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Friday Midday Links: Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation Responds to...

Joanna Stampfel Volpe was allowed to use the blog of former agent, Colleen Lindsey, to respond to the claims made by authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith that they were asked to make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation. The authors stated that they felt that this was an industry wide epidemic. Malinda Lo, an author of a series that features a lesbian protagonist added a post with charts! and graphs! to show even though the big publishers and the little ones put out LGBTQ books less than 1% of YA books have LGBTQ characters.

I used the post to illustrate that agents have a lot of say over what editors see, particular editors who only read agented manuscripts, and thus have a lot of say over what is actually published.

Even though Brown and Smith did not name any agent, the rumor of who the agent was that initially turned them down circled the internet. According to Lindsey, several people contacted her to confirm with her as to whom the agent was. Joanna Stampfel Vogel was not the agent but she is with the Nancy Coffey Literary Agency, the house that turned the authors down. In order to respond, of course, Stampfel Vogel choose to sweep aside whatever anonymity that the authors had afforded them. Stampfel Vogel explained that the gay POV was just one of several POVs that should be excised and that all sexual references be excluded so that the book would be more suitable to middle grade students.

Stampfel Vogel then proceeds to claim that the authors were lying.

Let me repeat this: there is nothing in that article concerning our response to their manuscript that is true.

Stampfel Vogel goes on to accuse the authors of exploitation:

One of our agents is being used as a springboard for these authors to gain attention for their project. She is being exploited. But even worse, by basing their entire article on untruths, these authors have exploited the topic. By doing that, they’ve chipped away at the validity of the resulting conversation.

I’m concerned about the tone of this agent’s post and I have to wonder whether they consulted a lawyer before posting this response piece. This piece is dangerously close to defaming the authors (calling them liars is defamatory per se) and it also seems to be a potential breach of fiduciary duty. Fiduciary duties can arise from a person in a trusted and confidential position giving advice to someone else. For instance, a lawyer who offers a free consultation with a person can be sued for malpractice if that advice given is incorrect or leads to adverse consequences even if no formal attorney/client relationship is formed. Once a fiduciary relationship is created, the fiduciary is held to higher standard.

This is not to say that I don’t think the Nancy Coffey Literary & Medial Representation firm should not have responded. They could have said:

We disagree with the authors’ statements regarding the consultation we had with their book. We love LGBTQ books and look forward to representing the right ones for our clients. This is an important discussion to have as we also believe in the importance of representing diversity in color and sexual orientation in literature, whether it is YA or adult fiction. Unfortunately the manuscript from Smith and and Brown was not the right project for our firm. We wish the best of luck to authors Smith and Brown with their manuscript.

The authors rebut the rebuttal here. Frankly the book sounds like a hot mess. 5 POVs?  A teen who is an polyamorous relationship with two girls (isn’t that just playing the field?) It’s hardly a book that screams bestseller.   What is the end result? It’s a classic case of she said / she said with some dangerous oil on the fire being thrown by the Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation firm. It all gets away from Malinda Lo’s excellent point. Less than 1% of YA books feature LGBTQ teens.

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PW is now accepting digital arcs from small press and digital first publishers.

Beginning September 15, Publishers Weekly’s romance and science fiction/fantasy/horror reviews sections will accept digital galleys for review consideration. This includes galleys for digital-first publications in those genres.

We especially encourage small and independent presses to make use of the new system, which we hope will make it easier to send us galleys three to four months ahead of publication. Uploading digital galleys is also an eco-friendly alternative to packaging and shipping physical galleys.

All of PW’s current submission guidelines apply to digital galleys. We accept .epub, .mobi, .rtf, and .pdf formats. Please only submit each book once; there is no need to submit both physical and digital galleys of the same title.

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Wonder why publishers are so anxious to wrest pricing control out of the retailers? Because once a price is out there, it is markedly hard to raise. Netflix is seeing the negative effects of attempting to raise prices. Netflix has a 25 million customer list and many of those customers are unhappy:

On Thursday, the company said that customers were canceling their subscriptions in greater numbers than it expected, about a million in total, causing a projected quarterly loss in customers for only the second time in its history. The company did not signal a shift in direction or a change its financial guidance for the quarter; still, its stock dropped almost 19 percent in heavy trading on Thursday, closing at $169.25 and worsening a season-long selling streak. In July, the stock peaked at $304.79.

Starz, which supplies Sony and Disney films to Netflix, has announced it will not renew its contract, leaving the Netflix library missing some big titles.  That Netflix is struggling to make money for itself and its content providers will likely impair Amazon’s ability to create a large digital library of free book content for its Prime subscribers.

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If you are a goodreads member (of which I am), you’ll notice a new feature that rolled out yesterday called “recommendations”.

goodreads menu bar

Goodreads is generating recommendations based on other’s libraries’ similarities to yours among a billion other data points.  You get a recommendation bar for genres in which you’ve expressed interest and each of your shelves. I have a DNF shelf and so that reads like a list of books from which to stay away:

DNF goodreads shelfI’ve actually meant to try Cynthia Eden again.  Her Brava books didn’t work for me but maybe her RS from Forever will.  Need to mark that one as “Want to Read”.  The James “rec” is spot on.  Her Samhain series which is super popular has very marked dialect in that using the letter “h” is the basis for social ostracism.  However, I did read one of her NAL books and it was fairly good.  The dialect was toned down quite a bit.  Lacey Alexander is all over the place for me.  I liked her H.O.T. Cop book, but have disliked most previous publications.  The Dahl book had one of the most unlikeable heroines I’ve read in a long, long time.  It’s pretty interesting and I suspect I’ll be over at Goodreads doodling around and trying to make my recommendations work harder and better for me.

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Clark and I met on the Thursday before Labor Day, August 30, 2007. I don’t know exactly when we first said I love you, but the first email exchange containing the phrase, which he casually includes before signing off, is dated October 3 of that year.

So begins a piece posted over at good.is wherein the author recreates some precious moments from her gmail archive chronicling her romance with Clark and her loss of him.  The last line of the piece is terrible poignant.  I encourage you to read it.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

26 Comments

  1. Loosheesh
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 09:47:15

    Regarding the GR recommendations feature, my first thought when I saw the post’s DNF shelf image was why would anyone want recommendations based on their DNF shelf, lol. But you are right, this would be the books to stay away from.

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  2. Jan
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 10:19:05

    About the Goodreads feature, which I beta tested for a while. Some comments and tips.

    If you click on the cross in the shelf title bar, it brings you to the page where you can select shelves you want and don’t want recommendations for.

    The recommendation system is based on what books you rated highly, books other people rated highly that also rated your books highly, and books with similar metadata. Since the latter is still very incomplete and very much a work in progress, the engine is good at picking up romance subgenres, but not so good at picking up tropes.

    For instance, if you have a shelf called dark-tall-and-handsome-heroes, it will pick up that there’s a lot of historical romance in there, but not the particular thing you selected on.

    If you hover over the covers you can see on what books on your shelf the system is basing the recommendation, this can help a lot to see why it’s recommending something.

    (For instance, I have a shelf called Dutch, but there’s a few children’s books on there, so I get recommended a lot of children’s books from all over the world).

    It also only takes into account books that are shelved by enough people to compare data. I get a lot of Blaze recommendations from my category shelf, but unfortunately not all that many olf HP recommendations, even though I’ve shelved way more of those, simply because there isn’t enough data about those old HPs (in many cases I’m the only one that shelved them).

    Still, I’ve found a load of interesting books already, and it’s working better than I’d expected.

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  3. Amanda Jeanette
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 10:27:43

    Well, Jane, the thing is, my reaction to your version of Vogel’s response would’ve been “Oh yeah right, you so did it.” As would have been a lot of people’s. In this social media world, it can cost a lot more in lost sales to have bad PR on the prowl than it can in one-time legal fees.

    As it stands, I’m with you: the book’s probably needing a few PoV cuts, and the gay kid’s might very well have been really sexed up and not contributing to the plot. The authors also mention they’ll just pop in a lesbian kiss to spite the agents (which also makes me thing that the gay kid might have been running around being gay while the straight one ran around being actiony and straight). To stick in a little love scene like that and have it carry the action and characters forward and not feel patched on takes a lot of skill. Unless you are just slapping it on there. I suspect their writing is very unpolished and they have a lot to learn with craft. And with pointing fingers.

    They do seem wel-equipped to raise awareness. But I worry at the sensationalism of their posts and wonder if this isn’t something that’ll burn itself fast.


    Got to say I do love all the recommendation resources popping up every which way! Go, goodreads, go! (I am amused to note the picture comes from your “Did not finish” shelf, but am pleased that it apparently categorizies in this manner, making very personalized recommendations seem likely.)

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  4. Gretchen Galway
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 10:47:59

    FYI, about the PW reviews for digital-first titles: they require a 4-month in advance ARC. That’s a long time these days.

    ReplyReply

  5. Carin
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 11:22:28

    The Goodreads recommendations are really interesting! It makes me want to go through and add some more specific tags to see what I match up with. Thanks for the heads up on that.

    ReplyReply

  6. Rose Fox
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 11:57:44

    @Gretchen Galway: Three to four months, in an ideal universe. We review each book at least two months before its publication date, so that booksellers and librarians have time to consider the review when they make their purchasing decisions. We need time to sort, log, assign, and mail the book, have the reviewer write it (typical turnaround time is two weeks), and then edit, lay out, and proof the review before the issue goes to press (and we try to do that fairly far ahead of press time so our designers and editors only have to scramble for the news side of the magazine). Then the magazine has to be printed and shipped.

    Despite the long lead time, we still manage to review a great many books from small and indie presses, because they send us bound manuscripts from early in the editing process or delay publication in hopes that a good review will lead to increased orders. I hope the new digital galley system will further reduce the burden on those publishers, who often printed up galleys just for PW; now they can easily convert a manuscript into an e-book and not have to account for either the time it takes to mail a book to us or the time it takes for us to mail a book to a reviewer. I’m already getting e-galleys from small publishers I’ve never even heard of, so the system seems to be working pretty well even at the one-woman-shop level.

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  7. Lindsey
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 14:56:29

    I’m loving the new Recommendations feature on Goodreads. I haven’t played with it a lot yet, but I’ve already added one or two books to my wishlist based on what it’s spit out. Now, I just need to work at properly shelving all my books, and see what it does then…

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  8. DS
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 15:23:06

    I’ve read a few books by Sherwood Smith. She writes long (500-700 page) adult fantasy novels with lots of politics, multiple POV and nontraditional romantic relationships so that doesn’t sound too unusual for her. She’s also written some YA and I think even younger stories,but I haven’t read any of those.

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  9. Kathryn
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 15:48:52

    Thanks for Clark’s story link. I gotta go e-mail my husband now.

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  10. Kaetrin
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 22:37:01

    Just followed the link to Clark’s story. So sad. Now I have to explain why I’ve been crying to hubby…

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  11. Andrea
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 23:39:46

    @Amanda Jeanette: “I suspect their writing is very unpolished and they have a lot to learn with craft. And with pointing fingers.”

    I’m not familiar with the other author, but Sherwood Smith has been publishing for something in the order of 30 years. One thing I would not call her is unpolished.

    Nor did they appear to have pointed any fingers, given that they named no names, and that the agency foolishly outed themselves instead of responding to whatever rumours were out there “well, can’t be us, we didn’t ask for that”.

    There’s a nice run-down of the whole thing here: http://cleolinda.livejournal.com/993710.html#cutid1

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  12. Kira Brady
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 23:53:23

    I just told my CP this morning about how good I had been staying away from sad stuff on the internet, and then you had to post Clark’s story and, of course, I just had to go read it. Sniff!! I think I’ll stop clearing my inbox of my little inane exchanges with the hubs. So sad.

    As for Sherwood Smith, I hate internet drama, but I love her YA Crown Duel. Such a yummy romance!

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  13. sarah mayberry
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 02:25:05

    I am now sobbing like a big sooky la-la. Thanks for the link to Rebecca and Clark’s story. Very sad and human and touching. Being mortal sucks.

    ReplyReply

  14. Estara
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 10:53:21

    Let me just state that I am NOT unbiased in the Smith/Brown/NYLA case as I have conversed and followed the authors in question on their LJs for 7 years.

    You already pointed out in a very objective tone, I thought, what the problem with the agency rebuttal was as formulated.

    I would like to point out that the INITIAL post by the authors actually already called for the general rise in awareness of the problem of LGBT representation in ya books and only used the example of that book to have more of a real life impetus for the necessary discussion, which is why neither author, who had ruminated about how to formulate that post for a month (I do not need to believe this claim, I know that it is true because the LJ friends, of which I am one, were asked to contribute to various research questions – like the list of ya fantasy and sf with LGBT characters that were linked in the original post – much earlier than the post date itself) used the name of agency or agent in public (nor did they in any of the research posts).

    As you may realize even the rebuttal is not by the agent him/herself, but another agent of the agency at the blog of a former agent and current friend of that agent.

    Neither did name-call, and neither is in need of publicity by scandal, even though they are not best-selling authors as bestsellers are judged. They have readers on their LJ and discussions with 100s of comments even when no new book is available because they have thoughtful ideas and raise awareness of varying topics, not limited to books at that.

    Neither Rose Fox, who lent the original platform, nor John Scalzi nor Neil Gaiman or the Boing Boing blog would have lend their online influence to a case of sour grapes, I believe.

    I think this is a case of not very cleverly handled, attempted damage control.

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  15. Lit Fan
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 13:00:33

    Jane, you said, “Frankly the book sounds like a hot mess. 5 POVs? A teen who is an polyamorous relationship with two girls (isn’t that just playing the field?) It’s hardly a book that screams bestseller.”

    I’m not sure calling the book a hot mess is useful, since you haven’t actually read it. Good authors (please note Smith has been writing and publishing for thirty years!) could pull off five points of view.

    Also, the authors pointed out the industry hypocrisy in encouraging stories about boys who cheat, but an open polyamorous relationship is not okay. Why? And no, polyamory is not playing the field.

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  16. Cally B.
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 13:27:32

    I have to weigh in with some of the commentors in being a little disappointed with DA here. Smith has been doing books with qualities presented here as spelling doom for a book, and it seems like not a lot of looking into the subject was done before a little preemptive panning took place, which I think isn’t fair.

    Multiple POVs and polyamory does not a “hot mess” make. Particularly not for the kinds of books Smith writes which are complex, thought-provoking, and interesting.

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  17. Matt
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 15:12:49

    “I’m not sure calling the book a hot mess is useful, since you haven’t actually read it. Good authors (please note Smith has been writing and publishing for thirty years!) could pull off five points of view.”

    I wouldn’t cite thirty years in the business as a good qualification. If anything, the opposite is true. A lot of people wanted George R. R. Martin to stop writing after three books. Millions more wanted George Lucas to stop making movies in the early 80s.

    It said in the article that it sounds like a hot mess, not that it certainly was. Can’t I say the new Grisham book sounds boring after hearing the blurb? Do I have to read the whole thing before I can say that? Please don’t make me…

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  18. Rei
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 19:19:53

    “Frankly the book sounds like a hot mess. 5 POVs? A teen who is an polyamorous relationship with two girls (isn’t that just playing the field?) It’s hardly a book that screams bestseller.”

    I can see why you might be put off by 5 POVs – no matter how experienced the author, juggling like that sounds like it could be difficult reading – but I’m going to agree with Lit Fan that your brush-off of polyamory sounds a little problematic, Jane. “Playing the field” implies someone who’s dating two people at once and will decide to get serious with one of them later, which is absolutely not what polyamory is. And given that (as, again, Lit Fan said) books in which a guy does play the field were encouraged over books about committed relationships that happen to involve more than two people, the fact that you seem to be equating the two troubles me a little.

    The goodreads feature is interesting, though! Maybe I’ll take a look at joining; certainly having more things to read might disable my “compulsively download things to Kindle” switch for a while…

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  19. Matt
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 20:37:44

    Definition of polyamory:
    the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time.

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  20. Rei
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 21:23:22

    @Matt: …which…does not equal “playing the field”.

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  21. Rebecca
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 21:34:45

    Well, personally I wouldn’t want to read a polyamorous romance or a romance where a main character stays with someone who cheated on them – but that’s just my personal preference. I don’t think either storyline automatically means a book is badly written, it just means it’s not for me.

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  22. Matt
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 10:00:32

    Definition of “playing the field.” (urban dictionary)
    When a person dates numerous people but is in no serious relationships.

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  23. Rei
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 10:24:18

    @Matt: You’re making the mistake of assuming that a person who has multiple relationships is not in any serious ones. Polyamorous people are perfectly capable of having committed relationships; the fact that they might have more than one at a time doesn’t make that commitment any less.

    Therefore, polyamory =/= playing the field.

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  24. Matt
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 12:29:17

    @Rei: I wasn’t assuming anything. Hell, you could make the argument I’m supporting you. When I see disputes on the internet, I like to see claims backed up by links.

    I recognize the difference between polyamory and playing the field, though, to me, they’re two sides of the same coin, as anyone I’ve known who was playing the field ultimately aspired to be polyamorous (they just thought their girlfriends wouldn’t go for it).

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  25. Nonny
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 09:29:48

    @Matt

    Anecdata isn’t data. “Playing the field” is generally looked down upon by the poly community because it isn’t open and honest, and that’s a HUGE cornerstone of polyamory. As someone who is poly herself, I really take offense to the idea that cheating is “the other side” of the coin.

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  26. will shetterly
    Sep 21, 2011 @ 10:28:59

    It’s fascinating how people leap to extremes. The agents did not accuse the writers of lying. They said the writers wrong, which could mean they were merely mistaken. They also said they felt the writers were exploiting the situation, and given the commercial nature of publishing, it’s very true that the writers will benefit from the publicity. I forgive the agents for their tone–they felt betrayed by someone they had tried to help, and being declared the Homophobes of the Week will make any good person feel bad.

    I’m on the side of thinking the book is a mess, especially since another agency has publicly said they passed on it and didn’t even notice the queerness. Five POVs are hard to handle well, and the most experienced writers still try things that fail. That’s just part of being an artist.

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