18.2.12

Is Amazon the Death of Literary Culture?

JA Konrath always puts me off with his blowhard tone, but everything he says in his blog post, "Amazon Will Destroy You" is pretty much on target.

A powerful example of the attitude he's decrying can be found here: Six Degrees Left: Is Amazon the Death of Literary Culture?

Here's my response to that dialogue (I guess you could say I'm "Konrath lite"):

Thank you for this extremely interesting conversation, in which — for my taste — Laura Ellen Scott stands out as the voice of reason. (Aside to LES: Drop the Kindle in a Ziploc bag for bathtub reading.)

Since my first novel was pubbed by a wonderful literary press (now called MacAdam-Cage) in the mid-90s, I’ve done over a dozen Big 6 books as an author and ghostwriter. During that time, I watched fiction acquisitions become increasingly constipated, while nonfiction acquisitions became increasingly obsessed with celebrity, and creative writing majors were pumped out of grad school with not a clue about how to make a living writing — creatively or otherwise.

For all the hand-wringing about the fate of booksellers, I heard very little concern for those of us who’ve dedicated our lives to the creation of books. It never seemed to occur to anyone that the health of literary culture might be maybe possibly kinda related to the health of authors.

My first Kindle breathed new life into my reading; 20 years of writing has taken a serious toll on my eyesight. First, I consumed all my favorite classics and loved them more than ever. Then I started working my way through recently ballyhooed fiction, and I’m sorry to say it, but I was bored out of my effing skull.

So I started digging into some of the works being indie/self-pubbed on KDP. Not the 99 cent mosh pit. (I believe the 99 cent price tag was brought to the publishing industry by amateurs, the way sailors brought syphilis to Hawaii. Those who introduced it had a great time; those who live with the legacy, not so much. The gold rush will end by 2013, I think, as readers click to the reality that most of the .99/free books are crap.)

I read JEWBALL by the hilarious Neal Pollack; THE DEADWOOD BEETLE, a gorgeous, long out of print, literary novel by Mylene Dressler; THE VOLUNTEER by Barbara Taylor Sissel, an amazing voice who refused to make the compromises that would have made her novels easy grist for the traditional mill; THE LONG DRUNK by Eric Coyote, whose agent believed in the author’s quirky brilliance but never quite managed to get this bordering-on-Henry-Miller, reprobate-noir novel past the gatekeepers.

Left to the wisdom of “book culture” and indie booksellers, not one of these novels would be available to readers today. This is what Amazon hath wrought: authors allowed to push the artistic envelope, readers allowed to think for themselves, a democratized literary ecosystem.

Last year, I started a digital imprint to indie pub e-editions of my out of print backlist, and it went so well, I recently pubbed my latest novel myself. This year, I started forming a coalition of seasoned, professional authors who are stepping off the edge of the map to create a new brand of literary career that hybridizes the best qualities of indie and traditional publishing.

We’re maintaining and building relationships with agents and publishers, but we’re our own gatekeepers now. We hold to the importance of traditional editing and professionalism, but now we have creative freedom we never had, because traditional publishers can no longer afford to take the creative risks we’re prepared to take. And they never could afford to pay 70% royalties.

This revolution was inevitable. It is exhilarating to me, as both a reader and a writer. And it’s the healthiest thing to happen to literary culture since Gutenberg.

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