Autobots, Decepticons, and publishing

Today I was driving and I saw someone with a Transformers sticker on the car. That struck me as being so much lamer than when people actually replace the logos on their car with Transformers duplicates.

Were I to do that to my car, I would use a Decepticon logo.

Why? Lemme tell you. I am old enough that I watched the Transformers show on television when I was a child (shut up). I never much cared for the show--it was boring and annoying and mostly about selling toys, something I recognized even as a wee lassie.

The thing that really annoyed me about it was how passive the good-guy Autobots were, and how they spun their passivity so that it was somehow virtuous. The evil Decepticons would come up with some awesome new technology (which they did all the time) and the Autobots would say, Oh my stars! The Decepticons have come up with new technology, like the evil creatures they are! This is a completely unexpected turn of events, even though it happens all the time! Gosh-darn those Decepticons! They are so bad! They are always up to something! And we never are!

And then they would go whine to Optimus Prime about it, instead of taking a blowtorch to him for allowing them to (once again!) face a new Decepticon technology completely unprepared. Eventually, Optimus Prime would slowly crank out some pathetic me-too response. And everyone would act like this was some form of real leadership, when in the real world all the Autobots would be constantly calling up Megatron with offers to defect.

Anyway, I realized (and I am fully aware that this probably means I'm spending too much time thinking about this) that something similar is happening in publishing. There has been a big technological change (e-books) and a company (Amazon) has positioned itself to take maximum advantage of it. And the response of the traditional companies has been to say, Gosh-darn that Amazon! They are so bad! They are always up to something!

The thing that irritated me about Transformers when I was a kid and stuff like this now is this assumption that doing something = being bad. Action = evil. Change = evil. Progress = evil. People who do things mess stuff up. They disrupt the status quo. They complicate life. Everything was nice and predictable until the Decepticons/Amazon came along and threw a wrench into the works!

And you see that attitude among writers as well. I just finished reading Darcie Chan's Mill River Recluse. It's fine if you like sentimental books (which are not really my thing), and I don't remember finding a single typo--the manuscript was obviously very clean. The e-book, however, is a hot mess: no table of contents, the chapter ornaments are all over the place, and it feels like no two paragraphs are formatted the same way.

The book has been up for almost a year. It sold 400,000 copies before Chan started getting national press coverage, and I'm sure it's sold many more since then. Even though it's still priced at 99 cents and she's still getting a crappy 35 cents per copy, she's made six figures on it. Yet she can't be bothered to format the damned thing, and of course there's no paper copy available.

I feel like, here is somebody who is really and truly committed to certain ideas about publishing. For starters, there's the notion that writers shouldn't concern themselves in the slightest with anything other than writing--they shouldn't even stoop to hire out work. There are also two other concepts in play, which are closely related to each other: e-books aren't real books, and self-publishing isn't real publishing. Since they aren't real, it doesn't matter if your product sucks--and even if they were real, having a product that sucks is OK, because your little piece of it (the writing) is fine!

It's like these people live in a world trapped in amber, where writers are under no obligation to learn, understand, and adapt to the realities of publishing. All the changes happening are just the Decepticons running around, like the pesky little critters they are, doing their evil nonsense because they just can't leave well enough alone. You can be like Optimus Prime and kick back, satisfied with yourself because you have done the bare minimum to adjust--or because you haven't.

To which I say: All hail Megatron!