Cannibalism in Publishing

MCMTuesday, May 25, 2010

I think the publishing industry has serious psychological problems. At first I thought the agents, editors and authors on the "inside" were just jealously guarding their status against the self-published hordes, which explained why they over-reacted to every perceived slight to their creative superiority. The vitriol was childish and absurd at times, but at least you could see why they did it. They wanted to feel special, and you can't feel special on a level playing field.

But now we have J.A. Konrath, a successful midlist author, publishing his next book with Amazon Encore instead of one of the big publishers. On the ideological spectrum of publishing, Konrath is a slightly left of centre (where the far right are die-hard "paperbacks are the work of the Devil" New York apologists, and the far left are "my dog publishes his pee in the snow and it's art too!" loons). He's not calling for the overthrow of the system, he's warning that overthrowing is in the wind unless things change. Going with Encore isn't a declaration of war, it's cutting a new path and seeing if it works. If anything, you'd think the industry would watch him with morbid interest, waiting to see if he fails.

Instead, we have this article in Publishers Weekly, where they do their best to downplay and degrade the Amazon deal, basically painting Konrath as a whiny little has-been who's trying to make a name for himself by shaking hands with Satan — no, worse than Satan, it's Satan's vanity press! They completely botch numbers to make their case, ignoring reality in a quest to knock him down, and use quotes from anonymous agents who, to me, sound threatened and terrified by his move. It's a hit piece, and not even an elegant one at that. And I don't know why they need to do it.

Publishing people need to realize something: they have a problem. It's not Amazon or Apple or returns or self-publishers or DRM. It's their heads. They've got some kind of paranoid god complex where they think they're better than the rest of the world, and the rest of the world is trying to get them. It's just not the case. And now so I must speak directly to the publishing industry folks, because I think they need a little heart-to-heart...

Guys: getting "chosen" is not a sign of righteousness (if it were, all traditionally-published books would obviously be bestsellers). Outsiders aren't beneath you, they just chose another path. They don't institutionally bear you ill will... that's all in your head. They're not jealous of you, because they probably think you made the wrong choice. Attacking them is pointless. It's schoolyard bullying. It's embarrassing.

But what really stuns me is that you people are willing to attack one of your own. He's not calling for the Emperor's head here, he's trying something new. You're trying to make an example of an evolutionary figure, and while doing so, you're making an enemy. He doesn't need to be the enemy, guys. And you know what happens when you start eating your own? Nobody wants to be near you. If you start trashing midlist authors in public, you'll find more of them looking to follow Konrath out the door. And don't assume you can replace them easily, either... especially if Amazon is the new Best Hope and you get a reputation for being the abusive stepfather.

I've always thought publishing people are a little bit crazy, but seriously, folks, you need to learn the line between snark and suicidal. You're crossing it. Stop before it's too late.

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