Nice Doesn’t Pay the Bills

Yesterday afternoon, I saw a post at Writer Beware about one of my favorite websites, The Toast. The post was about a section of their contract in which they asserted rights to contributors’ copyrights.

I trust the people at Writer Beware, so when they say something is an unacceptable rights grab, I believe them.  I’m not the only person who did.

A few hours later, the issue was resolved–everyone’s happy, right?  Well, I’m not.

I’m unhappy that Nick Pavich, publisher of The Toast, was dismissive when these concerns were raised last night and then proceeded to be grossly sexist.  He did apologize. To me, it felt less than sincere.

pavich

Dream journal? Kittens?  Really?

This is the moment when I point out that Nick Pavich is an attorney. Presumably, he knows his way around a contract or would know someone who would and would be willing to give him a friends-and-family rate on the billing in order to, I don’t know, write a contract that wasn’t capitalizing on people’s lack of knowledge about publishing (especially since the artists’ contract wasn’t so awful)? I don’t give a flying fuck if sites like xoJane and Gawker use similar contracts with their freelancers; The Toast’s public position has been that they are, in some ineffable way, different–nay, better–than those sites.

Jacqui Shine says it much better than I could:

Or, more succinctly: exposure kills.

The Toast–and its parent company, Manderley LLC–are in this to make money.  That is something they’ve been open about since day one–the fact that a community has sprung up in their comments is wholly incidental to their stated purpose.  They run advertising and sponsored posts–what this means is that the audience is the product. They aren’t running the site and acquiring content out of the goodness of their hearts or because they want to be nice. They have found an audience that isn’t being served and they’re using that to create revenue.

And speaking of the advertising–it’s terrifically intrusive.  Five ads above the fold, four of which are animated in some way and one of which, if hovered over for too long, opens a content-obscuring box and starts talking to me about the deals at my local Chevrolet dealer.

I am, of course, not saying that they shouldn’t have advertising or that they shouldn’t make money. But my local newspaper manages to have ads that are less obnoxious than this. And my local newspaper is in this to make as much money for their corporate overlords as possible.

Also: I do generally love The Toast. I link to them quite frequently and I remember when they were just a wee little site that could. I’m happy they’re successful. They’ve been on my list of places to pitch (if I ever get around to firming up some of my ideas). I also believe that Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe are doing the best they can. They seem to be genuinely nice human beings.

But that’s the thing–it actually doesn’t matter if they’re nice. Nice doesn’t pay the bills. It doesn’t matter how nice they are if their contracts are (were) written like that. Nice is not an excuse or a reason.  It is completely orthogonal to the issue at hand. (Also: so is being new to publishing writers and paying them–again: Pavich is an attorney. He has the resources to set up an LLC and handle the business end of things, he has the resources to create a standard contract that doesn’t suck.)

Again: The Toast is a for-profit business. If you’re writing for them, you are providing them a service for which you should be compensated. Part of that is a fair contract. Many of the people writing for The Toast are not professional writers and they don’t know what a fair contract should look like–this is why sites like Writer Beware exist (the comment at The Toast calling Victoria Strauss’s post “a poisonous little blog post” made me see red; this comment may be directed at Scalzi’s blog, but it seems likelier to me that it’s directed at Writer Beware as this is what got this party started).

I am pretty sure that The Toast is doing fairly well financially–after all, they were profitable a mere 9 months after they came into existence (you can actually see their traffic analysis here; their monthly unique visitors have essentially trebled since that article was published in April).  And it’s not like they’re paying their contributors a whole heck of a lot, either.

And yet: there are clearly members of the commentariat who see this nominal payment as a lagniappe for the exposure. Who feel that even though the contract was flawed, that The Toast would never be so crass as to actually enforce those terms because they hadn’t in the past and because Pavich can pull a handful of examples out of his hat where he didn’t enforce them.  Writers shouldn’t have to rely on a business’s goodwill and niceness to be treated fairly.

The Toast is a financial asset. And do you know what happens to financial assets sometimes? They get sold. And when they get sold, all bets are off. Just ask the writers who had contracts with Night Shade Books. Or Dorchester.

Changes: Pretty Terrible

You may have noticed an address change: Pretty Terrible.

Increasingly, the Radish Reviews domain name hadn’t been working for me–lots of reasons, but mainly because I didn’t feel comfortable using the site for content that wasn’t at least kinda sorta related to genre books and issues. Like most people, I have a lot more going on in my life: I watch a fair bit of television and I have an ongoing fascination with various activities involving wool, spinning wheels, and knitting needles. Not to mention my attempts at visual art (anyone who follows me on Twitter or Instagram is likely well aware of the visual art thing #sorrynotsorry).

Why “Pretty Terrible”? I’d been trying to think of a new domain for quite some time and last week I drew this:

Pretty Terrible ATC

pretty terrible inspiration

I wasn’t very happy with it–there’s an imprecise blobbiness to the line work I dislike and the combination of watercolors I decided to use to fill in the background really didn’t work, either. I wrote on the back of it, “pretty terrible”. And said to myself, “Hey, wait a minute.” So I went off to see if the domain was available and lo, it was. And now it’s mine.

I will say that I’m incredibly happy with how the painting I made for the header image turned out.  It came together fairly randomly and built on some of what I’ve been doodling over the last couple of weeks. I generally work on artist trading cards (ATCs), which are pretty small. I usually start with ink and then fill in with paint or, more recently, marker.  This painting is a bit larger at 4″ x 6″ but still not tremendously large. I started with watercolor for the background, then drew the thingamabob with ink and then colored it in with watercolor pencils. The problem with having so many art supplies around is that I tend to want to use them all. Which is not always a great idea.

I am particularly obsessed with bright colors. Although my scanner seems to make them even brighter than they actually are–and as I don’t know diddly about color correction, that’s going to be interesting until I figure it out.

Pretty Terrible

Pretty Terrible

greencircles persevere

This is where I want to say something philosophical, but I don’t have anything. I just wanted a change and an opportunity to widen my scope and here we are.

On Anger and Community

Just a handful of links today because I feel like I have things I want to say about them. They are both quite long but very much worth reading in their entirety.

I’ve been thinking about what these articles are saying a lot. A lot a lot. A lot.

And then I read my friend Melissa’s post about Jian Ghomeshi which describes a whisper network (among many other things). And I thought about my own post about whisper networks.

Yesterday I tweeted about whisper networks and how they serve a necessary purpose but they are, by their nature, fundamentally flawed. One of their flaws is that they help keep abuse confined to the shadows and the corners. They can, in some ways, serve to further isolate people already vulnerable to abuse.  I don’t know how to fix this. I don’t know if it can be fixed.

I would like to see community action come from these networks–a chorus of voices is stronger and louder than just a single voice. But even that comes with risks.

I have spent a lot of time the last two years angry.

I’m tired of being angry. If I keep on being angry, I’ll be no use to anyone–not myself, not my family, not my community.

This isn’t any sort of high-minded pledge that I’ll never be angry again. That would be foolish. But it is, perhaps, a reminder to myself to remember that anger is a tool. It’s a tool best wielded carefully and with precision.

banner-always angry

Capclave 2014 Schedule

capclave-dodo

Hey so this weekend is Capclave. This is this closest thing I have to a home convention, so I’m pretty excited to be on programming there this year.  It’ll be a fun time.

Here’s my schedule (subject to change, but it’s been this for the last couple of weeks, so I think it’s good):

Friday 8:00 pm: No Means No
Panelists: Inge Heyer, Natalie Luhrs, Emmie Mears, Jon Skovron, Jean Marie Ward (M)
There is a great disturbance in science fiction and fantasy. As fans and writers you have the right to expect respect.

Saturday 5:00 pm: I Hate His/Her Politics But I Love His/Her Books
Panelists: Day Al-Mohamed, Paolo Bacigalupi, David G. Hartwell, Larry Hodges, Natalie Luhrs, Sunny Moraine (M)
Should a personal evaluation of an author be separated from how you view his/her politics? Many people refused to see the movie Ender’s Game because of Orson Scott Card’s statements on homosexuality and other writers charge that political views influence award nominations and who is picked for con programming. Is this true and if so, is it a good thing or a bad thing?

Saturday 6:00 pm: The Suck Fairy and Feet of Clay
Panelists: Barbara Krasnoff (M), Natalie Luhrs, James Maxey, Sunny Moraine
What do you do when you reread your beloved childhood classics and find they have been visited by the suck fairy and are now sexist, racist, etc? What do you do when you find out that that author that got you through junior high turns out to have giant size 30 clod-hopping feet of clay or was actually kind of evil? How do we deal with problematic works and authors?

Sunday 11:00 am: Romance and SF/F
Panelists: Victoria Janssen (M), Pamela K. Kinney, Natalie Luhrs, Sunny Moraine
A significant number of science fiction and fantasy books are reviewed in publications such as Romance Times and nominated for awards in the romance genre. Were the genre line distinctions always artificial? What are romance readers’ expectations with respect to the plot and its resolution? HEA vs. the tragic romance. Is romance handled better or worse in YA SF/F? Are certain types of romance plots (such as first love) more likely to show up in YA?

Sunday 3:00 pm: Reviews vs Literary Criticism
Panelists: D. Douglas Fratz, David G. Hartwell, Natalie Luhrs, Darrell Schweitzer, Gayle Surrette (M)
There are many different levels of reviewing. Publications such as Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times typically want only a couple hundred words, in SFRevu 500-1000 words is pretty standard, and the New York Review of Science Fiction publishes 3000+ word reviews. There are reviews that exist primarily to give readers a general idea as to whether they want to buy the newly published book without spoiling the book, and there are longer more academically oriented reviews which attempt to engage with the novel in a broader context to put the book in its place within the genre and which generally assume the reader of the review has already read the book. Do you write the review from the head or from the heart? How much of the plot should you discuss?

As always–if I’m in the public space of the convention hotel, that means I’m willing and happy to chat with people as I can. If I’m feeling anti-social, I’ll be in my room. Alone.

I Don’t Know Who Was In My Room

This is a post about a con, but it’s more than that. It’s about agency and decision-making, and things that happen sometimes, which means it’s about life in general, and conventions in general.

I’ve been trying to write about this year’s Readercon for a while now and have been running into a wall.

For the most part, Readercon was wonderful. I flew for the first time in years and it was a better than expected experience. I saw old friends and met new ones and went to great panels and I think I was pretty okay on my panels, too. There was good food and drink consumed and there was swimming and there was the butt panel which was the best thing, I hadn’t laughed so hard in such a long time.

But this other thing also happened, see. This thing which has ended up overshadowing the entire convention for me and I have been upset and sad about it ever since. And I’ve been wrestling with whether or not I should write about it publicly. If it’s worth it.

The conclusion that I came to is yes: I need to talk about this, in public, so I can move on.

Here’s the summary: A party was held in my hotel room without my consent.

I know, I know. How does that even happen?

Well, how it happens is that you talk in public about having a small makeup party with a couple of friends–one of whom is sharing your hotel room–on Twitter and an acquaintance invites herself (screencap) and then gets really pushy about making it happen once the convention starts.

Then when it does happen, it turns out that you leave to spend time with another friend and when you come back a few hours later your room is empty but it’s obvious a whole bunch of people had been in there, because there are used glasses, food, and discarded clothing scattered about the room. More than could be generated by the three people who were in the room when I left and the only people I expected to be in the room while I was absent.

A room, that while on the party floor, was not ever intended to have a party in it. For look: my dirty laundry was piled on my suitcase. My pajamas were on the bed. My jewelry box and laptop computer were on the desk, unsecured. I am so lucky that none of those items went missing.

I don’t know who was in my room.

But surely, my roommate must have consented to this, right? Not explicitly. And the thing is this: I was the person paying the hotel for the room. My credit card was the one on file and if there had been damages to the room, I would have been the person on the hook. Not my roommate. Not the person who decided to invite a whole bunch of people into our room.

The absence of no is not yes.

I asked my roommate what happened the following morning. And they told me that there was a knock on the door, the acquaintance — Shira Lipkin — opened it, asked if the people knocking could come in–my roommate assented, not knowing how many people there were–and then apparently there was a crowd of people in the room. There is tremendous pressure on us in social situations to go along to get along and there’s a scale issue at play here.

Many people who engage in predatory behavior claim to be socially awkward or otherwise vulnerable while, at the same time, they exploit these social pressures to gain advantage. They test boundaries and every time they successfully violate one, they push further.

This is what Shira did by inviting herself to a private gathering and then pressuring both me and my roommate to make sure that the private gathering happened.

I know that people had a good time–I’ve talked to a few people who were in attendance, enough to know that a good time was had. And I feel terrible about taking that away from them. However, their good time was had without my knowledge in my room.

I’ve been blaming myself for this, as well–if only I’d had a discussion with my roommate about private space staying private, if only I’d said no to Shira when she invited herself, if only I hadn’t gone off to spend time with another friend, if only I had come back to the room earlier…

But ultimately, Shira did this. She is the one who made the decisions that lead to a party happening in my room–not me and not my roommate.

The absence of no is not yes.

I want to emphasize, again, that explicit consent for a party in room 620 was not received from either of the people who were actually staying in that room from the person who chose to “shift an entire party” (screencap) from its originating room.

Where do you draw the line? How many random people are okay to invite over to someone else’s room?  If it were just two or three people, I wouldn’t be writing this post and I wouldn’t have filed a report. I would have chalked it up as a learning experience and left it.

But I’ve been told that the door was propped open and that Shira was in the halls inviting people to come get their makeup done and generally behaving as if it were her party. So this was not a private party out of control: my room was turned into a public space.

Additionally, there was alcohol brought to the room (screencap)–which added another level of potential liability to the situation.

And I don’t know who was in my room.

Sunday afternoon and evening, I started looking at social media and became more upset. Shira wrote about the party as if it took place in her room (screencap). There were tweets about shifting an entire other party into the “sparkle party room”–a party of military SF writers that she either convinced (screencap) or pressured (screencap) into having their makeup done.

I was–and am–upset by what happened. After discussing this with trusted friends, I decided to file a formal complaint with Readercon’s Safety Committee.  I feel very comfortable with the process so far and I expect and hope that the main outcome will be clarification that their code of conduct applies to room parties as well as to the convention itself.

I have asked is that I not be put on programming with her in the future–should I be on future programming at Readercon, never a guarantee–and I am willing to take responsibility for this during program sign-ups.  This is also something I will take responsibility for at all conventions where we will both be on programming (such as at Capclave next week).

But as I implied at the start of this post, getting to this point has been a process.

Folks reading this may be tempted to cast some blame on my roommate: I want to make it very clear that I do not. They didn’t invite themselves to a private gathering. They didn’t invite a significant number of people into the room. They were placed in a position where, if it had occurred to them to ask people to leave–after being invited so authoritatively by Shira–they had no idea how people would react. As far as I am concerned, Shira trampled everyone’s boundaries here–including those of the people she invited to the party.

I chose to make a report to Readercon’s Safety Committee and make this public because of that boundary violation. Personal space is not just one’s current physical presence. It is also where one lives, even if it is just a hotel room for a weekend. Shira invited herself into a space she was not entitled to and claimed it as her own.

We’re learning to recognize and speak out against about people invading someone’s immediate personal space with unwanted touching or attention in public areas. We need to be equally aware that private physical spaces should be protected as well.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is this: responsible adults know to get permission before throwing parties in other peoples’ rooms. Shira Lipkin didn’t.

And I still don’t know who was in my room.