[Publishing] is a ‘transactional’ environment – sometimes it feels like other writers only want to know what you can do for them. In that sense it reminds me of my days in Foreign Affairs, where I was surrounded by diplomats who wanted to know what aristocratic school you went to, who you knew in the diplomatic or political elite, and whether you could help them get posted to New York.
In publishing, people want to know if you went to Clarion, if you know any famous authors who can give them a book blurb, and whether you can recommend them to a New York agent.
I’m 0/6, if you’re wondering.
Which is to say: when you find someone who gives a shit about your writing, no strings attached, treat them well. They are a rare beast indeed.
T. R. Napper gives advice.
I admit that the “hustle” is my least favorite part of publishing. Partly because I’m not good at it—being Australia, being a woman, being extremely shy—partly because I morally and economically object to it,1 but mostly because I really, really don’t like being on the receiving end of it, and like even less the idea that people might think I’m trying to do it to them. Which has the bummer side-effect of meaning I tend to avoid approaching writers whose work I do like, because of the fear of being seen as That Person.
Thing is, though? The Hustle works. That’s the depressing part. So it’d be nice to think there’s a happy medium between being That Person and being, er. Well. Me. Haven’t quite found it yet, though, so it’s a work in progress.
Which, y’know. Is maybe kinda the point…
- In the same way I object to all “gig economy” nonsense, although that’s a rant for another time. ^
I was asked a question on a panel once that was something along the lines of what advice I’d give to aspiring authors. My answer was that they should let go of the idea that everyone should “like” their writing.1 “Heaps of people hate Stephen King, whose stuff I love,” I said, “and love JK Rowling, whose stuff I can’t stand. And no-one at all defends Dan Brown, yet he still manages to be a bestseller!”
Having said that, a week or so later, I read this.
Incidentally, I think “not very clever media designed to make men feel they’re very clever” is probably a genre in-and-of-itself. And a lucrative one at that…
- I stand by this. It’s anecdotal, but still one of the biggest dividers I’ve found between novelists who’re successfully published and those who, uh, will probably never be. The former tend to understand things like audiences, markets, and YKINMKATOK. The latter, no so much… and often like to make sweeping generalizations about the “universality” of certain subjective plot lines, tropes, and authors while they’re at it. ^
In recent years in the US and UK, the people with most influence over a book jacket have been those who choose stock for supermarkets and chains such as Waterstones and WH Smith. A few years ago, a publisher at one of the “big three” houses (Penguin Random House, Hachette and HarperCollins) told me that they had presented a new book at a meeting with the buyer from a well-known retailer. An order from the chain could propel the book into the Top 10, but there was a problem: they hated the jacket. The publisher returned to her art department and commissioned a second design. Again, the buyer rejected it – the cover was still wrong. In all, the publisher had the jacket redesigned five times, until, as a joke, she took the original cover back to the buyer, who asked: “Why didn’t you bring me this first? I love it.”
Danuta Kean on book covers.
I admit I’m a book cover snob although, maybe ironically given the article, I really kinda freakin loathe the US cover for What Happened. Like, I don’t think the UK cover is great… but at least it’s not freakin’ ponderous like the US version. Also, at least it has a picture of Clinton on it (one can’t help but suspect her absence on the US version is related exactly to the problems of sexism against her in particular and women in politics in general that she talks about in the goddamn book…).
Closer to home, one of the reasons I’m a huge Angry Robot fangirl is I think they do some of the most baller covers: like hiring Julie Dillon to do the covers for Foz Meadows’s novels, or Richard Anderson for Kameron Hurley’s.1 I’m also all over the more recent trend of graphical/non-figurative covers: I admit when Leife showed me the cover art for The Beast’s Heart I kind of had to suppress a little shriek, it’s so beautiful. Also see: this version of the Southern Reach books.
Covers that don’t work for me? Most things with photo-collages, particularly when they include actual people.2 Actually, I honestly don’t know anyone who “likes” that kind of book cover, which I always find really weird given how ubiquitous (and not necessarily cheap!) they are. I’ve always been under the impression it was a big-box-bookstore-buyers-like-them-so-we-make-them thing, but… yeesh. I dunno.
Go figure, I guess.
It was no surprise to me when we received a Penguin Random House contract recently, and lo and behold, there was new language in clause 7.c, which deals with publication. There is a new “morality” clause that cites that if the author’s reputation materially changes, such changes could be cause for termination of the publishing agreement.
Kristin Nelson on PRH versus #metoo.
I mean, I get it, but… wow.
If you don’t want to read bad fiction/nonfiction/poetry, don’t edit a book/magazine/blog/journal. Bad writing is to the writing game what dirty teeth are to dentistry; it will happen all the time, the only that varies is the level of awfulness. Submission guidelines, genre specifications, and word counts should help you do your precious gatekeeping. If you need to rely on charging writers $30 to enter your chapbook contest in order to keep what you think are bad writers away, know these two things: having money has absolutely nothing to do with having writing chops and your fees, not to mention your bland gatekeeping excuse, are nothing but classism in action. I’ve also heard that charging writers is just a way to “reduce the workload for overworked editors.” Get the fuck outta here with that. You’re sitting in front a computer because you want to, not working in the mines. Don’t want to edit? Don’t be an editor. There’s a ton of jobs out there that need to get done that don’t involve the arduous task of having to deal with a huge slush pile.
Gabino Iglesias on submission fees.
On the one hand, this is basic Yog’s Law, but it’s Yog’s Law with the special corollary of, “Submission fees for literary opportunities disadvantage diverse voices–who are statistically more likely to be economically marginalized–and, thus, are a particular flavor of bullshit to add, particularly to anything claiming to want more diverse works.”
In other other words: kids, don’t pay to play.1
- At least for any context where you yourself don’t have full control over the end-to-end process. That is, modern-style self-publishing is a special exemption to Yog’s Law because it assumes two “yous”; one of you as the writer, one as the publisher. Publisher you spends the money, writer you collects it, and the two of you together have full control of the project. ^
Which brings us to the “Why Muslims Hate Me” chapter. Unlike the other chapters, which try to argue that these groups are merely confused, this section paints Muslims as essentially irredeemable. The edits offered here are, for the most part, merely rhetorical. “Yet Islam is the most bigoted ideology” is changed to “Yet Islam, which arguably contains some of the most bigoted religious practices.” “Let’s NOT issue statements like ‘the most bigoted,’” suggests the editor, as “all they do is make YOU the issue rather than your statement.” Later, he replaces “The growth of Islam should be one of the most disturbing things in the world for liberals” to “the growth of Islam ought to be concerning for liberals,” noting, “Do you see how ‘ought to be concerning’ makes your point without the bombast of ‘should be one of the most disturbing things in the world’?” Respectability is of utmost importance here—all we can ask for is prejudice without bombast.
Blair Beusman on sanitizing hate.
The whole “loling over Milo Yiannopoulos’s edits for his terrible manuscript” thing left me with a bad taste in my mouth, for a variety of reasons. Beusman pretty clearly nails down one.
It also, ironically, is illustrative of one of the most difficult truisms in publishing: as an editor, you can’t have a different vision or voice for a work than your author (and vice versa). Yes, Yiannopoulos is a shitstain on a white silk dress, and yes his editor, Mitchell Ivers, was (one assumes) beleaguered and underpaid and trying to do the best he could with something he obviously loathed,1 but…
Ivers’s “vision” for the book is obviously not Yiannopoulos’s. The thing is/was going to be awful either way, but that’s Yiannopoulos’s brand. Being a hateful Nazi-suckup trainwreck is literally the only thing he’s famous for or, it seems, capable of. Clearing dirt off the twisted carriages and putting neat white sheets over the bodies doesn’t change the human tragedy. Or, to ditch the metaphors: Ivers’s differences with Yiannopoulos mean his edits don’t make the book “better” and, as I think Beusman correctly argues, may in fact make it worse (by trying to make the hate it touts “respectable”).
All that being said, I don’t think this as a sole incident reflects on Ivers as a person or his abilities as an editor. If anything, his only real sin here was trying to, yanno, be a freakin’ professional about his job rather than, like, writing the whole thing off and phoning it in. But nonetheless his notes are still kind of the mirror-inverse of the sorts of “conservative editor tells progressive author to ‘tone down’ diversity in her manuscript” stories people like yours truly like to scoff and roll our eyes at. Being an editor (especially this sort of editor) isn’t some mechanical, objective task; it’s a creative field, just like writing is, and it’s subjective, just like writing is. Which means it’s entirely possible to be a great editor and still be the wrong editor for a particular work. Especially when that work’s a heaping steaming pile of bigot shit.
If you read Robert A. Heinlein’s biography, you find a certain amount of self-promotion there, and he’s not the first writer to try to drum up publicity in order to push a book or even to have pronounced ideas backed by experience about how their work should be marketed. Thomas Disch mentions Isaac Asimov being noted for “beating the drum of his own reputation” in On SF. And it has always been true that on the publisher’s side of things, the economics of the advance play a major part; books with big advances get big publicity budgets, and vice versa. This makes sense; if you invest a great deal in something, you are more willing to spend a little extra to help it succeed.
Over the course of the last century, unfortunately, those advances have not grown with inflation, particularly for smaller writers. The SFWA minimum pro rate is currently six cents [per word], while if we adjusted it to what its original rate would be in buying power today, it would be three or four times that. It has become more and more difficult for writers to make a living at writing[.]
Cat Rambo on promotion.
The rest of this post talks about book promotion, and the increasing onus on authors to maintain online brand, e.g. on Twitter, and how there’s significant bias (race, gender, class, ability, neurotype)1 associated with that.
I’m reminded of my recent read of Dean Koontz’s Midnight, specifically the written-much-later (circa early 2000s) author’s afterword in the edition I had, where Koontz talks about Midnight being his first big commercial success. I don’t have the exact quote in front of me, but he has a section where he’s downplaying the publicity given to the book by the publisher talking about how it was “only” a few full-page print ads in one or two mainstream print publications. And it’s like… yeesh. You know how many authors would kill for that level of investment nowadays? Spoiler alert: pretty much all of them.
For the record, that “6¢ a word” rate is for short stories. For novels, the minimum “pro rate” advance is $2,500, which works out at more like 3¢ a word, assuming a novel of around 80k. And if you’re thinking, “Yeah. But that’s a minimum. Surely authors are getting more than $2.5k for their books?” then, boy, do I have some exciting news for you!
- Or day job, for that matter. Given that most authors nowadays have day jobs due to writing not paying them a living wage, there are a non-zero number of professions where a notable public persona is a great way to never work again. ^