When Publishers Do Bad Things

It doesn’t happen that often, thankfully, but sometimes publishers do bad things, things that go beyond issues of incompetence or lack of organization. Usually these “bad things” have to do with non-payment of royalties or advances, the cancellation of books for specious reasons, and/or poor or abusive treatment of the author during the editorial or publishing process. (Granted, repeated cancellation of books may just indicate poor initial decision-making on the part of a publisher, but is still an important factor when considering what publisher to go with–assuming you have a choice.)

What are usually not valid excuses for bad behavior?

—Blaming sudden growth for non-payment of monies because of supposed ma-and-pop corner store accounting practices. Most all publishers, large and small, deal with distributors and wholesalers who keep records of books sold. It would be unlikely that any publisher would not have a fairly good idea of book sales for an individual title, no matter how busy they are. Publishers have to communicate with the entities that help them sell their books in order to keep publishing. This requires them to stay in the loop.

—Suggesting communication issues as a generic catch-all reason that absolves particular individuals of responsibility, especially in cases where it is quite clear that those who have been ill-served have been attempting to communicate and simply have been ignored. In this case, the excuse is simply an effort to stave off negative publicity.

—Putting the onus on the individual writers published by the publisher to come to them with any issues or problems related to non-payment.
This suggests a less than proactive approach on the publisher’s part and may simply be a delaying tactic.

Always remember that by the time individual writers are willing to say bad things about a particular publisher, this is usually just the tip of the iceberg, to use a cliche. Very few writers feel comfortable bad-mouthing their publisher, for fear of being seen as difficult. In cases where several writers have spoken out, you can almost always guarantee that many of those who haven’t spoken out also have issues with the publisher.

When considering a publisher, be sure to check with a sampling of writers published by that publisher, to get a sense of how consistent, honest, and fair the publisher is in dealing with writers. From a writer’s point of view, a publisher is only as good as the average experience that can be expected in dealing with them. Every publisher will have highs and lows depending on personalities and issues beyond anyone’s control.

Also remember that indie presses in particular have their eccentricities, and that each press has its strengths and its weaknesses. This is not the same thing as “bad behavior”–these are simply the quirks writers have to deal with, just as the publisher and acquiring editor are agreeing to put up with your quirks, in a sense, and you will have to decide which quirks you don’t mind and which make a publisher unattractive to you.

Cynthia Ward on “Watching Avatar While White”

A huge thanks to Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward for guest blogging here at Booklifenow the past two weeks. This is Ward’s last post, and the last post from either writer, who together are responsible for Writing the Other, a book I recommend in Booklife. The following post I find particularly fascinating because of the “what-if’s” Ward explores below. Fiction tends to gain part of its power from complication and complexity—the ways in which events or character interactions lead to unexpected places. Character diversity, if not just window dressing, is one way to introduce further complexity to narrative. This is part of writing individuals rather than types. (I have to say that both Nisi and Cynthia are a lot more patient with Avatar than I am—I thought it was just flat-out awful.) – Jeff

[SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t seen the movie Avatar, you may want to skip this post.]

I went into Avatar knowing little about it, beyond a few accusations that it was “a ripoff of FernGully: The Last Rainforest” or “a ripoff of Dances With Wolves” or “a ripoff of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The World for World Is Forest,” and a lot of descriptions of Avatar as “so awesome, you should see it in 3D.”

Having seen Avatar, I would agree with Nisi Shawl’s take that Avatar is beautifully immersive. I haven’t been that stoned on a movie since 1982’s Blade Runner (although, when I was leaving the theatre in ’82, I didn’t trip over the stairs and reel into the walls. If someone re-releases Blade Runner in modern 3D, I suspect my head will literally burst).

I haven’t seen FernGully nor, unfortunately, have I read The World for World Is Forest, but I did see Dances with Wolves. And, yes, Avatar is an uncredited, SFX-drenched reissue of that old story (which we’ll get back to in a moment).

I also thought that writer/director James Cameron was borrowing heavily from other sources—palpably obvious inspirations I’ve rarely (if ever) heard others mention: the Dragonriders of Pern (clearly, Hollywood has finally developed the technology to bring Anne McCaffrey’s intelligent, human-bonding dragons convincingly to ‘life’) and the three major series created by Edgar Rice Burroughs: Carson of Venus, John Carter of Mars, and Tarzan of the Apes.

Burroughs’s Barsoom (Mars) series came to my mind initially because of all those multi-legged alien animals. Meanwhile, the Wikipedia description of Amtor (Burroughs’s imaginary version of Venus) might as well be a description of Cameron’s fictional planet, Pandora: “Amtorian vegetation, particularly on Vepaja, tends to be gigantic. Vepaja is notable for the enormous forests…with trees reaching into the inner cloud envelope.” If I recall correctly from my childhood reading, Amtorian forests are even the same color as Avatar’s.

However, the main reason Avatar reminded me of Burroughs’ most popular series, and the movie Dances with Wolves, was because of the way they made me feel.

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Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward: Guest-blogging on Booklifenow This Week

Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, authors of Writing the Other, among other books, will be guest-blogging this week on Booklifenow. Please help welcome them–I think you’ll find their posts fascinating.

Here’s more about both writers…

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Everything I’ve learned about writing this year I’ve relearned by watching the Olympics [Part III]

Today is my last visit to BookLife and I want to thank Jeff Vandermeer again for asking me to contribute this week. It’s been fun parsing thoughts about the Olympics through the lens of the writing life and I appreciate all the support and comments I’ve received. Remember, I can be found at Writer’s Rainbow at any given moment; this weekend I’ll be adding the March monthly dispatch, an introductory discussion into the three basic building blocks of a writing platform, so drop by sometime, check it out, and leave a comment! I wish all of BookLife’s readers a solid 2010 filled with inspiration and prosperity. 

Back to our regularly scheduled programming… I left my favorite observations for last. I live in the Puget Sound area, so the fact that I’m a huge fan of Apolo Ohno should come as no surprise. I do appreciate a golden child whenever he or she does come along (complete with awesome attitude), so I must also confess a fondness for snowboarder Shawn White. How can we not live in awe of these two Olympians? Here is what I took away from each of them over the last couple of weeks. Continue reading