Warning: Don't read this. It's far too long and doesn't contain even one single kitten*.
My second job out of college was with a software startup trying to compete with Microsoft. So I know a little about trying to beat an evil empire. (If only we had ewoks, I'm sure we'd have prevailed.) What I don't know is how to live in a city run by crime families.
Today, the internet is gnashing its teeth over Amazon and the Department of Justice. I have read dozens of lengthy articles and hundreds of comments, and I'm no less baffled now than I was when I first started looking into self-publishing Semper almost a year ago.
The history seems to be something like this:
- Big publishers sold books through regular bookstores.
- Big evil bookstores started killing regular bookstores.
- Amazon (the evil empire) started killing big evil bookstores.
- Kindle became. Ebooks occurred.
- Amazon priced ebooks very low, killing publishers.
- Publishers forced Amazon to switch from "wholesale" pricing (where the retailer sets the price) to "agency" pricing (where the publisher sets the price) for ebooks.
- This made everyone happy except for Amazon, and everyone who is not Amazon.
- Somehow Apple got involved.
- Somehow the Department of Justice got involved.
- Pretty much everyone flipped out and started writing letters.
So about six months ago I started forming some incredibly vague but undeniably strong opinions about the whole publishing industry. All my life I'd dreamed of having a novel published. I started writing when I was 9 years old, and today I still have some stories I wrote before I went through puberty. (Writing fell off a bit after puberty. I got distracted.)
But the more I learned about the publishing industry--the roulette wheel of the slush pile, the unnecessarily grueling editing process, the ittybitty advances, the self-promotion and enormous pressure to earn out within months of publication--it all seemed so pointless at my stage in life. (My stage being two kids, mortgage, highly successful non-writing career.) Way too much pain, labor, and anguish for the reward.
In short, the dream of "getting published" was no longer worth it. I reached this conclusion after I'd penned five complete manuscripts, published several short stories and poems, and worked at a major writers conference for four years. I've put in my 10,000 hours. I know good writing. I make good writing. I do not lack for confidence in my skill, and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I think I've earned that confidence.
About this time, the awful stigmas associated with self publishing began to lessen. A few self-published authors were making bank. Some were getting critical acclaim.
An abbreviated survey of self-publishing options led me to Amazon. Easy. Free. Wide reach. Both print and ebook. Easy. Like, really really easy. Two weeks later I had the ebook for sale at Amazon. Another week and it was available in print with its own ISBN. My dream was realized, sort of. Not in the way I originally envisioned. But people bought my book. People I had never met downloaded it. And liked it.
That was 100 days ago.
Last week I heard about a local independent bookstore planning a YA night. I've been to this bookstore, bought books there, even attended a book launch there. But I'd heard that independent booksellers were unhappy with Amazon, so I inquired and was told that while I was welcome, my book was not. The person was quite friendly about it. But the phrase used was, "Amazon is against everything we stand for."
Which baffles me because I have a YA book. Some people think it's quite good. It's available for that bookseller to sell. They are having a YA night. If they are refusing to offer my book to their patrons, what is it they stand for, exactly?
I respect their right to make their own business decisions, and I won't fight them on it. I will probably even attend the event without my book because it is a great bookstore and my family and I love YA literature that doesn't involve sparkly vampires. But their behavior baffles me.
I've heard it called a turf war. Been told that independent authors are just caught in the middle. It definitely feels that way. Like I'm living in a city under the control of two feuding crime families.
Personally, I hate to have to choose sides. But if I'm being forced to choose as an author, as much as I love independent bookstores, I'll stick with Amazon. In the end, it comes down to what my personal dream looks like. It used to look like this: My name on the spine of a book on a bookshelf in a bookstore. Now it looks like this: Someone I've never met from Puerto Rico posting a five-star review of my book, saying "Semper is excellent for any age. Their characters are perfectly developed and the story as well. I'm asking for more. I really want to have a hard copy of it."
But don't worry, independent booksellers. I don't think that you're against everything I stand for. I will still patronize you as much as I have in the past. Maybe even more. Because I am not taking sides in someone else's turf war. I am simply using the service that gives me the best chance of fulfilling my modest dream. I wish you could play a part in helping fulfill my modest dream as well, but you must do what you feel is right. And if that shuts me out, so be it. Don't cry for me; I'm doing okay.
I just don't understand it.
* Oh, OKAY. Here are some kittens for you.