I really feel for authors. Partly because it’s my job, but also because I work with them closely and know how hard the business can be. I wrote a bit about rejection the other day, that being rejection from editors, agents and other “gatekeepers.” But then there’s rejection from the buying public. Sometimes books just don’t sell—the book doesn’t find its intended audience. Worse, sometime people buy the book and then explain to the world, via blog, or tweet or Amazon review, why they hate it. Those reviews sting. But I think there’s something that has to be even tougher: when readers reject your work, without having read it, because of a decision made by the publisher—in fact, they may boycott the book to make a point. But as John Scalzi smartly points out on his blog, the one getting punished isn’t the publisher, but the author.
There have been a couple of major brouhahas that caused readers to consider boycotting books from certain publishers. Earlier this year, there were calls for a boycott of Bloomsbury books over their perceived whitewashing of covers, and there’s quite the Amazon backlash to titles not available in the Kindle format. As Scalzi rightly points out, when one boycotts a publisher, authors are hurt, not the publisher. The author benefits more from one book sale than the publisher suffers from a lost one, as the publisher has an entire list (and probably several other imprints, or even other businesses) from which to make money, while the author has just the one book.
Now, I know what you’re thinking—authors don’t have to be published by any one publisher (I’ll ignore that it’s often the case that only one publisher is willing to publish the book), so they have some say in the situation. But in the two examples above, the controversies didn’t exist when the author signed the contract, and in both cases, the authors had no control over the perceived malfeasance. Authors have control over so little in the publishing process, that singling any one book or author out just doesn’t make much sense.
Maybe you all disagree, and I’m open to hear your thoughts. I just hope people will think twice about who’s getting hurt.