Gang Raped By Technology and Affiliate Marketers

This theme has been brewing with me for a while, and I’m not sure I’m equipped to broach it yet, but enough is enough and it’s time to start the dialogue. Harsh title? Hey, it’s my artistic license. Fuck you.  And if that doesn’t sit with you well, you’re probably a marketer.

I argue that the gap between marketing and technology, and the writing/artistic community is so wide now that the relationship is no longer parasitic (oh come on, it never was equal before either), but nearly irreconcilable. As we stroll further down the technology route in delivering content to readers, writers have less and less control over our work. I’m not talking strictly about copyright, I’m talking about how our work looks and how it is displayed on the variety of devices meant for reading. Ever try to upload a book to Smashwords? Fucking impossible. Ok, not impossible, but painstakingly annoying so much so that my eyeballs are still bleeding. But Smashwords must retain a standardized process because they are dealing with thousands of different formats and content types, so technologically it is the only possible way to do it. Right? RIGHT? Is that right? It’s not just Smashwords, and I don’t want Mark Coker to get mad at me again, so I’m not picking on Smashwords, which has been incredibly amazing to hundreds of writers and thousands of readers.

I’m picking on the very idea that writers are bending over and spreading our cheeks for any number of ways to have our work violated and repurposed. Knowingly so. Yes–we know the risks, we post our shit everywhere. Oh sure, some of you go to Creative Commons, blah blah blah, but have you actually read the terms of service for digital uploads at Amazon, Scribd, and other services?

Two things struck me recently:

  1. Mike Cane’s iPad Test posted two incredibly thoughtful and well-researched pieces about terms of service and writer’s rights to their work once posted on just about any number of the “free” online services to “help” writers gain visibility and “publish” their work. We all use these services. They are generally helpful.

“We,” the independent writing community (which functions without any governance, as most independent communities do) won’t revolt against this and even if we do, “They” won’t give a shit either way. Why? Because “We” are so fucking desperate for exposure and visibility we are knowingly taking the risks of our shit being stolen, in any number of ways.

“We” are kind of pathetic. The mainstream publishing system isn’t dead, yet, unfortunately, and the indies are an itty-bitty fly in the muck of it all.

One by one we can deconstruct the wasteland that is being built up around the fragile publishing industry to support independents. Because it isn’t really supporting us so much as it is exploiting the hell out of us. But who’s making money and benefiting? No one, there’s not enough volume of independent releases for a scribd or amazon or smashwords or bookbuzzer or whateverthefuck cutesy name is out there to exist parasitically off our work. We need them.

“We” writers and artists need to build the right infrastructure that supports our need for visibility while protecting our artistic license. If we leave it up to technologists and affiliate marketers, we’re going to get the gang rape we deserve.

2.  A post on metadata, by P. Bradley Robb on Publishr . What the hell would set me off about that? I’ll tell you what. There’s nothing more frustrating as a writer to read about a technologist’s analysis of the work in terms of fucking metadata. Just that word is enough to make me fall on a knife. It’s not that this discussion isn’t a timely, astute, and necessary one to have: it is, of course. But as I said, it totally underscores the Grand Canyon that is increasingly growing between those who wish to publish and help others publish, and those who just wish to write and have people read our stuff.

And there it is, a fundamental worldview in binary opposition: as technology continues to gain in our daily lives in new, inspiring, and innovative ways, writers remain mainly static. No one is at fault here. Sure I can make the argument that writers need to wise up to technology and content delivery mechanisms (huh?); or I can blast technologists and marketers for developing infrastructure for writers that just doesn’t mesh with our continuing need for artistic license.

The need to classify and Search (yes, I meant that with a capital S) is a key imperative, hence the good argument for that metadata post I so dreaded,  for writers’ future. Writers are most often lacking in this foresight. We need to get our shit together and stop letting other people codify our work. I don’t really know what I mean by that, but we need to take some of that responsibility back into our own hands instead of leaving it to the Bowkers of the world. Really now.

What’s the solution, when we both need each other?



Filed under commentary, essay

10 responses to “Gang Raped By Technology and Affiliate Marketers

  1. …it totally underscores the Grand Canyon that is increasingly growing between those who wish to publish and help others publish, and those who just wish to write and have people read our stuff.

    I’m bi.

    What’s the solution, when we both need each other?

    To be bi.

    I’ll be honest: I can’t make a living off selling my books. They’re selling well enough, I believe, for indie releases (and I know they’re now on torrent sites), but it’s what went into publishing those books that’s now making the money.

    I learned how to format ebooks. I have twenty-five years’ experience with processing words in one way or another (with shorthand and a steno pad [yes, I did, shut up], a manual typewriter with a carriage return, an IBM Selectric, an Apple II, an IBM 286, a Macintosh, etc. etc. etc.) to manuscripts to J-school. Every step of the way I’ve bumped up with technology, usually on the leading edge of it because I was in a position to have to.

    When I went to publish my book, I tried to figure out who/what/where/how all those ebooks got formatted and I came up with zero vendors I could afford. So I did what I always do when I need something done and I can’t afford to pay for it: I learned.

    Like I learned everything before that.

    The books put my little micropub in the black. Barely. The ebook formatting is what I can live on.

    For writers who can’t/won’t learn how to do this? Well, I feel sorry for those who can’t, but I have no pity for those who won’t.

    Because in the end, most writers with agents and contracts can’t just “write and have people read [their] stuff.”

    This ain’t your daddy’s publishing no more.

    • See, MoJo, you’re so far ahead of me, we’re like in different cosmos.

      Maybe if I didn’t have a suck dayjob I would have more incentive and imperative to sell more books, therefore having to master the nuances better than I have of technology and promotion.

      But I give my e-work out free, for a few reasons (see Dan’s comment below). First, I don’t have enough confidence that someone will pay for it electronically, so why ask them to?
      I don’t believe (and I admit I am off the mark here) that electronic reading is prominent enough to make a difference in my bottom line. I just don’t. You do, you have been successful in it. But until I either generate a product that more people want, or I see more tangible evidence that people will spend a ton of money on independent releases electronically, I just don’t expend the effort [because I don’t have to].

      –> I realize that these statements make you want to stick knives under my nails. I do. And you’re right. But I am just telling you psychologically how I’m arriving at these ferkakte conclusions.

      And meanwhile I bitch and moan about having a dayjob and not being able to write as much as I want.

      Don’t worry, I fully see what’s going on here.

      Thanks for saying it without saying it.

  2. What a catchy title along with some helpful information with a twist. Thanks for keeping us informed.

  3. Lindsey Thomas Martin

    I started to comment a couple of hours ago and wasn’t quite sure how to start. Then, I was over on LinkedIn reading responses to a query from a chap at a publishing company asking how to move printed books into digital format. He got two responses from people working in publishing who wrote that there were several ways to proceed and offered some suggestions and links to more info, and a second from a fellow who said, ‘This is the way to do it and my company will help you for the lowest cost’. I think the second is the sort you are complaining about but there are a lot of us like the first two, working in publishing and struggling with changes in the technology and the business models and not very far removed from the writing/artistic community. In fact, most of us in design, editing, compositing, and marketing think of ourselves as part of that community. So, you’ve got allies and the gap is not as great as it looks.

    About: ‘As we stroll further down the technology route in delivering content to readers, writers have less and less control over our work.’ I know what you’re getting at but observe that there has always been technology delivering content and that writers’ control over their work has, with a few exceptions, always been subject to their relation with their publisher. I started in this business in the days of hot lead and there were very few, if any, authors operating Linotype machines to typeset their own writing. For obvious reasons. What has changed is that the technology has become more accessible and one finds writers, editors, copyeditors, and designers grappling with skills that used to be handed off to a tradesman. And, yes, most of us are very concerned—dismayed would be more accurate—about ‘how [poorly your] work looks and how it is displayed on the variety of devices meant for reading’.

    • Lindsay: Your recent experience nailed it right on the head, unfortunately!

      There’s got to be a better balance, I think, and that’s my point. I need to take my own damned advice since my epub sucks and much of my own use of technology to promote my writing is on the suck side of suck. So I’m talking about myself when I mean to say there is a better balance to be struck between promotion, writing, and technology. We don’t have to hand it all over to publishers, and while agents play a significant role in mediating, I feel that writers could step it up. (Next post on that.)


  4. Jack White
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    Jack White Jack White v Jack White Jack White

  5. Er, seriously. No, that was serious.
    Is anyone actually beginning to realise I might have been talking sense when I talked about gigs & merch & special editions last year. The internet is great. Free is great. Free e-content is even better. Anyone who ever though internet-delivered creative content was going to make their business model wants their head examined. But they wanted it examined last year as well.

    • You don’t need me to tell you I’m with you, baby.

      But Moriah’s got a point.

      Thing is, you and I don’t write the genre fiction that she does, and there is already an audience that she can tap into who form a significant community of book and e-book buyers. (*ding ding, there’s the copout! see, I told you, I know what’s going on here.)

      Maybe once I master the e–and right now I’m strictly amateur, which kind of pisses me off–I could consider charging money. But I probably won’t.

      We got sidetracked here somehow.

  6. Eh. Your gripes don’t impress me. If this was still a print world, any writer who wanted to self-publish — and that’s what these e-services provide — would have to learn about design, layout, pasteups(!), typesetting, galleys, etc. It’s the same shit, just in e now.

    If you want to advocate that writers should read the fucking TOSes and contracts they’re agreeing to, then yes, that’s a point. And that’s what I’ve been trying to drum into people. But even there, that’s no different than the damned *paper* contracts we’d contract back when it was all still print.

  7. *typo “we’d contract” = “we’d confront”


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