boring court documents. Unless, you know, your livelihood depends on it. Or like me, you just like that sort of thing.

Now, I ask you this. Do you think Amazon is going to give in? I don't. A long time ago, I read a book that had a very important concept about negotiation. It's called your BATNA. That stands for Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement. You always need to know yours and it really helps if you know the other party's. I think Amazon has the best BATNA. They just stop carrying Hachette books. Amazon buyers will still be able to get them through third-party sellers on Amazon's site. Hachette's BATNA is what, exactly? So, I predict that Hachette will blink. And then we will get to see if any of the other Big 5 publishers want to make a go of it.

Joe sez: William said on Twitter, "Those prices are hoofbeats and I am assuming it's a horse. Show me some stripes and I will believe it is a zebra."

I'm good with accepting William's take until more information presents itself. After all, we have a history of one of these companies illegally conspiring to raise prices, and one who wants to keep prices on everything low.

And let me repeat something for those who still don't seem to get it: The Agency Model Sucks. Customers pay more, and authors and publishers earn less.

It's not that the agency model itself is bad, or illegal. But publishers are using it to keep ebook prices high to protect paper sales. (You should follow and read all the links in this post, but if you only read one, follow that one.)

Charlie: Planet earth calling: Hachette is the publishing arm of a gigantic multinational group, Lagardère, which boasts an annual turnover of €7.37Bn. However, as Lagardère's components include a hefty chunk of EADS (part-owners of Airbus) plus TV channels, duty-free shops, newsagents, sports clubs, and magazine publishing it shouldn't be much of a surprise to discover that Hachette turned over €2.1Bn in 2012. That same year, Amazon's sales topped $61Bn (or around €45-50Bn).

So, point one is that this is not a battle of equals: it's a big-ish corporation being picked on by a Goliath more than ten times its size, in an attempt to extort better terms.

William: Comparing a retailer and a multi-national conglomerate is silly.

Joe sez: And there is a big difference between sales and profits. But no matter how you slice it, Hachette isn't a helpless neophyte. They have power and capital and lawyers and have been around for almost 200 years. Amazon has the power advantage here, because they have customers Hachette wants access to. If Hachette wants to reach those customers, it will either accept Amazon's terms or withdraw its catalog. And if Amazon can't stand the idea of losing Hachette's sales, it will back down.

That's business, folks. It's capitalism. It's negotiation. And it's legal. 

It's pretty damn simple.

Charlie: But it's not that simple, either.

Forbes seem to think that Hachette is a producer and Amazon is a distributor. This isn't quite true. I am a producer. From my perspective, Hachette is a value-added wholesale distributor: they supply editorial, production, packaging, marketing, accounting, and sales services and pay me a percentage of the revenue.

Joe sez: No, Charlie. You can hire and fire a value-added distributor.

Hachette owns your ass.

Whether or not they add value is subjective. If you think it is okay Hachette makes 3x the ebook royalties you do because they do some editing, accounting, etc. that's your call. But when you sign away your rights forever you are at their mercy.

In contrast, my agent does all of that for me for several of my self-pub ventures, takes only 10%, and I keep my rights.

Charlie: (I could do this myself, and self-publish, but I don't want to be a publisher, I want to be a writer: we have this thing called "the division of labour", and it suits me quite well to out-source that side of the job to specialists at Hachette, or Penguin, or Macmillan.)

Joe sez: I hire much of these jobs out and get to keep my IP and have total control over it. I too want to be a writer: we have this thing called "common sense", and it suits me quite well to out-source that side of the job while still controlling my rights, making the lion's share of the profit, and never being at the mercy of specialists like Hachette.

Charlie: Amazon is not a value-added wholesale distributor: it is a retail distributor. They have a publishing subsidiary and allow me—if I want to self-publish—to use them as a sales channel, and will even pay quite well if I accept extremely onerous terms.

Joe sez: Onerous terms? Like 70% royalties and you get to keep your rights? Like letting you control cover art and price? Like letting you make your book free and put it on sale? Like getting your books into 12 countries?

Charlie: But they don't do much else for me and in particular if I were to self-publish through Amazon I would be vulnerable to exactly the same pressure that Hachette is currently on the receiving end of, but with less recourse.

Joe sez: I call this the "wolf argument". To wit: don't worry about being attacked by wolves when a lion is currently gnawing your legs off.

I've seen Amazon do some things I haven't agreed with, and vocally opposed. They removed reviews. They made it much harder for erotica authors to earn money (so did B&N and PayPal). They cut ACX royalties. I haven't liked some of their recent contract clauses.

But they've been overwhelmingly good to authors. Both KDP and A-Pub offer better royalties than anyone else in publishing. They continue to innovate, offer expanded services, and grow into new territories. They pay monthly, their accounting is transparent, and they are smart and easy to work with.

Someday Amazon may start throwing its weight around and squeeze authors. And someday a meteor may hit the earth and annihilate all life.

I'm not going to live my life, or base my career, on what a meteor, or Amazon, might do.

Charlie: Amazon's strategy (as I noted in 2012) is to squat on the distribution channel, artificially subsidize the price of ebooks ("dumping" or predatory pricing) to get consumers hooked, rely on DRM on the walled garden of the Kindle store to lock consumers onto their platform, and then to use their monopsony buying power to grab the publishers' share of the profits.

Joe sez: So much wrong here.

First, Amazon invented the distribution channel. They aren't squatting on some natural resource. They created the proprietary format. And proprietary formats have been part of technology as long as there has been technology (remember the Tesla/Edison AC/DC battle?), and are legal.

Second, show me a predatory pricing campaign that was successfully litigated. This canard gets trotted out a lot, but "predatory pricing" in this case means "lower prices for consumers" who tend to like that, as does the DoJ. Most retailers use sales as loss leaders. The DoJ isn't trying to protect competitive businesses from the workings of the market (including smart, aggressive competitors who innovate and have superior skills, like Amazon.) The DoJ's goal is to protect consumers from the failure of the market (such as when publishers collude to fix prices).

Why don't you think a $28 hardcover is predatory? Why can you get a season of TV on DVD for $10 (24 hours of entertainment), but hardcovers (8 hours of entertainment) are so ridiculously marked up they qualify as luxury items? A book costs about $2 to print. Why the inflated price? And if publishers really competed with each other, why are books by every publisher similarly priced? And why does every publisher have a practically identical boilerplate contract with practically identical terms?

Third, Amazon doesn't require DRM. Your shithead publisher does.

Fourth, they aren't a monopsony. They just happen to have the most market share, which they got by keeping prices low and offering good selection and customer service. Your publisher makes a higher profit on every one of your books than Amazon does. Especially ebooks.

Your share of the profits is being eaten by Hachette, not Amazon. But by all means, keep defending them while demonizing the retail outlet that probably accounts for the majority of your sales. (If it doesn't yet, it will. Check out the latest Author Earnings report. You should look at it anyway, because it compares how many self-pubbed authors and legacy authors make a living wage. Answer: more self-pubbed authors.)

Charlie: If you're a consumer, in the short term this is good news: it means you get cheap books. But if you're a reader, you probably like to read new books. By driving down the unit revenue, Amazon makes it really hard for publishers—who are a proxy for authors—to turn a profit.

Joe sez: Via Wikipedia, Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.

Charlie, publishers have been earning record profits these past few years. Publishers aren't a proxy for authors. Publishers are property owners. They do whatever the hell they want to with the property they own, your best interests be damned.

Stop defending the company giving you lousy contract terms, keeping you in the dark about this situation, and who, in your own words, is dooming your career.

Charlie: Eventually they go out of business, leaving just Amazon as a monopoly distribution channel retailing the output of an atomized cloud of highly vulnerable self-employed piece-workers like myself. At which point the screws can be tightened indefinitely. And after a while, there will be no more Charlie Stross novels because I will be unable to earn a living and will have to go find a paying job.

Joe sez: You didn't take that far enough. Amazon's ultimate goal is to create a machine that runs on the screams of babies, and use it to fly the earth directly into the sun, the entire time kicking you in the balls over and over while calling you mean names.

You're right about something. The screws are being tightened on you. But it isn't Amazon doing it.

Charlie: TL:DR; Amazon's strategy against Hachette is that of a bullying combine the size of WalMart leaning on a much smaller supplier. And the smaller supplier in turn relies on really small suppliers like me. It's anti-author, and in the long term it will deprive you of the books you want to read.

Joe sez: Again, only Hachette and Amazon know what the negotiation details are, but William makes a damn good argument that it is Hachette trying to force the terms, and a pretty good guess those terms involve agency pricing.

Hachette does rely on you, and other authors, but you don't have to rely on them. Authors can reach readers without Hachette. If Hachette disappears tomorrow, readers will still be able to get books. Even your books... unless they become part of the assets in the bankruptcy case.

Charlie: Final note: some time in the 1980s the US Department of Justice's anti-trust lawyers changed their focus from preventing monopolies from forming to preventing companies from colluding to preserve their margins ("price fixing cartels"). As a result, Amazon very nearly gained a monopoly of ebook sales; they're still around the 85-90% mark in the UK, and peaked at over 80% in the USA. (The irony of the DoJ-Apple iBook store settlement is that the DoJ went after the market incomer with the higher prices and 10% market share, rather than the near-monopolist who was using predatory pricing to drive their competition out of business.) It's hard to argue against low prices, but consider this: texts are a cultural medium, and the production of new texts is not something amenable to automation or mass production. I can't go out and hire twenty people off the street and install them in a cubicle farm extruding Charlie Stross branded fiction product. (I can't even hire twenty SF novelists and train them to do that. Our product is bespoke and highly idiosyncratic.) It used to be the case that cultural activities like writing fiction benefited from some barriers against marketization, but a corollary of the global free trade regime we live in these days is that no field is exempt. The net book agreement was declared illegal decades ago: my product has to compete for your attention and money in the same market as the X Men movie franchise and Assassin's Creed games. Neither of which have a near-monopoly incumbent like Amazon squatting between them and their customer base, trying relentlessly to depress prices and force them out of business.

William: I'm not a lawyer (and neither is Charlie Stross), but I've read the Sherman Anttrust Act. Preventing monopolies is not a goal of the law. Preventing monopolies from engaging in anti-competitive behavior is. But preventing price-fixing cartels is an explicit part of the law. There is absolutely no doubt that Apple and the Big 5 engaged in a price-fixing cartel. They were almost laughably obvious about it. Amazon gained their market position by out-competing other ebook retailers. There is no evidence that Amazon has engaged in any anti-competitive behavior. Stross and his ilk throw around the term "predatory pricing" without any indication that they understand what it means in American law. Here's a hint. There's this thing called Wikipedia. At the very least, demonstrate that you have read the Wikipedia article on a topic before you pontificate about said topic. Otherwise, people might confuse you for a bloviating blowhard. And we wouldn't want that.

Stross also trots out the "publishing is a special snowflake" argument. This is just hogwash. First, he is just wrong about the facts. He apparently has never heard of ghost-writing or James Patterson (Stross describes Patterson's business model pretty well). Stross's books (or Konrath's for that matter) are nothing special unless they connect with readers. Amazon isn't standing in anyone's way. Writers, movie makers, and game programmers all have access to the internet to sell their wares. There is no one squatting between you and your customer base. I buy my books from Amazon because they offer me a better customer experience than any other retailer. 

Let me give you a non-book example. Last week, I was looking to buy a new laptop for a project I'm starting. I'm a software developer, so I want to buy a lightweight powerful machine with Intel's latest processor, plenty of memory, and an SSD drive. I found a model on Amazon that met my needs, but it was not yet available from Amazon or any third-party sellers. There was an ad at the bottom of the page for that exact model from the Microsoft store and they had it in stock. I discovered that Microsoft had an exclusive on this laptop for now. Amazon's willing to lose a $2,500 sale by selling ads to their competition if that is what it takes to solve the customer's problem. 

Have you ever seen an ad like that for a book from a Big 5 publisher on Amazon's site? How many Hachette authors have inquired about placing ads for their books like that? What is Hachette doing to help readers find Hachette books right now. As best I can tell, absolutely nothing.

Joe sez: I actually do understand Charlie's frustration. When you have no control, and forces around you are hurting your career, it is natural to want to get angry and point fingers. When the elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers.

So stop being the grass.

It's understandable why Patterson and Turow are plaintively arguing for the legacy industry. They are the lucky ones whom publishing has blessed. They want the status quo to go on forever, and why wouldn't they? They're rich and successful and have done well in the old system.

But the majority of their fellow authors have not. The majority of authors need a day job, or a spouse that works. That's difficult enough, but legacy authors are also at the mercy of publishers who offer them one-sided contracts and pay them twice a year for sales that happened 18 months earlier. They have been taught and repeatedly told that the legacy industry is all there is, and they can't do better on their own. Some, like Lili and Charlie have bought into it so whole-heartedly that they defend their publisher's icky behavior, and condemn a company--Amazon--who could liberate them.

Author Earnings pretty much confirms that authors can do better on their own. Authors like me have been saying this--with data--since 2009. For five full years I've been screaming this shit. And yet there are still authors who cling to their publishers like life vests in a turbulent sea.

Your publisher isn't a life vest. It is a concrete block tied to your ankles.

Situational stupidity? Stockholm Syndrome? Self-delusion? Habit? Fear? Why do authors not only stay with publishers, but publicly endorse them in ridiculous blog posts?

I don't get it. And I don't care.

This blog isn't for Charlie or Lili, or Jim or Scott. They've already chosen sides. They won't listen to me.

This blog is for those who haven't made up their minds yet. Those who seek information. Those who follow Twitter or read the New York Times or pro-Hachette author blogs and hear bad things about Amazon and wonder if they're true.

I can't tell you if they're true. Only Amazon and Hachette know what's going on.

But I can hear hoofbeats. And I'm betting it's a horse.

If you think otherwise, post your argument in the comments.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Turow & Patterson: A Plateful of Fail with Extra Helpings of Stupid

Yestserday I fisked Lilith Saintcrow because of her wrongheaded stance regarding the negotiation between her publisher, Hachette, and Amazon.

Today it came to my attention that two heavyweights have shared their thoughts on this matter, bestsellers Scott Turow and James Patterson.

They didn't sway me with their implacable logic and iron-clad arguments. They won't sway you, either.

Because what they said is some of the stupidest shit they've ever said. And that's saying something.

This is from Patterson's Facebook page. Patterson is in italics, I'm in bold.

Read four of the most important paragraphs I'll ever write.

Because nothing is more important than kissing your publisher's ass while demonizing Amazon--the same Amazon that is making you many times richer. 

If you ever write about something really important (like pretty much anything else), you've trivialized it with that stupid opening.

The press doesn’t seem to consider this newsworthy, but there is a war going on between Amazon and book publishers. This war involves money of course, and though I have an opinion, I’m not here to comment on what might be a fair and reasonable settlement.

You mean the press didn't run this screed for you? What a shame. 

Also, you say you're not here to comment on what's fair and reasonable, yet at the end of your nonsense you call for laws to change things. I'm pretty sure that tidbit, and this entire post, is you commenting on what you believe is fair and reasonable, and I'm also pretty sure you're sharing your opinion.

There are other significant issues people might want to consider. Currently, Amazon is making it difficult to order many books from Little, Brown and Grand Central, which affects readers of authors such as Malcolm Gladwell, Nicholas Sparks, Michael Connelly, me, and hundreds of others whose living depends on book sales. What I don’t understand about this particular battle tactic is how it is in the best interest of Amazon customers. It certainly doesn’t appear to be in the best interest of authors.

I'd bet none of the names you mentioned depend on book sales to make a living. Unless you've all done really poorly with your investments.

Tip: When you want to engender sympathy in a reader, they probably aren't going to cry over what's happening to a small group of famous multimillionaires. Big bad Amazon took away your preorder buttons? What's going to happen to you as a result? You'll have to fire the servants at one of your vacation homes?

As for the hundreds of authors you didn't name who are really being hurt by this situation, they should hire a lawyer and get out of their contracts, like I did with Hachette. Then they won't get caught in business power struggles, and they'll actually have some control over their sales.

And as for being in the best interest of Amazon customers, I can make an educated guess. Who wants ebook prices higher, Hachette or Amazon? In this negotiation, if Hachette gets its way, will Amazon be forced to raise ebook prices to make up for Hachette's new terms? How does the customer benefit if ebook prices are raised?

More important—much more important—is the evolution/revolution that’s occurring now in publishing. Small bookstores are being shuttered, book chains are going out of business, libraries are suffering enormous budget cuts, and every publisher—and the people who work at these publishing houses—is feeling a great deal of pain and stress. Ultimately, inevitably, the quality of American literature will suffer.

Because there can be no quality literature without publishers and book chains.

Hmm. I thought writers were the ones who did the writing. And I think they can reach readers without publishers and book store chains. Perhaps through companies like... what's the name of that big online bookstore? The one that made ebooks popular? I think it's named after a river...

If the world of books is going to change to ebooks, so be it. But I think it’s essential that someone steps up and takes responsibility for the future of American literature and the part it plays in our culture. Right now, bookstores, libraries, authors, and books themselves are caught in the cross fire of an economic war. If this is the new American way, then maybe it has to be changed—by law, if necessary—immediately, if not sooner.

For God's sake, someone think of the culture!

Jim, I probably don't need to lecture you about how capitalism works, or how business negotiations work, so I am forced to assume that you're sticking to an emotional appeal rather than actually trying to make sense, because you're aware that your argument sucks the farts out of roadkill.

Maybe you should stop suggesting the government get involved, because the last time they did, they brought suit against your publisher and four others for collusion. Are you sure you want the DOJ to poke into Hachette's business again? I bet Hachette doesn't.

I also bet it is difficult to get anything done "sooner than immediately". But here's an idea: you get together with the other rich authors you mentioned and start your own online bookstore. Then you can do whatever you want with it. Sell paper books at high prices. Refuse to sell ebooks. Bend over for every publisher with unreasonable demands. And best of all, you can make sure you only carry quality, gatekeeper-vetted American literature steeped in culture.

And since you're obviously concerned about the hundreds of authors whose living depends on book sales, you could also send them a few grand each, to tide them over until Hachette stops dicking around and agrees to Amazon's terms. 

Or maybe Hachette could show some balls, stop whining publicly, and actually pull all of their titles from Amazon. In fact, maybe the CEOs of all Big 5 publishers should meet in secret and discuss a strategy to deal with Amazon. It's bound to work.

Speaking of whining publicly, here's a wonderful tidbit from Passive Voice:

In a comment about one of the Amazon/Hachette posts, Elka wondered how Hachette would react if an author who was negotiating a publishing contract with Hachette went on the internet to complain about Hachette’s negotiating style and contract terms.

I can guess how they'd react. They'd dump the author immediately.

I'd be seriously amused if Amazon did that to Hachette. It would suck for a lot of authors, but maybe it would finally prompt them to hire lawyers.

But Patterson hasn't been hogging all the stupid for himself. Then was this nugget from Scott Turow, quoted in the Washington Post.

“This one goes along with the pulling of the buy buttons as the most daunting exercise of brute market power." 

As I've stated ad nauseum, Amazon removed the buy buttons because Macmillan was trying to strongarm Amazon into raising ebook prices.

Amazon can sell whatever the hell it wants to sell. It isn't a monopsony, and even if it was, during its entire existence its main goal has been to satisfy customers with low prices and good service.

I'll opine that the most daunting exercise of brute market power is the lockstep, non-negotiable 25% ebook royalty rates most major publishers force upon their authors, among many other unconscionable clauses.

Turow, a lawyer who has written 11 books, including legal thrillers such as “Presumed Innocent,” said that Amazon recently raised the price of his most recent book, “Identical,” a move that he said would depress sales. 

You mean you're upset because Amazon raised the price of your book to your publisher's list price?


Did you really say that?


Pick your favorite response:

a) Don't they have irony on your planet, Scott?
b) As a lawyer who has to argue for a living, how could you say something this stupid and ruin your own case?
c) Welcome to the midlist world of no discounting, where 99% of published authors live, and so do all independent bookstores. 

“What kind of entity in a competitive market would willfully drive customers into the arms of its competitors unless it believes it doesn’t really have any competitors?” Turow said. 

What kind of entity in a competitive market would willfully offer authors shitty contract terms unless it believes it doesn't really have any competitors?

Answer: Your publisher, and all other major publishers, who had a cartel that controlled paper distribution, so most authors were forced to accept shitty terms or not get published. 

And now the publishers are unhappy that someone else is using their power to dictate terms? Boo fucking hoo.

BTW, last I checked it isn't illegal to drive customers to a competitor. Competitors actually like that kind of thing.

And I can't resist quoting Scott from two years ago:

"The irony bites hard: our government may be on the verge of killing real competition in order to save the appearance of competition."

So two years ago you were upset because you felt (wrongly, in your defense of the Big 5 collusion suit) that Amazon was killing real competition, and now you're upset because Amazon is fostering competition by driving customers away.

Yes, Scott. The irony bites hard.

But back to the fisking...

“Can you imagine Best Buy refusing to deliver for a period of weeks what’s available from its competitors? But Amazon behaves as though they’re the only game in town. And increasingly they are. It’s a head-scratcher why anyone with regulatory authority would tolerate it. If this is not an example of untoward power, I don’t know what is.”

Can you imagine the government stepping in a mediating every legal, private business transaction? Because that's what you and Jim are begging for. Do you really think that will make the world a better place? Do you really think that's what the Big 5 want?

I don't know the details of the Hachette/Amazon negotiation (only Amazon and Hachette know those details), but I bet Hachette wouldn't like the DOJ, or some congressional committee, or anyone for that matter, telling them how to do business. Because if someone with regulatory authority took a look at the unconscionable contracts that publishers have been sticking authors with for the last fifty years, I bet they'd order some recompense.

But I'll answer your question. If Best Buy refused to deliver for a period of weeks, I'd just order what I wanted from Amazon.

Joe sez: This situation seems to really be burning up the Internets. Sending a shout out to Passive Voice again, they call it Amazon Derangement Syndrome

The major publishers, and many authors, really seem to hate Amazon. 

Why is this?

Because publishers used to be the only game in town. They abused that power, offering one-sided contracts to authors who had nowhere else to go. Authors, me included, were brainwashed into doing whatever our corporate masters asked, and we accepted whatever pittance they offered and were grateful for it because we believed we had no choice.

Amazon offered a choice. Not just for writers, but for consumers who wanted larger selections and didn't want to pay luxury prices for books. (Publishers didn't just control who got published, they also controlled the prices of their titles. What other industry prints a price on its product?)

So the big bully that is legacy publishing is angry that it can't be a big bully anymore, because of Amazon. 

And, like all bullies, legacy publishing is a coward at heart, because it won't stand up to Amazon by pulling all of its titles. 

So instead, publishers whine about Amazon because they don't have the guts to do anything else and collusion didn't work. Fat cat authors like Patterson and Turow call for government intervention using pathetic emotional appeals, because they don't want to lose their cushy places in the status quo. Brainwashed authors like Lilith Saintcrow suffer from Stockholm Syndrome and refuse to believe their publishers are the abusers.

And Amazon? Amazon keeps quiet while slowly but surely conquering the world. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, where that anti-Amazon piece just ran.

That's what true power is. Not whining in public. Not worrying what people think of you. Just changing the world by innovating, lowering prices on goods, offering unmatched service, and only flexing muscles when being bullied.

The day may come where Amazon does, indeed, become the bad guy.

But that day isn't today.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fisking Lilith Saintcrow and the Hachette/Amazon Situation

People often disagree with my posts, and some do it in the comments section.

This promotes healthy debate and discourse. As long as people stay civil with each other, they can post whatever they like, including insulting me. I've only had to kick a few people out over the years, after giving them multiple chances to cool off.

One of the wonderful things about the Internet is the ability for people to engage with different viewpoints and test each others' arguments.

I don't know Lilith Saintcrow. She's a writer with Hachette, and has just blogged about this situation. She's wrong, which is fine. Normally that wouldn't irk me. But in her comments section, she's disemvoweling people who disagree with her (it's a cute form of censuring where all the vowels are removed from the comment).

So now I'm going to bring the debate here, to A Newbie's Guide, by explaining in detail how wrong Lili Saintcrow is. Normally I don't take my peers to task like this, but I really dislike the way Lili is handling dissenters on her blog. She's deliberately obstructing what could have been a healthy debate.

No offense intended, Lili. I'm sure you're a wonderful person and a wonderful writer. And I do understand how you are frustrated at this situation. Your sales are suffering, and it is beyond your control, so naturally you want to place blame and voice your discontent.

But I believe you aren't looking at the big picture, and cutting off comments on your blog isn't how you, or anyone following you, can use this situation as a learning experience.

Lili's post is entitled How "Amazon" Means "Less Books For You."

Lili: Dear Readers, let me tell you about my editor.

I have been with my editor at Orbit–Devi Pillai, who Anya Devi in the Kismet books was loosely based on–for over a decade now. She shepherded me through the Valentine series, consoled me through the end of Heaven’s Spite, took a chance on the Damnation Affair, and loved a certain hedgewitch Queen so much she kept asking about it for years until she could finally buy it. She remains an editor I trust implicitly. When she sticks to her guns and insists, I generally rethink my position and trust she’s right, and (far less often, because I rarely dig my heels in unless it’s Important) vice versa. She understands my working style, leaves me the freedom I need while ensuring I get the support I often don’t know I need to turn in my best work.

Joe sez: Ok, we get it. You and your editor have a wonderful bramance going on (Get it? It's the opposite of bromance with bra = female.)

I'm sure she's excellent. She'd better be, because she and Hachette are getting 75% of net ebook royalties, and you--the one who wrote the books--only get 25%.

Lili: Not only that, but she advocates for me tirelessly in editorial and marketing meetings. She fights for my books, she fights to bring my books to you. She is everything an editor should be, and it’s largely because of her faith in me that I can write full-time and pay my mortgage.

Joe sez: Because when we're at the mercy of a giant, soul-sucking organization like Hachette (full disclosure, they published my book Afraid), we need an insider to fight for our books, or else they won't do well.

That seems... terrible.

Lili: She works for Orbit. Orbit is a part of Hachette. Amazon, the behemoth that undercut its competitors and has become not the only, but the biggest game in town, wants more money out of Hachette. So, Amazon has removed the preorder buttons on Hachette books. Including the last Bannon & Clare book, The Ripper Affair.

Joe sez: Amazon, the behemoth that turned online booksales into a multibillion dollar company, and invented the Kindle which kickstarted the ebook revolution.

Amazon, which continuously innovates and strives to please customers, and counts authors who publish via Amazon among its customers.

Amazon, which is not a monopoly, it's just very good at what it does, as opposed to Hachette, which the Department of Justice brought a successful collusion suit against for fixing ebook prices and keeping them artificially high. I believe Hachette did this to protect their paper distribution cartel by forcing Amazon to accept the Agency Model, which took away Amazon's ability to price low and took money directly out of their authors' pockets.

Amazon, which last I checked was a US company engaged in the nefarious act of capitalism.

Amazon, which can decide to sell whatever it wants to, just like Hachette can publish whomever it wants to.

Lili: Preorders are largely how publishers forecast how well a certain book will do. Those forecasts create numbers that are used when, for example, Devi makes the case to buy another series from me while I’m finishing up writing the current one. It’s not fair, but it’s the only metric the publishers have in some cases, for all sorts of reasons–frex, it can take over six months for the contracts department to get all situated. (Contracts people are by their nature picky and detail-oriented, and that’s fine, it’s just frustrating sometimes.)

Joe sez: I've blogged before about author Stockholm Syndrome. Making excuses for the bad behavior of your publisher.

Now the reverse might also be applied, that I'm making excuses for Amazon. I'm not. When Amazon behaves badly, I call them on it. Insofar as I'm aware, Amazon is not behaving badly in this case.

But I don't know for sure. The only two parties that know are Hachette and Amazon, and neither is talking. So isn't it a bit presumptuous to point fingers when we don't know what's going on?

Lili: All of this is backstory (hello, exposition!) to what I am about to tell you.

The full, nasty effect of Amazon removing buy buttons (like they did when squeezing Macmillan for more cash a few years ago) and removing the ability to preorder a publisher’s upcoming books doesn’t hit the publisher.

Joe sez: You mean when Amazon removed Macmillan's buy buttons because Macmillan was trying to force them to accept higher ebook prices? That's revisionist history, Lili.

Lili: Sure, the publisher is who Amazon can blackmail most directly–Amazon’s a huge distributor, and if they decide not to distribute, that’s lost revenue, since ease of buying is a component of consumer activity.

Joe sez: People mistake "blackmail" with "extortion" all the time. For the record, Amazon isn't blackmailing anyone, or extorting money from anyone. As far as any of us knows, they are involved in a negotiation with Hachette.

The point of negotiations is to reach an agreement both parties can accept.

It is the nature of negotiations that each party tries to get as good a deal as possible. This isn't extortion (or blackmail). This is business.

Amazon has no obligation to carry any Hachette book ever again. It is allowed to decide what it sells in its store, and for how much.

This disagreement with Hachette has apparently been going on for many months. And because Amazon has the power in this particular negotiation (Hachette needs Amazon more than Amazon needs Hachette) they are doing what anyone would do; showing that power.

It's sort of like, Lili, when you renewed your contract with Hachette and asked for a higher royalty rate and the removal of the non-compete clause, and they laughed at you. They had the power, so you were stuck with their shitty contract terms.

I hired a lawyer and got my rights back from Hachette. I recommend you do the same.

Lili: (Translation: every time you make a consumer go somewhere else, they are fractionally less willing to buy the damn item that’s costing them time and headache.) There’s also lost revenue from people who buy only through Amazon (they have their reasons, natch) and that means a publisher can’t afford to take a chance on certain authors. The publisher takes the visible hit, but the ripples spread out and hit midlist authors, or debut authors. And while I am not the latter, I am most certainly the former.

Joe sez: So instead of you getting a bunch of Hachette authors together and petitioning Michael Pietsch, the CEO, to just sign the fucking agreement, you're angry with Amazon?

Interesting. And Stockholmy.

Lili: In other words, Amazon’s behavior right now is impacting my ability to sell more books to Orbit, since when preorder numbers take this kind of hit it’s harder for Devi to fight for me in acquisition meetings.

Joe sez: So Hachette's broken publishing system--where the only books that do well are those personally championed by heroic editors--is in jeopardy because Hachette would rather lose sales right now than lose the negotiation. And you still blame Amazon for this? Is that fair? Is that logical?

Lili: The numbers for B&C were already not good enough for me to do the “B&C travel to different countries” books we were all looking forward to.

Joe sez: Here's a secret: when you self-publish, you can write the books you want. And you make 70% ebook royalties on Amazon, and you'll be able to keep your "buy button" and there won't be any shipping delays. As much as you may believe your editor is the reason you can pay your mortgage, methinks it's probably because you write good books that fans enjoy. If you need a good editor, you can hire a freelancer.

Just sayin'.

Lili: Amazon’s blackmail of my publisher makes it harder for my editor to justify taking a chance on me next time I’m up for a contract with them. (It isn’t fair, but it’s a business decision, and I understand as much.) This impacts my ability to write full-time, to continue producing those stories you love (or love to hate) at my accustomed rate. Because I have to pay my mortgage and feed my kids, and if this won’t do it, I will have to spend my time doing something else that will.

Joe sez: No one owes you a living, Lili. No one owes any writer a living. That we can make any money at all from our words is incredibly fortunate.

I know it feels bad to have your preorder button removed, but no one is entitled to have their books for sale on Amazon. It's Amazon's choice. They have no legal, or moral, duty to sell anything they don't want to sell. Practically every independent bookstore in the US won't carry my titles because I'm outspoken about self-publishing. They can do that, and I don't whine about it. (In fact, I support indie bookstores and tried to help them.)

That said, perhaps you should stop letting legacy publishers screw up your career. When I left Hachette, my income went up 10x.

Lili: Amazon is obeying the natural behaviour of corporations. Corporations are not people, but once they reach a certain size they start behaving like any greedy organism. They metastasize. The effect of this is passed down through the ecosystem to yours truly–and also to you.

Joe sez: Surely you see this same "greedy organism" argument can be applied to Hachette, right?

And I caution you against complaining directly to your fans. It doesn't come off well.

Allow me to suggest how you could have written your blog post:

To my fans: currently my publisher, Hachette, is in negotiations with Amazon, and Amazon has removed the preorder buttons to my latest book. But you can still preorder the book here (insert links). Hopefully things will be worked out soon, and I apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your continued support. To show my thanks, I'll email a free short story tie-in to everyone who preorders the novel.

You can get more fans, and traffic, if you remain impartial and stiff upper-lipped. And then you won't have any detractors in the comments that you feel the need to disemvowel (honestly, that was a silly move, and it's the reason I'm blogging about you right now.)

Lili: Less time for me to write those stories means less Lili books for you to read. It means less books from other authors you may like or love, as well. If Hachette has to cave and agree to Amazon’s predatory terms, I will feel that directly, because that money will come out of budgets that take a chance on me, the midlist author.

Joe sez: Because Hachette certainly won't cut corporate salaries or benefits, move their headquarters someplace cheaper than Manhattan, stop blowing big money at BEA and other self-grandizing venues, or eliminate and/or reduce any of the many other needless expenses they have.

The author will suffer before they give up expensing their lunches. Even though Hachette is making a ton of money because of their high ebook cut.

Lili: As Elizabeth Bear said this morning, Amazon is hoping customers will turn on the publishers and force them to do Amazon’s bidding. If you’re fine with that, and with the effects I’ve described above, okay. I naturally don’t agree with you, but okay. I have Amazon links, affiliate and otherwise, on this very site for your convenience, not mine.

Joe sez: Certainly you see a bit of hypocrisy there, don't you? Condemning Amazon but still linking to them? Are you sure those links are for the fans' convenience, and not because you sell a lot of books on Amazon?

Lili: If you’re not fine with Amazon’s behavior, you can preorder The Ripper Affair (and order other books of mine) through Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, or Indiebound. You can even preorder and order signed copies through Cover to Cover Books with a simple stock inquiry, they ship worldwide. You can preorder for other authors you like, too, at Barnes & Noble, at Indiebound, and at C2C though they may not be signed if they’re not mine–you get the idea.

Joe sez: This is called "burying the lede". Your post could have been this, with zero personal commentary, and you'd have been considered heroic.

Lili: Hachette has been keeping its authors apprised of developments in this situation. They’re doing their best to take care of us, because we are, after all, their bread and butter. Hachette isn’t the bad guy here. (I should hope that my regular Readers know that I’d tell you if they were, srsly, mortgage be damned.) Please think about buying somewhere other than Amazon, even if it is a little inconvenient.

Joe sez: They're doing your best to take care of you and keeping you apraised? Really? Did you get these emails from Pietsch?

May 9, 2014

Dear Hachette Book Group author,

There are stories in the press today about Hachette Book Group’s negotiations with Amazon.  We have released the following statement to the media:

“It is our normal policy not to comment on negotiations underway with any retailer.

However, we have been asked legitimate questions about why many of our books are at present marked out of stock with relatively long estimated shipping times on the Amazon website, in contrast to immediate availability on other websites and in stores.

We are satisfying all Amazon’s orders promptly, and notifying them constantly of forthcoming publicity events and of out-of-stock situations on their website.  Amazon is holding minimal stock and restocking some of HBG's books slowly, causing “available 2-4 weeks” messages, for reasons of their own.

We are grateful for the patience of authors and all Amazon readers as we work to reach an agreement and to encourage Amazon to be back to offering Hachette Book Group’s books within normal shipment times.” 

HBG has a long history of successful partnership with Amazon, and we are counting on the goodwill we have established over many years as we try to resolve this impasse.  I will keep you informed of any major developments in our discussions.  In the meantime, if you have questions please let me know.



May 23, 2014

Dear Author,

I am sorry to tell you that Amazon has now taken preorder capabilities away from Hachette Book Group publications.  Forthcoming books now bear a notice "currently unavailable" and a note inviting customers to ask for an email when it becomes available.  There is no preorder button, and some not-yet-published books lack a Kindle page entirely.  

Please know that we are doing everything in our power to find a solution to this difficult situation, one that best serves our authors and their work, and that preserves our ability to survive and thrive as a strong and author-centric publishing company.

As we work through this challenging period, it is extremely encouraging to see our retail partners – thousands of chain, online and independent bookstores – showing their support for HBG and our authors. The June 1 New York Times bestseller list is wonderful evidence of this: Books published by HBG include the #1 Hardcover Fiction bestseller (and 4 of the top 10 in that category), the #1 book on the Advice/How-To list, 2 of the top 10 Non-Fiction titles, and many trade paperback, mass market paperback, and ebook bestsellers.  

I know this is not a comfortable situation for most of you, and I appreciate your support and the many messages I’ve received. 

I'll keep you updated with important developments, but in the meantime, please don't hesitate to contact me with questions. 


Michael Pietsch
Hachette Book Group

Joe sez: Lili, where in those emails is Hachette keeping you appraised of developments? They're simply saying what you already know: shipping is delayed, and the preorder buttons are gone. Pietsch isn't saying why Amazon is doing this, even though he knows why. He's not saying what he intends to do to fix the situation. He's not stating HGB's position other than refusing not to comment.

He certainly hasn't "kept you informed of any major developments in our discussions." He hasn't shared a single development, major or otherwise, other than to confirm what is happening, and brag that HBG still has some bestsellers (none of which are yours). He didn't even say anything to HBG authors about this until 21 days ago, when it has apparently been going on since November of 2013.

If Amazon is restocking HBG's books slowly it isn't for "reasons of their own." I'd bet good money Pietsch knows those reasons, and he isn't sharing with the many concerned parties who have apparently contacted him.

If Pietsch did care, maybe he could contact all of his authors, explain Amazon's terms, and have them vote on whether they are acceptable or not. Then he could give all of his authors 70% ebook royalties. Then he could use the power of his mind to create a magical unicorn to end world hunger.

I'm not holding my breath.

Lili: In the end, dear Reader, it’s all up to you.

‘Nuff said.

Joe sez: No, it isn't up to the reader. It's up to you, the author.

Your books are suffering because your publisher owns your rights. If you owned your own rights there wouldn't be a problem. You could hire your own editor, write the books you want to, make better royalties, and never be at the mercy of another one-sided, unconscionable publishing contract or bad decision.

You don't need Hachette. Even though they tried to convince the world and themselves of their relevance. They aren't relevant. The author and the reader are the two essential parties. Everyone else is a middleman.

I hope you seriously consider what I've said here, and rethink your positions. I don't believe you should be defending your publisher in this situation, or complaining to your fans, or messing with your comments. I also think you're missing the opportunity to write the books you want to write--the B&C travel to different countries books--because you're stuck in a legacy contract.

You're welcome to respond here, Lili. Say whatever you like.

I'll even let you keep your vowels.


The inimitable Bob Mayer also has some smart things to say on this issue. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Guest Post by Celeste Buie

I have so much gratitude for being lead to Joe’s blog. It’s a winding road but an interesting journey.

I was born in 1980, so that makes me 34 today. (This is relevant, I promise.) I was an avid reader in my early teens, reading a book a day if allowed.

Then I went to high school. The pressure I put on myself to get good grades as well as my involvement in band, sports, a boyfriend I would later marry, and extracurricular clubs meant my free time was occupied with other things. Of course, assignments forced me to read books I never would have chosen to read (but they weren’t all bad). Analyzing plot, characters, symbolism, comparing and contrasting events, etc, for reports took the fun out of reading.

In college, I majored in mechanical engineering and had even less time to read. It wasn’t even on my radar. I actually scoffed at people who said they read for fun.

Fast forward to November 2008. My neighbor invited to me come over for breakfast to meet some of the neighbors. I went and found out it was a book club meeting. They had made recipes from the latest book they read and gathered to chat about it.

That night, my husband came home from work to find a book on the table. He didn’t know what to think.

“What’s that?” he asked pointing to it.

“I went to Laura’s today, and guess what?” I said, outraged at the situation I found myself in. “I have a month to read it, and I have to make 5 dozen cookies for a Christmas cookie exchange!”

He laughed.

I did, too. Later.

I put off reading that darn book for 2 weeks. Then my analyzing side kicked in. If I didn’t start reading it that day, I had to read a minimum of 47 pages a day to finish in time. (Adult peer pressure at its finest, and ever the good student!)

I begrudgingly started it that day, and read throughout the night because I couldn’t put it down. When I finished, I read it again, then had to get my hands on the next 3 books in the series. I finished them in 4 days. Then I went to the library of all places and got a library card. I read all sorts of different books. I even learned surprising things about some of my close friends during this process – they were avid readers too, and recommended authors to me.

I realized I could find out about said authors by looking online, something that didn’t exist when I was a teen. I scoured their websites, read their FAQs, and learned about their publishing journey. I learned that some gained their inspiration from dreams, real life, and conversations in their heads.

I played out conversations and situational scenarios in my head all the time, so I figured I should write them down too, just to see what materialized. That was the beginning of my book.

As I did more research on the business of writing, I realized the overwhelming majority emphasized how difficult it was to get traditionally published. Yet, it was the only path I knew of. I had only read traditionally pubbed authors at the time. “Difficult” is too mild a word, as many of you know from your own experiences, so I worked on my book less and less, and it became something I’d do only if inspiration hit, although I enjoyed working on it. I’d think, “One day. Maybe.”

In the meantime, I had my first son and worked on the book while he napped. I still read blogs about the dreaded query letter, and author bios, hoping to learn how to increase my chances whenever I finished it. I like to be prepared, and I like to know what to do before I have to do it. I came across an archived article Nathan Bransford wrote titled “Amanda Hocking and the 99-Cent Kindle Millionaires” (link:

Naturally it mentioned Amanda and Joe, whose sites I soon visited to learn more. I couldn’t 
believe what I read on Joe’s blog. His publishing experiences made me question what I thought I knew. It was scary. I didn’t want to have to think of a title to my book, let alone have input for a cover. I wanted the experts to do that. I also wanted them to tell me what worked and didn’t and what I should change to make it better. After all, they were the professionals with experience in all these areas. I just had a story I wanted to tell, and would leave the ‘marketability’ aspect to them. As I read further into Joe’s archives, I realized that editors and the publishing team sometimes make great decisions and not so great decisions, and maybe I didn’t want them in control, let alone give up my rights – which was something I never realized, after all.

It’s true that you should write the type of book you’d enjoy reading, because not only do you read it so many times you have to love it, but also you have the potential to fill a vacancy. And the more I had read, the more I realized there needed to be more complex books out there for teens and adults who like to read YA, among other genres. I don’t do the things I find tedious and annoying in other’s books (which is a whole other topic), or meaningless fillers, or even endings that aren’t true to the direction of the plot.

The point of this is to say, I think readers are smarter than the way some authors treat them, and my intention is to provide readers with above average stories in my genre, and emotional investments in the characters that pay off. That’s not to say I won’t ever temporarily toy with readers’ emotions, but I strive for every plot element to cohesively work together, as well as make sense in the grand arc of the series.

The book writing process has been the most challenging, infuriating, and rewarding creative outlet I’ve ever had. There were many times I wondered if I could even pull it off. I had to do a lot of growing and stretching in the 5.5 years it’s taken to get to this point, but I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve created.

Learning about the self-pubbing revolution was like learning about a different sector of life that I never knew existed. I thank the universe for conspiring to make this happen, for giving me the curiosity and tenacity to finish what I started, and to Joe for continuing to post about his experiences, views, and lessons along the way. Joe, I wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for you rooting for us and showing us another way, or the input from your awesome contributors. Thank you all! Self publishing is the publishing path I was meant to take. I would have easily been taken advantage of and signed a crappy contract, never knowing better!

For exclusive content, announcements, and more, please visit and sign up for my newsletter, as well as “like” my Facebook page
Joe sez: Happy birthday, Celesete. And congrats! I just bought your book, and I hope you do well.


Brynn Emerson has always been in control of her life—until a mysterious stranger invades her dreams and her boyfriend, Trevor, suddenly dumps her.

Life gets more complicated when secretive newcomer Landon shows up at school. The playful and handsome Landon is somehow connected to Brynn’s ex-boyfriend.
Determined to find out how they know each other, Brynn draws closer to Landon…only to realize too late that she's risking more than she thought possible.

Meanwhile, a person of power has his sights on Brynn. Will Trevor and Landon work together to keep her safe? Or will she be pulled against her will into their mysterious world?

MIDNIGHT RUNES, THE BESTOWED ONES BOOK 1 is a YA paranormal suburban fantasy over 300 pages available today on Amazon here

About Celeste Buie

I live in Michigan with my husband, our two sons, daughter-on-the-way, and huge adopted dog. 

We’ve lived in three cities within this beautiful state and have visited many of the places mentioned in the Bestowed Ones’ series. One of the most adventurous things I’ve done is horseback ride across the state on the Lake to Lake trail. I love traveling, giving back to the community, and taking on all forms of creative projects.

Joe sez: There are two universal takeaways from Celeste's blog post that I want to reiterate.

First, I'm constantly reading about how overall readership isn't growing. Reading for pleasure is dwindling, people say. There is too much other competition with other, sexier media, like games, movies, TV, Internet, music, etc., people say. Children aren't reading for pleasure anymore, people say. Only one adult in a billion actually read a novel in the last fifty years, people say.

Blah blah blah.

Reading will always be a viable for of entertainment. I'm sure of this because even though the delivery system may change (cave walls, paper, ebooks) there are very few leisure activities that are as immersive. Reading stimulates the brain in a way watching YouTube never will, and even people who believe they have an aversion to it (something I hear a lot) get addicted when they read the right book (something I also hear a lot).

Just as playground jokes get passed down from generation to generation (Orange you glad I didn't say banana?) all we need is for book groups to keep inviting 30-somethings and 20-somethings and reading will continue to hook new readers.

The second take-away I got from Celeste's post was something I get a lot of: people thanking me for opening their eyes about self-publishing.

I beat the same drum, continually, because this is the Newbie's Guide to Publishing, not the Old Pro's Guide. Just as every ebook is new to readers who have never heard of it before, the idea that self-publishing is a viable alternative to legacy publishing is a revelation to writers who, like Celeste, thought there was only one way--the query/agent/publisher meme so many of us have grown up believing.

Just as new readers need a little nudge, new writers do as well. We all have preconceptions about things. The best way to shatter those preconceptions is to actually try something different. If more adults were peer-pressured into reading, a percentage of them would enjoy it. And if more writers learn about self-publishing, they'll give it a shot.

It's the job of every one of us to encourage both activities. I've bought over a dozen Kindles for friends and family. I've given away over a million ebooks. And I keep preaching the same things on my blog, over and over, because these things still aren't known by newbies.

One of the greatest gifts you can give is teaching people something new. And one of the greatest joys in life is creeping out of your comfort zone and trying something different. 

Do both.