February 1st, 2010

book and glasses

Why do you read?...

Tangentially related to the whole Amazonfail fiasco - jaylake is depressed.

Here's why:

Finally, some things I've learned about authors from reading what ebook-buying consumers from the pro-Amazon side of this dispute are saying.

1. Authors are greedy

2. Authors are rich

3. Authors hate ebook readers

4. Authors control pricing

5. Authors control what their publishers do

6. Authors should be punished for what their publisher does

7. Authors are taking orders from their publishers' PR departments

8. Authors should self-publish, because they'll make lots more money that way

9. Authors don't know what they're talking about

10. Authors aren't necessary

11. Authors are bullying Amazon

This depresses me immensely, and reinforces what I said before about us authors looking greedy and short-sighted to consumers for whom we are the main public face of publishing.


I don't blame him. I saw the same comments. I am equally saddened by them.

Here's the thing that is glowing at me in dire neon day-glo orange from all the things I've seen said in comment threads across the Internet this weekend: "If I can't have the e-books I want (by the authors whom I enjoy) CHEAP and INSTANT, then I'll just go look for other CHEAP and INSTANT e-books (by implication, the author doesn't matter)"

It links with Jay's point #10.

I'm a writer. I've always been a writer. This is my passion, and my burden, and my gift, and my joy, and my sorrow, and my frustration, and my dream. I like to think that, if I write well, if I tell a story in a memorable fashion, if I spin wonder and enchantment into a tale to hand to others to enjoy... I deserve, at least by those who liked my offering, just a smidge of loyalty to my own voice and my own stories as distinct from anybody else's.

This is how I *READ*, wearing that other hat. I have writers whose books I'll simply take off the shelf and take to a cash register if I see a new one that I haven't read. Ursula Le Guin. Guy Gavriel Kay. Sharon Penman. China Mieville. And others. I also am willing to look at a book by a writer whose name I don't recognise and, if the title and the idea of the work catch my eye, take a chance on the new voice. If I can't afford to buy the hardcover first editions when they come out, I wait until the new books by the writers I love hit the paperback racks and I'll acquire them then.

What I do not do, what it would never occur to me to do, is to simply pick up a new book by an author whose work I've loved and admired in the past and look FIRST at the price sticker - and then decide that the price is too high, and that hey, it doesn't matter, if I can't have the new Guy Gavriel Kay I'll just buy books by some generic fantasy hack instead. It's an equivalent of saying that if I can't have Tolkien then it's just FINE to read some bland generic fantasy which looks like was cooked up in a blender - a touch of Elves, a pinch of Orcs, equal parts Dark Prophecy and Lost Heir To Enchanted Kingdom Returning, a stick of Ent, and half a spell of Gandalf - and it doesn't matter in the least that the two are utterly different on every level or that the latter could not possibly nourish the spirit of imagination and the sense of wonder in me that the former has done.

How is it possible that anybody who calls themselves a "Reader" is capable of making this sort of culling decision?

I have heard many people swear passionately that they "will NOT pay $15 for an e-book". That's fair. Neither will I. (That's because I don't DO e-books, of course, which is a different matter entirely - but okay.) The point is that the authors of these books - be they hardcover, paperback or e-book - have zero, zilch, nada, influence on how much their work is eventually sold for. I would hope that readers would find the work of certain writers, whose work they like and are willing to support, valuable enough to get a few compromises hammered out in the industry so that those writers can actually... you know... continue writing. And eat at the same time, and possibly have a roof over their heads while they do so. Trust me, we aren't getting rich on any of this unless we sell 8 million copies in 24 hours - but there is only one Harry Potter. Would you have paid $15 for a chance to get an e-book of THAT, at midnight, the same time as the hardcovers came out? A bunch of people would have else they would not have been standing in round-the-city-block queues at midnight on the day of release to get their mitts on the first books to be released into circulation.

I'm a writer. I WANT you to read me. Honest, I do. That's what the stories are for.

I give some of those stories away, in certain circumstances. I cannot afford to give ALL of them away - because not only is the production of an e-book far from free (others have addressed the price structure better than me (go look at Tobias Buckell's blog or his article on the SFWA website) but an e-book, like ANY book, begins in one place. An author's heart. An author's mind. An author's imagination.

Without those, NONE of this would be an issue.

Readers... we write for YOU. If your only criteria for reading is how much you are paying per word, then you are treating our books as sacks of potatoes or a bag of coal. They are not. They are individual and unique, like the individual and unique persons who dreamed them up. We aren't interchangeable. If you have found a writer you love, don't toss that writer aside in a fit of pique because his or her publisher has set a price on their books with which you do not happen to agree. I appreciate that the economy is in the toilet and there are other things that want your dollar, and that you might have to think twice about tossing your hard-earned money at a book - of ANY kind - dead-tree or electronic edition. But please - ask yourself, why do you read. And if the answer to that is ANYTHING other than the price on the sticker, then stay the course. If you want a book, wait for a cheaper edition, if you have to. But don't just throw a writer's heart and soul into the dumpster because a couple more dollars are more than you think you want to pay.

I read because I love the word. I read the writers I love because I love the way they use the word. If I have to forego an expensive latte a day in order to afford a book I love, then that is what I will do (and for those of you who know me and my relationship to coffee you will KNOW how much this means).

Why do you read?

And how much are you willing to offer in order for the authors who sit and dream stories for you over there in the shadows to continue to provide you with those tales?

Yes. I know. The readers owes any individual author precisely nothing - a story stands and falls by itself, out there in the big wide world. But if you've ever loved a story, don't reject the act of its creation by refusing to pay an extra dollar or three for it. You give more than that for a tip when you grab breakfast in a cafe.

Don't hate the writers. We are not the enemy. We are not greedy - if we were, most of us wouldn't have to be working two jobs and/or have married money in order to keep doing what we love. We don't "have it in" for e-books. We're mortal souls with one foot in faerie, and we're trying to make it out there, any way we know how. If you won't help... at least don't heap the brushwood of blame on our thresholds and stand out there waving torches. We are doing what we can. Meet us half way.