For the last few days I’ve been reblogging author, blogger, time traveller(see image below), and all round good egg Sean Hoade‘s posts about the recent shenanigans of Permuted Press. Sean is one of a group of authors who have a major grievance with the small press company over promises made and broken with regard the publication of their work. I was going to let Sean do all the talking as he seems to have covered all the bases and, unlike him, I have no dog in this fight. So to speak. Well, I’m never one to keep my trap shut for long and so here’s my thruppence worth on the subject.
There are two things I would like to discuss briefly here. The brevity being because I’m actually sat in work at the moment and want to get this finished before my boss comes in to interfere with my internetting. Firstly the conflict between legality and ethics and, secondly, the effect that actions like those taken by Permuted Press can have on a small community such as the horror literature community.
One of the things that has been brought up a few times recently, and in other similar situations that I’ve come across over the years, is the repeated assertion that Permuted Press are well within their legal rights to do what they did. That the contract which the authors entered into with PP did not state that they would definitely see their books printed into actual tangible objects that would be available in book stores and adorning the shelves of horror aficionados the world over. The wording of the contract was such that PP were buying the option to publish the books in print form. So yes, legally, have no obligation to publish their work in such a way.
However PP had led many of these authors to believe that they would indeed be publishing their books in such a manner. I’m sure that, given the tiny advance on royalties they were offering ($350 on publication) that the thought of having their books in glorious wood pulpy splendour is what convinced many of these authors to sign on the dotted line. What
Ponzi Permuted Press have done is mislead authors, attempting to bolster their roster of talent giving themselves the appearance of being a larger, more professional, outfit than they actually are. This is highly unethical. Legal yet unethical.
For many commentators on the internet it seems that there is a confusion between ethics and legality. As if an action’s legality has any bearing on the ethical nature of said action. On whether an action was right or wrong. There are countless examples of things that are illegal despite being ethical. Whether it’s environmentalists stopping roads being built or soldiers refusing to follow orders, sitting at the front of the bus or preventing scabs from gaining entrance to a work site. All of these things are, or were, illegal and yet they were/are -beyond any shadow of a doubt- exactly the ethical thing to do.
Similarly there are countless actions that are, or were, completely legal yet are ethically unjustifiable. Rape in marriage, the brutalisation of prisoners, laying off entire work forces, tax avoidance, environmental devastation, the wholesale slaughter and waste of billions of animals, third world debt, outsourcing, imprisoning children. The list goes on, and on, and on.
So when we are discussing a matter, the actions of individuals or groups/organisations, then the issue of legality shouldn’t come into it at all. Unless it is as a condemnation of the structure of our society which allows unethical and harmful activities to occur and shelters the perpetrators under the cloak of legality. For when the cloak of legality is removed then we can expose the actions to the cold, hard, light of critical thought. When we do this then it becomes abundantly clear that Permuted Press have acted extremely unethically in their behaviour towards their authors. For this they deserve to be censured in the strongest terms possible.
There are also those who will criticise the authors now raising their voices about their treatment. They will say that they should have read their contracts properly. That it is their fault for entering into a deal that was so patently one sided. Which brings us to my second point.
Authors are human beings. They are individuals with aspirations, hopes, strengths and failings. Like all humans they are prone to trust others of their species. This trust is one of the things that makes us human, that allows our societies to grow and our civilisation to exist. It isn’t laws and proclamations that allow us to walk down the street not cowering in fear that we’re going to get shanked when we turn the corner. It’s the trust that we have in our fellow humans that they aren’t going to shank us. It’s a well founded trust too as the vast, vast majority of humans will not behave in such a manner -regardless of what the media would have us believe. This is why it is always good “shock-horror” news entertainment when someone does breach that trust.
So when someone who is a part of our community, in this case the horror literature/small press community, makes us an offer then we take them at face value. We have to; because a community can only function with this trust that others are going to act in good faith. So when PP pull a trick like this it makes others nervous that they are going to get shafted in a similar manner. It creates bad feelings between people in a small community. Bad feelings do nothing to add to the health and growth of said community.
For example. Should I ever finish a long piece of fiction and were I to submit it to Mike Davis over at Lovecraft Ezine I would trust Mike to not be looking to renege on any deal, verbal or otherwise. I need to trust Mike as the relationships between people in the community absolutely have to be built on trust. I want my books to be coming out, I want other people’s books to be coming out, I want to know that those of us within the community are treating one another with respect and not seeking to make a quick buck at one another’s expense. I want a healthy community. The actions of Permuted Press, and others like them, do harm to the wider community. It isn’t just about these particular authors and these particular contracts. It’s about those of us in the community not having to think and act like fucking lawyers when we want to work on a project together. And yes, signing to a small press is more like entering into a collaborative project than a deal with one of the Big 5. For the simple fact that small presses tend to be run by fans. By people that love the genre they are working in. They are the same as the authors they work with. Sure everyone needs to make a buck, capitalism sucks like that, but there is no need to be an utter dick by screwing over your, figurative, neighbours.
So fuck Permuted Press and may the works of their authors find better, more appreciative, homes elsewhere.