Doing useless things very well

(I was looking for a clever quote to encapsulate the title's idea (I can't imagine that Gilbert & Sullivan never touched on this subject), and I found this, which is irrelevant but pretty funny anyway.)

Anyway, the other day when I was reading M. Louisa Locke's blog, I saw a post in which she bemoans her lack of Twitter followers. Now, this is a woman who was recently able to retire from teaching on the strength of her book sales. Clearly, she is doing something right, and while she may not be doing Twitter right, that apparently does not matter.

I've also seen people fretting over whether Amazon can do everything for a writer that a traditional publisher can do as it moves into becoming more of a full-service publisher. This, despite that fact that Barry Eisler recently said that, more or less, he made more money with Amazon's publishing offshoot in two months than he made with a traditional publisher in ten years.

I'm sure there are plenty of things a traditional publisher can do better than Amazon--for example, getting books into bookstores. The problem is, they don't matter. Newspapers were shockingly good at distributing huge quantities of paper very quickly to millions of people. And if they're going to survive, they'll have to stop doing that.

It's silly to say, Oh, Amazon just sells cheap stuff--traditional publishers have the mojo to push $26 books and $13 e-books. The fact that traditional publishers sell a really expensive product means nothing to the author if the author is making peanuts. It's already something of a given that, if you have decent sales, you make more money self-publishing. As contracts by traditional publishing get more and more draconian, that difference is going to become a yawning chasm.

And I wonder how that's affecting people within the industry. I mean, most people go into publishing because they love books and want to help make good ones. It's got to be pretty frustrating to be in an environment where you aren't allowed to do your job and where your company is screwing your writers so badly that they can't make a living any more.

That's what I think that infamous Hachette memo is about: I think the brass is trying to assure the rank-and-file that, really, they do have a purpose (other than sucking every last drop of money out of their writers for the benefit of their corporate overlords, who will doubtless reward them with a layoff). And I think the people who really want to help writers create good books will eventually either strike out on their own or join up with the more-reputable companies offering services to writers. Maybe I'm projecting from my own preferences, but I hated feeling like I was just spinning my wheels for a paycheck. Why be useless when you can use your talents for good?