It’s easy to assume that Joseph Konrath is angry at publishers not because he has a legitimate concern with the way they do business but because he suffers from a serious case of a broken heart and hurt pride. It’s easy to assume this because he makes it easy - by running pieces that say less about how Amazon is going to destroy the current publishing industry than they do about how much he hates the Big 6.
If you work for a publishing house, it is not easy reading. At every opportunity, Konrath will drive the knife in a little further – pointing out our past mistakes and revelling in our apparent foolishness. Ok, maybe our actual foolishness: Amazon did see the importance of digital before most publishers when they catapulted the eBook to stardom like some overzealous Simon Cowell. And people (not necessarily publishers themselves) do spend a lot of time bemoaning the state of the industry in the media – he’s also right on that.
Still, these things are hard to stomach when they’re wedged between the vindictive implication that the Big 6 treat authors ‘like shit’, and churlish sentiments like ‘I've spent hours talking to Amazon. And Amazon listened,’
Konrath’s barbs hit me me so deep because I know they’re about as true as they are impartial. I know this because author care relates directly to my job. As online content manager, my job is dedicated to supporting authors in a new way - giving them advice about their online presence if they want it, or doing techy stuff like coding and optimising their content for web if they don’t. I am living, breathing proof of the fact publishers love their authors.
Roles like mine that fall outside the traditional remit of a publishing house production line are becoming more common as publishers adapt to their writers’ needs. In a way this is adding value to our part in the creative process (though I feel our value is pretty self-evident in the months or years of work that go in between a manuscript’s first draft and someone laughing quietly as they read that book on the tube) but more simply they’re important in helping authors navigate a shifting landscape.
Publishers aren’t the only ones who face challenges now: authors have the obstacles of an amorphous readership, evolving formats, and differing judgements from their peers about what they should be doing. Publishers are in a position to help authors express themselves however they choose, and everywhere I see us embracing this opportunity.
We’re partnering with start-ups to deliver their stories in different ways. We’re asking their readers what they like and how they like it, and answering when they ask us questions. We’re proactively discovering new markets for their books. We’re being discerning in how and where we publish to make the most of their material. We’re helping authors talk to their readers directly.
We’ve made some mistakes, sure, but ‘treating authors like shit’ does not feature among them. As a publisher coming across Konrath’s article, all you can do (after the blinding fury has subsided) is shrug, sigh, and get back to work - knowing that there’s blood in our veins yet.
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