July 28th, 2008


It's About Power

I have struggled for several days over whether I ought to say anything about the Prime Books conversation going on in various interweb-type places.

You all know I've worked with Prime. But how much of an author's relationship with a publisher--especially one she no longer publishes with--is fodder for public discourse? I don't know. I still don't know. But I don't want my silence to be conspicuous.

I have had positive experience with Prime (The Labyrinth, Yume no Hon) and negative experiences (pretty much everything else). Some of these were interpersonal issues that I do not feel comfortable getting into here, and that has been an incredibly hard decision. If you absolutely need to know, discuss it with me privately. I just can't bring myself to hash it out online. Some of the problems were professional issues (the fate of my poetry collections and my third novel). I published with Prime before anyone was getting advances, and while it often took forever and a year and a lot of upset emails, I did eventually get paid for everything I did for them. I know a lot of people who weren't so lucky--and the likelihood is you do too.

The fact is that most people in the community knew all of this about Prime a long time ago, and have been unwilling to burn bridges by speaking out. It's true that at any con where Prime is named, authors, mainly female ones, roll their eyes and share their grievances for hours on end. Because guess what? It's not enough to publish women. You have to value their work, and valuing their work means paying them and respecting them. So kudos to a very brave Michael Cisco, who was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. That's what the internet is for, in a lot of ways. Balancing power.

We all want to work--it makes it hard to talk about any company in negative ways. That said.

Sean Wallace is the reason I am currently published by Bantam--he kindly sent the manuscript for The Orphan's Tales up when I submitted it to him. He regularly offers me work. He has been much less...abrasive/invasive in recent years. I owe him a lot.

On the other hand, none of my books received professional editing or copyediting, and the publicity was certainly in my hands, beyond sending out ARCs. But guys, that's every publisher, and I've always told y'all that. Prime is perhaps worse than most at the practice of slapping on a cover and hoping for the best, but it is a small press. On the third hand, The Grass-Cutting Sword was more or less abandoned before it ever came out, despite Sean specifically asking me to write it, and that was a hard pill for me to swallow. The details on that are another thing I think would cause more trouble than good were I to share them all. I'm not all that gossipy on the internet. On the fourth hand, I've heard through various channels a lot of gossip that the editor of Prime has engaged in behind my back, which has on occasion harmed my relationships with other female authors, and I'm not happy with that kind of high-school mentality. It's a small community, shit gets around, and it has hurt to hear the things I've heard. But I cannot control another person's behavior.

Here's the thing. If you don't like the way a publisher works, don't work for them. Don't be so desperate for publication that you will put up with anything. None of us are cattle, we don't deserve to be prodded and shocked and ultimately whacked on the head. You get treated the way you allow yourself to be treated. Prime is not the only publisher in the world, and if you don't like it, quit. Publication in and of itself is not worth the misery of working with people you do not believe are dealing with you ethically, fairly, professionally, or whathaveyou. The reason publishers--and there are many worse than Prime--get away with shit is because we are all so desperate we don't call them out.

My Labyrinth novel contract before I signed with Prime, my first one, with a realist small press in San Diego, turned out to be predicated upon sleeping with the editor. Guess what? Publication wasn't worth it. They are not the only ones with power.

Don't forget that you as the author do control the means of production, and you have the ability to take your work elsewhere. Prime doesn't pay so much or provide so much high profile publicity that you need to stick around like it's a company town and you spent your last dime on moldy bread.

This goes for any publisher: they are not the only game in town, and if you don't like the way the game is being played, take your ball and go find another team.

Ultimately, that's what I did.
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