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.