Jump to content
Zorral

Publishing Industries Social Ills

Recommended Posts

Carrying on from the closed thread of Authors Behaving Badly, this seemed interesting enough to draw attention to the commentators on that thread, though it's still dealing with American Dirt and its author. It's a very long piece, for online. Lots of internal links, which disappear, of course, when formats the quoted content for the thread.

https://slate.com/culture/2020/01/american-dirt-controversy-will-publishers-change.html

Quote

 

....“Everyone saw this coming,” the editorial director told me, “but some people thought that the book’s politics were liberal enough that no one would attack it. They underestimated how the circular firing squad works.” He dismissed the notion that everyone at Flatiron was simply oblivious to the pitfalls of publishing American Dirt. “Look,” he said, “book publishers are 10 times more concerned with identity politics than Twitter suspects. This is a media company. The people who work here are the same people who are on Twitter.”

But the most common take on the American Dirt fiasco is that it resulted from Flatiron’s hubristic failure in what the industry refers to as “positioning”—that is, communicating the genre a house considers a new book to fit into. “From what I’ve heard,” said one senior editor, “it’s a really quick, pacey, dramatic read, and there’s a whole coterie of people who will say that to their friends, and word of mouth will move across the country like wildfire.” In other words, the novel is a work of commercial fiction, much like Where the Crawdads Sing and other titles that sell in large numbers while generally flying under the radar of cultural critics and political commentators. Where Cummins’ publisher went wrong, in this formulation, was to present American Dirt as if it was also, in the senior editor’s words, “a contribution to a vital understanding of this issue,” with the implied claim of representing the issue accurately rather than using it as a backdrop for an entertaining suspense story. “It’s a commercial book that was mispositioned as literary,” another senior publishing executive observed. Flatiron’s publisher, Bob Miller, essentially acknowledged this in a statement released Wednesday, noting, “We should never have claimed that it was a novel that defined the migrant experience.” This set American Dirt up for a degree of scrutiny to which most popular bestsellers are not subjected, at least not right out of the gate. “You can’t be Twitter woke and Walmart ambitious,” the assistant editor quipped.

By comparison, The Help, a 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett (also, as it happens, edited by Einhorn) was as heavily promoted to the mainstream market as American Dirt was, but without the same appeal to reviewers in major publications—or claims that it addressed a serious issue on serious terms. (Instead of barbed wire, the cover art features, inexplicably, a genteel painting of three perched birds against a golden backdrop.) Only after the book had sold millions of copies and attracted the attention of filmmakers did it draw high-profile criticisms for its depiction of race relations in the South during the 1960s. To cite a more recent example, Don Winslow, who also blurbed American Dirt, is a white author who writes bestselling thrillers about Latin American drug cartels in which the characters are arguably just as much stock figures as those in Cummins’ novel, yet his work is not presented as social commentary, with all the heightened attention such pretenses bring with them. While such distinctions may seem arcane, Gurba herself, in a recent interview with the radio program Latino USA, stated that she would have found American Dirt less offensive if its publisher had marketed it as “a romance thriller,” rather than “promoting it as if it was a novel of political protest.” She would have much more respect for Cummins, Gurba went on, “if she owned who she is and what she’s writing.”

“You can’t be Twitter woke and Walmart ambitious.”

No one I spoke to expected the controversy over American Dirt to harm the novel’s commercial prospects. “The consumers don’t care. They. Don’t. Care,” said one editor with exasperation...  ....

 

 

Then there was this, which to me matters a whole lot more than publisher fails at 'positioning' a book that supposedly deals with contemporary issues, that isn't written by somebody who is a card-carrying member of the group the books supposedly depicts -- because this has been done and can be done by those who are good enough writers and who have lived inside the communities they are writing about, even if not born into them. This is as true for 'commercial fiction' as it is for 'literary fiction,' on which publisher anonymous spokespeople blame the controversy over this particular book.  Yah, actually I'm not in favor of censorship of that kind at all!

"The Problem With American Dirt Is Not Its Author’s Background
I couldn’t care less if Jeanine Cummins is white, but her book is a failure."

https://slate.com/culture/2020/01/american-dirt-jeanine-cummins-mexican-experience.html

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

https://gay.medium.com/adventures-in-publishing-outside-the-gates-a06f089c372e

Quote

In March 2020, a book will come out with the praise of Stephen King. The book will garner praise from other big names, and articles about the book have already pointed out its seven figure advance. The publishing industry has been hard at work since last year to make sure you know about this book.


To those familiar with the controversy around American Dirt, this may sound familiar. A white woman has written a book that fictionalizes a story many people have survived and the book is receiving tremendous backing and promotion. The book this time, though, is titled My Dark Vanessa. The book I wrote, Excavation, is a memoir with eerie story similarities, and was published by a small press in 2014.

Quote

I wonder about an industry that wants to pay seven figures for a fictional book about sexual abuse. I wonder about an industry that is constantly taken to task for perpetuating white supremacy in its mostly-white field, from receptionist to first reader to editor to CEO. I wonder about a debut author, under duress of Twitter opinion, who finally reaches out to say she read my book, back in 2015, but trying to create cover by highlighting its other major influences. I wonder about writing a fictional account of sexual abuse, mining books that deal with the subject, including a memoir that, while small, impacted a good number of people, then never reaching out to the author, only until public pressure demands it. I wonder why a debut author wouldn’t see for herself the similar ways our books are marketed, and have a conversation with her publicity team. 

I learned of this author, book, and article on Twitter after following a few comments on and retweets of Steven King's We don't threaten authors in my America! (I've paraphrased). Ugh.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

By coincidence, JSTOR Daily put up a piece written a long time ago (1983), documenting Asimov's nasty behaviors, taken from:

By: Isaac Asimov and Joel Goodfader
Harvard International Review, Vol. 5, No. 7 (May-June 1983), pp. 8-10
Harvard International Review

https://daily.jstor.org/asimovs-empire-asimovs-wall/
 

Quote

 

.... It was all framed as nothing but good fun, as were his interactions with women once his success as an author allowed him to proceed with greater impunity. He writes in his memoirs of his custom of “hugging all the young ladies” at his publisher’s office, which was viewed indulgently by such editors as Timothy Seldes of Doubleday, who said, “All you want to do is kiss the girls and make collect calls. You’re welcome to that, Asimov.” In reality, his attentions were often unwanted, and women found excuses to be away from the building whenever he was scheduled to appear.

After his celebrity increased, his behavior at conventions became more egregious, as the editor Edward L. Ferman reminisced of a fan gathering in the late 1950s: “Asimov … instead of shaking my date’s hand, shook her left breast.” Asimov was open about his practices: “I kiss each young woman who wants an autograph and have found, to my delight, that they tend to cooperate enthusiastically in that particular activity.” He defended himself by saying that he was universally seen as “harmless,” and the implication that it was all just an act culminated in his satirical book The Sensuous Dirty Old Man, in which he wrote, “The question then is not whether or not a girl should be touched. The question is merely where, when, and how she should be touched.”....


 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
35 minutes ago, Zorral said:

Asimov's nasty behaviors

Yeah, it's long been known that he's a creepazoid. 

And books he wrote over 70 years ago still have goddamn typos in them. *shakes fist at the universe.*

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Darth Richard II said:

Was any SFF writer from that era NOT a creep? :/

Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, at a guess?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Darth Richard II said:

Was any SFF writer from that era NOT a creep? :/

Robert Silverberg? Roger Zelazny? Philip Jose Farmer? 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 minutes ago, maarsen said:

Robert Silverberg? Roger Zelazny? Philip Jose Farmer? 

I wish. Silverberg went full-tilt a-hole a few years ago.

Edited by IlyaP

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, IlyaP said:

I wish. Silverberg went full-tilt a-hole a few years ago.

Why, because he dared to disagree with the new Chosen One Jemisin on Hugo awards decorum?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Quite a few weren't creeps. Zelazny certainly wasn't. C.J. Cherryh, Vonda McIntyre, Ursula LeGuin, Suzy Charnas.

The creepoziod factor continued though among the males, among the later generations.

But Sterling and Gibson aren't, just fora couple of instances.

But what seems odd to me, is among the latest generations there are more cis male writers working hard and publicly, to not be creeps, and speaking out about it, without being creeps in that way.  While far more women of the latest generation are behaving like creeps.

Alas, there are so many modes of being a creep!  And alas, at moments, none of us escapes being one.  :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Don't believe Stanislaw Lem was a known creep, unless you asked Phillip K Dick of course.

Also while Harlan Ellison was definitely an arsehole I don't think I ever heard of him being a creep? But possibly I'm wrong there.

Edited by polishgenius

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 minutes ago, polishgenius said:

Don't believe Stanislaw Lem was a known creep, unless you asked Phillip K Dick of course.

Also while Harlan Ellison was definitely an arsehole I don't think I ever heard of him being a creep? But possibly I'm wrong there.

Phil Dick had many issues but being a creep was not one of them. Sprague DeCamp was another from that era who by all accounts was uncreepy. Now Damon Knight was definitely a bit of an arsehole.  Even in the 60s and 70s stories about him circulated.

Edited by maarsen

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ha well I was semi joking last night, I’m sure there were lots of SFF authors from that era that were fine, though I will say Ellison was definitely a creep as well as asshole #1.

regarding silverberg, yeah, that article defiantly puts him in the asshat category

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, polishgenius said:

Don't believe Stanislaw Lem was a known creep, unless you asked Phillip K Dick of course.

Also while Harlan Ellison was definitely an arsehole I don't think I ever heard of him being a creep? But possibly I'm wrong there.

Grabbing Connie Willis's breast on stage when she was a World Con Guest of Honor is pretty goddamned creepy as well as asshole.  HE was always both in my mind, from the first moment I watched him operate in a room when I was a freshman in college.  Never could stand being around him at all.  Many tell lovely stories about his kindness and generosity but what I saw consistently was this kind of behavior.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, Zorral said:

Grabbing Connie Willis's breast on stage when she was a World Con Guest of Honor is pretty goddamned creepy as well as asshole. 

I was about to say - this incident came immediately to mind. I don't know what he was thinking there. Or why he thought it was a good idea.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, maarsen said:

Phil Dick had many issues but being a creep was not one of them. 

I mean that Dick would have told you Lem was a suspicious character, albeit not in the terms we're discussing right now (he thought Lem was a Soviet collective propaganda team).

 

 

3 minutes ago, Zorral said:

Grabbing Connie Willis's breast on stage when she was a World Con Guest of Honor is pretty goddamned creepy as well as asshole.  

Fair enough.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, IlyaP said:

I was about to say - this incident came immediately to mind. I don't know what he was thinking there. Or why he thought it was a good idea.

Probably because he didn't think at all.  A-holes of this sort are too high and mighty to have to think about what they do because, after all, they are infinitely superior to most of the rest of us, particularly females since any MAN is always superior to all females, doncha know!  Just like any white person is superior to any person who isn't white. That's The Way The World Is!

But it's another black humor situation that all these guys consider themselves feminists and non racist.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 minutes ago, IlyaP said:

I was about to say - this incident came immediately to mind. I don't know what he was thinking there. Or why he thought it was a good idea.

He definitely didn't think about it. I was in the audience at the the time and it was obviously very extemporaneous, his attempting to "play the baby" when Willis  humorously treated him as the aged enfant terrible that he liked to be, and this moment was preceded by him chewing on the foam microphone windscreen as if it were a pacifier, so you can kind of see how one thing leads to another if you're someone whose brain sometimes (often) runs faster than good sense when it comes to social decorum.

It was something very stupid and wildly overstepping the bounds of what he claimed was friendship with Willis, and of course he became very defensive and obnoxious about it afterward. Harlan was, I think, increasingly irascible after his health began failing (he had a massive heart attack and subsequent quadruple bypass two years prior to this) and it's worth noting that even before the incident he was making comments that he didn't think he'd be doing any more conventions, and was making noises like he thought he was going to not be much longer for the world. None of this is offered as an excuse, but more as part of what was going on with him that could be construed as heightening his famous misbehavior by compounding it with increasing amounts of bad judgment.

 

@Ser Scot A Ellison

Silverberg is conservative, and I think that's a part of what people respond to, because for the most part conservatives are not especially welcome these days. He's also unapologetic about not being interested in moving with the times in certain ways that others may consider rude (he made a point of the fact, at Loncon, that he grew up with "he/him" as the "gender unknown" words to use, and didn't intend to change; for a fact I saw someone complain about this on Twitter of File 770 at the time). And he shared on a private mailing list a critical attitude towards N.K. Jemisin's speech after her third Best Novel win, finding it crude, and that got out and people complained about that, as they do.

Personally, have had only good experiences of him as a panelist at conventions, and he was pleasant when Linda and I spoke with him and his wife during a party Voyager was throwing for its authors in London. I will say, though, that he does not look to be a morning person -- we shared an airport lounge with him after the Dublin worldcon and he seemed to be generally unhappy to be awake at an ungodly hour after being up late for parties and with the prospect of a transatlantic flight ahead of him. I dared a chipper "good morning" and he gave me a grimace. Heh.

Edited by Ran

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×