John Green Supports Booksellers With Passionate ABA Awards Speech
Posted on June 6, 2013
At BookExpo America (BEA) this year, the American Booksellers Association gave their “Celebration of Bookselling and Author Awards Lunch” and honored their winners of the 2013 Indie Choice and E.B. White Awards. John Green, author of The Fault In Our Stars won both the Young Adult Book of the Year award as well as the Indie Champion Award. The video is his submitted acceptance speech for the Indie Champion Award.
The following transcript is for reference and clarification. The organization is applied by me. Warning: The speech contains profanity.
“‘What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:
If we are mark’d to die…’
“Aah, I can’t do it. God, remember last year when Ann Patchett got up here and just killed it? Yes, I’m going to be very disappointing by contrast first, by not physical being present. Hi again, my wife is still due to have a baby tomorrow, I am still coming to you from the past.
(0:19) “I again wish to congratulate my fellow nominees Tom Angleberger, Geraldine Brooks, Jonathan Evison, and Terry Tempest Williams, he said notably beating out his long-time nemesis John Scieszka. I’m just kidding Scieszka (no I’m not).
“Okay, so heads up. I’m going to curse, so if there are any kids in the room, you’re going to want to put earmuffs.
(0:33) “So I am sometimes held up as an example of someone who is, like, changing the publishing paradigm or whatever because I have a lot of Tumblr followers and YouTube subscribers, and I can speak directly to my audience, and I don’t need the value-sucking middle man of bookstores and publishers. And in the future, everyone’s going to be like me, and no one will stand between author and reader except possibly an e-commerce site that takes just a tiny little percentage of each transaction.
“Yeah, that’s bullshit.
(0:57) “I wouldn’t have any books to my name without the tireless and committed collaboration not only of my editor Julie Strauss-Gabel, my agent Jodi Reamer, my friends, my family, everyone at Penguin but also the collaboration of thousands of other people – copy editors, warehouse employees, programmers, people who know how to make servers work, librarians, and booksellers.
(1:16) “We must strike down the insidious lie that the book is a creation of an individual soul laboring in isolation. We must strike it down because it threatens the overall quality and breadth of American literature. They hold me up as an example, but I am not an example of publishers or bookstores extracting values because without my editor, my first novel Looking for Alaska would have been unreadably self-indulgent. And even after she helped me make it better, it wouldn’t have found its audience without unflagging support now more than eight years on from booksellers around the country. I wouldn’t have the YouTube subscribers or the Tumblr followers, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have any good books to share with them.
(1:52) “We need editors and we need publishers and we need booksellers. I am not in the widget-selling business. I am not in the profit-maximization business. I’m in the book business -the idea sharing, consciousness expanding, storytelling business, and I am not going to get out of that business. So fuck Ayn Rand and fuck any company that profits from pedaling the lie of mere individualism. We built this together, and we’re going to keep building it together. Thank you.”
Green has made similar statements before and says, “I did not intend to attack or criticize self-publishing itself,” in a previous blog post on his Tumblr in response to being asked why he seemed against self-published authors when he supports indie musicians and music. In fact, he goes on in the blog to say his issues are with Jeff Bezos and Amazon, something he clearly repeats when he refers to an “e-commerce site” in his speech.
He packs a lot into one short speech. To shed some light as to how Green is planting his flag firmly on the side of booksellers, it’s important to know the context. When he quotes the famous “St Crispin’s Day” speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V, it’s actually an homage to a speech Ann Patchett gave in 2012 accepting the award for Indies’ Choice For Most Engaging Author. She garnered much respect and attention in support of indie bookstores when Patchett opened up her own bookstore in Nashville, TV called Parnassus Books.
In Patchett’s acceptance speech (see the video of it here), she recalled the Battle of Agincourt by staging and casting it there with the booksellers. The Javits Center where the awards were held became Agincourt. “We become English,” enlists the authors and booksellers there as the underdog heroes. Amazon and the Department of Justice are cast as the French, while Patchett herself takes on the leadership role of Henry V delivering the rousing speech. She firmly rouses the masses to win the battle.
Back to Green’s short speech. By aligning himself with Patchett’s battle speech, he takes up the role of flag bearer. Just as Patchett claims that the writers who are traditionally published and distributed through the indie booksellers are “England” who, though the underdog, win their battle, Green also establishes the sense of team. He cites his editor and his publisher as being crucial for his books successes. He even echoes the rousing of the rabble. Like King Henry, who is royalty talking to the lower classes of the men fighting for him, Green binds the warehouse workers and tech people in with the copy editors, libraries, and booksellers. What a happy few to take up arms.
Green is against the myth of the individual writer creating because it takes a team to build and sell a book. He echoes the same sentiment with more emphasis at the end when he uses profanity to dismiss Ayn Rand’s sense of individualism in several of her works.
While Green echoes Patchett that the enemy is Amazon rather than the self-published author and the “sides” have been declared, there are others who are going to get hit by the fodder between the two – mainly those who are self-publishing. Even though Green says he’s not against the indie author, there are points in his speech that contradicts that.
When he speaks against the individual writer who produces alone, the biggest interpretation has to be that he feels that indie authors cannot produce the same quality work that those with a professional team behind them can. He may be aware that many indie authors do have a team behind them who are high quality because he mentions that some self-published works are strong in his blog post. Some self-publishing authors are smart about choosing their team of professionals to make sure that their work is at its highest level, which is the same goal of writers regardless of how they publish.
Calling works self-indulgent that doesn’t go through a professional team points a finger at the indie author directly. So does the “widget-selling, profit-maximizing” statement as the amount of money an indie author can make versus through traditional publishing.
When Green and Patchett cast Amazon as the enemy, and as Green adds the F-word emphasis to his indictment, they are also indicting all the indie authors using their self-publishing platform. While it’s not the only one, it still remains the strongest. I’m puzzled as to why people are taking arms to defend what already exists rather than finding new ways to integrate strong indie authors and share in their profits. If indie bookstores would embrace the indie authors and get involved in selling indie author works in their bookstores both through e-books AND physical books, they might reinvigorate their businesses.
There is no indie author that is against bookstores, and thousands that support them who would love to help find ways to make a better partnership. Currently, the only outlet is through Kobo who is improving but hasn’t reached the same level as Amazon because the indie bookstores aren’t assisting in the process. If authors and bookstores want to fight Amazon, and if self-published authors are “part of the enemies team”, then they need to offer a different platform rather than condemning them while shaking their fists and raising battle cries. And no writer needs to use the F-word when making a stand or he might suffer others raising a certain finger against him when he has new books to release.
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