Tag Archives: publishers

Respectful Submission

I’m not talking about anything kinky here, but about addressing editors respectfully when you submit or pitch a story, poem, or article. You’d think this would be a no-brainer–wouldn’t you want to start off on the right foot with the people you hope would publish your work?–but apparently not, according to SF poetry zine Stone Telling co-editors Rose Lemberg and Shweta Narayan. In a series of blog posts that are well worth reading, Rose explains how to address submissions to the zine, discusses correspondence with an SFPA representative who addressed important award nomination announcement emails only to Rose and then told her it was because Shweta’s name was hard to find on the Stone Telling website (where both are listed quite prominently as co-editors), and talks about the underlying assumptions and attitudes that lead many people to address letters only to the editor with the three-syllable Jewish name and not to the editor with the five-syllable Indian name.

Now I wonder how many people will address Long Hidden submissions just to me because my name doesn’t have accented characters in it, or just to Daniel because he has a masculine name. Something to add to our submission guidelines, I suppose. (And I will take a moment here to squee that we’ve made our initial funding goal and then some, and are now pushing toward awesome stretch goals like more stories and interior art! It’s really going to happen! Eeeee!)

It irks me that Daniel and I have to think about this, and that Rose and Shweta have to think about this, because addressing a submission correctly is at the same basic level of courtesy, professionalism, and self-preservation as making sure your resume doesn’t have typos on it. When I addressed a submission to Stone Telling, I opened my email with “Dear Stone Tellers”; super-formality is not always required. But I knew it wasn’t required in this case because I already knew the editors and had read past issues of the zine, so I was pretty sure they wouldn’t stand on ceremony–and also I wasn’t 100% sure who handled submissions, so I erred on the side of caution by not naming someone who might be the wrong person. This is because I wanted them to actually read and consider my poem rather than rejecting it out of hand. I’m stunned that anyone goes about things any other way.

I understand having internalized and subconscious biases–we all have them, try as we might to uproot them–but I don’t understand letting them get in the way of careful professionalism in business correspondence. The whole point of the concept of professionalism is that it provides helpful guidelines for putting one’s best foot forward.

Just remember that editors are people with feelings and opinions, and that you want to approach them in such a way that their opinion of you will be positive. Everything else follows from that.

SFWA vs. Random House, Round Two

Previously: SFWA announced that Random House’s Hydra digital-first imprint was not a qualifying market and denounced its contract terms.

Random House responded that Hydra “offers a different–but potentially lucrative–publishing model for authors: a profit share.”

SFWA’s board of directors replied, “You extol your business model as ‘different’; the more accurate description, we believe, is ‘exploitative.’” SFWA also de-listed Hydra’s Alibi imprint (digital-first crime fiction) and warned, “If the egregious features of Hydra and Alibi’s contracts begin to make their way into the contracts of Random House’s other imprints, particularly Del Rey and Spectra, we will be required to act, up to and including delisting Random House as a whole as a qualifying market for SFWA.”

I’m not sure how Random House will regard that last bit. On the one hand, being a SFWA qualifying market probably doesn’t affect their bottom line very much one way or another. Del Rey and Spectra publish very few debut authors, who are the ones who care most about making sales that will qualify them for SFWA membership. (A quick visual check for those distinctive Random House ARCs on my desk finds books by Elizabeth Moon, Terry Brooks, Connie Willis, Karen Lord, Chris Moriarty, and Peter F. Hamilton, all of whom have plenty of SFWA-qualifying work to their name.) If debut authors take their books elsewhere–not guaranteed by any means, since debut authors are also not very likely to limit their options or turn down a firm offer on principle–Random House might be willing to tolerate that if it means they can keep their digital-first contracts as they are.

On the other hand, this is a lot of negative publicity, especially with words like “exploitative” being thrown around, and if some of those top-selling authors were to decide they no longer want to be associated with Random House, that would be a much bigger deal. There’s also the pending Random/Penguin merger to consider. Of course there’s no such thing as a good time for there to be a stain on Random House’s reputation, but a merged company means that stain could spread from Hydra and Alibi not only to Del Rey and Spectra but to Ace, Roc, and DAW. (Which makes me wonder how many of those imprints will survive the merger, but that’s a separate question.)

I really have no idea how this will play out. In the meantime, pass the popcorn.

(Full disclosure: I’m a non-voting SFWA affiliate member.)

SFWA Slaps Random House’s Digital SF Imprint

Naming an imprint after a league of supervillains might not be the best idea, because here comes Captain SFWAmerica to smack them down, according to this email that just went out to SFWA members:

SFWA has determined that works published by Random House’s electronic imprint Hydra can not be use as credentials for SFWA membership, and that Hydra is not an approved market. Hydra fails to pay authors an advance against royalties, as SFWA requires, and has contract terms that are onerous and unconscionable.

Hydra contracts also require authors to pay – through deductions from royalties due the authors – for the normal costs of doing business that should be borne by the publisher.

Hydra contracts are also for the life-of-copyright and include both primary and subsidiary rights. Such provisions are unacceptable.

At this time, Random House’s other imprints continue to be qualified markets.

That last bit is important, not only for Spectra and Del Rey authors (who are breathing a sigh of relief right now) but in the context of history. When Harlequin launched a vanity press imprint in 2009, SFWA temporarily removed all Harlequin imprints from their qualifying market list. Random House’s sins are apparently not grave enough to warrant such tactics.

Writer Beware’s Victoria Strauss discusses Hydra’s terms in more detail, concluding, “It’s hard for me to imagine even moderately successful self-publishers finding a deal like this attractive.” SFWA president John Scalzi is sharper: “Dear Random House: It’s clear you’re targeting new, unagented authors here because no agent who is not manifestly incompetent would allow his or her client to sign such a terrible contract.”

Important note: Random House’s Hydra imprint is not the same as Hydra House, a small independent SF/F press.

(Full disclosure: I’m a non-voting SFWA affiliate member.)

3/8/2013: A riposte and a counter-riposte, with SFWA upping the stakes.

Worldcon Breaking News

Josh and I are hard at work on turning Worldcon news and interviews into articles for the SF/F focus issue of PW (September 10! Mark your calendars!) but here’s some breaking news for you in the meantime.

Worldcon-related:

  • The Hugo Awards results, of course.
  • During Neil Gaiman’s acceptance speech for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (for his Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife”), he let it slip that he’s on the third draft of another Doctor Who script. Cue much squeeing.
  • …except from those people who couldn’t see his speech because Ustream cut off the awards ceremony webcast, citing copyright violation. That would presumably be because the broadcast included clips of the Best Dramatic Presentation nominees; the clips had been provided by the studios and were used and streamed legally, but that didn’t stop some DRM-hound program from blocking the transmission. Cue much outrage.
  • The London in 2014 team won its unopposed bid to host the 2014 Worldcon, which will be called Loncon 3 and already has a sterling line-up of honored guests. Josh and I promptly upgraded from “friend of the bid” to full membership. I have so far dodged all attempts to get me to volunteer, though I did offer to make myself available as a consultant on programming matters. That’s totally different from volunteering, right? Anyway, I expect it will be an excellent convention and I’m really looking forward to it.
  • The 2015 bid is hotly contested by Orlando, Spokane, and Helsinki, plus a Phoenix AZ bid for the 2015 NASFiC if Helsinki gets the Worldcon the 2014 NASFiC. (Apologies for the error.)
  • LoneStarCon 3, the 2013 Worldcon in San Antonio TX, has announced that it will have a Spanish-language programming track–presumably not just about Spanish-language work but actually conducted in Spanish. That would be very exciting.

Publishing news:

  • Harper Voyager is “actively seeking new authors with fresh voices, strong storytelling abilities, original ideas and compelling storylines” to submit manuscripts for consideration for a new digital-first line. Submissions will be open for two weeks only, October 1–14, at www.harpervoyagersubmissions.com (link not live because the site isn’t up yet). Distribution for accepted, published titles will be worldwide (world English rights). Executive Editor Diana Gill says they’re looking for “novels, novellas, short stories, interstitials.” Get those manuscripts polished up!
  • Patty Garcia of Tor Books tells me that Harry Harrison turned in the manuscript of his memoirs just two weeks before his death in August. “We had originally scheduled it for spring but we are trying to move it into late fall,” she says.
  • A source I cannot name informs me that Jim Butcher is supposedly about to turn in the manuscript for Cold Days, the 14th Dresden Files novel, currently slated for a November 27 release. The series pub dates have been creeping later for a while, from a year-long gap between volumes to nearly a year and a half since Ghost Story came out last July. Fans will be very relieved to see this one hit the shelves.

Speaking of the Dresden Files, I’ve been quite enjoying getting to walk around Chicago, but it is a little disappointing to encounter neither mobsters nor monsters. Any suggestions for Dresden-related landmarks to visit before we head home?

Nebula Awards Weekend, Day 1

After a morning conference call, I packed up and took a cab back to the convention hotel. There were no further hotel shenanigans, for which I am very glad; showed up, checked in, got reimbursed for my cab fare, all good. I got my badge, nabbed lunch at the hotel buffet (surprisingly tolerable), and headed up to the press room. Jaym Gates, SFWA’s press officer, is terrific. Even though she was dealing with hotel shenanigans, she still managed to get me set up with free wi-fi and line up a couple of interviews with Nebula nominees Mary Robinette Kowal and Rachel Swirsky. The audio of those will be exclusive to SFWA’s member site, but I’m hoping to at least post excerpts here.

After that I went down to the bar and ended up talking with a gaggle of folks (I’m trying not to turn this into namedropper central) about Readercon, Philcon, Lunacon, and other events of days gone by. Gardner Dozois told a hilarious story of the time he and George R.R. Martin, both young and broke, went around a convention trying to find an editor who would buy them dinner, and finally one took pity on them and got them each a hot dog from the cart outside the hotel. Be kind, editors! You never know who that pesky young writer will be someday.

I ran into James Patrick Kelly, who somehow talked me into being on a 10 a.m. panel tomorrow about e-books and self-publishing; this is what I get for snubbing the convention program. I did actually go to a panel, too: Jim Kelly, Connie Willis, John Scalzi, and James Morrow talking about how to write humor. They were all very responsible about staying on topic rather than zinging off snappy one-liners, but Scalzi managed to do both by describing The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as “an extinction-level event for comedic science fiction.”

After that was the mass signing, which I endured for about an hour before fleeing to my room for a blissful hour of peace and quiet. I went back downstairs at about 7:15 to find several people discussing an email that had just been sent out by Jason Williams of Night Shade Books. (He also sent me a copy with permission to quote from it.) Night Shade’s had a couple of hard years; Williams cited the collapse of Borders and difficulties with a distributor, and also admitted that when SFWA put Night Shade on probation, they “needed the kick to get our affairs in order” and have continued to struggle to make payments on time (which may be why Cat Valente recently announced she would no longer be working with them). None of that is really news, though. The newsworthy bits are three:

  1. Night Shade has signed a distribution deal with PGW, including domestic and international e-book distribution through Constellation. “Ebook sales since we went live with Constellation in December have literally doubled.”
  2. They’ve also signed “a huge audiobook deal, that will not only include 20-30 backlist titles, but also a guaranteed audio rights deal for every non-reprint novel we have going forward.”
  3. “A wave of checks will go out at the end of this month, and another will go out in early July. After that, we’ll be paying bills in the beginning of every month…. We are making more than we are spending, and that means that we are operating with cash left over to pay off that back debt. It’s not going to happen overnight, but I’m going to be doing my best to make sure that everyone that is owed is getting money on a regular basis.”

Most of the reactions I heard were variations on the theme of “We’ll see”. I think it’s great that Night Shade is continuing to look to the future, but I suspect they’ll have image problems long after those debts are paid off (assuming they do get paid off).

I pulled myself away from the conversation for a wonderful dinner with Geoff Ryman and James Morrow at a nearby Ethiopian restaurant (thanks to Eileen Gunn for the kind recommendation), and came back fashionably late for the nominees’ reception. In a bit of accidental comedy, Scalzi left E. Lily Yu off the list of short story nominees (an error he quickly corrected) and then sent them through the wrong door for their group photograph. I caught up with Lily a bit later and she said happily, “That was actually the best thing that could have happened. I was so nervous before, but after walking into a supply closet with Adam-Troy Castro and Sheila Williams, now I’m not nervous at all!” So if you have pre-award jitters, supply closets are apparently the way to go.

I circulated and chatted for a while, and eventually the party shut down; most people decamped to the bar, but I wanted to spare my voice for the panel (seriously, why did I agree to do that), so Danielle and I got tea from the consuite and then headed for our room. I ironed all my shirts, hung up my suit, realized with some vexation that I had left my captoes at home and would be stuck wearing less formal shoes, and sat down to write this post. Now, to sleep. Tomorrow, the awards!

Reading Between the Lines

A friend pointed me to this sale page on the Night Shade Books website (emphasis mine):

It’s not a secret to anyone that publishing, and the book biz in general, has been pretty rough over the last year. Borders going out of business, plus them selling off their existing inventory at huge discounts, has really put a pinch on everyone. More so on those of us who don’t have huge international conglomerates to back us up.

So it’s time to turn to that old chestnut, the 50% off sale. But this is a little different. In the past when we did this, it was more about clearing out inventory and making space for new books… it’s still kind of like that, but it’s also about getting caught up after the Publishing Apocalypse of 2011.

If you’ve ever thought that Night Shade does nice work, or want to support independent publishing that brings you new voices, stories, and ideas you wouldn’t run across otherwise, now is the time to show your support! Know that every book you buy in this sale is putting money directly into the pockets of authors, artists, designers, and all the other fantastic people that allow us to put out great books each and every month. Pass the word, mention it on your website/Facebook/Twitter/whatever your social media of choice is.

In addition, we will be adding a few new things. We’ll be opening up a very limited number of lifetime subscriptions again, as well as holding daily raffles. Each day, we’ll pick a winner from people who placed an order that day, and there are some very nifty prizes, as well as a final raffle that we’ll find the winner for from anyone who placed an order during the entire sale.

Make no mistake, Night Shade isn’t going anywhere. The future looks bright, and some huge changes are coming. But the last year hurt, and we could really use a little help getting caught back up.

Those bolded lines are particularly interesting in light of the SFWA probation period that ended recently. I’m curious about those “huge changes” in store, too. If I were a Night Shade author, I’d be ever so slightly nervous that my publisher felt the need to reassure people that it aten’t dead–and that it’s really definitely for sure going to pay its contributors. I hope the sale has its intended effect.

Link Roundup

Some very good and very sad news today.

  • A couple of years ago, I wrote, “If I could subscribe to a publisher like a magazine or a book club—one flat annual fee to get everything they publish—I would subscribe to CZP.” Today ChiZine publisher Brett Savory wrote to me to say that I (and you) can do just that: they now offer e-book only, trade paper + e-book, and limited hardcover + e-book annual subscriptions, all with heavy discounts. Details here.
  • Author Spider Robinson’s daughter has been diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Spider’s wife and longtime collaborator, Jeanne, died in 2010 after her own battle with cancer. I hope that family catches a break very soon. (h/t to James Nicoll)
  • Over on PWxyz, Peter Brantley smacks Penguin into the middle of next week with a brilliant essay on the importance of e-book lending.
  • Paul Cornell pledges to evict himself from any convention panels he’s on where men outnumber women, and to invite a female audience member to replace him. Reactions predictably vary. (h/t to Graham Sleight)

Link Roundup

Lots of interesting news tidbits hitting the inbox today:

Night Shade Returns to the Fold

Remember back when authors complained about Night Shade Books’s publishing practice and SFWA put Night Shade on a year’s probation? (If you don’t, context is here and here and here.) Well, it’s been a year–a bit more than a year, actually, but SFWA was waiting for numbers from the end of the year to be crunched–and according to this letter from SFWA, the probation has had its intended effect: Night Shade has shaped up and is back in good standing.

Dear SFWA members:

As many of you are aware, on July 8, 2010 the SFWA board of directors voted unanimously to place Night Shade Books on probation for a period of one year, following concerns about contractual issues with their authors.

SFWA asked Night Shade to meet a series of benchmarks as a measure of a good faith effort to return to a solid standing. After a review of Night Shade Books and after requesting information from our members about the publisher’s activities during the period of probation, based upon the information currently available, the board believes that Night Shade has met the following conditions for it to remain on the qualifying list after its probation period:

  • That it examined its catalogue to ensure it is no longer offering fiction in formats for which it has no rights, and makes whole those authors whose rights it has violated;
  • That it instituted procedures and hired sufficient staff to ensure accurate record keeping for contracts and payments, both for previously published and future authors;
  • That there are no instances of contractual violations on the part of Night Shade Books against authors signed to publishing deals after the start of the probationary period.
  • Night Shade Books fulfills its contractual and financial obligations to the authors it has already published, including full and accurate accounting of royalties per contract, with payment of any royalties outstanding.

Therefore, the term of probation for Night Shade is lifted. Fiction contracted during that term is acceptable for qualification for SFWA membership. It may remain on the list so long as it continues to fulfill its contractual obligations to its authors and meets SFWA’s qualifying market standards. SFWA remains interested in the health of Night Shade books and will act at any time to deal with a member complaint against Night Shade.

We look forward to working with them and are glad that SFWA is able to retain Night Shade Books as a SFWA qualifying market.

I’m very pleased to see that the Night Shade folks are getting their act together; they put out a lot of great books and work with a lot of great authors who deserve to get paid and otherwise treated well. It’s also a feather in SFWA’s cap, and a testament to the power of whistleblowing. I’d call it a win all around.

Authors Say Agents Try to “Straighten” Gay Characters in YA

Editor’s note: The text of this post was written by Rachel Manija Brown, author of All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, and Sherwood Smith, author of Crown Duel and a great many other novels for adults and young adults. I am posting it in order to provide a pseudonymity-friendly space for comments from authors who have had similar experiences to the ones that Rachel and Sherwood describe. I strongly encourage all authors, agents, editors, publishers, and readers to contribute to a serious and honest conversation on the value and drawbacks of gatekeeping with regard to minority characters, authors, and readers, and to continue that conversation in all areas of the industry. –Rose


 Say Yes To Gay YA

By Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

We are published authors who co-wrote a post-apocalyptic young adult novel. When we set out to find an agent for it, we expected to get some rejections. But we never expected to be offered representation… on the condition that we make a gay character straight, or cut him out altogether.

Our novel, Stranger, has five viewpoint characters; one, Yuki Nakamura, is gay and has a boyfriend. Yuki’s romance, like the heterosexual ones in the novel, involves nothing more explicit than kissing.

An agent from a major agency, one which represents a bestselling YA novel in the same genre as ours, called us.

The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.

Rachel replied, “Making a gay character straight is a line in the sand which I will not cross. That is a moral issue. I work with teenagers, and some of them are gay. They never get to read fantasy novels where people like them are the heroes, and that’s not right.”

The agent suggested that perhaps, if the book was very popular and sequels were demanded, Yuki could be revealed to be gay in later books, when readers were already invested in the series.

We knew this was a pie-in-the-sky offer—who knew if there would even be sequels?—and didn’t solve the moral issue. When you refuse to allow major characters in YA novels to be gay, you are telling gay teenagers that they are so utterly horrible that people like them can’t even be allowed to exist in fiction.

LGBTQ teenagers already get told this. They are four times more likely than straight teenagers to attempt suicide. We’re not saying that the absence of LGBTQ teens in YA sf and fantasy novels is the reason for that. But it’s part of the overall social prejudice that does cause that killing despair.

We wrote this novel so that the teenagers we know—some of whom are gay, and many of whom are not white—would be able, for once, to read a fun post-apocalyptic adventure in which they are the heroes. And we were told that such a thing could not be allowed.

After we thanked the agent for their time, declined the offer, and hung up, Sherwood broke the silence. “Do you think the agent missed that Becky and Brisa [supporting characters] are a couple, too? Do they ever actually kiss on-page? No? I’M ADDING A LESBIAN KISS NOW!”

This Is Not About One Bad Apple

This isn’t about that specific agent; we’d gotten other rewrite requests before this one. Previous agents had also offered to take a second look if we did rewrites… including cutting the viewpoint of Yuki, the gay character. We wondered if that was because of his sexual orientation, but since the agents didn’t say it out loud, we could only wonder. (We were also told that it is absolutely unacceptable in YA for a boy to consensually date two girls, but that it would be okay if he was cheating and lying. And we wonder if some agents were put off because none of our POV characters are white.)

We absolutely do not believe that all our rejections were due to prejudice. We know for a fact that some of them weren’t. (An agent did offer us representation, but we ended up passing due to creative differences that had nothing to do with the identities of the characters.)

This isn’t about one agent’s personal feelings about gay people. We don’t know their feelings; they may well be sympathetic in their private life, but regard the removal of gay characters as a marketing issue. The conversation made it clear that the agent thought our book would be an easy sale if we just made that change. But it doesn’t matter if the agent rejected the character because of personal feelings or because of assumptions about the market. What matters is that a gay character would be quite literally written out of his own story.

We are avoiding names because we don’t want this story to be about one agent who spoke more bluntly than others whose objections were more indirectly expressed. Naming names can make it too easy to target a lone “villain,” who can be blamed and scolded until everyone feels that the matter has been satisfactorily dealt with.

Forcing all major characters in YA novels into a straight white mold is a widespread, systemic problem which requires long-term, consistent action.

When we privately discussed our encounter with the agent, we heard from other writers whose prospective agents made altering a character’s minority identity—sexual orientation, race, disability—a condition of representation. But other than Jessica Verday, who refused to change a character’s gender in a short story on an editor’s request, few writers have come forward for fear of being blacklisted.

We sympathize with that fear. But we believe that silence, however well-motivated and reasonable from a marketing point of view, allows the problem to flourish. We hope that others will speak up as well, in whatever manner is safe and comfortable for them.

The overwhelming white straightness of the YA sf and fantasy sections may have little to do with what authors are writing, or even with what editors accept. Perhaps solid manuscripts with LGBTQ protagonists rarely get into mainstream editors’ hands at all, because they are been rejected by agents before the editors see them. How many published novels with a straight white heroine and a lesbian or black or disabled best friend once had those roles reversed, before an agent demanded a change?

This does not make for better novels. Nor does it make for a better world.

Let’s make a better world.

What You Can Do

If You’re An Editor: Some agents are turning down manuscripts or requesting rewrites because they think that the identities of the characters will make the book unsalable. That means that you, who might love those characters, never even get to see them.

If you are open to novels featuring LGBTQ protagonists or major characters, you can help by saying so explicitly. When agents realize that LGBTQ content does not lead to a lost sale, they will be less likely to demand that it be removed.

The same goes for other identity issues. If you are interested in YA fantasy/sf with protagonists who are disabled, or aren’t white, or otherwise don’t fit the usual mold, please explicitly say so. General statements of being pro-diversity don’t seem to get the point across. We ask you to issue a clear, unmistakable statement that you would like to see books with protagonists or major characters who are LGBTQ, people of color, disabled, or any combination of the above.

If You’re An Agent: If you are open to manuscripts with major or main LGBTQ characters, please explicitly say so in your listings and websites. Just as with editors, simply saying “we appreciate diversity” could mean anything. (In fact, the agent who asked us to make our gay character straight had made such mentions.) You can throw the gates open by making a clear and unmistakable statement with details. For instance: “I would love to see books whose characters are diverse in all or any respects, including but not limited to gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, and national origin.”

If You’re A Reader: Please vote with your pocketbooks and blogs by buying, reading, reviewing, and asking libraries to buy existing YA fantasy/sf with LGBTQ protagonists or major characters. If those books succeed financially, more like them will be written, represented, and sold. Your reviews don’t have to be positive; any publicity is good publicity. Review on blogs, Amazon, Goodreads, anywhere you yourself read reviews.

An annotated list of YA sf/fantasy with main or major LGBTQ characters is available here, with links to Amazon. Please bookmark this list for reference. It will continue to be updated as new books are released.

Characters of color/non-white characters are often also relegated to the status of sidekicks in YA sff, and are depicted as white on the covers of the few books in which they do star. Please vote with your pocketbooks and blogs to support novels in which they are protagonists.

An annotated list of YA sf/fantasy with protagonists of color is available here, with links to Amazon. Part I: Author surnames from A – L. Part II: Author surnames from M – Z. Please bookmark these lists for reference. They will continue to be updated as new books are released.

The usual protagonist of a YA sf/fantasy novel is a heterosexual white girl or boy with no disabilities or mental/neurological issues, no stated religion, and no specific ethnicity. Reading and reviewing novels whose characters break that mold in other ways would also be a step forward.

If You’re A Writer: If you have had a manuscript rejected because of the identity of the characters, or had an agent or editor request that you alter the identity of a character, please tell your story. Comment here, or leave a link to your own blog post. If you would prefer to use a pseudonym, feel free to do so; see this post for more information on Genreville’s pseudonymous comments policy and credibility verification option.

If You’re Anyone At All: Please link to this article. (If you link on Twitter, please use the #YesGayYA hashtag.) If enough people read it and take the suggestions, enormous and wonderful changes could take place.

Who We Are

This article was written by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith. Rachel Manija Brown is a TV writer, poet, and author of the memoir All the Fishes Come Home to Roost: An American Misfit in India. Sherwood Smith has published more than thirty fantasy and science fiction novels, including the adult fantasies Inda and Coronets and Steel, and the YA fantasy Crown Duel. Together, we created an animated TV series, Game World, which we sold to the Jim Henson Company.

Our YA post-apocalyptic novel, Stranger, remains unagented and unsold.

—–

Editor’s note: Please see the follow-up post here.

Official Statements

In my post about “Hamlet’s Father”, I said I didn’t expect Marvin Kaye or Tor Books to disavow or apologize for publishing it in The Ghost Quartet. I was half wrong! Kaye posted this comment:

For the record, when I put together “The Ghost Quartet” for Tor Books, Scott Card was not my choice to be one of the four contributors. Not because I do not respect his work; in the past I have bought an original dragon novella from him, and reprinted his horror classic, “Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory.” However, Tor insisted that Scott be one of the contributors to “The Ghost Quartet.” When approached, he tried to beg off because he was under such deadline pressure that he warned it would take him a very long time to write something new for the book.

However, Tor Books insisted that he MUST be one of the quartet. Tor made it clear they would not publish “The Ghost Quartet” unless Scott was part of the mix. As a result, he was over a year late delivering his manuscript, by which time one of the other authors was very angry at me.

So that is something like a disavowal, sort of. Meanwhile, Tor sent me this statement:

Orson Scott Card is a very successful author for Tor. We do not attempt to censor the political or religious beliefs of any of our authors, and make our acquisition decisions based on commercial potential.

Finally, Card himself has posted on his website calling the PW review “dishonest” and responding to other “false statements”:

[T]here is no link whatsoever between homosexuality and pedophilia in this book. Hamlet’s father, in the book, is a pedophile, period. I don’t show him being even slightly attracted to adults of either sex. It is the reviewer, not me, who has asserted this link, which I would not and did not make. [...]

[S]ince I have become a target of vilification by the hate groups of the Left, I am increasingly reluctant to have any gay characters in my fiction, because I know that no matter how I depict them, I will be accused of homophobia. The result is that my work is distorted by not having gay characters where I would normally have had them — for which I will also, no doubt, be accused of homophobia. [...]

I’m as proud of the story as ever, and I hope readers will experience the story as it was intended to be read.

I conclude with a link to the response from Subterranean Press again, just to have all the official statements in one place.

James Nicoll quotes “a source” with access to Bookscan numbers as saying that The Ghost Quartet sold around 100 copies. I guess that commercial potential wasn’t as thoroughly fulfilled as anyone involved with the project might have liked.

The Offensiveness Grenade

In 2008, the Science Fiction Book Club Tor Books published an anthology called The Ghost Quartet, edited by Marvin Kaye, which contained a novella by Orson Scott Card called “Hamlet’s Father”. Tor Books reprinted the anthology. (See comments for discussions of the struck-through text.) No one appeared to notice that the novella rather painfully rewrote Hamlet to postulate that Hamlet’s father was an evil gay child molester who preyed upon the youth of Denmark.

Among those who missed the memo were the folks at Subterranean Press, who published the novella in a stand-alone edition in April of this year. Yes, this is the same Subterranean Press that publishes books by authors like Caitlín R. Kiernan and Poppy Z. Brite–hardly a bastion of homophobia. They kept the print run to 1000 copies, perhaps realizing the book would hold little appeal for anyone other than Card’s die-hard fans. PW‘s review was less than complimentary, and explicitly called out “the focus… on linking homosexuality with the life-destroying horrors of pedophilia”. Nonetheless, Hamlet’s Father almost entirely escaped the notice of the SF/F field’s queer activists.

On September 5th, William Alexander reviewed the book in Rain Taxi‘s online summer 2011 edition, calling it “as horrifying as it is ridiculous” and “a failure of narrative craft on every level”, and after three years of sitting there with the pin pulled out, the offensiveness grenade went off. Outraged blog posts, comments, and tweets sprang up. Felix Gilman suggested that the book could be followed by Unambiguously Antisemitic Merchant of Venice, while Arthur Hlavaty said he was waiting for “the one where that Muslim sumbitch Othello deserved to die.” Scott Lynch posted a “so much less gay and not written with gay big words” version of Henry V. Even @HAMLET_HULK weighed in. Outraged letters began arriving at SubPress; publisher Bill Schafer posted an official response bravely asking for more comments and promising to share them with senior staff and take them into consideration when making future acquisitions. Perhaps this request will redirect the ire from blogs and Twitter to the SubPress inbox; perhaps not.

Schafer professed surprise at the sudden and vitriolic response, given that the novella has been in circulation for years and was originally put out by much bigger publishers in much bigger print runs with much lower price tags. Not mentioned but relevant is Card’s long-established reputation for homophobic writing. Most queer readers are avoiding his work already, so why would anyone kick up a fuss over one little novella with a 1000-copy print run from a boutique press? But this is the thing about offensiveness grenades: they may look entirely inert for so long that you forget they’re dangerous, but sooner or later, they explode.

I expect a lot of people will be vexed that Schafer doesn’t explicitly disavow or apologize for the book. (I don’t expect Tor, the SFBC,  Marvin Kaye, or Card to disavow or apologize for it either.) It is worth keeping in mind, though, that SubPress has a pretty good track record of publishing queer and queer-friendly work. I know Bill Schafer well enough to believe him when he says they’ll read and respect the comments that come in. So disavowal or no, I’m hoping for the response that matters most: publishing better, smarter, kinder books. And I hope lots of people write not only to SubPress but to all their favorite publishers and ask for more representation and more respect.

EDIT: There’s some good discussion of the book and OSC’s work on Metafilter, and MegWrites is compiling a list of queer books mentioned with the #buyabiggaynovelforscottcardday hashtag on Twitter.

EDIT 2: All comments are now being moderated. I will err on the side of encouraging discussion, but I will be redacting personal attacks, trolling, and other off-topic material.

Publisher News from Worldcon

I need to go get four hours of sleep before getting on my flight home, so here’s the big official non-Hugos news from Worldcon in brief:

  • Angry Robot is creating a home for fan fiction and fan art based on some of their books (presumably the ones whose authors have given an explicit go-ahead). The “best” of the works submitted will be published in anthologies, linking this venture to the long tradition of shared-world anthologies. The big question, of course, is whether the fanfic-authorized books are the ones fans will want to write fanfic for, but it’s terrific to see a publisher encouraging and approving fan creations.
  • Tor/Forge is collaborating with NASA to produce “NASA-inspired works of fiction”, sending authors to Goddard to meet with NASA staff and tour the facilities. This sounds a lot like Launch Pad, but with less emphasis on astronomy and more on space exploration, and of course with the Tor/Forge branding.

Also Kim Stanley Robinson told me all about the novel he’s writing but I’m not allowed to tell anyone else. Sorry about that.

If you haven’t had enough of the Hugos, there’s a round-up of reactions at Strange Horizons. And if you want a little extra glee in your day, load up the UStream video of the ceremony and fast-forward to the bookmark labeled “The Garcia Moment”. There’s also video of the hilarious “Just a Minute” Masquerade halftime show, which is an excellent way to spend an hour when you really ought to be going to bed.

…oops.

Catching Up

Cool things that have hit my inbox in the past week:

I have fought both my personal and my work inboxes down from hundreds to dozens of messages, so this should be the last linkdump for a while. Of course, people do keep posting interesting things…

Friday Links

I go to conventions, you get linkspam.

  • PW reviewer Adam Lipkin points to the trailer for Juan of the Dead, billed as “Cuba’s first horror movie”.
  • I went to high school with a lot of nifty nerdy people. One of them is science journalist Charles Q. Choi. He emailed me today to let me know that he’s starting a feature for Scientific American where he writes SF short-shorts and pairs them with science news related to the story. Here’s the launch piece. I love the idea and can’t wait to see where it goes.
  • On the World SF Blog, Aliette de Bodard (France), Joyce Chng (Singapore), Csilla Kleinheincz (Hungary), Kate Elliott (US), Karen Lord (Barbados), and Ekaterina Sedia (Russia/US) talk about (global) women in science fiction. Set aside some time to read the whole thing.
  • SFWA reports on Night Shade Books’s probation status.

If you want to know how I’m doing over the weekend, follow the #readercon hashtag on Twitter and picture me jumping up and down with joy every time someone says something nice about a panel. Regular operations resume on Monday.

Book Smugglers on Blogger–Publisher Relationships

From the fabulous Book Smugglers blog comes an incisive piece on the complex relationship between bloggers and publishers:

The idea seems to be that because book bloggers are not part of some larger, professional (read: paid) organization, because we run the gamut from teenagers to housewives, we are not on the level. We should be happy with the free books and any other extras we receive – and in return for those ARCs/galleys/review copies, we automatically are inured to a bizarre power hierarchy in which bloggers are expected to do certain things. And the worst part is, we’ve noticed that this assumption of being indebted to publishers stems from bloggers.

This, dear readers, makes us a little bit frustrated.

…The thing is, we bloggers have worked long and hard to build our readerships. As we’ve always seen it, as book bloggers, our responsibility is to our readers. Period. This relationship with our readers is based on trust, and that trust can only happen if readers know that we are being not only completely and totally honest in our reviews but also about how we get our review copies (this is why full disclosure is so important).

Go read the whole post. It’s terrific.

I do want to note that the situation is the same for professional, paid reviewers. PW is partially funded by advertisements from publishers–and I believe that many book blogs likewise accept and run publisher ads–but we keep a very high wall between advertising and editorial. On the reviewing side, our first obligation is always to our readers. Why would a publisher, or anyone else, expect that to be different for a blogger than it is for a magazine?

Maybe the issue is that publishers think of bloggers as fans, as consumers of books, rather than as producers of content. If so, that’s a fairly major mistake. The whole point of blogging and of reviewing is that you’re not contented just to consume; you feel driven to share your opinions and thoughts with the world. If we weren’t writing about books we’d be writing about movies or restaurants or politicians. Books just happen to be the lens through which we focus our opinionatedness and need to reach out and connect with other people. So we can’t be bribed with freebies or made to feel beholden to publishers, because our priority isn’t scoring a particular item or favor for ourselves; it’s creating good content and good relationships with our readers.

Of course we see ourselves as being on an equal footing with publishers. We’re in the same business! And they need us to review their books as much as we need them to keep putting out books for us to review–maybe even more. So a little respect, if you please, and more self-respect among bloggers would probably be a good thing too. We need to collectively put paid to this notion of indebtedness. Otherwise, we’re just writing glorified blurbs for well below the going rate.

I wonder how much of this comes from a lot of book bloggers being female. We’re taught to be self-effacing, to acknowledge the contributions of others before we admit to pride in our own accomplishments, to be grateful for what we have rather than asking for more. It’s high time for that to change.

Brian Keene Calls for Dorchester Boycott

Dorchester is struggling to come back from the brink of dissolution, and in the process they seem to be angering a lot of authors. Brian Keene, who published several books through Dorchester’s Leisure imprint, says he agreed to relinquish any claim on funds owed to him in exchange for the full print and digital rights to his books. He also says that Dorchester isn’t honoring this agreement:

Since January of this year, unauthorized digital editions of my work have been sold via Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and Sony. These digital editions were not made available for sale until well after the rights had reverted back to me. Dorchester’s response, in each case, has been to blame someone else and assure me that “they are looking into it” and that I would be “financially compensated” and that “it wouldn’t happen again”. Except that I haven’t been financially compensated and it keeps happening again.

…If you care about horror fiction, and more importantly, if you care about the people who write horror fiction for a living, and if you disagree with this publisher’s methods, history, and “mistakes”, then please consider withholding your financial support of Dorchester Publishing and Leisure Books. Boycott them.

Keene’s list of people who have committed to the boycott includes Haikasoru editor Nick Mamatas (who commented that “the fact that they barely release anything makes [a boycott] easy!”), bestselling author F. Paul Wilson, and the World Horror Convention. The #boycottdorchester hashtag is also getting a fair amount of Twitter traffic.

Meanwhile, Dorchester sent out a message to their email promotion list, asking which of their former print books should be released as e-books. Robert Swartwood says this isn’t as innocent as it sounds:

What’s happening here is while Leisure is on the cusp of being forced to give back the rights to many of its authors because those authors’ books are about to go out of print, they’re looking for reasons to keep those books in print and hence hold onto those rights.

It seems very clear that both publishers and authors need to be really careful about digital rights, especially when digital publication can affect whether a book is in print (a contractual term with a lot of implications). It’s very easy to track whether physical books are showing up in bookstores despite the publisher not having the rights to print or sell those books. It can be trickier to prove that a digital store didn’t accidentally flip the “in print”/”out of print” bit on their source copy of a file that they got from the publisher years ago when the publisher did indeed have the rights to create and sell the e-book. And when digital publishing can be used to keep a book in print long after the author expected their rights to revert, while not contributing to the physical sales numbers in Bookscan that can significantly affect an author’s future contracts and career, the consequences to that author can be significant.

Consider this mess yet another argument for having a good agent–and a good lawyer.

Twitter: The New Publisher Recruitment Tool

Remember some years ago when the big shocking thing was John Scalzi getting a book deal with Tor because of material he posted to his website? Well, move over, WordPress: publishers are now finding new authors through Twitter. I just got this press release from Angry Robot:

Those busy metal fellows at dynamic SF publishing imprint Angry Robot have pounced upon the debut novel of British-based New Zealander ADAM CHRISTOPHER.

Christopher is well-known to many at the heart of the British science fiction community through his strong presence on Twitter, under the nickname @ghostfinder. It was through reading his posts that AR first became aware of him – a lesson to other prospective authors, perhaps. In keeping with Angry Robot’s emphasis on the new channels for promoting all of its authors, he will of course continue to promote his work via Twitter.

The deal, for world rights to two novels across all formats, was done between Christopher and Angry Robot editor Lee Harris.

Actually, the parallel isn’t so much between blogging and Twitter as it is between face-to-face networking and social media. Obviously Christopher wasn’t posting novel excerpts to his Twitter feed. In an interview at Floor to Ceiling Books, he says that connecting on Twitter was just the first step in a mostly conventional in-person process:

The whole submission process was pretty straightforward – I knew the Angry Robot guys online (as the press release says, nothing would have happened if it hadn’t been for Twitter!) and sometime in mid-2010 I dropped by their office for a visit. Over lunch I described Empire State, and outlined a few other novels I’ve also written (including Seven Wonders). Marc and Lee liked what they heard and invited me to send it in.

After that it was pretty much the usual thing – sample chapters and a full synopsis, and then the full manuscript was requested. The whole process from that initial meeting to signing the contract took about nine months. People talk about the publishing industry being slow but it’s a complicated business. There were a lot of individual stages and checkpoints that Empire State had to get through before they made the offer.

So it’s not actually that knowing publishers on Twitter will get you a book deal, any more than having lunch with publishers will get you a book deal. What will actually get you a book deal is having written a book that a publisher thinks is worth buying. It probably helps to have a foot in the door, but there are, if you will pardon the tortured analogy, many kinds of feet that can be wedged in there: connecting on Twitter, meeting at a convention, having a good agent.

Speaking of which, I note that Christopher negotiated his own book deal, and take this as an opportunity to remind writers that agents are not just matchmakers who can be bypassed if you have other ways of getting your synopsis and chapters in front of someone with buying power. Agents are there to make sure you get as much money as possible and don’t inadvertently sign a contract that will come back to bite you later. As Theodora Goss says, “When I’m going over contracts, I’m actually grateful that I was a corporate lawyer, because at least I know what the various parts of the contract are for. How do people who aren’t lawyers do it?” The buying and selling of books remains a business, regardless of how those first introductions are made, and I hope authors will keep treating it as one even if their publishers are also their friends—or their social media “friends”.

New Stross from Orbit

Commissioning editor Bella Pagan at Orbit Books UK has announced the acquisition of three new titles from Locus and Hugo Aaward winning cross-genre author Charles Stross.  The titles are The Apocalypse Codex, Neptune’s Brood, and The Lambda Functionary. The first title is a new book in Stross’s popular Laundry Files novels. Stross informs his readers that Neptune’s Brood is a space opera set in the Saturn’s Children universe and The Lambda Functionary is a near future thriller set in the Halting State and Rule 34 universe.

Saturn’s Children, Halting State and the previous Laundry Files novels were released in the US through Ace.

Is the Free the Enemy of the Paid?

When I posted my list of places to get legally free fiction online, commenter T Moore replied: “As a struggling writer and publisher you just put a nail in my coffin.”

I’d like to open this up for wider discussion.

People have more options for ways to spend their sitting-and-looking-at-something time than ever before. Books used to compete with newspapers and magazines, and then with films and television; now they also compete with video games and the entirety of the internet. So I’m not surprised that Moore feels threatened by a blog post that promotes cut-throat competitors who can’t be undercut because they’ve already dropped the access price to zero. Obviously, all things being equal, people will choose free entertainment over entertainment they have to pay for.

My question is whether all things are in fact equal.

There are lots of reasons that people spend money. Some people pay $30 for exquisite hardcover reprints of novellas while others read the same novellas online. They’re paying for a sensual experience that cannot be had for free. I get lots of books for free from work, but I still buy books written by my favorite authors, or published by my favorite publishers; I see those purchases almost like charitable donations, a way of saying that these people make my world better and I want them to be able to keep doing that. I’m paying for the feeling of contributing to my community. People also happily pay for scarcity (limited editions), personalization (author inscriptions), and convenience (faster shipping).

Most pertinent to this conversation is that people pay for the expectation of quality. I would suggest that those legal free fiction venues introduce readers to new authors, help readers build up an expectation of quality work from those authors, and thereby encourage them to later pay for those authors’ new works.* In addition, the readers get lots of information and entertainment for very little investment of time and no investment of funds. As someone who’s in favor of reading and encouraging readers, I think this is a pretty valuable service to provide to the reading community.

* It’s no coincidence that many people, most recently and famously Neil Gaiman, say the same thing about pirated books. That conversation has been had many times in many other places and I don’t feel a need to recapitulate it here, but I figure someone else will bring it up if I don’t head it off. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s focus solely on legal entertainment.

So who loses out, in this world? As far as I can tell, only authors who haven’t earned that readerly expectation of quality (because their work is poor or because they haven’t gotten a lot of exposure), and publishers that don’t provide an unusual and valuable service or experience. And in both cases, I don’t think the existence of free entertainment options is really the problem.

Bring on the discussion; just keep it reasonably civil, please.