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The Publishing Merry (And Not-So-Merry)-Go-Round

Let’s face it, publishing is little more than a legal, and non-lethal, form of Russian roulette. If you want to go the traditional route, you are rolling the dice at so many levels you probably have a greater chance of being hit by lightning. If you go the indie route, will you be able to grab enough of the market to make it worth your while to spend the time writing the book? No matter which route you take, the ride gets even bumpier. But, if you look closely enough, there are high points as well. The only thing that isn’t certain is how it will turn out for you.

I, as well as others here, have written about how social justice “concerns” have infiltrated traditional publishing, driving what editors buy and determining the future of authors rightly or wrongly. Authors have pulled their books after becoming the victims of online bullying by those who proclaim themselves “woke” because the authors didn’t stick to the accepted portrayal of slavery, etc. How dare they show that someone other than whites could enslave others?

The #MeToo movement has also had its impact on the industry as well. The latest incident involves “The Path: Accelerating Your Journey to Financial Freedom”, a book co-authored by self-help guru Tony Robbins. It seems Robbins has been accused of “making inappropriate sexual advances on fans and staff and berating abuse victims.” Now, these allegations stem from an investigation done by that paragon of journalistic ethics, Buzzfeed. According to NBC, the sources are unidentified and there is no indication of how many victims there might be. And, let’s not forget, Robbins denies the accusations.

But, apparently, his publisher, Simon & Schuster, doesn’t care. The accusation is enough.

The problem here goes beyond the fact the publisher would rather cave to social correctness and avoid potential social media outrage. There is another author,Peter Mallouk, involved. Canceling the book impacts him, not to mention any others who worked on the title.

Whether Robbins is guilty of the actions he’s accused of, and I’ve always had issues with trial by media, the publisher has gone down a very slippery slope that might not end the way it wants.

An example of how that can happen is best illustrated by this story. Another author, this time Natasha Tynes, is fighting back after losing her publishing contract in the face of her publisher caving to social media pressure. In this particular instance, Tynes, a Jordanian-American, award-winning author, snapped a photo of a metro working IN UNIFORM eating on the subway in violation of the metro’s rules.

Very quickly, the cries of racism descended upon her. She deleted the tweet and even reached out to make sure the metro worker didn’t lose her job. But the damage was done and her publisher, Rare Bird, canceled her book.

Now, I’ll be honest. Tynes should have thought before posting the image. It is exactly the sort of thing that gets the social justice zealots in an uproar. But mistakes happen and it seems, on the surface at least, she did her best to mitigate them. But that wasn’t enough for the publisher. They canceled the book, causing harm to Tynes and her reputation. She is taking the step I have a feeling we’ll see more and more–she is suing her publisher. Depending on how her publishing contract was written, she might actually have a good chance at winning.

CAVEAT: always have your IP attorney vet your publishing contract to make sure there isn’t some obscure clause giving the publisher the right to cancel you book for little to no reason without some sort of recourse from you. Some of these clauses include forcing the author to return the advance.

And then there’s the bull in the china shop that is sending waves of terror through traditional publishing right now–the sale of Barnes & Noble. Let’s face it, B&N has been in trouble for years. Instead of reading the writing on the wall even before Borders went under, B&N continued to flounder, trying to push its outdated business plan instead of adapting to the changing market. It over-expanded. It continued to build large footprint stores it wouldn’t be able to afford after the initial lease was up. It lost its identity. Was it a bookstore with coffeeshop or was it something else? They had a revolving door for CEOs and COOs with Riggio always there to step in and hold the course.

And holding the course was the problem.

Finally, it reached an agreement with hedge fund Elliot Management. EM will buy the bookseller and take it private. This is pretty much what it did last year when it bought Waterstones in the UK.

Will this save the bookseller in the long run?

I don’t know. But I can see why publishers are running scared. One simple sentence in the description of EM’s view for the company going forward is probably making their cold publishing blood run even colder. “[I]n a twist, [it] will likely become a national chain with a business model more akin to that of a local bookstore.”

Oh. . .my.

Think about it. If this is true, gone will be the days when someone sitting in an office in NYC tells a bookstore manager in Cedar Rapids what books to stock and how long they will be on the shelf. Managers, or at least regional managers, will have the authority to determine what titles to stock and for how long. That means local authors and topics of local interest will get the attention they once did. There was a time when local authors and items of interest were featured prominently in B&N stores. Perhaps those days will return.

But it means a problem for publishers because they will once again have to add manpower to try to sell their books on a regional scale. Sure, the home office will have a say in stocking but there will be more local autonomy.

If the vision being talked about now comes about.

In the meantime, publishing–at least on the traditional end–is going to be even more bumpy. That will mean more belt-tightening by publishers. It will, in my opinion, trickle upward, starting with fewer new books being contracted for. So we will see even fewer of the books we love and more of those that meet the checklist criteria to avoid the SJZ social media tirades.

The truly sad thing is that much of this could have been avoided if B&N, and Borders before it, had simply allowed itself to adapt to changes in technology, audience expectations and the indie movement from the beginning. Instead of conspiring to take down Amazon, that time and money could have been better spent in figuring out what Amazon was doing right. Instead of pushing indie bookstores out of the market, they could have learned from them. What made them successful on the local scale. If they had done the latter, and simply improved on it, we’d be in a very different publishing landscape than we are now.

The next year or two is going to be interesting in the proverbial sense over the next year or two. If you are a traditionally published author, or if  you want to be, prepare yourselves for an even bumpier ride.

25 Comments
  1. Coming at it from the local indy-author viewpoint, B&N has always been a mixed bag when it came to dealing with local small-press and indy authors. Unless there was a local manager who went above and beyond to host them for signings and events, most B&N outlets couldn’t give a flying f*rt about local indy authors. Nope, they were all about central control and purchase and dealing only with the big established publishers.

    Alan Bourgeois of the Texas Author Association actually had a face to face meeting with the (then) CEO of B&N last year, and tried to put across the utility of focusing more favorably with local and indy authors … he was quite disappointed with the meet. Alan has worked like a dog to bring around big local retailers to be more receptive to local authors, and to provide sales events and marketing education for authors.

    I think the small-publishing/indy author paradigm is about to shift again…
    I wrote a bit about it here on my own author blog – http://www.celiahayes.com/archives/3244

    June 11, 2019
    • I’d say the last ten years or so have been horrible for indies and small presses to get anything accomplished with most BN stores. When they first came into the DFW market, they were great to work with for author events, etc. But they were never as good to work with as Borders when it came to having events at the local library, etc. This new ownership will either change things or we will see the company go under.

      June 11, 2019
      • Maybe it’s a regional thing? I know the one in Seattle was just silly, but the one in Des Moines has something scheduled almost every weekend, and even has a local writer’s group.

        June 11, 2019
        • It has to do with the individual store manager, more than anything. I know there were authors in my old indy author group who had a good relationship with the local B&N manager, and who as a manager did wonderful things to support local indies. But it was all down to the individual manager. If they didn’t feel any need to deal with local indy authors, then they wouldn’t bother.

          June 11, 2019
        • It is an uphill fight, at least in my area. The local managers are hamstrung by regional oversight. Then there’s the fear that if they aren’t supporting the books the home office tells them to, their sales will fall and they will be out of a job. They remember all too well the purge BN did not that very long ago of managers and other supervisors in a cost-cutting effort. The problem? They cut the people who knew how to run the store or major departments within it, offering to re-hire them as part-time employees with no benefits.

          But, even if you do luck out and find a store manager willing to help local authors, they are hamstrung if you’re an indie, especially if you do your print books through Amazon. Remember, BN hates Amazon and will do all it can to stop that stream of income.

          June 12, 2019
    • Synova #

      Our local store always had a local authors book table, but only trad pub’ed.

      I don’t have any advice for how to run a brick and mortar store successfully. It’s been far too long since the internet started introducing me to writers and book stores started not having books or authors I now knew to *ask* about. I’m sure that their inventories were always that way, but if people don’t know who’s books to ask for they just see what you’ve got on hand.

      June 11, 2019
  2. Apropos, I saw a little uproar in the movie critic community and wrote a blog post about it.

    https://phantomsoapbox.blogspot.com/2019/06/reviews-from-merely-ridiculous-to-fully.html

    Short version, a Woke(tm) critic/writer Carlos Aguilar wrote a review of “The Secret Life of Pets 2” bemoaning the fact that gay/trans/whatever people were not given center stage. But more than that, Carlos Aguilar’s complaint is that the normal nuclear family and the normal Western adult male have been presented in a positive light in a film for children.

    It is no longer enough to present [name of kink here] in a positive light. What is now required is the complete erasure of the traditional nuclear family, the traditional extended clan, and traditional male virtues. You’re not allowed to talk about them.

    That’s where we are with the SJW project. So at the moment, the publishers (and Amazon!) are faced with a dilemma. They can either produce work geared to please a maximum of 3% of the population, or they can endure social media shirt-storms created by the likes of Mr. (Ms? Zir?) Aguilar.

    Important to note, “The Secret Life of Pets 2” is kicking “X-Men Dark Phoenix” to the curb at the box office. That tells you where the money is in relation to Carlos Aguilar. Get Woke(tm), go broke.

    June 11, 2019
  3. (I’m reposting, as this seems to be in spam-jail. Please remove if annoying.)

    Apropos, I saw a little uproar in the movie critic community and wrote a blog post about it.

    https://phantomsoapbox.blogspot.com/2019/06/reviews-from-merely-ridiculous-to-fully.html

    Short version, a Woke(tm) critic/writer Carlos Aguilar wrote a review of “The Secret Life of Pets 2” bemoaning the fact that gay/trans/whatever people were not given center stage. But more than that, Carlos Aguilar’s complaint is that the normal nuclear family and the normal Western adult male have been presented in a positive light in a film for children.

    It is no longer enough to present [name of kink here] in a positive light. What is now required is the complete erasure of the traditional nuclear family, the traditional extended clan, and traditional male virtues. You’re not allowed to talk about them.

    That’s where we are with the SJW project. So at the moment, the publishers are faced with a dilemma. They can either produce work geared to please a maximum of 3% of the population, or they can endure social media shirt-storms created by the likes of Mr. (Ms? Zir?) Aguilar.

    Important to note, “The Secret Life of Pets 2” is kicking “X-Men Dark Phoenix” to the curb at the box office. That tells you where the money is in relation to Carlos Aguilar. Get Woke(tm), go broke.

    June 11, 2019
    • Phantom, WP is being odd right now. I found this in the trash file and no one had put it there. Then it went into pending when I said it wasn’t trash. But that was better than the two comments from others that disappeared and then reappeared.

      June 11, 2019
      • It took five tries to get it into your trash file. ~:D Maybe they’re telling me something?

        June 11, 2019
    • Stanley Miller #

      Trying to avoid stepping on a political mine is getting harder and harder, who would have thought to check your writing to make sure you had avoided any instances of “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist beliefs?” And no I didn’t just make that up.

      I don’t recommend following this link but if you must, you were warned
      https://boundingintocomics.com/2019/06/10/chelsea-cain-deletes-twitter-account-following-accusations-of-transphobia-regarding-latest-issue-of-man-eaters/

      June 11, 2019
      • Despite the warning, I looked. Chelsea Cain, the man-hating feminist’s feminist, is being attacked for writing a comic about women’s periods. Not all women have periods, hater! Trans exclusion!!! TERF!!!

        Yeah. That’s where we are. You’re not allowed to hate men, not because hating men is wrong and stupid, but because some of them are ‘women.’

        https://phantomsoapbox.blogspot.com/2019/06/lesbians-join-white-males-under-bus.html

        There are five land mines per square inch out there on the political landscape. You are not going to step around them by clever pretzelization of yourself into some unrecognizable twisted shape. If there’s nothing to complain about they will make something up to smear you with.

        There’s really nothing left to do but run up the Jolly Roger and run out the guns on the good ship F*ckY’all. Write whatever the hell you want and then broadside the idiots.

        On the bright side, if some amazing idiot like Carlos Aguilar gets his/her/ zir’s knickers in a twist because you dared have a straight family and a rugged cowboy in your book without making them look bad, you get a ton of free publicity.

        June 12, 2019
      • It’s always going to be harder and harder to avoid stepping on political landmines, because the rules for what MAKES a political landmine keep changing – sometimes, as quickly as every ten minutes.

        It’s a game that honestly, is rigged against anyone honest, rational and sane from the start, and it strikes me as greatly foolish to attempt playing by inconsistent madman rules that aim for misery for everyone.

        At least with Calvinball, it’s clear that the players are having some kind of fun.

        June 14, 2019
        • Just realized–it’s been that way since the hippy movement or whatever got going.

          The entire point is to be rude, then scream if someone is rude back.

          June 14, 2019
          • Not even if they are rude back. They scream if someone doesn’t completely agree with them.

            June 14, 2019
            • Eh, the person who did most of the teaching-of-manners to me was very, very old school. It is rude to not make polite noises when someone expresses a strong viewpoint– but expressing a strong viewpoint to someone who cannot reasonably be rude to you is even ruder.

              It’s the level of polite that brought about the “sex, politics and religion” forbidden topics. It’s not that nobody talked about them, it’s that it was rude to put someone in a position where they would have to make a choice at all.

              American culture is…ah…rather loser than that, but the reflexes of the left are still using it.

              June 14, 2019
          • Which is the most basic destruction of civility right there.

            Effing hippies.

            June 15, 2019
            • It does explain why they seem so stuck on the 50s for ideas of behavior– grandma is the right age to be a stand-in for every “little old lady” who ever made them feel like they were misbehaving.

              And they’re way older than she was, then. Their KIDS are her age…..

              June 15, 2019
              • Yep. Then they’re utterly baffled when the young become conservative, as opposed to ultra-liberal. Not just baffled – angry.

                As if… those kids making a different choice than they did is being taken completely as a personal attack on them. Given how self-centered those hippie lefty commie types are, this makes sense.

                June 15, 2019
        • Celia Hayes #

          For myself, I am going to have so much fun, blithely treading on SJW pieties in my current W-I-P; another historical about a older woman during the lead-up to our (first) civil war. She’s an abolitionist (and an early feminist of the old school) in the 1850ies, and a volunteer nurse during the war – and I rejoice in being able to render 19th century attitudes about practically everything at full strength. Because I can say, with perfect justification, if anyone gets bent into knots about it – well, those sentiments are historically authentic! You wouldn’t want me to falsify the matter of historical record, would you?

          June 14, 2019
  4. Hope it goes through.

    June 11, 2019
  5. Draven #

    Even in L.A. B&N and Borders were both questionable about even having books that were useful in local industries (i.e. film industry books and books for the software used in the industry) weren’t any more common than they had been in VA….

    June 11, 2019
  6. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    And here I’ve been merrily minding my own business, waiting for B&N to go bankrupt, and take out traditional publishing with it.

    I could live with a world where they save B&N by restructuring it, and traditional publishing is only severely impacted.

    June 11, 2019
  7. Scott Osmond #

    I’d settle for the B&N’s out of print backlist being digitalised and sold at a reasonable price. Who knows it might even make some money?

    June 12, 2019

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