Help! Help! I’m being oppressed!

One of the kerfuffles that has rolled around lately has to do with a post that Barry Eisler did on J.A. Konrath’s blog, where Barry referenced Michael Stackpole’s consistent rhetoric that writers for NY publishing are like “house slaves” and pointed to another consistent theme in much of the indie-publishing meme which is that those who write for NY publishers are suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome.

I want to note that Barry was clear enough that these were analogies–he wasn’t making an actual psychological diagnosis of Stockholm Syndrome, and was referencing other people’s rhetoric. He also apologized for the analogy later on, and admitted it wasn’t helpful, and I appreciate that.

But the language of abuse and slavery and Stockholm Syndrome is rampant among self-publishing proponents. Konrath and Eisler are by no means the worst offenders. It drives me absolutely bonkers. The “abuse” I had to put up with from my publisher was two six-figure deals and inclusion in an anthology with a New York Times bestseller. Weep for me.

I haven’t given up self-pubbing at this point, and I won’t. But I do think that traditional New York publishing has value. I believe in diversification, and I wouldn’t have a problem signing a New York contract for a limited number of books under a limited set of circumstances. After all, book sales multiply with the number of books out. Having more books out–and having paper copies of books on more shelves–would grow my audience so that even if I make less on those books, I could actually make more money in total. So I am perfectly open to the possibility of a NY contract as a method of diversifying myself. That’s a business decision. You might disagree with my reasoning, but I’m surely not oppressed.

I have friends who have worked with utterly magical editors, who would sell books to those editors any chance they get. It’s a business decision to get a smaller percentage for the chance to work with someone who will help you produce books at the height of your capacity. I have friends who do not have the time, inclination, or patience to self-publish–and self-publishing requires a very distinct skillset. It’s a business decision on their part to focus on writing.

I recognize that a critique of tone isn’t always valuable. But I think what this incident demonstrates is that egregious tone can lead to substantive problems and a lack of discussion on the salient issues altogether. Excessive rhetoric strips away nuance. It’s very hard to say, “Publishing is like slavery! But, you know, to each their own individualized circumstances! Sometimes, for some people, maybe it’s a decent business decision. Just not for me, you know, and maybe not for lots of other people.”

The result of the tone issue was that people got pissed off and screamed and yelled about rhetoric. Some people said, “YES! GO! SLAY THE INFIDELS!” and some responded by arguing the analogy instead of talking about Amazon and the future of the publishing industry. Some really interesting and important points that Barry made in that post have basically been ignored because of the rhetoric employed on a side-issue.

There are times when there is no nuance to be had, and so I’m fine with shrill tones under those circumstances. Actual slavery should be opposed. Genocide, ditto. Egregious violations of human rights? Very, very bad. But a decision about how to get your book in the hands of readers? That does not rise to the level of “crimes against humanity.” And using that rhetoric to discuss it means that instead of having a discussion about substance, you end up with accusations flying. And that’s a shame.

One final point: in Eisler’s piece, the question of whether authors are abused (if only by analogy) is ancillary to the point of what we think of Amazon’s power. But Barry claims that NY publishing’s cartel would be equivalent to an Amazon monopoly. There are, of course, a few salient differences between an Amazon monopoly and the NY publishing “cartel” (which I put in quotes since I have no direct evidence that it’s a cartel).

  • Economically speaking, cartels are preferable to a monopoly because there is economic pressure to defect from a cartel. There is no way to defect from a monopoly.
  • Economically speaking, what Amazon is doing right now is seeking not only horizontal domination over book selling but vertical integration, whereas traditional publishing is only concerned with horizontal domination, at least insofar as it touches the book supply chain. (I’m aware that most publishing houses are part of a vertical integration of media corporations generally–and that in fact does have real consequences, and ones I’m not happy with. But they are not as of yet integrated with retail sales.) Vertical integration raises a different set of economic risks.

These are interesting questions, and I’m sorry they haven’t been explored.

As a personal matter, I like Amazon–how could I not?–but I’m very aware that the reason that Amazon gave authors 70% was not because they were feeling generous, but because Apple entered the market at 70% and Amazon felt pressure to match them.

I’m wary of any large concentration of power. And I’m exceedingly wary of a large concentration of power that doesn’t have a large concentration of power elsewhere to match it. At this point, I think that Amazon is providing healthy competition. But I also believe that the competition would stop being healthy if we stopped pitting Amazon’s near-monopoly market power in the e-book market against the NY publishers.

And that’s the nuance that’s getting stripped from this conversation by the tone: We can’t talk rationally about relative concentrations of power and the future of the market if we persist in labeling one side as an abuser and the other a rescuer. It’s not an abuser-rescuer dynamic.

So there. Those are my two cents. I respect both Konrath and Eisler immensely (which is not something I will say for all the indie prophets out there)–they’re both clever and thoughtful and successful. I’ve talked to Barry several times in the past, and I really value his insight and intelligence. But I don’t think that the rhetoric employed is actually aiding discussion–which is a darned shame, because I think they have a lot to add to a rational discussion. I wish that they were using rhetoric that would facilitate that discussion instead of hindering it.

93 thoughts on “Help! Help! I’m being oppressed!

  1. I have a lot of thoughts about that discussion, but the functioning cells in my brain — such as they are — have a more important project claiming their energy and focus at the moment. Still, there are a few issues that really frustrate me and keep gurgling out and around the other work I’m trying to do:

    1. I don’t think calling your critics “pinheads” is worthy of respect. I just don’t. And it’s laughably ironic when you want to claim abuse on the part of the legacy pubs and when you’ve got two white guys who built their reputations through legacy publishing invoking that language without self-consciousness. Why not use employment vocab, or, if you’re really trying to be dramatic, indentured servitude.

    2. Eisler, of all people, should (and I thought did) know why it’s not a good idea to invoke the terms he did, even in borrowing them, in the context of his piece. I’m really kind of blown back by his use and defense of his approach.

    3. Beyond the belittling of actual slavery, Stockholm Syndrome (and don’t even get me started on the complexities of THAT), domestic abuse, morbid obesity, etc., I think any language that suggests the robbing of personal agency from an individual is unwise as a tool of motivation, especially when you’re allegedly trying to get people to make more “intelligent” choices.

    4. To me, the role played by Konrath and his band of merry men is starting to feel like a sort of gatekeeping via shepherding (Eisler and Konrath already have a book for sale at Amazon on self-publishing). I’m fascinated to see how all this is going to evolve, but I’m concerned, too, because I feel that self-publishing is an entrepreneurial path that’s been highly populated by women. Another reason I find the abuse metaphors coming from Konrath et al problematic.

    5. All of which makes it difficult for me to separate tone from content in Eisler’s and Konrath’s comments. The power dynamics and issues of personal agency overlap the discussions of tone/vocabulary and substantive argument and I think it’s important to keep the awareness of that in play.

  2. Robin: Well taken. I was actually pretty taken aback that Barry used the language he did because I had supposed he was more conscious of the power of language.

    But all of this makes me wonder if Eisler and Konrath really want to have a discussion. They’re using language that explicitly closes down discussion in so many ways, and they’re both smart enough that I have to speculate about whether this is a conscious choice on their parts.

    Barry (and I assume he might read this at some point) doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who would want to close down discussion, but he also doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who would be clueless that’s that what his language was doing.

    As for the respect issue–I do respect Konrath a lot for his openness in sharing numbers, and for his willingness to change his mind on self-publishing in the past. I think Konrath means well and wants to share his success with others. I really do. I think most of what he does is motivated by his desire to help others, and isn’t about pecuniary gain. I think he’s done a lot of good on that front.

    I don’t respect the increasingly pulpit-like rhetoric I see him employing.

    Right now (and Barry, if you’re reading this, I recognize these are fighting words) I’m wondering if the Konrath strategy is akin to…well, the one employed by Ann Coulter. I went to the same law school as Coulter, and have talked to professors who had her. They say she was thoughtful and balanced as a law student, that there was no evidence that she was shrill and unthinking–and that they’re fairly certain that her persona is a put-on designed not to foster discussion but to rally the base for her own pecuniary gain.

    I don’t want to think that Konrath and Eisler are basically the indie publishing equivalents of Limbaugh and Coulter. But that’s essentially the role they’re casting themselves in, and that makes me sad.

  3. @Courtney Milan: I think feeling disempowered can lead to the use of over-dramatic terminology, and certainly authors have felt disempowered in relation to corporate publishing (even though as an outsider I’ve always been a little flummoxed by that).

    But it’s difficult for me to see guys like Eisler and Konrath in that beaten down place. Maybe they think they’re relating to the downtrodden morale among legacy pubbed authors, but why continue to defend the language once its very real problems have been identified so ubiquitously? Eisler actually suggested to a woman on Twitter that she should focus on ‘something more important’ like the Occupy Oakland situation. I felt like someone should be calling in an exorcist.

    I think you’re right that there may be a real opposition between intent and effect in the rhetoric these guys are employing, but regardless, I think the current approach undermines — in substantial and substantive ways — their efficacy as advisors.

  4. Great post. I think, once you get past the house slave/Negro Leagues rhetoric that Konrath and Eisler have been using, is that the argument — a cartel and a monopoly are equivalent — doesn’t hold up. Cartels and monopolies are vastly different animals and shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

  5. I read the blog for myself and it is clear that Mr. Eisler was quoting someone else when he used the term “house slave mentality.” That said, he still referenced it to buttress his argument. Certain words just have no place in thoughtful discourse; it inflames the reader and prematurely ends any thoughtful discussion. I think we can agree by all the back and forth tweets that even the analogy of house slaves has derailed the initial argument.

    Mr. Eisler made some compelling points about self-publishing, but never satisfactorily explained why it has to be a zero sum game. As Courtney pointed out, not all writers are proficient on the business side, so they are more than willing to give up some control. This doesn’t mean they’re being taken advantage of.

    From the reader’s viewpoint, self-publishing has no current mechanism to weed out the dreck and find the pearl. We know what to expect from so-called legacy writers that move into self-publishing, because we can judge their past work. However, the jury is still out on how to separate talent from vanity when trying to navigate the new frontier of the self-published writer.

    Finally, I think voices on the extreme left and right can be “shrill and unthinking,” yet only the right is referenced.

  6. @ Kim — The point where Barry uses the term “house slaves” isn’t in the post itself, but in the follow-up comments that he left on it:

    “I think it’s pretty obvious from the above that never did I argue that all legacy published authors are house slaves. . . . [but] one possibility [for authors who are afraid of Amazon] is a house slave mentality.”

    He left a follow-up comment (to that comment) apologizing for using the term.

  7. @Kim

    Thanks for your comments. On the last point, I assume that Barry’s going to read this at some point. I don’t think Barry would be terribly upset by a comparison to some of the shriller voices on the left, as he’s pretty unabashedly liberal (small l). My choice of Limbaugh and Coulter was deliberate–because I hope he can see what the effect of rhetoric is when it’s divorced from an argument that he doesn’t agree with.

    My goal here isn’t to try to take a political stance or to single out one side, but (hopefully) to try to get the level of discourse back to rationality.

  8. @Courtney Milan: Thanks, Courtney. I inferred that he was quite liberal and would be upset with the comparison. I’m not defending Ann Coulter; I’m just saying each sident has its strident voices.

  9. @Andrew Shaffer: I read it before the comments section. It’s in the actual guest post in the 13th paragraph. He talks about Stockholm Syndrome, then this:(Mike Stackpole calls it a “house slave” mentality).

  10. Some terrific points, Courtney. You’ve obviously put some thought into this.

    Many authors, however, defend legacy publishing without fully understanding their reasons for doing to. They don’t back up their opinions. For the past 100 years, we writers haven’t had a real choice if we wanted to earn a living–it was legacy or nothing.

    I see that attitude still being expressed, even though there is now a choice. And based on everything I know, having been on both sides of the issue, self-pubbing is a far better choice. You believe that a legacy deal could widen your audience. But where is your proof for that? I’ve been showing, for quite some time and with detailed figures, that my self-pub ebooks are buoying my legacy backlist sales, not vice versa.

    But even if you’re correct, and a legacy deal could increase your audience, you’d have to weigh that against the many other problems with legacy publishers, and there are boatloads.

    I don’t blog to convince writers to self-publish. Everyone should do whatever works for them, and it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other.

    I blog to share what I’ve learned, and to test my ideas in a public forum, which helps me refine and improve my arguments and experiments. As such, I don’t care if I’m liked or not. I just care about being right. It doesn’t matter is I’m an ass, 2 + 2 still equals 4.

  11. I don’t think calling your critics “pinheads” is worthy of respect. I just don’t. And it’s laughably ironic when you want to claim abuse on the part of the legacy pubs and when you’ve got two white guys who built their reputations through legacy publishing invoking that language without self-consciousness. Why not use employment vocab, or, if you’re really trying to be dramatic, indentured servitude.

    Being a critic of mine doesn’t make a person a pinhead. But misquoting me, ad hominem attacks, trolling, taking things out of context, and being unable to defend your opinions using logic and data–that makes someone a pinhead. I’m very careful about whom I give that label to.

    As for being inappropriate, have we all become so sensitive we can’t distinguish actual racism, sexism, cruelty, and hatred from an analogy? If so, that’s fine. Everyone is entitled to be offended by whatever they see fit, and certainly slavery is one of the biggest offenses in humanity. But as Courtney said, it really has nothing to do with the main topic.

    To me, the role played by Konrath and his band of merry men is starting to feel like a sort of gatekeeping via shepherding (Eisler and Konrath already have a book for sale at Amazon on self-publishing). I’m fascinated to see how all this is going to evolve, but I’m concerned, too, because I feel that self-publishing is an entrepreneurial path that’s been highly populated by women. Another reason I find the abuse metaphors coming from Konrath et al problematic.

    That ebook is free on our websites. We didn’t write it to make money. We wrote to to share what we’ve learned with authors, who can pressure-check it.

    And as I’ve said previously, if my insensitivity is making people miss the main points of my arguments, their loss. Not liking me, or how I say things, doesn’t mean you can’t use my information and make money. But again, it doesn’t matter to me if you use it or not, or if you like me or not.

    If you can’t separate the tone from the content, you (the collective you, not you personally) don’t have to tune in.

    I’m always a civil as the person I’m debating.

  12. Hi Courtney, some minor differences aside, I agree with the points you make in your post (how could I not? I’ve made many of them myself, many times. Especially the importance of diversification, that there’s no one-size-fits all publishing approach, etc). I especially like the Monty Python title. :)

    One of the downsides of using an unhelpful analogy is that it encourages and enables people to distort what you said, and there’s been a lot of that in the reaction to my post. So let’s leave the unhelpful analogies out. What I said — and I stand by it — is that some authors claim to abhor future Amazon low royalties while accepting current NY low royalties, and that the explanation for this discrepancy might be that *these* authors — and not *all* authors — have come to identify with their oppressors. If that concept — as opposed to my poor word choice — offends some people, I don’t mind, because the concept is intrinsic to my argument.

    Now, I would welcome engagement on my argument. I could be wrong — maybe there’s another explanation for the logical contradiction, maybe there is no contradiction at all, and I’m just imagining one — but so far, almost no one is engaging the argument. Rather, people are either mischaracterizing the argument, or focusing on my unfortunate analogy, or both. So for anyone reading this, once again: mea culpa, I stipulate that I should not have used the slavery analogy, I apologize for any offense, I humbly retract the offending phrase.

    And now, why not engage my actual argument by trying to answer my actual question? Which was pretty clearly stated — twice — in my post:

    “Why all the fear about what Amazon might do in the future, when legacy publishers are doing those fearful things right now?”

    Shiloh said, “Anytime certain words are thrown in… slave, rape, etc, it’s going to derail the topic.”

    I agree. I should have known better; pretty sure now I do.

    Courtney, if knowing me as you do, in person, from my writing, and from the frequency and manner with which I respond to tweets and blog comments, you really do wonder whether I “really *want* to have a discussion,” and if you believe that I am motivated by the same objectives and am using the same tactics as Limbaugh and Coulter, I doubt there’s much I can do to persuade you that you’re mistaken. But I also doubt that you “don’t *want* to think that Konrath and Eisler are basically the indie publishing equivalents of Limbaugh and Coulter.” From my standpoint, you’re going out of your way to make this argument (and — gasp — quite a deliberately incendiary one, too, as you’ve explicitly acknowledged), so I have to assume you do indeed want to believe this.

    Robin said, “Eisler actually suggested to a woman on Twitter that she should focus on ‘something more important’ like the Occupy Oakland situation.”

    I guess it is pretty insane to suggest that police shooting at citizens exercising their First Amendment rights in Oakland might possibly be more important than one blogger’s poor choice of words, for which the blogger has since apologized and which he’s since retracted.

    So yes, Robin, at some point, I do start to wonder about the priorities of people like you and the person I retweeted. There’s so much actual brutality in our government and our own neighborhoods, and this is the issue you want to expend all this energy on? Something else is going on.

    Andrew and Courtney, I think the monopoly/quasi-monopoly/cartel issue is a distinction without a difference. As I noted in my post, the problem is the result of — the business practices enabled by — lack of competition. I don’t think it matters much whether those results are produced by a monopoly, a quasi-monopoly, a cartel, or some other anti-competitive set of factors. So while it’s not uninteresting to debate the precise nature of the lack of competition that characterizes New York, or the precise nature of the lack of competition that might one day characterize Amazon, I don’t think it’s terribly relevant to my argument, either.

    Kim said, “I think we can agree by all the back and forth tweets that even the analogy of house slaves has derailed the initial argument.”

    We can indeed.

    Kim said, “Mr. Eisler made some compelling points about self-publishing, but never satisfactorily explained why it has to be a zero sum game.”

    I didn’t explain it because I didn’t argue it — and never have. In fact, I’ve consistently argued the opposite.

    Courtney said, “I don’t think Barry would be terribly upset by a comparison to some of the shriller voices on the left, as he’s pretty unabashedly liberal (small l).”

    I thought you knew me better than this. I’d be no more pleased by, and would no more agree with, a comparison to a shrill leftist voice than to a shrill rightist one. Though I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a leftist equivalent of Coulter or Limbaugh, unless you’re looking for superficial and false equivalencies.

    I try to make my arguments persuasively and with integrity. When I make a mistake, as I did in my post, I try to acknowledge it, apologize for it, and learn from it. It’s the right thing to do, it’s all I really can do, and having done it puts me at ease with the unwillingness or inability of some people to get past the mistake itself, with suggestions that I must somehow be similar to Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, and with other such odd reactions.

    This has been an interesting experience and I feel I’ve learned a lot from it. Thanks for your thoughts, Courtney, and everyone else, too.

  13. @Barry Eisler:

    I hope you read that not as “I think you are like Ann Coulter” but “I wonder what you’re thinking, because if your goal is to convince people who disagree with you to engage in rational discourse with you, it’s not working.”

    I mean, I can conceive of two possibilities at this point.

    1. After getting push back about the use of the Negro League on your first few posts way back when–push back that derailed the very interesting arguments you were making, and focused on whether you were characterizing yourself with oppression language that trivialized the struggle that others have gone through, you really didn’t get why that might offend others, and were tone deaf enough to go on and do much the same thing.

    2. You don’t care that your rhetoric is specifically causing people to not listen to the arguments you’re making; you’re using the rhetoric more as a device to rabble rouse then to communicate.

    If it’s #2, then yes, you look like Ann Coulter. If it’s #1… well, no offense, but you’re coming off very much as a privileged white guy who doesn’t understand why what you’re doing and saying is a problem. And yes, that *does* surprise me, because I do think better of you than that. The impression I’m getting is that you’re kind of surprised that this has derailed the argument… but didn’t that happen last time with the Negro League comparisons?

    Are you going to stop using incendiary rhetoric, when it demonstrably derails the conversation? If you and Konrath really are trying to reach people who are, as you say, unthinkingly identifying with their oppressors, you’re doing a very bad job of it. You’re starting off by insulting them, and then telling them that they lack meaningful agency. You’re insulting the people they identify with. This is not how you have a conversation with someone about how to move forward.

    This isn’t a cut and dry issue for me. As I said, I do have a lot of respect for both of you. I think that Konrath for one has done wonders in terms of getting authors to think about what they’re doing and what the benefits are, and obviously, I’m not a good person to choose to champion traditional publishing since I’ve voted with my feet (or my contracts, as it were) on this one.

    But I don’t think that you can change minds by berating people, either.

    I’m not trying to say that in terms of morals you’re being Coulter-esque. But your communication style is veering towards the shrill, and it is distracting from your argument.

    But as for the monopoly point: I agree that in many ways cartels and horizontal monopolies carry similar sorts of worries, although I do think that the coordination costs for cartels leave me somewhat less worried.

    But I think the worry with Amazon is not just that it will develop horizontal monopoly strength but that it is working to develop vertical integration as well, and I do worry about that.

    I worry–very much–about a media that is deeply vertically integrated with large corporations. I know that you worry about that too. I worry about the effect that this has had, especially in short-term profit seeking, on the book industry and the news media and all sorts of other places. I don’t think that’s been good for our society.

    And I have always been someone who privileges structure and process over substance (something that is probably obvious from my comments here), and so I’m always deeply disturbed by new vertical integration. I don’t like the idea of unlimited executive power no matter who the executive is; I don’t like the idea of unchecked oligarchies, no matter how benevolent the oligarch is.

    And I’m not saying that the current system doesn’t have its problems–God, does it ever–but I worry, deeply, about a world where greater vertical integration deepens those worries.

    As for the comparison, right now I’m not choosing between the old world and the new world. I’m choosing between new worlds, and my actions–whether I privilege one vendor over another–will play a role in what the shape of that new world is.

    This is way more politics than I ever put on this blog, and so once again I shake my fist at you, Barry, for tempting me into it.

    This is really all I was hoping to get you to ask yourself, Barry: Is the incendiary rhetoric really getting you what you want in terms of discourse? Because you keep using it, and I can’t see that you need to to make your point. And that does bother me, because you’re smart enough, and when I’ve talked to you in person, you didn’t strike me as the kind of person who would ever intend to try to foreclose discussion.

    But that’s clearly the effect that you’re having. I don’t think that’s what you intend. And I really do appreciate that you disclaimed the house slave rhetoric and apologized for referencing it. But right now, I don’t think you’re communicating effectively with the people who are still entrenched in traditional publishing.

    That’s either by mistake or by design. I’m hoping it’s the former; I surely don’t want to believe that it’s the latter.

  14. Occupy Oakland is a red herring; civil rights and police brutality are more important, but that’s extraneous to the issues raised by Mr. Eisler’s post.

    Why not go the extra mile and say that the time and energy Mr. Eisler spent writing the original post would have been better spent on more important issues? I’m disturbed by the implication that only those taking issue with what he wrote are wasting time on something trivial, and that it wasn’t just as unimportant to have written the piece in the first place.

  15. Courtney said:

    “I hope you read that not as ‘I think you are like Ann Coulter’ but ‘I wonder what you’re thinking, because if your goal is to convince people who disagree with you to engage in rational discourse with you, it’s not working.'”

    I read it as you wrote it. Which was, verbatim: “Konrath and Eisler are basically the indie publishing equivalents of Limbaugh and Coulter.” Yes, you claimed not to want to think such a thing, the same as Nixon used to say, “Look, I don’t want to accuse my opponent of treason, but…”

    Courtney, you are obviously very attuned to the power of words and the use of rhetoric — after all, you have written this whole post, with repeated comments, to school errant writers on their own diction and rhetorical excesses — so I know you must be using this Nixonian technique deliberately, even while subsequently denying what I just quoted you as saying.

    So like you, I can conceive of two possibilities at this point.

    1. You’re much better able to point out shortcomings in others than you are able to recognize those very shortcomings in yourself — even as you simultaneously engage in the same behavior you purport to criticize. Meaning, possibly you’re tone deaf, and certainly a hypocrite.

    2. You don’t care that your rhetoric is specifically causing people to not listen to the arguments you’re making; you’re using the rhetoric more as a device to rabble rouse then to communicate.

    Does that second one sound familiar? It should; it’s a quote from you. You’re really trying to get through to me by comparing me to Coulter and Limbaugh? Golly, that’s like… I don’t know, invoking a house slave mentality reference to persuade someone of a point, or something!

    So yes, by your own metrics, the charitable interpretation is that you’re merely tone deaf and a hypocrite. Were I less charitably inclined, at this point I might accuse you of being a deliberate rabble rouser with little interest in actual communication.

    Which one is it? According to you, it has to be either one or the other.

    “Are you going to stop using incendiary rhetoric, when it demonstrably derails the conversation?”

    Courtney, now you’re just trying to make me laugh, right?

    “You’re insulting… people… This is not how you have a conversation with someone about how to move forward.”

    Stop… you’re killing me now. I’m begging you.

    “As I said, I do have a lot of respect for both of you.”

    Back at you. The difference, I think, is that unlike you, I don’t have any trouble understanding why otherwise sensitive and intelligent people can sometimes become temporarily blind to their own rhetorical shortcomings. Another difference is that if you acknowledge how misplaced, silly, and unproductive is your entire Coulter/Limbaugh line of argument, I’ll say, “Don’t worry about it, happens to the best of us,” and immediately stop lecturing you.

    “I don’t think that you can change minds by berating people, either.”

    Courtney, stop it! I can’t take it any more…

    “I’m not trying to say that in terms of morals you’re being Coulter-esque. But your communication style is veering towards the shrill, and it is distracting from your argument.”

    I know, I know, “I’m not saying you’re being treasonous, but…” You keep doing this. I think this is the point where I’m supposed to say, “You’re an intelligent person and so very conscious of the power of words… so what am I to conclude by your insistence on this incendiary and dishonest line of attack? Which is it, possibility #1 or possibility #2?” Blind hypocrite, or deliberate rabble rouser?

    “But as for the monopoly point: I agree that in many ways cartels and horizontal monopolies carry similar sorts of worries, although I do think that the coordination costs for cartels leave me somewhat less worried.”

    Fair enough, though again, I think the problem is the nature of New York’s business practices. The nomenclature we might use to sum up those practices isn’t particularly important to me or relevant to my argument.

    “And I’m not saying that the current system doesn’t have its problems–God, does it ever–but I worry, deeply, about a world where greater vertical integration deepens those worries.”

    Are you saying that what New York is doing is bad, but that you’re worried that Amazon will attain enough market power to do things that are even worse? I’m not sure I understand (or agree), but I thank you for at least taking a stab at the question everyone else seems unable or unwilling to answer, no matter how many times I ask it, which is:

    “Why all the fear about what Amazon might do in the future, when legacy publishers are doing those fearful things right now?”

    “This is way more politics than I ever put on this blog, and so once again I shake my fist at you, Barry, for tempting me into it.”

    I know you’re joking, Courtney, but no one else brought up Coulter and Limbaugh. You did that all on your own, without any help from me or from anyone else. You shouldn’t try to dodge responsibility for it.

    “This is really all I was hoping to get you to ask yourself, Barry: Is the incendiary rhetoric really getting you what you want in terms of discourse?”

    Courtney! Stop it, I’m begging you, it’s too much…

    “Because you keep using it, and I can’t see that you need to to make your point. And that does bother me, because you’re smart enough, and when I’ve talked to you in person, you didn’t strike me as the kind of person who would ever intend to try to foreclose discussion.”

    I know what you mean. Because I keep reading you say these things, and I keep thinking, “What gives? I know Courtney is smart enough. She strikes me as being self-aware. She doesn’t come across as a hypocrite. So why does she say such incendiary things, then deny saying them and try to justify them all the while continuing to lecture me about what I’ve already repeatedly retracted and apologized for?”

    “But that’s clearly the effect that you’re having.”

    Matthew, 7:5. Google it. Ponder it.

    “I don’t think that’s what you intend.”

    Thank you for that. I don’t think it’s what you intend, either.

    “And I really do appreciate that you disclaimed the house slave rhetoric and apologized for referencing it.”

    Well, I admire people who own up to and learn from their mistakes. And try to emulate them.

    “But right now, I don’t think you’re communicating effectively with the people who are still entrenched in traditional publishing.”

    You mean after all the acknowledgements, explanations, retractions, and apologies, I’m still not communicating effectively enough to satisfy you? Or are you still going on about what I acknowledged, explained, retracted, and apologized for?

    Let me ask you three serious questions, Courtney, and I hope you’ll have the integrity and the balls to answer them. After all the acknowledgements, explanations, retractions, and apologies, what more does your satisfaction require of me? Why do you continue to perseverate and not let this go? What’s really motivating you?

    “That’s either by mistake or by design. I’m hoping it’s the former; I surely don’t want to believe that it’s the latter.”

    I feel the same way about you. But I’ve done my share of explaining. If you want to live up to the high standards you demand from and claim to admire in others, now it’s your turn.

  16. @Barry Eisler:

    So yes, Robin, at some point, I do start to wonder about the priorities of people like you and the person I retweeted. There’s so much actual brutality in our government and our own neighborhoods, and this is the issue you want to expend all this energy on? Something else is going on.

    Yeah, see this is indicative of the problem I’ve been having with your statements, namely the unselfconscious leap to some belittling and insulting assumptions.

    First, you have no idea what I spend my energy on. Amazingly enough, I can dedicate time and energy to myriad issues and injustices, some enormous and immediate, others mundane and even petty. Sometimes mundane outrages offer a necessary break from the overwhelming horror of the big, seemingly unconquerable, stuff. Further, you have no clue what my priorities are, what I do for a living or what my educational and experiential background is, the sacrifices I’ve made to defend particular issues and causes, etc.

    As someone who’s actually much more sympathetic to your POV on self-publishing than many of those who disagree with you, I don’t think the offense some of us have taken to the terms you’ve referenced is about wanting to avoid talking about the substantive issues. In fact, discussions around these issues had been ongoing pre-Konrath.

    FWIW, what surprised me about your dismissal of that woman on Twitter was her own comment that her mother was a victim of abuse, which magnified the sense of denigration she felt your analogy communicated. Yeah, I get that you feel you were misread, etc., and it’s frustrating to have something you see as insignificant derail a discussion you feel is more important. Having been compared to a KKK member for defending a book that included a somewhat eroticized rape scene, I can see how each of you may have felt attacked. But the original issue was obviously important enough to you to write that post and reference the terms you did, so I don’t see why anyone who was put off should be told *we’re* not focusing on what’s important.

    And now, why not engage my actual argument by trying to answer my actual question? Which was pretty clearly stated — twice — in my post:

    “Why all the fear about what Amazon might do in the future, when legacy publishers are doing those fearful things right now?”

    I’m sure you know that myriad versions of this discussion have been going on for a number of years. The aftermath of the Harlequin Horizons debacle is only one prominent example. And while Amazon isn’t always the antagonist in the scenario, the basic terms are the same: why can legacy publishing do X and it’s okay, while Y can’t.

    Many different answers have been offered, including:

    An employee rather than independent contractor mindset on the part of authors; personal or professional loyalty that is more theoretically appropriate for consumers than independent contractors (referring back to employee mindset); lack of understanding re the implications of a contract of adhesion; sense of prestige and acceptance that seems to inhere to a legacy publishing contract; fear that some are going to unfairly cut in line in front of authors who have worked hard for publication through legacy channels; a belief (erroneous or not) that legacy pubs know better ‘what they’re doing’ (like believing John Sargent’s argument that the [not really] agency model is all about more highly valuing books); habit, tradition, fear of the unknown, etc.

  17. Robin, you are correct that I know nothing about you other than that you have been perseverating here and on Twitter regarding an issue you yourself acknowledge is “mundane and even petty.” My guess, though, is that you’re much more than the miniscule fraction of you that I’ve seen online, and I hope I didn’t say anything that would suggest otherwise.

    Many people have grievances, real or imagined. Some I can respect. In other instances, by my standards the person claiming to be aggrieved has no reasonable basis for the claimed grievance. Is it not the same for you? Or do you treat all claimed grievances as equally meritorious?

    Thanks for engaging my question at last. I agree with all your suggested explanations. Is there some short phrase you might offer to sum them up, to group them according to some common denominator? I’m looking for something pithy, memorable, and not unnecessarily offensive. Thanks.

  18. If you and Konrath really are trying to reach people who are, as you say, unthinkingly identifying with their oppressors, you’re doing a very bad job of it.

    I’m on my way to the hospital, because I’m obviously delusional and hallucinating the hundreds of emails I’ve gotten this year from authors thanking me. Those emails can’t possibly be real, because I’m doing such a very bad job reaching people.

    Or maybe the emails are real, and I am reaching a lot of people, and those people are listening to the actual arguments I’m making rather than focusing on the insensitive analogies.

  19. My choice of Limbaugh and Coulter was deliberate–because I hope he can see what the effect of rhetoric is when it’s divorced from an argument that he doesn’t agree with.

    Smart. I’m going to go out and show my disapproval for looters by inciting a riot and stealing some TVs. It’ll work. I’m sure of it.

  20. @Barry Eisler: I just want to clarify that I did not mean to imply that I think this issue is “petty” — I was just trying to cover the gamut there. Mundane, yes, but that doesn’t mean unimportant. I think whitewashed covers represent a mundane problem, as well, and I can get pretty peeved about them.

    Many people have grievances, real or imagined. Some I can respect. In other instances, by my standards the person claiming to be aggrieved has no reasonable basis for the claimed grievance. Is it not the same for you? Or do you treat all claimed grievances as equally meritorious?

    For me that isn’t the relevant question, because we all value grievances differentially. I’d argue that the relevant question here is whether making the point you want to make to one person is worth looking like an asshole to a lot of other people.

    A very wise person has consistently advised me that when faced with with the choice between saying, “I’m sorry” and defending yourself against another person’s offended response, the apology carries the least risk of looking like an asshole (i.e. it’s the only win in a no-win situation), regardless of how justified your position may seem. It’s advice I don’t follow often enough, especially in the heat of the defensive moment, but after the heat wears off, I always wish I had.

    Is there some short phrase you might offer to sum them up, to group them according to some common denominator?

    Probably not memorable or pithy, but I think many of the reasons break down as follows:

    1. Overconfidence in the publisher’s suitability for YOUR work’s success (your = general your)

    2. Misplaced or overpersonalized loyalty in the publisher

    3. Outdated faith in superior quality and visibility of legacy pubbed books

    4. Erroneous belief that New York knows best, chooses best, and sells best. (this one may actually be a catch all)

  21. @Barry

    You’re right. I apologize; I used incendiary rhetoric in a comment to a post where I was bitching about incendiary rhetoric. I shouldn’t have done that.

    But my reason was not 1 or 2 but 3: I hoped that having that there would serve to instill in you some empathy for the kind of emotional defensiveness that those kind of tactics create in others. It wasn’t a good choice on my part, and it wasn’t fair to you–but that was the reasoning behind it, however flawed.

    But my larger point still stands. Konrath’s strawman not withstanding (I never claimed that nobody appreciated Konrath; quite the reverse), there is a large group of people you are not communicating with effectively. And that is the group of people who are staunchly staying with their traditional publishers.

    This is not just about the “house slave” comments or the comments about abuse or obesity that bothered people in the first go round. There are a lot of people who walked away when you two made the first juvenile joke about frogs getting raped.

    And I get that you guys think that a lot of this stuff is funny, but you are turning people off. Maybe this is observation bias on my part, but I am seeing a disproportionate number of women turning away. You have a book out entitled “Be the Monkey.” The explanation underlying the title implies that your choice is to rape or be raped. That makes my womb clench in horror.

    There are times when I have to actively fight revulsion to engage with your arguments. It’s not just one insensitive analogy; it’s a wealth of privileged rhetoric that you’ve been employing.

    I’ve been telling myself for a long time not to worry about it, that I’m just being too sensitive. This latest go round is what convinced me I wasn’t–you really *are* talking out of privilege, and the results are deeply, deeply disturbing to me.

    That’s probably why I adopted the tactic I did–because I wanted to try to get you to feel what it felt like to have someone’s rhetoric make your stomach tighten in horror. That wasn’t wise on my part, and I’m sorry for that.

    As for this:

    “Why all the fear about what Amazon might do in the future, when legacy publishers are doing those fearful things right now?”

    Because vertical integration poses different dangers. There are things that a vertically integrated monopoly can do that a horizontally integrated monopoly cannot–and the biggest one is that it can entirely block new entrants and potential competitors into the marketplace because they can refuse to compete on the supply-chain side.

    To give you a specific example to illustrate this point: If NY publishing suddenly decided to quadruple the price of their books, book stores might start ordering a lot more books from the smaller indie publishers, and the smaller publishers might grow to fill the gaps.

    If NY publishing owned the book stores as well as the publishing houses, it could block the smaller indie publishers from entering the market and quadruple the price of their books. It makes entering the market an order of magnitude more costly and difficult.

    Vertical integration of the book supply chain in a monopolistic fashion is new. That’s what Amazon is attempting. There isn’t a NY publishing house that is vertically integrated in the way that Amazon is attempting. And so yes, I think there is a difference between vertical integration in a monopolistic fashion and the horizontal cartel that you posit. A big difference.

    I’d like to see you explain how NY publishers are vertically integrated in the book sales chain at this moment.

  22. Robin said:

    “I’d argue that the relevant question here is whether making the point you want to make to one person is worth looking like an asshole to a lot of other people.”

    Or you could argue that the relevant question here is whether looking like an asshole to one person is worth making the point you want to make to a lot of other people.

    You could also argue it’s not just a numbers game; and that there are people whose opinions matter a great deal to you, people whose opinions matter not at all, and people who are somewhere in between, and that you shouldn’t weight them all equally.

    You could also argue that at some point, worrying about the opinions of strangers and trying to comport yourself so as to satisfy their whims is foolish and unproductive.

    “When faced with with the choice between saying, ‘I’m sorry’ and defending yourself against another person’s offended response, the apology carries the least risk of looking like an asshole.”

    I’m getting the feeling that you concern yourself with the possibility that a stranger might think you’re an asshole more than I do. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all guide to such matters, and if you find this concern is a useful guide to your behavior, I certainly don’t have a problem with it.

    Anyway, thanks for the proposed shorthand for the underlying explanations you offered about the logical contradiction I’ve been asking about. I think it’s a good start.

    Courtney, your explanation doesn’t really jibe with much of what preceded it, but regardless, thank you for the apology and no worries. It’s been my experience that if you write enough blog posts, from time to time you’ll make mistakes — even ones so seemingly stupid that other people will be baffled by them and refuse to let them go.

    “The explanation underlying the title [Be The Monkey] implies that your choice is to rape or be raped. That makes my womb clench in horror… There are times when I have to actively fight revulsion to engage with your arguments.”

    This strikes me as an extreme statement and an extreme reaction. Personally, I don’t think that a joke about a monkey orally sodomizing a frog trivializes rape among humans. I guess you do, and I respect your honest feeling on this topic. But just as you believe I’m being insensitive, I believe you’re being oversensitive. Where does it end? Can I refer to secrecy metastasis in America if it offends a cancer survivor who sincerely feels my use trivializes the horrors and agony of the disease? If I say a sports team got robbed, what do I do when a victim of a mugging tells me my use is insensitive? Are references to war all right? Poverty? Murder? Death?

    One thing I’ve increasingly come to realize over the last couple of days is that there are many, many potential grievances out there. Some are real and rational; some are real and irrational; some are manufactured, self-pleasuring, and opportunistic. I’ll try to be prudent about which ones I heed and which I find unworthy.

    “You really *are* talking out of privilege, and the results are deeply, deeply disturbing to me… I wanted to try to get you to feel what it felt like to have someone’s rhetoric make your stomach tighten in horror.”

    I’m sorry, Courtney, I’m just not built that way. My internal organs don’t clench, I don’t have to actively fight revulsion, I don’t get deeply, deeply disturbed, and my stomach doesn’t tighten in horror when people say things I disagree with, or when they say them in ways I think are mistaken, on the Internet. This could be because I’m an insensitive, privileged white male who has no conception of the horrors of rape, slavery, abuse, hostage-takings, obesity, and probably of the Holocaust, too. Or it could be because I find such reactions excessive and at least as unhelpful as the alleged underlying offenses.

    Insensitivity might be a problem on the Internet, but so too is oversensitivity. The good news is, the latter is much more within your ability to manage. The bad news is that managing your own shortcomings won’t be nearly as pleasurable as trying to correct other people for theirs. In the end, though, it has the potential to be more satisfying and more productive.

    As for the rest — about vertical integration — again, I think what you’re trying to argue is that many authors are sanguine about New York’s business practices because those practices, while bad, are built on limited monopoly power, while Amazon stands poised to attain greater, vertically-integrated monopoly power, which could be abused (can I use that word?) to such an extent that even worse business practices would result.

    I’m not persuaded by the likelihood of Amazon becoming more monopolistic in its practices than New York already is, but I thank you for engaging my argument.

  23. @Barry Eisler:

    Can I suggest you try to read http://www.derailingfordummies.com/?

    Because honestly, your response throughout this whole thing has been classic derailing behavior, and your last response is bang up to the mark.

    I honestly don’t know what to say to someone who thinks that I’m being overly sensitive when I say that I have a gut reaction to someone using sexually-charged violence as a metaphor for business relationships.

    It’s great for you that you don’t have a gut reaction about that, and it’s great that you recognize that you aren’t built that way…but that is why they call it “privilege.” And I’m not going to apologize to you for not having that particular privilege, or pretend that your privilege should be treated as normal.

  24. There are a lot of people who walked away when you two made the first juvenile joke about frogs getting raped.

    The frog was asking for it.

    And also, people really need to chill out.

    I don’t write A Newbie’s Guide to Being Politically Correct, or A Newbie’s Guide to Being Concerned About the Oversensitivity of Others.

    I write about publishing. If I’m making offensive comments or analogies, or if any of my guest bloggers are offending people, so what? That doesn’t invalidate the facts. It might show me to be an asshole, but what does that have to do with publishing?

    My job isn’t to persuade. I don’t have to persuade someone to accept that mixing hydrogen and oxygen will get them wet. It’s a fact.

    Legacy publishing is bad for a lot of reasons, all based on facts, not opinion. People may draw different conclusions from those facts, which stimulates discussion. Or people can walk away because I used strongly worded, inappropriate metaphors. Which is fine. We live in a world where children get a Certificate of Participation if they lose. Let’s coddle everyone, walk around on tip-toes, making sure no one gets offended by anything or gets their little duck feelings hurt because it might destroy the fabric of society.

    Courtney, your comments about horizontal and vertical integration were smart.

    Pointing fingers saying “You’re offensive” isn’t smart. It’s every bit as childish as the inappropriate comments Barry and I have made. And I’m sure he and I will continue to make inappropriate comments, because we’re privileged white males who don’t get offended by stupid analogies.

    I apologize when I’m wrong.

    If I offend someone, I’m not wrong.

    Just as I have control over how I react to things, I give others the same credit.

    People can only offend me if I allow it.

    Guess what? Privileged as I am, I’ve had some shit happen. Bad shit. We all have. That’s life.

    Bad shit hurts. But that doesn’t mean I knee-jerk react every time someone trivializes my demons or tragedies. Or makes an analogy, or a bad joke.

    It is not my job to police the internet, looking for crude comments to pounce on. That’s a silly job.

    I’d rather get rich and share what I’ve learned. That seems more productive.

    I honestly don’t know what to say to someone who thinks that I’m being overly sensitive

    Well, if someone said that to me, assuming I respected that person, I’d consider that I’m being oversensitive.

    Men do a lot of reprehensible things. Rape, slavery, torture, war. There are horrible, unforgivable acts that should be vilified and punished.

    If you equate a frog being sodomized by a monkey to a real woman actually being sexually assaulted, you’re the one trivializing rape. If you seek to punish Barry for repeating a comment about house slaves the same way you’d berate someone who owns slaves, or even says “Slavery is awesome” then you are the one trivializing slavery.

    There are plenty of things to be rightfully outraged about. My blog ain’t one of them… unless you work for the Big 6. 😉

  25. Courtney, is privilege the only possible explanation for any sensitivity that’s less than yours? That seems like an unrealistically limited set of possibilities, and also a self-serving one.

    Anyway, thanks for the link. I read the article. As with most information, there’s a lot in there that’s useful, and a lot that can be misused, too.

  26. @Barry Eisler:

    Surely my explanation is not the only one. But at this point, I’ve explained to you that I’ve talked to a number of women who are really put off by the rhetoric you use, and explained why it puts me off, too.

    In all honesty, I have considered the possibility that I was overly sensitive–but quite frankly, I’ve worked with some fairly outrageous people at this point. I suspect I’m a lot less sensitive than the average woman.

    I mean, you can’t deny that the frog/monkey language and video has overtones of sexual subjugation. The reason you’re using that video instead of, say, a video of a cartoon character getting an anvil dropped on him is that the overtone of sexual subjugation has a stronger visceral feel to it.

    I’m not claiming that you’re trivializing rape. I’m not equating this with a real woman being raped. I’m saying that I prefer that discussions of business decisions not have overt overtones of sexual subjugation.

    I don’t think it is too much for me to ask that business discussions not have sexual overtones, or to expect that I can take part in those discussions without having to participate either passively or actively in rhetoric that doesn’t work for me or for many other women that I talk to on a regular basis.

    Of course, you’re free to refuse to acknowledge my concerns, but by doing so, you’re excluding a lot of people from the conversation.

    It’s fine if you, like Konrath, just say, “Look, it’s not my goal to be PC. If you’re offended, you’re offended, and I don’t really care because I’m just trying to say what I think, how I think it.” That’s fine. That’s honest. That lets me know what to expect.

    But I thought that you had some kind of a grasp on the concept of marginalization, and I thought you gave a damn.

  27. @JA Konrath (@jakonrath): If you seek to punish Barry for repeating a comment about house slaves the same way you’d berate someone who owns slaves, or even says “Slavery is awesome” then you are the one trivializing slavery.

    If I discovered someone who owned slaves, I wouldn’t berate them on my blog. I’d get the victims in contact with legal resources to put those bastards behind bars. I’d put them in touch with some friends of mine who would sue them and anyone connected with the enterprise under 42 USC s 1985, as well as for false imprisonment, failure to pay back wages, and anything else that could be thrown at them. I would probably try to find counseling services for them that would help them overcome some of the trauma.

    I surely wouldn’t do anything so namby-pamby as engage them in a conversation and try to get them to understand where I was coming from.

    In the case of actual harm, there are a lot of actual things that I can, will, and have on some occasions done.

    So if you think that I’m treating Barry right now as if he were a slave owner… uh, no. If there were actual, direct harm on the line, you wouldn’t hear from me until you were served.

    I’m still buying Barry’s books and reading what he writes. I’m not sure what kind of punishment this is supposed to be.

  28. And I get that you guys think that a lot of this stuff is funny, but you are turning people off. Maybe this is observation bias on my part, but I am seeing a disproportionate number of women turning away. You have a book out entitled “Be the Monkey.” The explanation underlying the title implies that your choice is to rape or be raped.

    Thank you for saying this in public. I had convinced myself that it was just me, that the revulsion I’ve felt is a product of being overly sensitive. I think the sentiments you expressed have been a long time coming.

  29. @ Joe — Barry didn’t just repeat the term “house slave” in his guest post — he used it in comments that followed the blog post: “I think it’s pretty obvious from the above that never did I argue that all legacy published authors are house slaves. . . . [but] one possibility [for authors who are afraid of Amazon] is a house slave mentality.” But, as you say, this is a small point and feels nit-picky…

  30. I’m getting the feeling that you concern yourself with the possibility that a stranger might think you’re an asshole more than I do.

    I can guarantee you there are plenty of people out there who are convinced that I’m an unrepentant asshole, but that’s not really the point. If thinking it unnecessary and unproductive to look like an asshole for no good reason is wrong, then I don’t want to be right…

    @Christina: No, it’s not just you. Or me. Or Courtney. Despite my surprise at Eisler’s position and responses, I’m grateful we’ve had this discussion and that everyone has been so loquacious. Many have indicated that this is a situation where the medium, the message, and the tone overlap and are mutually engaged. And this discussion, as well as the original blog post and discussion, have helped clarify why that is and how it’s important.

  31. @JA Konrath (@jakonrath):

    IMO, it’s not a matter of sensitivity. There is no similarity between selfpublishing/traditional publishing and the violations inflicted upon millions with slavery.

    For an analogy to exist, I would think there should be some sort of similarity.

    As Courtney said…her ‘abuse’ was six figure deals. My abuse, while not 6 figures, has been been consist, fair deals and editors who treat me decent, understand that I still wish to pursue shorter works with my digital publishers AND self publisher and in no way have I ever felt coerced into anything from my pubs.

    Writers don’t have guns to their heads to sign deals.

    Slaves routinely had whips to their backs when they so much as blinked wrong. Murdered for no reason. Raped. Tortured. Name one writer who had this happen over publishing matters. And I’m talking REAL instances… not figurative, because in some matters, there just is no figurative comparison.

    No seeing the reason why the analogy was made to begin with.

    But…as I think it’s been said, words like “SLAVE” and other incendiary words are often thrown in, IMO, just to heat things up. People who agree with you? They’ll be stomping their feet and shrieking HELL, YEAH! GIVE ME MORE!

    But if your desire is to make others see why this route works for you? Well, as somebody who does all three methods-self, indie and traditional, and somebody who tends to walk a fairly middle road and try to remain an objective observer?

    You couldn’t be doing this more wrong if you tried.

    You don’t convince people who don’t see your side by being insulting (which you were) or condescending (which you were) by trying to inflame the masses (which, yeah…that happened) or by bringing up how ‘oppressed’ you think you are.

    You don’t get self-pubbed ebooks listed in the on bestseller lists. Big frigging whoop. Give it time-it may well come. A couple of years ago, they didn’t list ebooks and people would have laughed at the idea.

    Professionally done self pubbed ebooks are a new development. The industry is changing-the bigger establishments take a while to catch up to new things. This isn’t news.

    But it doesn’t make you oppressed. And it’s a bloody shame that anybody ever had the nerve to compare indie publishing to the negro league or that anybody who writes for a living didn’t have the sense to see how utterly wrong it was to draw some of the ‘comparisons’ or to use the ‘analogies’ that were used.

    And I’m not exactly a sensitive person. I’m a blunt person who can very often be a bitch. I’ll try to be polite and fair when voicing my opinions and I’ll try not to intentionally hurt feelings. And when it comes to certain volatile subjects… ie: slavery, rape, etc, I’ll keep victims of such in mind.

    I try to be compassionate, but sensitive, I am not.

    It was a fault analogy. Period.

  32. Haha! The white male privilege on display here is MAGNIFICENT! “I’m sorry you’re offended by my oppressive language.” The rape jokes from Konrath are just par for the course at this point. Why not perpetuate rape culture while you’re belittling battered wives and victims of slavery with your lazy, privileged language? Shit, it’d be lazy bones not to.

    All of this reminds me of the Penny Arcade “dickwolves” debacle. (a great overview is here: http://debacle.tumblr.com/)

    If we needed proof that we are still far from a post-racist, post-sexist society, this discussion proves it.

  33. @Barry Eisler:

    Barry, you’re a smart guy-a very smart one, and there’s no denying this.

    But…

    “The explanation underlying the title [Be The Monkey] implies that your choice is to rape or be raped. That makes my womb clench in horror… There are times when I have to actively fight revulsion to engage with your arguments.”

    This strikes me as an extreme statement and an extreme reaction. Personally, I don’t think that a joke about a monkey orally sodomizing a frog trivializes rape among humans. I guess you do, and I respect your honest feeling on this topic.

    This comes off as a smart man ‘mansplaining’ away something that on, a basic level, horrifies women.

    Rape shouldn’t be used as a joke, period. That’s the problem. It does trivialize the horror of it.

    Oddly, though, it’s often the men who don’t get that idea.

  34. I find that stapling personal motivation on someone squicks me out in ways that insensitivity doesn’t. (And I’m aware of the irony that this whole conversation started because of an examination of motive.) Because, here’s the thing: I’m insensitive, too. I think the toad and monkey video is hilarious. Courtney, you know that, because I sent it to all my friends. I think inappropriate, insensitive jokes are funny. In fact, I made a joke about rape last night…Almost immediately after I posted a blog about rape awareness. Because I’m sensitive about issues of women’s actual safety, while being insensitive about almost anything funny. It’s just the way I am.

    And there are other jokes that make me weep with laughter, but I would never, ever share with other people. Not because I’m sensitive, but because I don’t want other people to know how insensitive I really can be. And, as Barry Eisler said, I care about whether strangers think I’m an asshole. I do. I’m not the least bit ashamed of that.

    Does any of this have to do with me being privileged? I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. Ha. Then again, others might think so, because at this point in my life, I’m a white, upper-middle class woman living in a white, upper-middle class town. Fuck, I’m the face of privilege right now, which is ironic. More than most know.

    My point is that there’s a difference between saying “what you’re doing offends people” and “you are doing this because you are x, y & z.”

  35. Sometimes “intelligent, educated” people become too concerned with their pride to consider that there might be holes in their education.

  36. Sorry, meant to add… If you want to say “You shouldn’t say that sort of thing because you’re a man,” I’m totally fine with that. I think that’s a legit feeling. But just say *that.* not “You wouldn’t say that if you were a woman,” because Sarah Silverman & I might disagree.

  37. @Victoria Dahl: I think you misunderstand. Saying offensive stuff *you know is offensive* is different than saying something offensive and not only denying it’s problematic, but also lecturing people on why they shouldn’t be offended.

    Sarah Silverman knows what she’s on about when she says shocking things. She’s mocking herself and society when she does it.

    Eisler and Konrath use their privileged language unthinkingly. They’re not using the terms in a way that acknowledges the weight behind them. They were just lazy metaphors. Since they’re in a position of privilege – white men not affected by slavery, not at risk for spousal abuse or rape – the metaphors are trivial to them. When people point out the oppression inherent in comparing a book deal to beating a woman, they derail and wring their hands at all the sensitive people “twisting their words.”

    Words have meaning. If the terms were so trivial, why are they defending them so vigilantly?

  38. Here’s maybe the shortest statement I can come up with about why the monkey-frog thing is so damaging:

    Men look at that video and say, Be The Monkey. I understand they absolutely are NOT condoning rape, that the observation is meant to operate on the level of metaphor. Except now that how the argument is framed. Rapist or Victim – take your pick.

    Women look at that video and 1 in 6 have, in their real lives, been the frog. Watch the news, read the paper, listen to the radio. Be a media consumer: Women are victims of violence by men. We lose our lives to them, we lose our ability to trust.

    Men see that video and say, don’t be the frog, be the monkey.

    Women see that video and say, how can I protect myself?

    It’s all the more horrifying a metaphor on every level because the monkey is bigger, stronger and the frog is utterly powerless.

    The analogy was not meant to be pro-rape, I understand that, but it’s equally true that women understand and, in our daily lives, LIVE the metaphor in a way most men simply can’t. The gendered roles are clear.

    It’s staggeringly difficult to express the way in which I understand the intent of the analogy and the way in which I also see my health and life at risk embedded in the analogy.

    Think about this: today, no one in the West argues about the evils of slavery. No one questions that it’s wrong. No one is attempting to craft definitions of slavery.

    But there is, right now today, argument about the definition of rape. Legislators in the United States of America are proposing laws in which it’s not rape unless the woman resists. We see the US Military, right now today, punishing women for speaking out about rape. Right now today, we hear arguments that tell women all about how it’s our fault if we’re assaulted. We are not safe and there are people actively working to enact and/or repeal laws that affect our physical and emotional integrity.

    Against that backdrop, is it any wonder that women have a deeply different and visceral reaction to a rape analogy EVEN WHEN we understand the person making the analogy did not mean the ugliness?

  39. @Ridley: exactly…

    There’s also a matter of when you’re somebody who has worked with victims…well, when you’ve done that, it makes it a hell of a lot harder to disconnect and find anything remotely ‘funny’.

    Having a man tell me (or other women) that any joke about rape wasn’t meant to offend just rubs me the wrong way.

    But Ridley said it so much better.

    And so odd that the two of us are one the same page. Ridley, has that ever happened?

  40. @Ridley, I’m not misunderstanding. I get *why* people are upset. My issue is with, for example, you using the term “their priveleged language.” You have the right to use it, certainly, but does that make it true? Is that who they are? And is it priveleged when I use it, or just them?

    I’m perfectly fine w an argument of “This is how it comes off to other people.” Sure. But not “This is who you are & why.”

  41. @ Victoria – Agreed. I don’t think any subject should be “off-limit” as far as jokes go. But, as with most comedy, it’s 90% delivery, awareness of your audience, self-awareness, etc. The gender of the person making the joke is part of the equation when it comes to comedy — which is why Sarah Silverman is able to “get away” with saying the things she does. That’s part of her charm.

    The jokes we make amongst our close friends — whose hot-button topics we know, and avoid if we still want to remain friends — are more off-color than what we might joke about in public. I don’t think a rape joke amongst friends promotes “rape culture” (Shiloh, Ridley, and others might disagree). When that same joke is used as the title of a book (“Be the Monkey”), well…it’s a vivid metaphor, but it shouldn’t surprise Barry or Joe that many have found it offensive.

  42. @Shiloh Walker: I don’t know. I’d ask, “Have we been at odds in the past?” But then I realize I’ve probably argued with everyone in the romance community about something at some point.

    Good to have hobbies, I guess.

  43. @Victoria Dahl: If you want to say “You shouldn’t say that sort of thing because you’re a man,” I’m totally fine with that. I think that’s a legit feeling. But just say *that.* not “You wouldn’t say that if you were a woman,” because Sarah Silverman & I might disagree.

    Did anyone here say that? I’m not trying to be snarky; it’s just that I don’t remember that being said. Because you know as well as I do that there’s a reason women can make jokes about sexual victimization, just as Chris Rock can joke about race in ways that, say, David Letterman can’t.

    I think what some of us are trying to say (and I’ve basically given up at this point, since it’s obviously not making a dent), is that a) using language of criminal violation and material victimization to represent a contractual relationship that is the epitome of freedom, personal agency, and mutual profit is an inappropriate appropriation, and that b) calling someone who’s offended by said appropriation oversensitive or humorless or pinheaded or whatever makes it even more difficult to see the humor or trust in the good intentions of the person telling you you’re oversensitive for finding their offensive joke offensive.

  44. I think people here need to take a course on “listening for understanding”. People keep saying stuff, but not listening to what is being said. It’s a sick behavior, more so than any “insensitive” analogy anyone may have used here.

    And as much as women seem to want to “monopolize” victim representation of rape and abuse, that’s just not true. And it’s sick behavior also. How many male kids don’t we see being abused in school in the news? Targeted because of effeminate features? How many male kids don’t get abused from parents because they’re not good at sports or because they’re not “man” enough?

    How about women like Linda Ann Weston? Disgusting.

    See, this whole “privilege” crap you people are bringing forward, is just crap. We’re all in the same boat here. So how about we start being more inclusive, than exclusive?

    So please, let’s stop the men vs. women crap… this is not the place. And completely off-topic, and misrepresentative of the whole thing.

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