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Publishing 101: Don't Be Creepy

This is one of those weeks in the 101 series where some of you may be wondering "do we really need an article about this?"


If you're the sort of person in our community still following our advice, I'd like to give you all the benefit of the doubt individually, but there's a huge problem in the community regarding publishers being creepy (again) so here we are (again).


Disclaimer:


It's been awhile since we've had to post a 101 in response to unsavory events, so we haven't had to say this in over a month. But just to remind you all, this is not a call-out series. We are not a call-out venue.


The intention of this is not to single out any one publisher or any handfuls of publishers for their behavior, but just to lay down some simple etiquette that we feel is relevant to the conversations happening online right now.


Basics


There are so many nuances of publishing. So many lines get blurred between writing and publishing and reviewing and how we all interact with one another while trying to fit ourselves into those labels. That's literally why we started this series, to help people who are new or struggling with boundaries learn some basic, rule of thumb etiquette.


Apparently we're not covering enough topics in a timely manner because there has been so much nonsense afoot since our last post. So.


Here we are to just cover some basic ground rules while we work our way up to the details.


Second Disclaimer


This is aimed mostly at publishers and small presses, but like all of our publishing 101 series, it also very much applies to self-publishers, one-person-team publishers, and really anyone who is responsible for representing a book professionally.


Don't Publish Problematic Shit


This one seems really easy, but also potentially confining.

I think if you're someone who read the title of this section and got offended, you can probably benefit from the advice I'm about to give.


Art is controversial. Speech should be free. Anyone should be allowed to put their art into the world.

These are all true statements. But unfortunately, they're also a go-to defense for writers and publishers who want to click-bait readers by publishing content that's problematic, offensive, or harmful. So let's just break this down a little bit in a way that's hopefully easy to understand.


Some of the best art is controversial. I don't think anyone is saying we shouldn't write about controversial things. Some of my favorite areas of horror are deeply controversial, as are many of my favorite books and movies. I'm glad someone was brave enough to write about those things and make me uncomfortable in the process to open up a conversation.


But that leads into the next point: speech is free. That goes for detractors of the art as well. Someone can write a book about how they hate women, for example, and women are allowed to say that that book is harmful. They're allowed to question the publisher that platformed that opinion, and the author who holds it. If that results in a boycott or a financial loss to the publisher, that is a consequence that still falls under free speech. If the publisher (a business) then decides to pull a controversial book from publication, that is also a consequence to the writer that falls under free speech.


Free speech, even in the art world, is not freedom from consequence. No one is stopping the creation of controversial art by voicing their opinion that it shouldn't be platformed. No one is entitled to be published. No art is guaranteed a platform, regardless of how offensive or wholesome or whatever else it happens to be.


So.


If you want to avoid conflict, only publish art that's safe. And if you want to avoid call-outs from your intended audience, only publish controversial work that you can stand behind, and which supports your values. Then you should be, at the very least, in a position to defend yourself when shit hits the fan.


More Good Rules of Thumb


If you genuinely can't tell the difference between things that are "a little edgy" or "satirical", and things that cross the line, maybe don't publish anything too close to the line. (Or hire some sensitivity readers.)


But, here are two good rules of thumb to tell if a title is going to suffer backlash once released:


  • Is it an #OwnVoices story?

  • Are the groups that are portrayed poorly minorities?


I'm not going to say there are no controversial #OwnVoices story (because even that label has had a good amount of controversy.) But if you're seeing a problematic portrayal of a gay character, that's going to be easier to swallow if the writer has lived the experience of being gay. The same goes for characters of color, women, or any other group facing oppression.


And to that point, audiences will be more critical if minority characters are portrayed in a negative light. Even if the intention is good. Even if it's satire. If it comes from an author outside of that group, it is the very definition of "punching down."


Don't Harass Reviewers


I feel like we say this all the time. But please. Please. Do not harass reviewers.


Not if they gave you a low rating. Or you feel their rating didn't reflect what they said about the book. Or they haven't finished the book yet. Or you've given them an ARC. Or whatever else. Unless you're personally friends with that reviewer outside of the book, just don't bother them or be in contact.


Don't Send Unsolicited Content


We're going to take that a step further and say don't send them unsolicited content. If they liked one book from your press, ask before you put them on the mailing list. If they didn't like one book because of something that makes you think they'd like another book better? Ask before you send them that book.


Keep all correspondence with that reviewer public and professional IF you need to correspond with them at all, which ideally, you shouldn't. Really all contact, and definitely all private contact, should be initiated by the reviewer.


And I can't believe I have to say this, but this also goes for review platforms and venues.


Unless you have a personal relationship with someone, you don't need to be sending them material they have not asked for.


Don't Ask Third Parties For Private Information


Okay.


So.


Horror Story Time.


We're not going to talk about any details, but we're going to invite you personally to put yourselves into this situation. You get home and find a mysterious package from someone that you did not send your address to.


It really doesn't matter what's in the package, does it? If it's a book or a care package or even a thank-you present from someone that you've interacted online. It's terrifying, because you didn't give them your address.


It's always a good idea before you send an email or a message to someone to consider how you'd react to receiving it if you were in their position. And that is one hundred times more true for something like mail, which is tied to the physical address where you live with your family.


We're going to say that you probably also shouldn't give out anyone's private information but your own, but definitely don't go around asking for it.


Respect Boundaries


This is an obvious one, but respect the boundaries that people give.


If it says "No DMs" in someone's bio, don't DM them. If they've asked you only to speak to them publicly, or only to message about business, just, follow whatever guidelines they've laid down.


If they tell you that something you've done has made them uncomfortable, apologize and back off. Don't make them feel bad. Don't tell them it was their fault somehow. Just do better and try to be more self aware. This is a professional environment, mind you, so you have to act that way.


Go Through Proper Channels


Just to really hammer that last point home, proper channels exist for a reason. If there's an ARC request form for example, fill out that form instead of DMing that writer/publisher to ask for a copy.


If someone has requested that you use email instead of DMs? Do that.


It's not hard to meet these requests for people who have probably made that request for a reason.


Going around proper channels is not taking initiative, it's not more friendly, it's weird. And creepy. Don't be creepy.


Take Accountability


Finally, this is the big one.


If you screw up. If you publish or promote something that you later feel is inappropriate (or that someone has brought to your attention was always inappropriate) admit that you were wrong. Make a statement. Take that accountability.


Don't, hypothetically, say that you don't support the views of that author if you published them. (Certainly don't say that you don't support the views of that author if you ARE that author.)


Don't try to pass the blame off to someone else, or encourage people to rally behind you with cries of "book banning!" and "cancel culture!" You aren't being banned or cancelled (at worst you're being boycotted by a small group of people who have every right to do that) and hiding behind that false outrage obscures the actual narrative.


Conclusion


I feel like this one could basically just be summed up in our title, but don't be creepy. There's already a presumption that horror writers are creepy or weird. For the most part, the indie horror world is filled with the sweetest, most supportive people. But it's a few bad apples who creep around giving us all bad names.


So stop it.

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