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The Tor Mess

ETA: Could folks weighing in on what is or isn’t libel please also include your legal background and experience? It’s far too easy to play lawyer on the internet…

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So half of my social media today is pissed off about the Tor thing, and the other half is saying, “Wait, what Tor thing?”

SHORT VERSION: A comment Tor’s art director made a month ago led to complaints and calls for boycott, which led to an apology from Tom Doherty, which managed to piss off pretty much everyone on all sides.

SHORTER VERSION: Theodore Beale has been jerking people around again.

LONGER VERSION: Mr. Beale is, among other things, the head of the Rabid Puppies Hugo Slate, which he stacked with himself and authors from the small Finland-based press he founded last year. He also seems to have a serious hate-on for Tor Books, as well as one of Tor’s NYT bestselling and Hugo award-winning authors, John Scalzi.

Seven Months Ago: Late last year, Beale was trying (and failing) to stir up GamerGate to boycott Tor Books and John Scalzi in particular:

“[P]erhaps #GamerGaters also need to let @torbooks and @pnh know that they will no longer be buying books from Tor Books as a result of John Scalzi’s oft-professed antipathy for genuine gamers concerned about the politicization and corruption of the games media.” (From Reddit: Pro-GG author Vox Day suggests an operation to boycott John Scalzi)

Commenters on that thread basically pointed, laughed, and got on with their lives.

This is one of many examples of Beale’s crusade against John Scalzi (whom he prefers to call “McRapey”), Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Editor at Tor), Patrick’s wife Teresa (whom Beale refers to as “the Toad of Tor”), and Tor Books in general.

May 11: Irene Gallo, creative director of Tor Books and associate publisher of Tor.com, referenced the Sad and Rabid Puppy campaigns in a comment on her personal Facebook page, after posting about publishing Kameron Hurley’s The Geek Feminist Revolution on Tor.com. When asked what the puppies were all about, she replied:

“There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist, and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.” (Source)

A short time later, Mister Beale became aware of Gallo’s comment and took a screenshot.

June 6: Beale posted his screenshot on Twitter, saying:

“The Creative Director at Tor Books libels #SadPuppies, Rabid Puppies, and #Gamergate on Facebook.”

He also took to his blog, saying, “this is libelous behavior we will be obliged to bring to the attention of the management at Pan Macmillan.” (Source)

Beale’s faux outrage was picked up and amplified by his commenters and folks like Sad and Rabid Puppy Hugo nominee Cedar Sanderson, among others.

But why did Beale wait almost a month to post this screenshot? He says on File770:

“I’ve held onto this since I had the screencap, which as you correctly note was made several weeks ago. As for the ‘sinister plotting’, I have long been in the habit of never using all of my ammunition at once, or pointing-and-shrieking for its own sake. I am a patient man and I didn’t strike back at TNH, PNH, or even John Scalzi right away either.” (Source)

He confirms this was part of his longer term plan to attack Tor, but doesn’t say why June 6 was the target date. However, a number of people have noted that June 6 was also the day the Nebula Awards were announced. The Nebulas are given out each year by SFWA … the organization that kicked Beale out almost exactly two years ago for racist comments about another author, among other things.

In other words, by posting his screenshot on June 6 and riling up his supporters, he had an opportunity to both attack Tor and try to overshadow one of SFWA’s biggest annual events at the same time. This is speculation, but seems consistent with Beale’s long-term grudges and his stated perception of himself as fighting a long term war against … I dunno. Pink gamma bunnies or something.

June 8: Tom Doherty posted a long apology at Tor.com, saying in part:

“Last month, Irene Gallo, a member of Tor’s staff, posted comments about two groups of science fiction writers, Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, and about the quality of some of the 2015 Hugo Award nominees, on her personal Facebook page. Ms. Gallo is identified on her page as working for Tor. She did not make it clear that her comments were hers alone. They do not reflect Tor’s views or mine. She has since clarified that her personal views are just that and apologized to anyone her comments may have hurt or offended.”

A number of people felt Doherty had thrown Gallo under the bus in an attempt to appease Beale and his followers. Responses from Kameron Hurley, Chuck Wendig, and many more criticized Doherty for publicly dressing-down Gallo, pointing out that Tor had offered no such public response or apology when a Tor employee publicly described a Tor author as “phony,” “arrogant,” and “incompetent.” Likewise, there was no public statement when it became known that Tor had been employing a serial sexual harasser for years.

Others complained that Tor didn’t also rebuke people like John C. Wright for his homophobic and bigoted remarks. However, it should be pointed out that an author like Wright is not the equivalent of an employee like Gallo.

People on the pro-puppy side of things were angry that Doherty hadn’t gone further, and continued to call for Gallo to be fired.

Today: The apology thread at Tor.com has almost 500 comments. People on all sides are expressing anger at Tor and Tom Doherty, and some folks are still talking about a boycott…

…which would seem to be exactly what Beale wanted when he posted that screenshot and released the rabid hounds.

I mean, come on. You don’t think the man who routinely calls John Scalzi a rapist gives a damn about “libel,” do you? Gallo’s comment was a weapon he could use to try to damage Tor Books. And right now, in the heat of anger and argument, it looks like he succeeded.

Realistically though, I can’t imagine this boycott will be any more successful than his last effort. And most of the internet will probably have moved on by the end of the week.

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My Own Thoughts/Opinions:

  1. Beale is an asshole. I find it annoying when people dance to his tune. But I don’t see him having any long-term impact here.
  2. Gallo has every right to express her opinions, especially on her personal Facebook page. Doing so in the context of a comment promoting a Tor.com release? Yeah, I think that was a mistake. One for which she’s apologized.
  3. Doherty publicly chastising Gallo? I think that was a bigger mistake, and escalated the situation in nasty (and predictable) ways.
  4. Isn’t truth a defense against libel? Rabid Puppies was founded by a man who believes “the reason women shouldn’t vote in a representative democracy is they are significantly inclined to vote for whomever they would rather f***” (Source), and his champion author describes homosexuality as “perversion,” a “dark path” he compares to alcoholism (Source). Brad Torgersen, the head Sad Puppy, dismisses previous award-winning and nominated work as “affirmative action” fiction (Source), and spews things like, “Fuck you all. The forces of the progressive pink and poofy Xerxes were met at the Hugo Hot Gates, and repelled by a few brave dudes and dudettes with the stones to stand up to your bullshit.” (Source) Obviously, not every nominee and puppy supporter is an unapologetic bigot. But as a generalization based on things the highest-profile puppies have said? I think Beale would have a hard time winning that libel case of his.
  5. Everything I’ve seen of Gallo’s work has been amazing. She is damn good at what she does. Tor would be incredibly stupid to let her slip away, and while I can’t see the future, I don’t imagine they’re going to do so.
  6. Beale wants to foment hatred toward Tor. I’m disinclined to acquiesce to his request.

“Why Didn’t You Blog About ________?”

My post about the Sad Puppies is up to 100+ comments at this point, and several of those comments have expressed frustration that I didn’t write about something different, generally things like, “Why didn’t you do a similar post on things said about the Sad Puppies” or “You should be talking about the Rabid Puppies instead of the Sads.”

I didn’t write about the Rabid Puppies in part because there doesn’t seem to be much confusion or ambiguity about Theodore Beale’s beliefs and motives, and I’m not all that interested in giving him attention. As for things said about the puppies…said by whom? I was blogging about the official pupmasters of the Sad Puppies movement, and despite claims of conspiracies and wars, there is no equivalent Anti-Puppy group.

While there are a number of reasons, perhaps the most important simply boils down to the fact that this is my blog, and I tend to write about whatever I feel like writing about, because I think it’s useful or entertaining or interesting.

I understand that a few people might think this is unfair, so I’ve come up with a proposal. If you feel it’s that important for me to write about the thing you wanted me to write, well, I am a professional writer…

For nonfiction, my rate is 25 cents/word, which I believe is fairly reasonable in the nonfiction market. Sunday’s post was 3000 words. If you’d like me to write the equivalent post for Mr. Beale and the Rabid Puppies, or about various things other people have said about the Puppy campaigns, that would come to $750. You can contact me through my website to work out payment arrangements and contract details. (I’m thinking $500 up front, with the balance payable upon publication once we see the final wordcount.)

I reserve the right to decline work, of course. If you ask me to write 500 words about why my own books suck, I might say no. Or I might say yes. That could be fun… And with two kids, I could certainly use the money!

All such posts will include a preface noting that they were commissioned. (That preface will not be included in the total word count.)

Any questions? :-)

Puppies in Their Own Words

I’ve spent several hours on this, which is ridiculous. I don’t even know why, except that I’m frustrated by all of the “I never said…” “He really said…” “No he didn’t, you’re a lying liar!” “No, you’re the lying liar!” and so on.

An infinite number of monkeys have said an infinite number of things about the Hugos this year. People on all sides have said intelligent and insightful things, and people on all sides have said asinine things. The amount of words spent on this makes the Wheel of Time saga look like flash fiction. File770 has been doing an admirable job of posting links to the ongoing conversation.

I wanted to try to sort through the noise and hone in on what Correia and Torgersen themselves have been saying. As the founder and current leader, respectively, of the Sad Puppies, it seems fair to look to them for what the puppy campaign is truly about.

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Book Giveaway: Libriomancer or Spider Goddess

Klud the goblin scribe will be sending out my next newsletter tomorrow morning. In a totally transparent effort to get more people to sign up, I’ll be picking one random subscriber to receive an autographed copy of either LIBRIOMANCER or RISE OF THE SPIDER GODDESS — your choice.

Libriomancer - Lg Spider Goddess width=

You can sign up at https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/goblin-updates if you’re interested. These go out roughly once every three months.

Publishing 101

In the wake of Scalzi’s Big Book Deal, folks have been saying some rather ignorant or ill-informed stuff about how publishing works. I wanted to address a few of those points here.

Let’s start with the easiest, in which folks over on Theodore Beale’s blog claim that by Tor giving Scalzi a $3.4 million advance, they’re “squeezing out” approximately “523 initial advances to new science fiction authors.” In other words, Beale claims that “Patrick Nielsen Hayden and John Scalzi have combined to prevent more than 500 authors from getting published and receiving paid advances.”

Ha Ha Ha Oh wait you're serious?

This is a particularly egregious bit of ignorance coming from Mister Beale, who fancies himself a publisher.

Publishing is a business. As a business, Tor not only spends money on things like acquiring and publishing books, they also earn money by selling said books. Assuming Scalzi shut out 500 authors assumes that Tor is simply pissing away that $3.4 million. This is a rather asinine assumption. John Scalzi has repeatedly hit the NYT Bestseller list, earned a Best Novel Hugo, and has several TV/film deals in development for his work. Tor buys books from John Scalzi for the same reason they buy books from Orson Scott Card: those books sell a hell of a lot of copies, and earn Tor significant profits.

Very often it’s those profits — the income from reliable bestsellers like Card and Scalzi — that allow publishers to take a chance on new and unknown authors.

I’d love to see more marginalized writers getting this kind of deal and publicity from publishers. But in the meantime, no, Scalzi’s 13-book deal is not hogging up 523 novel slots. He’s not book-blocking hundreds of new authors. Tor isn’t going to switch from multiple books a month to a One-Scalzi-Book-Every-Nine-Months schedule and stop publishing everyone else. Trying to pretend otherwise is an impressive tangle of ignorance, malice, and old fashioned dumbassery.

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I’ve also seen a number of people second-guessing Scalzi’s decision to sign a $3.4 million deal because they believe he would have made so much more money by self-publishing. Which…um…okay, there are a number of things to consider here.

  1. You might be right. He might have made more money self-publishing. He might not have. Ignoring all other factors, neither you nor I know for certain.
  2. $3.4 million is the advance. It’s not the sum total he’s going to earn from this deal. There are also ancillary rights such as movie and TV deals, foreign sales, audio books, etc. (Depending on the details of his contracts.) In addition, if some or all of these books earn out their advances, he’ll likely see royalty payments as well.
  3. Publishing with Tor allows him to concentrate on writing without having to invest his own time and money in typesetting, cover design, marketing, and so on.
  4. Signing this deal doesn’t mean he can’t also self-publish. Tor signed him for one book every nine months. I suspect Scalzi could squeeze out a few other projects between those books, if he felt like it. (And if he wasn’t too busy swimming in his churro-shaped pool full of money.)

Go read Scalzi’s blog post on this one, as he gets into additional thoughts and details.

The takeaway here? Self-publishing and commercial/traditional/whatever-you-want-to-call-it publishing are both legitimate, viable options, but they’re not interchangeable. You can’t assume Author A who sold 50,000 books traditionally would also sell 50,000 books if they’d self-published, or vice versa. Likewise, you can’t assume successful self-published Author B would do equally well signing with a traditional publisher.

Deciding which path to take as an author is a lot more complicated than that, and the Right Path is going to be different for every one of us depending on our strengths, goals, resources, family situation, finances, and so much more.

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This has been today’s blog post against publishing ignorance. Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

#BlameOneNotAll

Copying this from Twitter…

Authors Reviewing Authors

Two questions for the readersphere:

  1. Do you think it’s appropriate for authors to post reviews of books/stories by other authors?
  2. Do you think it’s appropriate for authors to post negative reviews of books/stories by other authors?

Years ago, when I posted about the creepiness of one of the Xanth books, I was told I’d broken an unwritten rule by speaking badly about another author’s work. There was no substantive reason given; it was just against the rules.

Sure, fine, whatever. But I’ve been thinking about the author-as-reviewer thing a bit more lately, wondering about potential ethical pitfalls and such.

I’m pretty comfortable talking about books I’ve enjoyed and recommending them to others. That’s part of the fun of being a reader and a fan. I love posting a review and seeing commenters complain, “Dammit Jim, there goes more of my book-buying budget!”

I’ll usually try to acknowledge flaws or problems I encountered, even in positive reviews. But what about when the review is generally negative?

From a pragmatic perspective, there’s the potential for burning bridges. Will Chuck Wendig refuse to speak to me if I review his Star Wars book and complain that Jar-Jar Binks, Jedi Master made me want to burn my eyes out with a lightsaber? If I give a negative review to an author from one of my publishers, am I going to piss off my editor in the process?

At the same time, does a positive review lose value if the reviewer is unwilling to post a negative review? Do the rules still apply if it’s awards season and you’re discussing nominated works?

And finally, if a reviewer is ethically obligated to disclose any real or potential conflicts of interest, then as an author who could potentially be working with any of these publishers in the future, isn’t every review I post pretty much saturated with conflicts of interest?

I’ve got more thoughts and opinions on this, but I wanted to throw this out for discussion and see what other folks thought.

Hugo Thoughts: Graphic Story

Of the five nominees, the collection from The Zombie Nation was recommended by both the Sad and Rabid (SR) puppies. The rest of the category is puppy-free.

  • Ms. Marvel: The first page includes Kamala Khan smelling bacon and saying, “Delicious, delicious infidel meat” and someone responding, “Chow or chow not. There is no smell.” I was officially intrigued. A few pages later, we discover Kamala writes Avengers fanfic. She’s also struggling with her own identity, torn between cultures and dealing with ignorance and prejudice. She dreams about being powerful and blonde and beautiful like Ms. Marvel…and then she gets her wish. Sort of. And discovers it’s not what she imagined. This is a superhero origin story that plays off of our expectations, because Kamala has grown up in a world of superheroes. She’s an Avengers fangirl. She has to unlearn what she has learned, in order to become, in her words, “a shape-changing mask-wearing sixteen-year-old super ‘moozlim’ from Jersey City.” There’s a lot of humor, and some good depth and complexity to Kamala and her family and friends. There’s also a supervillain, of course, but that’s secondary to the story of Kamala coming of age and learning to navigate and incorporate the different parts of her identity.
  • Rat Queens: Smart-ass D&D-style all-female adventuring team with good artwork, humor, attitude, profanity, and a great cast of secondary characters to go with it. Including an orc cleric who gets bluebirds in his beard when he casts healing spells. I bought this volume last year, and I’ve got the next one on my wish list. The Rat Queens are well-written, complex characters who are utterly unapologetic about who and what they are. They’re also fiercely loyal to one another. I liked this even more when I reread it to refresh my memory for the Hugos. With both Rat Queens and Ms. Marvel, I’m sure there will be people complaining that they’re politically correct, feminist, Message Stories. Are they feminist? Sure. They’re also fun as hell. Beyond that, I’ll let Hannah respond to the haters.
    Hannah, from Rat Queens
  • Saga: I’m afraid this one didn’t work for me. Part of the problem is that this is Volume 3, and I was coming into the middle of a pretty complex and ongoing story about an ongoing, interplanetary war. The blending of science fiction and fantasy elements was fascinating, and there’s a lot of good worldbuilding, as well as some great details. I love Lying Cat, a sphynx/lynx-like creature who can sense lies, to great effect. I don’t think it’s bad, and it’s possible I’d be much more invested if I started from the beginning, but as it is, I’m afraid the story just didn’t draw me in. I’ll probably rank it above No Award, but it won’t be one of my top choices.
  • Sex Criminals: So imagine when you orgasmed, time basically just stopped for a while, and the world went all glowy and psychedelic. This isn’t something you’ll want to read at work. (Well, depending on where you work, I guess.) But it’s an interesting premise and a good story. It also addresses and challenges the rather prudish attitudes folks tend to have toward sex, starting with young Suzie’s efforts to understand what’s happening to her, and all the ways those efforts get shut down. Generally amusing and entertaining, though I didn’t feel like I just had to pick up the next volume. A middle-of-the-ballot pick for me.
  • The Zombie Nation (SR): This one wasn’t included in the Hugo Voters Packet, but the nominated work is a collection from an ongoing webcomic, available here. I clicked through some of the recent comics, then went back and read through some from the beginning. I didn’t find the gags particularly funny. The actual art isn’t bad, but I don’t see this one earning a place above No Award for me.