Sunday, June 11, 2006

Cutting Off One's Nose To Spite One's Face

So you've probably all heard the exceptionally vague news about the Asimov's brouhaha by now: Jim Grimsley sold them a story, "Wendy," which deals with predicting tendencies toward child abuse and apparently is quite squicky. The editor of Asimov's, Sheila Williams, bought the story, but the publisher (or someone else above her -- again, actual news is thin on the ground) killed it.

From what I've seen, we don't know: who exactly killed the story; why it was killed (personal squeamishness? lawerly caution? something else entirely?); if Grimsley was offered a specific "kill fee" (which is very common in situations like this, though moreso in non-fiction) or if Sheila just offered "to pay for the story anyway"; if it is common or not for this to happen (I presume not, but that's just a presumption); and just about anything else that we might want to know.

The villagers, meanwhile, are assembling in that discussion thread (on the Asimov's message board, no less -- it's a good thing I enjoy cheap irony), shaking their pitchforks and rakes and threatening to a) burn the evil Baron out of his castle, b) never ever submit any more stories to Asimov's, or c) cancel their subscriptions. A few brave souls have pointed out that deliberately killing one of the few SF magazines left (and one of the only markets in the first place for a story like this) is remarkably stupid, but the villagers seem more content to rant and cuss; if a thing is not perfect, then it must be torn down to the ground. (And some of them are now refusing to have anything to do with F&SF, simply because its editor, Gordon Van Gelder, tried to inject some words of reason.)

And, of course, this is exactly the most constructive thing they could be doing, in a world where the major SF magazines have been taking double-digit hits in circulation nearly every year of the past twenty. Yes, let's hurry the death of short SF, so all of these actual writers, wanna-be writers, have-been writers and indeterminately-being writers can be kicked in the tuchus and forced to find something else to do with their time.

I swear, there's times when I hate being in the same genre with such prima donnas. (The only people really acquitting themselves well in that discussion, in the long term, is Gordon and Matt Hughes; every other repeat visitor is one degree or another of outraged pissiness.)

Grow up, folks. It does sound like Asimov's bobbled the situation, but, on the other hand, we've only heard it from the writer's point of view (and very sketchily, at that). I, personally, don't know what the hell went on, and I don't actually much care. I'm honestly surprised every year when the circulation on the "Big Three" drops horribly yet again, and they still don't go out of business. (I don't want to see them go, but I don't see how they can avoid it much longer.) In the list of things to be worried about in SF, "the evil Short-Story Suits are stifling our freedom of expression, man!" is way, way down the list.

(I didn't get to this until now, because John Scalzi covered it, from a different angle, already. But I hadn't read the incredibly self-important Asimov's discussion thread at that point -- and, now that I have, I felt the need to rant.)


A.R.Yngve said...

So magazine sales for ANALOG, F&SF and ASIMOV's have been dropping steadily for two decades...

...and the best advice you can offer is "Readers, don't rock the boat"?

Don't rock the boat, people. It's sinking, sure, but you'll only make it sink faster. Sit down and sink quietly.

Has it occurred to you that "playing it safe" isn't exactly helping magazines?

Let me offer you a real-life example. At my job today, a co-worker just walked in and ranted for two minutes about some "horrible" song he'd just heard. Almost immediately, someone in the office started to do a Web search for that horrid song.

I can assure you that he never walked in to deliver a rant about a so-so, OK, inoffensive song.

Controversy sells. Accusations of blasphemy and satanism haven't hurt sales of either the Harry Potter books or THE DA VINCI CODE.

But let's not rock the boat. Let's Play It Safe. All the way to the bottom...

Andrew Wheeler said...

All magazine sales have been dropping for a couple of deacades; the Internet has been picking off the weak and wounded for quite some time now.

If something is already a big seller, then controversy helps. If something is small potatoes to begin with, controversy means that it's too much trouble to deal with. Nobody wants a product that brings in more complaints than sales.

And, yes, I do mean that if something you value is sick and feeble, you probably shouldn't be shooting it in the foot.

A.R.Yngve said...

How tempted I am to reply "What does not kill a magazine makes it stronger"... but I must not.

What makes this debate special is that it exists because of the Internet. Without an Internet, the story could have been stopped quietly, and the author wouldn't have had a public forum to mention it in -- except maybe a fanzine with a very limited readership.

It's not a conspiracy against a magazine, it's the new media landscape. Get used to it.

I respect the publisher's decision to stop the story -- he's the owner, it's legal. But how could the readers NOT get curious about a story that was stopped "at the last minute"?

If you wanted this to blow over, the best thing would've been not to mention it at all. Attention begets attention.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Grimsley invited debate by posting publicly on Asimov's discussion board. For the most part, that debate was civil.

NotTooNew said...

Heaven forbid any subscriber or contributor should actually have an opinion about something that happens at a magazine s/he values... or worse yet, express that opinion publicly, eh?

And yes, for the most part, the discussion was civil, among far more than two of the participants.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Oh, I don't particularly "want this to blow over;" I want to make fun of people I think are acting against their own interests.

jeff haas & nottoonew:
We may have different definitions of what consitutes a civil discussion. I will admit there were no threats of violence or Godwinizations in the Asimov's discussion thread, which may be close enough for Internet work, but I thought it was remarkably hot-headed and unthinking.

Anonymous said...

If you want uncivil, check out the political/religious board on Asimov's. I've recused myself from that board.

Anonymous said...

every other repeat visitor is one degree or another of outraged pissiness

Um, no; but we could get that way if you like.

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