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The Word Wrangler

Writer. Editor. Reviewer.

Date

November 16, 2011

Publisher on Author Crime

Because I’m almost permanently wired into the world of books, publishing and writing, I am coming across more and more stories of writers being malaligned by their publishers. More writers being strong-armed into ridiculous contracts and made to feel grateful for it. It is ridiculously competitive and based less on quality as marketability. As Sarah A. Hoyt mentions on her blog here,

In fact, if your book had been completely blank, or a compilation of nursery rhymes, it would have got exactly the same distribution and sales as it got with your words in it. You didn’t choose the cover. You didn’t choose the price. You didn’t choose the push. You didn’t choose the distribution.

More importantly and more than likely, the person who chose these things chose them NOT based on the book – which they might or might not have read – but on YOU and their perceived marketability of YOU. (And let me tell you, as a reader, that’s many shades of wrong.)

Most people don’t know your book even exists, and therefore they can’t ask for it. And if they do, they might get told it can’t be ordered.

(The whole post is fascinating, and an excellent shorthand for what’s wrong with publishing in general.)

Then there are the authors I spoke about in my post on the opening Amazon’s publishing branch. Add to this the story of Doranna Durgin, who is being forced to buy ALL of her books in the warehouse if she wants the rights back.

What’s going on here? Without authors there is NO publishing industry, and yet most of them end up languishing in the mid-lists forever despite being brilliant. This attitude seems a little self-defeating in the face of what might be the death spiral of publishing as we know it. I usually read mid-list titles as those are the ones that proof copies are provided for, and more often than not it is far superior to the majority of the top-list crap. I mean, credit due where it is, but James Patterson, Stephanie Meyer and Danielle Steel don’t produce great literature. (See their ranking on Forbes in my post here.) I’ve beaten that poor horse to death in the previously mentioned post, so for now I’d like to deal with how authors are being conned and guilted.

The best examples of the pitfalls of the publishing industry are made clear on the Writers Beware page. There are impossible clauses buried in the contracts offered by the major houses, more commonly in the littler houses trying to entrap good authors. So many people are desperate to get published that there are numerous vultures waiting to feed on their desire without giving them the credit they deserve. People who ask for a small ‘consulting’ or ‘reading’ fee and who promise to get the book published. Agents who swear they know the right people and charge either a consulting fee or demand 30 printed manuscripts. Usually the author pays the fee rather than the printing cost. Luckily my fingers were saved from some burning thanks to published author sisters and dear friends, Molly and Joely Burkhart, who warned me that no author pays upfront to get their book published. Agents and publishers take the fee off sales, never off the author directly.

Which is why book piracy makes me sad. The author is already making so little (3-8% of the cover price), it just seems cruel to snatch even that from them after all their hard work. I once read a pirated copy and felt so terrible that I have long since stopped the habit. (Also, the quality is just so bloody awful.) The only free books I take now are proof copies from book reps and from Project Gutenberg. And the more I read about how publishers treat any author that isn’t a mega-star, the less enamoured I grow of the industry. So, follow the buzz (right here, of course) and support the authors that write fresh, bright fiction so that one day the Forbes Top Ten doesn’t read like a litany of mediocrity.

For further insights into publishing from a self-proclaimed Penmonkey who made it and writes about it, visit these posts from Chuck Wendig at Terribleminds.com

Toxic Tempers and Fevered Egos in Publishing

Writers are the 99%

(His site is truly a treasure trove of insight and coffee-snorting humour, and he deserves his success as a writer.)  

V for Vendetta Retrospective

As the world watches the growth of the Occupy movement and its often attendant V-masked protestors, it is a good time to look at and discuss the V for Vendetta graphic novel, and whether it is still relevant nearly thirty years after its publication. (There’s a fascinating article here in which David Lloyd discusses the meaning of the mask in further detail.)

In short, V, the eponymous character, sets out to cripple and destroy the government of his day. Voted in by a terrified public after a nuclear war, the fascist Norsefire runs the country in an ongoing battle against anyone who isn’t white, heterosexual, Christian and obedient to the invasive machine. With the Eye, Ear, Mouth, Nose and Finger working as branches of the government in the constant surveliiance and abuse of the citizens, V begins his vendetta against the people who started this terrible regime. Along the way he rescues Evey, and she becomes complicit in his work. An orphan who has been battered by the regime, she becomes more than just V’s stray; she becomes instrumental.

I consider V for Vendetta to be a triumph of the potential of the graphic novel to convey themes and ideas as complex as any novel. I read it at least once a month, and each time I find something new or horribly relevant to today. Whether its priests who survey the death camps or the protestors being gunned down, the novel continues to resonate through to today. As discussed by the Guardian,

But even so, there’s no doubt that the evils of the British Tory party and Thatcherism were preying on Moore’s and Lloyd’s minds when they created the book – as they’ve both often confirmed in interviews. Here is Moore in conversation with a comic fan around the time of the release of the V for Vendetta film: “They were talking less about annihilating whichever minority they happened to find disfavour with and more about free market forces and market choice and all of these other kind of glib terms, which tended to have the same results as an awful lot of the kind of fascist causes back in the 1930s, but with a bit more spin put upon them. The friendly face of fascism.”

No doubt, V for Vendetta is compulsory reading for anyone who has ever felt disillusioned by government or pushed around by propaganda. Its more than just a call to action; it is the exploration of freedom, of choice and personal growth.

I don’t think the movie nearly approaches the level of meaning the graphic novel does; Evey’s choices and growth are very poorly handled in the movie and the ending is changed for the worse. Alan Moore has tried to distance himself from movies made out of his projects and added in another interview that he would spit venom all over the Watchmen movie when it was released. If one looks at the Watchmen and V for Vendetta movies as plain action flicks, then they deliver well. Its not the worst way to pass two or so hours (I suspect that Sex and the City 2 might be). But for those who love the novels, its very much like seeing a delicious cake, handcrafted lovingly by one’s mom, being enthusiastically stomped on by a schoolyard bully. I found this especially true with Watchmen, which was a brilliantly complex and difficult novel. The movie was just so…tawdry. Even though the actors looked exactly like their characters (which is fairly impressive), the only one who even approached the complexity of their character was Rorschach, as played by Jackie Earle Haley.

But a poor adaptation of a book is much more common than a good one, alas. (Fight Club, Sherlock and all the Roald Dahl books being exceptions to this rule.) It is especially bound to happen when trying to capture the complexity of works done by the inimitable Alan Moore. V for Vendetta has four major interlocking stories (V, Evey, Detective Finch, Creedy) as well as minor characters with substansial side stories. All of them come together in the graphic novel and each influences the other. The movie, on the other hand, was noisy and bombastic and mostly missed the point. Perhaps the Wachowski brothers felt that their work of torturing movie goers was not yet complete with the abortive failure of The Matrix Movies That Dare Not Speak Their Names. So they punished V instead.

Still. Hugo Weaving made an excellent V, which is the most redemptive thing about that film. If an audio book was an option, then he would be my first choice.

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