All boycotts are not created equal

The DSP kerfuffle, which in part led to a decision at DA to stop reviewing their books, has resulted, among other things, in me being called an idiot. Fair enough. I call people idiots for doing things I think are stupid on occasion. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

But I do want to correct one point that has recurred across a number of blogs and comments written by supporters of DSP. At no time have I encouraged, asked, or even implied that other reviewers, much less readers, should follow our lead. When Sarah and I took this decision, we did it for reasons we’ve articulated more than once in the Thread That Will Not Die.

I research and write about collective action, which includes the study of boycotts, strikes, and social movements. I’ve studied some large, successful efforts, and and the world is full of other major and minor examples. Something as innocuous sounding as “boycott grapes” can help force changes in conditions for farm workers. The Komen Foundation backtracked. Rush Limbaugh kind of but not really apologized.

But in my research I’ve run across a lot of failed boycotts as well. The ideals were just as strongly held, people did their best, but they didn’t result in change. The causes are just as noble, the people are just as committed. But for a variety of reasons, they weren’t successful.

I don’t boycott companies very often. When I do, it’s not because I think my participation will bring about a change I desire (in technical terms, I have no expectation of being a pivotal participant). Rather, it’s usually because it’s the only thing left that I can think to do, and it makes it easier for me to live with myself. For example, theHusband and I boycotted the biggest grocery store chain in our metro area for eight years because they wouldn’t allow LGBT literature in their store. It was inconvenient, and it meant we didn’t have access to certain kinds of fresh food, as well as some products we really loved. We didn’t try to persuade anyone else to boycott, although we explained why we didn’t go there if asked. It was just something we did because it made us feel better. In that sense, it was a selfish act.

When authors whose work I’ve enjoyed express anger or resentment at DA’s DSP decision, I’m sorry for it, but it doesn’t surprise me. Authors make decisions about where to publish for their own strategic career reasons (or at least I hope they do). Their interests are often quite different from mine as a reviewer. When it comes to reviews, especially reviews at a widely read blog like Dear Author, any publicity is good publicity. Bad publicity sells books too. So even if we decided that we would harshly criticize books with zero content editing, books that are barely-disguised fan fiction but don’t give credit to their inspiration, or books that never should have been published, the mere act of reviewing them is going to bring them to the attention of readers who may go ahead and buy the book, just to see the problems for themselves. Or, reviews being the opinion pieces that they are, readers will decide that hey, that book sounds great! The reviewer doesn’t know what she’s talking about! And we’ve sold another book.

If DA’s review decision leads to changes in DSP’s policies, I would be thrilled. But if it doesn’t, and they continue to be a major player in m/m romance, I won’t be at all surprised.

My rationale for the boycott is pretty simple: I don’t want to help DSP sell bad books. In order to do that, I have to refrain from reviewing books that are bad, but also books that are really good. That makes me unhappy. But I knew that was the downside going in. And I completely understand why many readers will continue to buy DSP books, hoping for that unpolished diamond among the many lumps of coal. I’ll just find my diamonds elsewhere.

About these ads

15 thoughts on “All boycotts are not created equal

  1. Can I be an idiot too?

    I mean if the definition of smart people is a bunch of… insecure writers who may or may not have any talent but they sure have no editing… on a rampage then I want a lobotomy NOW!

    • Oh, there’s plenty of room on the Idiot Bench! Or, as I like to think of it, the Godwin’s Law Sectional.

      Some authors have been really nice about it. I expected some blowback, but I was a little surprised by who delivered it in some cases. Luckily for me, most of the people who think I’m an idiot/misguided/evil aren’t people I read anyway, so I either shrug my shoulders or go look them up and then shrug my shoulders.

  2. I have no problem with your decision to boycott, but is Dreamspinner any worse than Torquere or Silver? I’ve bought some appallingly bad crap from those publishers, too.

    • Nope, they’re not worse. At least they’re not worse than Torquere. I haven’t gotten past the blurbs for any Silver books, so I can’t speak to their quality. Silver is doing a bang-up job of mimicking DSP’s marketing/cover strategy, from what I can tell.

      I have read a few Torquere books; the fanfic repurposing still had the seams showing in one I read, and in others the editing was pretty bad. I have one standout Keeper from Torquere, and that’s Bad Case of Loving You by Laney Cairo. I love that book.

      [ETA: I have a de facto boycott of Torquere, in that I pretty much ignore any book that they put out, even if it looks interesting, because I've been burned enough by them. But it's not policy. That takes something egregious or a pile-up of significant proportions. Which is what happened in the DSP case for us.]

      • I have a similar Torquere boycott, both because I find the quality really lacking and because the overwhelming majority of their output is short stories, and I prefer longer length, so the signal-to-noise ratio is too bad to be worth my time.

        Silver is where I go for some of my guilty pleasure reads by authors who tell entertaining stories but are basically bad writers. And no matter what Silver’s website says about offering editorial services, I can see no way that some of those works could have passed a professional submissions process. I suspect they take darned near anything, run a spell check on it, and put it up for sale.

    • They are not even in the same realm as Loose ID or Samhain Publishing or even close to Liquid Silver or Amber Quill Press there are tons of top notch ePublishers who all publish Gay Romance.

      I mean Elloras Cave has better editing than Dreamspinner gives their books and that is sad.

  3. I’m not against this boycott, but I’m not sure what outcome you’re looking for. Better editing, no more fan fiction, titles being pulled, something else? My understanding is that DSP responded to the plagiarism accusations and will remove Klune’s book if the Shelter director (screenwriter?) requests it. Is there something else they should do, like make a formal statement about their standards and editing process? I’m just wondering how DSP could make things right, and why other presses with bad editing/copyright issues aren’t included in the boycott.

    • Good question, Jill. Better development and context editing certainly, and some kind of attribution for work that had an earlier life as fan fiction. Readers get angry when they find out a supposedly “new” book is a reworking of an author’s older one if they’re not told in advance; why is this different? Even leaving apart the infringement etc. issues. As for DSP’s decision to put the onus on Markowitz, I think that was quite unfair. If he does believe there are “substantial similarities” he has to essentially be willing to bet on that position in a court case. Why should he do that to himself? Why stir up a hornet’s nest and incur lawyer fees for a movie you barely got back from the bankrupt producer/distributors anyway? Why risk alienating the exact demographic that is the target audience for your DVD? This is a risky, thankless task for him if he does think there are egregious similarities, and if he doesn’t, why is it his job, as publicly announced by DSP, to clear their name? As for why DSP and not others, I’ll only speak for myself: it’s the combination of events.

      • My take was that DSP didn’t think the similarities were substantial, but they are willing to leave it up to Markowitz. If he wishes for the book to be pulled it will be. I don’t see this as a burden placed on him or an automatic court case. I think DSP was trying to be fair and courteous.

        Whose job is it to clear Klune’s name? I don’t know how these things are done legally. If DSP hired an objective third party, would those results be taken seriously?
        It seems to me that opinions are split on the origins of the story and I’m wondering what precedence this sets for future scandals. My hope is that accusations are investigated in a satisfactory manner, not that books will be removed to avoid controversy and outrage even if no wrongdoing has been proven.

        [I stupidly put my reply in Jill's original post. I think I've returned it to its original condition. Many apologies, Jill! ~ VM]

        • My take was that DSP didn’t think the similarities were substantial, but they are willing to leave it up to Markowitz. If he wishes for the book to be pulled it will be. I don’t see this as a burden placed on him or an automatic court case. I think DSP was trying to be fair and courteous.

          Of course it’s not an automatic court case, but this is a for-profit business not a circle of friends. The words “significant similarity” and “substantial similarity” are key. That is the standard set in legal cases. But they are determined on a case-by-case basis, in individual court decisions. It’s difficult to predict in advance, especially across media, what will qualify. I definitely see this as a burden on Markowitz, i.e., to assert that this does not meet that threshold. Two-thirds of their memo is their defense of how it doesn’t.

          Whose job is it to clear Klune’s name? I don’t know how these things are done legally. If DSP hired an objective third party, would those results be taken seriously?

          It’s DSP’s job. Not Markowitz’s. They can consult Markowitz, but putting him out there without his permission strikes me as totally unfair.

          It seems to me that opinions are split on the origins of the story and I’m wondering what precedence this sets for future scandals. My hope is that accusations are investigated in a satisfactory manner, not that books will be removed to avoid controversy and outrage even if no wrongdoing has been proven.

          I do not believe that I have ever argued for pulling the book. In my last post I argued that attribution and citation is important. I still think that.

          • I agree that it’s DSP’s job to investigate the matter, and they’ve done so, just not to everyone’s (anyone’s?) satisfaction. Contacting the Shelter guy seemed like a good faith measure to me.

            No, I didn’t think you said they should pull the book. But I would expect them to if they were convinced of the author’s dishonesty.

            Really, I have no issue with boycotting a press for publishing poorly edited material. There are plenty of pubs I avoid for bad covers, content, etc. When I reviewed for DA I was sent a lot of Torquere stuff and it wasn’t good. Authors should be careful where they submit and who they contract with.

  4. “This is a risky, thankless task for him if he does think there are egregious similarities, and if he doesn’t, why is it his job, as publicly announced by DSP, to clear their name?”

    Yes, exactly. This was their responsibility to handle. And it comes across as being handed off, instead. I think that’s just terrible.
    And terrible that people attacked the reviewers who chose to boycott. If I were Klune, I’d be embarrassed as hell that people were going around calling other people names on my behalf.

    [Restored to original condition after inadvertent editing]

  5. I think I have something like nine DSP books on my wish list at the moment and feel sad because I share the concerns about editing and fanfic origins because for me they affect the trust that I have as a reader for a story. The biggest concern I have though is the way DSP hasn’t taken any apparent responsibility and has sought to hand it off in this particular situation. To me that means they don’t stand behind their work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s