Not So Passive Anymore

The Passive Guy rarely speaks, but when he does, pay attention.

One of the brightest observers of the changes in the publishing world, The Passive Guy is a lawyer who runs a blog — — which aggregates industry news and opinion. He quotes the choicest bits from the source, provides a link to the original, and opens the comments for discussion. At the end of each story, TPG often writes a line or two. His gift is to synthesize the complex into the obvious. Sorta the opposite of what most lawyers are paid to do.

Responding to this article in The Atlantic, The Passive Guy couldn’t remain silent. I’ve never seen him be so active. What poured out is the fiercest, most right-on, goosebump-inducing defense of the democratization of literature that anyone has uttered in years. And it bears me giving it The Passive Guy treatment.

Because who could be better for democracy than a small number of huge international media conglomerates controlling the future of ideas?


What could be better for democracy than an inbred group of gatekeepers who decide what appears in bookstores and what does not?


What could be better for democracy than contracts that control and restrict what authors are permitted to write?

PG submits that Amazon is far more egalitarian and pro-democratic than big corporate publishing is.


Want to write about your personal philosophy? Want to push the boundaries of the literary form?


Don’t go to New York. For all their pretense (read the entire Atlantic article), they’re cogs in a corporate world that’s cramped by convention and quarterly profit requirements, pretenders striking poses for one another.


This is the group that has presided over a long decline in American reading, questing for short-term gain by pushing book prices ever higher while paying authors less and less and transforming them from independent artists into anxiety-ridden grist for a soul-destroying mill.


Literature in the United States was doing just fine before the industrial literary era dawned, killing dozens of small publishers and thousands of independent bookstores.


Make no mistake about it, today’s traditional publishing establishment is the product of decades of consolidation, concentrating more and more power over what is published into fewer and fewer hands. The latest and largest example of this trend is the merger of Random House and Penguin to create the largest publisher in the world.


As independent authors arise, empowered by Amazon’s democratic commons of ideas, PG says we’re looking at a renaissance of American literature, an upheaval that is shoving the suits out and putting authors back in charge of the art they create.


Despite the dying spasms of Big Publishing, the wall between writers and readers is coming down. Uncontrolled and unmediated ideas are being released into the wild, giving readers the opportunity to decide which will flourish.


Whether the path out of corporate serfdom comes via Amazon or someone else, authors who have discovered the freedom that comes with owning and controlling the fruits of their labors are not going back to the plantation.


As Passive Guy has read the tsunami of screeds that have erupted from various participants in the legacy publishing world, he has noted a common subtext: “Big Publishing is the devil we know. It gives me enough gruel to survive. Don’t mess with my gruel!”


PG and many independent authors agree in part. We do know that devil and believe it’s time for that devil to go. Whether a new devil arises or not, we know the old one is beyond redemption. We’ve found a better way.


The rest at

I’ve got nothing to say.

13 responses to “Not So Passive Anymore”

  1. It’s been building for a while, and the explosion was magnificent. “Passive” Guy, my ass. :-)

    1. Indeed. It was a great reply – as was yours.

  2. I wouldn’t believe people could be this willfully ignorant if I hadn’t seen the mud slinging like a bad political campaign for myself over the past couple of years.

    The image of big publishing as a doting elderly gardener, tending to their delicate author flowers is utterly laughable to anyone who’s seen behind the curtain.

    But, that’s just it. The curtains haven’t been pulled back far enough for everyone to see the reality. The vast majority of Big 5 published authors still have to work another job to make ends meet. They are restricted in what they can and can’t create. And when they are paid, it’s twice a year from accounting practices that would make Milken cringe. More people from the main stream need to see the truth that people like PG, you, Hugh, Konrath, Eisler, and many others have been trying to show for so long.

    Unfortunately, all they see is James Patterson speaking at BEA about the evil Amazon and government bailouts for B&N and indie bookstores.

    1. It’s funny you should open that way, Alan. “…like a bad political campaign…”

      We have a perfect reminder every few years of just how wilfully ignorant people are.

  3. The concerted effort to demonize Amazon is mind-boggling. You can measure the threat to the viability of traditional publishers by the strength of their protestations.

    What are they afraid of? Traditional publishers are looking to keep their jobs. They’re not the guardians of culture.

    Who’s stifling “literature”? The company that allows unfettered access to the entire world of readers for FREE by anyone with a keyboard?

    There is a renaissance happening in writing, and independent authors are at the forefront. We’ll look back at these years and recognize the beginning of a change as momentous as the invention of the press. Voices that would never otherwise be heard will get into the literary marketplace, and that will enrich us all.

    What fosters creativity? Freedom.

  4. Not so long ago, I had the experience of an editor who accepted a work of mine for publication, then scratched it from the docket for who knows why, get so mad discussing Amazon they were shouting. There was a time when I too would’ve pretended to be upset (anything for a gatekeeper), but since Amazon has since made possible the regular depositing of money in my account, I didn’t say anything. Amazon never leads me on or tricks me into working just a little harder because one day it will all be worth it (for the publisher). I write what I want, Amazon makes it available to readers, I get paid. Amazon, I love you:)

    Also, well said Passive Guy. Well said.

  5. I keep this handy, because Mark Twain, in explaining the riverboat pilot’s monopoly and iron control of shipping on the Mississippi can be applied to traditional publishing (=pilots association) almost word for word. Besides, he’s funny.

    He says it so much better than I could summarize, and it isn’t all that long, so here is the link to Life on the Mississippi, Chapter 15 – The Pilots’ Monopoly.

    There is nothing new under the sun.

  6. The Passive

    Come for the article. Stay for the Juris Doctorate ass-kickery

  7. I see this all leading to Hollywood Accounting for major publishing houses, which effectively means that book contracts will be work-for-hire with the exception of the biggest best-selling authors.

  8. […] Not So Passive Anymore | Hugh Howey […]

  9. It’s a good rant, without a doubt.

    But let’s not kid ourselves…until authors control their own distribution network, they are going to be at the mercy of somebody: either traditional publishers, bookstores, or Amazon.

    After all, what’s to prevent Amazon from treating an individual author who gets on its bad side the same way it is treating Hachette? As long as an author is dependent on someone else to distribute their work, that someone else has a lot of power over them.

  10. Chris Mercier Avatar

    In my opinion, it’s great the Passive Guy is coming out fully on this. Similarly, I was on the fence about the Big 5/Legacy Publishers as they do fill a certain niche and do some good for a lot of authors (editing, covers, promotions, etc.).

    However, I think Hachette and the mainstream media have crossed a moral event horizon here – and the fact that the monopolists are being straightforward about their intentions gives all a clear indication where we stand. Hachette is the enemy of all indie authors, publishers, and bookstores. Their arguments against Amazon pertain to all non-chain bookstores, all indie shops, all discounters, all publishing platforms – and their intentions are to stop it all to maintain their stranglehold.

    They’re bringing out the big guns here – getting authors, TV personalities, and media to smear and defame Amazon. Patterson and Turow even talked about getting the government involved – the same government that hates the online market and believes that there are corporations “too big to fail.”

    In other words, I think all us indie writers, etc., should be afraid and wary. The bad news is that the gov’t is likely to legislate on this, basically putting indies all over in a major bind.

    The positive thing about this? The Big 5 (and Turow, Patterson, Colbert) aren’t even pretending to be on the side of authors and entrepreneurs. I hate to sound volatile, but they are now the enemy and we should not be passive about this.

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