Editors, Influence, and You

SF Signal just posted a podcast dealing with the aftermath of the writer Genevieve Valentine being harrassed at ReaderCon, which included the fall-out from ReaderCon not following its own zero tolerance policy. The panel consisted of Stina Leicht, Mur Lafferty, Jaym Gates, and Carrie Cuinn with Patrick Hester asking the questions. Hester didn’t do the best job in the world this time around, in my opinion, but the input from the interviewees is excellent.

One thing not related to Valentine or ReaderCon that came up during the podcast discussion was a report from a prior World Fantasy Con about an editor trading off of his influence to hit on women writers, especially up-and-coming writers where the power imbalance is very severe. The suggestion being, put up with this because I can help your career.

I mention this because I think it’s important that every writer, beginning or otherwise, know that this is absolutely, terribly, awfully wrong and no one ever should have to put up with this kind of behavior. Or any lesser variant of it. And also that no one editor out there has enough influence to have a dampening affect on your career if you have to tell them where to go. And that most all editors out there will be horrified and pissed off to hear of such behavior by a colleague and want to punch their teeth through the back of their face.

Beyond the harrassment, Valentine also was on a panel during which she was heavily condescended to by the male moderator. This is also not okay, should never be okay, and I don’t think it’s entirely out of bounds for audience members to address such an issue as it comes up—or other panelists to do so. The other general issue being men talking over women panelists, not listening to them, etc. Also not okay. Which should be obvious. (For my part, I tend to get into manic modes that sometimes coincide with being on a panel, and I will happily shut the fuck up if told to shut the fuck up, should I forget to stop going on and on. Although I also do try my best to self-regulate and be a responsible member of all panels I’m on—a good moderator is always appreciated in this regard, too.)


In a different context, I got to thinking about the editor-writer power balance in general, outside of toxic situations. Which is to say, although I personally am beginning to enter the Old Fart stage of my career, I still often feel like an up-and-coming outsider—and that is certainly the vantage from which I usually conduct my conversations, whether in email or in person. I do not see much distance between myself and some writer in their twenties. If I drop a newbie writer a line, it’s generally in a relaxed and informal mode, for instance. But what I’ve come to realize is that no matter how I might see things, some beginners will attach more weight to your words than you yourself expect. And this, quite frankly, horrifies me. I love that people enjoy the books we put out, but please don’t give too much authority or…whatever the word is…to any editor or writer. Seek out those who produce books you love, learn whatever you think you can from them, and that’s it. (Besides, it has a calcifying effect on Old Farts…we tend to turn to stone much sooner, babbling out of our rapidly solidifying mouth-parts ridiculously boring anecdotes from the old days.)

This blog post feels as if I only kind of got at the meaning I wanted to convey, but hopefully it’s good enough.

16 comments on “Editors, Influence, and You

  1. Steve Tem says:

    Older writers do tend to petrify (in both senses of the word) after a time. I think it helps–both your work and your personality–if you always try to think of yourself as a student, trying out new things, and never quite sure what you’re truly good at. Starting over and reinventing as necessary. I think there are certain points in the act of creation in which new writers and old farts are pretty much in the same boat, facing new unknowns (because what’s unknown is always changing) and trying to come up with narratives and descriptions equal to the task.

  2. Steve–good way of putting it!

  3. silviamg says:

    Time to dismantle the old VanderMeer shrine, then! ;)

  4. ahahahahaha! (please do take the piss outta me.)

  5. I have belonged to several organizations, professional and personal, where is was considered reprehensible behavior to use power or status to hit on the opposite sex, and it still happened. I guess it will always happen. Sorry it happened to the lady in question.
    My old friend Holly Lisle told me once about being on a panel with a bestselling alternate history/science fiction writer who looked down on fantasy writers. He must have found out how well he could do in it later, because he published several long series of alternate wars with fantasy and magical elements. She also told me that she had been on a panel with Charles Sheffield, who was sort of an internet mentor to myself. She said that Charles was frighteningly intelligent, being a NASA physicist and all, but also extremely nice. I know he was nice enough to look at the work of a behavioral scientist (myself) who was nowhere near his level of intelligence. Goes to show that you just don’t know.

  6. Kevin A. Lewis says:

    I’ m old-school enough to remember the editor way back in the day who strung the author of Confederacy Of Dunces through a couple of years of pointless revisions till the guy flipped out and killed himself; said editor went on to be the head of one of the biggest literary agencies in the land, and the book he pissed on went on to become a massive classic. One should never be afraid to tell an old fart (even a young one in training!) to blow it out the bow hatch and go elsewhere… I realize this has nothing to do with sexual harrassment, but there’s more than one way of being an asshole out there…

  7. JMS says:

    Kevin, having read Gottlieb’s correspondence with Toole, I think you’re grossly mischaracterizing what happened there. Gottlieb was clearly not the right editor for A Confederacy of Dunces, but he didn’t “string” Toole “along”.

    If you don’t have the chance to get to Tulane to read the Toole papers, this is discussed at length in Gary McLaughlin’s recent Toole biography, Butterfly in the Typewriter. McLaughlin, whose love for Toole’s work is very clear, is also pretty firm in debunking the mythology that Gottlieb treated Toole poorly.

  8. Matthew Davis says:

    Ah, Robert Gottlieb. The man who vowed to annihilate Thomas M Disch and his career in the late 70s.

  9. Pat Cadigan says:

    Ah, you people are so young.

    In over thirty-five years in this field, thirty-two of them as a professional writer, I’ve been condescended to, sexually harassed, and, more recently, ignored and treated as invisible because I’m older and, yeah, kinda fat.

    Ask me about being the only woman in Mirrorshades, just ask me. On second thought, don’t ask me. I’m liable to punch someone (and, no, it wouldn’t be Bruce Sterling).

  10. jeff vandermeer says:

    Pat: I’m sorry to hear that, but not surprised. Re Mirrorshades…I think there’s a new reprint cyberpunk antho coming out…and it has TWO women in it. Sigh.

  11. Cat Rambo says:

    I was recently on a panel where the two men (both my age, I believe) sitting on either side of me literally would not let me get a word in. At the five minute to go mark, one of them turned to me and said, laughingly, “I guess we didn’t give you much time to talk.” Multiple people who’d been in the audience came up afterward to say how disappointing it was not to hear what I had to say. And I would have been okay with it, actually, if it hadn’t been on a subject that I wrote multiple papers on in grad school. Argh.

    I don’t usually indicate people I won’t be on panels with, but the list suddenly got two people added to it.

  12. “I guess it will always happen.”

    …is not a particularly helpful thing to say. Resignation never changed a community for the better, and we women get pretty tired of being told that attacks, harassment, condescension, and dismissal are simply the price of admission we need to put up with.

    Readercon’s concom didn’t say “I guess it will always happen.”

    Thank you to those who do not take sexist interactions as a necessary evil in our world, and strive to diminish it, and will so strive until it is extinct and every support for it is dismantled, no matter that this may not happen in their lifetimes. This post is an example of such striving. You have my respect.

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