Monday, July 16, 2012

Why "Winning" Can Be a Bad Thing

Lately I've been noticing that the world is dominated by Us and Them.  Every group you're a member of can look at itself and say, "We are a cohesive unit.  X connects us."   It doesn't matter if X is the fact that you all work for the same company, you're the same sex, you share political ideas, or religious views--you SHARE something that makes you feel connected to the people around you.  You understand them better, because they are more like YOU in some limited fashion.  And, since no one likes to be an outsider, we're perpetually trying to find that group--that community--that makes us feel like we belong, like we're connected.

Connection sounds like a good thing, doesn't it?  Identifying with others is also good, right?  Well...  maybe.

This isn't a political blog, or a lactation support blog, an autism awareness blog, or a homeschooling blog. It isn't even strictly a writing blog. It's a ME blog.  If I wanted to address my political views or my homeschooling plans or my problems being a non-neurotypical mom of non-neurotypical children, it would make sense because all of those things make up part of who *I* am, but with each of those subjects it is really easy to open a can of worms.  As soon as I say "I believe *blah*" then I've offended someone, or upset someone, or pushed someone away because they don't identify with whatever I'm supporting. This is because we, as a society, have been taught that we cannot accept anything that is not US.

So, just stop for a minute and think about that.  Think about how many major problems in the world are at their most fundamental an argument of "you're not like me so you either have to change on your own or you'll be bullied until you do change."  It happens in politics.  It happens with breast/bottle discussions.  It happens with public school/homeschool discussions.  And right now, this is where we are with indie publishing/traditional publishing.  The minute someone identifies with one "side" of an argument, suddenly it becomes a battle.  Because our society revolves around the idea of "winning" we have by default criminalized "losing." We are invested in the concept of VERSUS, and in the flawed assumption of limited supply.

In publishing there is an assumptive truth that there is a known, limited number of book purchases that will take place in a defined period of time.  If that is true, then every author must compete with every other author for their share of that limited market.  If one person gains a sale, then ipso facto someone else has lost their chance at that sale.  (Notice, I don't say they've lost that sale because there's no guarantee that they would have gotten that sale, regardless of outside influence.)  People who are invested in the publishing industry as it has stood for generations are comfortable with this.  They've bonded with their cohort.  They've been through the same trials and tribulations and are competing on what they believe to be an objectively even playing field, earning their fraction of the limited whole.

Enter indie publishing.  Chaos ensues.  Blood sprays and there is much frothing and gnashing of teeth.  (We indies are intense and we love to froth ;)  Suddenly the limited market (that flawed paradigm) is now assumed to be being divided into much smaller pieces due to the greater number of books being released, but those books are being released by people who are OTHER.  They haven't been vetted.  They've bypassed the "gateway keepers" of the industry.  They haven't paid their dues with marketing fiascos, or slogged through book signing after book signing.  Yes, technically they're writers, but they're not US.  They are...  THEM. Their threat looms large, and when threatened even the most placid of people find themselves responding negatively.

I'm sure most of you have heard of Joe Konrath.  He's a fascinating fellow who pulls no punches and says exactly what he thinks.  Sometimes he's harsh. (He even swears!)  He has had a set of experiences that make him worth listening to, but he isn't the be-all and end-all, and his word isn't law.  Strangely, he's the first to say that.  After saying "do it this way" of course, but still...  he admits that there's more out there than his little slice of existence. He sees the industry as constantly changing, and says that if you're going to be part of that industry YOU have to change or be left behind. I think this is why people either love him or hate him. It is hard to change. By changing you're redefining who you are, and if your definition isn't the same then your idea of US has to change as well because you no longer necessarily fit the parameters of your old US.

 If you get any five writers together you're going to get seven different opinions about what Konrath has to say, his business model, his attitude, and hell, probably his facial hair. The truth is, though, he cannot force anyone to do anything.  He can't change the market willy-nilly.  What he has done is become the face of change. He's a lightning rod in a stormy time.  He is the epitome of OTHER for many writers, and as such the target for as much venom as he is the recipient of praise and support from people who "get him."  You can't get that much anger unless there's an equal or greater amount of fear, though.  People are *afraid* of Konrath because he is a threat to their idea of US.

It is this fear that I don't understand.  It comes from both sides.  It is indiscriminate and illogical. There is no limited market.  For as long as there has been a publishing industry, book sales have been increasing.  Whether the books are paper or pixel makes no difference.  Books are books and people are going to buy them.  When paper limitations are factored out of things and the majority of books are sold in electronic form (I can't imagine a future in which that isn't the case--paper will exist, but it won't dominate the market.) sales will increase even further. Advertising will adapt.  Marketing gurus will learn new tricks to make books visible. The market will expand.  The truth is that it already IS expanding.  BookStats released a study in 2011 that showed that book sales INCREASED between 2008 and 2010, with e-book revenues increasing by a staggering 1274%. When a book takes off people who were never expected to be purchasers end up adding to the market pool.  It is fluid, dynamic, and growing. This does NOT indicate a shrinking market that we writers will have to claw through, tooth and nail, to survive.

Whether traditional publishing or independent publishing is the RIGHT methodology is not what we should be focused on.  We should be focused on the individual writer. Yes, independent publishing is putting a financial squeeze on the PUBLISHERS of traditional print, and thereby limiting what those publishers can do.  It is the publishers who are then passing along their concerns about financial viability to their writers, because the writers are still dealing with substantially the same contract environment they have always had.  To increase dynamism there is fear-mongering--this is true in any business that has fierce competition--and then that fear-mongering creates an even stronger sense of US versus THEM.  The intention is to create artificial and unnecessary conflict between writers, to divide and conquer, because increased conflicts increase pressure thereby reducing efficacy in the marketplace.

As writers it is our responsibility--dare I say our obligation--to stop the irrational lashing-out that is happening in our industry.  We are all worthy.  We all have goals.  We all have wants and needs and desires.  What we don't have, and should, is a respect of the OTHER.  Until we stop poking THEM with sharp sticks, we can never reasonably take offense when someone stabs US in the back.

Support your US.  Be an active member of your community.  Believe things with all your heart.  BUT... have the dignity and humility to admit that you don't know everything and that YOUR truth is not always going to be everyone else's truth.  You can find your success without "winning" and people who choose a different path than yours are not "losers."  We must all "win" together--even if through different methods--or we will all truly end up losing.


  1. Well said you! Now, I'm going to sharpen my stick, the US must be protected:P

  2. Hi Tacie! Thank you, I enjoy your thoughtful blog very much! Actually the universe is in a state of simultaneous oneness and difference. This concept of "simultaneously one and different" is expressed in the ancient Vedic scriptures, and I am sure it can be found in many other paradigms. We are all faces of one Source that individuated into different holograms in order to experience separation and then find unity again. There is place for both the individual and the group. But yes, the important thing is ALLOWANCE - allowing each one to be on the path that he/she chooses, without assigning any judgement. And co-creation, not competition. Co-creation is the joyful path, competition is the survival-of-the-fittest dark path. I write thoughtful fantasy novels, by the way, so I tend to contemplate these matters quite a bit. My novels are based on New Age thinking.

    Thank you for a joyous and mindful blog!
    Mirti Venyon Reiyas