Attack of the killer kitten

There is some unwritten law somewhere that writers need cats. Or maybe it is just some cosmic joke played on me by the gods of writing. Whatever it is, I have been in possession of the Kitten from Hell (insert deep, echoing voice here) for the last few months. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say he’s been in possession — or has possessed — me. All I know for sure is that he’s made life interesting, and not necessarily in a good way all the time, and has seriously cut into my sleep schedule.

The thing is, I’m thoroughly convinced the kitten is actually a dog in cat’s clothing. He races to the window — or the door — whenever someone comes near. He’s actually on “on point” a couple of times. He fetches in the true sense of the word. But worse, he has adopted our late Rocky’s habit of waking one of us — me — at 4 – 5 am every morning simply because someone drives by in a loud truck around then and it his now his job to protect us from the noise. To do so, he jumps into my window — usually scattering things off the top of my desk — and tries to tear through the blinds to get at the monster making all that noise outside.

The result is I feel like I did when my son was but a babe and still not sleeping through the night. There isn’t enough coffee in the world to wake me up and it has become close to a habit that every morning around 7 or 8, I go back to bed for a short nap. What I’d like to do, other than sleeping all night and not having to get up until a decent hour, is find a way to bottle all the kitten’s energy. I’d make a mint.

All this is leading somewhere, I swear. It’s just that my brain is tired and has decided not to use the mental GPS or even a crudely drawn map to get there.

The kitten, Bubba — short for Beelzebub — can be a loving kitten, usually when he’s asleep. There are times when he will climb up in my lap and demand loving. He purrs and headbutts and circles and kneads. And, just as he’s lulled you into thinking he really has changed and become a nice cat, he oh-so-nonchalantly reaches over and bits the living crap out of you. It’s just his way of letting you know that he really is the one in charge and all you’re good for is an occasional scritch and to open the cat food for him.

Ah! Now I remember where I was going with this.

It sort of reminds me of certain writers’ organizations that try to lull you into believing they have your best interests at heart all the while it appears those in control are simply stroking their own egos and pushing their own social or political or who-knows-what agenda.

The latest is, once again, the Authors Guild. On its homepage, AG bills itself as “the published writer’s advocate for effective copyright, fair contracts and free expression since 1912.” On its membership page, it quickly becomes clear that AG prefers traditionally published authors. You have to scroll down and down and down before you find anything that even hints at AG accepting self-published (or small press, presumably) authors.

Self-published authors who demonstrate that they meet writing income thresholds qualify for Authors Guild membership. The income requirement is intended to assure that the Guild stays focused on its core mission it’s pursued for the past 100 years: serving the interests of those pursuing writing as part of their livelihoods. Depending on your income, self-published authors may qualify as either regular (voting) or associate (non-voting) members. Both categories of membership received full Guild benefits. (Associate membership is a longstanding Guild category for writers with an offer to be traditionally published. It allows our legal department to help writers before they sign their first contract.) Traditionally published and self-published authors become regular members when they meet regular membership criteria.

If you aren’t already turned off by the very obvious lack of enthusiasm for indie authors, you can scroll down a bit more to find a drop-down box where you then tell them how much you’ve made over the last 18 months or so. Of course, this doesn’t tell you anything. It doesn’t say if you can prove you made $5,000 over the last 18 months that you will qualify for full membership in the Guild. No, all you can do is say if you’ve earned at least $5,000 or, if you haven’t met that threshold, if you’ve made at least $500 over that same period of time. The final option is that you haven’t earned $500 over the last 18 months. Oh, and then they want your payment information. Of course, you won’t be charged until your application has been approved.

Wow, makes you feel real welcome as an indie author, doesn’t it?

But let’s not condemn them — yet. Let’s look at their page on “Where we stand.” Before clicking on it, think about what you’d expect to find on that page. Me, I’d expect to see something about how they are working to help protect our copyright protections, not only with legal reforms but in contract negotiations with both publishers and agents. Or how about something dealing with doing all they can to help negotiate better contracts for writers that will give us a larger royalty percentage since technology and demand has changed. Really, does anyone believe the shipping and storage costs are the same now, in this day of POD, as it was when huge print runs were made and then the publishers sat with fingers crossed because they didn’t have pre-order numbers to judge off of? Or maybe something about continuing education or even — gasp — insurance for authors.

Click on the tab. Wow! The page has gone from “Where we stand” to “Advocacy”. Oh-oh. Could we have a bit of bait-and-switch here? Well, let’s not jump to conclusions. Let’s see what they have to say.

And here we come to the reason for this post. This “Where we stand” page is nothing more than a screed against Amazon. At least as far as I could stand to read it. Amazon is evil — let’s forget about the fact that it is the major retailer for most authors, both print and digital. Let’s also forget that they are standing against Amazon in order to “protect” those authors published by Hatchette. What about the other authors who are members of their organization? Funny, don’t they matter?

Where was AG when Amazon offered to set up a fund, first to be backed by both Hatchette and Amazon and then by Amazon itself, to help those Hatchette authors impacted by the contract stalemate? Where was AG when Hatchette refused both deals? Oh, I know. It was hiding behind the curtain, hands over its eyes, doing its best to ignore the fact that Amazon was trying to help its members.

Now AG has tried to convince the Department of Justice just how evil Amazon is. That first entry on its “Where we stand” page is its official statement about a meeting with DoJ officials that AG called in an attempt to take down Amazon. It is all very vague about what anti-trust violations Amazon may have committed. But Amazon is evil, you know.

The Authors Guild’s mission, since its founding in 1912, has been to support working writers.

That’s a worthy mission — as long as that struggling writer happens to meet their criterion. Of course, they’ll welcome you with open arms if you are traditionally published. That welcome might be a bit more grudging if you are self-published.

The Guild has consistently opposed Amazon’s recent and ruthless tactics of directly targeting Hachette authors, which have made these authors into helpless victims in a business dispute between two big corporations. This action has caused thousands of writers to see a significant drop in their royalty checks. The Authors Guild challenges this threat to the literary ecosystem, one that jeopardizes the individual livelihoods of authors.

Oookay. “Directly targeting Hachette authors.” Well, not really. The target is Hachette. The authors are involved because they create the product Hachette sells via Amazon.  I know, I know, they are upset about the lack of pre-order buttons. Well, boo-hoo. Pull up your big boy pants and think about it from a contractual point of view for a moment. If there is no contract between Amazon and Hachette, Amazon faces the possibility that it won’t be able to fulfill those pre-orders when the books are finally released by the publisher. Why in the world should Amazon be held to accepting pre-orders for products it might not have? I guess AG doesn’t care about the customer relations nightmare it would be for Amazon to have to tell its customers “Sorry, we know you pre-ordered the book but we can’t send it to you. Go somewhere else.”

The rest of that paragraph has me asking a very simple question: why does AG assume that Amazon is the bad guy here and that there aren’t parts of the Hachette demands that are just as evil as what Amazon is asking? Oh, I know. Amazon is evil. Hachette, as a traditional publisher, is the writer’s friend. Excuse me while I go wash my mouth out.

The Guild started its own initiative to invite governmental scrutiny of Amazon’s outsize market share and anticompetitive practices in the publishing industry. Last summer the Guild prepared a White Paper on Amazon’s anticompetitive conduct, circulating it to the United States Department of Justice and other government entities. As a result of our request for the initiation of an investigation of Amazon, we hosted a meeting with the DOJ in our offices on August 1 so that a group of authors could make their case directly to the government. . . .

So, Amazon is evil because it managed to build a thriving business. Oh, wait, it killed bookstores. Or did it? There is a re-emergence of locally owned bookstores across the country. It’s the big box stores that are in trouble, but we can’t ding them or demand they look at their own business practices because, you know. Amazon evil.

The Guild has been working closely with the grassroots group Authors United—founded by Authors Guild Council Member Douglas Preston—which will be making another request to the Department of Justice to investigate Amazon for potential antitrust violations.

Grassroots? Huh? I think their definition of the word differs from mine. If it is a grassroots organization, I wouldn’t expect it to be founded by an AG council member. Oh, look, that same “grassroots organization” will be making the same sort of request of the DoJ as AG did. Hmm, wonder just how similar those requests will read? Inquiring minds want to know.

Our mission is to protect and support working writers.

So you keep saying.

When a retailer, which sells close to half the books in the country, deliberately suppresses the works of certain authors, those authors are harmed, and we speak out.

Funny, I thought Amazon was simply not allowing pre-orders of books from Hachette and, yes, has been alleged to be slow in stocking those books. Odd, though, there’s been no real proof of that latter accusation. My question here is if Hachette has been slow in getting the books to Amazon. And, again, Amazon is dealing with the publisher, not the authors. This isn’t the first time a bookseller has been in contract dispute with a publisher and, whether AG wants to admit it or not, it has always been the authors who have been hit because they are the ones who supply the product the publishers sell. It ain’t personal, folks. It’s business and you need to be asking the hard questions of the publishers as well as of the seller.

We will continue to oppose any business tactics, from publishers or retailers, that interfere with working writers’ ability to present their products in a fair marketplace and to flourish within their chosen field. Our goal is to ensure that the markets for books and ideas remain both vigorous and free.

Odd this. I would have thought that the goal of AG was to get the best working conditions, ie pay and contract provisions, for its members.

Anyway, that’s my sleep-deprived rant for the day. Now I’m off to find more coffee and to get back to work. With luck, Duty from Ashes will be available for pre-order from Amazon later today or tomorrow. Fingers crossed.


23 thoughts on “Attack of the killer kitten

  1. Something the Authors Guild hasn’t yet figured out:

    1. It wants the Justice Department to investigate (and, by inference, Jeff Bezos, who owns it).

    2. The Justice Department answers to the President, who has to take all sorts of considerations (including political ones) into account (irrespective of who he is or which party he represents).

    3. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, which is arguably the single most politically influential newspaper in the United States today.

    Given those realities, I suggest the Authors Guild is living in cloud cuckoo land if it really expects a serious Justice Department investigation into

    1. Peter, Peter, Peter, there you go, using logic again. I thought you knew better, at least where writers’ organizations were concerned. AG sees itself above all that. They honestly believe they can shape policy just like SFWA and the SJWs therein believe they can make us all fall in line with their right-think.

  2. Yesterday, I ran across an author telling another author that “No publisher has ever demanded an advance back.” After I finished cleaning up my keyboard, I went searching for Kiana Davenport. And that’s when I noticed a little detail that I hadn’t before.

    “Jan Constantine, General Counsel for the Author’s Guild, took on my case, arguing that I had in no way breached the publishing agreement with Penguin. (For details of the case, please refer to my blog post of August 25, 2011, “Sleeping With The Enemy.”) Whether I was right or wrong, I could not legally challenge a corporate giant like Penguin. In the end, I would accept their termination, repay their advance, and try to move on with my life.”

    So, even though she was legally right, and within the bounds of her contract, the Author’s Guild was absolutely ineffective when her editor decided to hold a screaming tantrum and demand she repay her novel’s advance for the temerity of self-publishing prior-published and already-rejected-by-publisher short stories.

    What good are these people, when they can’t even win a contract breach case where their party was in the clear and the publisher had breached the contract? How do they support the author, again? In fact, this was taking place during the agency price-fixing; did they ever make a statement against the publishers for that? I can’t find one.

    1. I’d forgotten about that as well. As for AG, I have come to the conclusion that it, like SFWA and most other so-called writers’ organizations, is really more concerned about maintaining the status quo for publishers instead of adapting to the changes in the publishing scene. After all, if writers start realizing just how unnecessary most publishers are, they might actually realize that writers’ organizations are unnecessary. It’s a wrong conclusion on the organization’s part but I have a feeling that’s exactly what they are afraid of.

  3. My question here is if Hachette has been slow in getting the books to Amazon.

    Let’s take a look at what’s going on with Hachette for a moment.

    Amazon puts a note on books published by Hachette that it may be a couple of weeks before an order can be filled. IIRC, even Hachette agrees that this delay is because Amazon isn’t stocking the books.

    Well, Amazon isn’t stocking my books either. However, when someone orders a copy, they get it in just a few days. Why is that? Oh, that’s right, my book is printed on demand and sent out as soon as it’s off the press (more or less). Meanwhile, Hachette still prints books the old fashioned way and isn’t agile enough to ship orders in a timely manner.

    But really, it’s all Amazon’s fault.

    1. Two things — Amazon is evil. We must never forget that. (ends sarcasm)

      Also, don’t bet that publishers aren’t doing micro printings now, something very much akin to POD. That is one reason why pre-orders are so important to them. It tells them how many books to actually print. So there should be no real delay in getting books to Amazon or anywhere else. Of course, we are talking about traditional publishers and I really do wonder if Hachette hasn’t been slowing the supply chain down.

  4. Anyone else note a strong whiff of desperation in this whole Amazon/Hachette business? Smells of the buggy whip factory bad mouthing these new fangled noisy stinky automobiles, just a passing fad, everyone will soon go back to good old Dobbin.
    Just say Bezos gets sick of all this and simply stops offering any books from traditional publishers for sale through his organization. Relatively minor impact to the Amazon business model. Probably a noise level reduction in overall profits. TradPub wins, for some definition of winning, hold a quick victory party, then start planning for the inevitable bankruptcy proceedings.
    Point being, Amazon is a retail venue, to them TradPub are simply wholesalers, and when a wholesaler refuses to fit with your business model or meet your contractual requirements you terminate your association and find alternate sources for the same or similar product.
    Amazon seems to love indie authors, at least they are in the process of offering free applications to make the process of making sale ready product less daunting.
    At some point Hachette et al will realize that they need Amazon, but that the converse is far from the case. Or Hachette and all the rest will fade away, unloved, unmissed, and good riddance.

    1. Hachette knows it needs Amazon. The problem is, it doesn’t want to have to pay Amazon or give Amazon any control. Of course, Hachette is like so many other publishers — Baen excluded — in that it doesn’t believe e-books are real books. Frankly, these publishers are the playground bullies, wanting everyone to play by their rules. The only difference is that the bullies usually have the best toys, or at least want to play with the best toys, and legacy publishers don’t. They want the old fashioned toys and are afraid of those new-fangled gadgets.

  5. Is Bubba a Manx? My cat, SugarBelly, is a stub-tail Manx, and does all of those things. The head-butt behavior is something I’ve not seen in any of the other cats I’ve shared living quarters with over the past forty-odd years.

    1. The mixed breed/Main Coonish feline I answer to head butts. Especially when I forget to set the alarm clock and breakfast is late.

      1. Most of our cats over the years have done the head butt thing. It beats the paw on your cheek, one claw extending at a time until you wake up which is what our late, solid black cat, Lucifer, used to do when he wanted food or pets.

    2. No, Pat, he’s not. I had a Manx we got as a rescue cat when my son was younger and, now that I think about it, Bubba shares a lot of characteristics with him. But he also is a lot like the Maine Coon I had years ago. Bubba is a mixed breed of who knows what. His mama is one of our neighbor’s cats (they don’t tend to fix their animals until they have to and mama is an outdoor cat). I have no idea who his father is. Somewhere there has to be Siamese in him because he has the Siamese’s unmistakable yowl.

  6. Dogs have masters; cats have staff.
    For professional associations to see their membership as “staff” is… not a winning attitude.

    1. Alan, I’m afraid they don’t see membership as staff so much as they do as property or assets to be used as need be. Besides, why insult cats by comparing them with professional organizations? 😉

  7. Bubba sounds like a somewhat kinder-and-gentler version of “Devil-Child” (real name Parker), the kitten my brother took care of for a couple of weeks while Devil-Child’s human was out of town. I still have scars on my legs from his evil little claws, and that was more than a year ago. He was such a CUTE demon, though, even when he was biting and scratching me, which was every waking moment… right before he’d fall asleep. I’m quite pleased that he has a good home — somewhere else. (My brother tries to tell me that Doodlecat was just as bad when he was a kitten, but I don’t have scars from anything Doodlecat ever did.)

    1. YES!

      Making the bed is like running the obstacle course. If Bubba isn’t on top of the bed, trying to hunt and catch my hands as I pull the sheets into place, he is under the bed, hiding and stalking my feet. And yes, I, too, have the scars from it all.

    2. Somewhat like a grandchild. Advantage: grandpa winds the kid up then dumps back on parental unit and lets PU deal with the rambunction.

      (Is so a word. I should know. I make words professionally — some of them original to me.)


  8. I won’t make any wild claims about universal experience, but I’m hard pressed to come up with another professional organization or similar that does so much to fail it’s members.

    At least, one that continues and (presumably) attracts new members.

    Perhaps it lies in the misplaced (IMNHO) expectation of prestige associated with the title of Author. A prestige derived from a (perceived) legitimacy dependent upon the traditional model. In short, perhaps they’re beholden to the Big Pub, from whom all validation flows (as are their members).

    For me, “Author” holds no particular prestige. However, several specific authors are deserving of such in large quantities. But, then, I’m not particularly awed by “Doctor,” either, despite knowing and working with some truly inspiring individuals.

    As a WAG, maybe this is one of those things that makes indie frightening? It’s populated by people who aren’t seeking professional validation, but will nevertheless receive validation based not on a title (and conferred legitimacy) but on the fruits of their work. Hm.

    1. Eamon, well, I’d say SFWA falls into this category as well. But, on the whole, I think you may be right. All I know for sure is that I have no desire to join either AG or SFWA in their current incarnations.

  9. If Amazon shut down entirely the “problem” would not go away. As the fellow said, “You can’t stop the signal, Mal.” Readers will get their books.

    Customers have learned to have certain expectations. Those expectations would be met, one way or another, and if a publisher couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt, they’d die and something and someone more supple will take their place. Amazon would become a fond memory of the “good old days” for the traditionalists, if they ever managed to bring Amazon down.

    1. Quite the contrary, in fact. If Amazon shut down, that would take down the publishing industry as we know it. Can you imagine the hue and cry from publishers and distributors and the usual cast of characters if Bezos suddenly said they would not carry any books? How long before they were pounding on the doors of the DoJ and their congressmen to have the government stop in to prevent Amazon from doing exactly what they’ve wanted — even if they haven’t actually come out and said it?

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