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Kodi Scheer Headshot

My Banned Book

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Barnes & Noble refuses to stock my book. All but one of the independent booksellers in my area refuse to sell it. You see, in their estimation, I've signed a deal with the devil. Much of the literary community considers Amazon to be evil, holding the e-retailer responsible for the death of the bookstore. And because my book was published by Amazon's literary imprint, most brick-and-mortar stores won't sell it.

To be fair, if a store refuses to carry Incendiary Girls, most will put in a special order--but only if a customer specifically requests the title--so the potential reader not only has to wait but must return at a later date. Barnes & Noble does sell it on their website, but their shipping time is longer than that of Amazon. Sound familiar? In essence, these stores have been delaying availability of certain titles for customers, just as Amazon is now doing with Hachette books. The hypocrisy is frustrating, to say the least.

I can certainly empathize with the Hachette authors--I've been dealing with this for months. I understand what it's like to be caught in the crossfire with little agency or control. I understand, more than most, what it's like to lose readers and revenue.

But I don't understand why the literati are up in arms. Amazon took a page from their competitors' playbook, doing what Barnes & Noble and other stores have been doing to Amazon-affiliated titles for months. And now, many folks consider the Hachette feud to be a sign of the literary end times--if Amazon will throw its weight around now, what will happen when it controls more of the market?

It's certainly a fair question to ask, but I find the overall assumption--that Amazon's increased control will result in a literary apocalypse, especially for authors--to be not only counterproductive but alarmist and extreme. We simply don't have the evidence to make any conclusions at this point. In fact, my experiences with Amazon have proven otherwise.

Most people aren't aware that Amazon, in addition to being the behemoth e-retailer, also publishes books. Their literary fiction imprint publishes novels in addition to story collections. For those of you unfamiliar with the industry, story collections aren't exactly hot commodities because far fewer people read them. It's my understanding that most publishers take a loss on story collections to invest in a writer's next work--in general, a novel.

And story collections like mine, featuring the strange and fantastical, are even more risky. (Notable exceptions, of course, would be titles by George Saunders and Karen Russell.) I thought my options were limited. But an editor who'd published one of my stories as a Kindle Single was very interested and made a pitch for Little A, Amazon's literary imprint. Publishing only 10 fiction titles each year and aided by an impressive budget, with a team of folks who were young and hungry, I knew my work would get more individual attention from Little A than from a more traditional publisher. Plus, my book would be supported by the marketing power of Amazon. It was an offer I couldn't refuse.

The terms of my contract were standard, and in some areas, generous. So how does Amazon treat authors? Based on my experiences, quite well. My editorial team at Little A is passionate about good fiction and I'm grateful they took a chance on a risky manuscript.

Unfortunately, my interactions with the more traditional sectors of the publishing industry have been much less positive. Because of my publisher's affiliation with Amazon, Barnes & Noble won't stock my book. Many bookstores, including a number of independent booksellers, are particularly opposed to selling Little A books, which they equate with aiding the enemy. What's confusing to me is that indie bookstores are doing precisely what Amazon can't--that is, providing a carefully curated selection of literature for their readers, and most importantly, fostering community among book lovers by offering staff selections and recommendations as well as hosting author events, readings, book clubs, and writing groups.

Given my book's treatment, I find it disingenuous to claim that either side is "best for authors," especially given the current publishing climate. But I do think these feuds show that the majority of damage is collateral. The tactics used by all sides--delaying shipments or making books unavailable in brick-and-mortar stores, which amounts to soft censorship--primarily hurt authors and readers.

The purpose of publishing and distributing books is, presumably, so that they will be read. Boycotts and delaying tactics run counter to this purpose. The longer this struggle within the publishing industry continues, the more we all stand to lose.