Let it be said that if an anti-publishing bias comes through in anything I’ve said, it is not because I have a bias against publishing. My bias is against the parts of publishing that do not act in a manner that is respectful of content creators and content consumers. This is not all of publishing. This might not be most of publishing. I know there are parts that are doing things that I don’t like, and I am concerned by what I see.
Every contract negotiation is an adversarial one, even among best friends, and both parties are trying to do what they can to get the best possible deal. That doesn’t mean a publisher is “bad” or “evil” or anything like that. It means they are a business.
Writers who do not educate themselves in the business of publishing will be unprepared when the business of publishing changes again. (Believe me, we’ve only seen the beginning of the changes to come in the digital revolution, and there are going to be some battles ahead.)
I know, for a fact, that I am also totally unconcerned with the question of whether the books in the narrowing marketplace are good or bad, at the moment, because they will be or they won’t be depending on each individual book. I don’t presume to judge whether a book at the formerly upper-midlist is “good” or not without reading it. What concerns me is that it will be harder to find places for books that used to be below that higher sales mark, many of which I loved to bits.
There will be blood in the months and years to come. Maybe even mine. Still, I don’t believe for a minute that a post on the internet will impact my career much. If that were so, I know a few writers who wouldn’t have careers. What I can gain from this post is the opportunity to invite people who know other things than I know to show up and speak out. I do this because I know the business climate is dramatically shifting, and if I don’t stick my neck out to learn what I can, I won’t be ready for those changes.
Make no mistake about this: Publishers and agents who are ethical are your best friend in the changing market. And publishers aren’t going anywhere. And, I don’t care how evil you think publishers might be, which they aren’t, but they are a thousand times less terrifying than what Amazon could become, and publishers are our best hope to push against a functional monopoly of content formats and distribution. This is not really a question of what will happen to publishers. I hope to have killed that buzzing noise about the death of publishing or the death of New York publishing. It’s not happening.
The questions are other things. What will happen to the interesting books that used to be the bottom of the midlist and now are not even on the list at all, and aren’t even close to it? What will happen once writers who can financially afford to form their own publishing houses do it, on a large scale? Why does publicity seem to not work at all on eBooks, and what kind of publicity has proven to work?
(I disagree with Jeff VanderMeer about eBook publicity, by the way, but I take my info from Kristine Kathryn Rusch and her info lines up with stories I’ve heard of authors that discover their backlist titles sell really well for no apparent reason other than genre positioning.)
People are sensitive about stuff like this, because the change is happening very quickly and no one knows exactly what will shake out in the years to come.
Personally, I prefer to try and build the future I would like to see than to wait and see what happens without my influence, even if it leads to the end of my career. (Careers end all the time. Why not mine? I am not special or different from a thousand other quiet voices from centuries past.)
There are still many questions. I hope people stop by over at SFSignal to answer them, raise questions, raise hell, and in all ways discuss civilly what is happening, or has already happened, or what is not going to happen.
Thank you if you already have.