I overslept. And, before everyone thinks I’ve gone and committed coup here at MGC, I haven’t. It’s just that with LibertyCon this weekend, Sarah and I forgot to arrange for someone to guest blog. So, instead of having a dead day, here I am, trying desperately to figure out something to blog about.
In the publishing world, things are about to get interesting again. The Department of Justice’s case against Apple is now in the judge’s hands. Depending on what report your read, Apple either won hands down or the judge has already tipped her hand and will be ruling with the DoJ. Me, I have a feeling we’ll see a decision that sort of splits the middle — and one that will be appealed. No matter what the ruling, the issue isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the plea agreement terms between the DoJ and the five publishers to have long expired before the case against Apple wends its way through the judicial process. What that means is that, by the time this is over, we might again see a variation of agency pricing — remember, DoJ didn’t say it was inherently bad. It said the alleged collusion is what was in violation of federal law.
Then we have Barnes & Noble. The Nook, and especially Nook media, was supposed to be the savior of the company. Instead, this past year, and especially the last quarter, finds it as the albatross around the retailer’s neck. Not even the influx of cash from Microsoft has managed to stem the tide. Making matters worse, the retail storefronts have dedicated a good chunk of their stores to the Nook and the decline in sales is impacting the bottom line for the physical stores as well as the online store. Needless to say, this is making publishers more than a bit nervous as they wonder just what is going to happen with B&N over the next year.
If that isn’t enough, lines are being drawn in the sand of social media. You have one the one hand those authors and editors who have decided it isn’t enough to condemn the other side for daring to self-publish or work with small to micro-presses. After all, they are skipping the gatekeepers and not suffering for their art by waiting for someone to realize just how enlightened and wonderful their work might be (in other words, until it meets the political/social/economic trend of the day as decided by the publisher). Now many of those same authors, editors and publishers are jumping on the politically correct band wagon to condemn men who dare voice the fact they appreciate a woman for being a woman. These are the same ones who have been so quick to jump in and help publicly flog Paula Deen for uttering what is, admittedly, a word none of us — NONE OF US — should use. She’s admitted to using the word and has apologized. Whether she’s admitted to the other allegations in the suit against her, I don’t know. What I do know is that those who denounce her have already condemned her without seeing anything but her apology and the pleadings filed in the case. After all, if it’s been charged, it must be true. Right?
Yet how many of them are out there screaming that all the producers and companies who use Alec Baldwin as a spokesman or actor should drop him? After all their high fives on social media after the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA, you’d think they’d be after Baldwin but, since he is one of the “enlightened” — except on this particular issue — they aren’t.
And that, my friends, is an example of the double standard that is prevalent in our industry today. It is also an example of how you have to have a thick skin to survive. There are sharks in publishing and they aren’t necessarily the publishers and bean counters who live in the ivory towers in NYC. No, they are the authors who have been the darlings of those same publishers and bean counters and who now are realizing that being socially relevant might not be enough. With more and more writers moving away from legacy publishing and actually writing books readers want to read, these same dahlings of publishing are seeing their numbers drop. Not just their sales figures but their advances as well. And it is the advances they worry about.
Or at least they should, especially since most books published through legacy publishing never earn out (at least that’s my understanding).
For years, publishing has managed to survive through creative bookkeeping (ie BookScan numbers) and by knowing the mid-list authors would sell X-amount for each title. But many of those mid-listers have been cast aside. Some of the others who still have contracts to fulfill are not trying very hard to get new contracts with the legacy publishers because they have learned how much they can earn on their own. Why earn 25% or less per unit sold when you can go with a small to micro press and earn 50% or more? Or when you can publish on your own and earn up even more than that?
But it is more than just the increased royalties an author can earn by going with a small press or by self-publishing. There is the time difference between writing and publishing to consider as well. Traditionally published books generally take a year or more from the time an author finishes a book to the time it makes it to the bookshelves, whether digital or print or both. This is especially true when the book has to go through an agent for acceptance and then be shopped around. That time is much less with smaller presses and certainly if you self-publish. There you are talking weeks, maybe months, instead of years.
Then you have to consider that the publisher usually won’t order another book from you until seeing the pre-order numbers. If you have one of those wonderful contracts giving the publisher right of first refusal, that means you might not be able to write anything for anyone, even yourself, until they’ve declined to buy your next work. If that isn’t bad enough, most of the ROFR clauses don’t have a time limit on them. In other words, you could submit something to them a month after they’ve accepted your currently contracted book and they can sit on the second work until they see what your pre-order numbers are.
That is not a good thing.
Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say with this is that there is a small group of authors and editors out there who are pounding their chests in social outrage over what happened years ago (see some of the posts about the 1930-something letter from Walt Disney denying employment to a woman because there are no female animators in the studio at that time) as well as what two gentlemen had to say about events that happened thirty or more years ago all in an attempt to prove they are still relevant. Oh, I don’t doubt some of them are truly outraged. But some of them also refuse to allow you to post on their walls if you don’t agree with them. So there is an agenda and only the “right kids” can play.
To play, you have to follow their rules. You have to make sure your male characters are sorry for being male and that they never, ever do anything that might be seen as being chauvinistic — including holding the door for a female character. Unless, of course, that male is the villain. Your female characters have to be enlightened and strong and modern and — well, you get the message. Oh, and make sure you never have a chicks in chainmail type cover. That is bad. But a nearly naked male on the cover is good. We can objectify them all we want because, well, we can.
Yeah, the double-standard bothers the hell out of me. For me, I’ll write my characters as the story demands. If a male winds up being a gentleman who holds the doors and pays for dinner, so be it. If he happens to like the way the female characters looks in a bikini — or less — well, he’s human. But if she wants to enjoy looking at him, all the more power to her as well. I will not keep them from having their guns if the story demands it and if a story needs a patriarchal society, it will get one.
In other words, I’m not going to sacrifice a story just so I’m politically correct. I can and will. I write to entertain and, hopefully, make some money. If in the story I can subtly get a lesson or two across, cool. But my lessons might not be politically correct ones. After all, I do believe in the right to bear arms. I believe a man should be a gentleman and a woman a lady, although she can be a bitch at times just as he can be a cad. Big business isn’t inherently evil and government isn’t meant to be our nanny.
But that’s just me and I’ve wandered on long enough. What do you think? Should stories entertain or teach or preach or what?
Not just conservatives and libertarians are talking about the Alex Baldwin double-standard:
@andersoncooper: Why does #AlecBaldwin get a pass when he uses gay slurs? If a conservative talked of beating up a “queen” they would be vilified.
I saw that. But funny how we aren’t seeing those in publishing who were so quick to denounce Paula Deen doing the same with their buddy Alec. Nor are they listening when African-Americans say the Paula Deen thing is being blown out of proportion and that the best thing that could be done is to forgive her and hope she learns from her past mistakes.
I’ve always heard that preachy stories don’t make it with readers. (Which does make me wonder about Atlas Shrugged, but we’ll go with that.) I can certainly think of two MAJOR musicians — Bob Dylan and George Harrison — whose work was less-than-well-received when they turned to the finding of God. OTOH, there are a lot of well-told stories in which the preachments are just another layer, and that seems to be OK.
Thing about gatekeepers, though… The information — stories, songs, data, gossip — really DOES want to be free (just not the way the socialists and kleptos think — not free of charge,but able to circulate freely without let or hindrance). And gatekeepers act as censors. And we all know what happens when the network finds censorship. Anyone? Class? Class? Bueller?
Right. It routes around it. Which means…
Sooner or later, the gatekeepers find themselves becalmed in some little backwater of irrelevance with nothing to gatekeep. And it’s no-no-no-no body’s fault but theirs.
To me, Atlas Shrugged is one of those books that is philosophy disguised as fiction. Most everyone I know who really likes the book recognizes that. It isn’t the plot that speaks to them as much as at least some of the ideals behind it.
There have always been gatekeepers. There always will be, at least in publishing. The problem with the current generation of them is that they have convinced themselves that they are the real gatekeepers and have forgotten who the true gatekeepers really are — the readers.
With the ease of self-publishing now, with the onus of it disappearing quicker than most of us thought it would, the power is shifting and that is scaring the hell out of legacy publishers and agents. Honestly, it is agents who should be the most scared. Their jobs are quickly going the way of buggy wheel makers. But legacy publishers also need to look around and figure out that they ought to be listening to the readers instead of continuing to try to follow a broken plan.
They’ll learn — eventually — or they’ll go under. In the meantime, the rest of us will continue doing what we’re doing and adapting as necessary.
But most of all, we’ll continue writing stories our readers want to read.
The new “gatekeepers” are likely to be critics who blog. Readers still want someone to pre-screen books so that they do not have to deal with the dreck.
The great thing about this is that as long as the critics are consistent it does not matter if the reader shares their taste or not. There used to be a movie critic who wrote for my local paper. He was consistently wrong about movies. If he hated the movie I would love it. If he loved it I would find it boring or repulsive. I followed him religiously and as long as I did, I never saw a bad movie. I just went to all the movies that he hated.
The one scary thing about this system of gatekeeping by consensus is that it is so easily subverted. Whether by paid reviewers on Amazon (“I loved it! It’s much better than CATS. I’m going to read it again and again!”) or organized mobs.who use negative voting to down-ding their opponents into irrelevance (Like the gang of rabid lefties at that blog named after a small, viridian elongated spheroid).
Some people won’t put in the effort to find out how the game has been rigged, so the riggers win. Those who do try to fight the new system will have their motives questioned.
I can’t say for sure which is better or worse, but we may as well give the new system a try, since the old one has failed us so badly.
I think what normally happens in a “preachy” book is that either the story is so compelling that the reader is willing to overlook the message (I’m trying to think of an example, but all that comes to mind is Ben-Hur, and I have never actually read the book), OR the message is so craved by the audience that they do not care that the story is weak (Atlas Shrugged, Uncle Tom’s Cabin). I think that it’s the latter category that changes the world, because the resonance catches the gatekeepers so off guard that their normal defenses do not work.
I should have said a POPULAR preachy book.
If I wanted to be preached at I’d go to church. If the preachiness is integral to the story I don’t mind (the character who is a devout whatever (including communist or feminist) and tries to “save” everyone else every chance they get, for instance), but step outside to preach at me – no matter what you’re preaching or if I agree or not – and you’re immediately demoted to “check first”. Do it too much or too often, and you’re on the “never buy again” list.
I’m with you on that, Kate. And it’s amazing now that I’m older how some books I enjoyed years ago are the very ones I can’t read now because their “message” is hitting me over the head. Whether it means I am reading differently now than I did then or I am more aware of what they were doing (based on later works by that author or comments I’ve heard made by him), I’m not sure. But there are a number of books I used to be able to read that I just want to throw against the wall now. Of course, the fact that these same authors insist on showing the counter to their “message” as being what the antagonist stands for might be part of the problem.
You know, it’s a good thing that independent bookstores are popping up again. Because it’s going to be flat out weird if B&N goes under.
I mean, off the top of my head, that I’ve been to in the last year . . . there’s a Books A Million at a mall, and two Half Price Books. And two B&N’s.
Apart from that? Grocery stores and Walmart?
We’re all going to be shopping online. Most of us already are.
Possibly. But with the upswing in indies bookstores, I know I’ll go there and be willing to spend a bit more just to get what I used to at bookstores — good service, workers knowledgeable about their stock and willing to make informed suggestions.
Speaking of double standards…I haven’t heard any outrage and mob-shaming equivalent to what Resnick and Malzburg experienced for the individual who apparently was sexually harassing a writer. At WisCon.
From what I have been reading the man is “well known” in publishing and con circles for this kind of behavior, and has been for years. So why wasn’t he denounced the first time he did it?
Oh, there’s been an explanation — over and over and over again. It didn’t happen to me. I thought others had complained. He was nice to me. He works for my publisher, etc., etc., etc. I’ve only seen one person name him and that was at the end of a blog post where she basically tried to explain — read that as excuse — why she hadn’t said anything before now. In other words, he could help my career, so I won’t condemn him.
Essenetially what it comes down to is the climate of fear that exists in the publishing industry and the overwhelming advantage that the people who work in the big six have. This guy could not have gotten away with what he did if the climate wasn’t pretty much the same as I’ve heard in the old Soviet bloc from friend who grew up there. We are stuck with people blaming themselves rather than the system.
I’d agree but I’m seeing more of the excuse that someone else would tell or he hadn’t done it to them, etc., than the self-blaming.