Hi, this is Sarah. One of my friends who, I think, hopes to see my head explode and my brain showered all over the walls some day (um… maybe I should revise the notion that he’s a friend) sent me this link: Authors United vs. Amazon, a primer.
Now to make things clear what I object to is not the link itself, but the site/movement it righteously mocks. Or to put it another way, I’m linking that site, because if I linked the original, there would be blood, possibly even someone else’s, as I mutated into the other form of Sarah, the one who walks around saying “Sarah smash.” (They won’t like me when I’m angry!)
Reading it once was bad enough. (The things I do for you.)
The letter in the bad site, the one you can get to from the good site, but which I wouldn’t advise if you prize your sanity, is full of strange and wondrous claims that made me wonder what kind of world these people live in, and whether it has swiss cheese for a sky.
Take this gem for instance:
books are not mere consumer goods. Books cannot be written more cheaply, nor can authors be outsourced to another country. Books are not toasters or televisions. Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual, a person whose living depends on his or her book finding readers.
First of all, there is the counterfactual: Books are not mere consumer goods. Books cannot be written more cheaply nor can authors be outsourced to another country.
Really? Fascinating. The first one is particularly interesting in view of the fact that just in the time I’ve been a professional – since around 1998 – the average advance on a book has gone down from five thousand to – I hear, now – two thousand. If the books are not being written more cheaply, they are certainly being bought more cheaply by traditional publishers. And few of these books get royalties. No matter how much the statements/royalties have to be tweaked to avoid it. (Used to be that books were taken out of print on the day they earned out the advance. I know. Happened to six of mine. Now they just go into a sort of limbo, and you get zero sales reported, which considering that I sell more than that on my backlist on Amazon, I call shenanigans on.)
The second one is also fascinating, since I know people in several other countries who write, such as Dave Freer, for instance.
Then comes the tautological: Books are not toasters or televisions. Indeed. They’re also not peanuts, computers, wooden shelves or automobiles. This is not an exhaustive list of what books aren’t. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the great minds of Author’s United to provide the exhaustive list.
Then comes the interesting: Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual, a person whose living depends on his or her book finding readers.
Oh… You mean like those books that traditional publishers routinely send back with the instruction to “make this more like Fifty Shades of Grey” or whatever the latest manufactured mega-seller is? Or, wait, wait, wait, this is why publishing executives refer to books as “widgets.” Or it is why publishing houses routinely fail to “push” or do much of anything for midlisters, thereby leaving them to not sell at all, and thereby “firing” them after two books? (Or making them change names.)
Yes, siree, it is the way that traditional publishing respects the act of book creation and the uniqueness of the book that means we need to support traditional publishing against Amazon at all costs.
Or, this is an idea – we could stop being supine mats on the floor begging for traditional publishing to give us validation and love – and support Amazon, a company that pays authors on time, that pays any author who is willing to work hard enough a living wage, and that deals fairly and openly with its providers.
At some level, you know, I think the good folk of Author’s United is aware of this. There are sentences in this letter that read like what we novelists call “Signal from Fred.”
- Signal from Fred
A comic form of the “Dischism” in which the author’s subconscious, alarmed by the poor quality of the work, makes unwitting critical comments: “This doesn’t make sense.” “This is really boring.” “This sounds like a bad movie.” (Attr. Damon Knight)
Our position has been consistent. We have made a great effort not to take sides. We are not against Amazon.
Which given they’ve been agitating against Amazon from the beginning can only be read to mean “Help, the publisher is holding our books hostage and demanding we come down on amazon good and hard. We have made a great effort not to take sides. We are not against Amazon. Help! Help!
In fact this letter sounds rather familiar. Like those hostages forced to tape messages condemning their country, but signing with their blinks “I’m being coerced.” Only, since I think these authors are also lying to themselves as hard as they can.
Which makes the situation very familiar. Look, I’ve had friends in bad relationships, before. Arguably I was in at least one very bad relationship when I was very young.
You lie to yourself. You tell yourself he really loves you, and he wants what’s best for you. And you turn against friends and relatives who tell you he’s no good for you.
Only with publishing, this has been going on so long, that writers are treated like no other profession on Earth. In fact, we’re not treated like professionals at all. We’re treated like sluts. (And not the kind who hold slut walks.) “You’ll do this for near-nothing because you like it. We’re so nice, that we’ll give you a little gift to make you happy, even though you write because you love it, you dirty girl, you!”
It’s time for those poor souls in Authors United and the others like them to realize that because you love to do something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paid for it. Arguably tons of people love their jobs. But we never say “Oh, teachers love to teach, so we shouldn’t pay them.” On the contrary, it seems the teachers Union (Teachers United!) is always agitating for higher pay.
And the publishers, do they ever say “I love publishing, I’d do it for free!”
No. They don’t. They do it for money. And there is money in publishing, because they have offices in Manhattan and publishers don’t have day jobs to support their publishing habit. It’s writers who must have day jobs to support their writing habit, because they love writing, and they don’t deserve any better.
Is that what you’re thinking?
Well then come off it. You know what we call the person who takes the money someone makes by doing something they love, and then abuses that person? A pimp. An abusive pimp at that.
Publishers like Hachette are evil pimps browbeating their authors into submission and making them give it up for next to nothing while they grow fat on the writers’ efforts.
It doesn’t have to be like that. I got rid of all my pimp-like publishers and kept only Baen books, who treat me with respect.
But what if you don’t write science fiction or fantasy, which is the only thing Baen publishes. What if you can’t find a house that will treat you with respect?
There’s an Amazon for that.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t do the occasional freebie for a friend or a cause you love. It’s okay to do things for free for people you like. But love it or not, your craft is worth money and you should be paid. If other people can sell it, what makes you think you can’t? (Witchfinder has now made me my regular advance from Baen, which is far more than two thousand dollars.)
But those publishers who hold you down? Who pay you nothing and blame you for their failures?
Stop carrying water for them and writing whiny letters to Amazon.
Dear traditional evil pimps: #IAmNotYourBitch.
[Charlie here:] This is the section where I remind you to let your friends know that you can mail [email protected] for submission guidelines, which say to send me your AUTHOR’S NAME, TITLE, a BLURB of close to 100 words and no that doesn’t mean 100 words each for every story in your story collection, and an AMAZON LINK, preferably to the Kindle book although if you’re doing paper only for some reason I’ll cope, grudgingly.
I thought it might help if I were to explain how I do these. When you send me a plug, I copy and paste the pieces into an HTML template. One reason I prefer the Kindle version is that, for inscrutable reasons of their own, Amazon makes the cover of a Kindle book easily hotlinkable, but puts covers of print books into some goofy encoded form that’s a pain to cope with.
When you don’t include the author’s name, and send it from, say, Frederick Xavier Ample’s email account, I have to dig around to find out that it was published under Fred X Ample, or worse, Mary Worthy. This doesn’t help me get it right.
Similarly, when you send me a three page excerpt as the blurb — don’t laugh, it’s happened — then I end up having to edit it down, write a blurb for you, or depending on how egregious it is and how cranky and pressed for time I am, simply send you back the guidelines with “about 100 words” highlighted.
Finally, if you have a promotion coming up, remember that these things are published on Friday. That’s why it’s called Book Plug Friday. (Even on the days I’m late and it ends up on Saturday.) The theoretical deadline in the Tuesday of the preceding week to give some slack, but recently I’ve been able to get things published the week they come in. HOWEVER, it happens fairly often that I get a plug for a book with a promotion running from Monday to Thursday on the preceding Saturday or Sunday. It is a theorem in the algebra of rings on the natural numbers modulo 7 that if I get a blurb on Saturday, for a promotion running the following Monday through Thursday, and I publish on Friday, that your promotion ain’t gonna make it.
Now, on to the plugs.
What if … magic were part of every day US Military Operations? In a backwater Central Asian Country, a threat to Western Civilization is growing, unnoticed by the world. The men and women of the US Army Mage Corps, feared on the battlefield and despised back home, enter into a struggle which may cost them their lives and their country.
Starship’s Mage is a serialized adventure set in a future we would never have predicted: where humanity’s far flung interstellar colonies are tied together by the Protectorate of the Mage King of Mars and the magic of the Jump Mages.
Damien Montgomery is a newly-trained member of this elite order. Unable to find a ship to take him on, he joins the crew of a freighter as desperate as he is – without looking hard enough at why they’re desperate.
Thus begins an adventure that will take him to the edges of known space and to the limits of his own magic.
Starship’s Mage: Episode 1 is a 20,789 word novella, the first of five in a serial story.
(Charlie here: I’ve got to admit I was a little puzzled how to handle this: it’s a serial, and the author sent me links to episodes 1 and 4. So I’m linking episode 1, figuring no one wants to start a serial on episode 4.)
Impossible Odds contains a pair of stories involving everyday people, making difficult choices in uncertain times and coming out ahead, despite the odds.
An anthology of truly bent surrealistic vignettes. There is the one about the bear in Yellowstone Park who wakes up one morning with human desires and tastes, playing off of both Hanna-Barbera and Franz Kafka. And then there is the one about the television broadcaster who sells his soul to the devil, with an unusual codicil . . . and then gets found out:
“The public reaction to the revelation that Apache and the rest of the entertainment industry were pawns in thrall to the Dark Master of all Evil was remarkably subdued…. It really didn’t surprise many people; they felt that unholy powers most likely held sway in the programming suites of most networks already, and clearly the basic cable channels had already fallen or verged on tumbling into their grasp. The fate of the premium channels troubled many.”
There is the one about tortoise, the ant, and the country mouse, who achieved success in the world of fables but grow into dreadful drunken bores later on in life.
The book posits a hilariously amoral universe with no happy endings, and yet places on display the brokenness of human nature, in all its warty glory, for Heckman’s readers’ amusement.
In a world where small children are often allowed to run wild, snatching at strangers’ phones, someone has to stand up for adulthood. Auntie Jodi’s hints are partly a life guideline for negotiating parties, partly a sendup of cosmopolitan life—and all very funny. Auntie Jodi holds the line against political correctness while fighting rudeness, all without putting on a cape.
People who live on the coasts and big cities will especially recognize the awkward and dreary social situations Auntie Jodi addresses. Some of the hints are serious, and some are comic hokum: the reader has to decide which are which.
A sample hint:
“When in public, if you should be engaged in a mad, passionate, or achingly sweet embrace or kiss, be sure to slyly check for surveillance cameras, drones, or snoopy neighbors…. However, if you should be lucky enough to observe a high-profile A-lister in such a situation it’s best to snap your photos quickly—so that you can be first in line to collect a high finder’s fee from a tabloid, website, or government agency.”