Monday, September 19, 2011

The End of the World as We Know It

Monday morning and work beckons. I'm reluctant to answer the call and want nothing more than to pull up the covers and go back to sleep for at least another four hours, the four hours I didn't get last night. I'd rather finish the thriller I started on Friday and had difficulty getting through until late last night when suddenly the story moved on. (I hate when that happens -- taking days to get through a book that should've taken hours and I couldn't chastise myself sufficiently to get it done because the story didn't really interest me and was confusing and the characters were all cut from the same cloth, the authorial intrusive cloth.) I'd rather do anything than have to sit at my desk and wade through another fifty dictations to get enough to be able to stop and move onto better things, like writing. I'd rather . . . you get the point.

So, in my work avoidance and abhorrence mode, I did what I usually do on Monday mornings, check out other blogs and I found a doozy. It wasn't unexpected, these "draconian measures" Anne R. Allen blogs about, and Joe Konrath called it several times in the past few months, and yet I found myself crying, "Foul!"

An author signed to one of the Big 6 publishers has been fired by her publisher for self-publishing a book of short stories meant to help publicize her upcoming novel. Now that is indeed foul. I would have thought that the publisher would be ecstatic at anything an author does to push sales and promote their own work, especially since the publisher would not be dumping oodles of marketing dollars into promoting the author's work, not unless the author had a contract with a six- or seven-figure advance, and yet here is the publisher cutting off his nose to spite his face. (It could be a she cutting of her nose, but you get the point.) This will not go down well with authors and if authors decide to sign with smaller publishing houses, as Anne R. Allen suggests, and the rest decide to self-publish or put up their own website, like J. K. Rowling, who was published by a small publishing house and then set up her own website to publish the Harry Potter books as direct sale ebooks, then the publishers are going to go out of business with a whimper instead of a bang.

I would have thought that keeping writers happy was more important than making writers angry enough to sue the publisher over being fired. Guess now. Look for the Big 6 publishers to include airtight conttracts that allow the writer to do nothing without the publisher's say-so, even if it means failing sales and the author not selling through. It doesn't make sense, but nothing makes sense in the midst of a major flounce, and that's what the publisher is doing, a major flounce. I'm sure hair tossing and having their noses in the air are all part of the flounce out. I'd call it a snit, having a cow, and one of the biggest and most public temper tantrums ever right when the Big 6 publishers need the good will of both authors, who keep them in product, and readers who usually side with the underdog. I don't think there is one of the Big 6 that can be called the underdog, no matter how their marketing department spins this one. Kiana Davenport will tell you all about the publisher's snit, and she's not the only one.

Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have written about and talked about the slow slide into oblivion that will take most publishers down the tubes and Dorchester, the publishing company that has stiffed notable writers like Brian Keene on their contracts, has retooled and gone into e-publishing only. Joe Konrath has said that paper books will be extinct very soon and some predict publishing entropy by December 2012, just in time for the end of the Mayan calendar. Maybe that's what killed the Mayan civilization, no more big publishers putting out codices and stone carvings and killing off the authors by strangling them with contracts that force authors to give away 75% of ebook earnings in order to get the coveted prize of a $20,000 advance on a contract.

Kris Rusch has called big publishing a dinosaur, like the Tyrannosaurus Rex or Argentinosaurus, that moves slowly and does not change directions quickly or easily. What she means is that a business with so many tentacles engage in so many different areas cannot easily extract said tentacles to put them engage them elsewhere.

Publishers want to protect their turf, but they will not be able to feasibly do so by strangling authors. Whatever they say, publishers need authors to stay in business. Celebrity authors are a dime a baker's dozen and often ghost written by real authors and once again authors are in the mix. Unless publishers want to try the trick of copying, cutting, and pasting past work into new books (and that doesn't seem likely), the only way to stay in business is to compromise and adapt, something the Big 6 seem ill equipped to do.

Add in the fact that literary agents, those people who take 15% of an authors royalties to protect the author's interests, are siding with publishers and we might see the demise of two big chunks of publishing business, or at the very least two big chunks of the publishing monolith that will crumble and fall into the digital sea with a resounding crash, leaving blasted hulks like the House of Usher.

It's a sad situation and one that should be a cautionary tale for anyone entering into a contract with what is increasingly being seen as the Devil. Whatever authors do, they should read the small print and be prepared to walk out (running would be better) if the publisher isn't willing to see reality or logic. Even life guards know that there are times it's best to let someone drown rather than go down with them. It's harsh, but it comes down to a matter of us or them. No one will protect you if you don't protect yourself. 

The publishing world is changing quickly. Don't be caught in the stampede. Stay informed and abreast of the news. These are volatile times and the Mount Etna of Publishing no longer slumbers. Remember what happened to Pompeii and Herculaneum.