Saturday, December 22, 2007
One of the things that I think causes confusion and consternation in blog discussions is the idea that mentioning any issues or objections is 'bashing'. Here are a few points I would like to make.
1) Sometimes red flags are flown in error
Most major publishers have a few naysayers whose problems are idiosyncratic to them, their experience or their expectations. Or the practise flagged was subsequently corrected. Or something is flagged for a discussion but really is industry standard and quite reasonable and normal (how can people learn if they don't ask?).
2) Not every negative comment is a red flag
If I say I think a book has an odd title, I just mean that I think a book has an odd title. I could be wrong. The odd title could make perfect sense in context. The odd title could be a genius marketing ploy that grabs the attention of potential readers. This sort of thing, like most recreational 'snark' is not red flagging anything. Nor is just asking a question about a publisher's terms and practises and whether other writers consider them acceptable.
3) Almost every publisher flies one or two small red flags
Publishers must satisfiy the needs of the reader, the writers, the staff and the company itself. Sometimes this involves some practices that are for the greater good not the good of the writer. Sometimes they do one thing that isn't wonderful but others that are so wonderful they makes up for it and provide a great overall service. Finding one or two minor complaints about a publisher is not a major cause for concern. There will always be some cons, authors need to know about them and weigh them up against the pros and their own specific goals.
4) A lot of flags is more of a problem
If there is a pattern of complaints emerging that are consistent and serious that is a different matter. These flags only get flown if people feel safe to comment on red flaggage in general without immediately being seen as a trouble-maker or stone-caster. The thing to look for is that specific and verifiably non-standard practises are raised repeatedly by separate authors with no axe to grind. But raising a flag does not immediately mean an author does have an axe to grind--and the fact that some authors are happy and getting a good deal does not mean that others aren't being screwed over.
The dispassionate discussion of red flags reflects well on a publisher. It means they are willing to discuss and explain their practises. But some things do not have an acceptable level of occurrence. This would include, to my mind, non-payment, threats of retribution or other malicious personal attacks, issuing a grossly substandard product, no or inaccurate accounting or breaking the terms of the contract to the detriment of the author.
In order to have reasonable and open discussion we need to be able to separate analysis and discussion from emotional attacks and bashing--being a critical thinker from being a critic. And that applies not only to the publishers, but their existing and prospective authors. No one source of information will ever give the full picture and very few presses are out and out scams. As writers and and presses, we all have our strengths and our limitations. Honesty, information and communication are, in my opinion, the keys to improving our industry and increasing the the benefits for everyone involved in it.