Friday, July 04, 2014

Fisking Chuck Wendig

Chuck seems to be having some problems understanding several things that are easily understandable. So, being a helpful guy, I'll take a few minutes to explain things to them.

Chuck: Hugh Howey has a petition out for… well, I don’t know exactly what it’s for, except I think it’s like, an anti-boycott for Amazon? A love-fest for Amazon? I’m not sure.

Joe: It's a counter to the negative press the media is giving Amazon for its negotiations with Hachette. Big name authors are using the media to spread misinformation about the situation, and whine in public about how unfair Amazon is being.

The letter explains, in detail, what the negotiation is really about, and how Amazon isn't the bad guy in this situation. Amazon has given readers and writers more choice and opportunity than ever before, all while keeping prices low and offering much better royalties.

That isn't a love-fest. It's the truth.

Chuck: "Below, you will see the names of writers who thank you for your support. This is only a bare fraction of the people you have touched. Happy Independence Day.
Signed, your authors."

At this point, I’m left to wonder if Independence Day is the new April Fool’s.

Joe: Ha ha! You conflated two holidays to be funny! Outrageous!

I'm left to wonder if you actually read the letter, because the 4000 people who have signed it, and left thousands of testimonials, seemed to understand it just fine.

Chuck: I don’t know exactly why Mega-Company Amazon needs a… petition of support? I like Amazon well enough, and as my publisher they’ve been aces. I don’t boycott them — but I also try to diversify my buying habits in the same way I try to diversify my reading and writing and publishing habits. But I also recognize that Amazon has received a lot of criticism for the way it does business (as have many big publishers, to be clear), and further, puts out an e-book environment where you do not really own your e-books.

Joe: That last sentence was lazy and I don't know who it is directed toward. Authors? You keep your rights when you publish on KDP, so you do own them. If you're referring to readers owning ebooks, that's the nature of digital downloads. You don't own your iTunes purchases either. Every software download includes a license agreement. What's your point? You're bringing this up why exactly? Non-sequitor divergences make it tough to tease out your intent.

Chuck: I’ve also read some contracts from Amazon that are bad or worse than some of the contracts you get from big publishers.

Joe: The Amazon legal department on their publishing side is indeed becoming onerous to deal with. But I've yet to see an Amazon contract as bad or worse as any of the big publishers, and I'm pretty sure I've seen more of both than you have. 

But please, share these contract terms with us. Back up your claim with some data.

Chuck: This isn’t meant to suggest that Amazon is an Evil Monster (I note the laziness of that too-easy thinking here, in an earlier post one month ago today). It’s just meant to suggest –

Well, we don’t need a fucking petition to support them.

Joe: Our fucking petition negated much of the potential negative effect that Preston's carefully orchestrated press release would have otherwise had. Several media outlets have picked ours up, giving balanced time to an issue that has been extremely one-sided.

Chuck: They’re not an underdog.

They’re not your savior.

Joe: No, Chuck, they aren't. But they are the company that innovated the online bookstore everyone wants to shop at by keeping prices low and offering great customer service. They invented the Kindle. With KDP, they've allowed thousands of authors to make money they otherwise wouldn't have been able to. And they've given authors a choice, when before it was sign with a NY Publishing Cartel or don't get read.

That's information readers and writers need to hear, when the Internet and airwaves are full of Colbert, Patterson, Turow, Preston, et al spouting nonsense about Amazon bullying authors.

Chuck: This petition reads like they’re beatific saints descending from crepuscular rays to upend cornucopias of food atop the heads of the homeless. If I didn’t know who wrote it, I’d legit think it was straight-up satire.

Joe: Ok, I get it. You're being satirical right now.

I think. Perhaps you just aren't good enough a writer to get your point across.

Chuck: I respect Hugh’s interest in supporting the environment that clearly supports him. But this is deeply, weirdly, head-scratchingly absurd. This is, what, a boycott against the boycott? A love letter to a company? I don’t even know. At this point I’m having trouble reading it as anything other than a missive from Bizarro-World.

Joe: Preston's silly letter (the one you should be fisking) called for people to email Jeff Bezos and tell him to stop harming authors and customers. Our letter goes into detail explaining that Amazon isn't harming authors or customers.

I can explain it a few more times if it still hasn't sunk in. And I have a feeling I'll have to.

Chuck: Some quick thoughts on bits from the petition:

“Petition by: Your Writers.”

No. I don’t support petitions like this. You shouldn’t support a petition like this even as a self-published author. I will scream this in your ear as long as I can: diversify diversify diversify. Amazon is not your mother. It’s not your god. It’s a company. Does good things. Does bad things. *shakes head so hard blood comes out of ears*

Joe: Can you shake your head a bit harder? The image of you bleeding aurally amuses me.

Diversification has absolutely nothing to do with the Amazon vs. Hachette debate. Writing for multiple publishers or etailers still makes you an Amazon writer if you publish on Amazon.

If this is how you fisk, I truly look forward to you fisking me. Please.

Chuck: “To Thank Our Readers”

Thanking readers is nowhere to be found in this petition.

Joe: How can you reply to a letter you obviously didn't read?

To wit: "Dear Readers,

Much is being said these days about changes in the book world, but not nearly enough is being said about the most important people in our industry. 

You. The readers. Without you there wouldn’t be a book industry.

We owe you so much, and we are forever in your debt. Thank you for reading late into the night. Thank you for reading to your children. Thank you for missing that subway stop, for your word of mouth, your reviews, and your fan emails. 

Thank you for seeking our books in so many ways—through brick and mortar stores, online, and in libraries. 

Thank you for enjoying these stories in all their forms—as digital books, paper books, and audiobooks. "

That's how the letter starts. Perhaps you missed it due to the dizziness brought on by your ear-related hypovolemic shock.

Chuck: It is a petition thanking Amazon.

Not even individual people at Amazon.

Just… Amazon. Like, the entity.

Joe: Can you point out where we thank Amazon? Hint: We don't. At all.

But don't let the facts get in the way of your delusions.

Chuck: “By what is being reported in the media, it may seem like Amazon is restricting what readers can access. It may seem that they are marginalizing authors.”

They are. This is literally true. You might believe that this is a good move in the long run — and you could make an argument that supports Amazon in this, just as you could make one in reverse. But this is literally actually true, not like, spin by the Giant Publishing Machine.

Joe: Good job supporting that statement with logic and facts. Because, in fact, our letter (the one you're blogging about but apparently didn't read) explains why Amazon is not restricting what readers can access, nor is it marginalizing authors.

On Amazon, readers can access of all Hachette's books currently available. Indies don't have pre-order buttons. That's a perk Amazon removed from Hachette because Amazon may not be offering Hachette books in the future if negotiations fail. Amazon should allow pre-orders it can't fulfill? How is that customer-centric?

And certainly you're aware, Chuck, since you seem to be so well-informed, Amazon also offered to monetarily compensate Hachette authors. Hachette demurred. Who is the one marginalizing authors? 

Perhaps the publisher who can't come to terms with the largest bookstore on the planet?

But I can see how all of that logic and data withers in the face of your unsubstantiated opinion that  "This is literally true".

It is literally not true. I just showed you why. You should try it when fisking. That's sorta the whole point of fisking.

Chuck: “All the complaints about Amazon should be directed at Hachette.”

All of them? Including complaints about warehouse conditions? Hey, last week they fucked up an order of Transformers and sent it to — well, honestly, I dunno, but now I know who to send my complaints to. HEY HACHETTE: AMAZON’S PRIME SHIPPING DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK LIKE THEY SAY IT DOES. ASSHOLES.

Joe: Ha! Ha! You took a line meant to be read in context, and then misrepresented it to try to be funny!

Perhaps you should try harder. On both the fisking, and the funny.

In a letter about an Amazon/Hachette dispute, the complaints about Amazon should be directed at Hachette. We could have been clearer on that, but I'm not sure it would have helped you understand any better.

Chuck: More seriously, some arguments have noted that Hachette has maybe earned this spanking from Amazon. Certainly some publishers have helped feed the beast that is Amazon and have done poorly by their authors. I agree with that. This is not really the way to achieve parity and to improve things, by my mileage.

Joe: So bringing attention to unfair business practices like shitty royalties and Hachette wanting to raise ebook prices in order to inform readers and writers when previously they've only been hearing the misinformation the media is regurgitating—that's not the way to achieve parity and improve things?

What, praytell, does your mileage show you is the path to improvement? Maybe you should have blogged about that. Or blogged about something you actually know. Or not blogged at all.

Chuck: “High e-book prices are not good for readers, and they aren’t good for writers.”

I agree. But isn’t this how the market works? They charge too much and… people don’t buy it, so they’re forced to be competitive? Hasn’t that already happened? Perhaps I’m being naive here.

Joe: Naïve. Or purposely obtuse.

You know the price fixing, colluding Big Five paid millions in damages, right? Restitution to readers who paid too much. Apparently, some people do pay too much.

You know the price fixing was to stifle competition, so all the major houses could keep prices high, right? That's not how the market works, which is why the DOJ stepped in.

Chuck: “Amazon pays writers nearly six times what publishers pay us.”

Yes, and I am all for publishers paying authors more. But it’s also worth considering that Amazon is literally not your publisher. (I mean, they’re mine, but as Skyscape.) Amazon does very little for you except act as a receptacle for your book. Which might be genius. Which might be dogshit. They literally don’t care. It’s a socket and into it you can shove diamonds, candy, cat feces, bezoars, babies, whatever.

Joe: Can you post a pic of yourself shoving cat feces into a socket? Bonus points if your ears are bleeding in the same pic.

No, Amazon is not your publisher, because the writer keeps their rights. If Hachette offered me a contract where they would distribute my paper books and I kept the rights, I'd still be with them.

Chuck: The reason they don’t take a lot of that coin is because… they don’t do anything for you. Like edit. Market. Distribute physical copies. So on, so forth. Some authors want that, some don’t.

Joe: Agreed, KDP does nothing for authors. I mean, other than giving us the ability to sell our work to millions of Kindle and Kindle app owners on one the most popular online store in history.

Oh, and the ability to advertise, like the beta program I'm in.

Oh, and they distribute my physical copies through Createspace.

But you're right. They don't edit. Editing is easily worth the 52.5% royalties that publishers take. Forever. So good point, Chuck.

Chuck: The trick isn’t going ALL-IN with Amazon, the trick is demanding better from all publishers, all companies.

Joe: Like you've done in this blog post, where you demanded…

Um.

Hmmm.

Well, you pretty much didn't demand anything from publishers or companies. You just said we shouldn't go all-in with Amazon. Which isn't something we put in the letter, so I have no idea why you're bringing it up. But at least you're finally trying to say something, I suppose.

Chuck: The trick is to support authors, not corporations. People over corporate entities. (This feels particularly tone deaf considering the CORPORATIONS HAVE OPINIONS shift with Hobby Lobby. Petitions in sympathy of companies is cuckoo banana sundae.)

Joe: And you're supporting authors in the blog post by…

Uh.

Hmmmm.

As for the point of our petition, it spoke for itself, and I've also explained it to you here. But let's do it one more time! Bigshot authors and the media are painting Amazon as the bad guy. Our letter showed Amazon isn't the bad guy. If that's a cuckoo banana sundae (ha! The chuckles never stop with you!) then sign me up for one with extra chocolate syrup.

Chuck: “Hachette is looking out for their own interests, not the interests of writers or readers.”

And Amazon is not Mother Theresa tending to lepers.

Like, I can’t –

I don’t even?

What is happening?

Joe: Okay. I'll explain it again. You really seem confused as to our intent, but I'm a patient guy.

Hachette is whining in public, looking for sympathy. The media is reporting this. Many authors are pointing fingers at Amazon, saying they are bad.

This is all incorrect. That doesn't make Amazon Mother Theresa. But it makes them the one to back in this dispute. Right now, Amazon does a lot for readers and writers. I know you didn't bother to read our letter, but I urge you to take two hours (it'll take that long) to read the thousands of testimonials from people who signed the letter.

Amazon has improved the lives of lots of people, readers and writers. The media is making them look like bullies. We're showing Amazon isn't bullying anyone. And at this moment in time, Amazon's interests do indeed coincide with the interests of readers and writers. Hachette's do not. They want to raise prices, and their negotiating tactics are hurting their own authors.

Chuck: Listen.

Here’s how you thank Amazon:

Buy shit from them.

Here’s how you thank authors:

Buy their books.

Here’s how you don’t thank Amazon:

Buy elsewhere.

Here’s how authors thank readers:

Just, like, thank them. Thank them in person. Over email. Over the social media frequency. Offer deals when you can. Help get your books in their hands. Be awesome to them. Don’t write weird petitions to them that aren’t really to them at all.

Joe: Thanks for your advice, Chuck. It might be easy for you to thank both of your readers in person (zing! Look at me, I'm funny too!) but Hugh and I wrote this letter to explain to readers the Amazon/Hachette situation while simultaneously thanking them for their support. We also wrote it to inform writers who don't understand what the squabble is about. If you like, I can send a tattoo artist over to your house to ink this backwards on your face. Then maybe you'll be able to understand it, too.

Chuck: You don’t aim your high-five for readers at Amazon.

Joe: I'd suggest you don't fisk a letter you haven't read, and don't opine when you're ill-informed. It makes it ridiculously easy to refute you, and then you look silly.

Somehow I doubt you'll take my well-meaning advice.

Chuck: Vote with your dollar. But please, seriously, don’t sign any weird petitions like this.

Joe: Well, you have 57 comments on your blog. We have 4000.

I think more people are listening to us.

Chuck: Howey’s deservedly a bookworld superstar, so I suspect he’ll get all the signatures he needs — though for what effect, I have no idea, as this petition feels like a hollow stroke-job that accomplishes absolutely nothing except blowing a blush of hot, fragrant breath toward Amazon and away from authors and readers. This feels like shilling — uncomfortable, in-the-bag, straight-up-shilling.

Joe: And your blog feels like lackluster masturbation where your love for your own voice has overpowered any common sense and ability to debate coherently, and says absolutely nothing worthwhile in a meandering, unimpressive way.

But we're each entitled to our opinions.

Chuck: My message to Hugh would be: I prefer it when you advocate for authors, not for companies. Hugh has been increasingly “all-in” with Amazon — and this is counter to how many authors have been successful with author-publishing. It doesn’t feel instructive. It feels deliberately cozy with the other side of Big Publishing. (And anybody who thinks Amazon isn’t just its own version of Big Publishing has lost their mind.)

Joe: "But it’s also worth considering that Amazon is literally not your publisher. Amazon does very little for you except act as a receptacle for your book." – Chuck Wendig, a few paragraphs earlier

So which is it, Chuck? Is Amazon not a publisher, or is it its own version of Big Publishing?

Also, allow me to explain once again what our letter was about, because it isn't Hugh advocating for Amazon. It's Hugh and I explaining what's happening with Amazon/Hachette.

Amazon is being hated on in the media. If they were worthy of that hate, I'd blog about it. (When I blog I actually make points—you should try it). In this case, Amazon isn't worthy of the hate, but many people don't know that. Now they do (well, many of them do, while you don't. But maybe I'll explain it one more time before I'm done fisking you.)

Chuck: Like I said before: I’m happy with my experiences with Amazon. I agree they have changed the face of publishing, in many ways for the awesome, in some ways for the whoa what the fuck. They have been a wonderful publisher for my work. But — c’mon. C’mon.

C’MON.

Okay, this petition really is satire, right?

Yes? Maybe?

Joe: Yes, Chuck. It was all satire. You finally figured it out.

Oh… shit. I think my ears are bleeding.

Chuck: [note: it's been made clear this isn't Howey's petition so much as one he co-authored and is presently championing -- but it is reportedly the work of several self-published authors. I respectfully suggest that as a group they might want to get an editor, as this thing reads like it's about 3000 words too long.]

Joe: Our letter was 2400 words and said something.

Your blog was 1500 words and said exactly jack shit.

But it amused me, and will no doubt amuse my readers. And I have more than two. J