Saturday, December 14th, 2013 01:59 pm
I'm always seeing discussions about why the great age of LJ meta seems to be over and how sad it is that nobody seems to post that kind of thing anymore. Personally, I find that my energy to craft essays has evaporated over time; plus I think meta often requires a steady stream of new fans who aren't yet tired of the big pan-fandom topics. But the other reason I don't post that kind of content much anymore is that, the more involved I have gotten with OTW, the less worth my time I find it to post things that could bring wank to my doorstep. (Witness the extreme lateness of my WinCon con report, which is going to be scathing whenever I finally get around to it.) Unfortunately but inevitably, posting wanky personal opinions brings down wank on everybody else's heads, and being on the Board has the potential to imbue personal journal posts with a faux authority I'd rather not give them. On the other hand, Big Bang Press is so annoying that I don't fucking care. (N.B.: Yes, of course this post is my personal opinion, not endorsed by OTW.)

I like fandom publishing efforts. I remember in the 90s when there were tentative steps towards fandom-spawned m/m presses, like Wayward Books which did paper copies of pros zines with the serial numbers filed off and a pair of bad novellas stuck together in one book from an anime fandom BNF. (Sorry, RK fandom, but you know it's true: they just weren't that good even if you liked her fic.)

I used to belong to some mailing lists back in the day for original slash/yaoi. I like the not-for-pay part of that community and spent a lot of time yelling at other people in OTW about how that stuff needed to be allowed on AO3, both because it can be a legitimate fanwork and because disallowing it disproportionately affects some parts of fandom and makes them and their other fanworks unwelcome.

At the time, one of the big sources of opposition within OTW to allowing "original work" on AO3 was the fear that people would try to turn the site into an advertising platform. I assured everyone that there is plenty of non-commercial original fic community and that the pre-existing rules in the TOS banning commercial spam on AO3 would be sufficient to deal with that kind of behavior; no need to assume the worst of everyone just because of a few hypothetical bad apples. I have enjoyed watching the rise of ebooks as a viable business model and the rise of even more fandom presses as a consequence, and plenty of the original fic community also publish for money, but that does not preclude them having a fandom community that should be welcome on AO3. I'm thinking of people here like Dusk Peterson, who waited very patiently for AO3 to allow original fic and has been nothing but understanding about people's fears over commercialization, even when they so often involved rude assertions that original slash is not a valid fanwork. (Doing it right: an author's note that your story on AO3 was originally posted to your website. Clicking on the link takes one to a site that has ways to pay for your fiction along with other normal homepage content, but AO3 contains no ads.)

Lots of fans have self published in the many venues set up for that. Other fans have started their own presses, sometimes for fairly conventional m/m, sometimes for very unusual content that traditional publishers are afraid to touch. The people who run Forbidden Fiction are local to me, and their physical books look pretty nice. Not like a mainstream offset print novel, of course, but at the nice end of the indie press range. (How many gay novels do I have with misprints and falling apart binding even when they're from established gay presses? Ugh, ugh, ugh.) I haven't checked out Forbidden Fiction's online activities extensively, but they seem to have sound business sense that has already seen them through some startup business drama. Torquere comes out of fandom, doesn't it? Dreamspinner has a good rep and is popular with fans I know. My own reading tastes tend away from indie presses and original fic that originates in fandom, unfortunately, but even I can name a bunch of places to find these things off the top of my head. I couldn't tell you the name of a single lesbian publisher that came out of Xena fandom, but they were reportedly legion. Long live the uber. Some of the publishers I do know about, like Wayward Press, don't seem to have lasted long; others are going concerns. Fandom has no shortage of people who have moved on to the pro and semi-pro ebook and indie publishing markets.

Fandom also has no shortage of people who have made the jump to mainstream publishing success, whether that's the generation of YA authors that came out of Harry Potter fandom a decade ago or what's going on in Twilight fandom now or an entire generation of fantasy novelists who seem to have started out writing MZB fanfic. This is not a new phenomenon by any means. The number of half-baked niche novels I have uncovered during my current cleaning frenzy suggests that there's no shortage of indie publishers willing to touch m/m and f/f stories either. On the top of my What is this, why did I buy it, and should I read it before selling it? pile is something called The Prosperine Papers, a mystery novel starring a lesbian-feminist academic (aka the dream girlfriend of every single reader this book has ever had). It appears to also be about lesbian parenting issues and female mentors and was published in 1988 by The Crossing Press. I don't know if it's any good; it's just the thing that was sitting on top of a stack of books in my line of sight as I am typing this post. (No, for real: it was literally on top of the stack and has cover art that is so hilariously lesbianic despite being a little cartoon silhouette. Every lesbian professor I have ever had looked just like that.) I'm sure there are gaps in what traditional publishers are willing to handle, but I think they're fewer than people imagine, especially in categories like mystery or literary fiction where the audience isn't expected to identify strongly with a central romance as part of the definition of the genre. Perhaps, there are gaps that would be best filled by fandom presses, but there are already fandom presses. Many of them.

When I see a new press, my first question is: Why? What does this press offer that couldn't be better done by everybody else who is already out there with a track record and a tax accountant? In the case of Big Bang Press, I have no idea. The kickstarter is asking fandom for $40k, a staggering amount of money for the current plans to publish three books in an ebook/self publishing/tiny indie press way. I get that kickstarter doesn't let you do campaigns to start a business precisely, and this is a workaround. I'm told sneaking around kickstarter's TOS is common, and I don't see why fans shouldn't do it as much as anyone else if the result is something of value to the investors, but I am also not convinced that BBP is on its way to being a responsible business that can put that money to good use. Why? Two reasons:

1. Lack of experience in traditional publishing: None of the PR stuff on BBP shows much knowledge of the industry. People starting successful indie presses usually know a lot about how other publishers work. Business acumen in another field might do in a pinch, but I'm seeing a lot of "Hey, kids, let's put on a show!" and not a lot of planning. In my opinion, planning should come first; asking fandom to open our wallets second.

2. Lack of anything to offer: The advantages BBP offers are illusory. Publishing may have some issues, but BBP's blandishments about traditional publishing not appreciating fandom's diamonds in the rough are nonsense. As everyone else on the internet has said by now, it does not take traditional training to finish your novel and write a damn query letter.

But I'm no publishing expert either, so I'll direct you to the Absolute Write thread and the Tumblr discussions debunking a lot of BBP's statements. They can explain better than I can why fans critical of BBP aren't just being mean and harshing the squee for no reason.

That's the background and preamble. The actual point of this post is that I am disgusted that people associated with BBP thought it was a good idea to advertise on AO3. Shame on you! I don't care if the ads came down quickly; someone put them up in the first place. Not only are you wasting fandom's money on a half-baked scheme, pretending like all these other presses don't exist, and acting like the big publishers are much worse than they really are, but you are ignoring the basic tenets of AO3 and OTW. I'd think regular AO3 users might care about that, if nothing else. Thanks for screwing over the original fic community that is only just starting to feel welcome on AO3. Thanks for making OTW look bad by association. Opinions on fandom and commercialization differ. I'm fine with that. But how dare you ignore AO3's rules so blatantly! You know better.

This angers me far more than any threat of BBP bringing the powers that be down on our heads. Fair use is complicated, and the mere presence or absence of profit will not protect or endanger a piece of work. Fandom is vast, and a C&D sent to one fan does not mean that everyone else is equally in danger for every type of fanwork everywhere. I post my vids to Youtube and regularly have to dispute takedowns; that's a normal activity for vidders and doesn't inspire handwringing about how each of us is individually going to bring down fandom as a whole. I don't care if fans are selling fanfic in their own space. I think it's often both unethical and unwise, but there are plenty of fandoms based on public domain sources, and fandom mores seem to make an exception for charity auctions. How zine fandom interacts with money and profit (two very different things!) is also complex. It's hardly black and white. But you know what is black and white? AO3 banning commercial spam! I am annoyed that OTW's mission to promote fanworks as legitimate cultural endeavors is getting muddied with attempts to make the selling of fic legitimate. No, nobody at BBP has said that OTW endorses them, but it's naive to think that nobody is going to make that association once AO3 is involved. Let OTW's bad press be from times we've actually messed up, not from hucksters screwing over fans with a related but importantly different stance. I am annoyed at the potential for OTW as an organization to be associated with this utter incompetence. I am annoyed at the potential for AO3 users who respect the rules to be tarred with the same brush as rulebreakers. I am annoyed at the reality that these rulebreakers will already have gotten attention for their kickstarter when more rule-abiding users will never have that chance. I am annoyed that the kickstarter will probably make its funding goal because a lot of clueless fans have fallen for scare tactics about the publishing industry. I am annoyed that some of those fans will finish their manuscripts—strong manuscripts that could be the start of a pro career—and won't submit them to publishers because they'll still be carrying around this poisonous misinformation years later.

I don't have anything against the people associated with BBP—far from it—but this venture is not ready for funding. It should go back to the drawing board until it is ready to deliver on its promises to kickstarter funders and its promise as a fun fandom-friendly business. At a bare minimum, it should not have moved forward without at least full drafts of all three novels and at least one person at the helm who knows something about the publishing industry. I would accept even someone who has no demonstrable track record but who gives answers that make sense and sound informed. The fact that BBP can't even provide that much should be a massive red flag. I will not donate and neither should you.

Shame on Big Bang Press and shame on everyone endorsing it.
Sunday, December 15th, 2013 02:23 am (UTC)

Yeah, thank you, this. I have just been sitting here, quietly appalled at the whole mess, and that was BEFORE they put ads on the AO3.
Sunday, December 15th, 2013 11:51 am (UTC)

Yeah. Honestly, you don't need $40,000 to vanity publish three novels. You just don't. And you especially don't collect money before the books are even written.

I've been crossing my fingers that they just wouldn't make their goal, or that the pointed questions about their business model and etc., would cause them to rethink the whole idea and take the Kickstarter down (even if only "temporarily" while they work some issues out.) I mean, BBP is going to crash and burn, inevitably, but I was hoping it would do so mostly painlessly, because I *was* assuming some of the people involved have good intentions and it wasn't just a COMPLETELY blatant cash grab/vanity project... but it's a *lot* harder to hang onto that belief, given the co-ordinated spamming on the AO3. *Four different members* doing it at the same time with similar language means they all actually conferred about it in a group and decided it was a good idea, totally no problem, and that to me is just a BAFFLINGLY stupid decision. That *alone* would make me worry about any future business decisions BPP might make.
Sunday, December 15th, 2013 04:51 am (UTC)
Their pitch, and their continued - well, everything - reads like a writer beware checklist. Ugh. I think the thing that offends me most is the whole "give us money for books the authors haven't even finished writing yet!" thing. That's unacceptable and unprofessional on so many levels.
Sunday, December 15th, 2013 05:31 am (UTC)
I think the thing that offends me most is the whole "give us money for books the authors haven't even finished writing yet!" thing. That's unacceptable and unprofessional on so many levels.

Oh holy jeebus yes. A publisher rarely pays for an unfinished book. (They only do for super celebrity memoirs or the like, which are usually ghostwritten by a professional anyways . . . ).
Sunday, December 15th, 2013 05:57 am (UTC)
Isn't that common for Kickstarters, though? (Okay, I know very little about Kickstarters, but one of the few things that my household has backed was a pitch for an unwritten novel, now written. Mary Anne Mohanraj's Stars Change, if you're curious; she seems pretty credentialed as a professional.) I'm asking not to defend Big Bang Press about which I know nothing other than what I've read in posts like this one, I'm just curious about Kickstarter culture vs publishing culture in general.
Sunday, December 15th, 2013 05:59 am (UTC)
Sorry, clarification, I mean that the "give us money for unwritten books" thing is typical of Kickstarters, not that their pitch reads like a writer beware checklist.
Sunday, December 15th, 2013 06:47 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I gave to Judith Tarr's Kickstarter, on the grounds that I would probably buy the novel anyway:

But she was (a) established and (b) asking for a lot less money. In that case, it seemed like Kickstarter was substituting for a traditional advance.
Sunday, December 15th, 2013 05:28 am (UTC)
Thank you. I was talking with some other writers on Twitter and we are all like " . . . da fuq." But basically what you said. :/
Edited 2013-12-15 05:29 am (UTC)
Monday, December 16th, 2013 07:39 pm (UTC)
I do not know much about A03, but found myself nodding here:

Fandom also has no shortage of people who have made the jump to mainstream publishing success, whether that's the generation of YA authors that came out of Harry Potter fandom a decade ago or what's going on in Twilight fandom now or an entire generation of fantasy novelists who seem to have started out writing MZB fanfic. This is not a new phenomenon by any means. The number of half-baked niche novels I have uncovered during my current cleaning frenzy suggests that there's no shortage of indie publishers willing to touch m/m and f/f stories either.

Dunno about a generation, but yup there are plenty of writers who used to write fanfiction from many fandoms: Marissa Meyer, Rainbow Rowell (I clearly missed a trick with the first name/surname matches), Naomi Novik, all the people from Brokeback Mountain fandom. There's Captive Prince, too, which started out as original online published m/m, moved to self-published, and is now being traditionally published. It's odd to see rhetoric which seems to suggest I don't exist: I find myself uneasily checking!

And at no point, before I was published or now that I am, are people going to pay me for unfinished books, because... people like to know what they're getting before they pay for it.

I don't wish anyone associated with BBP any ill either, but I am just puzzled by what's going on.
Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 05:39 am (UTC)
Thank you for this post - I know you're not speaking for the board, but I'm really happy that these are the opinions of someone on that board. I've been mostly just sitting here staring and crazy faced at the blatant disregard for...well, basically everything A03 is and should be.
Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 07:15 pm (UTC)
I missed this post, but I raise my glass and salute you.
Saturday, December 28th, 2013 11:08 pm (UTC)
"like Wayward Books which did paper copies of pros zines"

Oh, that's the story behind it. I always suspected that the press came out of fandom, since I first encountered it at ConneXions slash con. Plus, all of the authors of this "gay fiction" press seemed to go by their initials. :)

"Doing it right: an author's note that your story on AO3 was originally posted to your website."

:). I invented my copyright notice years before AO3 came along, back when I started putting Creative Commons licenses on my stories, so the stories might end up anywhere on the web. The link back to my website was just my variation on the fanfic header that credits online canon by linking back to it. These days, I have a "do anything with my story that doesn't hurt me financially" policy, so the same principle applies - my stories might end up anywhere, so I'd like people to be able to find their way back to my other stories.

"Torquere comes out of fandom, doesn't it?"

I've always suspected so, but I haven't yet heard the full tale of its origins.

"Let OTW's bad press be from times we've actually messed up, not from hucksters screwing over fans with a related but importantly different stance."

From the threads that I've been following via this post, it doesn't look to me as though OTW is being blamed. Quite the opposite: People seem to be saying repeatedly, "This is against AO3's terms of services! Let's alert AO3 so they can do the right thing!"

Now, whether OTW will react badly to this incident, I don't know. I hope not; there are bad apples in every fandom. For example, if this incident had occurred at AO3, it would have been foolish of OTW to conclude that all Harry Potter fanfic writers are plagiarists and should therefore be banned from the archive.

The struggle I've always had is that I see a grey line as existing between commercial fiction and noncommercial fic. A goodly number of my stories have been published simultaneously as online fic and e-books. Sarahtales mentioned "Captive Prince," which, she said, "started out as original online published m/m, moved to self-published," but actually, the author didn't pull down her online fic when she self-published the stories as e-books. She didn't do so till her new publisher required that, and even then, she negotiated to let the stories be kept online for a month after her "I'm taking this down" announcement.

So how do you stay within that grey area without commercializing the wonderfully noncommercial spaces of fandom? My solution within fandom has been to link as much as possible to the fandom-related portions of my website. I imagine other originalfic writers in fandom struggle with similar problems.

Which, as you say, makes it frustrating when someone comes along and blatantly breaks the rules. I'm going to be charitable and assume that at least one of the authors involved didn't read the TOS beforehand and wasn't aware of the fight over whether to include originalfic at AO3. I've gotten rapped over the knuckles before - not at AO3, which has wonderfully clear FAQ and TOS, but at other fandoms forums where the rules concerning originalfic weren't entirely clear. So I can well imagine this happening to an AO3 writer who didn't do her research beforehand.

However, the spamming charge can't be set aside, I'm afraid, nor the problems you and others noted with the Kickstarter campaign.
Wednesday, January 1st, 2014 12:07 pm (UTC)
Hi, can we link this at metanews?