Blacklists and Other Bullshit

This is a long post. Sorry, but you know me and my tendency to ramble. Hell, even Clive left after waiting all night for me to finish. Perhaps I’m stupid for posting the following, but I’ll take the risk.

Blacklisting is a myth. A scare tactic used by less than legitimate folks in the publishing industry to force authors to shut up. It’s not real. No one really has a blacklist. The Big Six and good agents certainly don’t employ such tactics.

In this 2007 post by Victoria Strauss on the Writer Beware Blogs, it is stated very clearly that the practice of blacklisting isn’t something reputable publishers (which is what the Big Six are supposed to be) do. If you don’t feel like reading the post, I’ll summarize. Victoria essentially says (IMO) that blacklisting is not used by legitimate publishers or agents, but warns against doing or saying anything online that you don’t want said industry folks to know about. From Victoria’s article:
“This idea is actively encouraged by scammers and other disreputables.”
“Don’t believe it. It’s nothing more than an intimidation tactic intended to frighten you or shut you up.”
“…systematic blacklisting is not something that should be high on your worry list.”
“If you take responsibility for your words, and say nothing online that you aren’t willing for everyone in the world to see–including the agent you queried last week–you won’t need to worry about who’s doing a websearch on you, or what they might learn.”
I have great respect for Victoria Strauss and for Writer Beware. She and her associates within Writer Beware are a priceless resource for writers and have worked tirelessly to expose scams and the asshats that perpetuate them. So, I’m a little perplexed and extremely disappointed that she was so quick to judge Sebastian Marshall for his open letter to Simon and Schuster, and that on Twitter, she reacted to his actions with tweets like “O…M…G. Is this guy for real? Way to get blacklisted, dude.”
Wait. What? How is that possible if blacklisting doesn’t exist?
The rest of the discussion irritated me simply because it was so derogatory and judgmental with tweets saying things like he must be off his meds and a he’s a fool.
I’m not calling Victoria out as a bad guy. She is definitely not. She’s entitled to her opinion as everyone else is and I don’t believe she should keep it to herself if that’s what she thinks. BUT, I do have issue with the contradictions here. I have issues with many industry folks who can’t seem to stay on a single page on issues like this. It’s this type of contradictory behavior that has new authors unsure of which end is up and which way is right. Guess what new authors; there is no universal “right way” in the publishing industry. Sure we get tons of advice from various professionals and all of it is sound and logical, but because it often seems to contradict other sound and logical advice, it’s hard to be sure. All that I know for certain is that the right path is the path that you wish to take. Only you can determine what’s right for you and what you’re willing to settle for.
But Renee, what he’s bitching about is normal in this industry. It’s slow. Unresponsiveness is common even for bestselling authors. This is how the industry works.
It might be how things are done, but I don’t have to accept it as okay.
Did Marshall ruin his career? Perhaps. I guess it depends on your point of view. Is publishing traditionally with the Big Six a primary career goal for him? I don’t know. If he doesn’t base his success on publishing with one of the big guys, then what has he ruined?
I found myself becoming more and more annoyed as I read discussion threads that focused on his sanity, his manic whatever, why doesn’t he wear a shirt in one of his videos, and “blaming” bipolar disorder for his actions while acknowledging that the practices of the traditional publishing industry are indeed archaic and unfair to authors. They acknowledge that he makes “valid points” but in the next breath criticize him for voicing them. People! Come on! You either agree or you disagree. Quit watering it down to cover your ass. If you have an opinion, then state it firmly or shut the hell up.
I read through Sebastian’s blog over the past week. Every post. Including a very thought-provoking post directed to his agent that discusses the publishing industry today. Why did I read every single post? I get feelings about people. You’d be surprised how often these feelings prove right. Carlos swears I’m a witch of some kind. I just call it instinct. Never ignore your instincts. Sebastian Marshall triggered a gut reaction the moment I started reading his open letter. I thought, “This guy is batshit. I like him.”
People who rock the boat intrigue me. I always wonder about their motivation, if there is a motivation, and what type of person they are. By that I mean are they someone who is rocking the boat simply because it’s rockable or are they rocking it to force change? I’m a boat-rocker. I don’t rock anything I don’t feel very strongly about however; so when I see another rocker, I want to know more.
His posts are intelligent and in many cases they’re very inspiring. Although, Mr. Marshall, I’d really love it if you could stop writing “anyways.” The “s” is not necessary and it makes me screw up my nose and growl every time I see it. Thanks.
His grammar isn’t important though. I’m sorry. We’re discussing the content of his blog posts. Some of them I disagreed with, some were so far over my head in theme that I’m not sure what I read, others were right on in my opinion. One thing I came away with is that he believes in what he’s doing. Strongly. He believes that this industry is changing drastically and that the traditional part of it must also change to survive. He believes that authors (and people in general) need to stand up for themselves and not ass-kiss industry executives and compromise their principles just to get that contract. He believes that if no one stands up, nothing will change. What’s wrong with his logic? I don’t know, you tell me. I see nothing wrong with it. Sure, he could have gone about things differently. Perhaps he might have been more tactful, more calm and rational in his “rant” but then he would be acting like something he is not. Do we want authenticity or not? Do we want authors to be real or do we believe authors should be a bunch of pussies who never offend a single soul?
I hear authors bitching daily about the publishing industry. I read rants and long moaning posts and articles about how unbelievably hard it is to get an agent and thus access the key to the Big Six and “real” publishing. I hear how many new authors hate the unfairness of the entire setup. Authors moan about pissant royalties that bring you cents per book that have to then be further cut to pay your agent. We cry about how many traditional publishers refuse to publish in digital format or to work with libraries to make said format available to readers. We’re frustrated over traditional publishing’s refusal to compete with Amazon and the drastic reductions in marketing and promoting offered by publishers. We rant over the way agency models are ethically insane. The list goes on and on and on. Problem is we don’t do any of this “publicly.”
Well? What are you going to do about it? If you sit and cry into your coffee or on private message boards to other equally weepy writers, will that change things? If you tiptoe around shit to avoid offending anyone who might be useful to you in the future, will you make things better for yourself? How? When? One of the most powerful things Sebastian Marshall says is that “if it ain’t happening now, it ain’t happening.”
He’s standing up for his principles, which he lays out very clearly in his blog.
“…life doesn’t just give you what you want – you have to go get it. I started being radically honest, radically transparent, and demanded to be treated well by everyone in my life, to the highest possible standard”

 “Once someone breaks their word to you, immediately stand up and call them out. If you solider on after someone breaks their word to you, you’re their bitch after that. Don’t be anyone’s bitch.”
Is he crazy? Probably. Maybe that’s why he makes sense to me. I don’t know. Am I crazy for posting this? Probably. But you all knew I’ve been dangling on the edge of that for a while.
To be honest, I almost deleted this several times. I wrote the bulk of it last night and fought with myself over whether or not I should post it. I mean, once it’s online, that’s it right? I can’t take it back. I can’t say “oh well, you know I was just kidding” and I can’t change the opinions of anyone who is pissed at me as a result. I’ve functioned under the assumption that I will traditionally publish one day for a very long time. I’ve bit my tongue on many issues (believe it or not) and I’ve actually avoided topics that I know very few people will like my opinion on because I worried I’d hurt my chances at success. My chances at success? What success? I want to be read. I don’t care how I accomplish that. I want to write well, to write fiction that people remember. Swallowing shit doesn’t make me a better anything. I’ve been a bitch to the traditional publishing game.
This morning I scrolled through my list of followers. Does this matter? To me it does because many of the people who follow this blog I count as friends. I can’t say that it wouldn’t upset me to see one of you “unfollow” because I’ve offended you. It would. However, as I looked through your names, visited some of your blogs, I realized that I am truly a lucky gal. Most of you I can be certain are not pussies and most of you are achieving your goals without compromising your principles. I admire that and I should have more faith in your ability to handle my opinions with maturity. I think the reason I hesitated is that I lost a few followers after the profanity post (of all things) and that pissed me off. Yesterday I lost about ten followers on Twitter immediately after tweeting a link to Sebastian’s blog with a comment that essentially says I support his message. I lost a handful more when I questioned Victoria’s comment about blacklisting.
I don’t know if the drop in followers is definitely related to those tweets, but the coincidence and the fact that they were all people in the publishing game in some way leads me to believe that the two are probably connected. Those particular Tweeps, well they can suck it. Most of the ones I lost can’t find their own asshole without help, so I reckon the mass unfollowing was triggered by whichever was their head Tweep or whatever. That’s fine. I can handle it. I wasn’t popular in high school either.
The thing is if people really read the posts and read his blog, they’d see that this whole mess is not because Marshall wants to ruin Simon & Schuster. From what I’ve read, it’s not about ruining anyone. His message isn’t the poorly thought out result of a manic episode. It’s not that he’s trying to create a fuss simply to shock people either. This is about change. His message is that this industry is crumbling under the weight of the current changes because it runs on outdated practices and principles, and it won’t survive if it can’t adapt. Writers make up a large part of the publishing industry. Every one of us can choose to be a part of the problem or the solution, whether we have a publisher or do it ourselves.
If we don’t stand up and demand change we don’t have the right to bitch about what’s happening. It’s that simple. You want to see traditional publishers stick around? So do I. You want to be able to go back to the days when new authors with innovative or unusual ideas stood a chance? So do I. You want to see an end to the shit that’s on the shelves right now? Then demand it. I am.
What’s my message? I thought I’d stopped being a doormat years ago. But for a short period this past couple of years I let myself slip back into that role because I thought one path was the be-all and end-all of success in this industry. I’ve busted my ass to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion to do all of the things I’m supposed to do to attract the attention of the movers and shakers in this industry and what have I got to show for it? Nothing. I’m still nothing in their eyes. I don’t exist.
Maybe your writing isn’t very good. It’s a damn sight better than Snookie’s or anyone who calls himself “The Situation”. For fucksakes people, they’re willing to publish celebrities who can’t write. Publishing today is based on “sure bets” not talent. I’m not okay with that. Are you?
But celebrities have readers, a platform, a fan base. That’s why they’re offered book deals. But they are NOT writers. They haven’t studied the craft of writing and they don’t give a shit about the quality. Even their ghost writers ability is questionable. Have you read this shit? Are you telling me that we should all work on fame first in order to publish? What? Now that is nuts.
Upon realizing that I’ve nearly killed myself doing it their way, almost destroying my love for writing in the process, I said no thanks. I’ll make my own path using what I’ve built so far. It’s not good enough for traditional publishing. Fine. It never will be and I realize that. I’m building something that I can be proud of and that requires no ass kissing or shit-swallowing.
My message is that I want to see a publishing industry where the brilliant authors I know and love actually stand a chance at being read. I want to see authors who deserve to be published reaching their goals and watching their books selling like hotcakes. They deserve success. As it stands now, these authors don’t have a hope in hell and that’s unacceptable to me. You all deserve more that you’re getting right now. We deserve more. Small presses (for the most part) see the reality and many of these businesses are making radical changes to adapt and to survive. If they can do it, why not the big guys?
Yes, this is a business and perhaps I’m naïve in thinking anything will change but I refuse to quit without even trying to change things.
Do you want to stand up for your principles or are you happy being someone’s bitch?

5 thoughts on “Blacklists and Other Bullshit

  1. My favorite lines from what you said: "I’ll make my own path using what I’ve built so far. It’s not good enough for traditional publishing. Fine. It never will be and I realize that. I’m building something that I can be proud of and that requires no ass kissing or shit-swallowing."That's how I feel about it too. I've worked for the corporate world for 15 years now. The disconnect between those in charge and those that make things happen cause an inability to adapt to change.My goals in becoming a writer have a lot to do with getting out from under the thumb of an employer. I also want to reach readers, make them excited about my stories & my characters, earn money, and live free.

  2. I now have "Riot" by 3 Days Grace stuck in my head. I imagine writers, pens in hand, storming the Big-6 bastille ready to stick a CEO head on a pike. Gruesome, ugly, bloody… I'm down.Do I want to see traditional publishing stick around? I'm not sure. It's a romantic idea – the agent, the meetings with publishers to discuss your book cover, negotiating your contract, etc… But, I think that the "old ways" are dying out, and THAT is the reason why talented writers who persevere and query until their fingers bleed get nowhere. IMO, it doesn't work that way anymore. Probably won't again. What I like most about Sebastian is his "take your success into your own hands" message. Being a control freak, that idea greatly appeals to me. I can't (and neither can you) depend on others to make things happen for me. I have to do it myself. Why? Because I know that I won't dick around.

  3. @Rita: This is what I've had to focus on as I evaluate what I've been doing. What is my goal? It is not linked to how I published. I want to make money. I'd be a liar if I said that didn't factor into my equation. However, I also want to be read and I want to inspire others to want to be read too. I see no reason why I can't do both. The industry today, although some argue that "self-published" authors are not part of it, makes it possible to do both. @Katrina: Occupy Publishers?? Kidding. My God, what an utter waste of time that would be. And I'd break a nail or something. I love that part of Sebastian's blog too. That you need to make your own success is something a lot of people prefer not to hear. That implies work and effort and standing firm on things. How exhausting. Right? Like you though, I have a tiny control freak inside me and doing things my way is appealing. Will it be the right way? I won't know unless I've tried, will I?

  4. People who get exhausted at the thought of being in control of their own lives instead of depending on some assholes and their whims?! No thanks. But yeah, I get it, you also pass on responsibility when you surrender control. It's much easier to say "I didn't make it because XYZ said my novel wasn't their cup of tea" than admitting you didn't make it because you pussied out and just stopped fighting.

  5. Exactly. Giving up or blaming someone else really is the easiest way to deal with things, but it's also the most depressing and self-destructive. If I don't make a career out of doing what I love it's not Big 6's fault or anyone else's. It's mine. That's why I refuse to play this game where I grovel for scraps anymore. If I want it, I have to go get it. Simple as that. I tried to get it one way and it's not working. Plan B. I have a C and D too. But you probably don't want to know those plans.

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