It wasn't too long ago that the death knell was sounded for the big six traditional publishers. People cited them on their seemingly archaic business models, their attempts at stifling new technologies, and their unfair treatment of authors. With the Department of Justice's price fixing lawsuit, blogs like JA Konrath's declared (and continue to) that the writing was on the wall for their obituaries. With the rise of Amazon's Kindle Program, Pubit for Barnes and Nobles, and others, there was a new economy on the rise. Aspiring writers could bypass the gatekeepers and reach a massive audience, all while reaping unheard of royalty rates.
However, it may be that the big six aren't going anywhere. It may be that their best strategy against this upstart new business model is to sit back and do nothing save make a bowl of popcorn and watch all the writers who seem determined to shoot themselves in the foot. Indeed this has not been a kind summer for self-publishers or the writing world in general. If the self-publishing world were to be condensed into a person, they'd definitely still be scrappy, but would certainly now be sporting a pair of black eyes thanks to the actions of a few.
I'll cite just a few examples:
- Many major media outlets have been running with a story regarding paid reviews on Amazon. John Locke, the poster boy for self-publishing success, had admitted to doing this. This has polarized the writing community between those who say it's wrong and those who shrug their shoulders and claim that it's necessary to succeed. The end result, though, seems to be pointing toward a general suspicion for all reviews now.
- Author Carroll Bryant posted a list of blogs he felt had cheated him out of reviews. The entire situation then quickly spiraled out of control into a tale of outright stalking.
- UK writer, RJ Ellory, was recently exposed for writing self-reviews as well as panning his competition, leading to what some are calling a questionable apology.
- At the top of the infamous list has been the Stop the Goodreads Bullies website (no link, sorry. I have no interest in sending them traffic), which went so far as to list personal information for previously anonymous reviewers.
There are those who step back and call this business as usual, that what's going on has always gone on. They say that every industry is like this and that there will always be those who game the system to get ahead. I can't disagree with this. However, I do have to ask those people some questions:
- Why should we have to accept this?
- Why should we tolerate bad behavior just because previous generations did?
- Why can't we try to be better than that?
Everyone wants to succeed. That's not a new thing. Ultimately, though, only a few of us are going to be able to scale that mountain and even less will be able to remain atop it.
Consider this, though: If you're a new writer what will such behavior gain you? Maybe a few sales, maybe even a little ego gratification. But how long will it last? If you're just here to make a quick buck, you probably don't care (and you're probably not reading this anyway). However, if you're truly looking to make a name for yourself, how long do you think it'll be before your behavior is uncovered? The internet has a long memory and it's like a bulldog if it suspects wrong doing. Is it really worth tarnishing yourself from the start, jeopardizing what you hope to be a career, all because you didn't have the patience to aim for the long term?
If you're an established writer with a large fan base, that's a wonderful thing. However, if you've used questionable tactics to get there, how will that reflect upon you? Sure you might be laughing all the way to the bank, but whatever legacy you hope to have could suffer for it. Do you want to be remembered 50 years from now for your works or because you were part of a scandal?
I can't help but think that all of these events happening in such a compressed time frame will have / are having a cumulative effect on the entire industry...which should be a concern for all of us (writers). Already I've seen several blogs either shuttering their windows or becoming a lot more selective about who they review. It's one thing if a person wants to commit career suicide, but I'd wager that their actions harm us all.
I'm not saying everyone has to be squeaky clean or saint-like at all times. I'm not that naive. We're all human. That being said, it would behoove us all to think things through before we act and consider the consequences...to try and act with a little integrity and professionalism. If enough of us take a stand and try to take the high road against this behavior, we can steer this industry back on the right track and help ensure that when the day comes that the news decides to run a story on one of us, they'll put the focus on what we all want them to: our books.