So there’s this publishing horror story making the rounds the last few days—the saga of Mandy DeGeit, who submitted a short story to a small press that did anthologies and discovered that it was published with a whole lot of changes, including animal abuse, which she never saw, never okayed, and never had an inkling of until the bizillion copies she’d ordered came in.
I feel for this woman, I do. I remember the first time that I got a cover I did back with an element that had been wee down in the corner blown up and pasted in the middle of the cover, about fifteen times the size it should be (and thus blurry) and with a white-pixel-cut-out line around it. I felt ill. (And no, it wasn’t “I HAVE BEEN VIOLATED!” because I’ve been at this way too long for my art to be my precious babies anymore. It was “Oh my god, somebody’s gonna see my name on this and think I’m a HACK!” I roll my eyes whenever anybody compares art theft to rape* but seeing a lousy thing with your name on it and the lousy bit isn’t your fault sure is a nasty shock and hits you right in the ego. Obviously I never worked with them again.)
The owner of the “publishing house” in question does seem to be a semi-literate piece of work whenever he shows up on the web, too. But that’s neither here nor there. I don’t know either of them, I have no dog in this fight beyond the vague grey shaggy one with “GENERALIZED SYMPATHY” on its collar.
However, there IS something I want to say, because you and I both know that even as I am typing these words, someone, somewhere, is hitting “SEND” on a comment that begins “Sadly, I’ve heard far too many horror stories like this…blah blah blah traditional publishers want to kidnap you and sell your organs blah blah blah SELF-PUBLISHING IS THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE!!!”
I tell you now, O readers, mine, this is not a traditional publisher issue, a small press issue, an editor issue or an e-book issue. This is a douchebag issue.
There will always be douchebags. The world is full of them and we are currently prevented by law from hunting them in the streets. They are limited to no one particular craft or creed, and it is unfair to glom onto any particular example of douchebaggery in order to grind your own particular tangentially-related axe. Complaining that because this guy committed an act of serious editorial malfeasance means that we should all self-publish is like saying that because my cousin got screwed over by his mechanic, we must all learn to build our own cars from the axles on up. Knock yourself out—me, I’ll just go to a different mechanic.
Self-publishing is utterly fantastic for what it’s fantastic at, and you should absolutely do it if that’s the route for you, but do it for the right reasons. The right reasons do not include “Big publishers want to lure you into their den and tear out your still-pulsing spleen as an offering to Yns-Morgoth, Lord of the Slush Pile.” I would also be leery of “Because I am SPECIAL and do not NEED an editor.” And certainly I would avoid “Because the editor will totally rewrite my story!” because…well…
I’ve never encountered it. I know many authors who have also never encountered it. The plural of “anecdote” is not “data” but this sort of thing is really not standard and a lot of editors are expressing great shock at this. This is not “how the industry runs.” This is not normal.
We’re working on…let me think, math…Okay, not counting Digger collections, I just turned in my thirteenth manuscript, we’ve had edits and revisions on eleven of them, and nobody’s ever just started adding crap out of the blue. The sort of things I hear are “When we stick this scene here, I feel like we interrupt the climax in the middle, and then the momentum never quite gets back up. Can we re-arrange?” and “I don’t know if this bit here actually moves the story along.” I have had a couple of scenes proposed to me–”You’ve got a nice bit here that we end the first book with–can we get another couple like that, to insert in the second book, to tie it together?” but the editor does not sit down and write the scene. That would be kinda nuts. I would probably take offense. The closest I have ever had to an editor writing something in my manuscript is single sentences, usually accompanied by “I’m afraid it isn’t clear who’s talking. Would something like “She said, sitting down on the bench” work here?” (Even then, this generally occurs in the editing sidebar, in these Word-heavy days, and it is left for me to actually execute them in the text.)
Also, they send you a copy-edited manuscript or PDF or whatever. Everyone does this. This is your last chance to look over and say “Oh, crap! Changes!” People who don’t do this are not acting professional. Be afraid.
But not of publishers in general, and certainly not of small presses. Small presses are fraught with peril, mostly in the form of well-meaning people who have no idea how much work they’re getting into and how much money they won’t be making, so yes, vet your small press thoroughly. But don’t curse the lot of ‘em because one moron with an e-book converter claimed to be a “publisher.” (Case in point, my buddies at Sofawolf are beyond fantastic, and I would encourage anyone with a story to check their submission guidelines, because they do it very, very right. Also, they send me gin. HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE THIS?)
So. In conclusion, horrible situation, very sad, but not typical. If this happens (or has happened!) to you, then speak up! Don’t fear that you’ll be blackballed or anything like that! Tell people! Good presses treat their authors right, and they’re awesome, and nobody ought to have to put up with morons like this who aren’t.
And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming…
*If you try to argue this point with me, I will close the thread and delete it. I’m not in the mood right now.