You may note that I haven’t used the words “legacy publishing” to talk about traditional publishers.
There’s a reason for that. I don’t like the term.
Look, I get why some people are using the term. And I understand that the point of using the term “legacy publishing” is that it conveys instantly what you think of traditional publishers: that you think they are old, inefficient, and outmoded. I could argue until the cows come home about whether traditional publishers are old, inefficient, and outmoded–get a bunch of authors together, and we talk about almost nothing else.
I’m still not going to use the term.
Here’s why. Imagine someone came up to me and said, “Courtney, since you write romance, I assume that you’ve sold out the One True Writing of Sad Books for crass commercial happy endings. Only whores sell out, and so from here on out, I’m going to call you Whore-tney.”
I would be pissed off. I would not want to debate whether writing happy endings was selling out, or discuss the merits of literary fiction versus romance–all very interesting discussions. I would want to beat the crap out of the person who was calling me a whore.
I would not feel better if the person said, “Look, it’s just a point of semantics–we both know what I mean when I say ‘Whore-tney’ so I’ll just keep calling you that, and you know that by using the name, I’m referring to you.” I happen to already have a name, a perfectly good one, that so far serves to differentiate me from others. I don’t need a new one, one that has an extremely negative context.
Imagine the person goes up to my friend and says, “So, I think Whore-tney made an interesting point the other day. What do you think about it?”
Do you think my friend will want to honestly debate the pros and cons of the argument? No, she’s going to say, “Stop calling her Whore-tney, or I will rip your eyes out.” (Probably not that. My friends are more gentle.)
Vocabulary matters. Vocabulary that is chosen to insult people–particularly when you state that “legacy publishing” does not mean “non-self-publishing” but “publishing in a way that I like instead of a way that I do not like”–has an effect: it immediately closes down conversation with people who do not agree with you.
Now, if you intend to do that, fine. But I don’t. If I use the words “legacy publishing,” I’m implicitly insulting all the people who are involved in it–not just editors and publishing house executives, but friends of mine who have decided it is in their economic best interest to continue to publish with their traditional publishing houses. I’d like to talk to those people about pros and cons. I’d love to debate it.
I don’t want to walk up and kick dirt in their face over a fine point of semantics.
As it is, we have lots of perfectly fine vocabulary words that describe different kinds of publishing. So here are the words I will use to describe various kinds of publishers:
“Traditional publishing” which can be split into “New York publishing” and/or “big publishing,” “small presses,” and “digital first publishers.” I’m not sure where Amazon’s new publishing arm fits in to all of this; they may be a different beast altogether, or they may just be a particularly rapacious branch of digital-first publishing. They are probably a cross between a small press (they give advances) and a digital-first publisher, but I am unsure. Nonetheless, I am unstymied by my immediate inability to classify them. Since they seem to be one of a kind, I shall just call them “Amazon” for now.
Some people would not put digital-first publishers under the traditional publishing umbrella. Surely they do not qualify as legacy publishers.
Then there’s “agent publishing”–a relatively new beast, and I fear a contradiction in terms, but alas.
And then there’s “self publishing” which can be of the “agent assisted” variety.
Now I’m aware that the word “traditional” in traditional publishing is not without moral valence. Traditions are good! Traditions are like turkey and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving! Traditions are warm and comforting! But traditions are also kind of stodgy–and people have been using that word for a while now.
There. I’ve managed to use words to refer to things without using insults. I feel that etymologically, I can refer to everything.
Now, I’m willing to talk about all the ways that big publishers are getting things wrong–just as I’m willing to talk about how Amazon’s new imprints may be getting things wrong, or how small presses get things wrong, or how self-published authors may be getting things wrong. But I don’t want to send people the message that in order to engage in me with conversation, you must start from the presumption that I am right and you are wrong.
That’s what you do when you’re trying to piss someone off, not when you’re trying to talk with them.
I don’t imagine that I’ll change anyone’s minds (or vocabulary) with this post, but I do think it’s important to push back on the assumption that it’s a good idea to insult people.