Tilting at windmills or when did I return to junior high?

Normally, today I’d be writing about the official start of the Random Penguin publishing era. In case you’ve forgotten, Random House and Penguin have become one entity. Oh, they decided not to use the name everyone has given them — Random Penguin — opting instead for Penguin Random House. The “new” company will have more than 10,000 employees and publish more than 15,000 titles a year. Sounds great, doesn’t it? However, I have to ask myself why it takes approximately 750 employees per title and how much of an overlap of duties there might be — and how much money the new Random Penguin could save by really looking at the new corporate setup and cutting out the fat. How much of that savings could — not that it would — be passed on to the reader or, heaven forbid, be given to the authors of the books they sell? But that will have to wait for another post.

If you read Dave’s post yesterday, and then read the comments, you can see that I’m still more than a bit hot under the collar about the trial by social media that’s been taking place in our profession. As a woman, I cannot and will not stand for sexual harassment. Been there and had it done to me. I’ve seen it done to my friends. There is no excuse for it — but there is also no excuse for this snowballing trial by social media that is taking place today not only when it comes to perceived sexism in the profession but to sexual harassment at cons.

Growing up, once I hit the 5’7″ mark, my mother warned me about elevators and “small men”, as she called them. Stature didn’t automatically determine their inclusion in the “small man club”. What did was how they acted. These were the men who seemed to take the closing of the elevator doors as a signal that they could get into your personal space and make inappropriate comments or engage in inappropriate touching. The response, I was told, depended on the offense. A phrase can be just as cutting as a slap, a laugh worse than a punch. Then there were a girl’s best friends: her shoes. A heel, especially a spike, brought down oh-so-accidentally on the top of the foot was guaranteed to divert attention.

But what was an inappropriate comment? It wasn’t, in most cases, a comment about how you looked. Oh, it could be. Tone of voice and facial expression can turn the most innocent comment into something lascivious. But there were and still are innocent compliments, something that a lot of folks seem to have forgotten.

And that is important, especially in our profession today. Too many people jumping in to bash — and trash — people for not supporting their attempts to eradicate sexism and sexual harassment in the profession and at cons are forgetting a simple fact: you also have to look at the intent of the person being condemned as well as the impression of the person of the “receiving” end.

But that isn’t what’s happening here, especially not when you look at what happened with Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg. No one cared what the intent of these two authors might have been any more than they cared what the intent of editor Jean Rabe had been when she approved a “chicks in chain mail”-type cover for the SFWA bulletin. They broke the rules of the vocal few who saw the reminiscence of Resnick and Malzberg as sexist and misogynistic. Rabe was condemned and hounded until she resigned for being “insensitive” to the fact that the cover might insult some women.

Heaven help us if we insult — even unintentionally — someone or some group in a way that is currently perceived to be not politically correct.

But it goes beyond the Resnick/Malzberg situation. Look at what has happened with Paula Deen. She’s been accused of some truly horrible things. ACCUSED is the key word here. Yes, she admitted to using a horrible word some years in the past. She’s apologized for it. When a number of high profile celebrities who had a reason to be insulted by the word she used came out and said to stop making such a big deal out of it, that if they could accept her apology the rest of us should as well, the self-appointed PC police started shouting to the rooftops that she is evil because of what the pleadings in the case say she did.

The pleadings. The papers filed by the other side to establish a reason to have a court case. NOT proof. But the fact they’ve been printed out and filed in court is enough for these folks — the same folks who have condemned Resnick and Malzberg, who condemn Orson Scott Card for his religious beliefs and who have no problem naming the editor accused of sexual harassment at a con — accused, but not convicted and without any description of what he supposedly said or did.

What does this have to do with writing, you ask. After all, Mad Genius Club is supposed to be a blog by writers about writing. Well, writing is more than just sitting down at a desk and putting words onto paper. Writing is a process and it includes interacting with others in the profession as well as with your fans. That means treating people with respect, even if you don’t agree with them or even like them. That’s something too many seem to have forgotten in their attempt to prove their social and moral outrage at real or perceived wrongs. They forget that for every virtual high five they get for jumping onto the social media bandwagon condemning someone for their horrid behavior, they are causing someone else to look at them and wonder why they aren’t asking for both sides of the story. When an author posts a comment on Facebook or on their blog but says dissenting opinions won’t be allowed, it only shows that they are as closed minded as the person or persons they are condemning.

Is harassment at cons a problem? At some of them, yes. At others, not so much. Should anyone put up with it? Absolutely not. But there are ways to deal with it. Report the offense to the concom. If the person who has been perceived to be harassing someone is there in an official capacity, then report them to their employer. If anyone witness the incident, get their names and contact information and ask them to write down what they saw and/or heard. Ask if they’d be willing to tell the concom/employer/whomever about it. And document, document, document everything all along the process until it is done.

Can you go public with what happened? Sure. But be prepared for folks to ask for details, especially if you name the other person involved. Part of it is because there are some people who get a kick out of reading the salacious details. But part of it is because most folks want to know both sides of the story before making a decision. So, either keep names out of it and stick with generalities or be prepared to answer the questions. Don’t kick your feet and pitch a fit just because there are some folks who want to know more. It isn’t putting you on trial. It is trying to be fair.

I know there will be a number of folks who will disagree with what I’ve said here. I’ve betrayed my sex by not instantly assuming that the woman who cries harassment has actually been harassed. I read a comment the other day where someone said the number of false harassment claims was so negligible as to be non-existent. It took me a while to stop laughing. That was almost as unbelievable as the comment that women can’t sexually harass as man. At the risk of being totally non-PC, that’s like saying someone who falls into a “minority” — be it racial, religious, etc — can’t be racist of prejudiced.

If you want to help women and others who face harassment at cons, educate them on what to look for and where to go to report the harassment. Make sure the concom knows your own concerns. But stop the trial by social media. Believe me, if you don’t the day will come when the definition of PC changes yet again and you find yourself in the cross-hair. How will you feel then when everyone is jumping on the bandwagon to condemn you for something you did or said and meant nothing by it?

As for how it effects your writing, write the characters the story requires. Not every man has to be an evil rapist or the gay companion. You can have a “chauvinist” who happens to appreciate and respect women. Just because he opens a door for her and insists on paying the dinner tab doesn’t make him bad or wrong. Just because a woman wants to stay home and take care of the house and raise the children doesn’t make her a doormat or a traitor to her gender. Your characters should be real for the story you are writing. Just be prepared for someone not to agree with what you put on the page. There will always be someone who will say you character isn’t realistic, even if that character is a true reflection of someone you know.

Most of all, judge for yourself about what’s happening. For me, I don’t know if the editor did harass anyone. I’ve heard he has the reputation for it but I’ve heard nothing but rumors. I’ll wait until more comes out before condemning him. That said, it will color how I look at him should I ever find myself in the same room with him. And that, unfortunately, may have been the point of all this. He’s been discredited without ever having his “day in court”.

And that is exactly what has been attempted with too many others in our industry by others in our industry. Suddenly I feel like I’m back in junior high. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now.

28 comments

  1. Having been in the middle of such mergers before, it’s likely that they want to look over things a while before starting to do cuts. It’s actually a method that I think is better, because I’ve been in some where the cuts made things horrible for some of the employees by taking too many away from their department.

    One thing – could you explain your numbers in the opening paragraph? I can’t make the math work out to get the “750 employees per title” part.

    1. I get 1.5 titles per employee per annum. Which, when you think about it, for a full-time supposedly “pro” organization is still pretty pathetic.

      M

      1. And that’s probably not including the many freelancers the publisher hires directly, the employees of the full-service production companies the publisher farm projects out to, and the many freelancers those production companies then hire.

        1. You hit the nail on the head there, Wesley. I don’t hold out much hope that we are going to see a change for the better from the author’s standpoint. I’ve not seen anything to indicate they are changing their business model of process.

      2. I did the math the opposite direction and got .67 employees per title, but assumed she added a zero to the number of titles, which if 1500 instead of 15000 would work out to her answer of 750 employees per title.

        1. Dividing 6.7 by ten yields 67, not 750, you have to drop _two_ zeros to get to 667, which is still not 750.

          The math is:
          titles / employee:
          15000 titles / 10000 employees = 1.5 titles per employee
          OR
          employees / title :
          10000 employees / 15000 titles = ~6.67 (6 2/3rd) employees per title

          If you want to start dropping zeros, you can get ~67 employees per title for 1500 titles, or ~667 employees per title for 150 titles. But then we ask: is Random Penguin only publishing 150 titles per year?

          750 doesn’t exist anywhere in this equation. Her math and/or figures are just wrong.

        2. .67 * 10 = 6.67
          .67 * 100 = 66.7
          .67 * 1000 = 667
          15000 / 1000 = 15
          Do you think she added three zeros?
          Is Random House / Penguin only publishing 15 titles per year?

          BTW: 667 !== 750

          1. Well as everyone pointed out, my math wasn’t a whole lot better. I’m claiming being up to long, with to little sleep, because honestly getting the right answer and then thinking moving the decimal place one place somehow translates .67 to 750 seems a more difficult mistake to make than just screwing up the math in the first place 😦

    2. Wayne, never ask me to explain numbers ;-). Sorry, I did screw the math up. I was trying to get this post up before taking the car into the shop and before I could check it, AT&T Uverse decided to go into network outage and I just got internet back.

      As for the merger issue, my problem with the way it stands right now is something that was said back when the merger was initially announced. Basically, iirc, they said there would be few if any layoffs. That’s a problem because publishers have already let go many of the people who actually helped make books better — editors and copy editors and proofreaders not to mention marketing people — and now outsource much of it with much less success. But that’s just me. I’d rather see fewer bean counters and more employees who are dedicated to assisting the author and giving the readers a better experience, but I’m just strange that way.

      1. Oh, I can’t speak to the issue of WHICH people they lay off. That said, in my experience, “Few if any layoffs” carries an implied, “within the next 6-12 months”. And really, if they are outsourcing copyediting and proofreading, then effectively, they have MORE than 10,000 employees, which makes the problem even worse.

      2. That could be an interesting series of blog postings — given the shift to epubs, social networking publicity, and so forth, what is the “ideal” publisher organization now? What does it do for the authors and readers? What functions does it perform, and how is it funded? Just a thought for the furor — whoops, that was supposed to be future, but I like furor, too.

    1. Thanks, Geoff. Of course, there are those who think I’m only being semi-reasonable because, gasp, I’m not getting completely onboard and demanding the heads of all the “offenders” — of course, those same folks get to decide who the offenders are.

  2. But, but, the huge publicity department! The financial shenanigans department! HR, to be sure there’s no harassment! The Executives! The Executive Assistants! The legal department alone probably take a third of the personnel . . .

    1. It’s probably more a matter of 750 people have their fingers on every book, which is why it takes so long to get it into the store.

    2. But, Pam, they even contract out the financial shenanigans department — remember? BookScan. Can we all say BookScan? Oh, but then they have to have the beancounters who love to play with the bookscan numbers. I keep forgetting about them. 😉

  3. I read a comment the other day where someone said the number of false harassment claims was so negligible as to be non-existent.

    head=> desk

    I had a roommate in the Navy that accused her entire shop of harassing her– they were about to lose their careers, because she wanted out of having so much paperwork– and then the only other gal in the shop pissed off the lying bleep by telling her that it wouldn’t stick to a female.

    So the lying bleep accused the boyfriend of the gal in the shop of raping her.

    Thank God, the time she chose to claim the assault happened was while the guy was a state a way, on a flight line, in front of several generals and admirals.

    It was swept under the rug after that. No punishment on liar.

    1. There’s a massive resistance to making false/unproved percentages available, for the usual reasons. And of course no penalty for doing so :-(. When you consider what that does to the falsely accused, that’s just unfair. It will come to the real being ignored with false, which will actually make things far, far worse. To give a real example of how much – South Africa is the ‘rape capital’ of the world (I think because the reporting from the rest of Africa is so poor, rather than it is so much worse) The perps, although it is not permitted to say this, are mostly black male (in the other race groups rape rates are far lower, probably safer than most places). Before going off at black males hear this: – A survery in the early 2000’s found 30% of women (and because race is not permitted to be mentioned, and I am pretty sure this is not a norm in SA’s other race groups, make that 35% of black women) say “No” when they mean “Yes” – because it is immodest to say “yes”. So you have no meaning no and being taken as yes. A suggestion that it might be worth getting on the case of the ‘no but I mean yes’ women was met with violent affront as cultural imperialism. So the situation continues, and worsens, and various feminist anti-rape groups continue to vilify… the usual PC villians -who are if anything – less likely than in most of the rest world.

      1. Related issue: the recent DoD report of “estimated” assaults.

        Translation: all accusations are true, and we made up a crud ton more of them.

        *growl*

      2. Dave, how true and how sad. And the impact the false accusations have on someone is what bothers me the most. Even if the accusations aren’t false, they can be blown all out of proportions and the damage is also done. I get so frigging tired of this trial by social media that a segment of SFWA and even the public have resorted to that I can’t stay silent any longer, even if it burns some bridges I’m not sure I’d ever have wanted anyway.

    2. Yep. I’ve seen it as well in business and at school. Heck, I’ve had a talk with my son who will soon be reporting for duty about it and recommended he document, document, document.

  4. Way off topic: in an attempt to procrastinate on my Smashwords prep (just finished centering all my asterisks and am now looking at getting rid of all those page breaks I had to do over for Kindle) I started fretting and googling ISBNs. Is there a good place that compares and contrasts the pros and cons of getting your own, which sites are real, whether the free ones from Smashwords are a snare and a delusion, and other useful questions I don’t even know to ask?
    If this is too big a tangent, might one of you MGs consider a post? Pretty please?
    Amanda, I have been regularly returning to your workshop. Thank you again for that.

    1. Laura, I just got internet back after almost 24 hours of AT&T Uverse network outage. Let me see what the weekend schedule is for MGC. If there’s a day open, I’ll do something on it then. Otherwise, I’ll do it next week if that’s okay,.

      1. That would be awesome, Amanda. You are very kind to share so much information with all of us.

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