Andrew Wylie is more or less the Tim Gunn of the publishing world: he's the refined, silver-haired dude who says what everyone else is thinking. It helps that Wylie is a literary agent with untouchable cred — current authors include Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, and Dave Eggers, while he's got every literary estate from Nabokov to Borges. And unlike Gunn, he has the tongue of a viper. The man is completely unafraid of publicly bashing his enemies, and lately, no one has been in his crosshairs more than Amazon.
The online purveyor of books and everything else has long been scorned for the way it's transformed books into commodities often worth less than a venti latte, and its more recent foray into publishing has been met with literary disdain. Amazon authors notoriously don't do very well, and many bookstores refuse to carry their titles. (If you're into horror reading, the New Yorker published a fantastic article detailing the ways in which Amazon is ruthlessly attacking the publishing industry.) A particularly hilarious and sad example of Amazon Publishing's lack of industry pull: James Franco published a novel with Amazon, and it sold under 5,000 physical copies. Ouch.
In an interview last year with the New Republic, Wylie infamously said that in order to get him to publish with Amazon, he'd need a lot more than money: "If one of my children were kidnapped and they were threatening to throw a child off a bridge and I believed them, I might." Now, in an even more aggressive interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Amazon is launching a German language publishing program), Wylie gets even sassier. In case any young authors are wondering if they should drink the Amazon KoolAid, Wylie'll tell it to you straight: get the plague first.
Wylie called Amazon Publishing a program that "stands out for its idiocy" and produces "nothing worth reading." He went on to suggest to young authors that, instead of applying for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award — which gets you a $50,000 contract and a publishing deal with Amazon — they "get on a soapbox in Manhattan or Munich and read from [their] novel. [They] would achieve a better audience there than with Amazon." Harsh, but if Amazon can't sell a name like James Franco, can they really back a no-named debut novelist?
Of Amazon's founder Jeff Bezos, Wylie sniped, "Books are less important to him than refrigerators." Oh, and in case anyone was confused — wait, should I publish my novel with Amazon Publishing? — Wylie hit his point home a little harder: "If you have a choice between the plague and Amazon, pick the plague!"
In the past, Wylie has said that publishers should just withdraw their books from Amazon and take the loss in sales, because, in his words, publishers would get "fewer fools reading [their] books and [they'd] get paid more by those who do." He's one of the only publishing authorities speaking out this forcefully and publicly against Amazon, but maybe the younger generation — not just of authors, but of agents, editors, and future publishers — will listen. After all, if there's one thing Wylie knows, it's how to get people reading. (See: this article.) And isn't that all the publishing world wants more than anything?