Wednesday, May 8, 2013

All for One?

The greatest danger to Indie writers right now, in my humble opinion, is marginalization. No, I don't mean setting the proper margins on our manuscripts (although that is very important also). I mean allowing the entire movement to be marginalized by our behavior and the way outsiders perceive us.

We live in tumultuous times. We've been watching the legacy publishing industry going through convulsions for ten years now -or more- as it struggles to adapt to this new digital paradigm. When the same thing happened to the music industry, the RIAA's first response was to blame music fans. Metalli-whatever (whose name shall not be spoken!) sued their own fans for downloading pirated music, and spearheaded the self-destructive movement that nearly toppled the industry. Music labels began installing anti-piracy software on their CDs that actually kept them from playing on thousands of types of CD players, thereby crippling the product and forcing even more fans to find alternative sources for the music. 

The publishing industry similarly installed DRM on their e-books, making it so that readers couldn't effectively transfer or store novels they had paid for. Then they took it one step further and decided to punish the authors by stealing digital rights they had never specified in their contracts, and by forcing the authors' backlists into obscurity. At the same time, they shored up their bottom line by dumping midlist authors and all but closing the doors to new talent. 

Despite all of this, I'm excited. We live in unprecedented times. Today, anyone can write a book or record an album and upload it to the proper distributors, and be making money in minutes. Not everyone who tries will succeed (they never have) but now more than ever we have the opportunity to at least try. And with each one of us who does succeed, the rest do a little better. Every Hugh Howey or Amanda Hocking represents millions of readers now willing to check out Indie authors. Their success gives us all validation.

And yet we've all heard stories of Indie authors who go around slandering the work of their "competitors." They post fake reviews. They marginalize. They give thousands of potential readers one more reason not to pick up a book by an Indie, and therefore they limit their own market potential at the same time. Some have even speculated that employees of legacy publishing houses have taken part in this slanderous and fraudulent activity (a speculation not entirely unprecedented).

Not too long ago there was a grassroots political movement known as "Occupy." It was a fast-growing left wing movement similar to the right wing (or libertarian) Tea Party movement. The two movements started the same way, with voters who were fed up with the two-party political system and their dysfunctional government. Both movements spread like wildfire. They affected political careers and threatened to topple the status quo. In short order both were vilified, demonized, and infiltrated by agent provocateurs who sabotaged the movements from inside. You don't have to agree with Occupy or the Tea Party in order to see what happened. They appeared out of nowhere, presented a threat to the status quo, and were immediately marginalized to the point that we no longer hear about them. They might as well not exist. And they weren't just attacked by political opponents. They were attacked and marginalized by their own political parties.

Is this what we want for Independent Publishers and Authors? Are we going to allow this incredible movement to be toppled, not only by attacks from those who would protect the status quo, but by ourselves as well? If there's a problem with the Indie movement, it's not that we're out there spamming ads for our books on public forums or hurling insults at our critics, it's that we are apparently willing to cannibalize each other under the false pretense that another Indie's success might damage us. That's not the way it works. Every time one of us succeeds, the chances get a little better for the rest of us. Let's not screw this thing up.

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