Thursday, December 01, 2005

Who Needs "Rent" When You've Got Internet Drama?

Disclaimer#1: A few months ago, crime fiction author Sandra Scoppettone emailed me to tell me that my book (The Bitch Posse) was on her top ten list of recommended books. I was very flattered, wrote back and thanked her, checked out her site, and then pretty much went back to my normal life. I don't know her, haven't met her, don't know much about her, and haven't communicated with her since then, until the other day, when I left a comment on her blog.

However, over the last few days Sandra Scoppettone has been in the middle of a storm of controversy. The uproar has been so huge that I'm convinced that The Scoppettone Affair, as I'm calling it, will be the next big-budget musical extravaganza a la Rent.

Our tale began when the media blog Galleycat broke the news that Ballantine editor Joe Blades spent the day after Thanksgiving phoning his authors and informing them he was leaving the business. Galleycat columnist and crime blogger Sarah Weinman (Disclaimer #2: Sarah liked my book too, giving it a very nice review back when it came out) linked to Sandra Scoppettone's website as evidence of this fact, where Scoppettone wrote the following on her blog:
"The reason he was calling me was to tell me that he was leaving the publishing company. Not because he was moving on to a new job, but because he’d had it with the business. He said he hated to use the term burned out but that’s what he was. I was stunned. I told him I understood and I do. He worked too much and he wanted a life. He doesn’t know what he’ll do but whatever it is won’t be in publishing....

"What worries me is the new book, Too Darn Hot, which will be published in June. Even if a new contract hadn’t come my way, this editor would’ve still been on top of things and moved the book as much as possible. As the book is finished and there’s nothing for a new editor to do on it, it’ll lie there like a lox. Unless there’s a new contract and then it’ll be different. At the moment my book is an orphan....

"Not to insult anyone, but this editor is the last of a certain breed…a gentleman and a man of experience. I don’t know for sure, but I’d say he’s in his early fifties. He mentioned the possiblitity of one editor and I asked how old the person was. Twenty-nine.

"I know any editor is probably going to be younger than I, but twenty-nine? He/she could be even younger, not only at this publishing house but almost everywhere. I’m not saying an editor of that age has to be horrible, in fact I know that someone so young could be the best editor I’ve ever had. Still, it gives me pause."
My reaction (without having read any of the ensuing brouhaha... and what a brouhaha it has been!):

Being "orphaned," or having your editor leave the publishing house, is one of an author's worst nightmares. This situation Sandra Scoppettone and her fellow authors are in isn't fun. I know people who've been orphaned, and their books were never published. I found the entry troubling, mainly because something like this could easily happen to any author. I felt bad for the authors who are now chewing their nails down to their wrists as they wonder what will happen to their books. So I posted something along those lines in her comments section, then went back and read the other comments.

The first commenter on her blog was named Anon. Yes, we all know Anon. Responsible for many fine works of literature as well as most of those crappy Precious Moments-type email forwards. Anon is very prolific, and here, Anon plays a role in The Scoppettone Affair. Anon told Scoppettone:
"In one post or another, you've insulted the art department, the copyeditor, your own editor, and the company itself. You haven't restrained yourself to making specific substantive complaints, either, but have gone on to imply nasty things about intelligence, general competence, and so on.

"In other words, you've gone some distance towards making yourself look like what editors call a nightmare author, the kind of person who makes coming into work every day a burden rather than a pleasure."
In response, Scoppettone came out in full force:
"I've been published for many years and by many different publishers. Everyone knows I'm not a nightmare to work with.

"If there's any nightmare around it's anyone who leaves a comment anonymously.

"Get some guts and write something with your own name. Gee whiz...maybe you're from my current publishing house. I'm shaking."
OK, I'll discuss my reaction to this reply a bit later. But onto The Snark Twist:

Following Scoppettone's reply to Anon, Miss Snark stepped in. For those of you who don't know: A few months back, an anonymous blogger calling him/herself Miss Snark set up a blog offering his/her advice as a literary agent. While Miss Snark sounds like he/she knows a lot about the publishing business, no one can prove whether or not he/she really is an agent.

Disclaimer #3: I am a regular reader of the Snark blog. I can't keep up with all of the postings, but I've found quite a few of them interesting, useful, and entertaining. I've never emailed Miss Snark, and I do not know who he/she is.

While Miss Snark is convincing, anyone can pretend to be anyone else on the Internet. I've been fooled at another site by someone who claimed to be a literary agent and instead turned out to be... unbalanced, I think, is the nice way to put it.

Hey kids! Sorry to interrupt my nice outline of The Scoppettone Affair (lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber), but I've got Dick Cheney right here in my office and he's BEGGING me to let him have a second to blog at you.

{Dick writing now} Hey, it is SO kewl to be blogging! I always wanted to write that on the Internet: kewl! KEWL! KEWL! Oh and I want to write ppl too. Can I? ppl! PPL! PPL! Or even peeps... HEY YOU PEEPS! THIS IS SO KEWL! *pardon me* Anyway, the other night I was reading Martha's book, you know, just to cheer myself up a bit. And I gotta say-- it beats the pants off Lynne's. Lynne's features a Republican vice-president dying while having sex with his mistress, which offended me deeply. While Martha's novel has sex in it too, as well as other immoral behavior (which offended me deeply) at least no Republican vice-presidents were harmed in it. ROTLFLMAO! Can't wait for bookclub this weekend when George and I are discussing it. TTFN, peeps! Ooh, I <3> the Internet! Bye now!

{Me again} See how easy it is?

Anyway, here's what Miss Snark said:

"Please Sandra, shut up.

"You're not, and I mean really NOT, listening when the commenter to your blog said that people would read what you wrote and pay attention. I came to your blog from GalleyCat which has a gazillion readers. Check your site stats, I bet they went through the roof.

"I beg to point out that the new editor you're assigned will most likely be less than 30, in publishing for fewer than 10 years, probably five, and the FIRST thing s/he'll do is read your blog.

"Young energetic and excited editors are exactly who you want to be friends with. They're not burned out. They may lack experience, but you've got that in abundance and can be a resource. "You'll be lucky to get an editor now whose first impression of you isn't 'she's a whiner'.

"Yes, Joe Blades leaving is a melancholy day. But, it's not the end of the world. And in fact, some of those editors over there at Ballantine, whippersnappers though they are, are pretty damn good.

"Shut up and count your blessings."
Aside from the tone (in our house, saying "shut up" is as bad as calling someone a "loser" or other nasty words my kids aren't supposed to have ever heard), I don't think this Snark post really speaks to what Scoppettone posted. Scoppettone did NOT say a young editor would be terrible; in fact, she said it might be the best thing that could have happened to her. What she did say was that it "gave her pause." If you lost a great editor like Joe Blades, wouldn't his departure give you pause? I think her statement stems from the heartbreak of losing him. (I've heard his name often over the years... in fact, he was one of the many editors who rejected my unpublished mystery. So I sort of owe him a little piece of my career, since all that rejection freed me to write The Bitch Posse. And to spare you ANOTHER lengthy digression, I'll simply link my Backstory on MJ Rose's blog.)

The Snark commenters, most of them anyway, rallied around the Snark entry, chastising Scoppettone for her blog and for that entry in particular.

Anyway, here are the key questions, as I see them:

A) Did Scoppettone "overshare" by being so candid about her publishing process?

B) Has Scoppettone committed career suicide, as some have called it?

In my opinion: Nahhh. What she shares on her blog is more than I would share, but I'm pretty reserved. I like the intricacies of my publishing life to be private, so I usually share them with only my husband, best friend, critique circle, et cetera. But not all people are that way. And I DO share a bunch on my blog about our diabetes life (see yesterday's entry). That's because venting about it is cathartic to me, and because I think it might help people.

Hmmm, do you think that might be part of why Scoppettone blogs so candidly about her publishing life?

The difference, I guess, is that Type 1 Diabetes doesn't go around reading blogs and taking my words about It personally; It doesn't come back and post on my blog as Anon. No, Its powers are limited to turning our every waking minute upside down.

Back to The Scoppettone Affair.

Would I have replied to Anon in the same way? I don't get a lot of angry Anon commenters, so I'm not sure. I might take a walk and blow off a little steam first. Probably in the privacy of my shower, with my fingers stuck in my ears so I didn't destroy my own eardrums.

In real life, a heated verbal argument (or screaming to yourself with your fingers stuck in your ears) disappears into the air. One hour and two mugs of Chamomile tea later, everyone's tempers are sedated, you've talked things out, and it's all cool again. But on the Internet, words that you write stay put in Google's cache even if you've erased them. Emails are stuck in people's boxes until they delete them. People can't read the irony in your messages or posts some of the time. Stuff gets misunderstood, or blown out of proportion, as I think has happened in The Scoppettone Affair.

By the way, I learned this the hard way. Once I sent an angry email and two minutes later regretted it. But it was too late; I couldn't ever repair the damage that I'd done. For a long while I had a post-it stuck to my computer screen: THINK before hitting SEND.

So I would have probably replied with the first two sentences of what Scoppettone wrote, then taken a hot shower and banged my fist against the wall.

Did she have the right to post the rest of what she said? Of course. That's her choice, that's her style, and ya gotta admit--she got a lot of readers from it.

Did Sandra Scoppettone commit career suicide early this week? I doubt it. We are authors and we are emotional people. I have said and done some very embarrassing things in my time. Compared to them, The Scoppettone Affair is just so much Internet drama. Cut the gal some slack. She's just been orphaned. Her blog is funny. If you personally don't want to blog so openly, no one is making you. Lighten up. Read some Dilbert. Hug your kids. Jump in a puddle. It's just the Belgiuming Internet.

My incident? Oh, it could be QUITE a tangent... But, you'll just have to believe me that it was truly, truly awful, because the events are too embarrassing to recount. But here I am~my book got published. And at this point, my career is really an issue between me and that mass of first draft pages that are taunting me from the living room.

In the comments section of writer Lee Goldberg's blog, author David Montgomery writes:
"taking controversial stands as an author, whether on your blog or elsewhere, will cost you readers. The more controversial the issues and the more intensive your commentary, the more readers you'll lose.

"Ultimately, authors have to decide why they're in this business: do you want to be a commentator or do you want to sell books?"
Well, if that's the case, I'm guilty as charged. I will never shut up about stem cell research, and I will never shut up about finding a cure for diabetes. NEVER, until we've got one. If that loses me readers... well, maybe it also will gain me some, according to fellow commenter Keith Snyder:
"On the other hand, taking controversial stands may gain you readers, too. I like my artists opinionated."
Hey, c'mon over here for a visit, Keith! We've got PLENTY of opinions in this neck of the woods! :o)

The Scoppettone Affair is high drama from many corners... but no high crimes. I maintain that if Scoppettone has upset Joe Blades or her new editor, then that's between them. She's said that the incident is over in her mind, so she'll carry on blogging as before. I know I'll be reading, because I read her archives and they're damned funny. I'm hooked. Bottom line, Sandra Scoppettone has gotten a lot of free press thanks to this. Now she's on hundreds or even thousands of radar screens, where she wasn't before. They say there's no such thing as bad publicity.

In the end, I tend to agree with this blogger, who says: What on earth is everyone so angry about? A writer speaks her mind and very candidly shares her publishing journey with others? How dare she?

Anyway, I've decided that I need to think of some really provocative thing to say or do on this blog. The embarrassing story's out of the question... it's far too horrible to recount anywhere but in the therapist's office. Perhaps I should get my good friend Dick Cheney to pose for some nakey photos while he's here, and post them later today.

Nah, that'd probably just scare everyone away.