Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bending the Landscape

From: Karina

Is there a fourth Bending the Landscape anthology simmering on the back burner?

Short answer: no. Longer answer: no, never again. Except, ach, that's a lie. I might do another anthology one day--in fact, I came pretty close a year or so ago--but it won't be BtL.

BtL is something I'm proud of, but the amount of money I got paid wasn't remotely commensurate with the work I did. Initially, the deal looked alright: White Wolf, a gaming and publishing company, would pay me and my co-editor, Stephen Pagel, a slightly-more-than-starveling rate for editing, plus they'd pay the writers individually, plus they'd handle all the legal stuff, the shipping, and so on. Also, Stephe was their Vice President of Sales & Marketing, so we wouldn't have to worry about getting attention. It was a sweet setup.

In 1997 the first volume, BtL: Fantasy, came out in hardcover to good reviews and pretty good sales. Then White Wolf decided it didn't want to be in the publishing business anymore. We were up that creek with no paddle. I approached an editor at HarperCollins but she said, "Oh, these anthologies are too good for us." Huh? (This happens a lot. Editors think it makes a rejection easier. It just makes me laugh, then makes me want to pound their face into a wall.) But then I found Overlook. Unfortunately, they weren't willing to pay much, so, to cover the amounts Stephe and I had promised the writers, we used our own money.

The books came out. They did pretty well, hardcover then trade paperback, but not spectacularly. Then everything started to go wrong.

My agreement with Stephe was that I did all the editing and he was supposed to do the marketing and money handling. (In Hollywood terms I was the creative and Stephe the suit.) Unfortunately, Stephe fell of the face of the earth for a while, became unavailable for communication with me or contributing writers. Many contributors never saw the (very, very small--enough for one, maybe two six-packs) royalty cheques and free copies due to them. And there was nothing I could do about it: Stephe moved and neglected to give me his address; he didn't respond to email; his phone was disconnected. He had all the paperwork, all the contact info. My hands were tied.

So I'm left feeling awful that writers who trusted me got shafted. Stephe didn't do it deliberately. He's just disorganised, and was ill, and his life and business (he left White Wolf and set up his own company, Meisha Merlin) imploded. And I was stupid to not keep tabs on everything related to a project with my name on the cover. It's a mistake I won't make again. But none of that matters. What matters is that some writers might reasonably think they got screwed. I wish I'd done better. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

If I had it do again, I'd do it differently. I'd be sole editor, sole responsible party, and I wouldn't separate the genres. Having said that, I'm proud of those books. I loved editing, loved helping writers realise their vision, love helping them lift a dense, shining story with a strong emotional throughline from a heaving word swamp. I think every single one of the sixty or so stories has touched someone. (It's astonishing to me how varied the reader response was: reader A adores story X and loathes story Z, reader B loveloveloves story Z and think X is a steaming pile. No accounting for taste.) In the end, that's the point. But no, no volume 4. Not ever.

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