Monday, January 31, 2005

Scambusting with SFWA

This is PublishAmerica, proud "traditional publisher."

This is SFWA. Quoth John Scalzi "Don’t annoy science fiction writers. These are people who destroy entire planets before lunch. Think of what they’ll do to you." John Scalzi is wise.

This is what happens when SFWA decides to test the veracity of PublishAmerica's claim that
Each day, an average 78 new authors who are looking to find a book publishing company ask us [PA] to publish their book [***ED: do all 78 authors have one book among them or does each of the 78 have a book?***]. We review not only the quality but also the genre [***ED: How precisely do you review a genre?***] of their work. PublishAmerica specializes in books about, for, or by people who confront a challenge in life, and who are determined to overcome it, real or imagined, fiction or nonfiction [***ED: Do we mean that the people are real or imagined, or the situations. Suggest revising this sentence***]. Like all serious book publishing companies we have to be picky as we can only accept the works that meet our requirements in both areas.[***ED: Sorry about all the queries. I got confused.***]
This is Atlanta Nights, the appalling spawn of a posse of annoyed writers and a computer, under the pen name "Travis Tea", which was accepted by one Meg Phillips, Acquisitions Editor for PublishAmerica, who in her sublime editorial wisdom "decided to give 'Atlanta Nights' the chance it deserves." I'm not certain which passage decided Ms. Phillips to give Mr. Travis Tea a chance. Perhaps it was the following example of the book's incandescent prose styling:

The sun broke through the clouds then its brilliant golden disk burning a hole through the great puffs of water vapor to send a shaft of golden light zigzagging down through the layers of atmosphere and warm the earth in a way that no sunlight since the beginning of time had ever warmed the earth before. Somewhere a child was being born. Somewhere a dog was barking. Life was going on but in this one moment at this particular place in time and space. The two beautiful women, one twisting her hair into knots, the other sittings sideways, were not part of it. They were here only for each other and for the memory of a great man who had walked the earth like a rock in the sand. Life is like that sometimes, thought Margaret helplessly. Sometimes is just an interruption in the day and not a part of it. The trick is knowing when it's day and when it's night and the lightness or darkness has nothing to do with telling the difference between them. The death of a man like Henry Archer was definitely night even if it took place at noon. It was like an eclipse of the world. There must have been people even in distant primitive villages who had felt the moment he breathed his last. They must have looked up at the night sky or even the day sky and said, what was that, meaning him.

The above is but one example of the truly amazing writing. It chokes me right up.

So why would a buncha pros
want to expose a vanity publisher that claims to be a traditional publisher, many of whose authors are, at least according to its message boards, cultish fans of its programs? Why not let the poor deluded authors take what comfort they can from seeing their books in print?

James D. Macdonald puts it succinctly on Absolute Write:
PA is a vanity press that lies about itself, pretending to be a legitimate press.

Whatever business they're in, regardless of what they tell the people they've suckered, they aren't in the business of selling books to the general public. They're in the business of selling unedited slush, at full price, to their own authors.

Some folks get kind of upset when people get taken advantage of. Me, I'm glad folks like SFWA do.

Making Light

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Copyediting the Great American Novel

...But behind these horn-rimmed glasses, there's a woman dreaming big dreams. I won't be stuck standardizing verb tenses in business documents my whole life. One day, I will copyedit the Great American Novel.

Every editorial forum I frequent has posted the Onion Someday I Will Copyedit The Great American Novel. It's on the wall of the office. Approximately seven people forwarded the link to me.

Reactions among editors vary, but seem to fall into a few different categories:

Oh, yes, me too, please!
Most of us do not become editors in order to give the world better punctuated insurance textbooks and annual reports. Yes, we do have "clear eyes and an unquenchable thirst for syntactical truth," and apply them to any copy that comes our way, whether it be a bumper sticker with a misplaced apostrophe, a passive-laden government brief, or a throbbing romance-novel sex scene. But we did not learn the difference between a a restrictive and a non-restrictive appositive merely in order to render turgid financial writing grammatically correct. Nobody becomes enamoured of the written word because of the way a clearly written press released sucked them into a new world. And so, many young editors, identify with Ms. Cohen's desire, which creates a lot of competition among young editors.

Huh. Sadly, I doubt she's qualified.
Several of my more persnickety colleagues (and, in my profession, persnickety is a compliment, as is perfectionist) took a certain amount of satisfaction in pointing out the errors, overstatements, and Hobgoblins.
Duck Tape® is the brand name of the shiny, sticky, waterproof stuff, and was the original name; "duct tape" is a relatively modern overcorrection (or, in the words of a colleague "Apocope, my a**!"). It is not wrong to start a sentence with "but," doing so is merely frowned upon by overzealous Thistlebottoms. Likewise splitting infinitives. But for the lies to children told by schoolteachers, more people would recall that eminently respectable authors and editors have done so, and that renowned grammarians have cheerfully split their infinitives.

The great "that/which," "restrictive/non-" debate is a grammatical shibboleth, by which the editors of Daniel Webster's tribe know each other. In other, less florid words, it's a matter of style. Perfectly respectable editors ignore the distinction. Perfectly respectable grammarians insist that "that" is only to be as a demonstrative adjective or a subordinating conjunction, never to introduce any kind of appositive. Perfectly respectable editors consider illiterate anyone who fails to use "that" in a restrictive fashion, without parenthetical commas, and which non-restrictively, with parenthetical commas.

...and what's with the capitalized "The" in the title?

That's just plain heartwarming.
More inclusive than the tribe of Daniel Webster is the tribe of Those of Us for Whom Editing Is a Vocation (which needs a snappier name). We can't walk past abused apostrophes without wanting to put them where they belong. Misplaced modifiers distress us. We glory in an aptly applied subjunctive. It bugs us when someone spells "travelling" with two "l"s but "jeweler" with one. And when we encounter a fellow tribe member marking up the flyer for the new take-out restaurant, which proclaims Pizza's and Drinks, or correcting the notice beside the elevator that says "Use stairs too get to 2nd floor," we can smile at them, and know that here is someone who understands.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Why Are So Few People Talking About This?

Seeing this, over on Language Hat, and realizing that nobody else was blogging it inspired this weblog.

From the New York Times:

Pearson Education, the publishing company that owns the copyright to the Dick and Jane reading primers, has filed a lawsuit against a division of Time Warner in Federal District Court in Los Angeles claiming that the book "Yiddish With Dick and Jane" violates Pearson's copyrights and trademarks for the familiar characters.
So here's the thing:

  1. Pearson gave permission for the copyright and trademarked material to be used.
  2. Yiddish with Dick and Jane is a parody, which can't exist without referring to the material it's poking fun at.
Getting Permission
As I understand it, if an author or a publisher wants to use copyright material the author or publisher (usually the author) contacts the body holding the rights to the copyright material, and requests permission to use the material. Several things can then happen:

1) The rightsholder says "yes," "sure!" "of course," "go right ahead," or otherwise gives consent
The author/publisher makes certain to get this in writing, and goes ahead and uses the material, scrupulously observing the rightsholder's stipulations regarding how they work may be used. If the publisher is polite, and if the schedules allow (which doesn't often happen), they let the rightsholder see the work before it goes to press.

2) The rightsholder says "no," "no way!" or otherwise does not consent
The author/publisher sighs, and finds something else to use, or cuts the quoted material so that they're allowed to use it under Fair Use, or paraphrases.

3) The rightsholder says "Yes, for a fee."
The author/publisher dickers about the price and either pays it, or sighs and move onto one of the options for "no."

4) The righsholder says "Yes, but only if you...."
The rightsholder and the would-be user negotiate the various provisions governing how the user can use the material. They write these down and agree to them. For instance, if you buy the rights to an image from a museum, the museum generally stipulates that you can't alter the image at all—no cropping, no re-sizing, no photoshopping amusing hats onto the Mona Lisa.

The authors of Yiddish with Dick and Jane seem to have encountered case #4. The stipulation was that the book should bear a prominent notice that it is a parody, to forstall any assumptions that it might be an official Dick and Jane publication. Just in case, y'know? So the book is covered with Parody notices, on the spine, the cover, and I believe, in the opening pages. The promotional video opens with "Warning! Parody!" So there can be very little confusion on that point.

Under the Fair Use provisions of Copyright law, parody is protected—a creator can make use of somebody else's original material in order to create a parody of that material, since, as I mentioned above, if you don't refer to the original material, nobody's going to get your parody.

Defining Parody
Pearson (or its lawyer) claims that Yiddish with Dick and Jane can't be a parody "
because it does not use the copyrighted characters 'for the purpose of social criticism.'"


By that definition, Weird Al Yankovic's entire career (except maybe the polkas) has violated the provisions of Fair Use. Or maybe I failed to notice the underlying social commentary in "I Love Rocky Road."

A parody exists when one imitates a serious piece of work, such as literature, music or artwork, for a humorous or satirical effect." (Parody: Fair Use or Copyright Infringement, Lloyd L. Rich, 1999)

This is the more traditional characterisation of parody. Note the conspicuous absence of any need for social relevance.

More than Weird Al's status as a parodist is at risk here. Re-defining parody, or narrowing the defintion of parody, essentially sheathes one of the humorist's weapons, and narrows the range of creative expression.

Another Voice in the Chorus

Eventually we'll figure out how to get a blogroll up. In the meanwhile, Over on Niel Gaimain's blog, Teresa Nielsen Hayden answers queries concerning agents from Niel Gaiman's mailbag, and in the process compiles a pretty comprehensive directory of useful information about publishing on the web. Over on her own weblog, Teresa expands her answer, and bewails the overwhelming amout of truly bad advice on getting published.

Let me add my voice to the chorus singing "If Teresa Nielsen Hayden writes The Oppressively Real Guide to Writing and Publishing, I will buy it. I will advise all my friends, colleagues, and anyone who asks me for advice to buy it." I learned more about publishing from Making Light, Teresa's blog, than I did from Publishing 101. Really. I could have saved my tuition and my Thursday evenings.

Hyphenating Like Bunnies

What better for TCI's inaugural post than an inside look at copy editing for skin mags? Via—you need to subscribe or click through their lame ad. to read the article, but for those of us whose editorial quandaries are more pedestrian in nature, Is "Doggie Style" Hyphenated? deals with problems that sound both astonishingly familiar and weirder than we usually get:

[Orgies] were the equivalent of sweatshop labor. I had to draw diagrams to keep the positions straight (Peg's on the left, Roger's on his knees, but where'd Yvonne go? Quick, call 911! How'd we lose Yvonne?).
Also, hyphenation, (
"is 'dream cock' hyphenated?") the quirks of "acceptability," (for the Canadian market no anal; in general no fluids in anyone's hair), and the more usual copy-editorial excising of unnecessary commas.

Mind you, the fees were way compensatory. Not many freelance editorial gigs pay $150/hr.