Diplomacy vs. Duplicity

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Okay, this one’s just between us. Don’t go telling anyone, but it came up in staff meeting again today, this question of how far we as editors should go in working things out between our authors as advocates while also acting as publisher representatives. No doubt it’s why so many editors become agents eventually as they’re thrust into the dual roles, forced one too many times to make a difficult decision for the good of all involved with so little tangible reward for the effort. God knows it’s so much easier to just weasel out of facing the pressure if you aren’t being paid 15%.

But much of the success of any given publishing situation involves mediating and shelving your personal desires and even sometimes your valid concerns, to see the book come to fruition. You never want to be the one telling either side that the other is unwilling or unable to come to the table and work things out. I’ve been in some difficult situations, sure, but it’s not very frequent, thankfully.

And most every time I’m grateful I’m not the author. At least the publisher usually knows its head from its rump. But the poor author is always judging just how hard he or she can push in this particular situation, and if there’s a better way to go about it, or if they should just drop it, or if someone else in house might be more helpful, more understanding, or more in charge. Those nice people at the bottom are great, but they’re almost as frustrated and ineffectual as the authors. The middle management is way too busy even to eat and sleep regularly, and those on the top rung are completely unmovable unless you’ve got serious stats on your record that prove you’re not only willing to exploit yourself to the fullest, you’ve got quantifiable numbers of folks ready and waiting to watch.

So, long story short, I may be getting my old snarky self back afterall. I know: please, try to contain yourself. Honeymoons are fun, but really, what good are they if they don’t come to an end? The way I see it is, knowledge of anything makes you responsible. People were not responsible for tsunamis in Timbuktu before they knew about them. Now there’s no end to the level of responsibility we have to the rest of the world. In the same way, before I knew about these largely unchangeable influencers in the industry of bookselling, I wasn’t responsible for deciding whether or not to tell authors about it, or bring it to bear on a given discussion. Advisors would never tell me that if I’m to serve my employer, I may have to compromise my ethics or adjust them to fit my new knowledge. And yet, that’s what it feels like at times.

How do I fit each new understanding of publishing’s inner workings into my code of ethics? Is it possible to remain blameless in both the authors’ and the publisher’s ledgers? Can I serve my employer faithfully and still be sincere and honest with authors asking why this or that is happening on her book? Am I betraying that trust not to mention all that I know? When is withholding lying, and when is full disclosure not a compromise of the company’s position?

When did the line between diplomacy and duplicity get so fuzzy? If you’ve ever felt this way, you know there’s no better advise than to follow the dictates of your conscience and leave the rest up to God. But facts is facts, and I’m feeling like a bug under the rug about to get squashed.

And now I’ve gone and mentioned it. And the logical question on both sides will be what unchangeable influencers in this industry am I talking about specifically? And wouldn’t I care to elaborate?

Hmm. An intriguing idea, but…Holy smokes! What’s that elephant doing with your wallet over there?!

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14 thoughts on “Diplomacy vs. Duplicity”

  1. classic, so glad to hear you are becoming your “old” self again. but i do not envy the headache you will have when you awake. in the meantime, sleep well, and dream of large women.
    you wrote:
    those on the top rung are completely unmovable unless you’ve got serious stats on your record that prove you’re not only willing to exploit yourself to the fullest, you’ve got quantifiable numbers of folks ready and waiting to watch.
    see! i knew there were things that we simply rock solid barriers. duh, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. but this line, exploit yourself to the fullest…yes, now there it is in all its shameful glory. why do we do this? why do we try to get these numbers of people gawking at our oozing sores and slopping up our purged phrases?
    i do not know. truly. i think it better, often, to remain obscure and do your art for the purity of art. i’ve been thinking about agents, someone to pimp my work, but that is just an overwhelming thought for me. at least if i’m doing my own thing, i can go down in flames and have some dignity.
    peace.
    suz.

  2. I like the snarky Mick. (I think it was Dave Long who recently said Christian fiction has no irony.) I appreciate your honesty.
    Suz, now I have an interesting image of writing as funeral pyre. Thanks.

  3. The honeymoon has to end? Apparently no one told my husband.
    100 points for Suz (50 for the Princess Bride quote and 50 for the socks remark)
    Brave Sir Mick, we all appreciate your gallant stand against the Draconian Dragons who hold us all captive in the drab and foggy land of Creative Constraint. Thanks for risking your own life to brandish Sword Snarkadian in the battle. May the shield of Boyish Cuteness and the elixir of Brilliant Charm protect you from all harm. (Meanwhile, don’t do anything stupid. We like you.)
    Jeanne

  4. You ask a good question, “when did the line between diplomacy and duplicity get so fuzzy?” Isn’t that always what happens when dollars are at stake?
    I know (pray, hope) there is something more than a dollar sign behind the eyes of well-meaning publishers who raise the CBA flag, but ultimately, money is the deciding factor in what they choose to publish. The power that deciding factor gives a publisher brings up a whole host of issues you’ve addressed many times in previous postings (in your snarkier days). [Who will make the first move toward the New World Order of Christian publishing, the frightened book buyer for your local Christian store or the skittish publisher who wants to keep the book buyers happy and unafraid?]
    What to do? Do you share company secrets–the Secret List of Lines Which Cannot Be Crossed–with an author who is confuddled by your inability to answer his or her direct questions? Well, what is diplomacy, really? Isn’t it presenting the portion of truth that will satisfy the question, while witholding the pieces that ultimately don’t matter to the final result?
    I know. Sounds like duplicity doesn’t it.
    Fuzzy is as fuzzy does.

  5. Oh, you kids. Live and let live, I say. It comes down to money for the publishers, as Steve said, but it doesn’t necessarily have to for the writers and editors. I’m happy to let someone pay me to remain blissfully foolish about all matters monetary and keep those “profitable” books pumping out. If parenthood is teaching me anything it’s that at times it’s good to notice a thing (like the disconnect between profitable and attention-worthy), but not necessarily to poke at it.

  6. Small identity crisis, JD. :) Just playing with banners. Had an old one on default, I think…
    BTW, try the new {quot for thot} link. Typepad’s slick!

  7. Snazzy {quot for thot} jazz. Flannery O looks good in black.
    I also like your (our!) new banner. Those books resemble some we display around our living room. They belonged to George’s grandfather. We found them twenty-six years ago, stashed in his old barn in Ohio. Intriguing titles, too. There’s something fascinating about old books. Perhaps because they have more than one story to tell.

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