publishing

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Undersold.

I published my book with Simon & Schuster, but before I sold the proposal to them I put the book proposal – which is basically the idea for the book without the full story fleshed out – up for auction. I got five bids when I put out my proposal. There were more than five editors who wanted to make a bid, it’s just that some of those editors were at imprints owned by the same conglomerate, and conglomerates don’t let their subsidiary imprints bid against each other. In other words, because of previous publishing mergers, the auction had an artificially low number of bidders, meaning that the price was likely lower than it should have been.

Matt Stoller on competition.

Tl;dr extreme consolidation in the publishing industry hurts authors.

Five is, not coincidentally, the number of big publishing conglomerates that existed when Stoller sold his book (S&S, Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan). If he’d done it today, he likely would’ve only gotten four bids…

2021-01-11T08:56:13+11:009th February, 2021|Tags: |

And then there were four.

I would have added: “You know Random House was built on right-wing politics, no? Ayn Rand […] was a staple of our list in our glory years, and she’s still a significant contributor under Signet, one of our ‘classics’ imprints.”

And more: “We also publish George W. Bush and Henry Kissinger and the Fifty Shades Trilogy. And you’re all complicit. Don’t be suckered by the shell game. Don’t think your hands are clean because you work at the other end of the hall. It’s all Penguin Random House, and you’re complicit in all of it.”

As for the evasions: “Of course, we hid the damn thing from you. We can’t have tantrums getting in the way of business. Next year’s budget, our current staffing levels, and lots of things we like to do as a publishing company depend upon this book. It’s JBP or the 2021 Christmas party. Think about that.”

And: “As for the anti-racist and allyship things, of course it’s performative. All corporate social responsibility stunts by all publicly-held companies are performative. But we probably do some good regardless, and at least we weren’t partnering with WE.”

On publishing’s shell game.

Tl;dr commercial publishing is dominated by formerly five, now four publishing companies. That’s it; that’s, like, 99% of all books you’ll ever see. Everything else, all the little “brands” you see on books spines, are “imprints” which is basically a shell game publishing houses play to pretend there’s more diversity in the market than there actually is.

For full disclosure, Liesmith and Stormbringer were published by Random House basically at the time of its merger with Penguin. It was an… interesting time. And also a massive professional mistake on my end but, eh. Hindsight and all that.

2021-01-06T08:57:22+11:0030th January, 2021|Tags: |

Tools of corporate power.

“The companies see talent as disposable, because so many people want to break into comics,” Seidman said. While some individuals at a given company might fight for a creator, the corporate structure as a whole is completely unaccountable. “There’s no shortage of people to fill spaces. Once you get past the people they really want to keep because they mean sales, they don’t give a fuck.”

Economic exploitation creates the conditions for sexual exploitation to flourish, and the comics industry as it currently exists cannot address the one without tackling the other. Sexual harassment, in all its various forms, is not simply a social problem; it is theft—of a victim’s time, dignity, of their ability to create work in peace and pursue financial or social opportunities. Moreover, it is theft of a creator’s ability to pursue a livelihood in their chosen field. Harassers don’t simply prey on those made vulnerable by precarity: they actively make the spaces and institutions they inhabit more precarious, and keep workers disorganized and afraid to the company’s financial benefit. Think of it, if you like, as grooming on a grand scale: the cultivation of a workforce that can be trusted to go along with sexual and economic exploitation—to grin through clenched teeth, to say nothing out of fear—and drive out those who can’t.

Asher Elbein on labor rights.

This exact same atmosphere (of fawning over badly behaving superstars while treating everyone else like disposable churn) is also part of the reason I bailed on Big 5 publishing…

2020-10-20T08:05:21+11:0026th October, 2020|Tags: , , , |

Everything sucks (especially publishing).

I have… so many Thoughts™ about this post from Foz Meadows. Not directly related to her experiences but by golly if general shape isn’t familiar, and… well.

I never really talk about this publicly, because the Code Of Silence surrounding the publishing industry really is desperately heavy and thick, but there were basically two Incidents that caused me to abandon my never-particularly-successful writing “career”.

The first I’ve alluded to previously, and was essentially that the third Wyrdverse book got canned because the publisher wanted substantial re-writes to re-frame the story from what it was—basically focusing on a broken interpersonal relationship between a sexual abuse survivor, a lesbian filmmaker, a young trans boy, and girl-version!Lain—into… a mainstream m/m romance that would appeal to the publisher’s perception of the m/m market as being middle-class straight white cis women.1

The second was being told, by multiple different publishers, that Elias of Dragon of Rosemont High was unsympathetic because—and I am absolutely not making this up—he’s bullied. The fact that he’s black and the character who’s bullying him is white? And that that dynamic is repeatedly pointed out by Elias himself, even though technically the motivation for the bullying is eventually revealed to have a different rationale?2  I’m su-uu-uu-ure has nothing to do with it.

And I bring this up not because I think my experiences are anything as bad as what Meadows went through—mine were just frustrating and disappointing, not actively traumatic—but I guess just… to have this out there. The degrees and details vary, but I’ve heard the same story over and over since, always whispered quietly in the back of the barcon. Because the publishing industry runs entirely on the hopes and dreams of people who know, deeply and completely, that they are worth nothing and can be replaced at any time.3 And no-one wants to be That Author, and every pressure—from your agents, your publishers—is to be Positive At All Times At All Costs. So nothing gets said, and nothing gets done, and the cycle repeats.

Same shit, different day.

  1. See also: arguing with the publisher over the sex scene in Stormbringer. They wanted it rewritten with Lain in his male human form, again to appeal to some supposed “mainstream” m/m audience. []
  2. And actually an even more different one, if I ever actually wrote more books in that series… []
  3. If you’ve ever wondered why so many people who “make it” in publishing seem to be assholes? Ta-daa! []

Too close…

The features of gambling that make it pleasurable (and hence potentially dangerous) are the way rewards are structured. Those features are:

  • Occasional small rewards
  • Unpredictable, irregular rewards
  • An illusion of control (I.e the chance element may be disguised or the gambler rationalises that they have more control than they actually have)
  • Losses disguised as wins (a payoff that helps hide the fact that overall the gambler is losing)
  • The real chance of a large payoff

How many of those features match aspects of writing fiction for money?

Camestros Felapton is too honest.

… yikes. Too soon, brah.

2019-03-22T09:30:02+11:0011th September, 2019|Tags: |

A thousand cuts.

Knowing how the sausage is made can definitely turn you off of eating sausage, but when it comes to publishing, I’ve found that it’s generally not the process—despite how resistant to change it can be at times—it’s the people.

Not the Mallorys of the industry, either.

It’s the people who welcome the Mallorys with open arms, downplaying their faults, giving them the benefit of multiple doubts because […] “He fit the part.”

It’s the people who use comps to justify myriad copycats while responding to calls for more diverse books with, “There’s no market for that.”

It’s the people who respond to calls for more diverse staffs with, “There’s no room for tokenism at [our press].”

It’s the people who think diversity means segregated imprints, panel discussions and metadata.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez on sausage.

2019-02-27T13:59:25+11:0024th August, 2019|Tags: , |

LARPing.

An industry professional in the New Yorker profile calls publishing “a business based on hope.” It’s performative by nature. A friend in the industry has deadpanned that “we’re all just LARP-ing,” roleplaying as publishing professionals based on some (nineteenth-century!) idea of what that should be. Very few people have chosen this path because of the money. The romance is the occasional genuine feeling of “they pay me to do this?” and the potential that you might be shaping a public conversation. That magical thinking also opens up ways for vulnerable people to be crushed by failing to perform the correct role. […]

For a woman of color, the hope that keeps you going is the hope that you’re helping create a book for a younger version of yourself, one who contented herself with work in which it never occurred to the authors that someone like her might have interiority or agency. For [white men], the romance is this fantasy of a bygone era, when gentlemen were gentlemen, and the idea of talking about inclusivity in literature was absurd. It’s not the romance of having the power to redress deep wounds that have made who you are who are as a reader and editor. It’s the romance of playing a game that you will always win.

Ruoxi Chen on publishing.

2019-04-29T12:06:45+10:0020th August, 2019|Tags: , |

USSFF is a fucking mess.

I have Thoughts on This but, for now; what the culture wars of the US specfic publishing scene looks like to someone from the “outside” (in this case, a Sri Lankan author)…

2020-05-12T08:35:02+10:004th March, 2019|Tags: , |
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