Let’s do a hypothetical about the Nebulas

I’m glad that a lot of the heat around the Nebulas, LMBPN and 20booksto50K has abated (Cora has an extensive round-up of events here http://corabuhlert.com/2019/03/01/the-latest-developments-regarding-the-2018-nebula-award-finalists/ ) Aside from the odd more trollish reaction, many of the authors involved have taken a step back and looked around at the circumstance and dialled back the rhetoric. Even so, the surrounding conflict clearly caused some emotional pain and some harsh words were said that escalated conflict.

I’m not interested in throwing fuel on the fire but I don’t think we can make this a taboo subject either. Craig Martelle who runs 20bboksto50K posted a response to the conflict on the group’s Facebook page. He also has a slightly shorter (it omits an anecdote about golf) on his public page here.

Martelle’s post is very much about his integrity and his positive intent and his code of honour (so to speak, he doesn’t use that term.) A snippet:

“This is a long-term game, and the emotions that people feel right now will recede. I will be able to look back and know that I did nothing wrong. I violated no rules, no terms of service, and no laws. “

Craig Martelle Facebook post

All fair enough but missing the point. A lot of the post on this topic have been about what happened from a factual perspective accompanied with some people explaining their own anger on the subject. I thought I’d take a different tack.

Torblit workshop

Imagine a popular publisher of science fiction. For want of a better name we’ll call it Torblit. For the record I don’t think the following is something either Tor or Orbit would do exactly but as Tor in particular are often cast as the villains in wider fandom, I’ll be lazy and make use of that.

Torblit publishes lots of novels and novellas and short fiction in anthologies and they’ve made a big push into ebooks and Kindle Unlimited etc. They are doing rather well but are hungry to do better. In particular, Torblit see that there’s a vast market in less than traditionally published authors and they want to tap into that. Fair enough, you might say, business is business.

Torblit starts a new business called “Torblit Workshops”. They present this as them giving back to the writing community. It’s a great idea. They run, at cost, writing workshops. They use their existing writing connections to bring indie authors together with more experienced professionals. Sure, the workshops aren’t cheap but they are run at cost and Torblit execs often have to fight their finance department about the unnecessary work involved. “It’s investing in the future!” says the exec in charge and it’s hard to argue with that. The workshops foster new talent — sure not all of that talent ends up writing for Torblit but some do and the ones that don’t help foster a growing market for SF by producing good work. It’s a virtuous circle! Who can argue with that!

Sure, some of the usual naysayers call the Torblit Workshops a ‘cult’ and others may roll their eyes about the gushing praise wannabe authors give about Torblit on the Workshop community page. There’s always some people who are jealous of success.

The community page is well run and carefully moderated. ‘No self-promotion without permission!’ a smart rule! You know how hungry authors can be! Sure, there’s cross promotion within many Torblit books but why not?

Oh and the SWFA? Torblit Workshops quite rightly points out the virtues of membership. If you are serious about being a SF author then the SWFA is an organisation that will help protect your interests.

Look above. There are no obvious serious ethical issues here so far (I mean aside from capitalism in general) beyond a vague sense of a conflict of interest (there’s actually a huge conflict but it’s not obvious).

OK, now add a list of recommended works on the Torblit Workshop community page for Nebula nomination. Add a touch of how indie authors (like most members of the community page) are under represented in the Nebulas. Now add that much of the list is Torblit published works or by authors who have been published in Torblit anthologies.

Ouch! A vague conflict of interest (a company involved in two different aspects of publishing) becomes a deep and apparent conflict of interest NO MATTER WHAT THE INTENTION WAS.

Conflicts of interest are classified into three groups:

  • Apparent
  • Potential
  • Actual

Here’s Columbia Universities definition of it.

“A conflict of interest involves the abuse — actual, apparent, or potential — of the trust that people have in professionals. The simplest working definition states: A conflict of interest is a situation in which financial or other personal considerations have the potential to compromise or bias professional judgment and objectivity. An apparent conflict of interest is one in which a reasonable person would think that the professionals judgment is likely to be compromised. A potential conflict of interest involves a situation that may develop into an actual conflict of interest. It is important to note that a conflict of interest exists whether or not decisions are affected by a personal interest; a conflict of interest implies only the potential for bias, not a likelihood.”

http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/projects/rcr/rcr_conflicts/foundation/index.html#1_1

Other institutions and businesses have different definitions. Note that the issue isn’t just whether the list is or is not a slate. There’s other ethical questions about slates. The issue here is were competing roles and interests place people in a position were they are compromised.

Indeed, with this lens, even the (sensible and good) advice from the Torblit Workshop to its members to join the SWFA is a conflict of interest. The workshops aren’t the publisher but the connection with the publisher creates a conflict when coupled with the perceived loyalty gained from workshop members.

Note also that this has ZERO to do with whether anybody is unethical in themselves. Apparent, perceived and actual conflicts of interest are NOT a function of the personal integrity of the individual.

If you’ve ever been in the position as a manager of having to explain to person Z why activity Y is an apparent conflict of interest with their duties then you may have experienced the subsequent reactions:

  • “I’d never let that influence my judgement!” – not the point, the conflict exists whether you act on it or not.
  • “There’s no specific rule against Y!” -true, the rules from HR tend to only cover the most obvious cases. That doesn’t mean your cases isn’t a conflict.
  • “I’ve done nothing wrong!” – great, lets keep it that way.
  • “You are attacking my integrity!” – no, I’m protecting your reputation.
  • “You are stopping me from helping people!” – you’ll have to find a different way of helping people because this puts you in a vulnerable position.

Back to 20booksto50K and LMBPN

LMBPN isn’t Tor books. It’s got a lot of books out and according to its spokes people it is doing well. Good for it.

20booksto50K isn’t some messianic cult nor are it’s members unthinking minions. Members appreciate the help and advice the group gives.

That one is closely connected to the other, is something of an issue but such is life. I think it is the kind of unintended, done for the best reasons kind of conflict of interest that good people often wander into. In some ways those are the worst kind because when they shift from apparent to potential to actual all of a sudden, nice people suddenly find themselves in positions where people are pointing fingers and implying that they are not good people.

Add in something even vaguely like a slate and some ‘us v them’ rhetoric then I’m astonished this didn’t blow up last year.

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42 thoughts on “Let’s do a hypothetical about the Nebulas

  1. camestrosfelapton: I’m astonished this didn’t blow up last year.

    I think that there were a lot of eyebrows (including mine) raised last year when the unknown, unremarkable, and barely-SFFnal novelette “Weaponized Math” made the ballot. It was curious, a blip, because every single other work on the ballot had gotten a lot of buzz in the SFF community well in advance of the nominations, and pretty much no one had heard of this story. But one work wasn’t enough to make anyone go digging further, and it wasn’t so appallingly-bad that there was anything obviously fishy about it. It took this year’s ballot, with a significant number of “some of these things aren’t like the others”, for people to realize that there was something fishy going on.

    I think the biggest problem is that the 20/50 stance toward marketing is “as long as it’s not illegal, anything goes, and if it gets results, then it’s justified”. Such a philosophy makes no acknowledgement that conflict-of-interest, as you point out, while frequently not illegal, can also frequently lead to unethical behavior (intentional or otherwise).

    And people who have been marinating in the “anything goes” mindset via the 20/50 social spaces aren’t going to see any of that as unethical, nor are they likely to understand why other people would consider some of the practices to be unethical.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. As long as it was only one left field finalist, no one paid much notice, because unexpected (at least to me) works and authors have been nominated for the Nebulas before. See two nominations in a row for Charles E. Gannon’s fairly unremarkable military SF novel or the inexplicable love of the Nebula electorate for Jack McDevitt.

      It’s only when there were several unexpected finalists that people took note and the digging began.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think one is not remarkable because of what Cora said.
        There is often somethink not quite for me on a ballot. Also normal exspectation is perhaps a few to overeager fans.
        It cances when there is more or a particular bad example (Day was always going to get attention)
        And of course after the puppies we are more vigilant for slates.

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    2. I think the biggest problem is that the 20/50 stance toward marketing is “as long as it’s not illegal, anything goes, and if it gets results, then it’s justified”.

      One thing that comes to mind is Dan Ariely’s work related to the prevalence of cheating. Ariely is a behavioral economist who got interested in how much people are willing to cheat and how to discourage cheating after the Enron scandal. His basic test was to have test groups take a basic math quiz and not give them enough time to finish it. The control group took the test, then took it to the proctor who would grade the test and pay the $1 per problem completed. The base experiment was to have a group take the test and then go up to the proctor and tell them how many questions they completed, whereupon the proctor would pay them $1 for each. It turned out that when they self-reported, the participants averaged two to three more answers completed then the graded groups. Ariely also discovered that cheating was widespread and usually small – the change wasn’t due to a few people cheating a lot, but rather lots of people cheating a little.

      He did a bunch of variations of this to see is cheating could be increased or decreased. he raised and lowered the payout per answer (which had no noticeable effect on cheating), had MIT students sign an acknowledgement that the test was governed by by MIT honor code (which reduced cheating, even though MIT has no honor code), had participants try to list the Ten Commandments before taking the test (which reduced cheating, although almost no participant could list more than a handful), and so on.

      The salient experiment was a set of tests he did using students from Carnegie Mellon as test subjects. Ariely hired an acting student whose job was to stand up 30 seconds into the test and announce they had finished the test and ask what they should do. The proctor would pay them the full amount ($20 I think), and send them home. The response of the other students to this obvious cheating depended on the sweatshirt worn by the acting student. If the student was wearing a Carnegie Mellon shirt, cheating would go through the roof. If the student was wearing a University of Pittsburgh (the other big university in Pittsburgh) sweatshirt, cheating would vanish almost entirely.

      This would seem to me to be one of the reasons why the leaders of groups like the Pups and the 20booksto50K work so hard to establish group identity. If they have people “on their side” they will feel more comfortable engaging in borderline or even out and out unethical behavior. Group identity provides justification for underhanded shenanigans.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. ““I’d never let that influence my judgement!” – not the point, the conflict exists whether you act on it or not.”
    There’s an excellent book “Tainted Truth” about how statistics can be skewed (old, but the issues haven’t gone away). The author said in one chapter that while the researchers she interviewed were adamant that having a financial interest in the products or drugs you were studying was unethical, it was okay if they personally did it because they couldn’t be corrupted that way.
    That factoid aside, excellent post, as usual.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thanks for this explanation, Cam. I’ve never studied philosophy or ethics and this makes sense.

    Like

  4. Long time lurker, first time poster.

    As I’ve read these various posts about the 20books group, I think something should be clarified. I’ve been a member of the group since 2015 or 2016. I’ve watched it grow from 500 or so authors to now nearly 30k. (I just checked and there are 28,495 members, and the last welcome post introduced some 70 new members. I think they make those posts once a week.)

    The idea that 20books is some kind of unified group of authors with a shared purpose is not my experience. I’ve had to mute the group because of the constant flow of newbie questions.

    My perception of 20books is a giant, dark cave where new people are constantly entering with candles that barely light their way. They may or may not know which branch they want to take off the main chamber, so they bumble around sharing their limited experience with other people also carrying candles. Sometimes they piece together enough knowledge to find the tunnel they’re looking for and leave, while sometimes someone who knows the way shows up with a flashlight.

    The people with candles often attack the person with the flashlight, angry about their light, their brand of flashlight, or the tunnel they’re pointing toward, so the experienced person leaves. They do seem very concerned about disrupting the cave (Amazon TOS) so they are corrected if they ask questions that break the rules. The only ethos I really see repeated is that in today’s market, no one set of rules works, because the cave is constantly rearranging itself. I don’t see unethical questions so much as people trying to figure out what’s going on, and often bringing experience from other industries.

    I remember the post Brazee made but it lasted maybe two hours at the top of the page feed before it was dragged down by the ongoing newbie questions. I don’t recall there being that many SFWA members tagged in the post.

    The only slightly “LMBPN” thing I’ve observed in the group aside form self-aggrandizement from Craig or Michael, is soft soliciting co-authors for their company. They do seem to be working through a churn of authors who can keep up with their publishing pace, but I see that as dictated by Amazon, not them, and they’re really just following the examples set by Romance/etc.

    That’s my opinion. You can throw it away if you want, but I don’t see the group accomplishing much in directed evil, just becoming the current defacto first stop of anyone interested in self-publishing. I do think that’s interesting, and if groups like SFWA want to remain relevant with new writers who don’t follow the traditional path, groups like 20books are going to keep popping up. These people don’t read magazines or attend Clarion, so they aren’t aware of the historic paths to awards.

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to post, Chicken Legs. It’s always helpful to get additional views.

      I think that there are at least two (probably more) very different aspects to the 20/50 group, and that you’ve given a good synopsis of one of them.

      There is another aspect — a networking aspect — that is also very clearly going on behind the scenes based on the outward indicators one can observe. In other posts on this blog, it has been pointed out how a small group of names keeps appearing together in different contexts — the 20/50 Nebula slate, the various LMBPN anthologies, the program panelists at 20Books Vegas, the attendees at the 20Books Bali conference, the 20/50 members who have joined SFWA, etc.

      This networking is going on at a high level, with a small number of what Martelle refers to as “Top Tier” authors, and it’s not clear what an individual has to do to gain entrance to this select group, but it’s pretty clear that this is an aspect in which most of the 30,000 members you mentioned are not involved.

      The value of networked groups is twofold: 1) there is power in having a significant number of people directed at a single goal (hence the success of the 20/50 Nebula slate, and 2) being able to exchange quid pro quo favors among people in positions of power gives all of the people involved increased access to things they would not have on their own.

      And there are clearly a lot of private conversations going on in this network, not publicly posted on the Facebook group but behind the scenes, which most people never get to see.

      It is the effects of this second aspect, not the individualized aspect you mentioned, which is the source of the current controversy.

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      1. Huh, I didn’t think I’d worded it “sinisterly”, just descriptively. I guess I figured that most people are aware of these aspects of networking. 🙂

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      2. I understand what your suggesting. Most of the names that have been mentioned as participants in anthologies, etc, I recognize as early members of the group who have now moved on, or only poke their heads back in rarely.

        I’m a big advocate of authors understanding marketing, markets, and how to maintain a business in this constantly changing new world we find ourselves in. The 20books concept is just one tool in the box.

        I do think they’ve moved on from the minimally viable product concept, although the interviews Anderle did where he discusses that keep getting dredged up. One of the problems with his new publishing world is that things move so quickly, what was successful last year isn’t working today.

        I’ll admit, I did some hard soul-searching on what the Amazon SF reader/market wants after I read Anderle’s work, (his first book at least) and while I’m not doing the same thing by any means, it did make me reorient my focus from editors to readers. We all have to make peace with our craft and what we’re publishing. I have really tried to step away from my own ego and focus on what readers want… which is a path that seems to lead toward increasingly separate markets that I think of as Locus vs Kindle Unlimited. I’m still figuring out the best way to navigate both paths.

        I think discoverability will continue to be a problem with awards as everyone competes for diminishing attention.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Chicken Legs: it did make me reorient my focus from editors to readers

        I think what you’re talking about is reorienting your focus from one type of reader to another. The reason editors buy the works they buy is because they believe those works will sell (editors who buy without that factor in mind will not succeed very long in the business). There are a lot of readers, like me, who would rather pay $7.99 for one good novel than 99c for 8 cheap novels which are readable but unremarkable. There are a lot of readers for whom price and quantity are much bigger considerations than quality, or who appreciate the books they read following a formula which they enjoy and featuring characters with which they are familiar and comfortable.

        There is plenty of room for both types of readers — and there are authors who cater to both types of readers.

        I’m going to break my comment into two for the second part of this response.

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      4. Chicken Legs: I think discoverability will continue to be a problem with awards as everyone competes for diminishing attention.

        And this touches on the issue of the people who believe that all authors should have equal “access” to awards.

        The problem is when the authors of the high-volume, predictable works feel that their work is just as deserving of award recognition as the works which present new ideas, or old ideas in new ways, or innovate or push boundaries in other interesting, exciting ways — and start demanding that recognition, or worse yet, resorting to unethical means like slating to try to snatch that recognition for themselves. I read a couple hundred novels a year. I enjoy almost all of them. But only around 5% of them are what I would consider “award-worthy” — and these are novels which have traditionally-published. The percentage of indie works which are award-worth is much lower.

        And the problem with the slates is that the self-published works I’ve been forced to read because of them have turned me off to indie authors for the most part. Yes, I know that the slated works aren’t necessarily representative, and that there is certainly some good indie work out there — but the Andy Weirs and Becky Chambers and Linda Nagatas are few and far between, and I have neither the time nor inclination to spend wading through piles of indie works just to find the a few which I would actually enjoy.

        So by using slates to get award recognition, these authors may be gaining some marketability for themselves, but they are harming the rest of the indie authors who may be creating good works, by turning a large part of the customer base against them. I resent the hell out of the award slaters, because they waste my precious reading time forcing me to read crap.

        Everybody dreams of winning an award for their writing. But the people putting out massive quantities of self-published work are generally not putting out work of the quality which deserves awards, and they need to be honest with themselves and be satisfied with building a solid base of customers who genuinely enjoy the works that they create.

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      5. I agree with JJ that there is more than one audience out there. There is the American KU audience which all the “write to market” folks are chasing and which apparently wants predictable experiences. And then there are readers looking for something different. I believe that there are readers for almost every competently written book (and for some incompetently written ones, too), you only have to find them.

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      1. The original one was called Johannes Scalsium, and was used by a very early bookprinter known as Master Torblit. The rest is history.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. “Indeed, with this lens, even the (sensible and good) advice from the Torblit Workshop to its members to join the SWFA is a conflict of interest.”

    Well then, I would have to disagree with that lens. Publishers do regularly advise authors to join author organizations that can help them out — with publishers and other stuff, as well as to get an agent, a professional to do their author photos, etc. That’s not a conflict of interest, as it is in both the author’s and the publisher’s interest for the author to have business resources and manage their business professionally. Every author has a writer business and indie and hybrid authors have two businesses — a writer business and a publisher business.

    Nor is it necessarily a conflict of interest for a publisher to sponsor and run a writer’s conference or workshop. Those things offer advice and resources for authors that the authors can decide to use or not. There can be issues with conferences and whether there is a profit situation going on, which would be a conflict of interest. This publisher may be charging what seems reasonable in the world of corporate marketing, where consultants get thousands for a speech, but in terms of writers conferences and workshops, it sounds like what they are charging is quite high. So that’s a bit of an issue, but not dead certain as a conflict of interest in publishing.

    It’s also great for authors to band together to gather marketing resources and knowledge in an authors marketing group. But if a publisher owned and ran SFWA, it would be a huge conflict of interest and so it is with this publisher owning and running an author marketing group, a group meant to help authors dealing with publishers, formatting vendors like Amazon and other booksellers and readers. As already noted, it’s a very large group. And with a publisher owning and running it, that creates the conflict of interest that the publisher favors the smaller group of authors within the larger group who work with the publisher over the ones who do not. It is a completely understandable concern of authors in the group about whether they aren’t getting full membership resources in the group because they aren’t working with the publisher who owns and runs the group.

    An author in the group putting together a recommendation list for the group is not a conflict of interest. An author putting together a rec list for the marketing group that only has authors from the author marketing group is also not a conflict of interest. An author in the group putting together a recommendation list for the group that mainly consists of authors who worked with the publisher who runs the group and from anthologies put out by that publisher — big conflict of interest, as Brazee acknowledged he did in error. He also worded the list and presented it to the group in a way that made it a voting block slate, rather than a wider rec list. As he explained, he did so by mistake and I take his apology as genuine. And anyway, he’s one author. But the publisher who owns and runs the group and allowed the list is not one author making personal recs. The publisher had a responsibility to catch the error and have Brazee adjust it so it was not a voting slate and did not completely favor the publisher. They did not do that, which is a big conflict of interest, especially as it appears the members of the marketing group who are also members of SFWA did indeed block vote for a slate.

    And lastly, a publisher that owns and runs an author marketing group does not leave the author member who messed up on the rec list that favored them high and dry. Brazee took responsibility and dealt with the consequences — removing his nomination. Martelle walked away whistling. That’s a big conflict of interest. Authors have often in SFF been also publishers, magazine editors or literary agents. That’s not necessarily a conflict of interest but it does mean that there are ethical issues those authors have to be careful and responsible on. The authors who run this publisher and this author marketing group don’t seem to particularly care if people have concerns about this marketing group benefiting them as authors and as publishers.

    And that’s a problem, especially if there doesn’t seem to be a lot of rules and monitoring of this marketing group by the publisher which owns and runs it — and benefits from it. Authors in the group should not be sniping at each other, as Chicken Legs described, driving the more experienced authors away. That’s the exact opposite of the intent of the author marketing group. The publisher should be regulating that sort of behavior and having terms of membership that don’t allow it. And if the group is seen as too big to do that, then the group needs to shrink or be broken up into multiple groups that can be monitored. Because having to pay to join an authors marketing group and then getting harassed in that group means the group is pretty much worthless to most of its membership.

    But the main issue is that this is an authors group owned and run by a publisher which seems to be mining the group for authors, anthology sales and possibly a writers workshop side business, which mostly benefit the publisher. And that this voting slate list, approved by the publisher, benefited the publisher with Nebula nominations, but caused harm to several of the authors, precisely because publishers do not put out voting slate lists. Because it is an ethical conflict of interest and it puts authors in the crossfire in ways that can hurt their careers.

    I don’t think that the people who run this publisher really understand that the SFWA is an authors professional group that doesn’t work for publishers — it helps authors with publishers. And that this publisher has taken a predatory approach, using its author members who are in the SFWA, for its benefit, and that the SFWA isn’t going to just let them continue to do that, because it is exactly the sort of unethical business practice in the industry that SFWA helps combat and which harms authors in the field. While this publisher isn’t exactly malicious, it is not practicing business ethically. This isn’t a matter of upset over indies. It’s about a PUBLISHER gaming authors and a major authors group. A publisher which should not be owning and exploiting an authors marketing group in the first place.

    So yeah, there are still a lot of issues that are going to be discussed in the field and fandom from that. It’s not a short term outrage that will die off. It’s about how authors are treated in the industry — by publishers. And so far I’m not impressed with how this publisher is treating its authors or authors in general. If they’re smart, they will turn over the registered trademark for the authors marketing group, but I doubt they’ll do that. And so the conflicts of interest will remain.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kat Goodwin: A publisher which should not be owning and exploiting an authors marketing group in the first place.

      I think it’s a mistake to regard LMBPN as a publisher. It’s a marketing company/cooperative hybrid doing exactly what marketing companies and cooperatives do — engaging in activities which make money for its owners and members.

      They know exactly what they are doing, and they don’t care.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If they publish anthologies, they are a publisher — and they are the official publisher on the Nebula nominated works. There are contracts for those and there are thus ethical issues.

        They may, from the sound of it, trying to do a book packager publisher type of thing. It was mentioned that the other founder was talking about Patterson-ing it. James Patterson has been a bestselling suspense writer in his own right, but he comes from an ad/marketing background and he wanted to go bigger. So he started with collaborations and then created a book packaging company from that, which has a publish/distribution deal with his fiction publisher. And as far as I know he has been pretty ethical about it and very successful with it. The authors who collaborated with/under him have also become bestsellers of their own fiction, but as is the case with book packagers, Patterson has benefited enormously from his company. And that is again the ethical issue — publishers and book packagers benefit from the authors they work with, so there can be conflicts of interests that have to be watched for.

        There are many respectable book packagers, but there can also be ethical and business concerns if they are too predatory. Alloy Entertainment is both a book packager and a movie production studio. They’ve been incredibly successful, mainly in YA and then getting their YA adapted — Gossip Girls, Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, etc. But there have been various ethical and legal issues that have cropped up with them on various series. James Frey, the author who sold a bestselling memoir that was mainly fiction (because he couldn’t get the novel version sold apparently,) then created a very controversial book packager, again targeting the YA field and trying to do movie production, that essentially was very predatory of authors with a big rights grab in contracts, (book packagers have often a writer for hire arrangement with authors where they own the copyright to the series and take about half the deal or more.) Book packagers also do much more marketing than a sole author — they act like a publisher in marketing and they may physically publish books as a publisher/packager or may work with a publisher to produce and distribute books.

        So if this publisher is trying to emulate various book packagers, that’s fine, but that doesn’t change that them owning and running a giant authors marketing group presents a conflict of interest and requires careful ethical considerations. And if they are charging a lot of marketing services of authors, particularly authors in this marketing group they own — huge conflict of interest.

        Getting a Nebula isn’t a matter of a PR campaign, as we know. Treating it as if it is actually can hurt a number of authors’ careers with the core fan audience that most reliably and consistently buys SFFH fiction and actually pays attention to the Nebula. And this book packager/publisher is also facing the potential of lawsuits, not for snagging Nebula nominations, but possibly for predatory practices on the authors in this marketing group, both those they publish and those they don’t. They’re not Amazon, which isn’t worth suing unless you are an equally large corporation. And some of the most marketing-conscious authors have been lawyers in their day jobs. This Martelle guy made a really bad PR/marketing mistake in how he’s handling things. But it’s more likely to hurt the authors than him at the moment. But if this is the rep the publisher wants to perpetuate, well it might not work out for them down the road. Or it will because Amazon indies may not care. But they had their game and now SFWA members are going to react to it and they will protect the organization from interference from a publisher.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m not sure how much research you’ve done on LMBPN the company and 20/50k FB group, but some of your information is quite off.

      Your opinions on that information are valid, but they aren’t accurate.

      First, the FB group precedes the company. It was created simply as a place that wasn’t Kboards (where most self-published authors went for industry information and marketing) to have marketing discussions that didn’t turn into flame wars. It was not created by a Publisher because LMBPN didn’t exist (not as anything more than a single author publishing his books.)

      It’s really no different than the fifty other author groups (who am I kidding… there are more than 50) on FB.

      The publishing company LMBPN is and has always been separate.

      Which brings up another misconception. Martelle is not the publisher or head of the company. That would be Anderle. Anderle has no real hand in running the group at all. Martelle organizes the conferences, and Anderle shows up. As do others.

      90% of the group members have no idea who Michael Anderle is or LMBPN. Some, probably anyone who has been in the group for more than a month might know Martelle, but that’s because he posts.

      A lot of the ethical arguments here hinge on the belief that the group is a funnel to the Publisher. That workshops (conferences) are held to benefit said Publisher. That there are benefits that only a few members can have but that the rest want. Having attended two conferences, including the elite, exclusive Bali one, I was unfortunately not invited into any secret club.

      But maybe they just didn’t like me enough.

      I didn’t attend either conference to get in good with LMBPN or anyone related to that, and I did attend both to network. Just not with LMBPN.

      Speaking of conference and workshop. You mention that what they are charging for the conferences seems high. I’m unsure what you would consider a more reasonable amount.

      Their conference fee for 2019 is $139.99. In comparison, the fee for the 2019 SFWA Nebula conference is $210. That’s a $70 difference, which you could argue accounts for SFWA being a much larger conference.

      In comparison, the NINC conference is $425.

      I do not see how $140 is quite high for a conference in this industry. If you move away from more traditional conferences, other self-publishing focused conferences tend to start around $500 and go up from there.

      I could see the argument of that being high.

      If you are referring to the Bali conference, keep in mind the “ticket” to that included all expenses, including the resort, food, and a $500 stipend.

      As for using the group to funnel in authors, other anthologies run by other publishers have been approved and able to post in the group asking for submissions.

      The one requirement is that the anthology has no fees associated with it. This is because the majority of self-published anthologies tend to require a buy-in or split expenses with a even royalty split. This isn’t allowed in the group because there are no protections for people taking the money and running (and there is precedence of that happening in the larger self-publishing world.)

      There are no other paid marketing features or funnels or anything sold to the group. That’s actually one of the drawing points. In the new world where self-publishing becomes the more common choice, the ones really making it rich are those that sell “services” to authors, whether that’s dubious courses (some are legitimate) or book packaging or editing (with no actual professional background) or the various other offerings those desperate to make a living with books think they need.

      None of that is allowed in the group with very few exceptions. Those exceptions are not run by LMBPN or 20/50k.

      As for ethical, unethical, Amazon TOS bending or breaking marketing tactics, anything that breaks the TOS is called out for doing so. Any shown evidence of TOS breaking or scandal (prior to this) or any of the sort didn’t belong or have anything to do with the Publisher or the ones running the group when looked into.

      With a group that large, you can’t control what everyone says at all times. It can only be managed later if seen.

      Anderle and especially Martelle have maintained from the beginning their only goal with the group: a place for authors to discuss marketing in a safe place where worry about being “yelled” at or told you are wrong wasn’t allowed.

      That’s it.

      Any backdoor networking that is mentioned doesn’t actually involve the group itself. There is no secret club. LMBPN the Publisher and the FB group 20/50k are considered separate entities and are run by separate people.

      This is not about the Nebula nominations specifically. Just clearing up some misinformation in your comments.

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      1. Whatever the strength of the connection between the people, the company, and the FB group, the issue at hand has always been the connections between the company and the specific not-a-slate post – and those connections are both strong and direct.
        Frankly, if members of the group could have followed the suggestions in the post without realising what linked them to the benefit of the poster, then that makes things worse not better IMO.

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  6. It used to be something would catch my eye and I’d just buy it, on the off-chance.
    But now there is so much merely adequate dreck out there that my good will is really gone.
    Now I always “Look Inside.”
    I read the reviews, looking for actual criticism and checking out who the reviewers are and what else they’ve praised.
    I check out authors’ social media – are they real people? are they jerks? are they friends of jerks?
    Does the writing sample reek of slavish adherence to some How To Write a Novel self-help course?
    Are there typos?
    It just takes one thing smelling funny and I’m out of there.
    I suspect that my Nope Not This One List is pretty much identical to what writers are being trained to do to attract readers.
    (Or perhaps they aren’t even writers, maybe they are just producers of extruded word product.)
    So yeah.
    “Best-seller?” – don’t make me laugh – everything’s somehow a best-seller now.
    ***** on Amazon, Ha. Just ha.
    Dragon nominations! Please.
    Forty books out in the last three years? No way.
    And also not its brother, This series goes to 27!

    And gaming awards is just an almost inevitable logical progression from the current business models that put all the shiny stuff on the covers of all those drecky books.
    People don’t have to be actual puppies to share the puppy fascination with prestigious awards like the
    Hugos, or the Nebulas.
    These awards have a lot of credibility, certainly more than the now ubiquitous “best seller”, and that just makes them all the more worth chasing after.
    And networking your way onto a ballot is hella easier than writing something stellar, especially since churning out dozens of books a year make stellar writing unlikely.
    After all, if the fix is in the product needs only be adequate, because you don’t have to win – though of course that would be fine too.
    But just get yourself on the ballot and you get to put Nominee on your covers forever, and that’s pretty shiny.
    It’s all about the marketing,
    So here we are again, and I’m sure we will be here again next year.
    SFWA folks must be tearing their hair.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lauowolf: SFWA folks must be tearing their hair.

      Yes, and you can bet that there will be a whole lot of SFWA members saying “I TOLD you we shouldn’t admit self-published authors!” It’s the legitimate indie authors who will suffer for the acts of the 20/50 slating.

      I predict a big run on membership applications from 20/50 authors who will now smell a prize to be stolen. SFWA is probably going to have to implement something like EPH and No Award — which, I’m sure, is anathema to authors, putting a colleague’s work under No Award, but how else are you going to discourage the grifters?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. as for why this hasn’t blown up as much, I’m going to say something a bit controversial.
    In my opinion, the reason is because the mainstream media hasn’t got hold of the story yet as far as I’m aware, Industry blogs and commentators tend to have more in-depth knowledge of the conflict and can comment from a position of authority and even if you disagree with their conclusions, you can tell that they’ve done research into the topic.
    But lazy journalists won’t bother to dig further than the surface, and write articles with controversial headlines only to inflame and outrage people, and suddenly a whole cadre of people with very little knowledge weigh in with their own beliefs, twisting the facts to fit a particular agenda.
    so it becomes about traditional versus Indies, or left-wing versus right-wing or the plucky underdogs fighting against the dinosaur establishment.
    To be honest, I’m just becoming disillusioned with the whole mainstream media industry, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that they’re not there to produce news or useful commentary, they’re just doing it for the money.
    And controversy cells.

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    1. The mainstream media hasn’t gotten hold of this because the slaters don’t have a relationship with the right-wing media. As soon as the Puppy mess blew up within fandom, it showed up at certain outrage-manufacturing outlets, and it bled into the real newspapers from there.

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    2. I think it’s also partly because the Cristiane Serruya plagirism scandal blew up at around the same time, so everybody who is covering genre news for big media outlets focussed on that instead.

      Though I’m a bit surprised that genre sites like io9 or the B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog just posted puffy “Oh, look, what a wonderful shortlist” articles and focussed only on best novel (B&N) or the Ray Bradbury and the new gaming award (io9) and didn’t even seem to notice that something was a little off about the short fiction categories and the Norton.

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    3. The non-category media doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the category SFF market and never has. And they don’t care about the Hugos and the Nebulas, which are of little interest to their readers. Half of regular fans of SFF alone don’t even know what a Hugo or a Nebula are. We keep trying to explain that to people. Its PR effect is limited and mainly in the category fandom/category media. It’s not valueless, but it’s not an Oscar or even an Independent Spirit Award in effect. (And fiction readers are marketing resistant — most of them don’t care about awards in making decisions.)

      The main media dutifully report the nominees and winners of the Hugos and the Nebulas — largely because the Las Vegas bookies will let you place bets on them. But otherwise you rarely get a peep from them about this stuff unless say one of them nominates a Harry Potter book or something like that. Jemisin winning the three Hugos for her trilogy was noteworthy as a record and because she did the review column in the NYTBR.

      The Puppies got media attention eventually because they brought in the Gamergigglers to vote, which made the Puppies part of the Gamergiggles mess (to the Puppies’ surprise apparently.) And that did interest the media, not just because of scandal but because it’s about video games/tech, an area they actually do care about. So there might be some think pieces later on and they’ll be about Amazon — Amazon unleashing indie authors who snagged Nebula awards and is this changing the landscape, blah, blah. Because they care about tech and Amazon. But the other Amazon, Kindle Unlimited, plagiarism and such stuff is likely to be of more interest to them.

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      1. Puppies got even more media attention because George R.R. Martin got involved. That made it celebrity gossip.

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      2. Yes, that was very much a factor. It ordinarily wouldn’t be but it was because of the adaptation of Martin’s work for the hit series Game of Thrones. Media mostly doesn’t care about books, but if the books are adapted into hit t.v. or movies, then they are interested and George, being a screenwriter as well who wrote some of the series, was thus of more interest than as just the author of the source material. But mainly it was the Gamergigglers, a group that also took awhile to come to their attention until they hooked up with Breibart.

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    1. I’m way ahead of you. The Amazon bios of the 20Booksto50K finalists said “Nebula finalist” when I googled them on the day the nominations came out. And I signed up for the newsletter of one of those finalists (long story) and got a link for a free book to download, which had “Nebula finalist” emblazoned all over the cover and that two days after the announcement.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. To be fair, I noticed that tor.com had their nominated novellas rebadged with an award nominated star ASAP as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I think it’s difficult for many people to understand how unconscious bias can work – for example see how our friend Monsieur Reynard in another thread is denying any such thing exists. (And to be fair my main source of knowledge on the subject is that I had to take some training on it before doing interviewing.)

    This whole thing is making me wonder about whether the current community standards for award campaigning are right. After all, there are still plenty of people decrying even eligibility posts as unwarranted influences.
    I think people writing during this little kerfluffle have done a good job of articulating where the line between recommending and slating lies – are you encouraging people to vote for a group, as a statement – but perhaps the point ought not to be to establish just how far up to the line you can sidle, but to keep well clear of the line?
    OTOH, I certainly wouldn’t want to see the current trend of good recommendation sources being lost either.

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  9. “After all, there are still plenty of people decrying even eligibility posts as unwarranted influences.”

    Yeah, that’s offbase. Authors have a right to let people know about their works. It’s basically their job to do that. That doesn’t cross any line. And then you let people decide what they want to do in terms of reading your work, nominating it if they are qualified or reccing it to others. It’s not like you are bribing them to just say, here’s what I published this year.

    Jim Hines had a good post about what the lines are that is in line with the industry standards: http://www.jimchines.com/2019/02/how-to-get-nominated/

    Liked by 1 person

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