United colours

If there is any good to have come out of the bad situation that is the Amazon/Hachette dispute in the US, then it is the growing recognition that authors—as a group—are not bystanders, and they should not be made into victims by disagreements between the super-powers that rule over this trade.

In the US, the thriller writer Douglas Preston last month published an author letter calling for Amazon and Hachette to end their damaging squabble over terms, or at least to stop placing authors in the middle of it. In a long interview published on The Bookseller’s digital blog FutureBook.net this week, Preston explained: “We’re not against Amazon. And we’re not for Hachette at all.

We’re really trying not to take sides. We’re just asking Amazon to resolve its issues with Hachette without affecting authors, without dragging us into it.” His band of writers—900 have signed the letter—calling themselves “Authors United” now plan to run a full-page advertisement in the New York Times.

Preston says that if Amazon takes authors out of the firing line, he will most likely shutter the Authors United effort. This would be a shame. Authors need a say in how this industry evolves: they need to be seen and they need to be heard. Most importantly, they need to be part of the group that works out the future direction of this business. In that respect, this bestseller group joins indie authors such as Orna Ross, Joanna Penn, Hugh Howey and Joe Konrath, all of whom have taken a lead in debating how self-publishing can help reshape all of publishing. Indeed, some of the best analysis about future publishing comes from these “newbies”, as last week’s launch of Kindle Unlimited in the US showed.

It would be wrong to imply that authors don’t already have a voice: in the UK the Society of Authors, and in the US the much-maligned Authors Guild, represent their membership with vigour. Agents do too, and lest we forget, it was children’s writers who fought the implementation of age-banding on children’s books in the UK in the noughties.

Yet how often are authors invited to the top table when it comes to the big decisions? Authors may not be consciously excluded, but they are rarely included. As Unbound’s founding c.e.o. Dan Kieran told me, this sense that authors were not at the centre gave rise to the crowd-funding publisher. Its trading name is the reverse of Preston’s handle: United Authors Publishing Ltd.

Some time ago, I wrote that publishers ought to regard authors as part of the workforce. There is another way of looking at it. We are all part of the same continuum. As the writer/publisher Meike Ziervogel put it: “I was a reader, then a writer, and now a publisher. All three inform each other.” Different, united.