Publishing Industry

Scott Turow, president of the Authors Guild, wrote an Op Ed piece in the New York Times about the death of publishing, how authors are suffering, and the evils of self publishing and ebooks. And the New York Times allowed no comments. (I assume at Turow’s request.)

Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath, prophets of the new order (grin), took it on in a blog posting that has nearly a hundred comments. There are many other places that are commenting and responding, as well — Forbes has a piece that likens Turow and the Authors Guild to the NRA.

The book publishing industry sounds like its other mass media brethren. You’d think they weren’t paying attention this past decade as newspapers have undergone such upheavals. (More on that later.) But one thing journalists didn’t do was pervert their own organizations into lackeys for the industries they worked in. Journalists have taken the position that if you say you are a journalist, you are one. Oh we got ourselves into a twist over citizen journalists, but that seems to have subsided. The position has evolved from the First Amendment — if someone is deciding who is a journalist and who isn’t, you’ve got a controlled press. So journalists suck it up and let in all the riff-raff. There is a defamation case in Oregon where a judge is trying to define when is a blogger a journalist, that everyone should be watching. He doesn’t do a bad job of it — it is Oregon after all — but that’s not the point. Government needs to stay out of the definition business when it comes to journalists.

Not so with book authors I’m discovering. It isn’t just the Author’s Guild that defines a published author as someone who had been published by the traditional houses — and they have a list of who is a qualified publisher. It’s rampant through the whole field of author organizations.

Take Writer’s Digest. I respect their work, but let’s face it, they make their money off of people who want to be writers. So they have a contest for writers. Well, they have several — because God forbid that best new book go to a self-published author. We don’t want to leave them out, so there is a separate contest for self-published books. But get this — you have to be able to submit a hard-copy book. So there you industry destroying ebook authors!

Or take a look at the membership rules for the Mystery Writers Association or the International Thriller Writers Inc. that has a conference that really sounds good. And membership is free! Oh, there’s a catch — you have to be a
Published Author from a “recognized commercial publisher.” The rest of us riff-raff can join as associate members with dues of $95! So the established writers who are making money –supposedly — don’t pay, but the struggling beginners do?

Exclusivity like this makes my journalistic heart burn. You’re a writer if you say you are. You’re a published author if some one buys your book — even if you haven’t made enough to buy coffee. (I just got my first check — deposit — from Amazon for the $17 I made in January. Woo-hoo. But that’s not the point. It’s like that old joke about would you strip in a bar for a million dollars? Sure. Would you do it for a $100? No, what do you think I am? We’ve already established what you are — now we’re just negotiating the price.)

I tell my students, you become a journalist the day your byline appears in print — or on air or on the web. Own it. Act like one. Call yourself one. Doesn’t matter if you didn’t get paid for it or that it was in a small circulation paper, or on a web site that fewer than 500 people read. You are what you say you are.

Time for authors to reclaim their identity. I am a writer, and a published author. So there.