Sunday, September 28, 2014

Could Ellora's Cave Be More Pathetic and Pernicious?

Updated Below

I was traveling much of the day yesterday, so I missed the news that romance publisher Ellora's Cave is suing Jane Litte and her blog Dear Author for "defamation." Jane reported on EC's apparent failure to pay EC authors royalties that were due, on authors calling for a boycott of EC-published books, and on related matters, and it seems EC responded the way powerful entities sometimes do when their abuses are exposed: they sued. For more on what's happening here and why it's so important that authors stand with Jane and Dear Author, I recommend in particular "Ellora's Cave Sues Dear Author: Hello Streisand Effect," at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

I've opined many times that we're living through a revolution in publishing, a revolution that promises more opportunities, freedom, and profits for authors, and better choice, convenience, and prices for readers. The publishing establishment is trying to impede that progress in a variety of ways: propaganda; marginalizing critics; calls for government intervention; and now, it seems, litigation designed to frighten and silence critics of entrenched interests.

(For a fascinating and disturbing look at this phenomenon in the context of the CIA aligning with establishment media to destroy a muckraker's reputation, don't miss this must-read from Ryan Gallagher at The Intercept: "Managing a Nightmare: How the CIA Watched Over the Destruction of Gary Webb.")

Jane says she's going to keep her readers updated about progress in the suit. She might set up a legal fund. If she does, I'll certainly contribute, and I hope so will anyone else who cares about authors, readers, and the importance of stopping corporate interests from using spurious lawsuits to chill free speech.


response I wrote offline to some people quite fairly pointing out that Ellora's Cave is not an establishment publisher:

I think maybe our disconnect is that you guys are focusing more on individual distinctions, while I'm focusing more on higher-level commonalities. It's been my experience that different approaches like ours can sometimes cause argument, because depending on what you zero in on, any two things can be said to be different (apples and oranges look and taste different) or to be the same (apples and oranges are both fruit).

The post I wrote is about power dynamics in publishing. As I think should be reasonably clear from our discussions here (and my posts elsewhere), I don't trust asymmetrical market power anywhere I see it, and despise its abuses no matter how or in what system it manifests itself. This is why I make connections between politics and publishing, and between establishment publishers like Hachette and upstarts like EC. Of course it's perfectly accurate to say, "New York Publishing is not the Democratic Party/Republican Party/Wall Street!" Or "Hachette is not EC!" But it's the commonalities that concern me here, not the differences. Except as a straw man, identifying and examining those commonalities doesn't translate into "The Big Five=the Democratic National Committee," or "Ellora's Cave=Hachette," and it's a bit silly to suggest otherwise.

Mike said, "I'm reminded of the line about the guy with the hammer to whom everything looks like a nail." Indeed, and there's a corollary: a guy afraid of picking up a hammer will live in denial that nails even exist. Though I'm not sure argument by allegory is well calculated to shed light here rather than heat.

Let me put it this way. If EC doesn't believe its suit is going to cause a massive backlash and result in new authors being afraid to sign with them, it can only be because: (i) they're so desperate they think they have nothing to lose; (ii) they believe they have such asymmetrical market power that authors will submit new manuscripts to them no matter what; or (iii) both. These power dynamics are the connections and commonalities I see between EC and establishment publishing. I get that you don't see them, and that's okay. I'm glad we all agree that EC's behavior here is outrageous.


Mitzi said...

As an author who's indie published and traditionally published (small press), I'm concerned that this suit will do exactly what you said: prevent writers from submitting their manuscripts to EC or ANY small press. As a reader, I like the idea of having various avenues for a manuscript. I would also like the idea that I can trust that publishing company. However, what this suit may do is push more and more writers to indie publishing. And that's a shame; there are many good and ethical small presses out there.

lynneconnolly said...

I'm an Ellora's Cave author who has asked for my rights back. I got a form response, which I won't publish as it has the confidential disclaimer on it, but I did get the rights back to my unpublished work.
In order to facilitate meeting contractual requirements for reversion, I've taken the books down from my website and blog. That hurt. I loved those books.
It was the slicing of staff (all but a few freelance staff have gone) and the change in editorial policy, as well as the drop in sales that pushed me to take that step.
But now, thanks to all this fuss, the authors' rights have been pushed to one side in the media. Plus, if DA is awarded the case, that's more money I won't be getting.
Not that I blame DA for any of this. They didn't bring the case and I thought the original article was fair. I would have preferred the owners of EC (who are making all the decisions now, not the management) to have concentrated their efforts on marketing and packaging concerns. As well as paying royalties.
I don't do particularly well self-publishing, so I am looking for new publishers for the works I got back.

Unknown said...

It is an absolute shame that EC is doing this to DA and to their authors. I don't understand what they are hoping to accomplish with this, but it isn't going to do any good, even on the extremely thin chance they win. They have lost goodwill, bloggers willing to review, and purchasers.

Matt Iden said...

To echo your point, Barry, I’m puzzled by those who would point out the EC isn’t an establishment publisher, since the point has little to do with the size of the entity doing the bullying and everything to do with that entity using their leverage to quash an author’s rights as a business partner.

Whether it’s a small press of one person operating out of their garage or a Big Five publisher owned by a multi-billion dollar conglomerate, the attempt to “chill” protesting authors occurs in exactly the same way: coercing writers into being quiet or risk having their paychecks withheld, their rights never reverted, and—in some cases—“outing” authors who rely on pen names (in EC’s case especially) to write their work in anonymity.

It’s extortion no matter the size of the criminal.

Adumbrate said...

It's the asymmetric relationship. I don't blame publishers for wanting to retain the heavy end of the power struggle, that is often human nature, but I don't respect them for it either. It certainly doesn't help the authors, or the industry as a whole.

Just look at the latest Hachette maneuver.
New tools for authors and all that right? But why do agents get to see everything the author does plus access to PDF of royalties? As you and Konrath point out in Be the Monkey, publishers do not want to treat authors as peers. They will deign to communicate with the agent, and tell the author to suck up this improvement as good enough.

EC has bought into the power disparity and woe to the lowly author openly challenging that disparity.