Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Save the Pearls: Destroying Eden with Self Publishing

Let me tell you about a proposed book someone had.

It takes place on another planet.  There, a great ecological event has made most of the planet uninhabitable.  It is especially dangerous to one of the three principle races.  Where the Croa's can live in the exposed environment for a few hours, the Wie succumb to a form of skin cancer and die within minutes.  Because they are so fragile, the Wie have become a minority, prized for their rarity but seen mostly as toys, or dolls, or things to keep as possessions.  They are not seen as worthy of the respect shown even the lowest Croa.  In fact they are so admonished that the Wie will hide who they are, wearing long concealing gowns, and hiding their forms so that the Croa are not reminded that useless sub-creatures are among them.

It is against this back drop that a Wie girl dreams of a better life.  She knows that her chances of survival are minimal.  If she cannot marry a Croa, she will be relegated to a short life as a trophy piece.  What can she do?  The story of her struggle against prejudice, against nature and the ghosts of the past.  She must deal with those who discount her because of her racial status.  She must prove herself and endure.

That book, I think, has a lot of potential.

That book, however, is not Save the Pearls: Finding Eden.

Okay, disclaimer:  My wife received an advance reader copy that I was able to sneak a peek at.  I got through the first four chapters before I put it down.  Honestly I wanted to read a little more as I understand that the first four chapters are poor representations of the overall story but I just was not enjoying the prose enough to continue.

If you're not familiar with the train wreck that is "Save the Pearls" let me bring you up to speed.

Save the Pearls is a YA SciFi/ Speculative fiction novel, self published by Victoria Foyt.  Ms. Foyt is not a newcomer to the writing, boasting several film credits on her various biographies.  She is not a newcomer to the world of fiction and even has access to the Huffington Post as a means of promotion.

In StP, whites are the minority due to extreme solar radiation that killed most of them off as the human race scrambled to retreat underground for survival.  Blacks are the majority and a brutal one at that, many of them seeking to kill all the whites and hold the earth for themselves.  It is all intended to be a "flipping racism on its head" story and one that involves "seeing beyond skin color" by casting the victim of extreme racism to be a pretty blonde white girl.

Needless to say, it fails.

What's interesting to me, however, is that the book has gotten some good feedback from people who have read it cover to cover.  Most of the negative reviews seem to be from people who read into chapter 4 and then stopped.  Most recently Weird Tales planned to publish the first chapter as a teaser.  The owner/editor had read the book and at first thought it was a compelling piece that examined racism in a different light.  He pointed out that the key to understanding it was to understand irony.  Within hours WT was slammed with negative comments, boycotts and resignations.

A look at the Amazon.Com page shows that Ms. Foyt has layered on the positive reviews her work has gotten through other media, possibly in an attempt to push the actual user reviews down, and possibly just to get some positive reviews onto the page.  In addition she has gone to amazing lengths to defend her book as non-racist.  Most people, it seems, including me, have read the first four chapters and then put it down.  The African Americans featured there are portrayed in a horrible light, and I have to agree that "coals" is not a positive name for them.  Perhaps she should have considered Obsidian as a name, or just "Obs" if that was too much of a mouthful.  I think she could have spared herself some of the accusations even using the name "Flints".

But this gets me to the point I was going for:  Self Publishing is partly to blame.

Ms. Foyt, clearly, did not vet her book enough before investing in taking it to press.  The more I read reasonable people trying to defend it, the more I think maybe she had the starts of something viable, but because of wretched poor execution she utterly failed to connect.  In fact she totally missed the point.  A good editor might have seen this book and said "okay, there's a great ironic story here, but you gotta rename the races, cut some of these negative stereotypes, and lose the black-face unless you totally change the role it plays in the story.  Do that and you've got winner."

But no one did.  And if they did try to, it's just so much easier for Foyt to ignore them and go her own "creative" way.  One of the great hallmarks of self-publishing that I see touted over and over is that the author retains complete control.  They get to pick the cover, they get to pick the chapter formatting, they get to keep every story intact.  But that also means that they keep all of the responsibility when the project goes off the rails.

And unlike a lot of self publishing authors starting out, Foyt had money to throw at this. She had a short video produced to help promote the book.  It featured white girl in black face, cutting back and forth between her black and white personas as she made a desperate plea for someone to love her and marry her and spare her life.  Even a minor publishing house would have said "wait, we can't have our name attached to this."  But a producer who makes money on self publishing authors has no reason to be a voice of reason, and an actress trying to get paid does not either.

Then when everything did go off the rails, there was no one to tell her to sit down and stop before she made it worse, which is all Foyt seems to be focused on.  The firestorm with Weird Tales seems to come from her effort to get a reputable outset for Sci Fi/ Speculative fiction to come into her corner.  According to their blog "Marvin was approached by Victoria Foyt, and was asked to review her novel. He was told that she was being slammed online by people who had not read it."

She was reacting to the bullies of the Internet by looking for anyone and everyone to protect her.

And at this point a traditional publisher would have sat her down, told her to shut up, and let the storm run its course before anyone else got pulled into the vortex of destruction.  They would have given her a script to read on the Today Show, sent her on to look contrite and then locked her away before she ruined the careers of anyone else.

But, again, she had none of that help.  She went it alone and she paid for it, both by creating a work that lacked any kind of racial sensitivity, but also attempting, fruitlessly, to defend it.

Foyt's reputation is more or less a wash now.  Weird Tales is going to be paying for this for a while.  None of the creative participants in this came out the least bit ahead. 

Does anyone?  Yes.

The people who took Foyt's money to publish and promote work.  Every copy she had printed and mailed out for review, they made money.  The producers of her racist promotional video made money, as did whoever did the make up for it, I'm sure.  Everyone around her profited on her mistaken belief that she was going to revolutionize the discussion of race in the modern era.  

She kept creative control.  They kept her money.


  1. Don't you think that the moral of the story is more "Don't spend loads of money on self publishing", rather than "Don't self publish"? I just started writing a few years ago. It was fanfiction in the beginning -- it was better than watching tv. But lately I've started writing original fiction, mostly because my husband noticed I was getting 16K+ hits to my fanfic stories a month and started nagging me to stop writing for free. (You can see my latest original story here: http://www.amazon.com/Bring-Fire-Part-Wolves-ebook/dp/B008UUIGB2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1347132919&sr=8-1&keywords=I+Bring+the+Fire --it's sort of American Gods meets Another Fine myth, my fans like it, but then they like my fanfiction, so not sure what that says.)

    I have two kids, a job, a mortgage, a husband. For right now I can't afford to make writing a career. Self-publishing is a great way to justify the hour a day I am allowed to spend on my hobby (Hey, I made enough money to buy my kids shoes last month!) and to work to the 10,000 hours it takes to be proficient at something.

  2. It's a bit of a mix, I really do think.

    I understand the drive to self publish, but when you have really good solid work, it costs nothing to go through a traditional publisher and you don't have to be a full time writer to do it. It's harder when you're not milling out book after book, true, but you can get publishing contracts, I'm told at least, as a part time writer.

    And if you're getting 16k+ hits on fan fic stories in a given month, you've got a lot of fans that an editor/ agent might be willing to take a chance on you with.

    That said, sure, if you feel comfortable going it alone, go alone. There are a lot of success stories.

    My point, though, was that when you go it alone, you miss out on the net that ~can~ protect you from your own bad impulses. And there are a lot of services that are happy to take money to help speed up the self publishing process.

    I'm glad I self published FantastiCon but I'm even more glad I didn't spend a lot of money trying to make it a blockbuster.

  3. Great post Rob! You made your point about the value of teamwork in publication.