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Fisking Donald Maas

8 February 2014

From Joe Konrath:

Ah, class warfare. The royals vs. the peasants. The bourgeoisie vs. the proletariat. The establishment vs. the revolutionaries. The haves vs. the have-nots.

The gatekeepers spouting bullshit vs. the new breed of writers calling them on their bullshit.
I present literary agent Donald Maass from Writer Unboxed, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, currently $9.99 on Kindle and ranked at #25,065.

Thank you, Mr. Maass, for posting your BS publicly so I may dissect it, line by line, exposing it for the utter crap that it is. Then after I wrote my responses, I asked Barry Eisler for his take.
Here’s Donald…

Donald: This month in keeping with our look inside publishing, I’m departing from my usual craft advice to give you my view of the new state of the industry.

I don’t see the new shape of things as many do: the twilight of the dinosaurs, the old-thinking Big Five print publishers staggering, falling to their knees and heading for extinction as they’re overwhelmed by a nimble army of small, warm-blooded mammals whose claws are the sharp, smart, flexible tools of electronic publishing.

Joe: I understand why you don’t see the new shape of things, Donald. Neither did those in the travel industry. Or the music industry. Or the film camera industry. Or the network TV industry.

Isn’t is interesting how these billion dollar industries, when confronted with Expedia and Orbitz and Priceline (sorry Travel Agents)  and iTunes and Napster (sorry Record Company Executives) and digital photography (sorry Kodak and Polaroid) and cable TV, Netflix, and YouTube (sorry ABC, NBC, and CBS) also felt they had nothing to fear, until their market share evaporated before their eyes?

Within the past few years, one of the two major book chains disappeared, the Big 6 became the Big 5, the DOJ brought suit against many of the companies you regularly do business with (and the AAR stupidly defended), and ebooks have gone from idea to the increasingly preferable way readers buy media thanks to a new company that revolutionized the way books are sold.
But you don’t have to see the new shape of things. You don’t have to see the thousands of authors making more money than they ever could in the antiquated, archaic system you’re attempting to defend. It isn’t necessary for you, Donald, to recognize change. Change happens anyway.

. . . .

Donald: First, e-books have not hurt the print publishers but rather have helped them. Especially in the recent recession, low-cost/high-margin e-books have been a bright spot. They’ve kept publishers profitable even as brick-and-mortar book retailing has shrunk and consumers have grown cautious. With the mass-market paperback pricing itself nearly out of existence, low-priced e-books have arrived (with help from the Department of Justice) to keep value-conscious readers reading. Of course, the difficult and expensive business of selling print books must still be faced but at least there’s some gravy to make the task tasty.

Joe: Indeed, ebooks have helped publishers. Even after the lame ass attempts at high prices and windowing and collusion.

Do you actually understand why ebooks have helped publishers, Donald?

Hint: Because publishers screwed the writers. Where were you when the lock-step 25% ebook royalties crept into author contracts? Are you currently fighting for better ebook royalties on behalf of your clients? Did you read my post ridiculing David Gernert for saying stupid things like you’re currently saying?

Are authors an unlimited resource, like oil (ha!) to exploit for you and your industry? You continue to sell them books on how to succeed. You continue to do deals with the Big 5. It’s easy to see what your agenda is.

My agenda? All of the information I provide, I give away for free. This blog is a public service to my peers. I don’t take 15% for helping them. And I don’t charge $9.99 for a Kindle book. Like your ebook Writing the Breakout Novel. Now, I may be missing something, but I don’t see any breakout novels available on Amazon written by Donald Maass. But I’m sure your advice is good, even if you didn’t take it yourself. After all, you’ve been so persuasive so far…

. . . .

Donald: Fourth, as I said, a new class system has arisen. Here’s how it breaks down:

Joe: Because the one thing this world needs is another way to divide classes of people based on subjective, prejudicial nonsense.

Barry: Okay, let’s short-circuit this. Leave aside Maass’s obsession with dividing authors into classes, and his inability to see the real class distinction he is part of and supports: publishers and agents as royalty; writers as peasants. The real problem is with the analogy itself. Because when it comes to freight/coach/first, all that matters is whether you have the money to buy a ticket. But publishing is a lottery, not a sure-fire ticket you can buy if you just have enough money. Also, while there’s no reason to prefer coach to first class other than price, there are lots of reasons many authors seem to prefer self-publishing to legacy publishing — some because they’re making more money self-publishing, and others because they prefer the flexibility, control, and time-to-market. Something odd has to be going on in your mind if you miss differences this obvious and come up with analogies this incoherent.

Link to the rest at A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing

If The Donald is new to you, a whole lot of TPV visitors talked about him here.

Agents, Big Publishing, Joe Konrath

21 Comments to “Fisking Donald Maas”

  1. Only a few years ago, Don told me he was still figuring out what his agency’s role would be in this new world. Looks like he figured it out. Between sending clients to a “self-publishing service” to be fleeced and nailing his trad-pub colors to the mast with his “class warfare” post on Writer Unboxed, he leaves no doubt in my mind where he stands. And writers are still lining up to have him represent them.

    • Bridget, that’s the difference between a sheep and a lion. three years ago I used these words in a blog on Water Cooler/absolutewrite.com and this woman was outraged for me saying that. She continued, very proudly, that it took her 200 tries until she found an agent. I wonder if she was ever published by a Trad-pub? I doubt it.

      • So, Mit, just what is the difference between a sheep and a lion? IMWTK! 😉

        • At a guess, a sheep is someone who, in the present publishing climate, would proudly state they were still trying for an agent at attempt 200.

        • Who gets fleeced? The lion or the sheep? The lion takes his destiny in his own hands, as self-published writers have done. The sheep, as all Trad-Pub want us to be, are herded and sheered for their wool, writing. I realize that there used to be only one way, the sheep way to get published, but now we have a choice. Some writers may not want to be considered sheep. But then who gets the lion’s share from their books?

        • Lions might starve, but they will never be fleeced. And you deny the lion a lion’s share at your peril.

          However, at this point the analogy breaks down, because the converse is not true of writers-as-sheep. Good shepherds watch over their sheep and make sure none starve.

  2. I’ve been following with great interest the increasingly loud and strident outcry from publishers and agents about self-publishing being bad BAD BAD! Based on my long experience in publishing (over 20 years) and having talked to and listened to hundreds of industry professionals, I know that publishers and agent are reactive instead of proactive. They only react when something concrete has already happened and then they tend to panic.

    So what has happened? What has occurred to bring them out of their burrows to bark like alarmed prairie dogs?

    Is the talent drain finally big enough for them to notice? Anyone who’s ever worked a slush pile knows you have to move tons of hay to find one needle. I’m wondering if the needles are disappearing. I’m guessing they are.

    I’m one little book producer with a limited client list. But the books I’m receiving are from serious talent–talent that no trad publisher has ever seen. I cannot be unique. The indie books on my Kindle prove I’m not unique. And I don’t have many clients who are interested in being picked up by trad pubs. In fact, quite a few have been traditionally published and are sick to death of it and don’t want to play with them ever again.

    The big publishers have always depended upon talent coming to them. To use Mr. Maas’s analogy, they’ve been like cattle in a pen waiting for someone to drop hay in front of their faces. They haven’t a clue about how to find their own hay, so if the hay stops coming, they’ll starve.

    I’d pay good money to see for myself what is currently coming over the transom. I suspect it’s more straw than hay.

    • I’m still in touch with one of the editors at the house that used to publish me and she’s constantly telling me, “Be sure to tell your friends about us. We’re looking for writers.”

      I’ve never before had an editor tell me this, and I’ve been in the business for awhile.

      I’m told that last year at either RT or RWA (I can’t remember which), the long lines and waiting lists that are usually generated for trad pub editor interviews with aspiring authors were almost nonexistent. Everyone was attending the self-publishing panels instead.

      The tide is shifting and people are scared.

  3. Dean Wesley Smith weighs in. Double ouch!
    http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=11723

  4. I like reading the back and forth from people on both sides. I think the Kensington president and Joe Konrath’s Q&A thing/roundtable-style discussion was really interesting when they did that a few weeks ago.

    I kind of wish there was more of this going on in the public eye. I like seeing/hearing Joe’s and Dean’s replies to Donald’s article, but I’d love to see something that’s more live and/or a legitimate back and forth debate compared to just a response to something, you know?

    I wonder if something like that is possible? At a writer’s conference or something? Would be neat to see. I think it could attract a lot of fun attention if you got the right people (preferably people who aren’t going to rage about things and have decent public speaking ability and knowledge of their respective fields, but I think any debate would benefit from that).

    I just think it’d be fun. Maybe I’m weird. Grab like… Joe Konrath, Mark Coker, some higher up editors from distinguished publishing houses, Donald Maass or some other notable agent, KDP/B&N reps, a well off hybrid author, and a prominent traditionally published author, and just have some snappy (1-3 minute response times) back and forth discussion thing about current affairs in book publishing. Could segment it to be about different things/different practices, and make it a multi-day couple hour event over the course of a writer’s convention.

    • I seriously doubt your good idea would be possible, because both sides would have to have the writers’ interest at heart to speak so frankly. In the commercial world, where any advantage can make you money, that’s enough pressure to silence honest debate.

      The enormous reaction against Maass’ post (and the Kensington kerfluffle) shows that. It’s also why Amazon doesn’t release its figures on book sales, and why publishers silence authors who reveal how much they get paid for their work.

      In the larger world, it’s why Silicon Valley firms including Apple and Google conspired to keep engineer salaries low by agreeing not to poach each others’ talent, and press for more visa to underpaid Indian programmers (while the politicians claim free trade and open borders is wonderful wonderful wonderful why our unemployment rate rises).

      There’s probably a maxim out there that covers it: “Money silences free speech”?

      • There’s a quote but I forget who said it. Something along the lines of, “If a man’s livelihood depends on him not knowing then he will continue to not know it.”

  5. A twist on an old joke:

    Q: What’s the difference between a used car salesman and a literary agent?

    A: The used car salesman knows when he’s lying!

  6. I started to feel sorry for the agents and the editors and the Trad-Pubs. They had a good thing going on for so many decades, maybe a century. And now technology has destroyed the walls and they stay guard in front of a wall-less gate. How else could they see all Indie authors but despicable barbarians. And the barbarians are not at the gate, but in the city.
    This reminds me of the ancient Rome, when Rome ruled, and the barbarians were kept out. What happened to Rome after the barbarians conquered Rome, and the slaves joined them? They became Italians.
    Therefore what’s going to happen to the publishing industry as we knew it? What will happen to the old guard? Frankly, that’s not my concern.
    Currently I’m a barbarian, but eventually if I keep writing hard, I’ll become, just like thousand of others like me, part of the new industry in the new “Rome.”
    We will become Publitalians.

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