The coming Author War

I believe there will be a war between the writers who want agents and traditional publishers to “take care of them” and indie writers who want to control their own careers. — Dean Wesley Smith

I’ve been worried about this for a while now. I’ve noticed people choosing up sides on blogs and Twitter. Folks like Smith, Konrath, Hocking, Barry Eisler and myself on one side, and traditionally published authors like Lilith Saintcrow and Maureen Johnson on the other. One side wants, even needs, publishing to change so we can control our own destinies and write whatever we want. The other side needs publishing to remain the same, or at least stable, because that’s how they feed their families. They’re invested in the status quo.

So far, both sides are getting along, agreeing to disagree. But this tolerance is starting to slip. Debates are getting more heated. But it’s starting to look more and more like familiar political structures, taking on the flavor of unions versus freelancers. I fear that like American politics, the two sides will diverge to the point where they can no longer talk to each other, no longer respect each other’s point of view.

Barry Eisler’s defection to the indie side has shaken a lot of people in traditional publishing. When a New York Times Bestselling author walks away from a half million dollar advance to go indie, it makes indie publishing real. We’re not the lunatic fringe anymore. We’re the competition. The disruptors. The heretics.

Not that it’s all smiles and bunnies in the indie camp, either. There is dissension in the ranks. While some indie authors race to the bottom to sell their books at 99 cents before they lose their competitive price advantage, others decry how 99 cents “devalues” the book as an art form and demand their peers price their books higher, lest readers get too accustomed to paying a buck a book. I suspect this argument will settle out when the 99 centers figure out that they can’t sustain that price, and that their market dries up too fast. But I hope we get it ironed out before traditional publishers, along with the authors that depend on them, mobilize against the threat indie publishing poses.

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