Web dev at the end of the world, from Hveragerði, Iceland

Recipe for pundit response to Hugh Howey’s suggestions

Recently, Hugh Howey wrote two interesting blog posts that outline what changes he would enact if he became the benevolent dictator of a large publishing company.

Don’t Anyone Put Me in Charge

I recently posted an audacious claim that major publishers are bound to emulate indies, which would be quite the reversal. I want to now explore how publishers could actually do this, how they could learn from self-published authors. Because I want publishers to do well. I want them to help new authors break out. I want them to keep bookstores open and readers happy. So what I’m going to do, in a very rambling fashion, is pretend that someone just put me in charge of a major publishing house. Let’s say HarperCollins (just to pick one at random). Here’s how I would blow the doors off my competitors and become the #1 publisher in the land (overtaking indies, which I estimate now rank #1 in total sales).

The post is full of suggestions on community, formats, bundling, contracts, schedules, marketing and locations that publishers really should take to heart. The slightly embarrassing part, though, is how many of them are common sense observations that should have been implemented years ago.

My Second Month on the Hypothetical Job

But now we’re in the second month, and we’ve got the easy changes behind us: DRM is a thing of the past; hardback sales have shot up with the ebook bundling; our authors are using the forums and coming up with great ideas (that we actually listen to and implement). Things are great. But they could be better. Now that we’re #1 and have some leverage, we’re gonna drop the bunker busters.

The second post then tackles returns, print on demand, free books, more marketing, branding, and authors. All of which is good.

So, here we have a couple of excellent, well reasoned posts on what needs to be done in the publishing industry. The best part is that we can already guess how the responses will go. The incumbent response to common sense suggestions is a genre of blog posts that really doesn’t get the credit it deserves, considering how incredibly widespread it is. So, to make the task easier for all of you pundits and publishing industry insiders, instead of picking the posts apart or responding to them (I mostly agree with them anyway) I’m going to give you an easy recipe for how to write a standard pro-industry response to blog posts like Hugh Howey’s.

Recipe for generic publishing industry insider response to articles demanding change

  1. Call common sense, toned-down blog posts ‘controversial’ or ‘provocative’. Especially if everybody with sense agrees with it and has expressed public support for its ideas.
  1. Pretend that things have already started to change so much that some of the suggestions are redundant, then mention how the issues mentioned aren’t that big a problem anyway and, actually, the way publishers have been doing it in the past is much better that what is suggested.
  1. Pick an inconsequential detail and deny it. Make sure it’s something that has no bearing on the overall argument but serves to subtly discredit the blogger without attacking them directly.
  1. Respond to a suggestion, making sure to waffle on by bringing in random observations as if they were counter-arguments. Pick one of the points made and write around it without addressing it directly. Try not to attack the suggestion head on but draw in non sequiturs and pretend they are relevant arguments. (‘But if that were true about book retail, all cats would be Sagittarians, wouldn’t they? Also, university professors. I mean, university professors!')
  1. Act as if the suggestions aren’t based on independently verifiable critical observations by a third party on the publishing industry in general, and instead act as if they are wholly subjective opinions based on a single blogger’s personal experience and therefor not generally applicable.
  1. Make up a huge, big issue that isn’t in the post at all and then take the blogger to task for being for or against it (make it look like it was the post’s main topic even though it wasn’t mentioned at all) or lambast them for not going into such an obviously vital and important issue (derail it, baby!).
  1. Finish off by pretending you’ve just explained why the status quo is inevitable and also why that is the absolute best way that things can ever be and that any change is bad. So, so bad. And difficult to accomplish.
  1. Bonus points if you do any of the following:

    1. Imply that self-publishing is a bubble.

    2. Trot out the ‘ebook growth is stalling’ idea.

    3. Tell a story about somebody doing something stupid and then pretend that’s a strong counter-argument to whatever you want to argue against. Because stupid people are always relevant.

    4. Imply, or even outright claim, that self-published books are of a substantially lower quality than than the trite, homogenous, celebrity-obsessed output of other-publishing (as opposed to self-publishing). (‘Not a celebrity? Fine! We also love has-been and burned out celebrities. Niche markets! Loadsa money in them.')

    5. Hint at every opportunity that this or that reform is expensive and requires a lot of work. Gotta make sure they know they should be hiring consultants!

    6. Hint at every opportunity that this is a complex problem that needs to be properly understood… by sending your staff to workshops, conferences, etc..

    7. Imply that other-publishers are somehow responsible for keeping the general quality of books high.

Just follow this recipe and you’ll have a kick-ass post that guarantees you a few more rides on the publishing industry consultancy gravy train. After all, would publishers give shit-loads of money to people who tell them that their stupid mistakes are stupid? Would they hire consultants who unnerve them with ideas and suggestions that require actual cultural change to implement?

Of course not. Publishers only give money to people like that by accident, like when their books turn out to be bestsellers.

You can also find me on Mastodon and Bluesky