Dear Mr. Bezos

The following is a letter I wrote to Amazon.com’s CEO Jeff Bezos on the Fifth of July, in the hopes of reaching him directly. As I never heard from him, I’ve decided to make it an open letter.  My books and many other authors’ books are being artificially delayed this summer, new copies often made unavailable and bargain copies substituted. The careers of new authors are being purposely crushed in the nest as the preorder buttons on their books have been removed. All these are hardball tactics in the retailer’s dispute with my publisher, Little  Brown and Co., a division of the Hachette Book Group, over the price of e-books. (Carolyn Kellogg of the LA Times wrote a good capsule summary: Amazon and Hachette: the Dispute in 13 Easy Steps.)

The actual cost of publishing books includes paying author advances, editorial and clerical salaries, publicity, marketing and all the other costs of creating books for us to read. Publishers know their own business. For Amazon, it’s simply an aesthetic decision, how a certain number looks to a consumer. Like saying “all houses should cost $25,000, because people like that number.” But what houses? And who will build them?

As a middle-aged woman who has had some luck as a writer, I’d like this profession of author to remain a possibility for young writers in the future—and not become an arena solely for the hobbyist or the well-heeled. What will be lost when working writers no longer can support themselves pursuing their ideas, their art? What will be lost to this country, if these most talented can no longer make a living? I am making this an open letter, because I believe we are at a crossroads, and decisions are being made now which will affect our country permanently.

July 5, 2014, 10:41 a.m.

To: jeff@amazon.com [this is a public address at which he invites correspondence]

Subject: Service, power and responsibility

Dear Mr. Bezos,

As a reader and an author, I find Amazon does a wonderful service, but is in danger of killing the little central nugget from which the rest of your vast online business stems. Amazon is a marvelous conglomeration and delivery system for products of every imaginable function. But the book “business” is really not the same as the sale of lawn rakes or adapters for telephones. It is the intellectual and cultural lifeblood of this nation or any nation.

To have amassed such influence in our culture, and to use it in such a negative way, to give and withhold, to distort, to silence–to silence! is what is usually done in totalitarian countries with a political agenda–but which Amazon is doing for the sake of squeezing out the last drop of profit. As a result it is undercutting the ability of writers to live and create, the ability of publishers to gather and refine and put the best of the best before the public, rather than reinforcing and strengthening the components of our intellectual and cultural life whose future you, at bottom, hold in your hands.

The sheer amount of power you have gained in the literary marketplace negates any disingenuous argument that it’s just “business as usual.”  With the amount of wealth and power Amazon has accumulated, you’ve also put yourself into a position of  responsibility–wanted or unwanted–for the intellectual life of the country. You have seated yourself at that table.  I urge you to consciously accept that  responsibility, and respond to it by treating the small amount of your business which is represented by literature with fairness and even–understanding how important to the life of our society books are–preferential treatment.

The difference between a symbiotic and a parasitic relationship is that in symbiosis, the host is not harmed in any way. The two organisms work together for mutual benefit. In a parasitic relationship, the growth of the secondary organism outstrips the ability of the host to sustain itself.  Unlike symbiosis, a parasite kills its host, and eventually, itself.

I ask you to please reconsider the effect of your demands upon publishers, authors, readers, and our democratic nation as a whole.

Sincerely,

Janet Fitch

 

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77 Responses to “Dear Mr. Bezos”

  1. Excellent letter/post Janet. ~Mal

  2. Excellent. Reblogging this and urging others to do the same so that this can circulate.

    • Thanks, Leigh! Trying to preserve something that was possible for me that might not be possible for others in the future.

      • As an author just starting out, I deeply appreciate that!

        By the way, you are one of my absolute favorite authors. I have been following your blog for awhile, but haven’t commented. WO was earth-shattering for me; I own 3 copies (the margins of one are full of my scribbled notes), have read it upwards of 25 times, and did my Senior Thesis on it. (I also own PIB, and cannot wait for your next novel :-).)

  3. Phenomenal. So on point. Thank you, Janet.

  4. Well said, love your blog, please check out my blog http://bluecherrysunshine.blogspot.com

  5. Margot Vogel (Sweden) Says:

    Excellently put, janet. Let’s all re-post and share this with our friends around the globe.

  6. Excellent, and thank you.

  7. Reblogged this on Deborah Smith, Author, Publisher and commented:
    Nicely put. Here, Here

  8. […] Fitch, a friend whose writing I admire, has written an open letter to Jeff Bezos of Amazon about what the online bookseller is doing to the literary  trade and the […]

  9. Krista Says:

    Thank you, Janet. I’ve loved your work and enjoyed the hell out of your “after the conference” talk at Squaw a few years back. Also can’t write a bit of dialogue without asking myself if my characters sound like they’re talking about having a cup of coffee–egads! It’d be nice if Bezos would respond.

  10. He probably didn’t respond because someone who sends him an email with assertions which are demonstrably false* in it has probably already made up their minds and are not going to be particularly interested in anything he actually says.

    Just a theory.

    *Amazon has silenced nobody. The “delays” are caused by Hachette’s slow shipment: without a contract, Amazon has no reason to prestock their books and thus fills orders as they are supplied by Hachette. When you had to special orders in the Bad Old Days, and your book took weeks or MONTHS to arrive at Borders, did you blame Borders, or the publisher?

    Similarly, without a supplier contract, it is not only reasonable for Amazon not to take pre-orders for Hachette books, it would be downright foolish, since at any time Hachette could decline to fulfill Amazon orders and Amazon lives or dies on NOT disappointing customers.

    In any event, nobody has yet, to my knowledge, named a single published and shipping title that Amazon has actually made unavailable for purchase simply because it was published by a Hachette imprint. There are allegations galore, but to date whenever anybody actually goes and looks, the title is available for purchase.

    • Thank you for your comment, Marc

    • Mark, here’s an example. I had Ashley Merryman on my radio show (a weekly show featuring the best behavioral science books). As of tonight, Sept. 5, 2014, her book, “Top Dog,” (co-authored by Po Bronson), published in February 2014, has a note on it: “Usually ships within 2 to 3 weeks.” Barnes and Noble ships it right away. It’s heartbreaking, as an author, with how hard it is to sell books at all, to have this clash making it difficult for people to buy a book at a site they are used to turning to to buy books.

      Janet, thank you so much for writing and posting this letter.

      • Thank you Amy… This has been my life this summer… appreciate your taking the time to post.

      • Barnes and Noble has a distribution contract with Hachette. Amazon does not. I do not see the point of the assertion. Compare and contract, however, what happened to S&S authors last year when they had the exact same sort of issue with Barnes and Noble. Books were delayed for days or weeks, stock was low, endcap/facing didn’t get applied to new books.

        And the next time those authors try to sell a book, they’ll be told that their last book didn’t release well, and nobody will care that it was because B&N screwed them over, not because of anything to do with the book.

  11. Uncle_Jo Says:

    You have no idea what the dispute is actually about. No one does. You only know for sure that Hatchette is using people like you as proxies while doing absolutely nothing to negotiate a new sales deal with Amazon. You are lucky Amazon is still carrying Hatchette books at all.

    Preorder buttons make/break new author careers. No. They don’t.

    Your publisher knows nothing about how to make money in the new age of books and is only worried about protecting the old paper system.

    Ditch your publisher. They are the problem. They don’t care about you or they wouldn’t be doing this. They are screwing you blind and you are defending them in public. Very sad.

  12. Janet, when you say “$9.99 is not based upon the actual cost of publishing books.” Why does matter? All of those costs are already sunk once the e-book comes into existence.. Wouldn’t you want it priced at a level that maximizes units sold?

    Or is it that you don’t believe Amazon when they say that a $10 e-book tends to earn more revenue than a $15 one?

    • Hi Dave– I think Amazon is playing a long game, which is about market share,and damn the price. THey would like a certain price because the consumer likes it–and then are asking the producer to bear the burden, and really don’t care about the effect on the book industry, much as has occurred in the music business. (see my response to Will, above). I disagree that more people buy based on price. I think the people who are going to buy Paint it Black are going to buy it at $12 as at $8. That all dropping the price to $8 will do is take money out of my pocket. And to think that the publisher’s overall plan for the book doesn’t include all forms–to see the ebook is sort of a toss-off after the “book” is published, is mistaken. The cost of producing a book–editing, acquisition (ie paying the writer and his or her agent), design, marketing, overhead–is spread out over all the forms, the hardbound, the paperback, the ebook, the audiobook, large print, etc. Appreciate your post!

      • . I think the people who are going to buy Paint it Black are going to buy it at $12 as at $8. That all dropping the price to $8 will do is take money out of my pocket.

        We can see that just about every other good in the economy is sensitive to price change. Do you contend the same number of copies of Paint it Black will be sold at both $12 and $8? If so what is the basis for that idea?

        If the same number will indeed be sold at each price, will the same number be sold at $16? If so, would a price of $16 put more money in your pocket than a price of $12?

      • Appreciate your further thought on this, Terrence. I don’t think it’s true ad absurdum, but generally yes. A work of art is not interchangeable with all other works of art. If i want to read The Great Glass Sea, that’s the book I want to read. And only so many people will want to read that book–you’re not going to get ten times more people reading it at $5.

    • Another of the Big 5 had ebooks carried at $0 production cost on their shareholder presentation. They also touted ebooks as being the cash cow that would reduce their capital expenditures for warehousing and physical distribution.

      Hachette’s stockholder presentation calls authors “acquistiions” and touts its goals of “continued consolidation,” in order to “control author relations” and “control ebook prices.” They call themselves “sifters,” yet crow as their success the “acquistion” of Twilight and 50 Shades.

      This is not about “art.” This is two monolithic corporations duking it out. In the battle of Godzilla and Mothra, writers are Tokyo. I don’t have a side because corporations have no soul. However, at the end of the day, I respect the corporation that is inclusive instead of exclusive and who strives to bring the books I want to the table at a price I can afford.

    • I’ve had people tell me that they wouldn’t pay $9.99, the price of the e-book of my previous book, because the hard copy of the book only cost a few dollars more.

      • And did you explain to them that they were spending their money wrong, or did you take to heart the fact that people have rational expectations regarding the price of similar products with drastically different costs of production (and rights – you buy pbooks, you rent ebooks.)

  13. ” I’d like this profession of author to remain a possibility for young writers in the future”

    As a young author, though, I think Amazon’s made it more possible for people to publish. Amazon’s opened access to the marketplace to pretty much everyone with some basic HTML knowledge and access to a PC. Suddenly, publishing is a button; it’s as quick and simple to upload a manuscript to sell on the Kindle platform as it was to post this very blog.

    The $9.99 number isn’t magical; it’s derived from the data Amazon collects with every purchase. It doesn’t have to cover the cost of production; the cost of production has to be lower than the price the market will bear. Author advances are just that — against royalties — which means that publishers attempt to predict how many copies will sell and how much the author will make based on that; technically, from a business standpoint, all those predictions would be absolutely perfect and authors would earn out their advances but not a penny more (this is why it’s probably best to get rid of author advances, anyway, and switch to a system wherein authors get higher royalties).

    • Will, I’m going to respond at length here, to you and to many other posters who heartily agree with you. I think your plans for the conventional publishers are interesting–the royalty issue–all kinds of new models out there. Certain imprints at the bigger houses are actually beginning to work that way. We’ll see how it plays out.

      We are actually not in different camps here, you and I. We are different kinds of writers, we have different intentions for our work, and different business models to support our different forms of endeavor. I am getting many similar comments today. I think the world of self-publishing, where everyone can publish his or her work is amazing, and I think sooner or later, conventional publishers will develop self-publishing arms, which will be cash cows for them, and also serve as ‘bush-league’ teams from which they can cherry-pick for the majors.

      In general, to the defenders of this quantity model of literary production, ie the ‘write faster, write more, charge less” school of writing—this has always existed and will always have its practitioners and readers. In this, the kind of access that a distributor like Amazon affords is unparalleled, an amazing opportunity.

      But for the writer who devotes three, four, five, eight years putting his or her all into a book, who aspires to greatness, who doesn’t have a readymade following, a different kind of structure is appreciated, one where agents negotiate contracts and editors refine work, where his or her book is published with some presence. This writer, this kind of literature, generally require a conventional publisher.

      Yet I think a hard and fast line between self-publishing and conventional publishing is an illusion. Many, many authors with conventional publishers also self-publish, and many, many self-publishers would actually prefer conventional publishing. Seeing the publishing world as “camps” is a bit of a red herring, dividing authors who will often fall into multiple places on the spectrum.

      All I’d like to see is that creators of literature still have the conventional publishers to turn to, and have a chance at a literary career which will pay them a living wage. I know many fine, fine musicians—on the order of our great writers—who no longer can make a living, because the cheapening of the product has broken the music business.

      No art is truly a ‘level playing field’. There is a quantity/speed mode, lots and lots of production of work of less than stratospheric intention (which our current ‘marketplace’ encourages) and maybe the creator can make a living from mass sales at the lowest possible pricing, and the ‘slowcooked’ mode, where the intention is absolute artistic excellence, which requires a different model if the work of such artists is to be recognized and recompensed.

      These reader comments above I believe well-represent the quantity/low price/full access point of view—a very legitimate point of view, and cognate of the ‘penny-dreadful’ novels of the 19th century, and drugstore paperbacks of the 20th. It’s an aspect of publishing of long and honorable standing.

      But many readers only want to read the best literature, and there will always be writers who prefer to remain at that end of the literary spectrum, and this is where conventional publishing must be allowed to continue. And if it is to continue, as the music business was not, it must be able to pay its conventional expenses. The health of conventional publishing takes nothing away from those who prefer to “write a lot, write it quick, price it low, economy of scale” school of thought, and the free-for-all, level playing field model is surely here to stay. In fact, the boundary is quite permeable. I will probably self-publish things in the future—surely this blog is an example of that–while numbers of self-published authors will go on to publish conventionally and will be glad there is still a book industry that can support their labors.

      • “Yet I think a hard and fast line between self-publishing and conventional publishing is an illusion. Many, many authors with conventional publishers also self-publish, and many, many self-publishers would actually prefer conventional publishing. Seeing the publishing world as “camps” is a bit of a red herring, dividing authors who will often fall into multiple places on the spectrum.”

        Couldn’t agree more. That’s why I wasn’t differentiating, and in general don’t. I think the quality vs. quantity argument and seeing literary output in terms of “camps,” which you seem to be doing, is a similar red herring. Some great novels have been written quickly; some terrible novels have been written slowly. There are some novelists who seem to write quickly who sometimes achieve greatness (I’m thinking specifically of King, Gaiman, and Chandler here); some novelists who write slowly never have.

        Also: can you imagine the class discussion we might have had once upon a time with this fodder?

      • I think sooner or later, conventional publishers will develop self-publishing arms, which will be cash cows for them

        Oh, that ship sailed a long time ago. Author Solutions, et al, are mostly now owned by the big publishing houses, and they are indeed milking people who don’t know any better quite thirstily.

      • I actually don’t get your lengthy comment. I got a feeling that with it, you’re implying that conventional publishing enables authors of literature to devote their time to writing: “All I’d like to see is that creators of literature still have the conventional publishers to turn to, and have a chance at a literary career which will pay them a living wage.”
        From my experience, rare are authors who are able to live off their writing by publishing books through traditionally publishers, especially those who write less than a book a year. You published Kicks in 1996 and your second book was quite successful (Oprah and a movie), but are you able to earn a living wage from your writing? Are you able to live from your royalties? Or do you have to have a day job?
        So because of the above, I wonder, if you don’t need a day job, why are you wasting your precious writing time on your teaching job? And if you do need a day job, why do you expect that publishers would guarantee new/young authors a living wage, when they can’t enable you, a successful author, that?

      • Let’s just say I am able to live far better from the advances and royalties than musicians are doing right now, after the price of CD’s has gone down to zero. this is what happens when the product is cheapened and cheapened and cheapened again. Thank you for your thoughtful note, Elka. (Actually, I love to teach…)

      • @Janet Fitch
        Okay, but that doesn’t answer my question? Are you able to live off your writing or not. And if not, why are you saying that publishers are enabling writers to write, when your publisher(s) is/are not enabling you that? (Can I by your last sentence in the bracket assume that teaching is your main career and you don’t actually aim to have a writing career as a main source of income?)

        As for the musicians, When you have time, typing in ‘records taking advantage’ in Google would give you some interesting reading.

  14. The Spirit Within Says:

    I’m a young writer, not well-heeled, and I have published twelve books in three and a half years. I write fast and make a few hundred dollars a month right now. One of my titles hit #1 on Amazon’s free store last year. My career is growing.

    This is occurring *because* of the people at Amazon, not despite them.

    Give readers what they want at affordable prices. It’s about them, not about us. Young writers have more options than ever before.

    Of course, this doesn’t agree with your agenda, but these are my facts, plain and simple. And I write as someone who’s read your books and who still considers himself a fan — unless you kill this comment.

  15. Jerry Zinser Says:

    As one very active reader, I agree with Amazon. They sell the most books because they have worked to sell books at prices buyers such as myself are willing to buy. And I buy lots of them in preference to having to make regular trips to the library and having to put my preferences on a waiting list. Because of price (and lack of shelf space), I only buy e-books. (Exception: the Library of American series.) Hachette wants to control the prices, so I no longer buy Hachette books unless I see one at a price I accept. When I really want to read a book by a Hachette author, I can get on the library’s waiting list. And you can spend more than you should by buying a Hachette book at a brick-and-mortar outlet. By the way, I think the list of authors shows that Amazon has been quite active in publishing new authors, and reportedly offers higher royalties to authors than does Hachette.

  16. Dan Meadows Says:

    Hello,

    I have a question and I don’t mean this to be accusatory or anything, I’m just curious. Have you written a similar letter to Hachette on the subject? You’re under contract to Hachette, correct? They are the ones directly responsible to you for marketing and selling your books. I’ve dealt with a lot of contractual deals in my time, and when the job I contracted for isn’t getting done, I go to the entity obligated to me to handle that task with my complaints. They are the ones I chose to handle my business and if they’re unable to do the job to my satisfaction, whatever their reasons, that forces me to question whether or not they’re the right place for my business. I do understand you’re objections to Amazon’s actions, I’m none too thrilled about some of them myself, but really, they have no obligation to even offer your books, let alone provide any extra benefits. Hachette is directly obligated to you. I just think it might be more practical to direct your concerns to the party you’ve contracted with to handle the task that isn’t getting done adequately. Or at least let both sides know how unhappy you are with this situation. Giving Hachette a pass for not making a deal likely won’t be very effective in the long run. In all my dealings with things like this, there is never a completely innocent party. Hachette at least bears some responsibility for this impasse, and it is clearly negatively affecting the task you’ve contracted them for. Best of luck to you and I hope both parties reach an amenable resolution to this much sooner than later.

    • Thanks for this thoughtful note, Dan. The thing to remember is that it’s not just my publisher–all the publishers are going to have to go through this. Believe me, at Hachette they keenly feel the loss to their writers–also their own loss–in the revenue that’s vanished during this dispute. But all of the publishers will find themselves in the same boat.

  17. Janet, I’m a young writer who’s tried for years to attract agents and publishers. I’ve had to shelve four series I loved because I kept getting told they were too long, or didn’t have enough sex, or getting told my MS wasn’t a ‘good fit’. At the moment, I’m revising one of those novels with plans to publish on Amazon. I simply don’t have other choices to build my career. People who discuss the pros and cons of traditional vs. self publishing often assume both are options. But if it was up to your publisher, I’d never have a chance to make a living as a writer. I’d rather use my internet skills and know-how to market my own writing than spend my life waiting for a book deal that will never come.

    • THank you for posting, Liz. Yes, you are definitely one of those for whom self-publishing is tailor made, and it is great to have that kind of variety in the publishing world. Wish you much success with your writing.

      • But I didn’t set out to self pub. I wanted a traditional deal. I practiced writing query letters and polished my first pages until they shone. I never got any more than a form response on the four books I submitted to agents. The authors I’ve met and worked with, even those who said they liked my work, never gave me any publishing advice that ran longer than a motivational poster. The few people in the industry who’ve talked to me have suggested I copy certain fads, or remove subjects like politics, gender, and race from my stories–that are targeted at adults. Big publishers don’t care if my work is good. Whatever. They’re in it for the money. But they don’t care about individual writers. Writers are a dime a dozen. Amazon and big publishers have this in common–only thing is, Amazon makes room for all the dimes. Publishers don’t care about putting ‘the best’ before the public. They want to make money. They aren’t the champions of literature–writers are. Saying that publishers are devoted to putting the best works before the public doesn’t fit with editors telling me that, since my book was targeted at women, it needed five more sex scenes.

  18. I’d like this profession of author to remain a possibility for young writers in the future—and not become an arena solely for the hobbyist or the well-heeled.

    Can you elaborate on that? Is that what we observe? Where? What arena is solely devoted to hobbyists and well-heeled? What arena excludes those who are neither hobbyists nor well-heeled? If there isn’t one now, What reason to we have to expect it will develop?

    This profession has recently seen the greatest increase in opportunity for young writers in history.

  19. Ms. Fitch, I have to disagree on a couple of points.

    “The magic number which Amazon is holding out for, $9.99 is not based upon the actual cost of publishing books, which includes paying author advances, editor salaries, publicity and all the other costs of creating books for us to read.”

    As I understand it, Amazon is not trying to set a specific price in their contract negotiations. The two corporations are disputing over the model in which ebooks will be sold. Amazon wants a wholesale model, where the publisher sells an ebook to Amazon for $X and Amazon resells at $Y. Hachette wants an “agency” model, where they set the sale price at $X and Amazon takes Y% of that.

    Amazon wants a wholesale model because it enables them to discount as deeply as they like, either to spur sales or make a competitive offering for customers. Hachette wants, as far as I understand, to maintain high ebook prices so as to protect their print business. (This is the prevailing belief among independent authors. You might be able to offer another perspective.) The cost of producing an ebook is nearly $0 when you’ve already paid for the writing, editing, and cover art in the production of the print version, so I don’t agree that ebook prices have to be tied to the entire cost of producing a book. If a book is being released as ebook only, that’s a different matter. In general, though, the production costs of books are mostly in the printing and delivery, and not the advance, editing, cover art, and formatting. The cost of an ebook only release should be less than $2000 in most cases.

    “As a middle-aged woman who has had some luck as a writer, I’d like this profession of author to remain a possibility for young writers in the future—and not become an arena solely for the hobbyist or the well-heeled. What will be lost when working writers no longer can support themselves pursuing their ideas, their art? What will be lost to this country, if these most talented can no longer make a living?”

    If you’d like I can put you in touch with one or two writers who have had long careers in traditional publishing and who are now using both traditional publishing and self-publishing. They would serve as a better testimony to how Amazon has affected the viability of author careers than I would. I’ll tell you my own story as well, though. I gave up on “becoming a writer” a long time ago when I discovered nearly all of my favorite writers also had to hold down day jobs. My thinking was, why bother when I’ll have to spend 8+ hours a day working another job anyway? Only when Amazon opened the possibility of selling direct to the market did I start writing again.

    • Thank you for this letter, Jim. It was thoughtful and full of issues for debate, which I’m sure will go on for a very long time. I wish you good luck with your writing!

  20. Amy Lynn Hess Says:

    Dear Janet,

    I’m very happy for your success with a “real” publisher. My publisher dropped my project after 6 months of meetings. I decided to self publish. If it weren’t for Amazon, my 5 years of work would still be sitting in a drawer. Instead of a big check up front, I’m being paid in little increments. But! I’m being paid, and I did it without a “real” publisher as gatekeeper, keeping my work out of the hands of readers. Amazon has leveled the playing field, and I’m grateful. I’m sorry other authors are not being treated fairly, but keep in mind that even though eBook prices are capped, I was able to set my own price for the hard copy, and I’m making it work.

    • What a horrible experience, and yes, having an outlet for a book that’s been having trouble reaching the bookshelf is a terrific thing. I wish you the best with it.

  21. Amy Lynn Hess Says:

    Oh, also, it’s kind of offensive to call us self publishers and legitimate writers “hobbyists.” I’m not sure you meant to offend, but it is offensive.

    • I just mean I’d like if writing could remain a profession, Amy Lynn. I know so many musicians who have been reduced to ‘hobbyists’ through the destruction of the music business… they have been forced into playing bars for beer money, as theyr’e not famous enough to tour, and the product has been cheapened to zero. I meant it more in that sense.

      • Writers have already been reduced to the hobbyists decades ago, and in the past only a handful of writers were able to survive without a day job or living off a spouse salary. Since I’m sure that you must know other writers and that you talked about that with them and are aware of this, I’m confused what is this have to do with Amazon. Why does this have to do with Amazon? Amazon and other e-retailers are actually the ones because of which authors are finally able to quite their day jobs (just check ThePassiveVoice.com blog’s thread on that theme).

      • If it isn’t your primary source of income, it is not your profession – it is a hobby, or a side job. (Contrarily, if you don’t get paid for it, you’re not a professional either – although every field has amateurs who are far more talented than many professionals.)

        Historically, publishers have enabled many people to be professional writers, but very few to follow writing as a profession.

    • I don’t think self-publishing authors can be lumped in under the title “hobbyists,” but as a newspaper columnist who gets self-published books in the mail almost daily, I have to say that many are not published with professional standards for design, copyediting, or overall editing.

      I know Janet, and we have both been members of writers’ groups (and I now pay an editor to look at/shred my work before it goes out). There are, I know, some people who can hammer out work that is of professional quality — or is readable and acceptable, at least. But it’s a different sort of thing to struggle over work for years and go through the editing process and copyediting a book actually requires. Or most books do, anyway.

      An example: I got a book I would have featured on my weekly radio show (an hour interviewing the top behavioral scientists). It was self-published. I’m not a snob and I could see the information within was solid. The problem: It was not professionally indexed. I can’t recommend a book that a reader can’t use — can’t go to the back and look for a page number on a subject and then go to the page and the subject is nowhere to be seen. I know the authors, and I wrote to them (in the most polite way I could) to let them know this. I hope they fix it. (Sadly, their cover was also amateur-hour.)

      I think that wise authors who self-publish will pay what it takes for truly professional services on the innards and for the cover of their book. Whether they know where to find these people and vet them, well, that’s hard if you haven’t already been working to professional standards.

      Same goes for cover designers. The fact that your neighbor or cousin likes to make a Christmas card every year does not mean he knows type or design well enough to make a book cover. And there are conventions of publishing that make sense. My previous agent, Betsy A., whom Janet knows, talked about having your last name big on the spine so people can find your book in the bookstore. I didn’t know this — had no idea. But Betsy used to be a big editor at a NY publishing house, and she does.

      My goal is always to work with people who know way more than I do and can tell me things. And I say this as an entrepreneur who syndicated her own advice column to 70 papers before that really was done, so it’s not like I’ve been sucking off the teat of some corporation for eons and don’t understand the desire to go into business for oneself. It’s just that there are tradeoffs either way, and if you aren’t a professional in publishing and don’t have the time or inclination or know-how to research how to become one, self-publishing is the lazy answer.

    • Since Janet Fitch is a hobbyist herself (according from what I have read in her bio and in these comments she isn’t able to live solely on her writing and devote all of her time to her writing, which makes her a hobbyist) I’m certain that she didn’t mean to use it to offend.

  22. I don’t completely agree with all you’ve said, Mrs. (Ms?) Fitch, neither in your original post nor your comments, but I do appreciate the grace, thoughtfulness, and poise to which you articulated your original point and those in response to comments, especially those which are contrary to your opinion/statements. Thank you for that. Very classy.

  23. Hayden Johnstone Says:

    Dear Janet Fitch,

    I am a big fan of an author who is published by Hachette and I always buy his books through Amazon because the little bookstore in my little town does not stock them. When I have asked my bookstore to obtain a new book of his, they tell me that they can order it but it will take some time to arrive because they do not have a deal with the distributor.

    What I have read on the problems that Hachette authors are having with Amazon, it comes down to the same issues. Hachette does not have a deal with Amazon right now. Amazon can not stock any books by Hachette. This is really sad for us readers and obviously for the authors.

    What I find incredulous is that Hachette are not even trying to negotiate a new deal with Amazon but have you, other authors and some New York media types write up these ‘letters’ that try to misconstrue what is happening. It comes across as very uninformed and childish.

    Please, just negotiate a new contract and get on with selling books to me!!! Stop all this ‘He is evil, no the other guy is more evil’ nonsense.

    • I hope it’s all over soon, Hayden

      • Hayden Johnstone Says:

        Dear Janet Fitch,

        As a reader who has been following the developments between Amazon and Hachette from what has been reported in the media, I would like to ask you, as someone who is close to the action to clarify a couple of things for me:-

        Which, if any, clauses has Amazon not fulfiled in their contract with Hachette? and

        What has Amazon done that is illegal in this dispute?

        It seems that Hachette authors are blaming Amazon for the current situation but I would have expected Hachette to begin legal action if Amazon was not honoring their contract. Why are no authors asking Hachette these questions?

        It would really help us readers out there to know what is really going on

  24. […] of writers with an eye to the future, Janet Fitch has written an open letter to that company which shall remain nameless (but which likes legal loopholes, if it can find them), […]

  25. Shannon Says:

    Strikingly well said and phrased!

  26. […] “The difference between a symbiotic and a parasitic relationship is that in symbiosis, the host is not harmed in any way. The two organisms work together for mutual benefit. In a parasitic relationship, the growth of the secondary organism outstrips the ability of the host to sustain itself. Unlike symbiosis, a parasite kills its host, and eventually, itself.” Janet Fitch’s letter to Jeff Bezos […]

  27. Love it- very gutsy and astute letter. When commerce starts to silence writers, we are in danger. Saw part of a TED talk with Jeff Bezos at Princeton. He’s kind of a strange looking duck.

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