#FutureChateau: Do authors really want to get along?

#FutureChateau: Do authors really want to get along?

Join us each Friday when our #FutureChat with The Bookseller's FutureBook community focuses on digital developments in publishing. We'll be live on Twitter at 4 p.m. London time, 11 a.m. New York time, 8 a.m. Los Angeles, 5 p.m. Berlin, 3 p.m. GMT. 


Here at Writer's Digest's very promising three-day Annual Conference in New York City, I've been using a couple of apps on my Samsung that give me a new auto-correct response: #FutureChat becomes #FutureChateauSorely tempted.

But no, the actual hashtag is #FutureChat, and our live discussion is always edifying, thanks to the FutureBook community's smart engagement. 

Douglas Preston
Douglas Preston

(1) Have a look, if you haven't had the chance yet, at the comments of Douglas Preston in interview with us here at The FutureBook.

This is his  explication of why he wrote his initial "letter to our readers" at the top of July, which prompted, of course, the independent authors' response in the form of a petition to Hachette, now with more than 7,600 signatures, co-written by Hugh Howey and Joe Konrath (with input from Barry Eisler and others).

Preston's has dubbed his group of 900+ signers "Authors United," in an effort to steer Amazon and Hachette back into the conference room, if you will, and out of the public square of online sales pages.

Don't fail to note the commentary on that interview -- Eisler, The Bookseller's Philip Jones, and David Gaughran have a robust exchange there that helps elucidate some of the subtleties of the debate triggered by Preston.

(2) Then see Jones' leader piece for today's issue of The Bookseller. 

Philip Jones
Philip Jones

It's titled United colours. This is the piece that was earlier headlined "United authors unite," and in it, we read:

If there is good to have come out of the bad 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 disputes between the super-powers that rule over this trade.
In the US the thriller writer Douglas Preston last month launched an author letter calling for Amazon and Hachette to end their damaging disagreement over terms, or at least 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— loosely termed “Authors United” now plan to run a full-page ad in the New York Times.

(3) Which brings us to a third point: the US Authors Guild has very quietly opened membership to self-publishers. This is recent, within the last year. The Guild, as you may know -- and as Jones accurately phrases it -- is "much maligned" by many as an elitist enclave of the very successful in traditional publishing.

Roxana Robinson
Roxana Robinson

During its Scott Turow-led administration, the Guild was routinely decried as a heavily fortified redoubt of legacy bestsellers. And I wasn't surprised to find several readers earnestly asking, in response to this story, basically, "Why would anybody in his or her right mind want to join the Guild?"

Here is one answer:

When an author sees joining the Guild in its post-Turow administration led by Roxana Robinson as contrary to her or his own best interests, that author is also assuming that the Guild is frozen in Turow-coloured amber.

But, were today's self-publishers and other authors to take advantage of this newly available access to the Authors Guild, the organisation would have to change. It would have a growingly powerful, vocal, and evolving new entrepreneurial presence in its operation. It would have to cope with the integration of a community that regularly discusses worthy challenges to the publishing establishment that need airing: royalty rates and contractual copyright issues are two at the top of many lists.

However one might feel about the Guild's performance to date, there is an apparatus of advocacy there, a depth of experience and mechanisms for response. All authors -- as Jones is saying -- deserve to be so seen and so heard.

The short form: An author wouldn't join the Guild to perpetuate its past; that author would join the Guild to influence its future.

And when we hear voices in the author corps rejecting Preston out-of-hand and throwing back the idea of joining the Guild, it's not hard to understand why some observers wonder if authors, overall, truly want to find common ground at all.

And when we gather to discuss this?

  • When one author with a protest (I'm thinking of Preston here) is all but shouted down because he hasn't led a public objection to many other issues faced by authors, are we to understand that he  doesn't get to pick his battles as everyone else does?
  • And when the quick answer to the Guild's new exploration of wider membership is "hell, no, we won't go," is it not logical to wonder if some authors might not want to maintain the organisation as the evil mansion on the hill. Could the Guild have become convenient as a symbol of what's not wanted?
  • How fond are authors of the moats around their respective fortresses? It can take guts -- and real effort -- to share responsibility for trying to bring about change. What if it's more cathartic, entertaining, and blog-building to "fight than switch," as the old cigarette commercial had it?

The good thing about our community is that TheFutureBook.net is ever-united under one colour: it's magenta, but it's consistent.

You're welcome to it and to us. See you there.

Join us each Friday when our #FutureChat with The Bookseller's FutureBook community focuses on digital developments in publishing. We'll be live on Twitter at 4 p.m. London time, 11 a.m. New York time, 8 a.m. Los Angeles, 5 p.m. Berlin, 3 p.m. GMT. 

Image - Shutterstock: S.R. Lee Photo Traveller