The Business Rusch: You Asked For My Opinion…
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
That soft repetitive thudding sound you hear as you log onto your favorite websites? That’s the sound of writers scurrying in a rush to weigh in with anger and fury over this week’s latest crisis.
Actually, that’s not fair. The crisises have come so hard and fast this year that the anger and fury change direction every three or four days. Barnes & Noble might spin off the Nook division! (Anger and fury!) IPG has removed its books from Amazon! (Anger and fury!) PayPal says it won’t work with sites that sell certain kinds of erotica! (Anger and fury!)
Never mind that most writers have no clue as to what’s really going on with these various business decisions. Someone told these writers that it’s bad. Someone bandies about the word “censorship” any time a business decides not to carry a certain product.
Have any of you looked up the definition of “censorship”? It is the suppression of published or broadcast material. When someone declines to put a book in a bookstore or if a company voluntarily pulls many published products because of a business dispute, then that is not censorship. They’re not out to get one particular work and make it permanently unavailable from all sources. Censorship targets a particular work for its content; censorship does not mean that the damn work is hard to buy in one particular store because of a business dispute.
And let’s talk about these business decisions for a moment. Do these thudding writers actually research what these business decisions mean or how they actually impact writers? Of course not. Because it’s easier to be angry and to fume on someone’s website than it is to run your own business.
Now let me be really honest here: it’s easy to rile up writers. In fact, riling up writers is the best way to get your personal point of view across. Writers believe what they’re told, have time to blog about it, and are articulate. Them riterz don’t rite them ½-baked post what hardly shos a comant of the Inglish langage. Writers are interesting and fun to read, even when they’re wrong.
Over the past two months, dozens have written to me privately about This Crisis or That Horrible Thing, wanting my opinion. Really, what you want is for me to validate your opinion that All This Is Terrible And The World Will End Right Now—Or Maybe As Soon As All Our Books Get Censored And Our Opinions Deleted From Our Favorite Websites!
Well, here’s my opinion, folks, about almost everything you’ve written to me about in the past two months:
Every company, from the smallest to the largest, has the right to run its business the way it wants to.
Now, of course, there are a few exceptions: No company should enslave its workers or beat them bloody or force them to perform sex acts on the boss. Nor should any company violate any laws. And let me add this: If you don’t like the laws, folks, run for office or support someone who will write laws that you like.
But in general: Every company, from the smallest to the largest, has the right to run its business the way it wants to.
And you have the same right with your business.
Here’s the thing: If you don’t like a company’s business practices, don’t do business with them. If you think Amazon is working toward a monopoly and you are opposed to monopolies and all that implies, then for godssake, pull your e-books off Kindle, close your Amazon account, and don’t let money associated with you flow to or from Amazon.
It’s really that simple.
Now a bunch of you are going to say, “But if I pull my e-books from Amazon, then I’m screwed. They’re the biggest market.”
My reaction? A shrug. Either you have convictions or you don’t. Either you act on those convictions or you don’t.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me if you hate Amazon or love it; if you think PayPal is screwing you or you think they’re the best thing since sliced bread. I really, sincerely, don’t care.
Because your opinion has no impact on my business.
I am a business woman who wants to get her product to market. I draw lines in certain places, but those are private places. They usually have to do with a company’s business practices or the fact that a particular person who is running a particular company once embezzled from me.
Generally speaking, my reasons for refusing to do business with someone or some company comes from personal experience with that company, not because some blogger screamed “censorship” when he has no clue what the word means.
Before you all start screaming at me as a corporate whore or someone who is so naïve that she doesn’t understand how the world works, let me refer you to my fiction. I understand that most writers who read writing blogs never even look to see what the blogger has published, and God forbid if those writers actually read the blogger’s fiction.
So let me make it easy: In my Retrieval Artist series, the bad guys are almost always work for or are owned by super-powerful corporations. The corporations are the Big Bad in those books. A subplot in all of my Smokey Dalton mystery series continually shows how hard it is to run a corporation ethically. I spent more than a decade as a nonfiction business reporter. I still read business histories (particularly of companies gone wrong) for enjoyment.
I get it. I know that corporations are often soulless and evil.
I also know how big they are. They don’t care if you’re running around the web, screaming about their contract negotiations with another company. They know that you’re all bluster, that you’ll never put your money where your mouth is.
Lately some protests against big corporations have worked, but you’ll note that those protests started on social media and no one noticed them until at least 150,000 people had signed a petition. About something that had a direct impact on them.
What Amazon and IPG are arguing about may have an effect on you, because you have some indie books distributed by IPG, but that fight is a contract negotiation between two parties, neither of whom are you. When contract negotiations go public like this, it’s because one or both sides are playing hardball and one or both sides want to drum up public support for their position.
Let me make that even clearer: They put the news out into the public to manipulate you into putting pressure on the other party so that they can triumph in the negotiation. Do they care about you or your opinion? Hell, no. They’re using you.
This whole PayPal thing? It’s not censorship. It’s a business decision. In fact, if you go back to the beginning of this post, you’ll see that the business decision boils down to exactly the line I put out there earlier:
PayPal wants to work with the credit card companies. The credit card companies don’t like to have their brand associated with certain things. So the credit card companies make a blanket statement about this, and set up guidelines that are quite vague and can be enforced with a robotic search engine.
PayPal decided to comply with the credit card companies, and informed the businesses who use its product of the rules. Those businesses then decided if they wanted to continue to have PayPal as one of the ways to pay on their site.
Most of the businesses decided to comply, so they sent information to their business partners who are, in some cases, writers, telling those writers as to what can be on a PayPal sponsored site and what can’t.
Here’s where you come in: You—like PayPal and the other companies before you—decide whether or not to comply.
If you don’t like the rules, don’t do business with these companies. Find a way around it.
It’s really that simple.
I started this blog on Sunday, after I completed an e-mail interview with a Brazilian magazine. The reporter was actually doing a story about the way environmental issues show up in science fiction. She had an eye to the future, and asked if I, as an sf writer, believed that we have a future on this planet, given all of the looming environmental disasters.
I do. Of course I do. I wouldn’t be an sf writer if I weren’t optimistic. I write about the future. There has to be a future or I have nothing to write about.
In that same e-mail download was yet another letter from someone asking me to denounce this business practice or that horrible new thing.
The juxtaposition of those two e-mails made me realize something. At heart, I’m an optimist. I have to be. I’m a successful writer which means that in the face of all evidence to the contrary (rejection after rejection after rejection), I believed in myself enough to keep trying. I am a successful business owner which means that I survived several failures and had the courage to try again.
I am contrarian, yes, and damn cynical, and you have to prove things to me before I’ll believe them. I’m unwilling to take anyone’s word for anything without proof. And if I don’t understand the proof—and that something is important to me, my family, my writing, or my business—then I do my best to educate myself about that proof so that I do understand.
That’s me. That’s a lot of you as well, because you’re communicating to me on the blog or behind the scenes about the things I discuss, and how you find my never-say-die perspective refreshing.
The other thing I realized from the juxtaposition of those e-mails is that the problem with most of these thudding pedantic writers is that 1) they’re paranoid, 2) willfully blind, and 3) pessimistic.
They worry that everyone is out to get them. If they put their stories up electronically, they worry that someone will pirate the stories. And yet, these writers never worry about shoplifters stealing their mass market paperback from a brick-and-mortar bookstore.
They are terrified that Amazon or B&N will screw them, but they trust their agent—whom they give all their money even if they’ve never met or done a background check on this agent. They also trust their traditional publisher, and most traditional publishers have a history of misleading royalty statements and business practices that screw the writer.
That’s what I mean by willfully blind. In fact, most of the crusades these thudding writers go on are initiated by traditional publishers or someone in the traditional publishing industry, all of whom have a different agenda than the writer. Some of these business practices that the these traditional publishing folk complain about might be bad for those folks. But usually, the things these folks are complaining about—like the changes Amazon has brought to the marketplace—are good for writers.
Amazon has changed the playing field in such a way that writers have control over their work for the first time in my lifetime—and this scares the crap out of traditional publishing folk. Most of the complaints about Amazon have nothing to do with writers—who are, at the moment, benefitting from Amazon’s corporate practices—and everything to do with traditional publishing folk, from publishers themselves to independent bookstores.
Be careful who you’re schilling for, folks, because they might have an agenda that’s very, very, very different from yours. So before you respond to something with anger and fury, make sure you understand that something as it pertains to you. Make sure it’s actually about you.
If someone is trying to censor your book, you have every right to complain. You should publicize the behavior, and fight it in every way you can.
If someone is trying to negotiate a contract, and your book is collateral damage—well, then, have you thought that maybe you shouldn’t do business with someone who uses your book as collateral damage? Hmmm?
Finally, these thudding writers are so pessimistic. To borrow a great phrase from a friend of mine, they see the dark cloud in every silver lining.
We writers have more control over our careers than we have ever had before. Yes, there are bumps in the road. Of course. All businesses have those bumps, each and every day. The bumps should make you reassess the way you do business.
Do you want to do business with a company like Amazon that uses an anvil when a pen will do? Do you want to do business with a company that bows to the demands of credit card companies?
If your answer is no, then stop doing business with those people. Accept the fact that you will not have your e-books in one of the biggest bookstores in the United States. (Amazon is not one of the biggest bookstores in other countries, not by a long shot.) Accept the fact that without PayPal, it will be harder for your readers to order your books.
That’s your business decision, based on your response to changes in the marketplace. Those are valid decisions, as long as you understand why you’re making them.
They’re your choice.
But if you become one of those thudding writers, running all over the internet screaming about This Latest Horrible Thing or That Really Awful Thing, then maybe you should take a breath and ask yourself this:
Why are you spending so much time promoting an agenda that you don’t even understand? Shouldn’t you be working on your own business? Shouldn’t you be writing a novel or a nonfiction book or a short story? Shouldn’t you be promoting yourself and your work instead of screaming about how someone else manages their work?
Is any of this really your business? Will your little blog post or comment on some big corporate website make a difference? Will your Tweet save the world?
Because if the answer is no, then why are you doing it? And if you’re not willing to take action—pull your work off Amazon if you don’t like their business practices, stop using PayPal or your credit cards because you don’t like their policies—then not only are you wasting your time, you’re wasting all of ours too.
The next time one of these big crisises come up—and it will, probably a day or so from now—ask yourself: Do I really need to weigh in on this? Is it so important to me that I need to lose a day defending it?
Better yet, ask yourself: Do I understand what this crisis is all about? Who wins here? Who loses? Will it actually have an impact—a real, financial impact—on my business?
If so, stop screaming and do something about it. If it has no impact on you, if—in fact—it has nothing to do with you, then shut your mouth and write your novel. Worry about your business. And keep your thudding little opinions out of everyone else’s.
You’ll be surprised at how much writing you’ll get done. Real writing. Not blog commentary or nasty little e-mails to friends.
That said, I’m going to move onto more positive things. So if you want my opinion on This Crisis or That Horrible Thing, maybe you should research it first, and see if it’s even relevant to a writer, if it’s something we can control or if our only choice is to stop doing business with the perpetrator of That Horrible Thing.
Because now you know that my opinion is simple one: If you don’t like the way someone else does business, don’t do business with them.
Can I be any clearer?
This blog is part of my writing business. I started blogging about business three years ago in April, and I haven’t missed a week since. I have learned a lot thanks to you folks, and I’m very grateful.
I am, however, a fiction writer first, and this blog takes a chunk of words out of my weekly fiction output. My fiction earns me money, so to compensate for the lost time, the blog has to earn me money as well. That’s why I have a PayPal—yes, a PayPal—link at the end of each blog. If you feel so inclined, use it to leave me a tip.
If you have decided that you do not want to do business with PayPal, hit the contact link above and e-mail me. There are other ways to pay people online. PayPal is just convenient. I’m willing to be a bit inconvenienced if that’s what you want.
As for the rest of you, here’s the PayPal link:
“The Business Rusch: “You Asked For My Opinion…” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.