Seanan McGuire (seanan_mcguire) wrote,
Seanan McGuire

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Matters of control.

People are talking a lot about eBooks right now. It would be impossible not to talk a lot about eBooks right now, given the recent mess with Amazon and MacMillan.* Before this, people were already talking about eBooks, for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons was what people are calling the "nuclear option": a tendency by some readers to go to and other review sites and post one-star reviews of products because those products are not available to them. The book you want isn't available in the country where you live? Give it a one-star review! That'll show 'em!

...except no. Not really.

People are talking a lot about book covers right now, and the fact that sometimes, the people on them don't actually look anything like the people inside the books. Sometimes they're bad. Sometimes they're terrible. And sometimes, yes, they're inaccurate enough to be insulting, presenting characters as the wrong race, gender, weight, sex, or species. (For a nice round-up on some recent cover issues, check out this excellent post by the always-charming jimhines.) This leads, periodically, to groups of people deciding that the best response is a boycott of the books in question—the classic "voting with your dollar" method that works so very well in other arenas.

...except maybe this one.

Authors have a surprisingly small amount of control over a lot of aspects of how their books are presented to the public. I say "surprisingly" because when I was a kid, I ranked "Author" as a position of power just below "Doctor Who," "The Great Pumpkin," and "God." Most people knock "God" off that list by the time they reach their teens (I did), but still, there's this innate assumption that the author has a lot of control over where their work goes and what it does.

...except no. Not really. Check out these lists for details.

Things the Author Probably Controls

* Whether the book gets written.
* Which publishing houses the book gets sent to.

Things the Author Probably Does NOT Control (unless the author is Stephen King)

* The cover.
* The title.
* The publication date.
* The format of the book.
* The cost of the book.
* Whether there's an eBook edition.
* Whether the book is published anywhere outside the US.
* Whether the book is published in more than one language.
* Whether there's an audio edition.
* Which stores, including Amazon, carry their book.
* How many copies are printed.

Who You Are Punishing If You Boycott the Book or Review It Poorly Because of Format, Not Content

* The author.

Who You Are NOT Punishing

* The publisher.

Now, I don't want my publisher punished, for anything. Both my publishers have been amazingly good to me. I love them like I love candy corn and fluffy little blue kittens, and I want everything they touch to turn to gold, because then maybe they can start paying me in remote islands and genetically-engineered dinosaurs instead of boring dollars. Plus, people take very poorly to being punished. If you hit me because I didn't bring you the sandwich you wanted, I'm not going to go and make you a fresh sandwich. If, however, you say "I'm sorry, I really wanted tuna," well, we can negotiate. The message you send when you pan a book for not being available in the format/language/region you want isn't "I really want this but you won't let me have it"; it's "this sucks." Remember, that nasty review is only going to be seen if someone takes the trouble to read it. Most people will just see what amounts to an announcement of "this is a bad book."

If there were a mass boycott of Stephen King or Tom Clancy, the odds are good that the publishing world would notice. Those are, after all, some damn big numbers. Most authors are not in that neighborhood. Most authors can't even get an invitation to that city. So for us, losing ten sales actually matters. For us. For our publisher...not so much. The message sent by a boycott is not "I am offended by this choice," it's "I am not a fan of this author." If enough sales are lost, the author won't be able to get another book contract, and will need to find another job. The publisher will keep publishing. Some of these choices don't punish the people you're trying to punish, and their side effects can be killer.

So how do you get your point across? Pick up a pen. If you're actively offended by a book's cover, try buying the book and mailing the cover back to the publisher, along with a letter saying something like "Thank you so much for publishing a book that was so well-suited to my interests and desires as a writer. Unfortunately, this cover is unsuitable, because..." Indicate that you wanted the author's work, but not the poorly-chosen cover art, and that you would love to see the book issued again with a better cover. Don't punish the author. If you wonder why a book hasn't been printed in a literary region other than the one where it was originally printed (so American books in Germany, German books in France, etc.), it's probably because the local publishers don't realize that interest exists. Write to them! Say "I am a huge fan of Author T. Author's work, and I was wondering if you planned to print their latest book." They might not know they want the work if they don't know there's a market. But don't hit the author for things that are entirely outside of their control. It's just not nice.

(*If you somehow missed the mess, here's a very quick-and-dirty summation: MacMillan said "we want to charge more for our books than you do. We also want to charge less for our books than you do." Amazon said "no." MacMillan said "but they're our books." Amazon de-listed all MacMillan titles, without telling anyone that they were going to do so. MacMillan got upset. MacMillan authors got upset, since the loss of Amazon as a retailer could potentially mean they can't afford cat food anymore. Non-MacMillan authors got upset, because dude, there but for the grace of the Great Pumpkin go we. Everyone did a lot of shouting. People who want cheap eBooks called MacMillan a bully. People who want authors to be able to sell their books called Amazon a bully. There are some very good accountings of the whole mess floating around the Internet; I recommend you go read John Scalzi's post if you want a solidly-researched starting point. This is not that starting point.)
Tags: business needs, cranky blonde is cranky, don't be dumb, writing

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