Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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Prime, the Spin

Now, here's something I find interesting.

Over the last few weeks, Michael Cisco's comments about Prime have earned him, I'm sure, a share of hassle and a share of praise, but what I haven't seen is the full spin of his statements yet. It was bound to come, of course: a business that receives a public bashing will have to install damage control. To an extend, Sean Wallace's public apology begins that. It's difficult to do anything with that apology, because it admits, first off, an error, and then continues, explaining how changes are under way, and that things will change. If it does or it doesn't, time will tell, but what the apology does is make is an prolonged debate impossible. It shuts it down. It was a smart move by Wallace, especially given that we have seen, throughout blog wars, what happens when one individual or company does no admit fault, and tries to justify its neglectful behaviour.

However, this post on mediabistro caught my attention, because it is the start of damage control:

Dark fantasy writer Michael Cisco broke radio silence on his blog last month to complain about his experiences with Prime Books, an independent publisher of science fiction, fantasy, and horror fiction, starting with the fact that he hasn't gotten any royalties from his last novel, The Traitor. "Eagle-eyed vigilance in following the [ sales rank," he writes, "especially following selection by [Jeff] VanderMeer for the top 10 fantasy books [of 2007], and a glowing review from Nick Mamatas, gives me reason to believe at least 500 books have been sold just at that venue."

"I am very sorry that we have, in Michael Cisco's eyes, failed him," Prime executive editor Sean Wallace emailed when I contacted him about Cisco's allegations. "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." (Rudimentary numbers are, of course, readily available through Nielsen Bookscan; I will merely note that Cisco's estimation of his sales was grossly inflated.)

But what about Cisco's other allegations about a lack of transparency, a failure to follow through on marketing commitments, and a haphazard-at-best approach to promotion? Well, as the ensuing commentary to his post revealed, those complaints aren't unique in publishing. After Cisco said he was convinced Prime was trying to sign up "authors they believe are already being talked about precisely to as to avoid having to do publicity," Poppy Z. Brite said she had an "almost identical" experience doing business on a much larger scale when she published three novels with Crown.

So did Prime deserve to be raked over the coals publicly by one of its authors—not to mention his final advice to other writers: "Try elsewhere! Don't the same mistakes I did!" Wallace admitted that the press had made mistakes along the way, including falling behind schedule on some titles, but "we are always striving to be a better company," he said. (As another author told me, "Prime has screwed up on occasion, but no more than any other small press does.") "I'd like to invite all of our authors to contact us directly," Wallace continued, "with feedback and suggestions about what, in their view, we might be doing better for them. We are listening." It's a diplomatic response that leaves an opportunity to move forward, unlike Cisco's remarks, which are likely to come across as bitter rather than older-but-wiser.

What is interesting is to note the emphasis on Cisco's incorrect guess at his sales at the start of the piece, and which are followed by Wallace's PR spun statements that carefully place him in the almost wronged seat, in the impression of a long suffering publisher dealing with cranky talent. To the goal, he tells you that he is trying to do better, that his open to suggestions and feedback, while Cisco--seemingly uncontacted by the author of the piece--is frothing at the mouth, telling writers to BEWARE! to HIDE! to LISTEN! and which is even, at the end, called bitter. Even Poppy Z Brite's short comment on Cisco's blog is spun within the article to give Cisco the appearance of someone who doesn't know what he is talking about. After all, she's had the same experience with larger publishers. Publishers suck, obviously, and there's nothing special about what has happened here. Brite's full comment, however, begins by quoting Cisco, "Prime's idea of publicity is sticking your book under a rock and informing the wind. You will have to do absolutely everything yourself. Blurbs, getting your text to reviewers, everything. Prime takes authors they believe are already being talked about precisely to as to avoid having to do publicity. I firmly believe Prime's neglect helped to scuttle my last TWO novels," and then says, "That sucks ... and, unfortunately, my 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." The emphasis, as you can see, is a little different than what the article has commented--Brite is hardly pleased, or shrugging it off, or even saying that this is how it is and there's nothing you can do about, suck it up, Cisco.

In addition, the mediabistro piece has done a nice job of ignoring all the comments from authors the came out of Cisco's original post, while allowing for anonymous authors (such a fine species) to speak out in defence, a defence, I might add, that does not argue again that things were not done wrong, but rather that they are no worse than others. But who, anonymous author? Who are these other small presses? Are you someone we know, with a connection to Prime, or are you merely a figment of the poster's imagination, conjured up to make a point that you feel requires no support whatsoever?

Questions, questions.

Now, to be clear, it's not that I believe the same hasn't been done, or that there are worse small presses. There are. Publish America, if I remember the name properly, was a publisher that deserved to get slapped around for its misrepresentation of the publishing scene, and sucking in naive and desperate authors and their money. And, in fact, if you are on the right side of the fence with Prime, you'll do well enough, as Kathy Sedia will attest to, no doubt. However, at the same time, the representation of Cisco as a bitter, and just plain wrong author, angrily bashing his publisher who has admitted to making mistakes, and is sorry they failed him, is not one I believe to be truthful, either. It's spin, either purposeful, or by not having acknowledged all the opinions presented through lack of research.

(Disclaimer: My interest in this arises from the fact that I had a book published by Prime, also. It was not that positive, so take this post, I imagine, with whatever grain of salt you need to take it with.)
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