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Friday, August 22, 2014

You Just Don't Understand

"You just don't understand." I've been hearing that phrase a lot over the last few years.

I can't possibly understand having a seriously ill spouse, even though DH was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer and dealt with two surgeries and ten months of chemo. I can't possibly understand having a chronic illness, even though I been dealing with an endocrine system that decided to shut down in the middle of my pregnancy, it hasn't restarted, and there's a medicine cabinet full of drugs that I have to take to stay alive. Apparently, I also don't understand what it's like to:

- Lose a job
- Lose my savings because of a medical catastrophe
- Have a child with special needs
- Have a parent who's alcoholic

...and the list goes on and on.

The same meme permeates my professional life as well. "You don't understand how trad publishing works!" has become the battle cry of some top-level publishers and writers.

Over the last week, Lee Child has popped into The Passive Voice. Yeah, Jack Reacher's creator. That Lee Child. You can check out the conversations here and here.

In my personal opinion, neither side acquitted themselves in a mannerly fashion. But I agree with one commenter who noted that Lee came in with guns blazing, telling us how we're wrong and we just don't understand trad publishing. And Lee did use one of Passive Guy's posts entitled, "We. Don't. Care. How. Traditional. Publishing. Works.", as proof that indies are ignorant.

What Lee is not considering is that there's a HUGE difference between "understanding" and "caring".

A lot of writers who have gone indie have been trad published. They're very much aware of how trad publishing works. And they see its limitations, which is one of the reasons those writers are taking their careers into their own hands.

In my case, my trad publishing career consists of five years writing a legal column for a regional magazine and having a short story accepted into an well-known anthology. In Lee's case, he's one of the best-selling novelists in the world and makes millions per year. Are we going to see trad publishing at the same level?

Hell, no! And that's part of the problem. Lee's forgotten what it's like to be at the bottom of the trad publishing totem pole.

Is it envy or bitterness on my part when it comes to trad publishing? I don't think so. I spent the first twenty years of my professional life figuring out that I'm not a company ladder-climber. Some folks can do it naturally (my brother-in-law Tim is one), but I'm "too independent" as a psych evaluation, given to me by a potential employer, said.

Do I want Lee's level of success? I can honestly say no. First, because my time will never be my own again if I reach that level. Second, because I've seen how a modicum of success in this field changes people. Sometimes for the better, but most times, not so much.

As I read through the conversations on the two TPV posts, I had one of those stuck-by-lightning realizations. Lee thinks he's talking to other writers.

He's not. He's talking to publishers. Small publishers who figured out how to eliminate the bloated overhead that's killing the Big Five in New York. Small publishers who are tapping the markets/subgenres that the Big Five feel aren't worth their time. Small publishers who have connected with the ultimate end users in this business--THE READERS!

So yes, indies do understand trad publishing, but to use it as a model will kill our businesses. While I may not get advances with seven digits like Lee does, I make enough collectively from my readers to pay most of my bills. And frankly, that means more to me than Lee Child's approval of how I publish.

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