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on the bugaboo of editors publishing their own stories

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On my mind recently, for a couple of reasons.

First, my personal stance on this practice: if I'm in an anthology or magazine wherein an editor has included some of their own work, and I was paid on time and published in a timely manner ... then I could care less.

(On the other hand, if an editor is repeatedly publishing himself while my work, and that of others, languishes in his inventory, then it irks the hell out of me.)

But, again, in general: If I see that an editor has included his or her own work in their publication ... I could care less.

This does not mean that I think it's necessarily a wise thing to do; if an editor self-publishes a story, and it's not up to the quality of the tales surrounding it, it's an open invitation for what kids of all ages today call "lulz."

But ... if it is a good story, then no harm was done whatsoever.

I recognize that this view I have is an anachronism in the current publishing environment.

In part, it's because I first began playing the writing and editing game in earnest in the early '90s. Back then, it wasn't just an accepted practice, it was, in the case of anthologies, an expected practice. In the very first anthology I ever edited, back in 1995, I included a story of my own, and I included my own poetry in a Web zine for which I served as poetry editor.

When I started editing Mythic Delirium, back in '98 (ulp!), I decided not to make use of any of my own work — not out of any sense of violating social mores; I decided I just wasn't interested in using my zine as a showcase for my own writing.

That has been my personal rule since, for the most part. (It's true that some reviewers have looked askance at my Clockwork Phoenix introductions and suggested I'm sneaking in a story of my own — and it's a fair criticism — but I view myself as a ringmaster to that series, putting on a show, not just a compiler and arranger, and so I indulge. It's also my way of showing, not telling, that I want readers to pay attention to how the stories connect.)

But I confess, it rather surprised me when, in the late '00's, which is when I first noticed it, people seemed to start talking about this practice as if it were something on the level of the town councilman who abuses the municipal credit card.

Maybe that's okay. Discouraging the editor-as-self-publisher practice, making someone think twice before committing to it, probably does not one whit of harm.

But in my book (so to speak) it's just not that big a deal.


ETA for non-U.S. residents: Yes, I do actually mean I couldn't care less. Forgive my slang.


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On January 22nd, 2010 05:28 pm (UTC), ravenbait commented:
You could care less or you couldn't care less?

This might be a US vs UK sort of a thing, but I read "could" as meaning that there are circumstances in which you would be less bothered. In the UK the phrase is "couldn't care less" because that denotes a state of being bothered so little by a thing that it is impossible for it to be less bothersome.

I suspect you mean "couldn't care less" but I want to be sure because it does change the sense of your post rather significantly.

Edited at 2010-01-22 05:28 pm (UTC)
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On January 22nd, 2010 05:31 pm (UTC), time_shark replied:
It is a proper rendering of the U.S. version of the idiom, but you're right that it's grammatical nonsense.
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On January 22nd, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC), ravenbait replied:
I shall add it to my internal file on "potentially confusing Americanisms."
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On January 22nd, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC), seajules replied:
One of the U.S. versions, anyway. Out here on the other coast, we say "couldn't." *G*

I go back and forth on the topic of the post. If there are multiple editors of a given publication, and a piece by one of them is featured, I tend to assume it went through the same process as the other pieces in the publication. If there's only one editor, or a clear hierarchy of editors, and the top editor's work appears in the publication, I think there's something fishy going on, regardless of the editor's other professional behavior.

I don't think I'd ever include my own work in a publication I was editing. Even if I thought my piece was fantastic and perfectly suited to the theme, I'd be too concerned that my thinking was necessarily suspect, and that the very fact of my editorship would negatively influence the reader's experience.
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On January 22nd, 2010 06:40 pm (UTC), time_shark replied:
That's all good and fair.
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On January 22nd, 2010 05:33 pm (UTC), wendigomountain commented:
It used to be that contributing editors would have an "Editors Corner" section. Again, no big deal. The only thing I think would be a worry is an editor using a publication to mingle their works with "big name" writers to further their own reputation. Then you would be treading shaking ground. I guess it all depends on the intentions of the editor and whether they were indulging themselves or were they just Forrest Gumping their way into the limelight. Or maybe their story was objectively considered and included because it made the cut. In which case, nobody's got room to bitch.
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On January 22nd, 2010 05:35 pm (UTC), asakiyume commented:
There are many, many people who would like to have someone publish their stuff, and not many people interested in doing the slog that is editing and publishing. When I see that someone has decided to be so generous as to create a venue for publication, and that furthermore that person (or people) review submissions in a fairly timely manner, conduct business professionally, and put out a good publication, I am just all over them with admiration. If, as a perk of all that hard work, they want to publish something of their own, I'm totally fine with it.
s
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On January 22nd, 2010 05:47 pm (UTC), csecooney commented:
One wonders what brought this particular blog on. Or if it's just something you woke up thinking about.

I woke up thinking about Mrs. Danvers this morning, and being late for college classes, even though I've been graduated for almost four years.
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On January 22nd, 2010 06:08 pm (UTC), time_shark replied:
Everything I do has an ulterior motive.
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On January 22nd, 2010 05:47 pm (UTC), coppervale commented:
I completely agree with you. I'd had a discussion with some other industry types at a WFC some years ago, and (knowing that the bulk of my early comics work that made my bones was self-published) a prominent bookseller told myself and another novelist that rather than publish our own work through our own imprints, we'd be considered more professional if we published each others' books - even if the arrangement was strictly for show. And he felt the same way about editors including their own works in magazines and anthologies, stating that no editor who did such an unconscionable thing could be considered credible at all.

He then went on to enthuse about the latest issue of McSweeney's - founded by Dave Eggers, edited by Dave Eggers, and including a couple of pieces by Dave Eggers - and the new Dave Eggers book from McSweeney's Press that was expected to be very, very good.

Edited at 2010-01-22 05:49 pm (UTC)
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On January 22nd, 2010 06:06 pm (UTC), time_shark replied:
I sort of feel like publishing your own book is a different topic. It's not the great evil some would make it out to be, but there are unfortunately those who latch onto it as something they can do in complete stead of the normal venues, which I think is dangerous thinking.

(The coldly-calculating self-promotional side of me feels that the advice you and your friend got to switch books for show was actually sort of smart.)

Self-publishing a comic book, though — my understanding is that no one would bat an eyelash about that. Though I'm not at all an expert.
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On January 22nd, 2010 09:45 pm (UTC), cat_named_eastr replied:
Comics vs. other self-publishing
I would say that comics comprise a slightly different animal in the publishing world, when self-published-- and do not carry the same stigma, at all, although it's always a big cheer when something can be "picked up". Kindof like bands and signing onto record labels.

There is a long tradition of very good comics work having been self/indie published first... and then picked up later-- continued or reborn by a bigger, mainstream publisher.

There is also a tradition of underground and marginalized work that gets critical recognition but would otherwise never be published by the Big Three (Marvel, D.C. and Dark Horse)... even if the editors are positively in love with it.

Part of that has everything to do with there being fewer comics publishers, more expense involved with printing and a high ratio of hungry artists and voices trying to get out there.

Another part of that has to do with certain voices being crowded out or ignored by industry blinders for decades, and the old model industry machine that was specialist comics shops.
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On January 22nd, 2010 09:48 pm (UTC), cat_named_eastr replied:
Well, daaaaamn, Coppervale-- I just looked up and saw who you are.

Niiiiice recent penwork by the way!

ETA: obviously, you already know everything I said in the first comment above.

Edited at 2010-01-22 09:49 pm (UTC)
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On January 23rd, 2010 12:21 am (UTC), coppervale replied:
LOL... yeah, I got some game in that area. But thanks loved your comment (both of them!)
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On January 22nd, 2010 05:58 pm (UTC), cucumberseed commented:
On consideration, I think of it as a mild warning sign, kind of like all those falling rocks signs in my native land. I drive on the road anyway, but I do watch out for rocks.

Those who don't live up to the level of quality in their own publications, as you say, are probably self-correcters. That or years and years of lulz. Either way, only the editor stands to really lose, unless having a good story in a bad anthology hurts an author as much as having a bad story, which, truly, I don't know.
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On January 22nd, 2010 06:08 pm (UTC), time_shark replied:
A reasonable way to look at it.
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On January 22nd, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC), cucumberseed replied:
I only know that my only fear when subbing to you is that there's already too much goodness there for me to slip in :P
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On January 22nd, 2010 06:28 pm (UTC), time_shark replied:
Hey now! You have slipped in, more than once!
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On January 22nd, 2010 06:25 pm (UTC), mrockwell commented:
I am not usually bothered by this in anthologies, unless, as you note, the editor's work is far inferior to that of the other authors in the mix. In magazines/ezines, I find it a bit more troublesome, in that it leads me to wonder if no one else would publish the editor's work -- in which case, how sound can his/her editing acumen be? This worry is compounded when the TOC appears to feature several of the editor's friends (though I couldn't care less if that TOC was all-male) -- it then seems to be more of a mutual admiration society than a serious publishing venture, and therefore one which serious writers probably would want to avoid (even if they do pay on time and publish in a timely manner).

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On January 22nd, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC), ken_schneyer commented:
I think that people who object to this sort of practice are thinking of the reading of submissions as a sort of "judging," and consequently representing a sort of "justice." The idea is that the editor is choosing works she thinks are "better" on some sort of absolute (one-dimensional?) scale [imagine a colorful graph inserted here]. If that were the case, then the editor could not be an "unbiased judge" of her own work, and consequently the inclusion of her work would be unfair.

But if, by contrast, we assume that the editor is choosing works that suit her particular taste, or works that fit a particular pattern she is trying to create, then the analogy breaks down. Obviously the editor's own work is going to be to her own taste, and is likely to suit the pattern she has in mind.

(At this moment, for some reason, I'm reminded of Jane Hirschfield's poem, "Justice Without Passion" (1985))

Edited at 2010-01-22 06:37 pm (UTC)
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On January 22nd, 2010 06:50 pm (UTC), oneminutemonkey commented:
I'm certainly of mixed opinions.
When "Claus of Death" was reprinted in THE DRAGON DONE IT, it was packaged with a bunch of other reprints... and two original stories by Eric Flint and Mike Resnick, the editors. Frankly, those two gentlemen are both pretty big draws on their own, much more than I ever would be, so the likelihood of someone picking up the book were a lot greater for their inclusion. Dodgy? If you object to editors including themselves, but I assumed they'd edit each other and thus maintain a certain set of standards, even as they brought in the crowds who wouldn't be there for me or that Neil Gaiman fellow.

I'm certainly not about to try and slip one of my own stories in something I edit, because I don't have the skill, the draw, the confidence, or the credit to get away with such a maneuver. And that, I think, is what needs to be considered anytime an editor publishes himself. Do they have the experience, craft, and clout needed to do it properly? Can they find someone to edit them in turn? And most importantly: will their story be as big a draw, if not more so, than anything else they're including? Are -they- the Big Name Draw that will attract the fans? If so, awesome. If not... maybe they should think towards sitting out until later.
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On January 22nd, 2010 08:48 pm (UTC), desayunoencama replied:
I think very often the authors who wind up editing anthologies are REQUIRED to include their own work as part of the vehicle for the anthology to work.

Look at the recent George R. R. Martin anthologies, for instance, which all include stories by him.

Or Charlaine Harris' anthologies, which likewise MUST include stories by her since that's often why people are buying the books.

I've edited many anthologies, and sometimes I've included my own work and sometimes I haven't, depending on the genre and the type of anthology (original or reprint) and also whether the publisher expects it of me or not. (Since I'm known as a gay writer, for my gay/lesbian anthology projects it's expected for me to include my own work. I wouldn't do so in a BEST OF project, but for something like FOUND TRIBE: JEWISH COMING OUT STORIES or THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF NEW GAY EROTICA it was taken for granted from the start by the publisher that I would include something of my own in those projects. My first book even emerged as a result of my own writing; Cleis press had published lesbian stories by me in anthologies edited by others, and the editor thought I was the first male author who'd written something that read like it had been written by a lesbian; since I had edited a number of women writing gay porn under male pseudonym, SWITCH HITTERS: LESBIANS WRITE GAY MALE EROTICA AND GAY MEN WRITE LESBIAN EROTICA was born and both Carol Queen, my co-editor, and I contributed to it.)
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On January 22nd, 2010 07:45 pm (UTC), arhyalon commented:
Someone had that complaint about a BA Faery anthology. It puzzled me. Danielle, and I and the Yesterday's Dreamer's group put together our first anthology for the single and only purpose of publishing our (the groups) stories. The later anthologies have been opened to others, and we four editors have to live up to the same quality standards we require of others...but it still seems to me ridiculous to ask someone to go to all this effort and not include their own stories.

I bet the actual readers don't care at all.
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On January 22nd, 2010 08:08 pm (UTC), time_shark replied:
"I bet the actual readers don't care at all."

Actually, I tend to agree. It's really only writer-types that do.
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On January 22nd, 2010 08:43 pm (UTC), arhyalon replied:
I think the same thing is true for using adverbes after said and "book saidims." So far as I can tell, readers are as happy with these things as they were thirty years ago when they were in style. Only writers and wanna-be writers seem to care.
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On January 22nd, 2010 11:37 pm (UTC), leahbobet commented:
Just as a datapoint, the social norms I came up with on this one were always that publishing one's own stories in markets one edited were a serious faux pas, and I started into this biz in...late 2001? I remember remarking on it to someone re: the previous incarnation of Weird Tales, and it couldn't have been later than 2003. So I think the idea's been around a while that it's conflict of interest.

Which is, y'know, how I personally feel about it. Although almost in the sense that when I'm a writer I'm a writer and that's fine, but when I'm being an editor, I should be 100% an editor and not try to slip my own stuff in there without benefit of an objective third-party eye. No chocolate in your peanut butter! *g*
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On January 23rd, 2010 12:05 am (UTC), time_shark replied:
"the social norms I came up with on this one were always that publishing one's own stories in markets one edited were a
serious faux pas"

I don't doubt you, but I'm sort of curious where it came from, because it seriously was news to me when I ran across it...
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On January 23rd, 2010 12:06 am (UTC), leahbobet replied:
Y'know, I don't even know where it came from. It's likely it's something I got from either the OWW mailing list or the Speculations Rumor Mill, because those were the two main places I was doing Baby Writer Finishing School when I first started.
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On January 23rd, 2010 06:56 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
Mike, I do believe you know my feelings on the issue. But, I'll repeat in abreviated form this time for the sake of being part of the discussion. I think it raises ethical concerns more where "Year's Best" books are concerned. The 1988 Years Best American Poetry, for example, where John Asbery Selected himself as one of the "Years Best." Donald Hall did the same a year later. Of course, both of poets with stature to meet the ego it takes to do that. Doesn't mean it's a right thing to do, however. Imagine the outrage (on the Shocklines Message board, for example) if Stephen Jones published one of his own horror stories in his yearbook.

There's a difference between that and thematic anthologies, especially ones involving a fairly strong, narrative framing device (for the sake of disclosure, I've edited one of these). This sort of book is different in that the editor is actively creating a universe unique to itself and then is inviting writers to take part in that universe. Normally, and editor's hand needs to be invisible, but in this case, the editor isn't and can't be. So, including work beyond the framing device isn't much far of a stretch. I would maintain that this sort of editing is closer to collaborative writing than it is traditional editing. I hope that makes sense.

---Rich Ristow
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