Wow, the New Year has gotten off with a bang — or, perhaps more accurately, the sound of air slowly leaking out of a balloon. Traditional publishing basically shuts down during the holidays. So there isn’t much coming out of the ivory towers to discuss. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on. Just the opposite, in fact.
The first to come up over the holidays and, in many ways, the most concerning was the announced closure of All Romance eBooks and its related sites. I’m sure most of you have heard about it by now. So I’m not going to spend much time on it. The basics are ARe, one of the distribution platforms for romance and erotica ebooks, announced it could not continue operating after posting losses during the year. So, giving its authors, small presses and readers less than a week’s notice, it said it would be shutting down the site. Oh, and those folks to whom it owed royalties? Well, if they agreed to something ridiculous like 10 cents to the dollar and promised not to sue, they’d get paid. Otherwise, good luck trying to get anything out of them.
For more information about this situation, I recommend several posts. Start with this post from The Passive Voice. Be sure to read the comments and then click through to the original post from BlogCritics. On New Year’s Day, PG posted two more times about the ARe situation. The first, also from Blog Critics, discusses some court documents that are very revealing about what had been going on behind the scenes at ARe. These documents show just how little authors and publishers know about the distribution platforms some of us rely upon to get our books into the hands of our readers. The second is a link to a post from Kris Rusch. I cannot say how important it is to read both the PG comments but to click through to Kris’ original post. Please, even if you don’t read the first two, read this last one.
The ARe situation is bad for everyone involved. Authors are being stolen from. There is no other word for it. The owners of ARe did not give their clients — authors and readers alike — warning there was a problem. That meant authors, who relied upon ARe to do as they contracted, could not make an informed decision about whether to continue the relationship or not. For readers, it pointed out the danger of trusting online distribution sites to remain up and running and to continue giving you access to the books you bought. This is why so many of us have long preached that you need to download and save to multiple back-up sources/media any e-book you buy. It is another reason why so many of us hate DRM that tries to prevent you from doing just that. So, the lesson for the moment is to download, back up and make your own decision about whether you will try to break DRM or not. I won’t say whether you should or should not because it is against the law in some countries and it does violate the terms of service for a number of sites.
And I would never, ever tell you to do anything to violate the TOS or the law. [required disclaimer]
The next topic I had considered for today came up New Year’s Eve. I’ll admit, when I saw the site where the piece was published, I knew it probably cried for some serious snarkage. After all, HuffPo isn’t known for being a staunch supporter of indie and small presses. I was right. After all, when the headline of the piece is Self Publishing: An Insult to the Written Word, you know exactly how the article is going to slant.
Fortunately for all of us, the king of snark, Larry Corriea, tackled the task before I could. Since there is no way I could out-snark Larry, I wills imply direct you to his post. Read it, enjoy it and know that he is completely on the mark with everything he has to say.
Next up, we have yet another call to have a year of publishing nothing but women. Yep, you read that right. Kamila Shamshie has called for 2018 to be the year of publishing only women. Now, I know what you’re going to say. Look at the source of the article. It’s the Guardian. I know. I know. Another bastion of, well, drivel. However, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen such calls, or something similar. Have you forgotten the calls for readers to give up on reading books by men — or non-people of color or other so-called marginalized groups — for a year?
One of the best responses I’ve seen to the Shamshie article comes from Dacry Conroy. These three paragraphs completely dismantle Shamshie’s argument:
Yes! I thought. We do need to take example from the suffragettes, we do need to stop being so polite and seize our own power, raise our voices and… That’s when she lost me. Because what Shamsie suggested we raise our voices to say to the publishing industry was, essentially, “Please let us in. You’re being unfair. Just for one year without any boys in the way and see if the readers like us. It doesn’t have to be right away, 2018 is fine, but give us a go? Please?”
I don’t see the spirit of the independent presses of the 70s and 80s in that. What I see is a spirit of dependence on an industry that infantilizes writers, making them grateful for any morsel of approval and attention, convincing them that a publishing house is the only way to ‘real’ publication. This seems to be particularly so of literary writers (a group to which I do not pretend to belong) who appear to have been convinced that even though they are the keepers of the “artistic flame,” they would not have an audience at all without the festivals, the reviewers and the awards the publishing houses so carefully close to all but their own.
Surely the lesson from the independent presses of the 70s isn’t to plead for someone else to start a press and offer better opportunities, it’s to stand up, use the technology available and become our own publishers. Many of us are already doing that.
Be sure to check out the rest of Conroy’s response at the link above.
Finally, someone stirred the waters and more and more posts have been appearing on social media about the evils of self-publishing. We need gatekeepers. We need editors. We need to serve our time as journeymen learning our craft the old way. Traditional publishing is the only way to do that. We’re flooding the market and writing books that shouldn’t be written.
You get the drift.
I’ve been hearing this sort of thing since I first stuck a toe into the indie waters more than six years ago. I’ll freely admit there is some dreck out there. Hell, there’s a lot of dreck out there. But it isn’t all coming from indie authors. Remember, there is the traditionally published science fiction (erotica) where the male lead’s genitals are so dangerous they have to be chained. (Kate, quit laughing so hard. You’ll hurt something.) Then there is the traditionally published paranormal romance where the vampire groom marries his human bride in a church, drinks faux blood champagne and then, like a scene out of the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie, flies off into the sunset with her in his arms. Sorry, vampires don’t sparkle, they don’t do sunlight unless they are really, really old and usually evil or insane. They certainly don’t go flying off into the sunset ala Superman and Lois Lane.
Every argument against indie books can be answered easily. We need gatekeepers. Guess what? The gatekeepers are the readers. They tell us if we are doing something right or wrong. They tell us if they want to buy what we’ve written or not.
We need editors. There are a ton of editors out there we can hire or barter services with.
We need professional looking covers. Easy peasy. We can hire or barter for services. And, btw, have you seen some of the traditional covers recently, especially for romance books? Can you say “stock photos”?
We need someone to format and convert our books. Pardon me while I laugh hysterically. Formatting is simply setting up a template and writing in it. Conversion is nothing when you look at what we used to have to do. I remember having to hand code a novel into html. Now? You can upload your Word file or a mobi or epub file. No problem. And print? That’s a bit more tricky but I can prep a print file in a matter of an hour or two now — the trouble is finding the time to sit down and do it because I would rather be writing.
And that, you see, is the real issue indie authors face. We would rather be writing. So some of us — myself included — tend to slack off when it comes to getting print and audio books out there. It is a matter of disciplining ourselves to do it — and that is my one resolution for the New Year. The other real impediment we have as indies is getting our books into bookstores. However, is that something we really need to worry about? Despite what the “studies” show, how many young people (age 30 and under) really go to a bookstore and buy a print book for themselves? How many bookstores do we have? In my town, none. The closest bookstore is about 8 miles away and is located in a very busy shopping area with lousy parking and even worse access. In fact, if you don’t know it’s there, you would never get off the highway or the main city street to pull into the shopping area to find it — and it is a Barnes & Noble.
As for the complaint that we are saturating the market, possibly. However, indie publishing has proven traditional publishing was not meeting reader demand — either in the number of new books being offered each month or in subject matter. How long have we listened to the old saw that science fiction is dead? Yet more and more indie sf writers are starting to make enough from their writing to consider quitting their day jobs.
What do you think? Are indies an anathema to good writing and reading?