Monday, November 10, 2008

Professionalism and You!

Yes, today's post and Thursday's post will probably be short, as I do have a houseguest, and I am currently editing two novels. So, sorry everyone, don't expect much from me--although I am hoping that Thursday I might be able to do my "Projects self-publishing is good for" post. (If I don't get to it, I will do it next week. Thursday we're going to Tintagel so I think it will probably be next week, when I will be all by my lonesome again.)

Anyway. So here are some random thoughts about professional behavior and YOU. (Like one of those filmstrips they showed you in elementary school.)

There's been a bit of discussion around online about whether publishers should censor authors or tell them what they should and should not be saying online. And in the main this is ridiculous. My publishers are not my employers; and even if they were, why in the world would we have them censor me outside work?

It strikes me as intensely amusing that the same people who want publishers to tell their authors to shut up online, tend to be the same people who go crazy when, for example, bloggers are fired for keeping a blog. How is that not the exact same thing? And we rightly recognize that firing people for keeping blogs outside of work hours--blogs in which they criticize an employer or indistry, usually, but sometimes it's just innocuous writing--is shameful and wrongheaded, and a violation of rights.

But we want publishers to drop authors for saying or doing things online that we don't like? No. That is not right, any more than firing anyone else for what they do in their free time.

At the same time, though, there is a line that can be crossed. It can be very difficult to keep author and publisher separate in the ebook world, and when an author is just a flat-out shithead (no, I'm not thinking of anyone in particular, just in general) it can be difficult to remember that there's every chance the publisher is cringing behind the computer screen, same as we are.

And really...being a shithead doesn't mean someone is a bad writer. Being a shithead doesn't mean they don't deserve to have a job.

But it does--or rather, it can--place a rather unfair burden on the other authors with that publisher, or on the publishers themselves. They have a choice. They can ignore the issue. They can show up to apologize and make clear that Crazy McShitheady does not speak for them. Or they can indulge in their own shady obfuscation.

My favorite Unprofessional Publisher Behavior--gee, I've been seeing a lot of this lately--is to turn up in the message board thread or blog comment thread to defend one's own company by claiming the publisher is being flamed, or that the other people commenting are jealous because their work was rejected (that one is popular; apparently several companies to which I have never submitted are now claiming they rejected me, and that is why I'm engaging in such vicious and nasty "flaming" behavior as pointing out that epublishing is a different industry from print publishing, or informing people that the "You have to give back your advance" lie is exactly that--A LIE.)

Asking questions--like "You've claimed X; can you provide details?" is not flaming. A professional publishing house should welcome the opportunity to announce their successes, not run away when asked to provide details. Just like the only agents you see online who refuse to list their sales or clients tend to be agents who have no reputable sales and no clients published with non-vanity/subsidy/PublishAmerica houses. (If you see an agent who refuses to diculge this information, do not submit to them.)

A professional publishing house should answer those questions. A professional publishing house should not call people names. A professional publishing house should not tell its authors that the people who are asking questions about it are "bitter rejected failures"--especially not when the people asking the questions have easily-findable professional credits; hell, even when they don't, going for the "She's just jealous because she was rejected" is disgusting, an easy way for the publisher to smear others and downplay the criticisms levied at them without actually having to provide any facts.

Funnily enough, all of this behavior makes me think I would prefer to not be connected with such publishing houses, far more than one crazy author. A crazy author is nothing; one could argue we're all a little crazy. But how it's handled makes a huge difference. A publisher who laughs it off, sets the record straight, and answers questions openly and honestly has my vote, no matter what demented, pretentious twits their authors might be.

A house who insists they're being "harrassed" and "flamed", a house who says they'll answer all questions and then refuses to do so or simply never shows back up to answer them, a house who avoids the issue when asked simple questions or when told that someone claiming to represent them said X, and it was a terrible thing to say, and is it true?...

All of these are warning signs, plain and simple.

My publishers don't tell me what to do or say, and I'm glad. There are some subjects I choose to remain silent on for my own reasons. There are some subjects I would never touch, or things I would never say, simply because my own internal censor cringes at the very thought ("My book is so much better than the plotless shit those other houses put out" would be one such statement, and yes, I've seen comments just like that before [for the record, I would never even think such a thing about my work, much less say it].)

And there are some subjects I avoid because they were told me in confidence. I would never, for example, publicly repeat private conversations with my agent or editor. I don't discuss the submissions process much, until there's something to tell. I don't discuss the editing process, save generalities; I'm doing edits, I'm having fun with edits, that sort of thing. Those things are private; in the same way I don't discuss my sex life or arguments with my husband, I keep those to myself.

But my publisher shouldn't tell me what to say; quite frankly, as long as they behave professionally, I doubt I'm much of a threat to them. It's when both writer and publisher seem to be riding the CrazyInternetLoon Bus that my eyebrows go up and my opinion goes down.

How about you? What do you see as "red flag" behavior?


laughingwolf said...

you nailed it all well, dee :)

BernardL said...

It's a weird line in the sand. Anything said, which may turn off a reader, has to be taken into consideration. If a publisher quietly explains to a writer if he/she goes out and says XYZ,half their potential audience may evaporate, it would be prudent to listen. Good post.

kirsten saell said...

I do think it's in everyone's best interest for a publisher to remind an author that they could be alienating readers with their online manner. That isn't censorship, just common sense.

Of course, if publishers ever come right out and tell their authors to avoid controversy altogether, I'm gonna have a problem...