Sunday, December 17, 2006

Signed and Filtered

The winner of the Twelve Reasons giveaway is Cora Zane, who should e-mail me at LynnViehl@aol.com with your full name and ship-to info so I can get these books out to you. Thanks again to everyone who joined in to help me celebrate the twelve very cool books of December.

While we were having fun here, I got a few e-mails on some of the hullabaloo regarding Thomas Nelson Publishers and their new "content filter" for their authors (Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt blogs his side of the story here.)

Let's see, I'm a writer of Christian fiction. If I understand Mr. Hyatt correctly, and I really lived according to biblical standards, I wouldn't be a writer -- women generally didn't hold down jobs in the Bible. They did walk around swaddled in a veil and robes made of homespun wool while being stuck in an arranged marriage raising twenty-one kids (if they hadn't already died in childbirth.) Or, if their family had kicked them out for not agreeing to the arranged marriage or whatever, they became hookers, enslaved, or died of starvation.

Sure, I'm going to do that for a publishing contract.

I do find this story ironic, as just last month I finished reading Nathaniel Philbrick's excellent book, Mayflower, in which he describes the enormous struggle and many deprivations our ancestors suffered in order to get away from people in England who imprisoned, ostracized and otherwise discriminated against them for their religious beliefs. Religious freedom is one of the fundamental reasons we founded, you know, America.

Assuming that Thomas Nelson Publishing will start a new content filter trend among publishers, and we'll all be forced to sign papers, what will other publishers require us to swear that we believe in or will adhere to in order to work for them?

Five Genre Content Filter Agreements of Tomorrow

Romance: I swear that I believe in true love, marriage, and happily ever afters. I will wait for my true love, and save myself for the honeymoon, unless: 1) I am coerced into having sex by a boy in high school or college, in which case it will be date rape or a fumbling quickie, during which I will not orgasm; 2) I find myself in serious financial trouble involving a beloved parent with no medical insurance but in desperate need of an organ transplant, which will force me to marry for money, in which case I will only marry a much older man who is unable to consummate our marriage due to closet homosexuality, an unspecified health problem, or a kindly paternal, protective nature (if possible, all three); or 3) I have sex with my true love before we are wed, in which case I will assure that I hit my head and develop sudden, total amnesia about the event that will only clear up after we are married. If I have babies with my true love before marriage, I will runaway and assure that the first is kept secret from him until baby is out of diapers and I get my figure back. If I have difficulties in my relationship with my true love, I will not dump him, but treat our problems as mere black moment preludes to our pending, unending happiness.

Science Fiction: I attest to these facts : I am an atheist and I believe in nothing but technology, logic, intelligence, physics, or anything else that highlights the sterile perfection of pure science. If I must have gods, they will be Heinlein and Vinge. I will write at least one novel about the singularity. I will have no meaningful personal relationships, and will not kiss, fall in love, have sex or do any of that mushy stuff with chicks. I will worship talking computers, NASA missions, outer space vistas, planets my species could never travel to, much less live on, and other cool futuristic things that make me feel as suave and powerful as Captain Kirk from Star Trek. I will never actually admit that I watched Star Trek.

Fantasy: I vow I shall do what'ere I can to emulate those fine manly lords of science fiction, only I shall substitute magic, dragons, Middle Earth, Tolkien and Lord of the Rings for technology, chastity, NASA, Kirk and Star Trek. Instead of tattered garments, I shall dress in period costumes which I shall purchase from the nearest SFCA merchant. I shall, as often as possible, be manly among many men of my ilk, but I shall elevate fine women to the status of faerie queens on pedestals, where they cannot meddle in my manly business. I shall hang at least one blunted, scale replica sword on the wall in every hall of my castle. I shall refer to my castle by a grand name with "dragon" in the title, even if it be only a single-wide trailer.

Erotica: I promise that when I'm not writing, I will personally test all the positions, partners and playthings that I write in my novel. I agree that I'll be too tired and happy to do anything else.

Mystery: I am signing this document as proof of my agreement to write the truth and nothing but the truth, at least before I tweak it. I will name my protagonist after an obscure 13th century Dutch painter, an obscure 13th century English poet, or an 80's porn star. No character of mine will ever have a successful or happy personal relationship, although they will frequently get laid offstage. I will write in every story at least one threatening ethnic sidekick with excellent underworld connections and a heart of gold whose main purpose will be to serve as a walking deus ex machina. (Male author) At cons I will sport an interesting beard, wear an interesting hat, or walk around in a cloud of Lagerfeld. (Female author) At cons I will maintain perfectly groomed helmet hair, wear navy or black suits that disguise my breasts, and never be seen without my thick red lipstick.

What do you guys think about this? Would you sign any sort of content filter agreement to land a publishing contract? Would you be okay with signing one even if you were lying about what you believed?

41 comments:

  1. No.

    Absolutely not. I write what I write and my life is exactly what it is. My personal life, beliefs, or any other criteria have no bearing on my ability as a writer. If a publisher believes such things do matter, then they're not the publisher for me.

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  2. What do I think about this? I think their requirements are pretty vague and open to interpretation and could lead to just about anything being used as grounds for breach of contract.

    Would I sign a contract like that? Not in a million years, even if my agent would let me, which she wouldn't. (Vague contract language likely to land an author in hot water is something agents don't like.) And no, I wouldn't be okay with signing it knowing I didn't intend to uphold it.

    Aside from the language issue, which is a biggie, I'm not an employee of the publisher much less a slave. They have no right to dictate what I do or how I live. They can dictate how long a manuscript is, how much time I have for revisions, whatever terms pertain to THE WORK. But what they get is the work, not me. I'm not for sale.

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  3. Sigh. My genre novelist career has been shot down before it even began.

    Seriously, it's ridiculous. Other pubs can start poaching Thomas Nelson bestsellers now.

    This is my life, and I'm going to live it the way I want to.

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  4. I would never sign such a contract. Legally, it's risky. Ethically, I don't believe anyone has the right to dictate my life. The reason I worked so hard to come to the west was to get away from all that sort of nonsense.

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  5. NO. No, no, no, no. NOOOO!

    This boggles my mind. Are they actually saying that they reserve the right to refuse to employ or work with anyone would does not subscribe to their particular set of religious views? So, if their top-selling author converts to Judaism, or their accounts manager comes out as gay, this publisher will fire them or cancel their contract?

    This kind of thing is illegal in England (it would could as discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief) and I thought it was illegal in America too...Is time moving backwards or something?

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  6. P.S. Please excuse the typos and mis-spellings in the post above. I find it hard to type while sputtering with outrage...

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  7. It depends on the price.
    Might have to be a few rubies.
    I'm not cheap.

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  8. Absolutely not, noway, not in this life time! This is my life, I will live it the way I want to not the way they will dictate to me if I sign the contract. They aren't the only publishing company out there.

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  9. If it agreed with what I believe, then yes, I'd sign it. I wouldn't have any problem with simply affirming my beliefs. But I would not sign anything that went against what I believe.

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  10. Mine is already signed:

    "The contents of my books will exceed any expectations created by the cover, no matter how wild."

    This stems from a frustrated youth discovering that - with the exception of Leigh Bracket and Robert E Howard - old pulps rarely live up to the Frank Frazetta cover.

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  11. I'm with Zoe. I agree with Thomas Nelson's standards because they're what I'm aiming for. I happen to profess the Nicene Creed and Phil. 4:8. As Charlene pointed out, the standards are on the vague side. My thinking is that all publishers have standards, written or unwritten. If they like my story but dislike a part, I can change it or find another publisher. I'm still at the point that changes make my stories stronger.

    For the record I have signed statements of faith for other groups (homeschool related). They tend to be much like Thomas Nelson's; vague enough to encompass a specific group so that everyone is of the same mind and not offended by a random conversation about faith. I have heard others argue that it's to exclude those of a different belief, but there again it's all interpretation. I would wonder why someone who is not a Christian would want to be part of a Christian group. I wouldn't seek out a publisher who required me to be Wicca because: 1. Their beliefs go against mine, and 2. I'd be taking up space where someone else should be. No one who is Wicca is going to read my stuff and believe that I am, too.

    We all have standards. Anyone desperate enough to go against their standards to get published deserves what they reap.

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  12. Uh. . . No. Definitely no. No. If I'm that hard up for a publishing contract that the only people interested in publishing me think they have the right to dictate my personal beliefs, then I probably should consider another career. Because. . . No, that's just plain wrong.

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  13. Not a chance.

    If a publisher can't tell from a manuscript whether I share the worldview they want, I'll be happy to consider whatever editorial changes they suggest. If I were willing to edit my life to conform to their suggestions -- or to pretend that I had -- would I really be demonstrating the integrity they say they want?

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  14. I've heard of "write what you know", but "be what you write" is pushing it.

    I might keep quiet about what I believe in order to avoid trouble, but I'm not in the habit of claiming I believe something I don't. If this sort of thing spreads, I think I'm in trouble. I'd hate to have to remove the scene where my protag experiences God's grace.

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  15. Somehow, I think those publishers have lost the real message behind the Good Samaritan story--that people who aren't "true believers" or "of the blood" are more than capable of having the traits that the people of the religion/race are supposed to have, but don't.

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  16. Anonymous11:06 AM

    Very disturbing. I'm reminded of the loyalty oaths from the McCarthy era.

    I would not sign anything from a publisher regarding my personal beliefs. They have nothing to do with my job.

    I have no reason to lie about them yet.

    L.

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  17. Nope. Wouldn't sign. Wouldn't sign and lie. My personal beliefs have nothing to do with whether or not I can write a good book. And when I lie I always get found out because I forget what the lie was.

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  18. No and that is wrong on so many levels. If there's one thing I've learned in the last year, it's to write what makes you happy and that means no constraints.

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  19. Ummm...

    As far as women not holding jobs in the Bible, the "ideal" wife as put forth in Proverbs 31:10-31 describes a woman who is more or less an entrepeneur.

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  20. Noel wrote: As far as women not holding jobs in the Bible, the "ideal" wife as put forth in Proverbs 31:10-31 describes a woman who is more or less an entrepeneur.

    Or a beleaguered housewife, depending on your interpretation of Proverbs. While her husband "sits among the elders of the land" the virtuous wife is back at home doing things like working wool and flax, cooking meals, planting vineyards, giving to the poor, making nice clothes for the husband, watching over any servants they had so they didn't get lazy, etc. Not mentioned: drawing water and transporting it from the village well or cistern, grinding grain to make flour, managing, nursing and butchering the livestock, gardening, fieldwork, raising and educating the children, keeping the household accounts, managing the household money, and providing the husband with sex on demand, or finding a nice handmaiden for him to impregnate if her ovaries happened to be closed for business.

    I don't call that entrepeneurship. I call that domestic slavery. Your mileage of course may vary. ;)

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  21. *grin* Well, yes, interpreted as domestic slavery, too.

    I grew up Southern Baptist, and my minister's wife used to throw that particular verse in the face of people who critized her for making a pile in real estate.

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  22. Anonymous2:22 PM

    There is no way I would sign soemthing like that.

    Diane

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  23. No Way
    Its just wrong

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  24. No. For one, I wouldn't lie about my beliefs. And two, I don't need to be published that badly. I love writing (well, on most days anyhow;), but not enough to sell my soul.

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  25. No.
    And I do find it disturbing.

    They have every right to do as they please, of course, as a private publishing house. And authors can choose to submit or not (literally AND figuratively).

    But it wouldn't sit right with me personally. They're saying that if you're Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist, etc., you're not qualified to write the kind of Christian literature they're looking for. I beg to differ. If I'm a professional writer, I can write. Period.
    And you're not buying me, or my personal life or history. My belief system is not for sale. You're buying my product.

    There's also the possibility that I may consider myself a Christian, but it may not jibe with what THEIR definition of a Christian is. And unless they've got a burning bush somewhere in their offices dictating THE WAY, I'd have a problem with this approach.

    No.

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  26. Zillin4:14 PM

    What I find mind-boggling here is Hyatt's statement that books without spiritual reference can be implicitly Christian. Does that mean implicitly Christian pasta primavera in the cookbooks?

    What have I been eating?

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  27. That Hyatt post is scary. It's the first step on a way of 'us and them' that always ends badly.

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  28. Hi there.
    I can see that we both like the Beatles! However, since your blog is pbackwriter and mine is apaperbackwriter and they were both considered acceptable by the system, it should be okay. You have your name (under which I assume you publish your many books) all over your blog, and I clearly state that I am an English teacher on mine, so I'm sure anyone could tell the difference immediately. You don't publish your books under the pseudonym, do you? I certainly don't publish my poetry and stories under that name, either.
    I certainly didn't copy you; I took the name from the song. There is obviously at least one more blogger with the name as well, because paperbackwriter was already taken -- and it was on yahoo, too! That happens when you take a name from a song. I expected it, actually.
    Anyway, I'm sorry if it bothers you, but I'm sure that a person would know in a second at looking at either blog that we are different people. I bet there are plenty of other repeats from people who go by just their first names as well.
    All good wishes for success in your publishing,
    the English teacher who also likes the Beatles

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  29. There. I've changed my display name to A Paperback Writer on my profile to match my blog title. Perhaps you should change yours to Pback Writer to match yours, if you wish. At any rate, we are not the same display name anymore. I hope none of your readers will be confused after this.
    PS. I hope this works because it's not showing up that way on the identy below. But I've tried at your request.

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  30. No. My personal beliefs are no one's business but mine and have no bearing on what I write.

    Not signing and lying about it either; that goes against my personal ethics.

    Hyatt's rhetoric is another step towards Christian fundamentalism. The very fact that he's outlined what he wants in such a manner, suggest his 'world-view' is really his own interpretation of Christianity.

    People like that scare me.

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  31. Paperback Writer wrote: I can see that we both like the Beatles! However, since your blog is pbackwriter and mine is apaperbackwriter and they were both considered acceptable by the system, it should be okay.

    I can't agree with you. I have had the identity of Paperback Writer among the publishing blog community for more than three years, and as I write under several names I am commonly referred to as Paperback Writer or PBW. Anything you post around the publishing blogosphere under "Paperback Writer" is probably going to be attributed to me.

    You have your name (under which I assume you publish your many books) all over your blog, and I clearly state that I am an English teacher on mine, so I'm sure anyone could tell the difference immediately.

    On your weblog, yes. When you comment on another writer's weblog, no.

    I certainly didn't copy you; I took the name from the song. There is obviously at least one more blogger with the name as well, because paperbackwriter was already taken -- and it was on yahoo, too! That happens when you take a name from a song.

    I am not accusing you of copying me, ma'am. I'm simply and politely suggesting that as you appear to be interested in joining the online community of blogs about publishing, that you change the name of your weblog as to avoid identity confusion between us. That was why I contacted you in the first place.

    Anyway, I'm sorry if it bothers you, but I'm sure that a person would know in a second at looking at either blog that we are different people.

    I am not bothered by the fact that we had the same idea for a blog title. It's not our weblogs that I'm worried about, either. When you comment elsewhere, your remarks are going to be attributed to me because I have the more popular weblog, and I am well-known by the Paperback Writer name. I would rather not have to deal with the identity confusion, which is why I made the request that you change your blog title.

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  32. Publishing doesn't pay enough money to make this kind of thing worth my while. If we were talking $20 mil, I might consider it. (I have all those years under my belt of being a professional Preacher's Kid. Not like I haven't smiled pretty for the Christians before.)

    Yes, I can be bought. Maybe.

    But for a measly couple grand? Bite me. My soul is worth more than that. I'd rather be unpublished.

    I predict a strange and unhappy future for this publisher. Not because of the faith issue, but due to the control issue. You can't dictate who and how people are going to be. To believe that you can doesn't bode well for your long term mental or organizational stability. Especially when you start realizing some people lied just for the money. It's a bad management paradigm.

    Again, Preacher Kid, I've seen this same kind of crap go down in churches. Religion is polemic even when everyone agrees.

    Like playing with fire and thinking you're not going to get burned.

    Because you're God's Chosen One, naturally.

    M

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  33. There's a lot of people who lie and say they believe things they don't in order to get people to like them/give them money/get a big following. A lot of them call themselves Christians.

    Personally I think the so-called Christian market is a dying inbred thing. I don't write the kind of books that audience normally reads, so I would be very surprised to even be considered for such a signing, but I would darn sure read the thing carefully and make sure they knew what they were getting into.

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  34. If you read what's-his-name (the publisher's CEO) blog entry on the matter, you find that it isn't a contractual obligation. All they're saying, really, is that they'll only publish people who are Christian.

    This isn't a new or unusual attitude. There are plenty of people who advocate dealing only with other Christians, and this is merely a logical extension of that worldview.

    Do they have this right? I think they do, and I think they should. 'Publishing' is not like 'employing'. People who don't like the terms of the business arrangement are free to seek publication elsewhere.

    I sure as hell won't deal with them.

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  35. It never ceases to amaze me just how far some people will go to impose their own religious (or atheist) viewpoint on others. This is a small example, for sure, but it is symptomatic of a much wider encroachment of militancy into Christianity, particularly but not exclusively in the US. Whether this is a gut-reaction to terrorism or Islamic fundamentalist ideology, I can't say, but the Mayflower example is telling. America was founded largely as a country where people could practice their religious beliefs without fear of persecution. People seem to forget that.

    And no, I wouldn't sign a deal with a publisher if they required me to subscribe to some arbitrary set of ethics. If they like my book, they can buy it. If not, then I'll send it somewhere else. I'd like to think I wouldn't join the Nazi/Communist/Ba'ath party just to get a job either, but I'm not so sure of that. Unlike pre-war Germany, cold-war Russia or Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Britain is still a relative meritocracy. From some of the things I read about the US, I'm not so sure America still is. Sadly, where you go, we slavishly follow.

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  36. Not even if I agreed with it. If a publisher has certain standards for what they will publish, the appropriate thing to do is put that in their Submission Guidelines.

    As far as women in the Bible, read Judges 4:17-22. Then let's talk about how God wants women to be passive and subservient.

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  37. Wow, I couldn't sign a contract like that. Isn't getting a book prepared to go to print/eprint stress enough?

    This reminds me of several years back when companies were trying to enforce their no-smoking rule on their employees even when they were at home. It didn't work. After all, how the heck were they going to enforce it? Install secret spy cams? It would be much the same with the contract clause. They could put it in there, but I have to wonder, what are they going to do - follow folks around?

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