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Even with the best contract in the world, if the people on the other side of the agreement are crooks or jerks, you’re going to have a difficult time.
September 3, 2012 7:02 PM   Subscribe

When publishing goes wrong. Mandy DeGeit was a first time author submitting to a horror anthology by Undead Press. The contract included a line that they had the right to edit the story -- standard operating procedure. But when she got a copy of the book, they'd drastically changed the story: "They turned a non-gendered character into a boy, they named the best friend, they created a memory for the main character about animal abuse. They added a suggestion of rape at the end…"

She wrote to the publisher, who was immediately on the defensive. An interview with DeGeit. An interview with the editor in question. Lincoln Crisler on why this shouldn't have happened. Brent Abell on the contract she received. Karen Woodward on editing clauses.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me (45 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
standard operating procedure

on what planet?
posted by unSane at 7:06 PM on September 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


The publisher sounds like a tool, and the editor sounds like someone who's too inexperienced in the field to say "no" to a toolish publisher.
posted by rtha at 7:08 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


WTF?! "Standard operating procedure"?

If this were my story, I'd probably run into their office and lose my shit, perhaps turn a table over or something. How dare they??

No fucking way this is "standard" - in decent places, the editor will ask you even about small shit like punctuation unless it's an obvious, obvious typo.

> Rev. Syung Myung Me

Sorry for your loss.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:11 PM on September 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


That was my mistake when writing it. I figured there'd be some sort of clause like that (and perhaps Mandy did as well), but basically referring to, stuff like, typos/grammar/etc, not, y'know, full-on re-writes. But yeah -- I'm pretty shocked she didn't get galleys or anything.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 7:13 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


This "publisher" also threatened authors who spoke out about his tremendous unprofessionalism. Kelli Owen's blog post about this is right on point.

Anthony Giangregorio is not someone to whom you should ever submit one word of writing for publication. And please, Mr. Giangregorio, if you read this and come by my house to threaten me, ring the middle doorbell so as not to bother my downstairs neighbors.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:20 PM on September 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


"non-gendered character"?
posted by kafziel at 7:24 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I actually feel a little sorry for the editor as well: he sounds like someone inexperienced who got pushed over the line by a bad publisher. Moral: when you feel you're in over you head, maybe reach out to some peers to see how normal it is or isn't.
posted by tyllwin at 7:25 PM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


But when she got a copy of the book, they'd drastically changed the story: "They turned a non-gendered character into a boy, they named the best friend, they created a memory for the main character about animal abuse. They added a suggestion of rape at the end…"

This kind of shit goes down frequently in the film biz. I've been on the front row more than once. Which doesn't excuse it happening here, but neither does it surprise. There are many nimrods out there who think they know STORY, simply because they've been reading them their whole life. Mix this up with various perceived market demands and you've got a recipe for stupid.
posted by philip-random at 7:25 PM on September 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


"non-gendered character"

My guess is "a character whose gender is not specified," like Sarah Caudwell's sleuth Professor Hilary Tamar? Or, since this is horror, maybe it's a paranormal entity that doesn't have gender?
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:31 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Apparently there's a bit more on the publisher's antics...
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 7:36 PM on September 3, 2012


My guess is "a character whose gender is not specified," like Sarah Caudwell's sleuth Professor Hilary Tamar?

The gender of the narrator of Written On the Body is also never specified.
posted by endless_forms at 7:36 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


This kind of shit goes down frequently in the film biz.

Yeah but it's really typical for a film script to go through multiple writers. That is not typical for novels. Editors do provide rewrites and they may even suggest an author change an ending or make other substantial changes, but they don't rewrite a book and publish it under the author's name without consultation. Even the most heavy-handed editorial relationships are collaborative. This was something else entirely.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:53 PM on September 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


When I hear stories like this I wonder if I'm just kidding myself or if my bullshit detector is very finely tuned. I would not have dealt with anyone professionally who does not write emails with proper capitalization. That's like the written equivalent of showing up for an interview and your prospective boss is wearing scuba gear: something is amiss.
posted by deathpanels at 8:01 PM on September 3, 2012 [15 favorites]


I remember Nick Mamatas writing about this when it was all going down. Apparently the editor in question is a small press guy who is notorious for this kind of thing.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:06 PM on September 3, 2012


"non-gendered character"

Like me. :P
posted by Foosnark at 8:07 PM on September 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


I've been published in small-press anthologies and in cases where the editing was more developmental (i.e. not just typos and grammar), the editors and I were on the phone a lot. It's a collaborative process. Or it should be. If it isn't, the author is either dead or or you're it wrong.
posted by rtha at 8:10 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here is the unedited story for kindle. Don't think it was linked.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:11 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, editors don't generally do this, and shouldn't. If huge discrepancies arise or you spot plot holes (which should have been caught on earlier reads but whatever) then you write them down and bring them to the author's attention, respectfully, and maybe some suggested solutions.

If a publisher wants to dictate the plot and characters, they need to issue guidelines and hire writers on spec. Otherwise they have no business signing someone whose work they want to change in substantial ways.
posted by emjaybee at 8:21 PM on September 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wrote non-fiction stories for an online magazine. It was an ongoing paid gig. I had an editor. She'd change my stuff all the time. Often for the better, usually toward the feminine or less offensive. So I'd write, "This babe was hot and out of my league, but I'm still laying the groundwork. In another two years I might have the guts to ask her out." This would appear as, "The attractive woman made me feel shy and confused. I wish I had the courage to ask her out."

I wasn't laying the literary groundwork for future generations of fans and scholars, so as long as the checks cleared, and were for amounts i didn't understand, I kept churning, and she kept rewriting, and we were both happy.

Then I wrote a story about going to go see a concert and this man offering me discount tickets. I said sure, and he tried to get me to go up an alley to make the transaction, but there was a group of black guys up there, and he was black as well, and I was new to Minneapolis and heard tell these black folk might want to cause me harm, so I didn't go up the alley, but I was pretty sure I would have had they been white.

She removed all reference to race/color. It was the most confusing thing I'd ever not written. I asked why she would do this, she said, "Because that article made you seem racist." I tried to argue that was the point, that I was being racist, that confronting this about myself was hard, and that the real lesson is that an alley full of white people aren't less likely to be dangerous. She insisted it stay. We compromised and it was taken offline.

When it came time to rewrite contracts I negotiated a clause that said only spelling and grammar mistakes could be adjusted. She insisted on "yes/no" rights to stories, but if she killed them I got paid. My numbers went up and everyone was happy.

I quit a few months later. I hate that kind of self-indulgent writing.

Every other writing gig I have ever had, paying or not, I got back proofs prior to publication. I've met enough writers with real credits to their names, and all of them bitch about editing. "You didn't think the typos were in there when I submitted it do you?" Etc.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:23 PM on September 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


I wrote my first novel with a character* who had a strong accent; somewhat between Pirate, Scottish, Southern and my own family argot (which was based off "Pogo" comics and in-jokes). When the book was first edited for publication, every. single. bit. of that dialect was gone. I had to email the publisher and say, "Um... he's supposed to talk like that.... is that OK?" before that was fixed. Not a problem, but it was a hoop to jump through, and I expect it happens a lot.

*(Arcie, from "Villains By Necessity")
posted by The otter lady at 8:39 PM on September 3, 2012


Jeez, and I've been holding a grudge against my editor for mangling a single sentence with an Oxford Comma. That was like 4 years ago. I wrote a beautiful alliteration, ending a sentence with a parallel structure like A and A, B and B, C and C. He changed it to A, A, B, B, C, and C. I sent it back marked stet. He changed it back. I argued that I knew what I was doing and I broke the rules purposefully. It took me hours to write that lede (it always does) and he should leave it alone. Of course he ran it with his edit. Dammit.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:43 PM on September 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


a parallel structure like A and A, B and B, C and C

And now my brain is making me type the word "polysyndeton".
posted by nicwolff at 8:45 PM on September 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


Academic, not literary, but a friend authored a paper for a medical journal on anorexic teenage body image issues and treatments, profiling three low income inner-city black American girls that he had worked with extensively. His supervisor changed it to Brigit, Inge, and Vibeke, from Norway. For patient confidentiality.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:05 PM on September 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think Mandy got off easy. I was once interviewed by a British video game rag for an online article. I decided to withdraw my comments after I saw the direction the interview was heading. I became part of a synthetic character that had my name and talked about things that happened before I was born and that I had no knowledge of. It's still around on the Internet as one of the top hits for my name.
posted by Nomyte at 9:09 PM on September 3, 2012


Yeah, wow.. that situation is less than stellar.

An editor of mine changed the ending of a piece that I wrote that was a sarcastic flip negating the general meaning of the previous paragraphs. (which is exactly what I wanted to do.. it was a sort of "if you do this, then you'll get this, but seriously don't do that and instead just enjoy " Changed the whole meaning of the piece and of course they got people writing in taking me to task for promoting something untoward and out of character. *sigh*

I can't imagine how apocalyptic I'd be about something like this though

posted by drewbage1847 at 9:21 PM on September 3, 2012


I drew a poster for an anti-littering campaign, it was loosely based on a Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos cover. Sgt Fury was saying something like "awright ya dogfaces". Whe I saw it later someone had erased it, with an eraser, and replaced it with "alright you dogfaces". Fucking 5th grade teachers, I'm an artist!
posted by Ad hominem at 9:23 PM on September 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


The next time I start to feel apoplectic, I'm going to choose to be apocalyptic instead. It sounds so much cooler, what with the four horsemen and fire from heaven and all.
posted by bashos_frog at 10:06 PM on September 3, 2012 [12 favorites]


What is a galley? I feel like I should know this...

That guy is an asshole though. The sunshine will do him right.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:44 PM on September 3, 2012


A galley is a longboat adrift on a sea of dim blue pages through which you are expected to navigate, despite a bunch of dragging oars and the fact that even though you wrote the goddamn map, the whole territory is different.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:23 PM on September 3, 2012 [18 favorites]


A galley is a metal tray into which type is set and shimmed in. It is temporary. The printer runs off prints and if there are no AAs then they are ok to print.

Nowadays it is just a proof, usually PDF.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:24 PM on September 3, 2012


But if they've made so many changes, maybe she can sell the original to another publisher as a different story!
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:44 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Christ, what an assholle.
posted by phaedon at 12:07 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


And by the way, The Simpsons Did It.
posted by Laotic at 12:24 AM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think half of the problem is the existence of crooks and jerks in the world, which is eternal. But the other half of the problem is supply and demand, and that's new. Right now, there is a massive supply of fiction being written by people who desperately want to be published authors. And there's a comparatively smaller amount of fiction being purchased by people who really want to read it--and of that, much of it is really just from a relative handful of authors.

It's not a bad dream, these writers aren't really stupid or anything, there's just so freaking many of them. Tens of thousands of people who would sign a contract like this without blinking to actually be in print. The sort of people who pay for agents and "book doctors" who advertise in the backs of magazines, who shell out tons of money to go to seminars that promise them a chance to pitch their books. Ripe for the plucking by the scammers and the petty tyrants. And when that's the case, I don't know how much public shaming really works to solve the problem. A few people learn... but there's no shortage of others left.

So Giangregorio seems to still be taking submissions, and still be putting out more anthologies (now with just his own name as editor). I doubt he's really concerned by this. There will always be more stories. Maybe later he'll hire another editor who isn't really ready to be an editor, or maybe not. If he goes under, I doubt it will really be because of this.
posted by gracedissolved at 12:26 AM on September 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm going to take a crack at submitting for his Zombie Christmas 2012 anthology. I am not up on the current state of zombie lit but my twist is going to be that zombies gain memories and skills by eating brains. At first There is like a zombie arms race to feed off the super smart like Hawkings. Humans of course, must constantly guard any human with any education at all.

After several hundred years humans descend into a pre modern existence and lose all collective knowledge. They live in zombie run reservations essentially as livestock.

At that point there are zombie super geniuses that know essentially everything and can never die. They are bored and some feel they need to leave earth to find more brains to eat.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:47 AM on September 4, 2012


Piers Anthony's book But What of Earth? was massively altered by editors in its first incarnation, and he later republished his intended version with copious notes detailing the changes that were inflicted on it. It's not a great story in either case, but the editors' notes, and his commentary on them, make for pretty interesting reading.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:33 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dude's got something of a reputation.


Especially rich are his complaints about Permuted Press doin' thangs to his stories.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:41 AM on September 4, 2012


I recommend reading the interview with the editor linked in the OP because it really does confirm that this wasn't malicious rewriting, but someone in over their head that hand been told to make things more 'entertaining' and to do whatever was necessary to make that the case.

Doesn't justify the rewrites but it does put them in context. Real problem here isn't the individual rogue editor, but that you can have these small publications run by inexperienced people who have little supervision.

Bit of a sad story all around really.
posted by litleozy at 3:48 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not a bad dream, these writers aren't really stupid or anything, there's just so freaking many of them. Tens of thousands of people who would sign a contract like this without blinking to actually be in print. The sort of people who pay for agents and "book doctors" who advertise in the backs of magazines, who shell out tons of money to go to seminars that promise them a chance to pitch their books. Ripe for the plucking by the scammers and the petty tyrants. And when that's the case, I don't know how much public shaming really works to solve the problem. A few people learn... but there's no shortage of others left.
Sounds like a victim-blaming non-response to me. I mean, there are lots of people trying to break into all sorts of fields. Acting, for instance. Or corporate law. Fields where people who are trying to "make it" are typically exploited in the form of low pay, long hours, or lousy contracts. Do you hold these people responsible for their own exploitation simply because they are sought-after jobs, or are fiction writers unique in this regard?
posted by deathpanels at 5:58 AM on September 4, 2012


It sounds like this went on in the United States. Elsewhere, the author might be protected by "moral rights" including the right to the integrity of the work. Such rights are often inalienable (in other words, you can't sign a contract giving the right away).
posted by exogenous at 6:25 AM on September 4, 2012


There was a case a few years back where someone sent a poem to the New Yorker. The poem began by quoting in whole, a brief Emily Dickinson poem. The New Yorker kept the intro and cut out the rest, leaving the author seeming to have plagiarized.
I've always heard stories of editors outright changing parts of works. When I've published I've seen galleys maybe half of the time.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:06 AM on September 4, 2012


Something broke in my brain reading those e-mails from "Tony G." This is the prose (even for e-mail correspondence) of someone who makes their living in the word business? Truly?
posted by Kurichina at 8:52 AM on September 4, 2012


This was covered before, back in May, but I can't find the link. It's pretty hilariously egregious, and makes me want to be a publisher.
posted by klangklangston at 9:20 AM on September 4, 2012


Deathpanels, I'm sorry, I don't mean that anybody's responsible for being taken advantage of! Only that giving the guy a bad reputation is frustratingly ineffective. People who Know Better can talk about how awful he is until we're blue in the face, but after that... there's another set of new writers who don't know and he still gets to make money off them.

I can definitely see this being an area where giving authors more legal right to the integrity of their works would go a long, long way. Give everyone an opportunity to seek damages after the fact, and not just hope that exposing the frauds will prevent future people from falling victim, because it won't.
posted by gracedissolved at 9:53 AM on September 4, 2012


I've been published in small-press anthologies and in cases where the editing was more developmental (i.e. not just typos and grammar), the editors and I were on the phone a lot. It's a collaborative process. Or it should be. If it isn't, the author is either dead or or you're it wrong.
posted by rtha at 10:10 PM on September 3


I am an editor (and a writer) and: This.

I run a small press, and I have a clause in my contracts saying that I can make small changes to text and title so that I won't be sued into oblivion if I change a comma (or drop one in the process of converting the ms into an ebook) and don't get the writer's permission. BUT the contract also, of course, has a clause about galleys/proofs.

My editing process looks like this: I send them an email saying what large things bother me—eg., I am in editing stages with a short story writer right now, and I thought her collection, which is of linked stories, had a hole in it, and I asked her to write a story to fill that hole. We might go back and forth on big-picture issues for awhile. Then I go through the updated ms with a fine-tooth comb, editing each sentence (well, often not, because they are fine, but that's the level I am looking at), and I send it back to the author marked up, with the original wording struck through and my changes in red, and I ask them to make the changes they are comfortable with and to talk to me about any they don't like. At that stage I will also fix spelling and punctuation. Then we discuss anything that needs discussing, and come to an agreement (usually they will just make about 3/4 of the changes I want, and of the other 1/4, they will suggest a different fix for what I see as a problem, or occasionally they won't want to change it and then we have to have a more in-depth discussion, which sometimes results in them convincing me and sometimes in me convincing them). Then they send me back a new version of the ms, and I go through it again, and discuss anything we missed. Then I create the book and send them galleys (a pdf) and ask them to send me changes. Usually at that point there are no changes, but if there are, we can catch them before we publish. And then once they have signed off on that, I can publish.

It's a collaborative process, and ought to result in a book that is closer to the author's vision, better written, tighter, etc., not simply more saleable.
posted by joannemerriam at 10:06 AM on September 4, 2012 [5 favorites]


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