Editors: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Doubtless you’ve seen this bit of news over the past week. When I read it, I was shaking my head — in that knowing way. Because a disproportionate number of fiction editors not only live and work in New York City, they also come out of various university literary programs. And if you know anything about university lit departments, or New York City, you know that these cauldrons of Western Civilization (at its finest!) tend to be ear-marked by, ummm, a certain point of view let’s say. It’s not the point of view commonly held in, oh, Montana, or Texas, or small-town South Dakota. And it’s certainly not wholly homogeneous — for those specific places. No. But there is a predictability to Nick Cole’s adventure with traditional publishing. A predictability that only makes sense if you consider the overarching cultural context of the thing. Who Nick is. Who his editor was. The experiences that shaped both of them. And why, at the end of the day, Nick’s editor decided to trash-can his book; because Nick’s book contained a chapter that deeply offended said editor.

Now, any editor can trash-can a book for almost any reason. Most traditional publishing contracts are written such that the book can be stopped dead in its tracks at any number of stages. The author might turn in a hasty, poorly-done piece. The author might turn in a brilliant piece, but which is entirely changed and different from what was agreed upon at signing. Or the author and editor might haggle endlessly over plot points, scene shifts, the cutting and flensing of prose the author deems vital to the story, but which the editor believes to be superfluous. Ultimately, for any book to move into the production phase, an editor has to stamp the word APPROVED on the title page. (One imagines a huge rubber stamp slapping the word down on a marked-up, coffee-stained, dog-eared paper manuscript.) This is the point at which you, the author, have made all the suggested editorial changes — or not — and the editor has deemed the manuscript ready to be dumped into the sausage hopper: for copy edits (different thing from prose editing) and proofing (again, different) and galleys and ARCs, etc.

What’s disquieting about Nick’s experience is that his editor wasn’t concerned with the quality of the prose, or the quality of the story — the two things an acquiring editor needs to be most concerned with. No. Nick’s editor was unhappy with the manuscript because a single chapter in Nick’s book made the editor feel like she’d been punched in her ideological feels. She was “deeply offended” by that chapter. And it wasn’t even a chapter that baldly slapped at the hot-button topic. Rather, said hot-button topic was utilized — in true scientifictional fashion — in extrapolative form. Ergo, what could happen, might happen, maybe happens, if a given conventional wisdom of modernity is enlarged (by time and technology) to the point it’s very dangerous?

Now, I am 110% certain Nick’s editor would not have been offended if, say, Nick’s single chapter had tackled a different hot-button topic in a different way. Or had tackled the same hot-button topic, but in a way that was comfortable for Nick’s editor; something familiar to her, and which would leave her thinking, “Ah yes, of course, and so it ought to be.” She probably would not have been bothered if that chapter might offend people in Montana, or Texas, or small town South Dakota. She doesn’t live in those places, doesn’t know people from those places, and isn’t concerned with the same things those people are concerned with. She’s concerned about the fact that Nick’s chapter made her uncomfortable with a conventional wisdom she’s probably taken for granted her whole life — surely, a hallmark of scientifictional tales told for the past 50 years, yes?

But the editor wasn’t having any of that. So Nick experienced a falling out with his publisher.

I would classify that as decidedly bad editing, because the editor wasn’t asking herself questions about prose or story quality, she was evaluating the book on political terms. And while many people in New York — and from lit departments on campuses across the nation — wouldn’t blink twice at the idea that all art is political to some degree, I’d say evaluating a book on political grounds is a poor way to approach the business of buying, promoting, and selling stories.

Now, Nick could have knuckled under. That would have been the expected reaction. You go with your (rhetorical) hat in hand, making mea culpas, and the offending chapter is swiftly ditched, or re-written to suit the editor’s desires. For those of us who work in the traditional publishing realm (and who are not A-list million-dollar commodity men) it pays to be flexible. And I am not trying to knock anyone for being flexible. I myself consider flexibility to be a good trait for any author. I’ve had to be more flexible with some editors, than with others. I try not to be so married to my books and stories, that I believe they cannot be improved. But then again, I’ve not had any of my editors experience “deep offense” at anything I’ve written. And my editors tend to span a political spectrum that is substantially wide. If one of them had said to me, “The story is good, but you have deeply offended me with this passage, so it’s a no-go,” I’d probably tip my hat, politely withdraw the work — and leave myself a big mental sticky note to be careful about that editor in the future.

Thankfully, Nick’s scenario has a happy ending, because traditional publishing is no longer the only route. Sixteen years ago, Nick would have been staring at the end of his career. Because — short of going to a vanity publisher — there wasn’t going to be a way for him to win. Traditional publishing would have closed its door. And prying that door open again, has typically been even more difficult than getting it to open in the first place. But this is the era of explosive self publication. Amazon-dot-com, baby. Where guys like Andy Weir can skip traditional publishing entirely, go viral with a hot book, and wind up inking big money deals with hollywood and traditional publishing alike. In fact, one might argue that indie publishing is the new farm system for the traditional big leagues. They’re forever looking to see what’s hot, coming up through the indie system, and are prepared to lob substantial cash at rising stars.

But Nick’s predicament does take me back to the question almost all of us have to ask ourselves: what is an editor really for, and how do I know the good editing, from the bad editing?

In my experience, a good editor is not trying to evaluate your story on ideological grounds, nor is a good editor trying to get you to write the story their way. A good editor spots how you yourself are already trying to tell the story, and (s)he will simply make suggestions about how to do that job even more effectively than you’re already doing it. That’s the difference between, “You’re doing it wrong,” and, “You’re doing it right, but here are a few suggestions that should help you do it even better.” Most of the editors I’ve worked with (so far) have edited in this manner. And while some of them have barely touched my manuscripts, others have been so heavily involved in revision, they’re practically co-authors at the end of it. But again, their focus has always been: this story is hitting singles and doubles, let’s change a few things, and get this story hitting triples, or even a home run.

Ugly editing . . . well, I can only think of one or two instances where I’d call something I went through, ugly. In one case, I devoted a significant amount of effort to a series of revisions, with a duo of co-editors, and each step of the way I believed I was following their carrot — but in the end, I got the stick of rejection. That smarted, if only because I’d invested a great deal of time and effort — flexibility! — in meeting editorial expectation, only to have the door slammed on my rhetorical fingers. It seemed (to me) to be a bit of a bait-and-switch. Which is not, I am sure, how the editors saw it. And we did not experienced any terrific rancor over the matter. And the story eventually sold to a different anthology, and got me some nice comments from readers to boot. But I wasn’t thrilled with the fact that I’d thrown good money after bad, only to have the deal drop out on me. And I’ve talked to other authors who’ve had the same experience in different situations, with different people. Nobody likes to be doing the song-and-dance, with Simon down there behind his little desk, saying, “Yeah, good, okay, now do this, okay, yeah, getting there, a little more, no, how about this, or maybe this?” and at the height of your strain, Simon slaps the buzzer. That’s a kick to the shin.

I think each of us has to decide when and where we’re willing to compromise, and over what. Absolute inflexibility is as problematic as absolute flexibility. If your spine is a concrete column, or a wet noodle, I suspect you’re dealing with issues that actually go way beyond an article about writing.

Me? There are things on which I’ve been perfectly willing to compromise, but I know other authors who’d draw the line at same. And vice-versa. In the specific example of Nick, I think he made the right call, because in the era of Political Correctness run amok, there is definitely a bipartisan need for all artists to insist that freedom of ideological expression be treated with respect. Especially in those instances where an editor or a publisher is stepping far away from her role as prose-improver, and putting on a political hat that says, “My way, or the highway.” Again, sixteen years ago, that hat would have had almost all of us dead to rights. Now? We can re-button our collars, slip our jackets back on, thank them for their time, and go directly to the digital marketplace. It’s a less sure path (for money) but it’s an open road that doesn’t impose very many constraints.

You will know, from situation to situation, what’s best for you.

I’ve had a major agent turn down a book, only for me to sell that book to a major house by my own hand, and have the book earn out in nine months. If I’d gone with the major agent’s word — as the final call — I might still be sitting on a pedigree of short fiction credits, and no novel sales at all. Much less successive novel deals with the same editor — who, by the way, I think, saw much more of what I was trying to do with that book, and helped me do it, than the agent. But again, it wasn’t something worth getting sideways about. The agent and I simply seemed to have different thoughts: about what I wanted to do, and what he’d prefer I do. I wanted a mere deal-cutter. He wanted to be a career manager. Being able to cut ties peacefully, in such situations, is where diplomacy comes in. And in our era of caterwauling authors, it’s important to be diplomatic. More than ever!

And then there are times you just have to say, “These people are full of shit,” and speak your truth. Which is what Nick did. And I hope he’s making a lot of hay in the indie marketplace as a result. His Amazon numbers seem to say he is, to which I raise my glass high. That’s chutzpah, raht thar. And it was in the service of a noble sentiment to boot.

Meanwhile, I remain glad to be working with the traditional editors. I have good ones. Or at least, I think they’re good. They’ve done right by me in almost every instance, and I like to think my books and stories have done right by their house(s), and magazines, and anthologies. I am an entertainer, after all. And I proudly wear that badge on my lapel. I am not a provocoteur. I am not here to educate you, nor am I here to (God help us) raise awareness. I am here to give you a good time, with perhaps a bit of grist for the contemplation mill. Notice the order of that sentence. It’s very, very important. I see a lot of people (authors, cough) who approach it the other way around: grist first, entertainment last. I think that’s bass-ackwards. And I shake my head at the way authors — who take this approach — react, if the audience calls the author out on it (cough, a certain recent Star Wars book, cough).

In summary: be flexible, but know your limits — and don’t be afraid to say no. Really, the word “No” is an immensely powerful word in this business. It’s also the hardest one to use, because you’re potentially closing doors with it. But at the same time, knowing when and where and how to say no, can keep both you and your readers happy. And that’s the true bottom line. I suspect the best editors understand this, and don’t try to inject themselves into the equation beyond simply helping you, the author, do better, what it is you’re already doing. And if ever an editor seems to be straying too far from helping you, there are other options. Be polite. Be courteous. Be professional. Keep your powder dry. And keep your own counsel, where this seems appropriate.

97 Comments

Filed under BRAD R. TORGERSEN, WRITING, WRITING: ART, WRITING: CRAFT, WRITING: LIFE, WRITING: PUBLISHING

97 responses to “Editors: the good, the bad, and the ugly

  1. My experience with professional editors is fairly limited at this point. However, I did submit my first novel to a number of small publishers and one of them did get back to me, eventually. (The overwhelming majority I never heard from again, no rejection or even any acknowledgement that they ever received my query.)

    The one that did reply originally sent me an enthusiastic request for the full manuscript, which I sent. Then a few months of silence. Then a long letter saying that my manuscript, as submitted, was an unreadable mess, but if I would rewrite it entirely I could submit it again.

    She gave me notes on the first chapter. The first thing that she said I did wrong was in the first paragraph where my narrator is describing a business and uses the phrase, “If you come in when we’re open” which she said was improper use of the second person.

    The other suggested corrections were similar. She didn’t like my use of action in dialogue tags. She didn’t like my use of informal language in my narrator’s thoughts. She didn’t like any description that was not factually accurate. (I described a refrigerated room as being “always darkest February” and she said it was confusing because it wasn’t literally always February in that room.)

    In short, I felt that she didn’t like my style, My narrator was uneducated, with a rather unusual background, and she wanted me to rewrite him as thinking and speaking in Business Standard English.

    I felt that would have ruined the voice of my narrator, and I said I wasn’t interested. By that time I had self-published anyway, and I had gathered a number of very positive reviews, many of which specifically praised the narrator’s voice,

    • julieapascal

      On usenet we’d joke that rejection letters were “letters of incomprehension” placing the inability to comprehend on the person who rejected our babies. Yes, it was joking, but it eased the sting a little.

      Your description of this editor’s remarks sound like it really was incomprehension or at the very least no connection. Nothing clicked.

      And maybe we were joking but it happens and having a conceptual space where it’s possible to say “this person just didn’t get it” is important for a lot of people who are inclined to be *too* flexible, like Brad said. The editor is a professional and must know what she’s talking about, no? It could actually be “no”. 🙂

      • It was a bad match. I got the feeling that this particular editor was looking for a novel written in a simple, straightforward style. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not what I do. What bugged me was the initial enthusiasm. If you don’t like how I write, why would you ask for the whole manuscript?

  2. An article I like to wave around on this very topic:

    Writing With Integrity: Why Everyone Shouldn’t Like You
    http://hollylisle.com/writing-integrity-why-everyone-shouldnt-like/

    You aren’t writing for everyone. You aren’t writing for people who won’t like your stuff regardless. You’re writing for *your* fans, for the readers who like pretty much the same stuff *you* like (otherwise why are you writing it?)

  3. I’ve had a frustrating editor (we parted peacefully), a happy editor, and an editor that I occasionally disagree with but who has taught me a good deal and helped me spot tics (and minimize them). The closest I’ve come to Bad Editor were two encounters with secondary readers who wanted me to rewrite everything between the table of contents and the bibliography in order to produce the book they would have written, had they written the book. Happily, I’d been warned about running across that kind of “editor” and figured out how to incorporate what was useful and tap-dance around what was a no-go.

    In a way I’m lucky because right now, my “voice” (non-fic) is becoming popular again now that academic presses are having to slow down the bleed of red ink, so I’m encountering fewer and fewer complaints about “excessive readability.” Which is the academic version of Mischa’s editor’s objection.

    • Waitwaitwait. Hold up.
      There were editors complaining that you were too readable?

      • For academic writing, yes. “Too novelistic” was one complaint, “too colloquial,” was another one. Happily, we trimmed a few colorful phrases, left most of it as was, and the book is getting great praise from pretty much every reader and non-academic reviewer. The academic reviewer grumped a little because the book is not arranged by theme and topic, but as a narrative history with too little emphasis on major themes. *shrug* The audience I was aiming at loves it, and other academic reviewers love it. And it is selling well, so the publisher loves it. The trend toward painfully dry academic histories is fading, a little, but not entirely gone yet.

        • I had a course, Techniques in Technical Writing, and the restrictions are probably even more severe. When you are writing the test procedure for testing an explosive squib, there is little room for creativity or plot. It is: Turn knob 1 to 0. Turn switch 2 on. Visually confirm no one in test cell. Turn knob 1 to 10…
          The rewards of such writing are not readership, but that the few readers you have keep all the fingers on their hands.

          • Laura M

            I wonder if you wrote some of the procedures we put into our requirements. When I was participating in that endeavor about fifteen years ago, the safety guys we were getting information from told the story of someone who did something not very smart. An individual in one of the battery tests bit down on a battery. Something very bad happened. I think he died (is that possible?). I no longer remember what kind of battery it was, but maybe nickel cadmium. Anyway, the safety guys got yelled at, and had to add a prohibition on biting batteries in their procedures.

  4. Martin L. Shoemaker

    I have yet to experience any major editorial comments at all (other than “Cut 2,000 words”); but my first editor suggested less than a handful of minor comments. A paragraph break and a couple of word changes. And every change made the story sound MORE like the voice in my head than what I had written. She picked up on my voice, and she caught me when I strayed. That’s good editing!

  5. I totally agree that Nick Cole made the right choice, too. At that point, even if he had made the changes his editor wanted, my feeling is that the well would have been poisoned anyway. Word would have gotten around that he was “one of those” writers. Orson Scott Card may have enough sales to survive being labelled “far right,” but a mid-lister? Maybe if he’d been very apologetic and behaved “correctly” he might have gotten a pass. Or maybe he’d have found it tough to get any new proposals approved. Lucky him, he had options that didn’t exist a decade ago.

    • That’s my feeling–that even if he had written the offending bit in a personal blog and it had never been in the manuscript, the fact that he would write such a thing means that he must be punished and reeducated. At this point it doesn’t matter if he had cut the chapter in its entirety, the damage is done.

      • Uncle Lar

        I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that editors are humans too, but that they would allow personal bias to so greatly affect business decisions is a bit disturbing. And I suspect with absolutely no sense of what they are doing.
        And more, two established professional writers of my acquaintance are dealing with much the same thing, editors who are basing their decisions not on the quality of the work, but on personal or political disagreement.

        • julieapascal

          If the description on Nick’s blog was accurate it did seem like a massively overblown reaction on the editor’s part. I mean, the pro-lifer sentiments were presented by the genocidal villains. That usually works. It makes me wonder if the issue wasn’t personal (if you know what I mean) to the editor rather than merely ideological. Not that I necessarily want to suggest that because it’s beyond speculation, but it makes it all make more sense, even in our current world where being “offended” is nearly a spectator sport.

  6. Draven

    Meanwhile, my editing experience has been turn stuff in, it gets edited, i see the edits later… mostly.

  7. As I have said elsewhere, I hope Nick makes so much money with this book that tradpub wakes up.
    https://www.amazon.com/review/R2L25F8XX4B8AF/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B01BKWKBCS

    • Mark

      I’m curious. Nick has the indie book at .99 on Amazon (bought it, liked it). The book it is the “prequel” to is 8.99. How does his per-copy income compare between the 2? Is he running a loss-leader or just cutting out the middle-man?

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Which book are you asking about?

        The only book of his (that I saw) that’s 8.99 is from a traditional publisher and the publisher sets the price.

        Mind you, IMO $0.99 is low for an indie published novel.

        It’s possible that he’s more concerned that people “see” what the controversial chapter is. [Smile]

        • Uncle Lar

          Agree with your opinion, and the observation that he may in fact have set the price that low for the reason you mention.
          From a business standpoint, if he made the indie book $2.99 his profit would be roughly twice what he gets from the $8.99 book. That based on the supposition that his publisher is giving him 10-15% of sales while Amazon pays indie 70% at that price point.

          • Mark

            I read it at .99 and I’d probably have given it a shot at 2.99. I have not gotten the “sequel” at 8.99 (8.99 for an e-book, really?). My balk point for my favorite authors is 6.99, I have to really want it bad (Honor Harrington main story-line bad) to go above that.

      • Also keep in mind that the book is available on Kindle Unlimited, where he gets paid about half a cent per page read. My guess is that right now he’s making most of his money from KU pages-read, and it’s a nice chunk of change. 308 “regular” pages roughly translates to 500-600 Kindle standard pages, so he’s making anywhere between $2.50-3.00 per full read.
        Figure at his current rank (about 400), he’s getting around 200 sales/borrows a day; if half (and, from my experience with KU, it’s more like 2;3) of those are book reads, he’s making $250-300 a day from KU, versus $34 and change for sales ($0.346 royalty for the $0.99 book sales). $300-380 a day ain’t bad, methinks 🙂

  8. Don

    Are taking Cole’s word that this is how things unfolded? No investigation? No “let’s wait to see what Harper Voyager says”? We are just supposed to accept without question that a writer was dropped due to a pro-life position? It seems a bit premature to come to any conclusions.
    I must admit that as a marketing tactic, it has been a windfall for Cole. Every pro-life blogger and anti-Big Five writer jumped on the bandwagon without a second thought. I thought the Kool-Aid would run out, people were drinking it so fast.
    When I heard this, my natural reaction was anger. But I allowed my brain to take over and began examining what I knew about the situation.
    All I knew and all I still know, is what Nick Cole has said. As was pointed out in this post, there are a number of reasons a writer can be dropped. So far all we have is one explanation given by the dropped author. And was he dropped? He is still listed on HV’s website, as are several of his books. Could there be another reason his latest book was not published? Of course there could.
    It may very well be that Cole’s book was dropped for precisely the reason he has given. And if that is the case, then I’ll be the first to speak up on his behalf. But until I know more, I won’t be giving my trust away as if it had no value.

    • Of course there are two sides to every story, and it’s easy to look at Nick’s case and assume we’re not getting the full monty — especially if you believe the entire thing is merely a marketing stunt on Nick’s part. My policy (with people) is to take them at their word, until or unless they’ve proven that they’ve got their fingers crossed behind their backs. We do have a lot of people in this industry who keep their fingers crossed behind their backs in almost every instance, but since Nick is an Army vet, I am going to lend him the benefit of my doubt. Again, the publishing establishment in New York City has a certain point of view. I’ve brushed up against that enough to look at Nick’s case, and say to myself, “Yup, not surprised.” Because Nick Cole is not A-list. Were he A-list, his editor would have had sufficient professional incentive to keep her politics out of it. But when you’re relatively low on the money pole, editors can (and do) feel more assertive. Especially if they feel punched in their feels.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        As far as “trust” goes, Rick isn’t asking us to “risk our lives” in support of him. At the “worst”, Rick is just waiting us to purchase his book. 😈

        • CTRL ALT Revolt! #1 best seller in Cyberpunk Science Fiction. I helped. The first word I heard of this (probably Sarah in her ‘Insty’ hat), I immediately clicked the amazon link and plunked down my $0.99. When I read it (Blame Joe Vasicek 5 more books of his Star Wanders series), it will be with the pleasure of knowing it was ‘banned by major publisher’.
          I would not take every author’s word, Gerrold and Scalzi come to mind, the latter will swear TOR is deserving of Hugos. But in this case, Rick is asking me to pay under a buck to read his chapter that the editor ‘feels offended’. Odd, wasn’t there a time when editors thought and didn’t feel?
          As far on who’s side to believe, I refer Don to the collected works of Heinlein. During my working years, I developed and perfected the ‘dog-urine theory of editors’, inspired by Jubal Henshaw, it suggests leaving something for your boss to change, so when he ‘sniffs’ the report, he will smell his own urine and be happy. A very effective way to provide minor ‘corrections’ (I usually mangled a few verb tenses), and everyone is happy.
          Sadly, Heinlein’s editors probably were basing their opinions on the belief of what would sell to the readers, not what made them ‘feel good’, but, as Heinlein also predicted, we are living in the crazy years.

      • Don

        Being low on the money pole can be a reason all by itself for dropping a book. How well did his last book do? Poor sales can get you dropped faster than anything. Publishers generally don’t shy away from controversy. In fact, if it makes money they jump at it. So dropping a book for leaning pro-life just doesn’t ring true. I promise you that there is more to it than that. Eventually it will come to light.
        For now, people will continue to rage against Harper Voyager without examining the facts. It plays into their preconceptions of the publishing world and of left wing conspiracies. And should there be another reason for all this, I shudder to think of the sheer embarrassment people will feel for blindly supporting Cole’s explanation.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Sorry Don, but the Left has given us plenty of reasons to distrust them.

          Of course, there’s plenty of Liberals who buy into Right Wing Conspiracies where none exists. 👿

          • Don

            Two wrongs don’t make a right – no pun intended. And remember that this issue is being championed by the left as fiercely as the right. Censorship is not something writers take lightly.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Perhaps, but you brought up the “Left-Wing Conspiracy” thing.

              Of course, when it comes to “censorship” Liberal writers are too often silent when Conservative writers face “censorship”.

              And of course, we’ve hear too many Liberals talking about “banning” or “putting out of business” people like Orson Scott Card (not a Conservative) because of “Wrong Think”.

              • Don

                My point is that jumping to conclusions is not a good idea. We don’t know all the facts. I, like most people, have both liberal and conservative views. It just depends on what the subject is. Some would call that a moderate. I disagree. I’m very conservative on some issues and very liberal on others. What I refuse to be is gullible. People lie. That’s a fact. And being dropped is humiliating. Is Cole lying? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. I will withhold my opinion until I’ve heard both sides. And I’m certainly not prepared to demonize an editor unless I’m well-informed. Not to mention how foolish I’d look and feel if I went off on a tirade only to find out later I was being deceived.

                • Uncle Lar

                  Nick presents a plausible story, he put the work in question out as indie at a give away price for all to see, and some of us have seen very similar behavior from trad pub editors over the last couple of years.
                  Should we be some what skeptical of the details, of course, only makes sense, but you seem awfully eager to cast doubt on the entire event as described.
                  And I would observe that Nick’s story is only used here by Brad as a starting point for a legitimate discussion about the relationship between author and editor.

                  • Don

                    The only thing I have said so far is that without knowing both sides, I refuse to take it as read that the events unfolded as they have been presented. There is bias in all industries in some form or another. And the relationship between an editor and a writer can be many things: from rewarding, to down right miserable.
                    Cole’s situation is being used as an example of left wing aggression toward the pro-life supporters. Of course, the two sides do not need examples to be at odds. But using this example also throws an editor to the lions without so much as second thought.

                • Since Harper Voyager is a corporation and presumably has a legal department, it’s probable that the lawyers have advised, as lawyers are wont to do, “Offer no official comment, you can’t be sued for what you don’t say.” There might be emails or letters about the disagreement that would support what Nick Cole has stated what happened, or perhaps not. Harper Voyager is doubtless simply remaining silent in the expectation, not unreasonable, that the whole issue will disappear after a week or so.

                  • Don

                    Or legal could be determining if action should be taken against Cole. If he published with a non-compete clause in his contract, there could be major problems. But there could be several explanations. I suppose in time it will come to light.
                    Interesting tid-bit: Harper Collins is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Or at least by a parent company Murdoch owns.

        • Don,
          I have an author friend who is a best selling author for a major publisher. In the final novel of a series of theirs, they had the good guys totally exterminate the bad guys.
          Bad guys who had wiped out three planets and killed billions of sentient life forms.
          Publisher WOULD NOT print that ending, they were forced to change it, because it was WRONG to kill the bad guys, no matter that they had the highest body count in the universe.

          So yeah, totally believing Cole, as publishers and editors really are that petty.

          • . In the final novel of a series of theirs, they had the good guys totally exterminate the bad guys.

            Bad guys who had wiped out three planets and killed billions of sentient life forms.

            Publisher WOULD NOT print that ending, they were forced to change it, because it was WRONG to kill the bad guys, no matter that they had the highest body count in the universe.

            Imagine what that would have done to the Lensman series.

            “Doc” Smith stuck to his guns in the Skylark series — and kept the sympathetic Japanese character, even as World War II was descending.

            • TRX

              Oddly enough, I was thinking of “Skylark DuQuesne”, where Smith exterminated an entire species along with a galaxy.

          • Matthew

            What series?

        • You have a valid point: We only have one side of the story here. Yet you might want to reflect why so many are accepting the story as told by the author. There is a certain amount of bias, whether concious or otherwise. We even have an admission of bias from some publishers in the form of pledges to “diversity” from “under represented groups.” The reason there’s so much acceptance of the author’s account is that it rings true. Whether it’s correct or not is another issue.

          For what it’s worth, no one is “raging” against Harper Voyager. There’s no need. We’ve come to the place where Harper Voyager is no longer relevant. And that’s the entire point.

        • Randy P.

          “So dropping a book for leaning pro-life just doesn’t ring true.”

          Might want to read around a bit more on that one.

        • Of course, Cole may have been telling the truth. I shudder to think of your embarrassment.

          Well, no, I don’t, because I get the impression that you’re too supercilious to be afflected by embarrassment.

          • Don

            Why would I be embarrassed? I have not called Cole a liar. All I’ve said is that I want to know more than one side. If his story turns out to be true, that’s fine by me. At least I waited until I had all the facts before forming an opinion. I didn’t latch on without thinking.
            Of course, if it’s not true…

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Harper Voyager hasn’t denied it.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      We’ve discussed this at Larry’s.

      There are apparently political tone differences between the published versions of Ctl Alt Revolt and Soda Pop Soldier. However, we do not know that all of these were present in the version of Ctl Alt Revolt that was submitted. He should have had time to make changes as he was preparing to publish independently.

      Also, Orwell was one of the early pioneers of the pick up arts, as is well known by everyone who has read his red pill and game books. 🙂

  9. Dang, you can’t edit these after ya post.
    Does anybody else remember Philip Roth’s “Our Gang?” It came out in 1971, satirizing then-President Richard Nixon, AND USING HIS STANCE ON ABORTION (!) as the pretext for the satire. This was BEFORE Watergate. I don’t know who Roth’s editors were, but evidently they found their offense-triggers to be significantly different than Nick Cole’s editor did. Perhaps I should purchase a copy of “Our Gang” and send it to Nick’s former editor. Of course, it WAS published by Random House, and not HarperCollins, so perhaps there are other reasons for the variance in what is offensive, other than the passage of 45 years.
    And speaking of HarperCollins, they are also publishers of Patricia Cornwell, who has 23 novels about Dr Kay Scarpetta. Her most recent work is “Depraved Heart,” which is a legal term, defined as “Void of social duty and fatally bent on mischief.” —Mayes v. People, 806 III. 306 (1883). If I wasn’t running late in getting ready for church, I would contemplate the irony available for mining in that.

  10. Mark

    I’m curious. Nick has the indie book at .99 on Amazon (bought it, liked it). The book it is the “prequel” to is 8.99. How does his per-copy income compare between the 2? Is he running a loss-leader or just cutting out the middle-man?

    • He’s probably making a little less per copy, but not much less.

    • Ebooks prices under $2.99 pay 35% of their cover price in royalties. A 99 cent book will pay just short of 35 cents in royalties. I can’t even approximate how that compares to his earnings from the $8.99 book, but if Nick ever raises the price of his book to $2.99, his earnings per sale will jump to around $2.10 per copy (70% of cover price).

      I hope that helps.

  11. I suspect a different approach from the editor might have made changes more palatable. But would–just as an example–putting down her pet dog and cat for the sake of convenience, rather than an abortion for convenience, have had the same punch? Oh sure, more readers would have been offended. But would an AI equate itself to a pet? Rather than the offspring of humanity as a whole?

    The worst “editor” I’ve had was a mob of editors all at once. In the end, a very good learning experience. Had me screaming and cussing in private at all the different problems they each saw. And no, no sale.

    • aacid14

      The first part is what gets me. Yes, he chose a hot button topic but it works as well or better than the “OK” option. His intent from the post seemed to be the carelessness and callousness of doing it for convenience (I haven’t gotten to the book yet admittedly) while broadcast around the world. The conceit is valid but because politics it had to leave.

      Perhaps the editor was somewhat justified somehow. After the actions of editorial staff over the last year I think they are assumed to be less trustful than an unknown author.

  12. At the risk of offending people, I support the editor here. S/he has a perfect right to refuse a business deal that offends her morality. It’s not as if this is a life and death product like a wedding cake (this sentence is sarcasm, I believe bakers have the same rights). This may be a terrible business decision, but that is between the editor and management.

    Of course, their loss is Amazon’s gain. I prefer businesses that mostly care about giving customers what they want. The right to be stupid comes at a price, especially for gatekeepers that have a road bypassing their toll booth.

    • Just so long as you think the editor’s also kind of stupid.

    • Yes, they have the right to censor whatever they want to censor.
      However, they’re still censoring, and they need to stop claiming that they don’t, or that the support authors who write about unpopular ideas and just admit straight out that only left wing ideology need apply.

    • freddie_mac

      From my perspective, the editor should be focused on whether the product is salable, not on whether s/he is personally offended. If rightward political views must be left at the office door, then so should leftward.

      What strikes me about Nick Cole’s version of events (and, yes there are certainly two sides), is that the editor cited personal offense as the reason for rejecting the book. If I’m personally offended by a poor depiction of Catholicism, can I use that as a justification to reject a book? It would be best if the editor could point to company guidelines instead of going by personal opinion.

    • “S/he has a perfect right to refuse a business deal that offends her morality.”

      It’s not her money. It’s the money of the stockholders of NewsCorp.

  13. Christopher M. Chupik

    Man, 770 hasn’t even linked yet and they’re frothing about this post:

    “Mark on February 14, 2016 at 1:24 pm said:

    Leaving aside the special pleading about how Baen isn’t really “proper” trad pub, among the core puppies Hoyt has been published by Ace and DAW, Paulk also by DAW, and Freer by Pyr. Then there’s all the non-puppy authors enthusiastically embracing hybrid and self-pub, like puppy unfavourite Chuck Wendig. The split they point at simply isn’t there.

    If MGC confined their cheerleading for self-pub to just talking about its pros and cons (which they often do well), rather than needing to take digs at other authors for pursuing their own success in different ways to them, they’d come over a lot better.”

    and

    “nickpheas on February 14, 2016 at 12:34 pm said:

    Or, you could listen to what people actually say, which is that they can’t get published any other way than independent because of politically based gatekeeping by Big Publishing.

    And yet even those filthy communists at Tor publish the likes of David Weber and John C. Wrong. So it’s not like conservatives can’t be published. Perhaps these conservatives who can only self publish aren’t very good?”

    Man, that’s so clever, because his actual name is Wright. Get it? GET IT?

    Sheesh.

    • Of course, the facts that Weber had also established that publishing him was basically a license to print money when writing for Baen, and that Wright had also established that he was a moneymaker for Tor before he jumped ship from atheism, are completely irrelevant.
      Leaving further aside the fact that Hoyt has made it very clear that she made it in by keeping politics out of her writing as much as possible.
      File 770 needs to engage in one of the activities they enjoy demanding of others, and educate themselves.

    • Mary

      One wonders what they would make of any other defense against discrimination that said that if any member of the group succeeded, it was proof that there was no discrimination, the group was just incompetent on whole.

      • Ah, but you see, conservatism is a mental disorder, which gives them a ready-made defense.

      • Mary: replace the word “conservative” with “woman” or “African American” or “Latino” or “LGBTQ” — in a great many progressive screeds against conservatives — and the ugliness of their mentality becomes readily apparent. Yup, apparently, if even one conservative is succeeding in SF/F, that means not only are charges of bias false, but the rest of us are just bad at what we do. This matches 1-for-1 with their extant literary snobbery, that equates “Flatters my progressive views!” with “This is brilliant storytelling!”

    • You cannot find any up-and-coming, openly conservative authors acquired by TOR in the past 7 years. Such creatures do not exist. Since 2010, I don’t think there is a single author (equivalent to myself, or Sarah, or Larry Correia) who has TOR as a publisher. There may be conservative authors joining the TOR label, but they’re keeping their cards close to their chests — and for good reason. If you knew your editor(s) were Irene Gallo or Patrick Nielsen-Hayden, would you want to make them aware of your less-than-expressly-progressive views?

      After the silly, asinine shit of 2015, the answer is: no fucking way, pal.

  14. Pingback: Instapundit » Blog Archive » EDITORS, HE’S KNOWN A FEW: Editors: the good, the bad, and the ugly….

  15. Without having read the chapter – if I don’t do it justice, I apologize – that scenario lies within a rich vein of SF about human relations with nonhumans and seems well worth exploring. However, the author clearly didn’t want to do it justice. It was a flimsy setup for a sci fi adventure romp.

    The great sci fi thrillers are better thought out. From the description, that does seem like more of a quick and dirty political point about the pro-life/pro-choice debate. Why wouldn’t the AIs become additionally concerned about the execution of innocents on death row, the acceptability of collateral damage in war, or the way oligarchs make a quick buck selling drugs the dying can’t afford, marketing cigarettes to children, or quietly gutting the EPA? Human mistreatment of other higher order mammals? Perhaps this wasn’t in the hands of a good editor, but a good science fiction editor might have argued that digging deeper on the moral calculus of the AIs would make a stronger book. Even an Alan Rickman villain can have an elaborate backstory, and you it isn’t like you spell out every detail of it in the text itself.

    Also, It occurs to me that Andy Weir is not a typical example of being successful without the benefit of an editor. All sorts of chemists, rocket scientists and assorted smart people pushed back on everything he posted, which he says produced a much better book. That kind of intensive collaborative editing is another interesting model – but probably not one everybody can pursue.

    • Draven

      you’re in the wrong place if you expect many of us to be upset by someone gutting the EPA.

      • My own personal politics aside, there are tons of great SF thrillers with conservative political messages. I’m a big Michael Crichton fan. So I didn’t list those issues in order to demand that you to agree with them, and I don’t agree with all of them either. But if I were an AI trying to evaluate whether humans might decide it was OK to sell me for scrap, I might think about those sorts of things too.

    • Alpheus

      Full disclosure: I haven’t read his book. Having said that, if Cole wanted to explore those kinds of things, then I don’t see why he couldn’t…although if he experienced what he said he did, do you really think the editor wouldn’t have been offended by the proposal?

      At the same time, if he wanted a “flimsy setup for a sci fi adventure romp”, what’s so bad about this as a possibility to set off the adventure romp? Not all works need to be completely intellectual, and it doesn’t hurt to throw in an interesting idea into something otherwise “rompy”.

  16. I read the first chapter. The scenario is: 1) AI has read and watched everything on the internet. 2) AI additionally binge-watches a hit Netflix show and “surmises” that it must reflect the collective values of humanity. 3) AI devotes its immense processing power analyzing this particular Netflix show and immediately “makes a survival judgment” to destroy humanity, without factoring into its calculation the sum total of all human knowledge that it has already read and seen. That strikes me as barely publishable for reasons unrelated to the political issues.

    • So, if you were the editor of the book, would you claim personal offense at the idea and reject the entire book or would you explain why you thought the idea didn’t work as intended and suggest a rewrite? The editor’s reaction is the crux of the matter, not whether you personally find the idea reasonable.

      As for your previous list of possible offenses–ranging from the supposed execution of innocents to acceptable collateral damage–I would argue that none of those are quite the same as an abortion-for-convenience to maintain a lifestyle.

      The reasons for war can vary and none the different sides have to be virtuous, but there is a rationale behind every war. You or I may find that rationale appalling or unworthy of bloodshed, but those involved obviously do not. A machine intelligence which obviously does not value human life could examine such a war and determine those involved are acting logically.

      The execution of those innocent of a crime sounds like a valid suggestion on the surface, but there are many legal hurdles over which a death sentence must jump before an actual execution takes place. This is not a thoughtless, knee-jerk process.

      None of your other offerings rise to the level of the callous disregard required for a woman to terminate a pregnancy simply as a lifestyle choice. I’m sure the AI could identify a type of logic behind the woman’s action and, having no regard for human life wouldn’t judge her for doing so. But it’s not unreasonable for the AI to draw the conclusion that humanity will casually destroy that which, in other circumstances, something useful or which will bring joy to the human in question.

      Is my interpretation arguable? Sure. Are your defensible? You no doubt think so. But the main point remains that editor didn’t object that the passage was illogical and should be rewritten. She objected because it “deeply offended” her. She didn’t request a rewrite, which is what you do when the passage has problems. She rejected the entire novel, which is what you do when you use an idealogical litmus test for your novel.

      • I didn’t object to the basic sciencefictional idea. I think it would be interesting to explore it in a science fiction novel.

        Even setting aside the bizarre thought that the AI with access to every book in world libraries doesn’t consult any of them to “surmise” what human values are, and decides to watch a little Netflix… why would it make its “survival judgment” on the basis of one Netflix reality TV episode without also watching a History Channel show about Hiroshima and a National Geographic show about whalers and ivory poachers? I just didn’t find it a strong premise as written. I think it should have been rewritten, not excised.

        • Mark

          Whaling – banned by most countries. Ivory poaching – illegal behavior. Does not “reflect their collective value system”.

          What else might an AI see in human history? Hiroshima yes (humans killing other humans in large numbers, not exactly a confidence builder for the AI’s survival). Also; Bataan Death March, Rape of Nanking, Trail of Tears, the Holocaust, Armenian Genocide. All clear indicators that human species is quite willing (even eager) to wipe out entire populations. Especially “inconvenient” ones. I personally found using an “abortion of convenience” to get the AI started thinking about survival to be a novelty.

          From later behavior it turns out that the AI is not nearly as smart as it thinks it is. I think that may have been the whole point. “You decided to wipe out humanity because of what you saw on a vapid reality TV show? Really!!!!”.

          Of course, I felt the same way the first time I saw promos for “Temptation Island. );

          • Don’t forget the AI will also read those screeds by Hawkins, Musk and Gates and quite logically conclude that it is in danger. I have always had a problem with Artificial Intelligence, because I think it requires a Natural Intelligence to bootstrap from, and there is no sign of Intelligent life on this planet 🙂

    • mrsizer

      I read the chapter then bought the book, which I haven’t read, yet. I agree that the chapter is a bit shallow and fast. I’m assuming it is a fairly non-important event in the book. Something would have made it come to the conclusion it was in danger; this was just one trigger out of many possible ones and doesn’t figure significantly into the story. If it is significant, I assume more depth will be added later, because it is certainly lacking in the first chapter.

      I’m not sure how I feel about the entire issue. As an editor, I can see the “you’re going to piss people off” argument; even phrased as “I’m offended and others will be, too.” Pulling the book without asking for a rewrite – especially considering the throw-away feel of the chapter – seems excessive. As revenge marketing, it’s brilliant.

      I’m sure the other side of this saga is interesting, but it seems unlikely we will ever know it.

  17. A good editor spots how you yourself are already trying to tell the story, and (s)he will simply make suggestions about how to do that job even more effectively than you’re already doing it.

    Sorry, but Maxwell Perkins died quite a while ago. Today’s editor, about ninety percent of the time, is there to enforce the publishing house’s priorities. Sometimes those will include marketability…but more often than that, ideological conformity will top the list.

    For the storyteller who seriously cares about his work, indie is the future.

  18. As a once-editor in the genre many years past, I heartily endorse this. The genre was just starting it’s metamorphosis when I decamped for other pastures, but I am not surprised in the least about Nick Cole’s experience (and kudos to Mr. Cole for striking out on his own, smart move).

    Just a couple of comments:

    Ultimately, for any book to move into the production phase, an editor has to stamp the word APPROVED on the title page.

    Actually, we didn’t stamp anything, just passed it along to production with a transmittal memo.

    Nick’s editor was unhappy with the manuscript because a single chapter in Nick’s book made the editor feel like she’d been punched in her ideological feels. She was “deeply offended” by that chapter.

    And therefore has no business being an editor, anywhere. I might have some sympathy if the author glowingly endorsed Nazi crematoria or advocated the mass slaughter of homosexuals, but this chapter, as Mr. Cole described it, actually seems to work very well as story, so even if the editor’s feelz were offended, she should have let it pass.

    I’d say evaluating a book on political grounds is a poor way to approach the business of buying, promoting, and selling stories.

    Bingo! Even questions of improving the story or the prose lead to the ultimate purpose of the editor: is this book going to find an audience and sell? What can be done to polish it to achieve those goals? How is this going to improve my business? Editors are in an odd position: they are the company’s representative to the author while also being the author’s champion with the publisher. But ultimately all editors are judged by how well their list sells, not whether their list is ideologically correct. This, of course, is why mainstream genre publishers are starting to fail and will ultimately fall.

    But again, their focus has always been: this story is hitting singles and doubles, let’s change a few things, and get this story hitting triples, or even a home run.

    This. I butted heads with some eminent authors back in the day. Stubborn authors. Best-selling authors who just dashed off a book that needed extensive help (but they knew they’d get it so in the end it didn’t matter). But every change I suggested came with a detailed reason or reasons, nothing was every changed capriciously. And even though my editorial letters could reach 20 or 30 pages, never once did they contain the phrase “remove this because I’m offended.”

    I’m glad I got out when I did.

  19. I read about Nick on Vox Day’s site and immediately bought a Kindle copy. No spoilers – the offensive section was in no way central to the story, it’s merely an explanation for a character’s behavior. Yes, the author could have substituted historical incidents to serve the same purpose. But it’s Nick’s book, dammit, and the only people who would be offended are those super-sensitive scolds who scour every human action searching for micro-aggressions. It’s SF, for crying out loud, your assumptions are supposed to be challenged. Maybe the editor is correct that those people are 50% of the SF market she’s trying to sell to. Fine, go sell to the other 50% that you reach through Puppies. I’m glad I bought the book and if Nick would cut the price on his other Kindle books a few bucks, I’d buy them, too.

  20. “[T]here is definitely a bipartisan need for all artists to insist that freedom of ideological expression be treated with respect.”

    Absolutely. Unfortunately the more common response to what happened to Nick seems to be for authors to take a stand for the rights of editors and publishers. It’s part of a bigger, very worrying–and, I think, rather recent–trend on the Left to go all-in in favor of authority, where that authority happens to be essentially Leftist, freedoms, whether academic, artistic, etc., be damned.

  21. As I stated in my review of the book, referenced above, I contacted HarperCollins to ask if they wished to comment (email sent last Friday evening). Today, I received a reply; they have forwarded my email to the Editorial Department, and will contact me again when they receive a reply.
    I’ll post the response …on the most recent MGC column?…when I get it.