Dear Mrs. Le Guin,
Thank you for your recent speech and your brilliant books. I read the Earthsea trilogy at the age of twelve and was never the same. Ever since, I have wanted to write books like yours and have spent my life learning how to do it right. Every fantasy novel I've ever written has something stolen from you.
You made that big an impact on me.
Recently I independently published a book that I think is a worthy addition to the fantasy tradition you pioneered. It's been forty years since I was twelve; finally I attained my heart's desire.
But unlike you, Mrs. LeGuin, I do not celebrate the publication of my book with an army of helpers in New York City: an agent, an editor, a sales and marketing team, a publicist, the other ancillary pieces of the traditional publishing industry.
The head librarian where I teach mostly seventh graders was the one who pointed out most of the typos in my books. Wise friends and writing partners helped further.
The fifth grade English teacher was my chief marketing cheerleader; my wife is my vice president of sales strategy. A former student of mine, now also a teacher, volunteered to be publicist.
The cover artist is a freelancer who lives in Indiana whom I have never met in person but who understood perfectly what I wanted and delivered it.
Another author, who happens to work in IT, converted the book to an elegant digital version, and is building an online game related to it.
All of them believe in this book, and it has taken all of their efforts, plus mine, which seem small in comparison, to bring to the public this worthy piece of literature.
Last week I brought about fifty paperbacks to a little conference of teachers, students, and parents, about four hundred attendees in all. I gave a workshop in my field, and spent the rest of the day behind a card table on a stone bench talking to anyone who wanted to chew the fat or shoot the breeze. I gave away pencils with little mottos on them. I commiserated with public school teachers who continue in the trenches despite all the challenges.
And I sold around two dozen books.
I was ecstatic.
Who made this day possible? Well, everybody I've already mentioned, plus a couple others.
Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, among others.
Yes, all these companies embrace capitalism. And no, I never thought I would be an apologist for such entities.
But Amazon gives me the ability to produce inexpensive, high-quality paperback books that look just as good as traditional publishers'.
Amazon gives me a beautiful sales page that is always available on the Internet. They offer an author page as well. They'll sell my book as a paperback or as an e-book. And whatever I sell through them, I get thirty-five percent of the retail.
Smashwords sells my books, too. If I list with them, they distribute to all those other stores I mentioned above.
And I retain all publishing rights in perpetuity.
Now, as you said, Mrs. LeGuin, books aren't deodorant. We shouldn't commodify them. Who cares how much money we make from books?
We all do.
Money makes possible this thing I think you have enjoyed, which is having a life where you can write books and don't have to do another job. There are some of us out there who would like that. I personally enjoy teaching and I don't know what I'd do with myself if I had no students.
But I certainly would love the opportunity to find out.
Books are about freedom, as you said. Freedom to write and create what you want. Money helps with that, but anyone can do it in the time they have off of work, if they are passionate enough. I don't think Amazon or capitalist strategies about books have done anything to squelch that. If anything, they've increased freedom.
What tore down freedom and made writers think they would never be good enough was the traditional gatekeeping model where agents and editors had to be convinced that a writer's book was worthy of publication.
It was in traditional publishing's best interests to create an illusion of scarcity, where a few tastemakers doled out carefully vetted books to a public that respected the system and paid for the privilege of reading what the tastemakers chose. And by the way, that small group of tastemakers made their money. They made it and had a good life, and still do.
Now, in this new, chaotic world of books, there is a flood of choice. Not everything is worth reading by everybody. But nearly every book is worthy of being read by someone. And there's no reason, with the technological tools we have today, to stop that someone from finding that book that most people would think is no good.
You don't need a big publishing apparatus to have a healthy book industry. In fact, I believe that the more books that are published-- by whoever it is-- the more readers are created.
After all, in the USA alone, something more than five out of ten people never read a novel.
Just think what would happen if this new publishing revolution changed that figure by even one person out of ten. Why, we'd all be in clover.
So let's not fight about which corporation is good for publishing, and which isn't. Instead, let's join forces and go for the goal that's really worthwhile: more readers.
I have no doubt we can do it, together.