Spare Me the Sanctimonious Screed

This NYT article by Thomas Glave came to my attention via this post at The Intern.

She picked out this section:

And now, as things become more dire for writers who want to develop into actual artists, Amazon, the behemoth that fears no one, enters the fray. Can Amazon’s profit-centered forays provide a healthy space for writers?

And wondered about healthy spaces for writers. A legitimate question. But I come away with a different take.

My eye focused on this:

Can Amazon’s profit-centered forays provide a healthy space for writers?

The assumption of the article was that the answer is No. And Glave goes on to muddy the waters of his argument. He wants so badly to paint Amazon as a place where writers will have no joy, no ability to develop their art — from lack of editorial guidance and Amazon’s profit motive. And yet, he can’t ignore the fact that long before Amazon, publishers damaged authors artistically. He tries to say that small publishers are a haven — and oh, rats — not all of them are and some big publishers are good, too. But not Amazon with its profit motive…

Poor guy. He’s trying to make the world black and white when it’s shades of gray, and even that metaphor is fatally flawed.

Reality: As much as a publisher might love artistic genius, they’re in it for the money. I don’t care who the publisher is. They’re in it for profit. If genius didn’t sell, they wouldn’t buy. Some genius-writing takes a while to make money of course. That’s hard on the balance sheets, let me tell you. The solution has been to sell a lot of the profitable writing and use that to subsidize the literary side.

Publishers need authors to feed their bottom line. No authors? No books to sell. No profit.

I fail to see why Amazon and its “profit centered forays” is anything new. Name a publisher of fiction that ISN’T profit centered.

As a writer, if you don’t think about that reality, well, you’re asking for a world of pain. I don’t care how much the editor loves your writing and wants to see you grow as an artist. The end game is: if that happens, his or her employer makes money and your editor gets to keep her job.

A contract with a publisher isn’t about ART. It’s about maximizing the publisher’s profits. I have never ever seen a contract that set out how the publisher will provide the author with a “healthy space for writing.” Because that’s not the relationship. Sorry, but it’s not.

Publishing contracts are all about how much they’ll pay to license your rights and how/if they’ll share profits with you. PERIOD. That’s why you need a lawyer to review your contract, not your MFA advisor.

I welcome the competition from Amazon. I am GLAD to see a publisher making itself a place where authors have a shot at making a living from their art. Because that’s not something the other guys are doing right now.



3 Responses to “Spare Me the Sanctimonious Screed”

  1. Tamara says:

    I agree with you. I’m not the biggest fan of Amazon, with their questionable marketing tactics and increasingly monopoly-like tendencies, but if anything it’s more democratic than the traditional publishing system. If publishers don’t want to take a chance on my work; if my “art” doesn’t make agents and editors see dollar signs; I don’t have to languish in obscurity anymore. A couple of hours with a computer and I can publish myself on Amazon or Barnes and Noble and let the public decide whether it’s worth reading or not.

  2. Tamara:

    Thanks for stopping by. There are lots of opinions on the subject and lots of reasons to make any number of decisions about where to go with one’s writing. The great thing now is that there ARE other choices. Like you I’m glad to see self-publishing as more than viable option.

    What frosted me about article this was the notion that a publisher is some kind of safe haven for a developing artist. A great editor is wonderful. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really really good ones. But my relationship with a publisher is a business relationship and woe to the author who forgets that.

  3. Julie Anderson says:

    Well said. I love how you cut right through the false premises.