Monday, October 19, 2015


I used to put these sort of indignant exhalations on Medium, which has quite a different readership than Blogger.   But I pulled out of, so I'll just park this here.


Some time ago smart publishers began to realize that it’s much easier to bully writers rather than readers, so they began to push off functions that had been part of the job of publishing onto the writers, who were often desperate to be “published”.   You can ask any ordinary worker who never reads and never got past the eighth grade, you can ask your grandmother, you can ask a little child, is a “published” book better than an unpublished book?  They will all assume that it is.  But they will have little notion of what publishing really is.  Dozens of organizations for writers require “having written a published book” as a prerequisite.   They can't agree on whether self-published books count or even whether eBooks count.  Most severely, the academic world requires published books and articles as part of qualifying for employment and tenure. But they can’t quite explain what a published book is,  much less scholarly, except that they are thinking of paper pages with bindings.

In the days of advances, writers had money to go to locations for first line research, or at least not to have to make a living while developing a book.  Part of the cost of preparing a manuscript for the printer goes to charts and photos.  These must now be supplied by the authors.  The publisher expects the writer to supply a plan for promotion, even if they have no intention of using it.  (A secondary industry is promotion privately contracted by the writer.)  And they want the writer to suggest reviewers who will be quotable for the cover.  Hopefully those will be friends who will be positive, but the NYTimes has been accused of deliberately assigning enemies to review each other's books in hopes of stirring up something exciting that will be presented as “news”.  And hilarity.

This morning there were two relevant stories in my email stream.  The first is about Amazon, who will sell anything (that’s where I get my cats’ laxative gel) getting upset that writers, fighting back, have asked their friends and relatives to post glowing responses to their published works (possibly also self-published since publishing these days only cares about sure profits).  Some resourceful writers have posted their own reviews of their own work, so Amazon will “sue” them, though they don’t know who they are, at least not provably.

It's giving them zero stars. The retail titan is suing 1,114 John Does - their identities are currently unknown - who offer to write false reviews for as little as $5 on Fiverr, a site where people can proffer minor creative services for little pay. Amazon says fake reviews could undermine its reputation and render product ratings useless. While it might be tough to legally discipline the writers, many of whom likely live overseas and outside America's legal net, Fiverr says it's working with Amazon to resolve the issue.

How does Amazon qualify to review books or manage book reviewing in the first place?  I thought it was a shipping service.  There are still library services and universities -- we used to have review sections in newspapers.  What about all those book clubs and purported friends?

I’m getting increasingly bugged by demands to review shipping.  I recently bought a paperback from a lesser author, that doesn’t really interest me after all, but I think others will like it.  So I’ll give it to the local library unread to spare wasting time and effort.  Not that Amazon cares.  They want me to rate the SERVICE of ordering and shipping because they are doing something like publishing the existence of the people who sell books through Amazon.  It’s a useful service, but I’m sure governed by the same laws that control the shipping of vacuum cleaner filters.  So why am I required to monitor the quality of shipping the books with the implication that it’s the same thing as reviewing books?  Many of them are USED books with published prices and a brief description of condition.


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Somehow the publisher already has the writer by the throat, Amazon has the publisher AND the writer by the throat, and is working on getting the shippers by the throat, even if they are selling used books written a century ago.  The whole thing is built on convincing the buyer that they are somehow saving civilization by telling Amazon if the post office delivered late or somehow tore the wrappings.  I don’t see any real remedy for this -- outside of starting a rival mail order company.  Or hoping that our version of “civilization” will begin to include a little humility instead of stoking the conviction of so many that sitting in the kitchen with a laptop, making the little thumbs and hearts do this and that, is equivalent to being a Roman emperor.

I’m at fault myself.  I live in a tiny village on the prairie where the closest book store -- quite a good one -- was run out of town because he was also a rancher of organic cattle and made a fuss over his roadsides being sprayed by the county in spite of being posted.  It was a first rate bookstore that specialized in books about the West but refused to be online.  

Maybe we’re getting what we deserve.  I’ll try to deserve better.  The word for World is WACKED.

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