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Quotas in the ToC

I came across a post yesterday telling folks who complain about the lack of gender/racial/etc. balance in anthologies and ‘zines to shut the hell up.  The author has since removed the post and apologized, but the whole thing got me thinking and trying to understand where this reaction comes from.

So imagine you’re a reader, and you’re enjoying your copy of The Year in Zombies, Volume XCVIII, when someone goes online and complains that of the 20 stories in that anthology, only 2 were written by women, and 19 of the authors are white.  Others join in the now-familiar chorus of racism and sexism. But … you were enjoying the anthology! The editor picked good stories!

I can understand feeling defensive.  If you like the book, does that mean these people are accusing you of being racist or sexist?  It probably feels that way.  You might start to wonder what they want to do to fix the problem.  How many women writers would it take to make this book acceptable? How many writers of color have to be added to quiet the anger?

But then, who gets cut out of the book? Does appeasing the anger mean removing that awesome steampunk zombie tale from Whitey McHairychest? Would we lose that delightful alternate history squid zombie story from Paleface Manlyparts?  More importantly, would these great stories be excluded from the book purely based on the race or gender of the author?  Not cool, angry internet mob!  We want good stories, period.  Choosing stories based on race, gender, sexuality, and so on is bull!

I agree.  But I think the problem is that we’re already choosing stories based on these factors–that we’ve been doing it for decades.  When I complain about the latest Mammoth Manthology of Manly SF, I’m not saying I want a quota system to ensure equal representation.  I’m saying I’m tired of the quota that already exists–the one that seems to require a majority of white men in so many ToCs.

Yes, editors should pick the best stories. But if some editors are consistently choosing stories by mostly white and/or male authors, what does this mean? Should we assume that women and nonwhite authors just aren’t good writers? Or does it mean these editors are deliberately and maliciously trying to keep the White Man in power?

I don’t buy either explanation. Sure, there are sexist idiots out there, but I believe most editors choose stories they enjoy, based on what they’ve read.

Looking at my own reading growing up, I read mostly books by white authors. I never deliberately tried to exclude nonwhite writers from my bookshelves; I just read what I was exposed to, and what I enjoyed. Good books all, and if you asked me who my favorite authors were, I’d have given you a list of mostly white folks.

It takes deliberate effort to read outside your learned comfort zone. It takes zero effort to sit back and perpetuate the trend of a certain privileged minority of writers dominating the genre.

If you tell me editors can only buy the stories that are submitted, and only white men are submitting to you for your project, then I’ve got to ask why that is. Places like Strange Horizons and Fantasy Magazine have made conscious efforts to broaden their range of authors, and that’s paid off. Why do you think these other authors are avoiding you and your publication?

I don’t see anyone asking for quotas. Nobody’s saying good stories by white men should be excluded in order to allow minorities into the table of contents. I think the anger comes when good stories by those authors continue to be excluded because some editors don’t make the effort to look beyond work by white men.

Discussion welcome, as always.

Book Biting Day

1. It’s official. Comparing my web stats to my royalty statements, it looks like more people have read my list of 20 Neil Gaiman Facts than have read my actual books. (Thanks in no small part to a link from StumbleUpon last week.) This is why Red Hood’s Revenge shall include the following cover text: “From the author of Goblin Quest 20 Neil Gaiman Facts!”

2. I’m going to be chatting over at Bitten By Books today. This is not a fixed time event. Stop by any time during the day or evening and leave your questions and chat. Click on over to check it out, say hi, and get in on the prize drawing (anthologies aplenty and a set of goblin minis): http://bittenbybooks.com/?p=11707

3. Finally, check out mcmorran’s LEGO Dr. Who Flickr set. He built a LEGO Tardis and Dr. Who, and added them to various exhibits at a LEGO con. Click the link or the pic to see the full set.

Quick Updates

Got back from ConClave late last night. Crashed, only to be awakened by my son, who was in the midst of the nastiest asthma attack he’d had in a very long time. He’s doing better this morning, but we’re operating on about 3 hours of sleep. Whee…

Contest Winners: The caption contest was close, but the winner by a handful of votes was tygerversionx. I also drew a winner from the one-question interviews, and the random number generator came up with b_writes to win a copy of Strip Mauled. Could the two of you please contact me with your mailing addresses, and tygerversionx, please let me know which of my books you’d like.

Bitten By Books Interview/Contest: Bitten by Books will be doing an interview/chat/contest event with me starting 10/12 at 10:30 am Central Time. RSVP here and get extra entries into the contest to win one of 12 DAW anthologies or the grand prize of a complete set of painted goblin miniatures.

 

ConClave: was fun. I had only been there an hour when albogdan invited me and fairmer up to his room. Not only that, but he videotaped the whole thing! (Don’t worry, I’ll post a link if he puts it online 😉 I also got to do a reading of “The Creature in Your Neighborhood,” my muppet werewolf story from Strip Mauled. For anyone who doesn’t believe in the power of stories, just look what this tale did to one listener:

State of the Jim

Well, I’m surviving Mermaid Week pretty well.  The whole week has been a bit of a blur.  Book stuff, family stuff, work stuff … it’s the perfect storm of craziness!  Here are some of the highlights.

Not Related to Jim, but Read it Anyway: At one point, I was asked to talk about how to get an agent.  I still plan to do this, but in the meantime author Kat Richardson has beaten me to it.

Radio Interview: I did an interview last night with the Michigan Literary Network and didn’t make a complete fool of myself–Win!  Even if they did introduce me as Jim Chines.  (You can listen here if you’re bored and have 15 minutes to kill.)

Book launch partytonight at Schuler Books is good to go, and should be a lot of fun.  Cake is ready, and I’ve printed out a copy of “Creatures in Your Neighborhood” to read.  Now I just need to make sure I have a working vehicle, since my car went into the shop last night for brake work.  Eep!

Amazon ranking for Mermaid has been hovering around 4000-5000 for several days now, with three reviews posted so far.  Not bad.  (And yes, I really need to break that obsessive Amazon-checking.  Is there a support group or a 12-step program for this?)

Red Hood’s Revenge:On Monday, I talked to Sheila at DAW about revisions for Red Hood’s Revenge.  She liked the story!  HUGE sigh of relief here.  I’ve still got pages and pages of notes and changes to work on, but I’m feeling better about the book.  My goal is to have that turned in by the end of the month.

Red Hood Artwork:  I’ve learned that Scott Fischer will not be doing the cover for the third princess book.  Instead, we’ll be getting artwork from Mel Grant, who did the goblin books.  I really don’t like the idea of changing artists in mid-series, but having seen Mel’s work, I trust him to do a good job.  Hopefully he’ll be able to stick pretty close to the style of the first two.  Needless to say, I’m veryanxious to see what he comes up with.

Current Contests: I’ll be announcing winners tomorrow.  One of my one-question interview folks will win an autographed copy of one of my books, and there’s also the caption contest.  The winner of that one will receive a copy of Strip Mauled, assuming I can buy one at the bookstore tonight.

Upcoming Contest: On Monday the 12th, I’ll be doing an interview and contest all day with Bitten By Books.  We’ll be giving away a dozen DAW anthologies, and one winner will receive a complete set of painted Goblin Quest miniatures.  I’m excited about this one, and will post more details and links soon.

ConClave: I’ll be at the con tomorrow night, but for a combination of reasons I don’t want to go into, I don’t think I’ll be there Saturday or Sunday.

And this is why, come Sunday, I intend to sleep in until noon with the covers pulled over my head.

How to REALLY Help an Author Out

So The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] is one day old.  At this point, a lot of authors will talk about the things readers can do to support the book.  You’ve probably seen lists like:

  • Review the book in your blog, at Amazon, at GoodReads, or wherever, because word of mouth is the biggest factor in a book’s survival in this cold, cruel world.
  • Buy books right after they come out, because the publisher and the bookstores pay attention to those early sales.
  • Ask your library to get a copy in stock.  Better yet, tell ’em to get two!
  • If you like the book, recommend it to your friends, family, and that guy down the street with the weird lawn gnomes.

Those are decent suggestions, I guess.  But you want to know what most authors really want?  How to truly support your favorite writers?  Read on, my friend.

  • You see that guy carrying the huge manuscript and jogging after our author friend?  That’s Bob.  Bob doesn’t actually know our author, but he’s nonetheless going to fling that manuscript at the author’s feet and demand a critique, a blurb, or a referral to the author’s agent.  If you could run Bob over with your car, that would be very much appreciated.
  • Authors aren’t supposed to respond to bad reviews.  It’s tacky, and it just leads to more bad publicity.  But there’s no rule against you tracking down the person who posted that review, following them to their house, kicking down their door, and screaming “Nobody expects the Goblin Inquisition!” as you beat them with a dog-eared paperback.
  • Mow my lawn.  (I know it’s a long shot, but I thought I’d throw it out there.  I despise lawn mowing, and it’s going to be a few years before my kids are old enough to take over.)
  • Accept the crazy.  Authors are nuts.  Peek inside my brain right now, and you find me wanting to refresh Amazon (even though I checked the rank 30 seconds ago), an ego that’s simultaneously huge (I am Published Author) and fragile (Why isn’t my book selling as well as Random Author’s? I must suck!), and the emotional scars left from 500+ rejection letters.  Just smile and nod and slip the meds into our drink when we’re not looking, just like Murdock and BA from the A-Team.
  • Finally, taser anyone who asks the following questions*:
    • When’s the movie coming out?
    • When are you quitting the day job?
    • Where do you get your ideas?
    • Can I have a free book?

Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!


*I don’t actually mind when people ask most of these, but the questions come up so often they start to show up in my dreams.  I lay there in my sleep mumbling, “Can’t quit.  Need benefits and steady paycheck.”

Contest Voting

Thanks to everyone who entered the latest caption contest with me, Vader, and the Stormtrooper. It’s been a stressful few weeks, and I very much appreciate the laughs.

I meant to open voting up on Saturday, and it completely slipped my mind. I blame the zombie raccoons. But I’ve gone back and picked my favorites, and threw in a few randomly selected wild cards just because. Please vote for as few or as many as you like, and I’ll contact the winner later this week after the voting has died down.

I’m trying to keep the voting in one place, so you’ll need to head over to my LiveJournal to see the finalists and cast your ballot. If you don’t have an LJ account, you can contact me with your vote and I’ll add that into the final tally.

DAW’s Zombie Rabbit Cover of Doom

Yesterday, Mr. Coke Zero himself, John Scalzi, took my publisher to task for the cover of Zombie Raccoons and Killer Bunnies [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  Others have offered up alternate covers, or just chimed in about how bad it is.

Disclaimers up front: Zombie Raccoons is the latest DAW anthology.  DAW is my publisher as well.  I was invited to write a story for this one, but the editor decided that my tale (“Mightier than the Sword”) fit better in her other project, Gamer Fantastic.  So I’m hardly unbiased.

This is not my favorite cover from DAW.  It didn’t really work for me, and I was happy to end up in Gamer Fantastic, which had a cover I liked better.

That said, I think the criticism is over the top.  Scalzi says he’s genuinely offended that a major publisher would produce such a thing.  (He also claims it will make blood shoot from your ears, but I’m chalking that one up to hyperbole.)

Is it a bad cover?  The editor loved it.  It certainly stands out, and it’s stirred up more buzz online than any DAW anthology I can remember.  On the other hand, the raccoon’s mouth gave me nightmares, and I find myself wanting to delete the Photoshopped rabbit and raccoon and see what’s behind ’em, which seems to be a totally different piece of art.

I wanted to make a few other points, though.  Starting with the fact that, to my knowledge, DAW is the only major SF/F publisher still putting out a monthly anthology of short fiction.  These aren’t moneymakers; very few short fiction anthologies ever earn out.  But DAW continues to produce them, more reliably and consistenly than most SF/F ‘zines.

Does that excuse a bad cover?  Of course not.  But no publisher gets it right every time.  Sooner or later, no matter how good the publisher, they’re going to have a stinker.  I could fill the rest of this post with examples of bad cover art from Baen, Tor, and the rest.

That’s no excuse either, of course.  It’s not supposed to be.  It’s supposed to be a reminder than nobody’s perfect.  That when you’ve put out thousands of books over the years, you’re not going to hit it out of the park with every one.  It’s easy to sit around online and boast about how you could whip up a better cover in five minutes on Photoshop.  And hey, maybe you could.

Now do it 99 more times.  If you think they’ll all be brilliant, you’re sadly deluded.  Even award-winning artists produce the occasional stinker.

I wasn’t in on the meetings at DAW.  I don’t know what they were going for here.  Maybe the original cover didn’t work, so the bunny and raccoon were an emergency fix at the last minute.  Maybe they wanted to try something different, and they went for the over-the-top kitsch angle.  Maybe the artist backed out at the last second, leaving them only a week to whip something together.  Maybe, like the editor, they just liked this cover and thought it worked for the project.

I’m not saying Scalzi’s out of line in his critique; he’s not.  I like John a lot, and folks have every right to express their distaste.  No cover will work for everyone, and this one does seem to have failed for most.

But to say you’re genuinely offended by that failure?  That bothers me a little.  By all means, hold publishers to a high standard.  But people also say they want publishers to try things that are new or different, and every time you do that you risk failure.  High standards, yes.  Perfection?  I prefer my publisher to be human, thanks.

Bad Book Publicity

I’ll probably be talking about book-release stuff next week when Mermaid’s Madness comes out, which got me thinking about some of the really bad publicity strategies for authors.

I’m not claiming to be perfect.  In the past five years, I’ve tried any number of things to promote my work that make me wince to think about ’em now.  Bad home-printed bookmarks, obnoxious begging for reviews, etc.  But I’ve tried to learn, and I do my best to keep my promotional efforts in check–trying to model them as the occasional commercial break as opposed to an infomercial, if that makes sense?

Anyway, I figured this might be a good time open things up for a discussion of some of the most annoying, ineffective, or downright bizarre promo efforts you’ve seen.  Starting things off with five of my personal favorites:

  • If a bookstore isn’t carrying your work, sneak in and leave a copy on the shelf.  When someone goes to buy it, they’ll be forced to add you to the computer.  Voila!  Now you’re in the system, and sure to sell millions of copies.
  • Stick your book cover on postage stamps!  (This one comes courtesy of Writer Beware.)
  • Run around posting five-star reviews of your own work.  In your own name.  (Yes, I’ve seen this done on multiple occasions.)
  • Spam.  Including e-mail, message boards, blog comments, and so on.  ‘Nuff said.
  • And my all-time favorite, Photoshop yourself into photos of successful authors.  (Related: make up sockpuppet accounts to harass anyone who calls you on it.)

What else have you encountered that makes you cringe?  What bad advice have you come across?  (“You must spend your entire advance on promotional efforts, or your book is DOOMED!”)  What annoys you to the point where you’ll deliberately avoid buying, reading, or even being in the same room with a book?

Thursday Bullets

Not feeling so great this morning. I don’t have time to get sick, dangit! But this means you get the bullet-point blog post today.

• My agent e-mailed me my latest royalties statement, and all three goblin books have earned out their advances!  Can I get a Booya?  To everyone who bought and shared the books, thank you so much!  It looks like Stepsister will likely follow suit, but not until the Reserve Against Returns decreases a bit more.

• The caption contest is still running strong, and there are some seriously entertaining entries already, mostly on the LJ post.

• I donated an autographed copy of The Stepsister Scheme [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] to an auction to raise money for MSU Safe Place, the local Domestic Violence shelter where I used to work as the male outreach coordinator.  Bidding starts at $15 here and runs through October 9.

 • Since I’ve gotten into the habit of wrapping up these random blog posts with LEGO, have a LEGO Star Wars chess set, courtesy of icgetaway.  Click the picture below for the full photo set.

Polanski Apologists in Translation

I’ve been reading a lot of justifiably angry posts about those who would defend Roman Polanski, who was convicted of raping a 13-year-old thirty years ago.  I did a bit of research, trying to understand the mindset and the concerns of the people arguing against Polanski’s arrest.  What follows are the most common reasons I’ve found, as well as my translation of those reasons.

Polanski is a charming, intelligent man – We should only arrest scary-looking, deranged rapists, preferably the dirty homeless types.  Bonus points if they’re a racial minority.  Arresting “nice guys” forces us to consider that many rapists do appear charming, intelligent … even normal!  This disturbs our simple view of the world and makes us uncomfortable, so please cease at once.

The victim’s mother pushed the child at Polanski – He shouldn’t be blamed because men are helpless to resist a 13-year-old girl.  Remember, rape is always the fault of the women!  If we can’t blame the victim, we’ll blame her mother.  Even when that girl is saying “No,” and trying to get away, men are helpless to control our urges–the male penis forces us to drug and rape the girl.

It was more than 30 years ago – Accountability comes with an expiration date, and if I can avoid taking responsibility for my actions for a certain period of time, I should be absolved of that responsibility.

The victim doesn’t want to put herself or her family through this ordeal anymore* – If I can intimidate my victim enough, I can get away with it!  Note: I have a great deal of sympathy for Polanski’s victim, and I’m torn about this one.  Polanski has been on the run for 32 years.  I’ve read commentary about how hard it’s been for him–he couldn’t even get his Oscar, he poor man.  But what about the survivor?  She’s also lived for 32 years with no closure, and wants to be done with it.  *My research might have fallen short on this point.  See this comment thread for clarification and further discussion.

He didn’t know she was thirteen – All girls should be required to tattoo their ages in a visible location in order to protect men from accidentally raping them.  Also, it would have been perfectly okay for him to drug and rape her if she had been sixteen.

Nobody would even care about this case if Polanski weren’t famous – Who cares about rape anyway?

Sadly, there’s some truth to this last one.  According to RAINN, 1 in 6 women will be raped in her lifetime.  (My sense is that the numbers are even higher.)  Yet only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail.  As a society, we don’t care.  At least, we don’t care enough.

Jim C. Hines