Girl Genius Vs. Tor
Hello all you writers and readers out there. This is Sarah A. Hoyt, coming at you from the bright, beautiful, shiny 21st century, where writers have all sorts of options for self-publishing and self marketing -- where writers, in fact, often have to do their own marketing -- and where, nonetheless, the traditional publishing houses still behave as though you had no other options and no other outlets.
Take, for instance the case of Phil Foglio, who wrote about his plight yesterday:
So after a year of this (yes, an entire year. We are Slow to Take Offense, here at Studio Foglio), I write to Mr. Hayden, asking him if our editor is dead, or just fired? This question surprises him, as he saw her in the office that morning. He seems sympathetic. We even have a face-to-face meeting at worldcon the next week where he explains that TOR just really doesn’t know how to sell graphic novels, and when someone takes on a job they don’t know how to do, they tend to just stick their fingers in their ears and hope that eventually, it goes away. Fair enough, I am occasionally like this with The Experiments.
I mention that we’ve been selling graphic novels fairly well for quite awhile, and that we’d cheerfully give them pointers. However, if they just can’t wrap their heads around it, which seems obvious since after three years they have yet to sell through the initial print run (We’d have done it in 16 months- and that’s with no advertising, which is a fair comparison, as they did no advertising either), then we’ll just sing a chorus of “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You”, and then we’ll publish them ourselves, because if there’s one thing we know how to do, it’s publish and sell Girl Genius graphic novels.
But we can’t. Because our contract with TOR says we can’t publish “a competing product” for five years. Okay, what can we do about this? But now, Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden has apparently decided that we’re too much trouble.
As a writer who worked for years in traditional publishing with houses-other-than-Baen (Baen tends to be way more responsive, though sometimes overwhelmed) I can tell you this is about bog-standard treatment. I will never forget for instance, three years after the issue of one of my trilogies, getting a phone call form my agent saying she had been on the phone with the editor who had just realized my series was steam punk and they'd marketed it all wrong. So... what did they do about it? Nothing, that was the beginning and the end of that conversation.
Then there was the hot and cold running editor, who sometimes was my best friend and sometimes ignored me for weeks on end. I don't know if this is sheer ineptitude, or just a way to keep writers off their stride or... yes. Just because it stems from ineptitude, it doesn't mean that it doesn't serve the function of reminding the writer they're at the mercy of the house.
And speaking of ineptitude... My friend Amanda Green (who also writes as Ellie Ferguson) is on the case covering Patrick Nielsen Hayden's response to the whole mess:
According to Mr. Hayden, there are a bunch of senior editors but no editor-in-chief that they report to. They only report to the publisher. Yeah, right. I’m sure the publisher has time to know what’s going on with each editor and writer for the house. There’s an old saying about a chicken with its head cut off. Perhaps that is what’s happening at Tor. It certainly looks like it to me.
In fact, most of my experience in traditional publishing (except for Baen) has been that no one is at the controls, and things just sort of drift. Any other business would crash this way. Oh, wait. Traditional publishing is crashing too, even if in slow-mo.
So, let's hear it for writers who take responsibility for their own business and mind their own store. Yes they did build that! Now see if by any chance you wanna buy what they have to sell!
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