Sunday, September 28, 2014

Acting Like A Child

Let me start by saying Lee Child is an incredibly talented writer.  His books about Jack Reacher have gripped many readers and sold over 50 million copies.  He's achieved heights in the publishing world that many aspire to but few achieve, and for that, I applaud him.

However, his recent forays into the blogosphere have revealed many things about him outside of his writing talent, and I believe they exemplify everything wrong about traditional publishing today.  JA Konrath asked those who signed Douglas Preston's letter to the New York Times regarding the Amazon/Hachette situation to weigh in if they dared.  Konrath has not been at all shy about his feelings regarding legacy publishers.

To his credit, Child chimed in.  Unfortunately, I found the dialogue less than productive, with little more demonstrated than hubris and a lack of understanding of the current marketplace.  Let's start off with this little nugget from Mr. Child:
"Here’s my personal take … speaking generally, with a plural “you” … and as a guy entirely unafraid of the future, whatever it may bring – after all, I kicked your ass under the old system, and I’ll kick it under the new system, and the new-new, and the new-new-new, until I retire, or the lung cancer gets me, whichever comes first. I’m completely confident of that, and you’d be an idiot to bet against me. We both started from nowhere, and in the last three weeks I sold more ebooks – of one title – than you have sold in your entire life. Or will sell."
Now it's entirely possible that Mr. Child and Mr. Konrath are old buddies, and this is the normal type of shit-talking that goes on between friends.  However, after reading through the entire email, I doubt that.  Selling 50 million books and having Tom Cruise star in your story's foray into movies can make anyone a bit egotistical, but this really took the cake for me.  Konrath is no slouch when it comes to selling books, yet all Child can do here is denigrate his success.  Let's ignore for a moment that such things aren't anywhere within the realm of relevant to the debate at hand - since when do authors say you suck because you haven't sold as much(despite logging over a million sales)?
Onto the argument itself - in my view, Child loses all credibility by relying totally on past models and ignoring the way that the actions of the Big 5 of traditional publishing have forced change into the equation.  Child said:  "But, here’s the thing – by continuing to trade under expired terms, it’s Hachette doing Amazon a favor, not vice versa. Amazon is still getting its protection money – and giving nothing in return right now – and still avoiding the wholesalers’ markup.  If Hachette walked away, Amazon would lose... unless it was prepared not to carry Hachette titles ever again. Which it isn’t, because Amazon’s whole theory is to be the go-to, first-stop, everything store. “I’ll get it from Amazon” is what they depend on hearing. “I wonder if Amazon has it?” would be the kiss of death."
Child completely ignored the way that the collusion traditional publishers pursued against Amazon altered the dynamics of the market.  Whereas informal business arrangements could work before, traditional publishers showed that they were out for #1 the whole time, so Amazon, out of a sense of survival, now had to insist on business contracts with those they dealt with.  I don't fault traditional publishers for trying to get as much money as they could; I fault them and their defenders for not granting that same privilege to Amazon.
I won't quote the entire email here - you should go to Konrath's blog for a full reading, including comments where Child again chimes in - but the rest is in the same vein.  It reeks of smugness that says, "I sell a lot, so my opinion is so much more valid than any of you peasants."  He acts as entitled as the guy who wrote the letter, Douglas Preston, as if readers were lucky just to have him and should gladly fork over more money for the honor of hearing him recount a story.
If this was a one time deal, I could write it off to a case of impertinence in the face of an issue that's emotional to all involved.  However, that's not the case at all.  Child decided to involve himself in another thread over at The Passive Voice not long ago, and the same viewpoint came out - I'm published with a Big 5 house, you peons have no idea what you're talking about.  Several of the commenters got involved in ganging up on him.  Again, I applaud Child for showing more guts than many of his fellow writers, but he does himself a disservice by his conceited tone and immediate dismissal of recent trends.
What Child doesn't seem to get is that of course top authors like himself and Stephen King will have little to no fallout from the current ebook wars.  They're at the top of this game, and publishers practically fall over themselves to lick their boots.  The ones that are hurt by this are the authors in the middle, the ones who are still struggling to make it in this business, many of whom have discovered they have more financial success at indie publishing than going traditional.  Yes, it takes time to overcome the inertia of the paradigm that traditional is the only path to success, but as more folks like Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking, and Barry Eisler have success, that paradigm continues to melt...and that seems to get under Child's skin.
I don't begrudge Mr. Child his success since he's truly talented and has worked very hard to get to where he is.  What I do begrudge is his lecturing regarding a market he doesn't appear to understand.  Like the whales in Vegas who don't get that their perks aren't given to the average gambler, Child doesn't seem to get that his sales place him in a market that is different than most.  The average traditionally published writer doesn't make enough to do this full time, and a great deal of that is due less to lack of talent than it is to poor royalty rates, delayed payment schedules, and the marketing that goes into certain print runs.  If Mr. Child wanted to show his true clout, then he could impose on publishers to give their scribes a bit more than the table scraps currently available.  Given their slobbering over him and others like JK Rowling in the first place, his voice could be an influential one.  Instead, he'd rather talk about how wonderful he is and how little people like us shouldn't question his publishing acumen.  Such forays of ego may make him feel good, but they do little to enhance either writing or the market in general.

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