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Publetariat Dispatch: Can We Stop Calling Amazon A Bully?

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author LJ Sellers rebuts the publishing establishment’s position that Amazon is the enemy.

This post, by LJ Sellers, originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Collective site and is reprinted here in its entirety with that site’s permission.

Amazon is a company. Granted, a retailer with aggressive tactics meant  to support long-term growth. But it is not an oversized kid (or childish  adult) with personality problems who deliberately picks on weaker  people for sport. And when people call Amazon a bully, they dilute the  term’s meaning and diminish the experience of human beings who have been  personally victimized, bruised, and emotionally scarred by such human  behavior.

Amazon functions much like other companies, only more successfully than  its competitors. Its tactics, as far as I know, are legal. (The tax  issues are still being debated but that’s another subject.) Some people  would argue that its tactics are not fair, but what does that mean? Does the word fair apply in business? Again, we’re not dealing with children. The concept of one for me and one for you is not how capitalism works.

Some businesses are content to coast along, partner with others, and not  worry about the future. Other businesses are more ambitious. They have  long-term goals, and they work aggressively to meet those goals, even if  it means putting competitors out of business. Barnes & Noble was  once that kind of business. It bought up competitors, closed many retail  outlets, and forced hundreds of indie bookstores to fold. People called  it a bully too. But it was just business, capitalism in action.

Now the same people who denounced B&N (small bookstore owners, small  publishers, and writers clinging to the old model) are crying foul on  Amazon and worrying that B&N, now the underdog, will not survive the  competition for customers.

I too worry a little that Amazon will dominate the publishing industry,  at least for a while, and that customer choice will begin to be limited.  But Amazon won’t get to that point by being a bully, just a savvy, fast-growing company with an eye on the long-term future.

And yes, this blog was inspired in response to the struggle between Amazon and Independent Publishers Group, which I blogged about yesterday in more detail. A struggle in which Amazon held firm on its terms and lost the right to publish all of IPG’s ebooks. I saw Amazon called a bully over and over yesterday, but I think the word is misused.

I don’t mean to imply that the human owners of indie publishers and  bookstores aren’t feeling emotional about what’s happening in the  publishing industry as a result of Amazon’s success. I’m sure they are  and rightfully so. But Amazon’s success is not a vendetta, and there’s  no point in taking it personally. Those emotions will just keep people  from making rational business decisions.

What do you think?


Publetariat Dispatch: The Future Makes A Comeback

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author LJ Sellers talks about the rising popularity of sci fi and futuristic, dystopian fiction.

This post, by L.J. Sellers, originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Collective blog on 11/4/11, and is reprinted here in its entirety with the author’s and site’s permission.

We’ve all seen the ads for the new book When She Woke  (by Hilary Jordan), a futuristic novel in which a criminal’s skin is  dyed to reflect her crime, a story that’s been compared to the classic, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. In recent years, other similar novels have been wildly popular too, such as The Hunger Games  trilogy by Suzanne Collins. These novels are dystopian and reflect a  society that has completely broken down and morphed into something ugly.

As  a reader, my love of futuristic thrillers—which I distinguish from  dystopian novels—started long ago with a terrific novel by Lawrence  Sanders called The Tomorrow File. For the record, he’s my all-time favorite author, and TTF may be one of the best books I’ve ever read, or at least that’s how I remember it.

The story was written in 1975—and takes place in the year 1998. I read  it in college and was captivated by Sanders’ vision of the future, in  which genetic classifications are based on whether one is natural,  produced by artificial insemination, artificial inovulation, cloned, or  otherwise created without the necessity for sexual intercourse. The  objects (people) of tomorrow eat food synthesized from petroleum and  soybeans, and enjoy unrestricted using (sex) and an addictive soft drink  called Smack.

The new language took some getting used to, but the story was so  engaging with so many twists that it was hard to put down. Most  important, the book triggered my fascination with well-told futuristic  thrillers.

Another of my favorite novels set in the future is The Handmaid’s Tale, published ten years after The Tomorrow File.  The book won numerous awards, was made into a film, and is so well  known I won’t bother with the details, except to say it’s a feminist  portrayal of the dangers of a conservative society. I admire Atwood  immensely for tackling the subject. (I took a stab at that issue when I  wrote The Sex Club…but that’s another story.) Reading The Handmaid’s Tale further inspired me to someday write a thriller set in the future.

Interestingly enough, yesterday a blogger posted comparative reviews of The Catcher in the Rye, The Handmaid’s Tale and my futuristic thriller, The Arranger.  The blogger focused on insecurities as the theme, both social and  personal, and concluded they were necessary in fiction. First, I find it  interesting that people are reading or re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale from 1985 because of the advertising for When She Woke. It’s fun to see the novel resurrected.

Second, it’s an honor to be listed in the same company as works by J.D. Salinger and Margaret Atwood.

I don’t mean to imply The Arranger  compares to any of the brilliant works I’ve mentioned, most of which  imagine a shockingly different future. (I’m still not sure why Catcher in the Rye  is in there, but that was the blogger’s choice.) My story is set only  13 years in the future, and I don’t consider it dystopian. It presents a  bleak vision of the United States, in that the economy is stagnant,  government has shrunk, and people without health insurance are left to  fend for themselves. But all that seems quite realistic to me and didn’t  require much imagination.

The Gauntlet, however, is an intense physical and mental competition  that provides a backdrop for my novel and required me to create entirely  fictitious scenarios.

Overall, I’m excited for the revived interest in futuristic novels. Does  it represent a dissatisfaction with our current state of affairs or a  fear of what is waiting for us? Or both?

Do you read futuristic novels? What are your favorites? What themes do like to see?


Publetariat Dispatch: Why I Read and Write Crime Fiction

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!

In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author LJ Sellers discusses her abiding passion for crime fiction, both as an author and as a reader.

After spending months writing about a bleak future, I found myself feeling depressed and negative. I even considered giving up writing gritty crime novels—if that’s what it took to stay positive. Then while working on a nonfiction book, I came across my notes for a talk I gave at the library called Why I Read and Write Crime Fiction. It reminded me of the genre’s value and why I should continue to write it and why it’s good for readers too, including the president. Here’s a shortened version of my talk.

Crime fiction confronts the realities of life across various cultures more often and more honestly than mainstream/literary fiction does. Crime novels are suited to exploring provocative social issues and showing how those hot-button subjects affect various people’s lives, often from diverse perspectives.

Crime fiction can be surprisingly poignant and analytical about problems such as illegal immigration, human trafficking, and drug use. These novels highlight deep-rooted cultural ills such as racism, sexism, bigotry, and the dangers of stereotypes. Sometimes a mystery will show a stereotype in all its glory, reminding us of why stereotypes exist and how we all fit into one … at least a little bit. The crime genre often forces us to see the world from perspectives that make us think outside our comfort zone.

As crime writers and readers, we get to make sense of things that would otherwise haunt us. We learn why the family next door disappeared one day or what’s really going on in the creepy warehouse across the street. Sometimes that knowledge helps us sleep better and sometimes it doesn’t, but at least we learn one version of the truth.

Police procedurals and thrillers give us a medium through which we can experience the triumph of good over evil. For short while with each story, we get to be the good guy, the hero who rescues the kidnapped child or saves the president’s life. We get to drag the bad guys off to jail or shoot them dead if “they need killing”— fantasies we can’t act out in our everyday lives. The real-world events around us can be unjust and inexplicable. It’s important to our collective mental health to experience justice, order, and revelation through fiction.

Novels with well-written protagonists and antagonists bring us to terms with the duality within ourselves. Humans are all deeply flawed, with the capacity for great goodness as well as for deceit, jealousy, schadenfreude, addiction, selfishness, and often worse. When crime fiction heroes—detectives, FBI agents, and prosecutors—possess such flaws, we not only relate to those characters, we forgive ourselves for the same shortcomings. When a killer calls his mother or pets a stray dog, we hate him a little less and remember to look for good qualities in everyone.

Crime novels explore relationships in a way that few other genres can. What better mechanism to test a bond between husband and wife, parent and child, or lifelong friends than to embroil the relationship in a crime, either as victims, suspects, or perpetrators. Similar to natural disasters, the aftermath of a crime can bring out the best—or worst—in humans.

The genre is also rich with possibilities for exploring the complexity of the human condition. Victims become predators; predators become victims. A person is guilty, but not in the way we’ve been led to believe. Most of all, crime fiction is full of surprises, and we readers love the unexpected. When was the last time a reviewer used the word twist when discussing a literary novel?

Why do you read and/or write crime fiction? Does it ever get you down?

This post, by L.J. Sellers, originally appeared on Crime Fiction Collective.