Monday, May 19, 2008

Mariahs and Pariahs: the tangled web of epublishing--veinglory

People have different roles and they are linked together by friendships and by money. In business there links can create, or cause the appearance, or conflicts. For example, the new 'Director of Facilities Management' ($127,000 per year) here in Chicago is the brother of a state Rep. He also also has 24 years of public service and served in the deputy position before his promotion. Did he get the job on merit or connections? It depends on your level of cynicism, which when it comes to Chicago county politics can run pretty high.

Even in a setting where I would tend to give benefit of the doubt, mixing roles can cause suspicion. When I was flipping through Time magazine's 100 most important people issue, a whole page on Mariah Carey did surprise me [see online here]. I have nothing against her but, top 100? And later in the same magazine there is a full page advertisement for her next album. Do I think the list is rigged, probably not. Do I believe the listing and ad are entirely a coincidence? Hell, no. I finally stopped getting my digital photography magazine when it became apparent they would never criticise any camera for fear of losing that company's advertising dollars. I would hate to see Time in the same boat.

And what does is matter? Well. A highly paid bureaucrat should, no--must, have received their job purely based on ability. A listing in a magazine must be based on whether or not that person is really worth knowing more about--and be given column space proportional to that interest. Advertising should be sold based on who is buying the magazine not to those who appear within it. Content should be content. Advertising advertising. Just as authors should be authors, publisher publishers, artists artists--or at least you should know what hat a person has on and which others are in her closet.

There is something to be said for being as clear cut as possible on any issue. When a movie says 'no animals were harmed' the group that enforces that endorsement includes everything down to even an insect. They prefer to be clear and even the swatting of flies must be simulated and a fly that dies of natural causes used for the close up. Is that silly? Yes and no. It means that they will not be cause in a conflict of interests or in hypocrisy. Their label means what it says.

It's a balancing act that also goes on online. Is a forum, list or organisation for authors? Only for authors? Primarily for authors? What does 'for' mean? To be supportive or accept nothing less than blowing sunshine at each other. Are you allowed to be foul-mouthed about one group (say... bloggers) but not at all negative about another (say... certain publishers). Are there secret connections behind the scenes that lie in wait for the unwary, uninformed poster?

In the world of epublishing this sort of thing does seem to happen. You email an author to ask what they think of a press, only to find they own it under another name. You post something nasty about a blogger only to have one of your sister-authors 'tell on you' to her. Connections stretch across this industry and no one could possibly keep track of them all. So, then, what is a girl to do? The best I can come up with is this:

1) Be as transparent as possible at all times and if a conflict arises make a calm, informative statement in the same forum where the problem arose. Where multiple names are used, or a conflict arises where you like or do business with one party, make sure everyone involved is aware of this.
2) Try, try, try not to get emotional when some poor unsuspecting person has a negative opinion about your friend or business partner. If you immediately say what your connection to the disliked party is, and genuinely ask what their poor opinion is based on, you can probably turn this around or at least dial down the emotion.
3) In any online forum you have to own what you say. This means that when it gets back to the entity/person you are talking about, as it inevitably will, you don't give a damn because you are just as ready to say it to their face. This also means that if someone shows you had it wrong, you retract and are happy to do so.

Which is not to say I always get It right or find it easy. I didn't warn readers of the blog about Chippewa Press until a few weeks before they closed--despite the fact that I knew some authors had been left unpaid for almost a year. I found it hard to criticise a press I was writing for. I straddle a line on Torquere where a lot of little things they do bug me, but I have to stand up and say they always paid me on time and so far I have found them responsive to emails. I simply have trouble treating them as just another publisher here at EREC because to me they are (for better and worse) one of my publishers and that is a connection with implications. Oh, and I am still prone to ranting about the RWA and assuming the worst about them when it really isn't justified. Our connections, relationships and emotions inevitably get involved. We just have to try and unpick the tangles as we go.


Anonymous said...


I can understand that it is a hard line to walk, especially when a publishing company is your publisher.

My opinion is that if you are going to offer a service like your listings of publishers then you must be willing to report the 'possible smoke' at a publisher, even if that publisher is one you are working for. Otherwise, why do it at all?

You started the publisher list to be a warning to authors, new and experienced. What good did it do any author that might have submitted and contracted in that year before Chippewa closed and are now not getting paid?

I think the list is a great idea and I know quite a few people who use it as one of their first research tools when looking for a publisher. You can still report problems, even if it is with your publisher by prefacing it with...'This is my publisher, I haven't had any problems with them but this is what I have heard from others and this is what is being said...'

Just my two cents.


veinglory said...

I think that is quite true but it is difficult to do. Or at least I found it was. In the small press even connections that are professional pretty dubious take on a faux frined quality, add to that actuall friends on the other side of the picket lines....