Publishers and pies

Self-styled publishing industry pundit Michael Kozlowski, whose foolishness is exceeded only by his bad manners, had this nugget of conventional wisdom to offer in the comment box of an article on The Passive Voice:

Indie authors are for the most part very lazy. They spam out e-books without any regard for quality and think quantity is better. I have noticed over the years that if you mention the e-book industry declining they will always say “its [sic] because we don’t want/need an ISBN” and then they will defend the indie movement.

If indie authors really wanted to be taken seriously they would buy cheap ISBN numbers and be counted. But that takes a few hours worth of work, something they aren’t willing to do.

Indie authors for the most part are lazy, incompetent and have no regard for the self-publishing movement.

I found that I could not let this go unchallenged. My reply follows:

OK, Kozlowski. I wasn’t going to waste my time commenting on your drivel at its original location, because I have a pretty strong suspicion that disapproving comments are ‘curated’ out of existence. But you’re here, so I’ll have a bash.

We ‘indie’ authors are so God-rotted lazy that we actually start our own publishing businesses. We not only write the books; we hire editors and copyeditors, commission cover art, arrange for wholesale and retail distribution, handle our own promotion and PR, and not only that, we, unlike you, actually engage with our end customers, the readers – a section of the food chain that your part of the business is still barely aware of and never listens to. And we do all this on our own time and our own dime, without anybody paying us an advance.

In return, we get to set our own publication schedules and choose our own projects, and we don’t have to go through an idiotic winnowing process that has no more to do with literary quality than lapping water out of one’s hands has to do with military skill. I don’t expect you to get that reference, since it comes out of a book that was not curated by a fine and reputable New York publishing house, and therefore (one must assume) is beneath your notice. Here is the nub of the story, from one of the more popular editions:

And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.

So he brought down the people unto the water: and the Lord said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink.

And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water.

And the Lord said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.

(Judges 7:4–7)

Now as to what you said: Every word of it is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’. To wit:

Indie authors are for the most part very lazy.

Dealt with above. We do more work per book than our trad-published counterparts – who, by the bye, in many cases are the very same people. Never heard of hybrid authors, have you, Kozlowski? Care to insult your own suppliers any further? Would you like some ketchup with that foot?

They spam out e-books without any regard for quality and think quantity is better.

All else being equal, quantity is better than lack of quantity. Your industry’s antiquated and oppressive practices are designed to artificially restrict the supply of any given author’s books, and of books in general. I know many authors who are quite capable of producing three or four good, well-crafted, well-considered books in a year, but you idiots won’t consider publishing more than one a year – for which you pay a pittance. This practice alone has forced thousands of skilled and capable writers, who could have earned a living at their trade, to do it as a hobby and pay their bills with another line of work. No more.

I have noticed over the years that if you mention the e-book industry declining

This is complete baloney. Even by your cockeyed and heavily biased metrics, the ebook industry has not been declining for years. You are therefore lying when you say that you’ve noticed it over the years, unless you had some way of noticing it long before it happened.

But let that pass; perhaps you are a prophet and can see the future – which would be some compensation for your utter inability to see the present. The fact is, ebook sales in units are not declining. Some individual outlets are in decline, but Amazon reports strong and steady increases in ebook sales. What is happening is that large traditional New York publishers are seeing their ebook sales decline, because they have made a unanimous and idiotic decision to price their own products out of the market. The idea that an ebook will sell well for $15 when a paperback edition is available for $10 is a folly. The idea that it is somehow necessary to price the ebook at $15 is a fever dream. Your own business is collapsing because you cut your own throats; not ours.

they will always say “its because we don’t want/need an ISBN”

Actually, we don’t need ISBNs, but that is neither here nor there. The ISBN is the 1970s’ answer to the 1950s’ problem. It has very little relevance to how ebooks are retailed today. Actually, the trouble is that Nielsen BookScan (and still more the antiquated methods used by outfits like the New York Times) deliberately chooses to omit a great part of the ebook market. In particular, ebook sales through Kindle Direct Publishing are not tracked by BookScan, whether the books have an ISBN or not.

and then they will defend the indie movement.

No, we go out and write more books, and sell them. The ‘indie movement’ does not require any defence. The truth, however, requires constant defence against liars; or rather, people who don’t know that you are a liar need to be continually warned, and your falsehoods set straight. You are darkening counsel and making unnecessary work for those who actually want to see writers succeed and earn money.

If indie authors really wanted to be taken seriously they would buy cheap ISBN numbers and be counted.

First of all, we would not be counted for our sales through KDP, as I mentioned above. Nor are any sales counted unless registered with Ingram; and it is of no benefit to ebook sellers to register their products there.

Moreover, for authors based in the United States, there are no cheap ISBNs. A single ISBN costs $125 from Bowker, the sole legal supplier. A block of 10 costs $295. Larger blocks cost less per unit, but more in the aggregate; few independent authors can justify the expense of buying 100 ISBNs in one block. Nor can authors sublet or share them, as the entire block of ISBNs is tied to one specific publishing entity. ISBNs are cheap for your corporate clients, who buy them by the carload; not for us. And this was done, I have reason to believe, specifically for the purpose of freezing small publishers and self-publishers out of the market. It should surprise no one that most American authors are doing without ISBNs rather than submit to Bowker’s scam.

But that takes a few hours worth of work, something they aren’t willing to do.

It takes seconds of work; the problem is the extortionate price charged for it. I myself am Canadian. As a Canadian author, I can get ISBNs free of charge from Library and Archives Canada, and always do. I would not do so if I had to pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege.

Indie authors for the most part are lazy, incompetent and have no regard for the self-publishing movement.

Indie authors are the self-publishing movement. Period, full stop, end of story. One would have to have the monumental stupidity of a Michael Kozlowski to believe that we have no regard for ourselves. As for ‘lazy’ and ‘incompetent’, perhaps the public can judge who more fully deserves those epithets: a writer who is earning a living by his wits and the sweat of his own brow, or a self-styled journalist and industry pundit who can’t be arsed to look up even the most elementary facts before spewing a hit piece directed against his most dangerous competitors.

As another famous ‘indie’ author once put it, your brains could be exchanged with the contents of a pie, and nobody would be any worse off for it – except the pie.

Postscript. The name of the indie author who made the remark about the pie? Mark Twain, who self-published under the name ‘Charles L. Webster and Company’. Webster was Twain’s nephew, who sat in the office and dealt with salesmen; ‘Company’ was Twain himself, who put up all the capital and did most of the work. Perhaps you have heard of one of these men; and if you have heard of just one, I’ll lay a substantial wager it wasn’t Webster.


  1. Yikes. That left a mark!

    I hope he sees it. I honestly don’t know what on earth he thinks is the difference between “indie authors” and “the self-publishing industry”. I know nothing about the industry, but that stood out to me right away.

  2. *claps*

  3. Whoo! That’s quite a stinger of a postscript. *applauds*


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