March 22, 2011
Publishing’s Gatekeepers No Longer Have a Gate to Keep

Here’s a fascinating dialogue between Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath about self-publishing and e-books, in which Eisler talks about how he turned down a half-million dollars from a publisher.

I’m something of a Luddite, and I predicted that e-books would never catch on, but it turns out that Amazon is selling more e-books than paperbacks. Very soon, I’m going to put out my backlist as e-books, and also my novel How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy? which is being published in French as part of Regarde les Hommes Mourir, but has never been published in English.

I found the following exchange between Eisler and Konrath particularly interesting (I’ll explain why after the excerpt):

Barry: The royalty/peasant mentality is pervasive, largely invisible to the people who are part of it, and manifests itself in a lot of contexts. Look what happened when I published my blog post, The Ministry of Truth.
Joe: The one about your NPR essay?
Barry: Right, my essay examining Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four as a thriller, which I wrote at NPR’s invitation. The blog post examined the way NPR edited the essay, and how NPR’s edits revealed that fundamentally, NPR is an establishment media player.
Joe: Your editor was pissed.
Barry: He was. NPR called up Random House and complained about my blog post. And my editor then dutifully complained to me. At first, I didn’t understand the complaints at all. I said, “Why don’t they complain in the comments section of my blog? You know, the box where it says, ‘Leave Your Comment.’ Why not engage my argument? Why are they complaining to you in private?”
Joe: Because they didn’t want to imply you were an equal.
Barry: Bingo. Their attitude was, “If we argue in public with this unwashed blogger, by implication it puts the blogger on the same footing as NPR.” So instead, they called another establishment player, Random House, to settle it all privately. “Straighten out this peasant, won’t you? He’s making us all look bad.”
The weird thing was how much sense the whole thing made to my editor and how little it made to me. I mean, it’s not like I took a dump all over NPR; I just pointed out that they’re an establishment media player playing by establishment media rules. An entirely legitimate and worthwhile argument. But they weren’t concerned about the merits of the argument; they were concerned that the argument was being raised at all, and by someone without the appropriate status to raise it. I just didn’t get it. I asked my editor what, is there some lese majeste law protecting NPR from respectful public criticism? It’s bizarre, how delicate establishment egos can be, how frightened they are of criticism from the wrong quarters.
Joe: Peasants aren’t allowed to criticize the royalty.

This reminded me of a conversation I had last year with an Arizona politician who didn’t like something I wrote on this blog. Trying to swagger it off, he said, “I don’t care what you write, Graham. You don’t have a newspaper column anymore.”

I answered, “Right. So, I have just as many readers as I ever did, but no editor to censor me. You really think that makes me less of a problem for you?”

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