Porter Anderson: The authors are revolting
March 25, 2014 | 2:25 pm
Well, perhaps that’s a little too strong. But veteran ebook/publishing journalist Porter Anderson, over on Thought Catalog, has penned a very interesting and challenging update to his earlier interview with Hugh Howey on author advocacy. It examines the phenomenon of: “A New Voice in the Book World: The Author.”
Porter Anderson’s argument is simply that digital disruption in the book world has led directly to author empowerment – to authors transitioning from passive media assets – albeit sometimes highly volatile ones that required careful handling – into active agents and even competitors of their erstwhile publishing elders and betters. “Of all things, the digital dynamic in publishing means that for the first time in history we’re starting to hear the collective voice of our authors unfiltered by publishing houses,” he declares. He then follows Hugh Howey through several very involved and complex arguments of his own that, if nothing else, blow away any lingering prejudice that the pro-author lobby are talking in simplistic us-and-them old-versus-new terms. Rather, authors are simply slipping through the cracks in publishers’ own business model.
“As crazy as this sounds, many publishers don’t know their own books’ readers,” Anderson notes. “Howey speaks of self-publishing writers being ‘maniacally focused’ on readers. They are close to the customer in ways never imagined by old publishing regimes. No wonder publishers feel suddenly sidelined and frequently blamed for what many self-publishing authors complain are standard industry practices: paying authors too little; providing them with next to no details about their sales; locking down their rights for punishingly long periods of time; treating authors, in some instances, as talented airheads.”
And much of the problem is that publishing never had direct reach to readers, and still doesn’t, having relinquished that to Amazon during a blue funk over DRM. “The people of the publishing world actually do not know how many books there are on the market today,” Anderson continues. “This is an industry that has lost control of its own market. And it turns out, that was exactly the chance the authors needed to start talking.”
So are the authors up in arms? They’re certainly empowered. And they’re using powers that traditional publishers didn’t bother to try to take back for themselves until it was too late. And some publishing veterans and supposed experts still don’t get it.
And I’d urge denizens of the book world, whatever their position in it, to listen to both Howey and Anderson on two grounds. The first is, as Anderson remarks, Howey’s “tones of diplomacy and grace frequently missed by those who feel threatened” with which he tries to include, rather than oppose, traditional publishing people. And the second is Anderson’s evident care for writing itself: “our culture’s most extravagant treasure—our writings, our use of language, literature.” There are worse causes to rise up for.