Ether for Authors: United We Divide

In What's the Buzz by Porter Anderson

20 May 2013 iStock_000001252419XSmall photog barsik TEXTED STORY IMAGE

Table of Contents

  1. Hit­ting a Rough Patch­ett: United We Divide
  2. Map­ping the Paths to Publishing
  3. And Then the Self-Publishing Bill Arrives
  4. The Rea­son for Writ­ing in the First Place
  5. Conferences
  6. Last Gas: Just Say ‘No’

Hit­ting a Rough Patch­ett: United We Divide


Every so often authors immersed in the traditional world of publishing pop their heads above the precipice and make grandiose statements about independent publishing, the retail book trade, and, in particular, self-publishing and self-published authors…Orange Prize-winner Ann Patchett is the latest author to share her wisdom on publishing and the use of self-publishing services by authors.

Ann PatchettDoing so, these days may qualify as something of a flying leap.

On this side of the pond, there may be few authors as fondly regarded as Ann Patchett. She of the independent bookstore Parnassus in Nashville, Tennessee. She of the much-loved novel Bel Canto, which in 2002 won the PEN/Faulkner and the Orange (now known as the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Our opening quote is from Rooney in Zandaam. His Independent Publishing Magazine is among the more stable voices of the self-publishing movement.

13 May 2013 iStock_000009523968XSmall photog naffarts TEXTED STORY IMAGERooney’s writings on the Author Solutions lawsuit figured prominently here in Ether for Authors: A Time for Restraint last week.

He, with Ben Galley, has co-authored the Alliance of Independent Authors’ book, Choosing a Self-Publishing Service 2013.

What brings Rooney to write about Patchett is her comments to The Bookseller, captured in Patchett: ‘Authors must work with trade’ by Lisa Campbell and Joshua Farrington.

Lisa Campbell

Lisa Campbell

I’m going to give you a couple of paragraphs from Campbell and Farrington’s write-up here before we go on, so you get a good fix on the direction of things here, so bear with me:

Patchett told The Bookseller that authors should become more involved in the industry and take greater responsibility as part of a wider ecosystem, just as book-buyers should think twice about purchasing through the cheapest channel, like Amazon, if it means they might lose their local bookshop. She also said authors who shunned traditional publishing deals in favour of self-publishing, thinking they would be able to earn more money, should think carefully about the step. “If you had asked me two years ago, I would not have thought it was my responsibility. But I do think authors need to get involved with all sort of aspects of publishing and health of the publishing industry,” she said. “This is not every man working for themselves, we need to think and work as a business. Authors have been protected for a long time, we are very well cared for, but we need to think about our other partners, from bookshops to publishing and self-publishing.”

Joshua Farrington

Joshua Farrington

Now, the way this all comes about, it turns out, is that Patchett has signed on as a sort of poster-bookselling-author for the UK’s upcoming Independent Booksellers Week, which is planned for June 29 to July 6. As part of that effort, a Patchett essay titled “The Bookshop Strikes Back” is being published by Bloomsbury, one of her UK publishers, apparently as a single—I’m not entirely sure of the format here—for £1.99, “to celebrate Independent Booksellers Week 2013,” as The Bookseller puts it. (Amazon UK currently lists Patchett’s “The Bookshop Strikes Back” as a coming release, for £16.53 in paperback, expressly for Independent Booksellers Week.)  

Bel Canto by Ann PatchettThat’s the setting. Patchett, well-known and -regarded author and bookstore owner, is helping the UK bookselling community with its summertime focus. Judging by the excerpt run by The Bookseller as Rise of the bookshops, this essay draws on Patchett’s earlier recountings of her experience in creating the Parnassus in a former tanning salon in Nashville. (I’ve frequently wondered whether there aren’t customers who might like to do some reading with the proper goggles on in the tanning booths, but no one seems to have considered this. Call this idea in to Miriam Robinson at Foyles, bookshop of the future.)

We read Patchett now, in that excerpt, again praising the indefatigable Karen Hayes, Patchett’s faithful co-creator of the shop, who left no bookshelf unturned in the southeastern United States to turn the store into a reality.

State of Wonder by Ann PatchettThere’s a charming frankness in this material, just as in past renditions, Patchett writing of how she learned a trend is pretty much what you say it is. Here, again a biggish chunk, is an excerpt from the excerpt:

“The small independent bookstore is coming back,” I told reporters in Berlin and Bangladesh. “It’s part of a trend.” My act was on the road, and with every performance I tweaked the script, hammering out the details as I proclaimed them to strangers: all things happen in a cycle, I explained—the little bookstore had succeeded and grown into a bigger bookstore. Seeing the potential for profit, the superstore chains rose up and crushed the independents, then Amazon rose up and crushed the superstore chains. Now that we could order any book at any hour without having to leave the screen in front of us, we realized what we had lost: the community center, the human interaction, the recommendation of a smart reader rather than a computer algorithm telling us what other shoppers had purchased. I promised whomever was listening that from those very ashes the small independent bookstore would rise again.

All this makes for engaging, keen commentary from Patchett. I’ve appreciated it, myself, and am glad to see its association with the UK’s program in June and July.

Philip Jones

Philip Jones

What’s coming along with it, though, is another line of ideas from Patchett, and for a good grasp on that, I want to turn to Bookseller Editor Philip Jones, a frequent Ether quotee.

Here is Jones in a concomitant blog post, Authors in publishing, getting at the dissonance we’re about to visit. It’s this business Patchett is talking about authors needing to, his words, “take better care of the publishing ecosystem” that’s our flash-point du jour. Jones:

Patchett’s words suggest another level of engagement. “This is not every man working for themselves; we need to think and work as a business,” she says…Last week I wrote that the publishing sector has a strong community feel: authors are part of that, but do they feel it? In truth, not always.

No, they surely don’t feel it. And that goes especially for some authors who have become traditional-contract refuseniks, as it were.

  Patchett, in her comments related by Campbell and Farrington, says this:

“There are people who want to put books on Amazon because they cannot get publishing deals and that is understandable. But there are some authors who could get published in the mainstream, but because they are trying to make more money, they think the best way is to self publish. They are cutting out the middle man whose services they really need, such as the editor and the publicist.”

Society of AuthorsPlease don your Ethernaut helmets now. Them’s fightin’ words in the hills outside Nashville, I’m afraid. Campbell and Farrington, in their own write-up, in fact, include a very salient point from the Society of Authors’ Kate Pool: “I, for one, hope that her bookselling activities do not detract from Ann [Patchett]’s ability to continue writing.”

Geller, Jonny 3

Jonny Geller

They also turn to another familiar figure in the London publishing community, Curtis Brown’s Jonny Geller, who has proved himself a great friend of the entrepreneurial author in recent years:

I’ve been trying to champion the idea of authors being central for a long time. Lots of publishers are moving towards that, but it has to be more than just helping out with social media, it has to be more central. Authors are getting better at it, and the success of some self-published authors has shown it can be done.

For all Patchett’s goodly efforts, I’m afraid—and one can readily give her the benefit of the doubt, bookshops-wise—her comments about the author’s role, as Jones foresaw, have begun producing some push-back from the authorial camp.


Mick Rooney

Mick Rooney

Fortunately, it’s Rooney to whom we now return. I say “fortunately” because his point of view is always provided with the kind of level-headed calm that befriends us all and does the image of entrepreneurial authors good. Rooney’s piece, from which I quoted at the outset, is Patchett Rallies Author Troops to Get Involved With Health of The Publishing Industry. He writes:

I love Ms. Patchett’s phrase ‘Authors have been protected for a long time, we are well cared for,’ while not exactly explaining what publishers are protecting authors from. I’d hazard the only thing publishers are protecting is their business and bottom lines through investment and risk aversion at the end of every year, and the only people in the industry who can lay claim to running a ‘protection racket’ for authors are agents. Agents would be the first to advise us that their business is protecting the author from the vagaries of the commercial publishing contract!

  And as for her comments about self-publishing authors “cutting out the middle man whose services they really need,” Rooney writes:

There is no doubt that traditional publishing channels can offer expertise and distribution resources that self-publishing channels still find difficult to penetrate, but yet again we have another author speaking from within the traditional industry, albeit with experience of running an independent bookshop, trying to suggest that the woes and challenges facing the industry—at least some of them—lie squarely with authors and readers, the two marginalised protagonists existing at opposite extremes of the traditional industry and also divided by it. While I applaud Patchett’s defence of independent local bookshops and her wish to see them prosper and survive by publishing’s 2020 mark, she is so utterly off the mark when it comes to responsibilities to the traditional publishing industry.

  Rooney is hardly alone.

Bridget McKenna

Bridget McKenna

Author Bridget McKenna, writing from Greater Amazonia (Seattle), posits in a comment:

Ms. Patchett assumes that authors publishing their own books are either people “who want to put books on Amazon because they cannot get publishing deals” or “authors who could get published in the mainstream….” In fact, quite a few of us are authors who are quite familiar with the publishing industry, and still carry the scars of being “protected” and “cared for” by traditional publishers…We hire editors—the same ones, in many cases, that big publishers do—and we maintain control of our works, and we’re not constrained by lack of choice into signing unconscionable contracts.

In fact, when I tweeted a bit of Patchett’s “middle man” comments, I was quickly questioned by a displeased follower who wanted it known that entrepreneurial authors do hire those “middle men.” (More on what that costs, later in this Ether.)

Patricia Kay

Patricia Kay

Author Patricia Kay is playing harmonica for McKenna in her own comment from Houston:

In what universe or happy world does Ms. Patchett live? Maybe =she’s= been protected and well cared for, but I personally do not know one single traditionally published author (and I know more than a thousand) who hasn’t, at some point in his/her career, been exploited or cheated in some way and most in many ways by traditional publishing houses. Protected? What a joke. I have been traditionally published for 23 years, have had 51 novels sold and 49 published so far, have worked with three agents, numerous editors, and four publishing houses covering eight imprints/lines. I now prefer to indie publish, and that is not because I can’t sell to a traditional house. So why choose indie publishing? Well, Ms. Patchett, I actually need to make a decent amount of money TO LIVE ON and I want to be treated as a professional who deserves to be paid fairly, regularly, promptly, with royalty statements that are clear, understandable, and with respect for what I do.



Stephen Tiano

Stephen Tiano

Commenter Stephen Tiano’s viewpoint is from something closer to that middle man’s:

As a book designer, I still run into many who don’t understand that self-publishing is not a nickel-and-dime DIY project whereby one does the cheapest work one can and expects readers to part with their hard-earned dollars for something that the author-publisher doesn’t have the confidence or an integrity to make worthwhile. Substantive editing, copy editing, design, layout, proofreading, and marketing all require necessary investment to maximize the quality and art of a book.

Still, Tiano isn’t giving much quarter to Patchett:

Ms. Patchett’s piece reads like an attempt to guilt victims into supporting their tormentors. The worm has turned!

There are more comments there for you. Not one so far seems to have dashed out to lead three cheers for “Ms. Patchett!”  

A quick assortment of some more sentiments here:

This is interesting since Ann Patchett did publish a Kindle Single. Unless her agent got a cut she very much capitalized on the benefits of self-publishing for that project, which I loved…The biggest threat to traditional publishing are traditional publishers…If a gate is slammed in my face, is it my responsibility to come back and paint it when I’ve found another gate, or built myself a ladder?

Despite what I think is Ms. Patchett’s sincerity in all this, she may find that the warmth and fuzziness generated by her creation of the bookstore in Nashville does little to cushion her comments on the world stage. There, in many quarters, the rising authors’ community speaks with an anger that is equally sincere.

And it’s back to Mick Rooney for our exit from this section today. Rooney knows this community extremely well, ministers to it regularly, and thus can give us a POV that might make Ms. Patchett wish she’d jumped into less fraught topics, like politics and religion:

Even after all the challenges and changes in the book industry over the past ten years, there is still an inbuilt intransigence within the traditional publishing industry to take responsibility for its own destiny, preferring instead to load blame on new technology giants, opportunistic retail and distribution channels, and in recent years, authors and readers. It is no wonder the relevance of the mainstream industry is becoming more isolated, usurped and dictated to by its commercial partners.

Back to Table of Contents

Map­ping the Paths to Publishing

Should I traditionally publish or self-publish? It’s an important question—one that tends to result in heated debate—but it’s becoming an increasingly confusing and complicated question to answer.

Jane Friedman will be updating her Key Book Publishing Paths infographic as developments warrant. Courtesy:

Jane Friedman will be updating her Key Book Publishing Paths infographic as developments warrant. Courtesy:

Just as today’s Ether gases, Jane Friedman—my generous host at her site of the original Writing on the Ether on Thursdays, and Web editor at Virginia Quarterly Review—has produced a much-needed document for authors, with an explanatory article, Infographic: 5 Key Book Publishing Paths. I commend it to you, not least because this can help contextualize all our discussions—like the one above with Ms. Patchett’s commentary—with a factor we rarely take fully into consideration: It’s not just “self-publish or traditionally publish.” Friedman writes:

There is no one path or service that’s right for everyone; you must understand and study the changing landscape and make a choice based on long-term career goals, as well as the unique qualities of your work—not to mention your own strengths and weaknesses.

She has identified five main pathways to publication currently available to authors, and explains each: (1) Traditional. (2) Partnership. (“Authors are positioned more as partners, receive higher royalties, but usually no advance.”) (3) Fully-assisted publishing. (“The old ‘vanity’ self-publishing model…now dominated by Author Solutions.”) (4) Do-it-yourself publishing with a distributor. (“This usually involves e-publishing your work (to reduce financial risk and investment involved with print), and using a service provider or distributor to reach all possible online retailers.”) (5) Do-it-yourself direct publishing. (“Someone might sell direct through Amazon KDP, and complement it with distribution to all other retailers through Smashwords.”)

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Don’t fail to spend some time in the “Special + Hard-To-Classify Cases” section that follows the main graphic. Friedman and I spent some time discussing several of the avenues featured here, such as John Mitchinson’s Unbound (crowdfunding) and Argo Navis (agent-submitted publishing and distribution). And in her discussion of the options (and confusions), Friedman points up one of my favorite points of evolutionary energy in publishing today, the agent’s role:

Generally speaking, agents should serve as an author’s career manager and adviser, not as the author’s publisher. This is why I’ve included agent-assisted models in “special cases” below the chart. Still, though, when it comes to partnership publishing, agent-run outfits (e.g., Rogue Reader) are doing some of the most innovative work, and this only blurs the lines further.

It’s on that point that Friedman gets closest to the over-arching message of this parsing of the possibilities: lines are blurry, approaches are morphing, even the healthiest experimentation can make it only harder to determine what one author needs, wants, and can achieve.

There’s a list of resources added to the end of the supporting article, all helpful and all going to emphasize the crux of the matter: this is no simple set of decisions for even the most entrepreneurial author and at some point, you simply chart your best course and accept some risk. Feeling overwhelmed? You’re not alone. This can help. But “easy” isn’t a word associated with any of it. Back to Table of Contents

And Then the Self-Publishing Bill Arrives

Now, you take developmental editing—please!

Costs: 1-5 manuscript pages/hour for a manuscript page that’s 250 words, according to the Editorial Freelancers Association. $45-65/hour based on the experience of the editor 70,000/250 = 280 pages 280 pages /5 pages per hour = 56 hours Low end is 56 x $45 = $2,520 High end is = $18,200

Miral Sattar

Miral Sattar

Hearts in throats, many readers have all but gagged looking at the “high-end” potential costs of some “author services” in Miral Sattar’s article for PBS MediaShiftThe Real Costs of Self-Publishing a Book. In this timely complement to Jane Friedman’s infographic on paths to publishing (above), Sattar’s eight points of potential spending in self-publishing are followed by, at this writing 42 typically contentious comments from folks who feel that Sattar is either a saint or a silly person (haven’t they canonized a few of those, anyway?).

These prices are highly inflated…Nothing inflated in these prices…these prices are NOT AT ALL inflated…

What a jolly group, these authors today. Sattar, who heads up the author-services marketplace BiblioCrunch, does, yes, have some reason to encourage authors to avail themselves of such services; it’s what her company does. On the other hand, that work gives her an unusually comprehensive look at the waterfront. And she jumps in to the comments, herself (which I like to see article-writers do) on this developmental price-range point in particular:

The $18,000 is for books that really really really need the editing. And believe me, there are some pretty poorly written books. I know an author who spent $40k before her book was in readable condition. I’m a huge fan of bartering myself so you don’t need to take the costs of publishing as a sum, but more of what professional services do you need to hire for?

What a jolly group, these authors today, aren’t they? Sattar’s article breaks out not only developmental editing but also copyediting (again—please!); cover design; formatting for print and digital conversion; ISBNs; distribution; getting a book printed; getting reviews through paid services; and marketing and public relations.


While the price ranges are wide (and, she’s right in another comment, likely to go wider as more professionals enter the market), I like the unequivocal clarity of what Sattar says at the outset:

Putting together a quality book involves not just writing it, but getting it edited, then formatted, designing a cover, and having a marketing strategy around it.

There’s the key message: Not beta readers, not your mother who has read so very many books, not a cover by your little sister whose work in art class has encouraged us all so much—and no, “a good story” will not overcome all other weaknesses.

This market is getting tougher, not easier. The natural backlash to the initial outpouring of substandard material through DIY self-publishing services is very much in sway. I go back to agent April Eberhardt’s comment to me during the Muse Conference in Boston: it’s almost as if self-published work right now needs to be better than traditionally published work. As she and I spoke, I likened this to the experience of some minorities in society, groups of people who find out that their performance in work settings and education and public deportment must actually outdo the majority’s standards if they’re to gain the respected foothold they need in a plurality.

If the pathways to publishing outlined by Friedman, other than traditional routes, are to attain full acceptance both inside and outside the industry! the industry! then self-published work, on the whole, is going to need to look really good. 

  Writes Sattar:

It’s a lot of information, but spending money on quality editorial services will set your book apart from the sea of books in the marketplace.


  And on go the comments:

…Way too high. Are you trying to scare writers?…I love that she likens book launch to a startup company…The fact that you can buy some of these services very cheaply is irrelevant for the author who wants to produce a quality book that can compete head to head with those from traditional publishers… I have little sympathy those who complain about the costs of putting out a book now…You don’t need to spend this kind of money to self-publish a good book successfully…

Back to Table of Contents

The Reason for Writing in the First Place

6 May 2013 lead image O'Reilly and Palmer TEXTED STORY IMAGEYou may remember a couple of weeks ago, Ether for Authors included references to Amanda Palmer’s powerful keynote address, “Fear Not the Digital Present,” to Boston’s Grub Street Muse and Marketplace Conference. In a special arrangement with Andrew Losowsky, senior editor with Huffington Post Books, Grub Street founder Eve Bridburg has written a fine article to support a posting of the good-quality video of the speech there, Amanda Palmer Video: What’s a Rock Star Doing at a Writers’ Conference?

Eve Bridburg

Eve Bridburg

Bridburg writes:

Going against current conventional thinking, Amanda doesn’t suggest writers take their fragile creations into the loud, dangerous marketplace. Instead, she argues that they should engage a few readers by opening their garret windows and shouting down to their “friends and comrades in art and metaphor.”

And in focusing on the contention that has surrounded Palmer’s recent work relevant to the marathon bombing, Bridburg writes:

In her first public appearance since the controversy surrounding her poem about the Boston bomber, Amanda makes an impassioned plea for empathy, and the role artists play in keeping it alive. This is the reason writers must share their work, even though it makes them vulnerable to attack or ridicule. Writers — and all artists — need to be brave enough to invite the world in. Otherwise, what will happen to empathy, understanding, and connection?

Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer

This talk was among the most compelling keynotes I’ve seen among so many at publishing conferences this year. And that’s not least because, as Bridburg’s headline implies, I’m not sure any of us realized how moved Palmer, herself, would be until we listened to work through her thoughts and feelings on her work’s purpose.

The result is that great thing: a piece of work not meant to entertain, but entertaining; a statement that’s personal, but seizes many who hear it; a calling-back-into-the-room of motivations and principles so easily frittered away in combative comments on columns.

Those who have approached literature, at least initially, for its art, will find quiet resonance here. And those who have climbed up onto our digital dinghy simply for commercial effort—which is fine, too, welcome—may learn something about where the rest of us are coming from. Listen for it:

This is the time for metaphor…this is the time for art…thank you for connecting the dots…thank you for writing.

Back to Table of Contents


If you have a publishing conference in the offing, let me know about it via my contact page, and I’ll be happy to consider including it in my site’s listing and in columns as I have the chance. Here’s a look at conferences coming in the near term.  Please note that a listing here is not my endorsement of a conference or other event, but an informational inclusion.

Reaching Readers confabMay 28 New York City: Reaching Readers: Book Marketing Conference 2013 is a production of our Ether-eal host here, Publishing Perspectives and the Frankfurt Academy. An early-bird rate of $365 runs to April 15. After that, regular price is $415 for the day that features expert commentary from folks including Ketchum’s Nancy Martira, Scholastic’s Morgan Baden, Wiley’s Jeanenne Ray, Edelman’s Steve Rubel, and many more. There’s a “sneak preview article here from Hannah Johnson:  Book Marketing Q&A with Scholastic’s Social Media Director, Morgan Baden  (Hashtag: #ReachingReaders)

May 29-30 New York City IDPF Digital Book Conference at BookExpo America (BEA): “IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum) Digital Book 2013 at BEA is a two-day conference focused on all the key issues we face in advancing publishing in an increasingly digital world.  In-depth sessions will analyze key opportunities and pitfalls, highlighting compelling business strategies and actionable solutions.” Note the addition of Goodreads co-founder Otis Chandler with a keynote update after Amazon’s acquisition of the service. (Hashtag: #DigitalBook13)

May 29 New York City: Publishers Launch BEA is May’s installment of the series of daylong conferences programmed by Mike Shatzkin of Idea Logical and Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch. Speakers on tap so far include agent Brian DeFiore, Enders Analysis’ Benedict Evans, Trident Media’s Robert Gottlieb, Aerbook’s Ron Martinez, consultant Peter McCarthy, Hachette’s Ken Michaels, and more.

BEA Bloggers ConferenceMay 29 New York City BEA Bloggers Conference at BookExpo America (BEA): “Attend BEA Bloggers Conference to learn, be inspired, and connect with book bloggers, authors, and publishing industry professionals. You will benefit from a jam-packed day of education, extreme networking, and the passion and fun that surrounds book blogging. Session topics include: blogging in today’s world, critical reviews, making money with your blog, creating community, and how publishers and bloggers work together.”

BEA 2013 againMay 29-June 1 New York City BookExpo America (BEA): “BEA continues to evolve each year by adding new and exciting features to keep pace with the industry and in direct response to customer feedback to ensure you get the best return on investment by participating in North America’s premier publishing event.” (Hashtag: #BEA13)

uPublishUJune 1 New York City uPublishU at BEA: “Are you ready to take the leap and transform your manuscript to a published book and/or ebook? Aspiring writers and authors will learn from industry experts tips and tactics and all about the tools and technology to help them self-publish a print book or an ebook.”

Jackson Hole Writers ConferenceJune 27-29 Jackson Hole, Wyoming: Jackson Hole Writers Conference: “Each year distinguished speakers, editors and agents join our resident faculty to deliver a weekend of active and engaging dialogue, collaboration and the opportunity for all of us to raise the stakes on our work.Manuscript critiques are an important part of our conference, providing a way for you to discuss your work one-on-one with experienced writers, editors and agents.” The program also features a pre-conference writing workshop.

The literary conferenceJune 7-8 Free Word Centre, London: The Literary Conference 2013: “New speakers added to the line-up include TLS’s acting Fiction Editor Toby Lichtig, ground-breaking German self-publishing company Epubli’s Barbara Thiele, Founder of Riot Communications Preena Gadher, The Reading Agency’s Partnerships Manager Sandeep Mahal, author web and design expert Kristen Harrison of The Curved House, plus John Mitchinson of Unbound and the BBC’s Head of Partnership Development Bill Thompson.”
Back to Table of Contents


Last Gas: Just Say ‘No’

Secretary to novelist Saul Bellow: “Mr Bellow informed me that he remains creative in the second half of life, at least in part, because he does not allow himself to be a part of other people’s ‘studies.’ ” Photographer Richard Avedon: “Sorry — too little time left.” Secretary to composer George Ligeti: “He is creative and, because of this, totally overworked. Therefore, the very reason you wish to study his creative process is also the reason why he (unfortunately) does not have time to help you in this study. He would also like to add that he cannot answer your letter personally because he is trying desperately to finish a Violin Concerto which will be premiered in the Fall.”

Kevin Ashton

Kevin Ashton

Those are instances in which great creative people have been recorded saying “no”, or having it said for them by people they hire to say “no.’ British tech pioneer Kevin Ashton’s piece at Ev Williams’ Medium is Creative People Say No. And it couldn’t come at a better moment. Maybe you’ve noticed that the wonders of any social medium—that ability to “reach out and touch someone”—often means that someone is reaching out and putting the touch on you. So many requests, so many.

A Hungarian psychology professor once wrote to famous creators asking them to be interviewed for a book he was writing…The professor contacted 275 creative people. A third of them said “no.” Their reason was lack of time. A third said nothing. We can assume their reason for not even saying “no” was also lack of time and possibly lack of a secretary.

MediumEverything that’s left you feeling guilty when you said “no” is here for you. Ashton:

Saying “no” has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know. We are not taught to say “no.” We are taught not to say “no.” “No” is rude. “No” is a rebuff, a rebuttal, a minor act of verbal violence. “No” is for drugs and strangers with candy.

Intoxicating truth floods this essay. Liberating permission sees you out. Say “no” to something else and read it.

There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes…“No” makes us aloof, boring, impolite, unfriendly, selfish, anti-social, uncaring, lonely and an arsenal of other insults. But “no” is the button that keeps us on.

Back to Table of Contents


Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, a 32-year journalist with several newspapers and three networks of CNN, as well as a producer posted to the Rome headquarters of the United Nations’ World Food Programme. This column, Ether for Authors, appears here at Publishing Perspectives on Mondays. Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is read on Thursdays at, and he is a regular contributor to His all-new London on the Ether for The Bookseller was inaugurated during the London Book Fair. More about him is at

Main image / iStockphoto: barsik

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.