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Rules for Anchorites

Letters from Proxima Thule

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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.

Yep, I may be a photographer (and my hubby leemoyer an illustrator www.leemoyer.com), but we feel much the same way. Desperation and operating from a scarcity mentality is bad for the individual and bad for everyone in the industry. There is way to much of it, and it is self perpetuating. It is hard to tell someone to go get stuffed when that ugly little voice in your head is shouting, "No one else will ever want your work again!!!!", but as real professionals, we have to do it.

Thank you for speaking-- I am grateful to everyone who's given their perspective on what a working relationship with this publisher is like so that I can make a well-informed decision about submitting to this market in the future.

Very well and fairly said, I think. You are good at that.

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I'm glad you liked it--it means a lot to me to hear that.

Hear hear. The other thing you have to remember is "Just because he made the overture doesn't mean you have to blow him." In my experience with Prime, he contacted me about the two collections that I ultimately had to pull from him, and then promptly stopped returning repeated messages until I finally had to threaten physical violence and/or public humiliation. I've said it before and I'll say it again: if I wanted to respond to an enthusiastic request for submission, wait 2 1/2 years to see so much as a proof, receive no feedback whatsoever about whether or not the manuscript was acceptable, hear repeated lies about release dates to prevent me from getting more vocal about editorial incompetence, and then hear back from mutual acquaintances about how "it wasn't really that good", I'd write another guest script for Randy Milholland.

You're also right about the problem that we let vermin like Wallace get away with this. We've always let bad publishers get away with this, and every time someone tries to warn us that a publisher is unethical or blatantly lawbreaking, any number of us go running, like teenage girls to a serial killer, on the idea that "well, he won't do that to me." In Prime's case, nobody called him on his tactics when he practically signed up half of Australia on contracts that he simply couldn't handle. Nobody called him when he dropped everything to edit both Clarkesworld and Fantasy. Nobody called him when he spent more time preening for convention photos and pitching his Fantasy featurette on "Hot Genre Editors I'd Like To Pork" than on fulfilling his contractual obligations. Most of all, he continues with his "Well, at least I'm trying" non-apology apologies, and yet he continues to be treated as if he's a respectable editor by the rest of the skiffy community. Considering how long everyone put up with Kristine Kathryn Rusch's delaying publication of Pulphouse in order to focus on other shiny objects that caught her attention that morning, as well as rationalizing her publishing her own goddamn stories in nearly every issue of F&SF while she was editor, I'm not surprised.

Me, I'm going further than just deciding that "Friends don't let friends do Prime." I realize that I wasn't much of a commodity even when I was still writing, but the next person who comes at me with anything approximating an offer for publication is getting punched in the heart. I've already sold off my remaining writing portfolio to get it the fuck out of my life, and I shut down my other blog because I was already so sick and tired of idiots telling me "I know you'd rather get sodomized by the Pope than write again, but you really need to go back to it." I'm done. (And I know some smartass will inevitably pipe up and tell me that s/he won't touch me for the latest Absolutely Fabulous/Farscape slashfic anthology s/he's putting together. All I can say is "Pleeeeeeaaaaase, Brer Fox, don't throw me in that briar patch!")

I always wondered where your collections went.

Had no idea about the Hot Genre Editors thing, but it has always troubled me that he is acknowledged as a feminist ally in public despite his well-known behavior in private.

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the addendum to that is of course that it's helpful for people to be open about their dealings so authors can make informed decisions. But god, it's such an important thing to know--like a relationship, sometimes you gotta respect yourself enough to leave.

Thanks for talking about this.

I heard a little of what you went through from a friend when I was struggling with my own Prime stuff, and it helped me cement the decision to get myself somewhere else.

Thank you! From one of my favorite poems.

Thanks for saying this. As an amateur writer who has only briefly considered submitting my stuff to anywhere (I don't have any whole novels finished anyway, let alone many short stories), it's good to know what to expect should I decide to do that. It is sort of nice to hear this, as I do have a sort of "OMG what if no one else wants me" mentality about things (part of being an aspiring opera singer, I think, since so much of my life is focused on auditioning), and sometimes we need to hear that it's okay to value ourselves enough to walk away when things get bad.

guess i need to echo you and say much the same about record labels. *love* well done.

Ha, I haven't even thought about that!
But that makes a lot of sense, I'm sure you get the same issues with record labels.

Kudos to you for talking about this.

Thanks for talking about this. I consider myself warned.

Mostly off topic, I'm delighted to find someone else who needs to count with four hands.

I was rather floored. That's one more than the gripping hand. Quite a talent.

I'm new to Prime (just discovered them at Readercon, and wound up buying a bunch of books, including The Labyrinth). I like their product; it's a shame they don't treat their writers better.

Enjoy 'em while they last. I suspect Prime in two years is going to be like Pulphouse Press circa 1995: a trivia answer.