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October 27, 2011

Publishing Debates: Should We Take Sides?

Statue holding scales of justice

Some days it feels like the publishing business has endless debates and choices where people want us to take sides.  Plotter vs. pantser, plot-driven vs. character-driven, traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.  Ugh.

I don’t like taking sides because one answer doesn’t apply to every situation, much less every person.  With my whatever-works-for-you attitude, I try to tweet links from both sides of any debate.  But sometimes people still think I’m taking sides.

I once tweeted a link to an article about how pantsers could try a low-key form of outlining.  A pantser angrily replied back to me asking why they’d ever want to do that, as if thinking I was saying that everyone should do it.  Nope.

Similarly, I tweet links for how to self-publish and how to get an agent.  Does that mean I’m advocating one publishing method over another?  Nope.

I guess in this role as “sharer of information,” I see myself as a broadcaster.  People have the choice of whether to click on the links I share, and then they have the choice of whether to let that information affect them.

This stand of mine was put to the test yesterday.

I came across a blog post that put a new e-publishing company in a bad light.  I know people who work for this company.  I have several friends publishing with this company and countless others submitting to them.  Heck, someday I might want to submit to them.

So I found myself in an uncomfortable position.  I had to ask myself: Will tweeting this link make it seem like I’m aligning with this post and against this publisher?  If I don’t tweet it, am I playing favorites?

As I mentioned in my post about plagiarism, I didn’t state that Terrell Mims was a plagiarist without vetting the accusation first.  The link I gave to the original source was my most clicked on outgoing link ever.  I’m proud of my readers for not taking my word for it, but checking the proof for themselves.

In other words, when it comes to controversial information, I think we want to verify it before passing it along.

Great.  Except how do I verify information in a he said/she said situation?  Especially where the “she” is the owner of a publishing company unlikely to answer questions from a random person, and my contact in the company hasn’t heard of the issue before.  How much work should I go through to double-check information before doing one measly little tweet?

My fingers hovered over the keyboard while I debated.  I’ve had tweets go viral and be retweeted by agents.  I know how far words can travel.  I shouldn’t have to worry about being blacklisted because of retweeting one link, but crazier things have probably happened.

So what did I decide to do?  I decided to include the links here, where I can explain my thought process, concerns, and impressions in more (a lot more) than 140 characters.  *smile*

Several months ago, Jeff Mehalic was a featured guest poster at Pitch University, where he analyzed publisher contracts from a lawyer’s perspective.  One of the contracts he analyzed was for Entangled Publishing.  After they complained that the subject contract was old and never in use, his articles were taken off Pitch University and he reposted them in their entirety (including original comments) on his blog with an offer to take a look at their current contract.

No doubt his reports didn’t make publishers look good.  He said Sourcebooks’ contract should be shredded, Crescent Moon Press’s contract should be burned, and Entangled Publishing’s contract should be shredded.  And I can certainly understand that if the contract someone provided to Jeff for Entangled Publishing wasn’t their final version, they wouldn’t want to be judged by false information.

Then yesterday, I saw Jeff’s post about Entangled Publishing’s response to his offer to review their current contract.  And now I don’t know what to think of the situation.  (I’m not going to quote the point of the post here because while Jeff might feel comfortable quoting private email, I am not.  Instead, I refer you to his post.)

Are there uglier things going on behind the scenes that we readers aren’t privy to?  Do they not trust Jeff to play fair with their real contract?  I don’t know.

Yes, Liz Pelletier of Entangled Publishing might have a point that Jeff is doing this to drum up business.  And maybe they don’t like how they were singled out, or who they were singled out by.  But they can’t rewind time.

Whether they agree with Jeff’s take or not, writers are watching how they handle this situation and making judgments.  As authors, what matters to us is how we’re going to be treated by publishers, and contracts are just one way to predict a company’s behavior.  Entangled Publishing needs to figure out how to handle this situation going forward in the best way for them from a business perspective.

I hope bringing this up helps the parties clear the air.  I don’t want to throw fuel onto a fire.  I wish them both luck in straightening out this mess.  But maybe this can be a lesson to us all that the social-media-connected world is smaller than ever, and our reputation will precede us further than we think.

Had you heard of this situation with Entangled Publishing before?  Have you ever decided against sharing information because it was controversial?  Or do you like taking sides?  How much do you verify information before sharing it?  Have you ever shared a link or information and then regretted it?

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Laura Pauling

I don’t share links that I don’t agree with or if I question the integrity of the post. Why fan the flame? Especially if I don’t know the whole story. I think what and how we retweet is a reflection on us and more often than not will be interpreted as something we stand behind. I think it’s inevitable. Why would we retweet something we don’t stand behind?

Elizabeth S Craig

I stay out of some heated debates, and don’t tweet posts with information that I find completely wrongheaded (bad writing/publishing advice, e.g.). But I do tweet both sides of publishing…traditional and epub (which is a topic that frequently gets people very worked up on both sides.) I have a disclaimer on my blog that explains that I’m trying to put information out there for the individual writers to disseminate on their own. Your post brings up a topic that I think about on a daily basis–thanks.
Elizabeth
@elizabethscraig

Stacy Green

Wow. This just adds to the question of who to query and who to trust. It’s such a hard situation. I think it was a good decision to post about this rather than just tweet because so much can get misunderstood from those.

It will be really interesting to see how this situation plays out.

Roni Loren

I’m of the mind that every contract is going to strongly favor the publisher in its original form–it’s not sneaky, it’s just business. This is why you want to have an agent or a lawyer with experience in the pub industry look at your contract so you can negotiate the terms. If all contracts were totally fair and great for the writer, there never would have been a need for agents. I know that there were many points that had to be changed from the boilerplate in my contract with my publisher before we signed. So I think every writer needs to go into any contract with very critical eyes (or even better with professionally trained eyes.)

As for writers always taking sides on things, I’m with you–I’m an information sharer. So I’ll tweet stuff about traditional pubbing, indie pubbing, pantsing, plotting, whatever I think may be helpful to someone.

Carradee

I’m with Roni Lauren; whoever designs a contract is probably going to skew it in their favor. That’s standard business.

As far as “What should you tweet?”, that answer really depends on you and your goals. I can’t answer it.

KarenG

Excellent post, Jami. I’m glad you chose to share the information this way because I was really curious about the situation and you’re right– a tweet just wouldn’t have covered it.

Without knowing anything about this particular situation can I just say that the many blogs and chat rooms out there that exist supposedly to “protect the writer against unsavory publishers” just drive me crazy with their negativity. And bashing contracts is one of their favorite ways to do so. Not to mention criticizing small presses especially for “lack of distribution” and who knows what other scare tactics they can put out there. There’s one woman and her blog that exists solely to dispense negative information about publishers, and some of it is slanted and downright false.

I am just fed up with negativity on both sides of the publishing debate. I see a lot of it among self-publishers too, bashing traditional publishing and saying “You’re going down sucka!”

Alivia Anders

Excellent post Jami, thank you for posting it.

It’s hard when we come across information that we can always be sure is accurate or creditable, especially in this case of a he said she said. And 140 charcters just isn’t enough when you have such a huge topic at hand.

I’m with KarenG on this. The negativity from both sides of the publishing industry upsets me so much. We’re both aiming to achieve the same thing- sell books. Why dig the trenches and arm the cannons?

Murphy

Hi Jami! *waves*

Great points by you and some great comments too.
Publishing is a business and like all businesses, they want to make money. However, any reputable house that wants to stay in business and enjoy longevity and increase the amount of talent flocking to them, should be smart enough to know they won’t have that happening if they’re short changing their producers. The phrase penny-wise dollar-foolish comes to mind. If a company is happy getting an author to sign a contract that outrageously benefits the company first time around – there won’t be a second and how foolish would that be in the future scheme of things?

Great post!
Murphy

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

Hi Jami!
I wasn’t aware of any issues concerning Entangled Press before this morning…it’s funny, less than 3 hours ago my critique partner was talking about the contract they offered her. Her manuscript had been accepted by them, but she ultimately refused after scrutinizing it (I don’t like throwing fuel on the fire either, so I’ll keep her comments to myself)
I like to know the whole truth, or at least as much of it as I can glean personally, before I pass judgment. So I like getting both sides.
I guess I’ll have to do some more reading on the matter, but this is just extra proof that the World Wide Web is a slippery slope…I try to think twice (or more) before I post things that anyone can see.
That being said, I also sometimes feel cowardly for doing so. I’m always trying to balance that fence, afraid I’ll piss off the wrong people if i choose sides.
It’s tough, that’s for sure.
But I have alot of respect for the people, like you, who dare to speak out and show both sides of the coin.
You’re awesome, Jami!
Thanks for keeping it real:)
Tamara

Sarah Pearson

I think what you’ve done here is perfect. Sometimes you need space to lay it all out, both sides of a disagreement. You do have a reputation to uphold and, rightly or wrongly, people only have to miss one tweet to get the wrong end of the stick.

I’m barely tweeting anything yet, still finding my around, but I suspect I wouldn’t retweet anything I didn’t agree with, that’s just me. I’m glad there are others braver than me, which is why I’m following you now 🙂

Renee Schuls-Jacobson

I have a friend who said she likes how nothing on my blog is controversial. That I paint a picture of what is going on. I’m not sure that’s how his English teacher saw it when I essentially outed her for being unprepared and lazy. And I had facts to prove it. And then I got a call from the principal. Yes, the principal. My child was fine — but the teachers on his team were angry.

Well, I knew a boatload of angry parents who were sick and tired of stooopid assignments.

But I didn’t want there to be repercussions for my son for what I had written.

I know. I’m getting to my point.

I guess people don’t do well with shades of grey. Most folks tend to see things in a black and white kind of way.

It is hard to imagine a writer being blacklisted for retweeting something, but at the same time we generally assume that a retweet is like an endorsement. So yes, we have to be careful. Mindful in everything we do. Because there are always ripples. Great post!

Janelle Madigan
Janelle Madigan

I also try to share/retweet news and opinions from both sides. Every writer has his/her own path to walk, and they deserve to have their choices respected.

I try my hardest not to offend anyone. I would never bash another writer, an agent, or an editor on my blog. That behavior just isn’t acceptable anywhere, on or off the blogosphere.

Although I do wonder how to proceed when we disagree? What if a writer disagrees with a post by an editor or agent? Should that writer have to worry about backlash if he/she posts an opposing viewpoint? When do we err too much on the side of “everybody just get along?” I believe that people, whatever their career, respond well to legitimate, well-phrased rebuttals.

Sadly, sometimes tempers flare up on the web more than they would, perhaps, in person.

Gene Lempp

I’m glad to see that Elizabeth Craig commented because I use many of the same principles she does (not surprising since she is one my favorites for her awesome content and I learned a great deal from her disclaimers). As a maven (love to find, share and connect people with useful information) I retweet hundreds of posts every week and there are hundreds more I see and don’t pass on. I read and tweet both sides of the publishing issue (indie vs. traditional), both sides of the plotter vs. pantser debate (I’m both) and anything that is useful for writers. I also tweet the posts of my friends and any that I find that are well-written on any and all subjects. The one thing I NEVER do is take sides. It is my belief that it is the responsibility of every adult to find and choose their own way of doing things. If you don’t like a post, don’t read it. If you don’t care about a subject, don’t read it. If you don’t like something I tweet, don’t tweet me about it, I’m just putting it out there, not taking a side. And yes, like Jami, I get tweets on occasion from people that strongly agree or disagree with a post I retweet. I don’t take sides and I don’t respond to these comments, positive or negative. Honestly, I have far too much to do to spend time arguing sides of anything. I find advantages in many things. The…  — Read More »

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Carol
Carol

From what I’ve read about Entangled, no contract is perfect but Entangled is doing will and is in a very good place to grow. They are selling foreign rights, have agents submitting and writers lined up around the block with submissions.

I read about the contract being ripped about and frankly after this latest blog post my opinion is I find Jeff to be untrustworthy. He could have kept this private and instead chose to go public seemingly with the intention of making entangled look bad, maybe to enforce his own opinion of their business practices… I don’t know, just how I’m seeing it, not a statement of fact.

I don’t think it does make Entangled look bad. Entangled gave him fair warning his information was incorrect and asked it to be removed before taking the issue further. Posting private emails without the senders permission is tacky.

Liz Pelletier

Hi Jami, Great post! And for the record, I’m ALWAYS willing to answer questions–from anyone. I have a very open door policy. I feel many of the issues plaguing the publishing industry today, and especially authors, could have been mitigated through fair and honest communication between author and publisher. Education can only benefit both parties. So ask away and I’ll try and answer. While I don’t want to go into what happened behind the scenes, let me just correct a couple of your assumptions. First of all, I never asked Mr. Mehalic to take down his post on Pitch University. What I did ask was that he correct the comments he listed above his “shredding” of our supposed contract because they were polluted with no longer valid information gleaned from a forum post more than six months old. He refused. The post was removed from Pitch University at his request, not mine. Secondly, I asked Mr. Mehalic to review an actual contract which was used (the other was an old draft and never used) which I would provide if he corrected the statements after reposting on his own site. He refused to correct anything. (This was several weeks prior to his most recent post.) Thirdly, I am happy to answer questions about anything, even post sections of our contract to back up my statements, on anyone’s blog but Mr Mehalic’s. All you have to do is ask. (I’m always amazed no one ever just asks instead of speculating.) I’m also…  — Read More »

Jennifer L Armentrout
Jennifer L Armentrout

As a contracted and agented author with Entangled (which was not my first book contract), I can say I’m 100% happy with my contract.

Like those posted above, a contract should be good for the author and also benefit the publisher. There are some contracts that are really harsh and from the “Big 6”. Most of what he pointed out on Pitch University were common contract language, and really showed his lack of knowledge when it came to publishing contracts.

I was shocked to hear he posted a private email. Tacky really doesn’t do that action any justice.

Kudos to Liz for handling this in a classy manner.

Also, not sure if this was pointed out, but Entangled is not an e-book press. The are a standard print and e-book publisher. =)

Cecilia Clark
Cecilia Clark

I like to verify information before I share it and I often verify other people’s posts and share further information in the comments of theirs. I was actually aware of this particular situation because I was considering submitting to two of the places whose contracts were reviewed and it has made me hesitant especially as this same information came up recently at a conference. Checking any contract is vital before signing, reading the fine print and having advice will hopefully avoid unnecessary grief in the future. I have been reading and hearing quite a few ‘contract horror’ stories from both established and emerging writers and I am very concerned. Self publishing is looking more attractive. I actually want to make a living from this gig not fill someone else’s pockets while I stay broke.

Cecilia Clark
Cecilia Clark

and this time I did not check the date but the information is still relevant and timely nonetheless.

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