Monday, April 04, 2011

Essay: Clarifying The Issue of Wicked Pretty Things

Two weeks ago, there was a controversy when it came to the YA anthology Wicked Pretty Things. Jessica Verday has expounded on her side multiple times (1, 2, 3) although there are a few points I want to clarify. Recently, Running Press, one of the publishers involved in the controversy, just published its side of the story. Again, there are also points in that essay that I want to clarify or point out.

Jessica Verday:

First off, Verday did nothing wrong and took a large risk:
  1. She declined editing a story to fit one editor's guidelines (possible income loss and chance of publication).
  2. She made the issue public (which could be taboo and make her the target of unwarranted criticisms).
  3. She was the first one and all eyes are on her.
Other Contributors:

Again, they did nothing wrong as well. It's a difficult decision, deciding to pull out of the anthology or to stay in it. There are compelling reasons for both sides. And yes, while we should encourage and support the authors who did pull out of the anthology, unless they made their reasons public, the authors who remained aren't to be condemned either. We don't know their motivations. It could be anything from something as positive as maintaining the relationships they have (such as those still involved in the book) to something as negative as implicitly supporting the LGBT bias--but as I said, we don't know their motivations, so I won't judge.

Editor Trisha Telep:

Okay, here's where Telep drops the ball. She made the following significant mistakes:
  1. She has an LGBT bias (whether consciously or unconsciously).
  2. She didn't coordinate effectively with her publisher (Constable & Robinson) on their guidelines and their stance on the issue.
  3. Her response was awful, especially the aside of "wrestling a gay man in Glasgow." It's not the worst response (that would be denying that she did anything wrong) but it's not the best either (a sincere, serious apology).
Constable & Robinson:

Here's where Constable & Robinson has room for improvement:

They didn't coordinate effectively with their freelance editor. (Yes, this is the responsibility of both Trisha Telep and Constanble & Robinson.)

Running Press:

Before I continue with what Running Press got wrong, let me clarify one point that Verday mentioned:
I also find their statement troubling to say that "Running Press has no direct association with Trisha Telep, the editor of the anthology" (which, as Lisa Cheng at Running Press repeated numerous times to me, they have worked with Trisha again and again and they stand behind her 100%). My contract clearly spells out in paragraph 1 that it was being made between the editor (Trisha), the publisher (Constable & Robinson), and Running Press. Considering all of this, it seems a bit contradictory to say that Running Press has no direct association with Trisha Telep.
I do believe that Running Press has no direct association--at least in this instance--with Telep. This is how the relationship works (at least from my interpretation): Running Press commissions work from Constable & Robinson. Constable & Robinson in turn commissions work from Telep. (And then Telep commissions work from Verday.)

Constable & Robinson has a direct relationship with Telep. Running Press has a relationship with Telep, but it's not a direct one. (If this were genealogy, Running Press is separated by one generation [Constable & Robinson] from Telep.)

That's not to excuse Running Press (which I'll discuss in a bit), but it sheds light on their side of the story. And to be fair, Running Press cannot micromanage Telep; that defeats the point of delegation. Running Press should micromanage Constable & Robinson, who in turn should micromanage Telep. Telep should not be directly reporting to Running Press; that's increasing the red tape and ultimately inefficient. Of course having said that...
  1. At the end of the day, Running Press should claim responsibility. They entered a partnership with Constable & Robinson--there's a trust involved there--and they're responsible for Constable & Robinson's mistakes as well as their successes (even if Running Press had no control over it). It also entails disseminating their mission and vision (their guidelines) through all their channels.
  2. The bigger issue, which is wholly in their control, however, is still siding with Telep after everything that's happened (and it's omitted in the Publisher's Weekly article featuring their side of the story). That's not to say it's a black-and-white issue. On one hand, they could easily disavow Telep. Would you want to work for a company that suddenly abandons you due to a mistake? On the other hand, they acknowledged that Telep screwed up and is willing to give her a second chance (I don't think they told her "you did nothing wrong") and shows the willingness of Running Press to stand by the people it hires (ironically even if they didn't have a "direct association"). I'm not saying Running Press made the right call--or that I would have made the same decision either--but it's an agenda (their stand on LGBT fiction) vs loyalty (supporting their editors) argument.
It's understandable why Verday would, to a certain extent, be incensed at Running Press (although she notes that her "intentions throughout all of this have never been to disparage Running Press/Constable & Robinson"): after everything Telep's said and done, Running Press is still standing by her side. Now based on Running Press's actions, is this a company I'd like to work for? Probably. Is it a company whose moral choices I agree with? Probably not.

There's a lot of insightful statements in Running Press's side of the story: the importance of effective communication, the need to react immediately, and how erroneous info can quickly spread. But again, as much as I understand the side of Running Press, its side of the story also omits crucial details. I can understand their fault when it comes to 1. which can be considered sheer human error and unfortunate circumstance. 2., however, is a choice: after everything has been revealed and clarified, they still decided to stand by Telep (again, I can understand their reasons, but it's something people should consider).

Edit: I forgot to point out the options (aside from the one they chose) of Running Press/Constable & Robinson with regards to Wicked Pretty Things:
  1. Don't push through with the anthology. From a business standpoint, this is a significant loss in time and money. There is also the problem of escaping out of your contract (contracts are there for the benefit of both parties). It can also be a disservice to the contributors (it's not just about money, but getting your fiction published, and published in a specific kind of anthology).
  2. Push through with the anthology but change the editor. For all of Telep's mistakes, she nonetheless did the work of editing the anthology. She deserves to have her name on the book and compensated for it. And if you were the replacement editor, how would you feel, having your name on an anthology in which you weren't contributing significantly? There is also the issue of the contract and it might not be possible for either publisher to just "replace" Telep (although Telep can voluntarily bow out of the picture but that's her choice, not the publisher's, and doesn't solve the situation of an editor-less anthology).
  3. Kill the anthology and start a new one with the same themes. This is just a variant of 1. and faces the same problems. And costs even more time and money.
Other options might be some combination of 1. and 2.  And honestly, they're not solutions as much as damage control. No matter what their decision, Running Press & Constable & Robinson will end up hurting someone.


CSECooney said...

Thanks for the essay, Charles!

Wendy Wagner; said...

Great summary of what's going on here, combined with clear insight into each layer of the problem. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Excellent essay, thanks!