Can't Everyone In The Publishing Industry Just Get Along?

The level of discourse in this country really sucks. 

It's not enough to be right anymore. In order to be in favor of something you must also wish death and destruction upon the opposing side. This kind of attitude used to be relegated to sports, religion and politics. Now we're seeing the Fox-Newsification of everything, from nerd culture (if I told y'all how I felt about Star Wars you'd publicly crucify me) to the publishing industry. 

Why can't we all just get along? 

It's ridiculous when someone turns their nose up at a self-published author or a lover of eBooks, as if their chosen path makes them less passionate. I understand that controversy means blog hits, and we're naturally attracted to conflict. But you know what? It's a new year. I'm calling for a moratorium on all the negativity. It's time for some optimism.

Here's three common conflicts in publishing, and reasons why both sides should just calm down. 

eBOOK vs. PRINT

The print advocates say: eBooks devalue real books. They take away from the art of a printed book. They contribute to the collapse of bookstores. 

The eBook advocates say: Print books are relics. They're expensive to produce and they take up space. eBooks never go out of print and exist forever. 

You know what's great? Books. My wife and I own hundreds. Maybe nearly a thousand. And they're great! They're fun for reading. People see all the books we have and assume we are very smart. They smell good.

You know what else is great? eBooks. Really, they are. Forget pricing and formats and digital rights management and all that bullshit. We are approaching a future where any book ever published can be available at the click of a button. I don't care if you're a traditionalist or a Luddite, how could you possibly think this is a bad thing?  

The print vs. eBook argument tends to reek of elitism. People who say they don't read eBooks are usually the same people who roll their eyes and say, "I don't even own a television." Like cutting themselves off from technology has made them into a more complete person. 

Yes, technology is changing, and that's not always a fun process. Books are slowly becoming the new vinyl. I doubt they'll ever be as scarce as vinyl is now, but eventually they'll be a thing sought by collectors and passionate book-lovers, and the rest of the population will be reading books on their phones and tablets and toasters. But at least people are still reading, right? Isn't that the point? 

TRADITIONAL vs. SELF-PUBLISHING

The traditional publishing advocates say: If you self-published then you weren't good enough to real-publish. There's no standard of quality. You could smash your face against a keyboard for three hours and publish it, and what's so special about that? 

What self-publishing advocates say: Traditional publishing is just a way for someone else to make money off your hard work. By self-publishing, you maintain creative control, as well as your profits. Self-publishing is so easy, there's no reason to not do it. 

Self-publishing advocates call you an idiot if you want to traditional publish. Traditional publishers turn their nose up at self-published writers, calling them hobbyists who don't take writing seriously. 

Why can't both sides just co-exist? 

Now, there's a longer conversation to be had here about the pros and cons of either side, but at the end of the day, for some people, self-publishing is great. Some people want that control. They want to be in charge of their own destiny. And that's fine. Just because someone self-publishes a book doesn't mean it's going to be bad. There are plenty of books that are traditionally published that are terrible. 

I think at this point it's a matter of personal preference. If someone wants to write, let them! Just because someone self-publishes a book doesn't make a traditional book any less good or valuable. Really, has the wave of self-publishing done anything to hurt the bottom line of traditional publishing? I doubt it. 

And it's upsetting to see that some of the advocates for self-publishing brow-beat new authors, making them feel like idiots for even thinking of going the traditional route. And to those writers I say: Who does that help, beside your own brand? 

INDIE BOOKSTORES vs. AMAZON

The indie bookstore advocates say: Amazon is a heartless corporation that's trying to destroy small businesses. Getting a recommendation from an algorithm is not the same as getting one from a person. Amazon doesn't have the sociability of bookstores. 

The Amazon advocates say: Indie bookstores have small selections. They're gouging readers with their high prices. They're full of elitist employees who only recommend what they like. 

This is a battle I waded into before (here and here). And when I did, I was careful to point out that, while I am strongly in favor of independent bookstores, I am not against Amazon. To wit: I work for a publishing house that's situated in an indie bookstore, and that didn't stop me from doing 98 percent of my Christmas shopping on Amazon. 

Does Amazon want to kill small businesses? Yep. That's how a free market economy works.

And while some people like to argue, oddly, that bookstores are evil, why can't we have both? 

Some people in this great country don't live near a cool bookstore. That's a shame, but thanks to Amazon they have access to a huge, amazing library of books. The convenience factor there--click a couple of buttons, book shows up on doorstep--can't be beat. Even better, click a button, book shows up on iPad/Kindle/toaster. 

But books are something to love and revere and discuss. We absolutely should have temples to them, and that's what bookstores are. Amazon didn't help me meet Bret Easton Ellis or Chuck Palahniuk or Alton Brown or Colson Whitehead or Amy Hempel. Bookstores did that. Don't like the pricing of a bookstore? Think the employees are elitist? Fine. Vote with your dollar. Don't go there. But don't burn them down, either. 

DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY

There's only one thing we should all agree to hate without reservation: Twilight.

Other than that, just because we're not really into a certain thing doesn't mean other people shouldn't be allowed to do it. No one is any less passionate if they don't own a Kindle or exclusively shop on Amazon. It takes effort to hate; channel that energy into something useful. 

And if you disagree with me you are a jerk. 

Image of New Yorked (Ash McKenna)
Author: Rob Hart
Price: $12.21
Publisher: Polis Books (2015)
Binding: Paperback, 304 pages
Rob Hart

Column by Rob Hart

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor, as well as the publisher at MysteriousPress.com. He's the author of New Yorked, nominated for the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, as well as City of Rose and South Village. Short stories have appeared in publications like Shotgun Honey, Thuglit, Needle, Joyland, All Due Respect, and Helix Literary Magazine. Non-fiction has appeared at Salon, The Daily Beast, Birth.Movies.Death, The Literary Hub, Electric Literature, and Nailed. He lives in New York City. Find him online at www.robwhart.com

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Comments

Renee Miller's picture
Renee Miller from Tweed, Ontario is reading The Wolf Gift January 16, 2012 - 1:00pm

*snort* Love this. I have nothing else to add. I agree on all points.

NotMarilyn's picture
NotMarilyn from Twin Cities, MN is reading Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn January 16, 2012 - 1:14pm

Great article, Rob. To answer your opening question, "Why can't we all just get along?" Because that would be boring and we wouldn't have articles like this to read and chuckle at. 

Tommy Lombardozzi's picture
Tommy Lombardozzi January 16, 2012 - 1:24pm

"The print vs. eBook argument tends to reek of elitism. People who say they don't read eBooks are usually the same people who roll their eyes and say, "I don't even own a television." Like cutting themselves off from technology has made them into a more complete person. "

Haha. Great.

Another good read, Rob. Keep 'em coming!

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated January 16, 2012 - 1:29pm

A call for people to be reasonable is like a call for world peace. Beautiful idea, but doomed.

aliensoul77's picture
aliensoul77 from a cold distant star is reading the writing on the wall. January 16, 2012 - 5:34pm

Totally true. I have encountered this a lot. If a person decides to self-publish because no publisher is winning to take a chance on them, it's up to them to promote it so if they are willing to put in the hard work, they shouldn't be laughed at for it. Just because a person is published through a publishing house doesn't necessarily mean quality either, sometimes they have connections and are just a good bullshitter or they know how to pastiche popular authors well. Everyone wants to be the next Palahniuk, Ellis,etc but if your work sounds just like that, then you don't have an original voice and eventually people will see through you. I don't respect an author if they are published, I respect them if I like their work and if they aren't a total douchebag to their fans or people who ask them for advice.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated January 16, 2012 - 10:24pm

I get all my books on Kindle these days, and honestly except for a few big names guys I'm not even sure who is and isn't self published anymore with most authors.

And for a lot of folks it's kind of a blurry line, not the black and white thing it get portrayed as. I've found a few authors I really love who are selling books they had published in the 1980s or 90s. They are long out of contract and the rights have reverted to them so they are self publishing these really great novels I've never heard of. I'm sure there are other examples of it being blurry.

JonnyGibbings's picture
JonnyGibbings January 17, 2012 - 9:00am

Ha ha- Don't own a television. That's bullshit. What would you point your furniture at?

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading Seveneves and Animal Money January 17, 2012 - 12:46pm

I don't even own furniture.

Jeremiah Murphy's picture
Jeremiah Murphy from Idaho is reading A Little Life January 17, 2012 - 11:30pm

Great points! I use both Amazon and bookstores. Amazon for books I can't find elsewhere and bookstores for when I need that browsing experience. Also I'm not opposed to kindles but I love owning books so much that I don't know if I'd ever actually buy any to read on the kindle. Anyways great article.

misskokamon's picture
misskokamon from San Francisco is reading The Moonlit Mind January 23, 2012 - 2:09pm

Agreed! We should not let the hate flow through us. I don't look down on those who self publish, who read dead-tree books, or who prefer the hipsteresque world of indie bookstores. I fully expect people to not understand why I'd prefer to go through the traditional publishing route, to criticize my Kindle-loving ways, and to complain about me checking Amazon's price while I'm hanging out in their store. But it'd be nice if they didn't.

But I will disagree with you on Twilight. While I despise the series, I have to give props to Meyer. Can you imagine your debut novel reaching that level of fame? The parodies and the reviews dripping with repulsion? On the one hand you have people who hate your work, who insult you freely and curse your name and make fun of characters you love. On the other, you have these crazy fans who expect your next series to be even better than the first. The pressure to create a series, knowing full well that half your existing fans are going to scoff and say, "this isn't anything like her LAST series!" is tremendous. And anyone who has read the complete series of Twilight knows that meyer has a deep fear of disappointing fans. She cracked under the pressure once before and tried to give her readers everything they could possibly want.
Yet, despite the world she was thrust into, she is still writing. She hasn't given up. Even with half the literary world hating her every sentence, even with the pressure of a million fans expecting her to write something less likeThe Host and more like Twilight, she still wants to write. And not only write, but leave the Twilight universe she created. And I think we as writers should respect that. She wants to further her craft. Neat. 
 

Boone Spaulding's picture
Boone Spaulding from Coldwater, Michigan, U.S.A. is reading Solarcide Presents: Nova Parade January 26, 2012 - 9:48am

Great points - and besides the Fox Newification of discourse, there has also been a hierarchy of conformity these past 17 years, since circa 1995, where just having an opinion outside the majority or outside of "official authorities" opinions (here I'm referring to the Traditional vs. Self-published arena) marks you in the kindest terms as "uninformed". There's been a generation raised to believe that there is One Right Answer to most everything...and they've been pressured to conform. Reminds me of what the Beats related about the late-1940s/1950s/early-1960s culture in America.

I simply am not an Either/Or guy - more of an And/Also guy...life seems richer this way...

Lisa Maggiore's picture
Lisa Maggiore from Chicago is reading The Art of Fielding May 16, 2015 - 4:31am

Funny and informative...you have my vote! I was recently told that two of my family members do not live anywhere near an indie bookstore. They said the local B & N was shuttered so they are now in what I call a "book desert." Amazon absolutey fills the gap for people who want to purchase books but have no where to go. I would hope that in this great big world of ours we have enough elbow room for everyone AND, I'm in complete agreement with you; Don't Worry Be Happy!

Anita Rodgers's picture
Anita Rodgers May 17, 2015 - 6:26pm

I totally agree. There truly is enough room in the world for eBooks, physical books, Amazon, book stores, readable toasters and whatever else some bright mind may think of. To  me, it's the old us vs them - people just love to play that game. Gives them adrenaline rushes and helps puff up the chests.

Traditional publishing doesn't mean the book is good and indie publishing doesn't mean the book is bad. If the book is bad it doesn't matter how it got published. If the book is good, thank God it's available for me to read.

Anyway, bravo. What do tackle next? World peace? I'm up for it if you are. :)