This past week has been odd, to say the least. Between company visiting, some medical issues for both my mother and me and trying to do a little work for NRP as well as write one handed, life has often been an exercise in frustration. And then there’s the latest round in a couple of repeat issues in publishing that had me alternately shaking my head and wanting to scream. So, I guess you could say it’s been life as usual, at least until we see exactly what Apple and company claim in their appeals of the agency pricing judgment and how the court rules. Then the fun will all begin again.
Anyway . . .
Yesterday, I went traipsing through the internet looking for something that might inspire me for today’s post. The first item I came across was a FB post by an author linking to an article on Forbes about how Barnes & Noble is “sticking it” to Amazon. In a new article, it was claimed BN was really putting it to Amazon because it, BN, refused to stock books published by BN. You see, that really hurts Amazon because it prevents the online retailer from having what it needs most for its books: a presence in brick and mortar stores.
I have a couple of issues with this. The first is that this isn’t news. BN and others made this decision a year or more ago when Amazon first announced it was getting into the publishing business. While I can’t say why the article author felt this old news was suddenly “new” news, I can say that I’m of mixed feelings about the decision by BN. On one hand, I understand that the corporate bean counters don’t want to do anything that would put more money into Amazon’s pockets. After all, they have long claimed Amazon is the “Big Evil” and responsible for the downfall of all bookstores. Common sense would have you at least considering whether or not you are causing harm to your own company if you put a competitor’s products in your stores.
The flip side to this is that the competitor might have a product that your customers want. The first key to good business is to get customers through your doors. So you have to ask if the competitor’s product is something that would do just that and, if it is, how you can then use that product to entice the customer into buying other items that are from other suppliers/publishers/etc. However, by simply refusing to carry anything that Amazon publishes, you deny yourself potential sales.
There is another facet of the decision the article — and those supporting BN’s decision — overlooks and that is the impact the decision has on authors. Here is a bookseller that claims to have the best interest of authors and readers in mind with this ban on all things Amazon denying authors an outlet for their work and readers the chance to find said authors’ work. But, because Amazon is involved, too few authors have dared question the decision.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying BN should automatically carry everything Amazon publishes and give it prime shelf space. What I am saying is that BN might be cutting off its nose to spite its face here. They can agree to sell books published by Amazon but they can negotiate a contract to do so that is advantageous to BN. That’s what Amazon has done for years with publishers. Since BN is basically the big kid on the playground when it comes to brick and mortar stores, it has the power if Amazon wants shelf space. So serve the ball to Amazon and then see who blinks first.
The second item that caught my eye was a blog post this morning. No, I’m not going to link to it. It’s not that I disagree, at least not totally, with what the blogger had to say. My real problem comes from what some of the commenters had to say. However, a little google-foo and you’ll find the post without any real problem.
The basic gist of the blog was to reframe the role of gatekeepers in publishing. The blogger stated that agents and editors aren’t looking at submissions to see who to keep out of the legacy publishing club but to find projects they liked and felt they could sell. In fact, according to the blogger, they aren’t really gatekeepers. It was a more positive spin on what we’ve been saying here, written from the point of view of a gatekeeper instead of an author.
I’ll even agree with the blogger that most agents are looking for work they think they can sell. Whether they actually like the work is up to interpretation. But they are basing what they think they can sell on what they are hearing from other agents and from editors about what is currently selling and what editors are looking for. Quality of the work does have something to do with the decision but even that isn’t always a major consideration. If it were, how in the world did Fifty Shades ever get published?
But what had my head exploding — and I really have to quit letting that happen early mornings because it is so hard to clean up before coffee — was one of the comments. This person went on about how she and her husband had been discussing errors he’d found in books he’d been reading. She specified that a lot were in the sf/f books he’d read recently and how it was her belief that writers needed to be patient and work their way through the system to be published by a real publisher. If you can’t find an agent and publisher then you have to realize that your work just isn’t good enough and should be abandoned.
Now, we’ve discussed the problems with this stance before but it continues to amaze me how people — both those in the industry and out of it — fail to grasp the realities of legacy publishing. There are only so many slots a month a publisher can fill. Of those slots, some are for reprints. That means only a few slots a month per publisher for new titles. Since a publisher is a businessman — or so they keep telling us. I still have my doubts — the publisher will fill those as many of those slots as possible with authors who already have a track record. The publisher may hold back one or two slots for new authors. But those are few and far between.
Add into that equation that those slots are being filled with authors who have written something that fits into the mold of what the publisher things is the latest trend in publishing or that fits what the publisher thinks is the current message of the day. That leaves out a lot of titles that are well written and entertaining but that simply don’t meet the subjective criteria of the editors.
Does that mean every one else who has written a book should just stop writing or stop trying to find a way to get their book into the hands of readers? Not only no but hell no. It does mean we have an uphill battle ahead of us because there are still those folks out there who believe that anything that doesn’t come from one of the Big Five Publishers isn’t a real book. However, for every one who feels that way, I can show you someone else who is thrilled with the increased number of titles out there, especially in sf/f and all its sub-genres, because of the increased number of small presses and self-published authors.
But the commenter was right about one thing. There are more mistakes slipping through. But this is happening on all levels, from legacy publishers to self-published authors. So to condemn every level of publishing except legacy publishing is wrong. Again, authors, it is a wake-up call to us. We have to take the reins of control for all our work. It means we have to keep better notes about our characters, especially if we are writing series. It means we can’t just assume that book we were lucky enough to sell to Big Publisher Alpha Dog will actually be edited, much less copy edited and proofed. We have to do it ourselves — or hire someone to do it.
All that said, the most important thing we can do is keep writing. Well, that and keep on top of what is happening in the industry and not let our heads explode too early in the day.
In the meantime, I have to show off the cover Sarah just designed for Nocturnal Interlude, the third novel and fourth title in the Nocturnal Lives Series. Interlude is finished and I’m waiting to hear back from the editor. This book is a bit different from the others in the series and a little darker because some of the issues brought up in the previous titles are coming to a head. It’s going to be interesting to see where the next book takes me as I write it — but that is two titles down the road.
And now I’m off to find some more coffee, some breakfast and painkillers. Then, maybe, I can get some work done.