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Posts Tagged ‘industry neepery’

Things Not to Say

Hey, guys?

If you are upset about something, and you want to yell at somebody about it, it’s worth taking a moment to make sure you’re yelling at the right person.

For example, do not blame the author for Amazon’s decision to ship print copies of a novel two weeks before the sale date, but not to send out the e-books at the same time. Aside from the fact that retailers aren’t supposed to ship anything before the street date, the author has precisely ZERO control over what Amazon chooses to do. (And is probably even more upset than you are, because that potentially screws her over in career-affecting ways.)

And if you are upset about something, take a careful look at how you’re expressing your feelings.

For example, is it productive to call the author “stupid,” “greedy,” “ungrateful,” or “a narcissist”? Probably not.

And it is definitely not productive — nor even okay — to call her a “bitch,” a “whore,” or a “cunt.”

Seriously. The person on the other end of that e-mail you’re about to send? Is a person. One who, in this case, has no actual control over the thing you are upset about; she didn’t cause it, and she can’t fix it, and she’s upset about it, too. But even if those things weren’t true . . . what the hell, people. How fragile is your world if the UTTER APOCALYPTIC DISASTER of NOT BEING ABLE TO GET YOUR E-BOOK NOW NOW NOW justifies heaping misogynistic abuse on the person who produces the thing you love?

Please. Be smart enough to aim your criticism in an appropriate direction, not at a fellow victim. But more than anything . . . act like a human, not a hyena.

a saga of ye gods and little stick figures

I know some of you read The Order of the Stick, one of the oldest and best D&D parodies on the web. But whether you do or not, I have to direct you, with suitable awe, at the saga of its Kickstarter project.

Creator Rich Burlew set out to raise $57,750 to get one of the collections, War and XPs, back into print. He blew through that goal in less than twenty-four hours. As I write this post, he has raised $868,072 — and that number will certainly have gone up by the time I hit “post.”

You can follow the tale via the project updates. Scroll down to the bottom to find the first one, and then do the same for the more recent ones. It is, I think, an amazing testament both to what Kickstarter can do, and how to do a Kickstarter project well. Burlew has done an excellent job of adapting to the overwhelming success of his fundraiser; not only did he rapidly set new goals (reprinting other out-of-print books, increasing print runs, covering the increased expenses for all the rewards packages), he found a lot of clever ways to reward people for their support. And throughout, he’s been highly transparent about the entire process, so that nobody is going to walk away thinking he’s put their money to a use they didn’t expect. (If anybody is displeased with what he’s done so far, they’re still free to cancel their support: nothing is final until the fundraiser ends.)

It’s a marvel in a number of respects. And if you have any interest in this kind of crowdsourcing model, his experience is worth studying.

Signal Boost: Trust and Treachery

You know how we keep having these discussions about anthologies that take the best stories, regardless of who writes them . . . and somehow those stories end up all being by white men? (Totally by chance, you understand, and the editors can’t be blamed if that’s what was sent to them.)

It’s nice to be able to talk for once about somebody doing it right. I’ve been contacted by the editors of an upcoming anthology, Trust & Treachery, who are actively reaching out to get more quality submissions from women. To quote:

One of the items that we made specific mention of in our original call for submissions was that we’re looking for works representing the entire range of experience — including all races, ethnicities, genders, ages, religions, sexual orientations, abilities and views on life. The world of fiction and its characters, especially genre fiction and speculative fiction, can be diverse places with a richness and depth in both culture and community. As editors, we made both a personal and professional commitment to have that same richness represented in this anthology. But we need to you help us do it.

This? Is good, pro-active editing. It’s realizing that imbalances aren’t automatically a reflection of the fiction that’s out there — only the fiction that’s being sent in. And that’s something that can be changed, with a little effort.

So I’m happy to give them a signal boost. Description of the theme is here, and submissions guidelines are here. And props to Day Al-Mohamed and Meriah Crawford for their hard work.

Amazon is not the good guy

I’ve piled up four links in short order that detail some of the problems with Amazon, and why, despite an increasing insistence in their PR that they’re your ally, they’re on the side of the consumer, they’re your friend against those meanie-face businesses like publishers . . . they are not the good guy. At best, they are a guy, who will sometimes help you and sometimes screw you over. (The problem is, a lot of the “help” is of the sort that evaporates as soon as they’re in a position to screw you over.)

So, the links:

Cat Valente first, on the notion of book subscriptions, and how Amazon keeps muscling their way toward monopoly.

Next Borderlands Books (San Francisco indie bookstore), on their sketchy business behavior. (Scroll down to “From the Office” to find the relevant part.)

And then, Anand Giridharadas in the NYT, on the fraying of decency, and what Amazon does to achieve such low prices and fast shipping.

Finally, just as a chaser, the privacy issues with the new Kindle Fire.

I won’t deny that Amazon is useful. I still order things from them occasionally. But I’ve taken my book business elsewhere whenever possible — Powell’s, IndieBound, and local stores — and I am not looking forward to the Brave New World in which everything is published through Amazon, for reading on an Amazon device, so that Amazon knows everything I do, with Amazon deciding how much I pay for that material or get paid when people buy what I wrote, because they’ve ground all their competitors out of existence.

It’s like a hybrid of 1984 and Snow Crash. Stephenson was almost right about corporations ruling the future; his error was in using the plural.

Followup on “Say Yes to Gay YA”

A few days ago, I linked to a piece by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith about an agent’s request that they remove or straighten a gay protagonist from their book.

Their article didn’t name the agent or the agency, but today Joanna Stampfel-Volpe at Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation came forward (on a site hosted by agent Colleen Lindsay [edit: former agent]) to say that she is the one in question, and furthermore, that “there is nothing in that article concerning our response to their manuscript that is true.”

[Another edit: Joanna Stampfel-Volpe is speaking on behalf of the agency, but herself is not the agent involved in the incident. I apologize for the misreading, which managed to persist through me reading not only her post, but a vast number of comments on both rachelmanija and sartorias‘s journals. Ironically, I’d have less editing to do if I’d stuck with my original draft, where I started out referring to “the agent,” without a name. But then I decided that if I was doing the authors the courtesy of calling them by name, I should do the same for the agent. My error, and I am editing the remainder of this entry to fix it.]

Brown and Smith stand by their original article.

So this has just turned into a case of “they said, she said.” Which has, naturally, made many people leap to conclusions on one side or the other: “Oh, I knew that story sounded fishy from the start; clearly the agent is telling the truth” or “the agent is a lying homophobic liar.” Since it’s doubtful anybody has a recording of the phone call where all of this went down, actual proof is hard to come by. I do think, however, that it’s possible to apply logic and draw at least a few tentative conclusions.

First of all, Brown and Smith didn’t name the agent or agency, and specifically said they didn’t want this to be a witch-hunt against one person; lots of other people have come forward with stories of similar things happening to them, and the statistics on queer representation in YA support the idea that publishing has a problem with non-straight characters (and non-“mainstream” characters in other respects, too: non-white, disabled, etc). The overwhelming focus of their post was to call out for agents, editors, readers, and writers to try and reduce the barriers against diversity in the genre.

Stampfel-Volpe chose — presumably with the permission of The Agent In Question (hereafter TAIQ) — to identify the agency publicly, and both she and Lindsay spend most of their focus on TAIQ and the writers, rather than the larger issue; they accuse Brown and Smith of “exploiting” her. They do call for general diversity as well, but in the end, you can kind of play bingo with that post; for example, Lindsay says TAIQ is a friend of hers, and not a homophobe. Note that the post on Genreville explicitly said TAIQ may or may not entertain personal feelings of homophobia; Brown and Smith don’t have any basis for judging that. You don’t have to hate gay people to contribute to the ways in which they get silenced. It can happen even if you like them, because that’s how institutionalized prejudice works.

Second, there’s the question of why the agency responded publicly. Apparently rumours have been flying behind the scenes, people asking whether TAIQ was the one. There was nothing in the original post, or any public follow-up that I’ve seen, which could possibly have produced those rumours. This creates two immediate possibilities: first, either Brown or Smith gossiped privately before Stampfel-Volpe took it public, or second, that other people have had similar experiences with TAIQ, and speculated based on those experiences.

We can’t answer this one; tracing those rumours to their origin is a lost cause. But as a data point, I offer up this: nowhere, publicly or privately, have I seen Brown and Smith provide a single detail, other than that it was a female agent at an agency that has repped a bestselling YA dystopia, that could have given away TAIQ’s identity. (And yes, I have plenty of evidence to back up both those claims.) This doesn’t disprove the gossip theory, but it does give a data point against it. As for the other, I have no evidence either way. I’m open to other possibilities as well.

Finally — as some people have noted on Stampfel-Volpe’s post — there may be a middle ground here. As I said before, institutionalized prejudice works in less-than-obvious ways. It’s possible the conversation could have been phrased in a way that TAIQ did not see as reinforcing homophobia, which nevertheless could be heard that way. Without the exact words, we can’t judge for ourselves. But I will say, for my own part, that I have a hard time believing this was, from the agent’s side, purely an issue of craft, and not of the marketability of queerness. If the pov in question “didn’t contribute to the actual plot” (Stampfel-Volpe’s words), then how could that be solved by making him straight? If she didn’t actually suggest making him straight — if that’s a misinterpretation — then how could Brown and Smith have subsequently heard anything that could be misconstrued as “if this turns into a series, later on you can show that he’s gay”? And how could the misunderstanding have persisted past Brown saying his sexuality was a moral issue she would not back down from?

Looking at it logically . . . the only thing I can conclude is that either Brown and Smith are outright lying — maybe as a publicity stunt, because they haven’t yet found representation for the book (as various people have begun to accuse them of, over on the agent’s rebuttal post) — or the agency is trying to do very inept damage control for an incident that was, in its outlines if not every detail, more or less like the Genreville post describes. As you can probably guess from my analysis above, my money is on the latter. Is that based partly on personal knowledge of one side and not the other? Sure. I know the authors; I don’t know the agent. I judge them to both be experienced professionals unlikely to manufacture a hissy fit because one particular book hasn’t sold yet. But even without the evidence I’ve seen and you haven’t: one side was careful not to make this personal, and the other side was not. One side offered summaries of what both parties said in the conversation; the other omitted the authors’ responses from their summary. Heck, one side had two people involved, and the other had only one. I know people’s opinions can reinforce each other, but there had to have been a moment where Brown and Smith spoke to each other after the phone call to share their opinions. I’ve heard nothing to suggest either of them started off by saying “I’m not sure that’s what she meant,” and was eventually talked around to the other’s interpretation. If their interpretations matched up from the start, that’s at least a minor form of fact-checking.

When all’s said and done, though, my real conclusion: go read the Genreville post again. Skip the parts about the agent; read the parts about the difficulty in getting non-straight, non-white, non-“mainstream” characters through the filter of authors’ brains, agents’ judgement calls, editors’ purchasing power, bookstores’ support, and readers’ inclinations, all the way to the public eye. That, more than any one book or agent or incident, is the part that matters.

Due to ridiculous amounts of spam (months after and unrelated to this incident), I have locked comments on this post.

Yes to Gay YA

Rachel Manija Brown (rachelmanija) and Sherwood Smith (sartorias) have an important essay up at Publishers Weekly, Say Yes to Gay YA, where they recount how an agent offered them representation for a YA novel on the condition that they either straighten a gay point-of-view character, or remove him from the book entirely.

You can read the details there, as well as suggestions for how to put an end to this kind of thing. You can do the same on Rachel’s journal, if you prefer LJ, but the PW post includes a mechanism for posting anonymously, if you’d prefer that. They’re particularly interested in hearing from any authors who have experienced similar pushback from agents or editors, so as to explore just how widespread the problem is. The reader-side viewpoint is also valuable, to help prove there is an audience for these books.

If you’re on Twitter, the hashtag is #YesGayYA.


An Archive of Our Own has, after much anticipation, reached a point where they can implement subscriptions. This means that AO3 users can set their accounts up to be notified when a writer they like posts a new story. (I have no idea if I’m likely to post anything before next Yuletide, but the nice thing about subscriptions is it’s no big deal if I don’t; you just won’t get notifications. I’m faviconrussian_blue, if you care.)

I’ll have to see how this particular implementation of the idea works out in practice, but man, I still want something like it for pro fiction. Obviously it’s harder in some ways to implement — the AO3 is a single database; a short story subscription manager would have to scrape updates from a bunch of different online magazines — but if there was a central service I could use to be alerted when short story authors I like publish something new, something along the lines of an RSS reader, I would sign up so fast my keyboard would be smoking.

But I wouldn’t know where to begin in coding something like that. So I sit here and make begging eyes, and hope that if I mention it enough times, the idea will spread until it lands in the brain of somebody who can do it.

as the industry moves online

An Archive of Our Own, one of the big fanfic sites, is working on implementing “subscriptions,” where you can designate particular authors (or fandoms or tags or what-have-you) and be informed when new stories get posted.

It occurs to me that, as more and more short fiction publishing moves online, how useful this could be. I mean, I post links when stories of mine go up, so if you read my LJ you hear about those things. But that requires you to follow a bunch of different separate feeds, and it buries the story links in the noise of everything else you read. Maybe some online ‘zines tag their stories in a way that allows you to tell Google Reader or whatever, tell me whenever Clarkesworld publishes a Cat Valente story — I don’t know; I haven’t tried — but if she then publishes a story in Lightspeed instead, you won’t know about it. How technically difficult would it be to create an aggregator site that covers all the online ‘zines (ending at whatever bar the site’s operator chooses), and then once you pick an author from their database, notifies you whenever that author publishes something, wherever it might be? I have no idea; IANenough of a webgeek to do that kind of thing myself. I imagine it would require some amount of cooperation from the publisher’s side, tagging the pages according to the aggregator’s requirements, etc. The benefit, however, is that it drives traffic to your site; and if I discover a lot of the writers I’ve subscribed to are being published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, I might start checking out who else they print, because clearly that place fits my taste. (Heck, print magazines could even benefit, with a blog that advertises the latest ToC.)

I dunno — maybe it would weaken the sense of loyalty to particular publications in favor of the writers. We still haven’t solved the problem of funding online magazines, and if something like this makes it harder for Strange Horizons to raise money, etc, because people are no longer self-identifying as “SH readers” but readers of one author or another, then that would be a problem. But if you really like Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya stories, it would be neat to have something automatically alert you when one of them pops up, even if it’s in a place you don’t normally look. It seems to me this fits with the a la carte trend I’m seeing in how we consume media: Tivo to pull down the programs we want to watch, iTunes selling us individual tracks instead of whole albums, etc. I’m reading some serialized stories online, and I know having new chapters pop up in my reader, without me having to go check for updates, is damned convenient. If short story publishing in general had something like this, I’d use it in a heartbeat.

for those who haven’t seen it

I was mentioning James Frey’s latest atrocity to a few friends last night, and promised I would point them at the details, so here they are, by way of Scalzi’s blog.

Holy abusive contracts, Batman. It appears that Frey’s crass, opportunistic exploitation knows neither bounds nor shame. I can only hope the public outcry will go far enough to scare people away from signing up to be his factory drones — but sadly, I doubt it will.