01 August 2018

I Don't Think It Means What You Think It Does

Two seemingly unrelated items from widely — or maybe not so widely — separated areas of public discourse reveal something rather discouraging about "honesty" in public discourse.

The one that most people probably know about is Faceplant's takedown of a few pages for "coordinated[] inauthentic behavior" — that is, that they're fronts for unlawful, unethical, and/or excessively sleazy behavior (beyond even the standards of Faceplant). Leaving aside for the moment that this never would have happened if Faceplant weren't already under scrutiny from multiple directions for election-related deception, it's fascinating that Faceplant's own business model falls equally well inside the phrase "coordinated[] inauthentic behavior." I've seldom encountered self-aggrandizing marketing-speak that scores an own goal quite so readily outside of breakfast in Paradise Lost — not even during the Cold War; unfortunately, Faceplant keeps the scoreboard secret.

Somewhat more obscure — actually, a helluva lot more obscure, but bear with me for a moment — there's an item at PW that is at least as disingenuous regarding what's really going on. A children's book editor and author with an ironically appropriate name shares "truths" that editors want authors to know and vice versa but without getting anywhere near the critical truths most central to author-editor miscommunication. Absent from Ms Sales's list are:

  • Author, you should understand that almost nothing that I say as an editor that isn't a text correction — and even many of those — is actually my decision. I'm not just talking about lawyers getting concerned about libel or copyright infringement, either! In particular, when we're negotiating the contract I have virtually no control whatsoever, and not much more than that when dealing with things that the publishing industry says fall outside of editorial… including the title under which your work will actually be published. If I say "we," I usually mean "don't shoot the messenger, it wasn't me."
  • Editor, you should understand that I don't know enough about the other things you're doing — individually, as a department or imprint, as a company as a whole, as a subindustry — to intelligently participate in problem-solving that's not directly related to the text of the manuscript as I submitted it. (And that's assuming that I'm neither a savant whose skills are limited to the writing itself nor an artiste who just can't be bothered.) Some of this is your own damned fault, since publishing operates inside a culture of secrecy and even senior editors are often firewalled away from significant things that matter to authors, like bad-faith self-dealing to depress royalties and how reserves against returns are actually set. But you don't communicate enough with me, or with enough relevant information to actually participate in a conversation until after the train wreck is inevitable. And I don't like being blamed for the train wreck; it's going to come back to bite you next time in an unpredictable way that will hurt both of us.

Those are just two exceptionally obvious examples. Ms Sales's list includes some helpful information, but it's deceptive by omission.

My real point here is simple: Trying to change the nature of a problem to please other masters — investors as to Faceplant, the rest of the company as to editors — just leads to more problems.