July 29th, 2008


Prime, Again

It appears that blogs have been running the Prime saga over the last week.

It's been interesting, I think, but perhaps this is because of my personal stake in it. For starters, Sean Wallace (oldcharliebrown) offered an apology on his blog, wherein he said, "I am very sorry that we have, in Michael Cisco’s eyes, failed him. And he makes one point that I will concede: we want to improve our ongoing communications with our authors. I hope Michael will allow us to do so in his case. What I must dispute is that Michael has been cheated. He has not. Our royalty statements are accurate and truthful and easily verified. He has now seen his statement and knows that his royalty payment is accurate. It would be unprofessional for us to share these figures in public and I am sure Michael would agree. Yes, we have occasionally fallen behind schedule — and then we have always caught up again. (This is hardly a unique condition in small press publishing. Our goal, of course, is to remain on schedule.) We believed in his book enough to publish it and distributed promotional copies to various places. As Michael points out, it received some very positive reviews, including from Publishers Weekly and Realms of Fantasy. And we continue to believe in his book and look forward to selling many more copies in the future. We are always striving to be a better company, and I’d like to invite all of our authors to contact us directly with feedback and suggestions about what, in their view, we might be doing better for them. We are listening."

There wasn't, however, much commentary on the statement. Truthfully, what is there to say? It's a company statement: an apology, an admittance that things have been done badly, that things are trying to be changed, though it would probably only be a wide eyed optimist who would think such a thing would happen.

Why say that? Well, Prime--and Sean Wallace--have been known for a long time for the behaviour that is being aired publicly now. When I first signed up to have my book published, I was told by a couple of people that I had to be careful with Wallace, and that I had to be constantly on him about the book's publication and that I had to get my own editor. It was an odd thing to say at the time, I thought, and I must admit I didn't pay much attention to it; but as Catherynne Valente (catvalente) said on her post on the topic, "The fact is that most people in the community knew all of this about Prime a long time ago, and have been unwilling to burn bridges by speaking out." I like to think people weren't laughing at me when I said, "Nah, look, it'll be cool," because I based it off the quite reasonable behaviour he exhibited to me--but they probably were laughing at me, or at least shaking their head and waiting for the inevitable to happen, which it did. It's important to take note of that, I think, because with all this conversation about Prime and Wallace, you might be expecting to see a crazy, frothing at the mouth bastard who is well known for threats, youtube videos, and dodgy quick rich schemes. But that's not the truth. The truth is, Wallace isn't a bad guy to have a conversation with: he's a guy who likes to gossip, has a bunch of publishing plans, some of them thought out, some of them not, and his taste in literature isn't bad. I understand that women might have a different experience of his behaviour, and that's worth noting as well, and unfortunate, though I have never seen it myself. At any rate, what I'm mostly concerned with here is that all this stuff that has been spoken about on blogs is not new, and the line of people in Cisco's blog, in the comments of mine, comments of others, and more, will give testimony to the fact that it's not a few isolated events.

Yet, the subject is not so one sided.

In his post on the subject, Paul Tremblay (pgtremblay) wrote that, "if you just signed a contract with any publisher for a POD book, you must know the following going in:

--The vast majority of POD genre books do not and will not get reviewed by Publishers Weekly or Library Journal or Booklist, even if they are sent copies. These are the review venues that booksellers and librarians read. These are the only review venues that will consistently move books (along with NY Times and other papers who won't review your POD book either). So, where else will your POD book be reviewed? It's an utter crapshoot, really.
--Even if bookstores knew about your book, they won't stock it because your book is nonreturnable. You will be lucky to sell 200 copies.
--There is no real investment in your book by the publisher (assuming no advance). Publisher didn't outlay any money upfront which means they are going to be much less inclined to spend money promoting a novel that won't be in bookstores and won't perform well."

He further goes on to say, "I'm not here to defend Prime, nor any publisher for that matter, answer accusations etc. That's not my job. I'm not a publisher, I'm a writer and sometimes a clumsy editor. Writers, *please*, you need to gather as much information as you can before signing any contract; ask around, talk, email, read, lurk on message boards. What you'll find, is that the above complaints--and worse complaints, much worse--are all too common to most publishers: communication, delays in publication, etc. I'm talking small and big publishers. Give me a publisher's name, and I've heard multiple complaints about them. Small genre publishers, big genre publishers, the NYC publishers--I've got your pile of anecdotes right here, most of them terrible, terrible stuff that has happened to authors who didn't deserve such treatment. I'll only share one (because it's not up to me to out another writer's tale of I-got-screwed-woe). When I signed with Holt, Stewart O'Nan told me that he was essentially fired from Holt back in '99 and his A PRAYER FOR THE DYING tanked sales-wise because a new editor came in and killed it. If the book didn't do so well critically, it might've tanked his entire career." Poppy Z Brite (docbrite), likewise, says that "unfortunately, [her] experience with Random House was almost identical (except that they stuck three novels under the rock instead of just two), so authors shouldn't assume they can avoid these problems by working with a "major" publisher."

It's important to take not of these posts for a couple of reasons. Firstly, even from my outsider's point of view, Cisco's original post about his expected sales seemed high to me, and that the problems that exist in work being buried, lost, or poorly treated, is not unique to Prime. Indeed, when I originally signed with Prime, Black Sheep was slated for POD, and I thought, 'Shit, sell a few hundred and I'll be cruising.' Of course, later, I got the verbal assurance that I would be moved to a print run of three thousand, which was a nice carrot dangled in front of me, until all of a sudden it disappeared. That it could disappear so suddenly was my own fault, incidentally: what I should have done was got a rewrite of the contract, and got it in black and white, so such a last minute turn on the book couldn't take place; but, despite what most people may or may not think about me, I'm a fairly face value kind of guy. If someone tells me something is going to happen, I accept that. If someone is nice to my face, I'm cool with them. Worrying about all that behind the scenes shit just seems unnecessary, except, of course, that when you're an author, you are yourself a small business, and you have an obligation to look after your own interests and give some concern to that. What this means is that if things change, it is up to you to ensure that it's done so in print. It's up to you, I learnt, to ensure that a publisher and editor and agent does their job because they will ensure that you do yours.

I view my time with Prime to be rather like the first car I owned. It was a piece of shit, that car: I bought it for fifteen hundred dollars of an uncle who worked as a panel beater at the time. Strangely, a lot of people liked it: I'd get messages left on the front windshield asking if I wanted to sell it, strangers stopping me in car parks at one in the morning to ask the same thing, and that mirrored my time with Prime, too, where people did express envy. Why not? Australia is a tiny crack of a market and it doesn't have places for difficult to market authors like myself (or so I get told I am; I reckon I'm pretty easy to market, go figure). The thing about that car, however, is that it broke down a lot. A fuck of a lot. I must've spent three to four times the car's initial cost in repairs over the three years I owned it, before rust claimed the thing to such an extent that I sold it for three hundred bucks to some mechanics who wanted a project. Prime was like that: I learnt that I needed to pay attention to contracts, that I couldn't be as laid back as I as in life, that folk can turn on you if you're attacking their interests, and that, when push came to shove, I had to be willing to get up and walk away from the situation, taking my shit with me. It shouldn't come as no surprise to anyone that I won't work with Prime again, but just in case it is, there's the statement. Just as there are a lot of authors in this game--to which I am sure will head to Prime for the exposure they could get--there are a lot of publishers in this game, and I've had good experiences, and I've had bad ones, and I don't need to repeat the latter like some bad relationship you can't leave for fear of being alone (or in this case, unpublished).

But that doesn't mean that posts like Cisco's, or anyone else's on the subject, is wrong, or should be ignored, just because it is a well known experience.


Nothing changes if you say nothing, be it big or small, and sometimes nothing changes even if you do: but I'm an author, and it takes me a fuck of a lot more time to write the book than it does for you to read it, and I have to respect it, and that means being all the things that have me referred to as a cunt, a whiny bastard, or whatever it is people label me with when the book doesn't get treated right.