Permuted Ponderings

For the last few days I’ve been reblogging author, blogger, time traveller(see image below), and all round good egg Sean Hoade‘s posts about the recent shenanigans of Permuted Press. Sean is one of a group of authors who have a major grievance with the small press company over promises made and broken with regard the publication of their work. I was going to let Sean do all the talking as he seems to have covered all the bases and, unlike him, I have no dog in this fight. So to speak. Well, I’m never one to keep my trap shut for long and so here’s my thruppence worth on the subject.

Left: Hoade in the late 1800s Right Hoade as he appears today.
Left: Hoade in the late 1800s Right: Hoade as he appears today.

There are two things I would like to discuss briefly here. The brevity being because I’m actually sat in work at the moment and want to get this finished before my boss comes in to interfere with my internetting. Firstly the conflict between legality and ethics and, secondly, the effect that actions like those taken by Permuted Press can have on a small community such as the horror literature community.

One of the things that has been brought up a few times recently, and in other similar situations that I’ve come across over the years, is the repeated assertion that Permuted Press are well within their legal rights to do what they did. That the contract which the authors entered into with PP did not state that they would definitely see their books printed into actual tangible objects that would be available in book stores and adorning the shelves of horror aficionados the world over. The wording of the contract was such that PP were buying the option to publish the books in print form. So yes, legally, have no obligation to publish their work in such a way.

However PP had led many of these authors to believe that they would indeed be publishing their books in such a manner. I’m sure that, given the tiny advance on royalties they were offering ($350 on publication) that the thought of having their books in glorious wood pulpy splendour is what convinced many of these authors to sign on the dotted line. What Ponzi Permuted Press have done is mislead authors, attempting to bolster their roster of talent giving themselves the appearance of being a larger, more professional, outfit than they actually are. This is highly unethical. Legal yet unethical.

For many commentators on the internet it seems that there is a confusion between ethics and legality. As if an action’s legality has any bearing on the ethical nature of said action. On whether an action was right or wrong. There are countless examples of things that are illegal despite being ethical. Whether it’s environmentalists stopping roads being built or soldiers refusing to follow orders, sitting at the front of the bus or preventing scabs from gaining entrance to a work site. All of these things are, or were, illegal and yet they were/are -beyond any shadow of a doubt- exactly the ethical thing to do.

Similarly there are countless actions that are, or were, completely legal yet are ethically unjustifiable. Rape in marriage, the brutalisation of prisoners, laying off entire work forces, tax avoidance, environmental devastation, the wholesale slaughter and waste of billions of animals, third world debt, outsourcing, imprisoning children. The list goes on, and on, and on.

So when we are discussing a matter, the actions of individuals or groups/organisations, then the issue of legality shouldn’t come into it at all. Unless it is as a condemnation of the structure of our society which allows unethical and harmful activities to occur and shelters the perpetrators under the cloak of legality. For when the cloak of legality is removed then we can expose the actions to the cold, hard, light of critical thought.  When we do this then it becomes abundantly clear that Permuted Press have acted extremely unethically in their behaviour towards their authors. For this they deserve to be censured in the strongest terms possible.

There are also those who will criticise the authors now raising their voices about their treatment. They will say that they should have read their contracts properly. That it is their fault for entering into a deal that was so patently one sided. Which brings us to my second point.

Authors are human beings. They are individuals with aspirations, hopes, strengths and failings. Like all humans they are prone to trust others of their species. This trust is one of the things that makes us human, that allows our societies to grow and our civilisation to exist. It isn’t laws and proclamations that allow us to walk down the street not cowering in fear that we’re going to get shanked when we turn the corner. It’s the trust that we have in our fellow humans that they aren’t going to shank us. It’s a well founded trust too as the vast, vast majority of humans will not behave in such a manner -regardless of what the media would have us believe. This is why it is always good “shock-horror” news entertainment when someone does breach that trust.

So when someone who is a part of our community, in this case the horror literature/small press community, makes us an offer then we take them at face value. We have to; because a community can only function with this trust that others are going to act in good faith. So when PP pull a trick like this it makes others nervous that they are going to get shafted in a similar manner. It creates bad feelings between people in a small community. Bad feelings do nothing to add to the health and growth of said community.

For example. Should I ever finish a long piece of fiction and were I to submit it to Mike Davis over at Lovecraft Ezine I would trust Mike to not be looking to renege on any deal, verbal or otherwise. I need to trust Mike as the relationships between people in the community absolutely have to be built on trust. I want my books to be coming out, I want other people’s books to be coming out, I want to know that those of us within the community are treating one another with respect and not seeking to make a quick buck at one another’s expense. I want a healthy community. The actions of Permuted Press, and others like them, do harm to the wider community. It isn’t just about these particular authors and these particular contracts. It’s about those of us in the community not having to think and act like fucking lawyers when we want to work on a project together. And yes, signing to a small press is more like entering into a collaborative project than a deal with one of the Big 5. For the simple fact that small presses tend to be run by fans. By people that love the genre they are working in. They are the same as the authors they work with. Sure everyone needs to make a buck, capitalism sucks like that, but there is no need to be an utter dick by screwing over your, figurative, neighbours.

So fuck Permuted Press and may the works of their authors find better, more appreciative, homes elsewhere.

Amazon vs. Hachett Weirdness

The ongoing spat between Amazon and Hachett has become really, really fucking weird. It really has. What started as a negotiation between two business behemoths has now seen lines drawn in the sand between traditionally published authors and indie-authors. A line that makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever!!!

On the one hand we have an open letter to Amazon[pdf] penned by Douglas Preston and signed by many, many notables in the field of publishing -authors, editors and more- and then we have the bizarre petition from Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, and others that is basically shilling for Amazon. The letter from Preston et. al. is flawed in that it doesn’t seem to grasp some of what is actually happening with regards Amazon/Hachette. For example, Amazon are not blocking nor delaying sales, they are merely not expediting them as they would otherwise. It’s a negotiation tactic. The petition is weird as it spends an awful amount of time basically blowing Amazon a bunch of big kisses before sinking to its knees before the altar of Amazonian goodness.

The major weirdness, to me anyway, is the way that these lines are being drawn. Authors shouldn’t be lining up with either Hacette or Amazon. They should be lining up together against Hachette and Amazon. Hachette exist to exploit the labour of authors(and everyone else they employ/work with) and Amazon exist to do exactly the same thing! Both companies have to extract the maximum profit from as little outlay as possible. This means that Hachette have to pay as little in advances/royalties/wages as they can whilst charging as much as they can and Amazon have to do the same thing. The only people to lose out here are those who are exploited by either side in this spat. Hachette/Big5 authors lose out when Hachette inflates ebook prices and engages in the kind of shenanigans that are par for the course with the Big5(price fixing and so on) and as Amazon’s market dominance grows so authors using the Amazon platform for self publishing will lose out(we can say goodbye to 70% royalties when Amazon’s dominance is secure).

The one thing that this reminds me of is the rivalry between the English cities of Liverpool and Manchester. The rivalry between the two cities, basically, stems from the building of the Manchester ship canal in the 19th Century. This allowed ships to sail right in to land locked Manchester thus taking employment away from the docks in Liverpool. Rather than turning the workers of Liverpool against the bosses who were laying them off and cutting their wages it turned them against the workers of Manchester.  The interests of the workers here being confused and conflated with the interests of their employers, their exploiters. A similar thing appears to be happening here with authors.

I need to be extremely clear here. There are no good corporations.* All corporations exist to exploit their workers and to extract profit from the labour of others. The interests of the corporations, either Amazon or the Big5, are not in line with the interests of their authors or other workers. The interests of the individual author may align on some matters but not all, and most certainly not the important matters. All authors want enough money to keep a roof over their head and to provide for them and theirs. All corporations seek to minimise the amount of money they can give to authors. Authors want their books read and corporations seek to make money from the fact that people want to read books.

Now, I want to publish books. I want people to read those books and, ideally, I want to make enough money from doing so to be able to kick this piece of shit job that I have to the kerb whilst pointing and laughing at it before then possibly urinating on its beaten, bruised and weeping wreck of a body. In order to realise this goal I plan on indie publishing short stories and novels. I also plan on submitting short fiction to magazines. I also plan on, eventually, submitting some longer form fiction to traditional publishers.  This means dealing with Amazon. It will also mean dealing with other venues for publishing like Smashwords and Payhip or any of the other multitude of options an indie writer has. It may, hopefully, also involve dealing with a publishing house. None of these companies will be my friends. I will not be on their side and they will not be on mine. I may meet lovely people who work for all these companies who may fight my corner from within but that doesn’t mean that the corporate entity is interested in me as anything other than a revenue stream. (All this is wildly hypothetical and painfully hopeful!) My interests will be aligned with other authors, with artists, editors, readers. In other words with the rest of the working class on account of them/us being the people who fulfil all these roles. Not with those who seek to exploit the labour of others for their own gain.

This is why I find the latest developments in the Hachette/Amazon spat deeply weird. It’s like seeing a bunch of weaklings lining up behind whichever bully has taken them under their wing.*

I dunno, if only there was some kind of fighting union for creative types…



*To the, inevitable, “Ah, but what about…” I simply have this to say: exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis. 😛

**And yes both companies are bullies. That’s just the way business works.

“If the workers took a notion they could stop all speeding trains;
Every ship upon the ocean they can tie with mighty chains.
Every wheel in the creation, every mine and every mill;
Fleets and armies of the nation, will at their command stand still.”

~Joe Hill