The Business Rusch: R*E*S*P*E*C*T
The Business Rusch: R*E*S*P*E*C*T
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Crank up the Aretha Franklin as you read this. Because her classic “R*E*S*P*E*C*T” is blaring as I write this.
I am fed up.
This is the kind of mood I get into when I tell bosses to go screw themselves, when I walk off the job, when I say, “That’s it, no one treats me like this. Not a soul.”
In the past two days, two different editors have told me that I don’t know how publishing works. One deigned to explain to me how something in book production worked when I questioned a scheduling problem in the publishing house. The other told me I had no idea how to write a good book in my genre.
Excuse me, children?
And I do mean children. Both are younger than me, both have been in the business less than ten years, neither is anything more than an editor. Not a senior editor, not a vice-president, not the owner of the damn company. Editors. Employees way down the food chain.
I know. I was one, long before these two were out of frickin’ school. I have taught copy editors, for god’s sake. I have designed publishing schedules. I have run publishing offices. I have managed managing editors. I have more knowledge about publishing in my little finger than either of these two.
So why did this piss me off?
Because I bent over backwards for both of them to do them a favor. And they treat me like a new author who has no clue that publishing is a business.
Honestly, the first one I understand. It was e-mail, it probably didn’t seem as rude to the editor as it did to me. Fine. We’ll give the editor that one.
But the second? This isn’t the first time this editor has told me I don’t know how to write. And I’ve had it.
I probably wouldn’t be this mad if it weren’t for the other editors who have treated me this way. The mystery editor with two years experience who told me—an Edgar-nominated, multiple-EQMM reader’s choice winner, and a bestselling mystery writer—that I don’t know the mystery genre. The agent who told me—the award-winner in every genre I’ve tried including mainstream—that I don’t write well enough to publish a novel into the mainstream. The sf editor who told me—the bestselling, Hugo-award-winning editor & writer—that I don’t know what science fiction is. The unreturned phone calls, the unanswered important emails, the unfulfilled promises, and the lies.
I’m really tired of the lies.
In the early 1990s, I was talking to the most decorated short fiction writer in the field about writing and editing, and that writer said to me, “You’re the first editor who has treated me with respect in nearly a decade.”
I was shocked, I thought it hyperbole, and I took it as a compliment, not as truth. But the way I have been treated in the past twenty years by some in traditional publishing now leads me to believe that the writer did not mean it as a way of buttering me up, but as the voice of experience.
And I am appalled.
Let’s be fair here: I have had several editors treat me well, with respect, and with recognition of my past accomplishments. And let me say that, with no exceptions**, those editors have been short fiction editors (in every genre). Book editors—oh, it’s a nice romance in the beginning, but by the middle of the relationship, those folks seem to believe they bought the right to treat me like an idiot.
Yep. Mad. Furious in fact. Not at the words necessarily—I make mistakes as a writer; all writers do. I’m happy to revise, happy to work with editors. But the lack of respect—the lack of recognition that I might have the right to an opinion on the work, that I might have tried something difficult that might or might not work but that I knew what I was trying—well, that damn lack of respect pisses me off.
So then after I made some decisions this afternoon, I logged onto my e-mail and what did I get? Three fan letters, a nice letter from a blog reader about something I had done that had helped in one way or another, and a few reader queries about the release dates of future novels.
And I had a realization:
The folks in traditional book publishing have treated me like dirt under their shoe, but the readers have always treated me with respect. I have said for decades that the readers have kept me going, and they have.
I am grateful to the readers. I’m even more grateful that I can now go directly to them with projects that I think they’ll enjoy.
So with all of that, I’m going to share with you something that my friend, writer Lee Allred, has compiled. For those of you who never read the bios of writers and only look at the blog post, let me tell you who Lee is. He has written for DC Comics. He has written some of the best short stories in the sf field. Look up his work. It’s good.
Lee compiled this list of pros and cons from the various blog posts that Dean and I have written over the past year. Lee gave me permission to print it here. You might want to consider the list as you make decisions for your own writing.
Advantages with the traditional publishing/agent route:
• Up front money (advance)
• Better placement in brick-and-mortar shelves (but Borders is gone and B&N is slashing shelf space)
• Probably better sales volume per title (if better placement above holds up)
• Cachet from being NY published (for now)
• Possible promotional push (don’t hold your breath)
• Commissioned cover art
• Book contract mine fields
• Peon-level royalty rates
• High danger of publishing house bankruptcy
• 15% to agents
• Late/missing/stolen checks
• Odd/offbeat projects/genres not wanted
• They control cover art, deadline, publishing schedule
• Good luck pitching a short fiction anthology of your work
• Time and frustration spent on phone/email with publisher/editor/agent
• No control over in print/out of print (Why is my 2nd book of 6 book series out of print?!?)
• Backlist orphaned
• Estate nightmares (contract, contract, who’s got the contract?)
Advantages with indie publishing
• Higher Royalties per sale, both ebooks and (POD) print.
• Real sales numbers
• No submissions bottleneck
• Mulligans (you can insta-fix typos etc.)
• Total Branding control
. • Cover
. • Layout
. • Typesetting
. • Publishing line “look and feel”
. • Back Cover Copy
. • Blurbs
• Deadline control
• Publishing Schedule control (no more mandatory just one book a year)
• Distribution Channel control
• Genre/subject/story control (want to write 1930s masked avenger pulps? Go for it!)
•Control of in print/out of print (keep all of a series in print!)
• Control of back list (“eternal backlist” — brand new readers can buy your earlier books)
• Estate planning (heirs can simply continue to maintain already uploaded works and collect moneys; no contract sleuthing/battles)
• Learning curve
• No up front advance money; earn as you sell
• Possible expenses (computer, software, artwork, CreateSpace pro fees, etc.)
• Problematic placement in brick-and-mortar stores
• Time spent formatting (less than agent/editor time, though)
• The biggest downside (also the biggest advantage); YOU OWN YOUR CAREER — IN INDIE PUBLISHINGTHERE IS NOBODY ELSE TO BLAME THINGS ON.
With indie publishing, the money, the sales figures, and the control flows to the writer.
Amen. You all can dance to Aretha now.
“The Business Rusch: R*E*S*P*E*C*T” copyright 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
**upon two days reflection, I have thought of three book editors who were as good as the short fiction editors. Laura Anne Gilman, Tom Dupree, and Deborah Beale. Of course, none of them are still editing books. (Although I’m not sure about Tom.)
I’ve recently started writing again (after a 30 year hiatus)and have been watching the changes in the publishing industry with interest. Your experiences tilt the balance for me in terms of seriously considering indie publishing when my novel is completed. If a writer of your considerable talent can be treated with this lack of respect, what might I end up enduring as a newbie with no track record?
I have to add that I have long loved your work as KKR. Only after reading this blog did I realize you also wrote mysteries under another name. I now have one of your mysteries on my TBR stack and will order one of your romances next. You are quite a gifted writer and I hope you continue writing for years to come.
I’ve had three or four editors over the years who simply were not very good at being editors, who were clueless, and seemed to believe the world was created the year they were born, but I can’t say I’ve ever had an editor treat me disrespectfully. The vast majority have been friendly, helpful, and respectful. Just really nice people.
Lucky you, James. While I like many of the people I’ve worked with, either corporate demands or pressure have caused them to lie repeatedly. Most were respectful and some were quite nice. But there are at least a dozen who have said unbelievable things to me, like those above.
This aspect of the publishing industry (that I could vaguely perceive even when I knew nothing about the publishing industry) kept me from considering writing seriously for a long time. It wasn’t something I wanted to put up with.
But it seems that in the young, aspiring writer group (which I’m still a part of) this phenomenon has caused writers to loose all sense of self worth or worth in their writing. They embrace the demeaning position that traditional publishing has placed them in and claim that only if you accept it will you succeed. It results in writers who are willing to do practically anything to get published, which is I suppose the way publishers want it.
Sarah M., good points. I think in traditional publishing, this situation with writers that you describe will just get worse. The new writers who remain in traditional publishing won’t make any money and will believe that they need to do anything for the “prestige” of publication through a traditional house.
My first post here. I tend to lurk around Dean’s blog, but have recently ended up over here quite a few times.
As a “newbie” writer that has had a bout of being completely ignored by publishers and agents (30+ submissions and no replies yet in two years), this doesn’t surprise me at all.
I’m shocked that they had the nerve to consider themselves more experienced than you. At least you can look at it this way, if they were stupid enough to think that they are right, and aren’t smart enough to do their homework on you, then they are likely to be working in an entirely different career pretty soon.
Glynn, here’s the irony: the editors who treated me that way have used my bio on my books for promotion purposes. They know who I am. Doesn’t matter to them.
Kris, I guess you didn’t get the memo from the younger generation that we are old and stupid and should get the hell out of the way.
Reminds me of the Sunday I dropped by the newsroom and asked the kid in charge if anything was going on. He said, “Nah, just some actor I never heard of who was in town giving a talk. We didn’t bother covering it.”
“Who was it?” I asked.
“Some guy named Charlton Heston.”
Randy & Rick, LOL! Randy, yeah, I’ve run into that on bestselling writers as well from newbie editors. Those writers weren’t in their genre, so what did they care…about Nora Roberts?
I hope that post was cathartic. Needless to say, such behavior is completely unacceptable – and particularly ridiculous given your own track record.
Personally, back when I was querying, I found UK agents a little ruder (in general) than US agents. However, I did notice that the particularly bad behavior (requesting fulls, then never responding, calling to offer representation, then never responding etc.) came exclusively from US agents.
Not very scientific, but that was my experience.
Dave G., any agent who treated me that way never got hired. None of the agents I did hire ever treated me that way. Because they knew that I considered them consultants/employees, and they were going to be fired if they didn’t do their job (five of them eventually were).
For the most part, I’m talking about editors here. Editors whose bread and butter should be on keeping their writers–especially the ones who sell well–happy. Of course, it doesn’t work that way. But it should…
Just from what you’ve written here, Kris, my first thought is that one or both of those editors is lashing out in fear. FEAR. He or she knows the ship is going down, but is still in deep denial (there’s a pun in there somewhere but I’m too tired to find it). Here you come along, all full of confidence and independence, acting like you know more than they do (which, of course, you do), and they get scared. And when they get scared, they last out.
Just a hunch, but from what you wrote, those editors are both relatively young. The advantage of being an old coot like me (not you, of course) is the perspective one gains from having surfed the tsunami once or twice. We’ve seen change come, we’ve suffered through the trauma, we’ve lived through it. We’ll live through it again. Sometimes one gains that insight through education or wisdom or dumb luck, but for many of us it comes with age. This is not meant to be condescending, just an observation.
Thanks, Sarah. I know Editor #1 is afraid and not quite sure what’s going on (the company is in trouble, imho). As for Editor #2, the problems are much deeper. I only mentioned the general thing I can cover here, and not the specific things that are making me take some fast and important action. Which I will blog about when said action is done.
Yeah, even in my limited dealings with traditional publishing, some of them are infants in the area of basic business etiquette. Nice people, I suppose, but they shouldn’t really be let out in public. Have pie. That’s why pie was invented.
I’m just a wannabe writer and that pissed me off.
“How did we all get to be the old timers?”
Kris, right there is the first time you’ve ever sounded like an older timer, at least in the time that I’ve read your blog.
Yeah, that was supposed to be a somewhat wise-ass compliment.
That said, oy. I keep thinking that maybe someday you or Dean are going to post something that makes me want to endure the query-go-round (to borrow a phrase from Robin Sullivan) and pursue a traditional deal. But man, it sure hasn’t happened yet. Maybe someday when things have settled down. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy being my own boss in the writing gig.
From what I’ve gathered of your personality online here, I’m glad I’m not that particular editor (though I’d pay good money to be a fly on the wall when you flay him/her alive). 🙂 Seriously, though, sorry that chicanery went down and I’m glad you’re not really letting it get to you.
I’m looking forward to meeting you and Dean in person next March. Thanks for the insights, as always.
Great post, Kris. I’m shocked that anyone with any connection to the genres you work in would treat you this way. Shocked, but sadly not surprised, I guess. Couldn’t help but recall the quote from Ellison (not his originally) in the front of his Hornbook collection that writing is a career in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none. Hang in there. I’m in your corner!
Richard, thanks for reminding me of Harlan’s quote. Timely, and accurate. 🙂
“Not to mention the editor who once asked me if Stalin was really alive in 1918 or if I made that up.”
This one made me lol, really.
Let’s ignore for a moment the aspect that such a fact should be part of an editor’s general knowledge – let’s be generous and say everybody can’t know everything.
What’s so hilariously sad is that he or she wasn’t clever enough to look it up before asking you – even if this anecdote took place before Google and Wikipedia: I’d expect something like the Encyclopedia Britannica within arm’s reach of an editor.
Asking you was not only embarassing personally but also under the aspect of business savviness.
“The agent who told me—the award-winner in every genre I’ve tried including mainstream—that I don’t write well enough to publish a novel into the mainstream.”
I am a writer, but a reader first. I love you stories. You write depth in your characters and plots that I can only aspire to. I am new to this business and find myself confused that the “reader” was not always the only voice that counts. The fact that readers love your stories, buy your stories, and want more of your stories is all that matters.
There is so much pain in the voices of authors in their endeavor to share their stories when it should be a happy and exciting venture. It should not be one that rips the heart out of the creative spirit.
Erin–and all the rest of you readers–thanks so much for the support. It really does mean a lot. I’m not writing for editors. I’m writing to get my work in the hands of readers, so knowing you enjoy it means everything.
This is one of the things that slowed me down on traditional publishing. I say “slowed” because it didn’t make me quit so much as be much more deliberate about what I did and who I let near my work.
I’ve been treated well and not-so-well, and I’ve noticed that those who don’t treat authors very well act almost exactly like “sophomore” authors – that is, authors who have been around just long enough to have learned the “common wisdom,” and have established a critique group pecking order… but haven’t been published.
Camille, spot-on about the editors. And Frank, oh, yeah, I had that same thought. And she could have Googled the info.
Sorry to hear that. It blows my mind.
I have to say that I’ve had nothing but goodness from my short story editors, too. A lot of them give me heads’ up for short turnarounds on edits, but I’ve never had anything unreasonable.
I’m in the middle of listening to a bunch of writers and other interested parties with a local group complaining that they don’t know how to pick out self-published books and think its too much bother.
Before the publishing houses went into a merge-fest, didn’t we have bookstores and librarians and book reviews in newspapers and friends for that kind of thing? Why aren’t indie bookstores and libraries jumping all over the tastemaker opportunity here? Am I missing something?
DeAnna, indie bookstores are growing for the first time in years, and yes, they’re taking the forefront on this. Libraries are understandably confused, particularly with the cut in budgets, etc. Book bloggers are really filling the gap and so is sampling + onsite reviews. It’s a fascinating time.
I can hardly wait until you are my age (63). Should be a hoot.
Yup. Amazing accomplished writers who had made tons of money for some of these same publishers were treated like crap.
The ability to self publish is part of what encouraged K. W. to get back to writing again. (The Kim Oh series wouldn’t have been possible if he had to depend on print publishing.) No more waiting for the agent and the editors to sit on stuff for two years while they whinge around about a project not being sellable, or “it just doesn’t fit your brand” or “our product line.” That’s two years a project could be up on line generating income.
It’s an exciting time for writers who now can get material directly to their audience. Probably not so great a time for traditional publishing, however. Although I realize there are some good publishers and agents (a minority group, for sure), considering how most publishers have treated writers, I can’t say that I have a ton of sympathy for most of them.
Geri, right on. And yeah, as I get older, it’s going to be a real treat for my friends. They’re going to be the ones giggling. 🙂
As for indie publishing, I’m thrilled as can be. I’m heading to my office tonight after some pretty serious estate stuff the last three days (which was why I couldn’t go to Ninc) as well as that crazed editor b.s. and I’m excited to go instead of upset that I have to jump past some business hassles. When I’m in charge of what I publish, I’m quite pleased…
I know this is easy to advise and hard to do, but… I recommend that rather than get angry at a clueless young punk, you laugh at him. Out loud. Loudly. Laughing at a fool can be therapeutic.
Martin, laughing is good for minor mistakes. What happened yesterday (and what I only alluded to) was a major one. Laughing is not appropriate there. Action is.
My goodness. I went to one of your workshops you held with with Dean at Brigham Young University about 15 years ago and have followed your career and now your blog–and many of my writer freinds have gone to your Oregon workshops. I have always felt you had a great sense of professionalism and fairness.
These types of editors make me wonder if deep down they are longing to be writers and are envious, deeply envious of established, successful writers. An editor–in any field, be it fiction, magazine writing, technical writer–has a distinctly different role from the writer–put-down artist isn’t one of them. A long time ago I was editor-in-chief of a computer reseller magazine and then a regional business magazine–we did our best to respect the writer and his or her voice. With experienced writers with a proven track record, we were very light-handed with our edits. With the newer, younger writers, we tried to tutor them along.
And now, in all these fields, trained editors are going by the wayside. The type of editor I’d like to work with as a fiction writer is someone who could coach me along, help me bring out the best of my writer’s voice. I have to wonder how many like that are left at the traditional publishing houses.
I really appreciate the blogs you and Dean write and your advocacy of the writer. Thank you for what you do.
Cara, I think envy is some of it, but mostly it’s thoughtlessness and a sense that they know best. Also, that whole corporate mentality that others were talking about. I can’t tell y’all yet about what happened with Editor #2 yesterday since I’m taking some pretty serious action after that conversation, but suffice to say that Editor #2 forgot that there is life outside the corporation (and outside of Editor #2). When I can blog about this in detail, you’ll see both why I’m doing what I’m doing and why it made me so very angry.
Just when you think you’ve seen everything in this business…
Amen! I used to listen to old authors bellyache. Now I am the bellyacher. Glad to hear from my friend Lee Allred, too.
Thanks, Dave W. Exactly. How did we all get to be the old timers? 🙂
“The folks in traditional book publishing have treated me like dirt under their shoe, but the readers have always treated me with respect.” You nailed it. That’s my experience precisely. But as an American crime novelist very successfully published overseas and not at all in America, I also have to tell you that the lack of respect for writers is far more prevalent in the US publishing industry than it is abroad. Steve Leather, a big-time UK novelist for a couple of decades who is almost unknown in the US, said recently on his blog that he had never met an American literary agent who wasn’t an arrogant idiot. Amen to that, brother.
Exactly, Jake. I’ve been treated quite well overseas too. (Except for that embezzling foreign agent…) Nice perspective to remember.
Happily, I do most of my writing these days for DAW Books, whose very experienced staff treats its writers with respect. Which is good, because like you, Kris, I’ve reached the stage in my career where I’m no longer willing to put up with ignorant insults from mediocre hirelings who have 1/4 of my professional experience and 1/10 of my professional accomplishments. There aren’t enough hours in the day or enough patience in my bloodstream for that sort of rubbish in my working life.
Which is not to say that such behavior was merited when I was very new, inexperienced, and unaccomplished. My first-ever editor (whose name I don’t even remember) left the business shortly after my first novel went into production. I was reassigned to an editor whose name I only remember because it was so comically unsuited to her sullen manner: Joy.
Joy told me that I was unwanted work that had been dumped on her desk without anyone asking her if she minded, and I shouldn’t expect to sell any more books to that house. Thereafter, any time I contacted her, she behaved like a bouncer getting rid of a drunk at closing time.
Joy disappeared completely from the business within 6 months of our first conversation. I have remained in the business for over 20 years since then, including 10 more book sales to that house–the house where she told me in our first conversation that I was already finished.
So an editor who treats an inexperienced newcomer with contemptuous rudeness is an idiot, too.
Thanks, Laura. Exactly. I’ve been trying to remember how many of the editors who’ve been awful to work with are still editors. I come up with…three. Out of 20 years of dealing with traditional book publishing. (And dozens of editors) Let me repeat, though, that my short fiction editors have been wonderful, wonderful folks, and continue to be. I love working with them.
Wow after reading that article, I had a flashback to Aliens with Ripley and the flamethrower….
It seems the panic is spreading — I can’t see editors in the past being so condescending with an author with a proven track record. They are under pressure even more so than the past to create the next JK Rawlings.
The ship is sinking and the editors are rearranging the deck chairs!
Wow. I hope you don’t have to work with the second editor for very much longer. I do admit to being curious as to how you dealt with him, or if you are saving your words for later after the contract is complete. 😛
Someone else mentioned it, but I thought the same thing: If they treat you, someone who has been in this profession for so long in so many roles, how are the rest of us going to be treated? Oh, I know, even worse.
No thank you. Life is too short to be treated like maggots.
After all that negativity how wonderful it was to have positive emails in your inbox from those who really matter. Talk about a timely reminder.
Finally, thank you Lee for putting together the list!
I’ll be blogging about what happened when this entire mess is done, JA. Suffice to say yesterday cut the relationship short. Now we’ll simply deal with the end of it all, however it works out.
Craig, Ripley & her flame-thrower.
Well I can’t speak to the experience with editors, having given up the slush pile attempts in favor of self-publishing. But it does strike me that your publisher needs you more than you need your publisher. At some point, being treated poorly starts to carry more weight on the “con” side of the equation when you evaluate whether to continue.
I think that list of pros and cons is excellent, I’d only take issue with the third bullet point under pros of the traditional route. Even if product placement holds up, I don’t think overall sales or overall profit on the combination of paper and ebooks will “probably” be better under the traditional publishing model. At least not in most fiction genres in 2011 going on 2012. Might have been true a year ago, most likely not now, unless an author is literally right near the very top handful of authors in a genre.
Interesting point, Edward. I do think things are changing so fast that next year’s list will look very different from this year’s.
Kris, I have always considered you one of the most highly respected people in the business, and if they’ll treat you like that, what does it say for the rest of us? We’re lucky to be sh!t scraped off the bottom of their shoe.
It a bizarre kind of way it helps to know that it’s not just us. Although saying that YOU don’t know SF is just beyond bizarre. Don’t know why they gave you that Hugo for, in that case. A silly slip up one supposes.
Thanks, Jeanne (and all the others who’ve offered support). You made me giggle with the Hugo comment.
Thank you for another amazing post, Kris. What I find humorous is that these people are doing nothing more but hastening their own demise. How many amazing writers will show up now that they can be heard? How many who indie publish and make money will then opt to go with the Traditional publisher who comes, hat-in-hand, offering a contract after the indie sales have been proven; when we can make more money doing what we do now and not have to deal with all their crap?
My opinion: Let NY Times and these traditional publishing elitists sit around in their little covens drinking from old dust goblets while they discuss how the publishing business has gone to crap and the quality of writing has diminished. Meanwhile, we will do our thing and make more money than they do, all while having the respect of our audience and the freedom to enjoy our craft. Its leaders like you and Dean that are truly making a huge difference in indie publishing and why its becoming so successful. Thank you for all that you do!
Ramon, I love that image of the dusty old goblets. Great stuff–and accurate. Times they are a’changin’
Go you! I know what you mean about the age thing. I’m turning 55 in a couple of weeks and I find that I just shake my head at the behavior of some people. I love Indie Publishing and the thought of going back to getting rejections because my writing ‘slips between the cracks’ is completely unacceptable. I just can’t handle the condescension anymore.
It’s not just in publishing though. I think it’s an old business model. Sort of ‘I bought your book and to show I’m in control I have to keep you on edge, to do that I need to abuse you.’ It comes from the person in charge being insecure about their place. Old, outdated and not the most effective business model either. Carrots work much better than sticks, but too many people haven’t figured that out.
The other told me I had no idea how to write a good book in my genre.
Sheesh, I just bought an SF short story of yours and the first in your Retrieval Artist series, and I have no idea what this dude is talking about.
I wouldn’t have bothered buying either one if I thought the writing was sub-par. Give me a break.
I understand about being dissed, because that’s where I am with my temp job. Been here for a year, but even though I have the knowledge of a particular system, the higher ups still went and brought in another temp (who is now permanent) for that job – had to be taught from the ground up. And there’s some question about her past office jobs…
But I digress. I’m not that far age-wise behind you (49), and where you’ve got a boatload of knowledge of publishing and writing, I have the same in the corporate office sphere: Been there, done that, did it well.
Hugs to you, Kris! Like others who post here, I appreciate all the knowledge you and Dean have accumulated over the years, and have offered to us.
Linda and Nancy, thanks. I do think it is an old business model. As Bridget notes, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I now know the difference between an editor who attacks my work for no reason and an editor who knows what she’s talking about. Yesterday’s editors didn’t know either. (Oh, and I turned out to be right about the in-house scheduling problem with publisher #1. Did I get an apology from that editor? Of course not.)
Kris, I don’t know all the particulars of your recent interaction with the Young Debutante Editors. Unfortunately, I have had all too much experience (multiple experience –four layoffs in five years– yikes!) working for a corporation that was going under — that the employees knew was going under! — where we were expecting every moment of every day The Big Downsizing. It is not a pleasant working environment. Tempers fray, words get exchanged. Very, very, very stupid words get exchanged.
That must be how it feels working for a NY publishing firm these days. Traditional publishing will survive, but many (if not most) of these Baby Editors’ jobs won’t. The interchanges you describe are very unhelpful for their employers during this difficult time, but such snootiness is all too understandably human with the Budget Ax of Damocles hanging above ones head.
That being said, when you’re standing on the deck of the sinking Titanic with the cold North Atlantic breeze fluttering your Vasser school scarf, it doesn’t really pay to be snippy to the person holding the lifeboat. In order to survive, publishers are going to have to sell books. To do that, they’re going to need books that sell. That means buying books from authors who write books that sell.
Good books from good authors are going to be their lifeboat. A modicum of R*E*S*P*E*C*T is called for.
Lee, I think your point is a good one on traditional publishing. And let me say again, thanks for letting me use that list. It’s great.
Kris, on top of the support and help these posts offer (I’m presuming) to established writers, you and Dean are educating a whole new generation of up-and-comers about craft and the business of writing. Thanks so much for your efforts.
Kris, sorry to hear this happened to you-but as always, really appreciate the fact that you took the time to share it with the rest of us! I suspect that publishing has been this way a long time, and I would bet, has been getting worse since it became more corporate. My experience is that in poorly functioning corporations the higher-ups dramatically underestimate the value of local expertise (in this case the expertise of the writer) and overestimate the value of their own plans and strategies. I wonder if things are getting worse now as the model is changing. Terrified people tend to lash out. Anyway, hang in there! I can’t imagine anyone who could stop a R.E.S.P.E.C.T.-fueled Kris Rusch!!!
Steve M, good point on corporations. It really is a dysfunctional system. A dear friend of mine (editor) is lashing out at everyone these days, and I think it’s because of the job structure. Thank heavens I’m not in that publishing company, however. It’s ugly out there in traditional publishing land.
Marilyn, yeah, the abuse is rampant. And I ain’t taking it. (I’ve never really taken it, but yesterday was really above and beyond. When the dust settles–and it will–I’ll blog about it.)
I wonder sometimes at the detritus left by the industry, also. The other day I was in the used bookstore and found some novels by authors I really liked when I met them at the inception of Broad Universe over a decade ago: authors who were excited about their work and with whom I talked with great enjoyment at multiple conventions. We talked about careers, the stories we were working on, all sorts of things. I went home, read those books, and thought with eager anticipation of what came next.
A lot of those writers have gone missing in action. What happened to them? I remember their excitement (“I finally got my first contract!”). I remember the plans they were so fiercely passionate about. And I can’t imagine those people had only one book, or one trilogy, in them.
What happened to them? Those promising new authors. Did they decide they were bored with writing and just didn’t have another book in them after all? Or did the industry chew them up and spit them out and go looking for fresh meat?
Where are those authors now, I wonder… and are they riding the indie wave, wearing their warpaint and howling their new joys… or did the fight get beaten out of them, and have they given up forever?
Treating authors as abused spouses seems to be systemic in the publishing industry.
Some publishers must make it their house policy because the verbal abuse has happened to friends with different editors in the same house. These editors worked hard to convince the authors that they were worthless piles of poop, and other houses wouldn’t touch them so they’d better be happy with the falling royalty rates, etc.
thank you for all your work. I do hope you continue on as an e-book writer.
I, too, found your fiction work from your blog-posts. I’m glad to have found your books, they are very good.
Great article. Think I’ll turn up the Aretha and write!
Sorry you’ve had to put up with this bullhockey.
Thanks, TK. Ari, glad the blog led to the fiction. That is so cool!
Thank you, and all the authors also doing so, for speaking out. I believe this has grown MUCH worse as the market gets tighter (counter intuitive as that is). How can the publishers continue to proclaim their biggest saving grace is their role as gatekeepers when the people manning the gates are so out of touch with authors and readers?
I had been blessed with absolutely The best editors in my genre (Romance, Women’s Fic) if not the whole biz… and then… in the last 3 years my new editors are more in step with what you’ve described. One understands plot and character development so little her actual notes said: have them talk less and do more stuff, like use the phone and go canoeing.
So I have all but quit writing Romance and will have some back list ebooks out soon and originals out in time and write a humorous blog (because my editor doesn’t ‘get’ humor – characters can only do some much comedy without talking, after all – so I needed an outlet) and am happier than a broke person should be.
Kris, you and I go back long enough to remember when the agent / publisher way was the only way, and as new writers we took whatever they dished out, and always the overhead sword named “You’ll never work in this town again” tempering our responses. Your soon-to-be-ex-editor is still living in that world, it would appear. Lowly young editors blowing the ink dry on their English degrees have very little power within their own employment structure, and like a lot of the semi-powerless, take it out on what they perceive to be the next-lowest rung on the ladder.
Only authors aren’t in that position anymore, or not the smart ones, anyhow. The peasants are revolting, as The Wizard of Id would have it. The feudal publishing structure is dead, and just hasn’t had time to hit the ground yet.
Oh, and props to Lee for the upside / downside list. Think I’ll just print that puppy off and have it handy for writers who tell me “Yeah, but…”
Oh, Bridget, yes…that “you’ll never work in this town again” response. I remember it well. And how many of those editor folks are still working? Not a one…
Anniejones, yeah, the newbie editors seem especially clueless these days. It’s sad and it’s showing up in the sameness of the books. I was reading RT Book Reviews when all of this happened, and in the romance section, the historicals listed in that issue are Regency, 1800s England, and medieval Scotland. Nothing else. It makes me sad. I’d like a good Civil War novel or maybe a WWII romance. But no….
I think it also comes down to behaving like a professional. Whether an editor agrees with her writer or not; whether an editor feels that her writer understands business or not; there are professional ways to deal with her writer. It’s not hard to disagree diplomatically. Likewise, an editor ought to at least check her writers’ bios & websites, especially if the editor/writer relationship is brand new. Even a cursory glance at your website/bio would make it clear you are a seasoned professional, not a debut novelist with no understanding of publishing at all.
What’s really unfortunate is that these editors have apparently never been taught by their employers that writers are BUSINESS ASSOCIATES, and should be treated as such, with professional courtesy &, yes, respect. It’s also a shame that such behavior is driving even more business away from traditional publishers & THEY refuse to see it.
I’m sorry you were treated so unprofessionally by people who should know better.
Recently I had a concern about the bonds in my 401K portfolio (I don’t know a lot about finances, but there are issues in the news lately that make me worry). When I contacted my 401K account exec, I sat on her email response for a couple of days before sending it to my husband with the question, “Am I over-reacting, or did she just tell me “don’t worry your pretty little head over that, the bond fund manager knows what he’s doing”?”
A couple of days after that I received a contact from the other account exec, & I expressed my dissatisfaction with the tone & content of the initial response (I was still trying to work the ire out of my system before going back to the initial account exec). Two days later, he was in my office with a full prospectus, bio & success rate info on the bond fund manager in question, & detailed explanations of what was going on. He wasn’t condescending but made a point of figuring out just exactly my expertise level was & explaining in terms I could understand. He gave me links to more information about the various funds in my 401K & his direct number.
I appreciated this, because while one account exec treated me like some clueless hysterical pain in the the ass determined to upset her day, the other one treated me with professional courtesy & a valued client, despite the fact that I am only one person out of the thousands they must deal with, with a very small, drop in the bucket, account. That is the way business should be conducted ACROSS THE BOARD.
Shawn, great post on the differences between someone who treats a business partner with respect and someone who doesn’t. Absolutely right.
The general lack of respect for credentials and experience reaches far beyond publishing, Kris. Truth is, facts no longer matter so why would the opinions of people who know them?
Science and scientists are no longer respected. People believe what they want to believe, fed and supported by their choices in listening to people who think the way they do. Conspiracy theories abound because of this. The US political system is full of evidence, as the candidates say whatever they think people want to hear. Facts don’t matter – neither do people with the experience to know them.
Cheers — Larry
Larry, you are right about the lack of respect in the culture. I think it’s a pendulum swing from when I was a girl, when everyone demanded respect (sometimes with a ruler rap to the hand, in the case of a few teachers). I would like to return to the healthy middle….
I’m sorry to hear how frustrating those experiences have been. Like Mary Jo (and so many others) I’m shocked at the disrespect with which they treat you.
Unfortunately, I don’t think many writers have your resilience or your publishing (both as author and editor) credentials. When we hear that we don’t understand publishing or have no idea how to write a novel in our genre, how many of us are able to dismiss unwarranted abuse? And how many of us, like kids growing up, come to believe what others say to us or about us, rather than believe what we know to be true, ourselves?
Thanks for your post!
Jim F, you might be right about resilience. As MCA mentioned, a lot of writers have gone by the wayside, and that’s sad for all of us readers. I hope this trend reverses.
I’m sorry you were dissed by those upstart editors who think they know everything. I’m pushing the big 50 this year and have been writing forever it seems. Some 20-something newbie agent told me my plot wasn’t believable because my MC used the telephone. A landline. (Not everyone owns a cell phone, including myself.) That was the day I stopped querying and went indie. I do feel your pain.
Anne, if I start listing that kind of silliness, we’d be here until 2020. I once kept a list of everything my copy editor taught me about the 1960s–including the fact that apparently there was no macaroni salad in those dark days (dunno what that was my mother put on the table), no halter tops (what was my aunt wearing in that picture from 1939?) and on and on and on. Head-shaking, really. Not to mention the editor who once asked me if Stalin was really alive in 1918 or if I made that up.
I do think being a woman of a certain age (I’m 51) does make me much more willing to be outspoken–and I started out outspoken….
Bravo! And bravo to Lee too 🙂
Speaking of 1930s Masked Avenger pulps, there’s actually a great example of that in the offing right now. A fellow from Toronto named Greg Taylor does pulp novels that tie into his radio drama podcast, “The Red Panda.” The Red Panda is fabulous, and the novels are utterly delightful. Can’t recommend the man or his work enough.
The ability to make instant corrections can’t be overstated as a value point for me–one of my current series is stretching me WAY WAY beyond my comfort zone as a writer, particularly in terms of continuity and complexity. After taking two months and five beta readers to catch all the last continuity glitches in the new volume, I’m getting ready to unleash it on the fanbase this weekend, and I’m *dead* certain I’ve got at least a dozen major continuity errors in there somewhere that I’m just not catching because I’m still learning what kind of notes I need to take for myself. Holding off a couple months on the paperback means that I can check up on any continuity errors that fans find and report, and fix them if they need fixing, before I go to paper.
May seem like a silly thing, but at the moment it’s giving me major peace of mind, probably because I feel like I’ve crawled *way* out on a limb with this book relative to what I’ve been competent with before. I’ll take my safety nets in the weird forms I can get ’em 😉
Also, to add to your pile of contra-editor notes, I’m about 100 pages into Sacrifice and really enjoying myself (and I am NOT a huge fan of this kind of Fantasy at all–the fact that you grabbed my interest so well is astounding me). Thanks much for the delightful afternoon tea breaks the last couple days 🙂
May you have a better tomorrow, Kris–don’t let the bastards grind you down!
Thanks, Dan. Congrats on finishing the big project. And I appreciate the good words on “Sacrifice”!
And they’re not grinding me down. If they were, I wouldn’t have played Aretha on the stereo all night–much to the dismay of my office cat. He started whining about the “repeat” of the song about an hour in. It was rather cute.
Yeah, the ability to redo or revise or add or change a silly error is priceless. The proofer going over the remaining Fey books tells me that for an entire section in the middle of one of the later volumes, I changed my hero’s hair color. These books went through two different English-language versions with copy editors, proofers, and book editors, and still that crept in. Of course, we’re talking more than 2,000 pages of material, but still…:-) I’m glad I’ll be able to fix that in the current versions.
The Internet has been on fire with these kinds of stories this past week. It is maddening. Your writing is excellent, your awards impressive, and you ought to be treated with respect. After reading so many similar stories alongside reports of happiness from self-published authors, self-publishing seems to be a really great option for writers today, especially with the market in as much flux as it is right now. Lee Allread’s list is enlightening. 🙂
Thanks for the post and for the list which sets everything out so clearly. I have chosen my path and set my course in both indie and traditional publishing (of short stories in mags and anthologies), but it is still encouraging and inspirational to be reminded of the realities of the field. Now, time to upload some more stories.
The thing is: If editors treat you, a brilliantly successful writer, editor, and publisher, like this, what kind of treatment can the rest of us reasonably expect? The traditional publishing industry seems to have developed some basic flaws in the system.
I could not have said it better myself. I have nowhere near your experience but I am at a point in my career where I take crap from no one. I don’t have to. So i completely understand what you’re saying, Kris The biggest advantage to indie publishing is the freedom not to have to take any crap from anyone.
Love the way you capsulated the current state of the business.
Thanks, Russ, John, Marilyn, and Mary Jo. I’ve heard of more experienced writers than I am getting this treatment. So Mary Jo, your question is a valid one. I’ve wondered it myself.
And Lee’s list is great, isn’t it? Very, very nice.
First, hugs from me. I feel your frustration.
Second, I have learnt more about the publishing industry from you and Dean than all the paid Agent/Editor conferences I have attended over the past 10 years, so thank you.
Third, I think I have a lower tolerance for lack of respect than you do because I refuse to deal with anyone after the first sign of disrespect, both in business and personally.
Thanks, Diane. You might be right about your lower tolerance. It makes me wonder how many good writers have given up on the field just because of the attitudes the so-called professional editors/agents have. Now those writers can publish because they have a lot of other ways in. A win for all of us, I think.
I think Aretha’s “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” (reworked as “Writers Are Doin’ It For Themselves”) would be an apt follow-up… 🙂
The kind of contempt that you describe would be unforgivable directed at any writer, let alone someone of your experience and stature. And yet it’s always been this way, and i suspect will always continue to be. And i think the reason for this is very simple — these people can’t do what you do, and that simple fact eats away at their souls until there’s nothing left but a dark emptiness where that soul should be.
I’m a writer and an editor — not _that_ kind of editor, but an editor who works with writers on books and film scripts and tries to help turn them into better books and film scripts. And the thing that i realized long ago that i think helps make me a pretty good editor is that i love being an editor just as much as i love being a writer.
But most editors? They hate being editors because they once tried to be writers and failed. Sure, there are exceptions, but those exceptions prove the rule, i think. The rule are the editors forever forced to face up to the fact that they didn’t have what it takes, until the depth of contempt and animus they hold for those who have what it takes is all they’ve got left.
Thanks, Scott. It has always been this way. After I wrote the blog post, Dean asked me which writer I was referring to from the early 1990s, and I reminded him of the incident that precipitated the remark, an incident between a Big Name Writer and a stupid editor that I had to referee when I edited for Pulphouse. Dean had forgotten about that. Then we talked about all of the writers we knew from the Golden Age who had awful editor/publisher stories that we thought were simply “stories” at the time. So yes, it has always been with us, sadly.
I think you might have a point about enjoyment. The sf editor was a Clarion graduate and wanted to be a writer once upon a time. Has never once published any fiction on his/her/its own. And never will either. I know a lot of editors like that. I was in danger of losing my passion when I was editing, so I quit to be the writer I wanted to be. I have never regretted that decision. Besides, how many people can say they retired from a very successful career at the age of 37? 🙂
I, for one, am grateful that you offer sage advice for free to other writers, because it introduced me to your fiction. I never would have found the Fey series without this blog.
Thank you, SV, for the kind words on my fiction. I’m glad the blog brought you to it! That’s a bonus for me. 🙂
I have only a little experience as a writer, but let me say as a long-time reader the main frustration I have right now is with series I love being only randomly available as ebooks (this in reference to your statements above: (Why is my 2nd book of 6 book series out of print?!?))
I am trying to buy as ebooks new copies of several SF series I love, even though I have old print copies, so that I can have them with me on my Kindle, and yet the first and third books in a series are available while the second is not for sale.
I assume this will settle out over time, but what a mess for authors and readers.
I’m sure it’ll settle out, jnfr. Part of the problem is something I’m encountering: traditional publishers who refuse to revert rights, but also refuse to put the novels back into print. Or, in the case of Pocket Books and my novel Fantasy Life, charge outrageous prices for both the print and e-book edition. I can’t change it, even though it makes me crazy. I know other writers are going through the same thing. Over time, we’ll all figure this out, but right now, it’s somewhat insane.