Phil Foglio has decided (here, here, and here) that I’m the author of his misfortunes with Tor Books, and that the appropriate thing to do is to urge all his fans to send me angry emails, tweets, and IMs about it.
To address one issue right away: Tor is not going to prevent further Girl Genius volumes from appearing over the next five years. Nothing like that is going to happen.
I got wind of this, and of Phil’s unhappiness about it. Because Phil is a friend of lots of my friends, and because Teresa is a passionate fan of Girl Genius, I had a conversation with Phil about it at Worldcon.
I’m not going to comment much on Phil’s characterization of that conversation, except to observe that it’s remarkable how people, even intelligent people of good will, can come away from a conversation with such drastically different understandings of what was said. This is, of course, not news to anyone who’s been a human being for any length of time. However, here are a couple of things that were said, and which are omitted from Phil’s account:
(1) I told Phil that I would be travelling and/or teaching nearly nonstop from shortly after Worldcon until late November, so that it was surpassingly unlikely I could do anything to help him at Tor until that date at the earliest.
(2) I made it clear to Phil that the people he’d been having problems with don’t report to me. I am not the editor-in-chief of Tor. We don’t have one. Senior editors report to our publisher.
This latter point bears repeating, because Phil’s blog post not only omits this fact, but promulgates a basic error. To repeat, contrary to what Phil says, I am not the editor-in-chief of Tor Books. I’m a colleague of the person who Phil was dealing with. Not that person’s boss.
What happened next? Well, despite what I said to Phil about not being in a position to help him until late November, September wasn’t even over before I began getting emails from Phil’s agent demanding that I deal with this and/or instruct Phil’s editor to deal with this—emails in which it was clear that, in Phil’s agent’s eyes, I was now Part Of Phil’s Problem At Tor.
I responded by pointing out that I was traveling and that I’d told Phil I wouldn’t be in a position to help him with this until I returned in late November. The agent replied, saying that evidently Phil had forgotten that part of the conversation.
This was really where I should have disengaged. In fact, I’ll say this right now: If I ever, ever volunteer again to help a writer who’s having problems with some other editor at Tor, I will tell them with great emphasis that the moment I get an email from their agent treating me as part of the problem will be the moment I cease trying to deal with the problem.
(Make no mistake: I’m not against agents. I’m all for agents. Agents usually make publishing work better than it would otherwise. But anyone who volunteers to try to fix something and then gets treated as if they broke it is going to feel pretty unhappy about the whole thing, and I’m no exception.)
Here’s the other place I’m at fault. Once I got back into the office regularly in late November, I didn’t instantly jump on the Foglio problem, and I didn’t respond to two or three emails from Phil wanting to know what’s going on. I fully acknowledge that this was rude and probably baffling to Phil. Some of it was probably residual annoyance about feeling like I’d been jumped by Phil’s agent in September. Some of it was definitely annoyance over continuing to get communications from Phil’s agent addressing me as if I was the guy in charge of Phil Foglio’s business dealings with Tor. And some of it was certainly the fact that this period of several weeks included the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s holiday periods, during which, like lots of other people, I tend to pay extra attention to family and friends and get behind on the details of my job. But I shouldn’t have left Phil wondering, all the same.
Then, in mid-January, about seven weeks after I got back, I was copied on a further email from Phil’s agent, this time to Phil’s actual editor, saying (this is a paraphrase) “Look, this is our position, we give up on you guys and here’s what we’re going to do. And here’s our one remaining question.” Shortly after that, I was also copied on a response from Phil’s actual editor, saying (in effect) “Okay, sorry, I’m working on this.”
At this point I figured, I’m done here. I felt bad for not having been able to sort out Phil’s and Tor’s problems in a timely fashion, and I felt I owed Phil an apology for not having answered his emails.
What I don’t owe anybody an apology for is not dealing with the problem between Worldcon and late November, because I told Phil very clearly I wouldn’t be able to do that. And I don’t owe anyone an apology for Phil’s problems with Tor before I got wind of them.
Here’s the thing. The only Tor person Phil’s blog post mentions by name is me. He describes me as Tor’s “editor in chief,” which, again, is wrong. He basically ascribes the entire history of his relationship with Tor to me, even though I’ve only had anything remotely to do with it for a few weeks. He portrays me as the boss of the people he’s been dealing with and therefore ultimately responsible for all his problems. He speculates that the reason I didn’t get back to him is that I think he’s small fry who doesn’t matter. And most unhappily, he directs his fans to shower me—not his actual editor, but me—with angry tweets and emails about it.
I don’t completely blame Phil for failing to keep track of the details of who’s in charge of what inside Tor. Mostly we don’t make a big deal of this. The reason I spoke to Phil in the first place is that generally we’re pretty collegial and we try to help one another out. Phil’s actual editor is a good person and I do have some insight into how snarled situations can sometimes get, if you will, “frozen in place” inside a publishing organization. (Some of my comments to Phil about this are the…distant…basis for some of the weirder things he quasi-quotes me as saying.)
Bottom line: As far as I can see, Phil’s problems with Tor are being dealt with now. Sending me dozens of angry emails isn’t going to get them dealt with any faster or better. If you want to send me email telling me I’m a craphead for not having answered Phil Foglio’s emails from late November to mid-January, okay, guilty as charged. But I’m not the guy on a golden throne proposing and disposing the actions of all the other senior editors at Tor. I’m someone who had the bad judgement to offer to try to help with a problem, and then got sufficiently overwhelmed by other urgent matters that I wasn’t actually able to help in the timely fashion I said I would. This was reprehensible of me. My other mistake: Not clearly extricating myself the moment it became clear that Phil’s agent was going to persist in the impression that I’m Phil’s editor’s boss.
If you think these errors are a good enough reason for the stream of crap Phil is now directing in my direction—and exclusively in my direction—then I suggest you might want to reconsider.
FOOTNOTE: Comments are open for now. But if the discussion turns into a pile-on, we’ll shut comments down for a while, and have a Time Out. To the best of our knowledge, nobody in this situation is a villain.