Neal Pollack Speaks Out in Defense of Amazon

In News by Dennis Abrams

Writing for Slate entitled “In Defense of Amazon,” author Neal Pollack thanks the much criticized company for resuscitating his career, arguing Amazon is a lifeline for writers.

By Dennis Abrams

Neal Pollack

Neal Pollack

Neal Pollack is a satirist, novelist and short story writer and three-time Jeopardy champion (among other titles), perhaps best known for his book The Neal Pollock Anthology of American Literature, but who, for a time, struggled to get his work published.

So in a piece for Slate entitled “In Defense of Amazon,” Pollack thanks the much criticized company for resuscitating his career, making the case that its entry into publishing has been a lifeline for himself and other writers.

He writes that:

“When Amazon picked me up off the slush pile in 2011, my decade-long, five-book career was effectively dead, I had a modest contract with a legacy publisher for a pseudo-self-help book, but I didn’t want to write it, they no longer wanted to put it out, and I’m pretty certain nobody would have wanted to read it. My antiquated dream was to write novels, but my first and only novel had sold so poorly that I wouldn’t have been able to give away the next one for free, to any publisher.

Instead, through Amazon, I’ve published three full-length novels – a historical action comedy set in the very specific world of 1930s Jewish basketball and two detective stories set in the L.A. yoga scene, originally written in serialized form – as well as three 10,000-word novellas, including an extended piece of Kurt Vonnegut ‘fan fiction,’ all in the last 30 months. I have another novel, a time-travel romantic comedy, coming out next March and I’m under contract to write still another novel, subject yet to be determined. It’s been the most enjoyable creative burst of my career, a gleeful hack’s sprint toward nowhere in particular.

Amazon has supported my strange whims. Their formula for literary success is, as far as I can deduce: Write as many books as you can, and then sell them cheaply and in bulk…

I haven’t gotten rich, but I haven’t dropped into poverty, either. Even though none of my books has sold more than 15,000-ish copies, Amazon continues to pay me to write them. The idea is that eventually one of my efforts will hit, and then the backlist will rise. The advances aren’t huge; they’ve all been in the low – and I do mean low – five figures. But that strikes me as an exceedingly fair pay for mediocre-selling serialized novels a bout an L.A. yoga detective. It’s not enough money for me to stop doing other, nonfiction-writing work. But I don’t want to stop doing other work. What I do want is to get paid for writing fiction, and that’s happening. Amazon has allowed my novels to be part of the mix…

“We need to give readers, even the senile ones, more credit. Book pricing doesn’t have anything to do with a book’s worth, it’s just a sales point. Novels by Gary Shtyengart or Jennifer Egan aren’t better than other novels because they’re expensive, and the modern equivalent of dime-store Westerns aren’t worse because they’re not. People like what they like, and they’re not going to like books any more or less because they cost more or less…

Amazon, like every publisher, released a lot of genre pulp, much of which sells like lemonade in August. But just because a book is expensive doesn’t mean it’s bad…If I can sell 10,000 books at $3.99 a download, which I’ve been consistently able to do through Amazon, that strikes me as a better deal than being able to sell 3,000 books at $12 a paperback, particularly because my royalty rates are way higher on downloads and I can jam out two or more of those downloadable books a year. It’s not a strategy that will work for every author, which is why legacy publishers will continue to thrive, or at least survive, and will continue to publish the bulk of ‘quality’ books in this country. But for a proud Grub Streeter like me with only marginal pretenses toward literary finery, the Amazon system is a dream.”

But as Hector Tobar at The Los Angles Times points out, that dream came with a price. “BookPeople, the legendary Austin bookstore, helped Pollack earlier in his career; but now it refuses to carry his Amazon-published books, he says. And online, he’s been compared to ‘the Vichy French, taking money to cover up crimes.’”

To read Neal Pollock’s piece in its entirety, click here.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.