Saturday, July 14, 2007

The "One Drop of Blood Rule" and Publishing

Beginning in pre-colonial times in America and extending into the mid-twentieth century, there existed the One-Drop Rule. (There may in fact still be people who hold it to be true, but the majority of Americans do not think that way any more.)

What is the One-Drop Rule?

Well, if you didn't visit the link above, here's the short and bitter version: A person who had even "one drop" of sub-Saharan or Native American blood mixed in with their "otherwise pure" Western European blood was considered to be of sub-Saharan or Native American ancestry. For example, a person who had one black ancestor 8 generations back, with everyone else in the family being Caucasian, would still have been considered black.

The unfairness of this is not in titling someone "black" or "Indian" when they are a larger proportion white. Many people who have been so-titled are quite proud of that, and that's just fine. The unfairness is in regarding someone of such mixed ancestry to be somehow inferior, no matter what. We know that black people, Arabic people, Semitic people, Native American people, Oriental people and Western European people are all human. They are all equal in the eyes of God, or in the eyes of the Universe if you prefer. Why is this inferiority assumed, whether the person is of completely sub-Saharan ancestry, or is fifteen-sixteenths Caucasian? It's a fallacy, an error and abominable for any intelligent person to think that way.

"OK, Tony... thanks for the ethics and eugenics lecture. Now, what does this have to do with publishing??"

I'm glad you asked.

We who are in the writing and publishing biz all know what a subsidy publisher is. A subsidy publisher, for whatever reason (limited market, niche, specialized book, etc.) does not take the risk for a published book but rather asks the author to foot the bill and only handles the more mundane matters of formatting, editing (sometimes), page layout, cover design (again, sometimes), printing and distribution. Many people will lump vanity presses and subsidy presses together, and that's their choice, but in my mind the vanity press will print ANYTHING by ANYONE (see PublishAmerica's record for a good example), and the subsidy press is more selective. That's a personal differentiation, however, and may not be held by everyone.

Subsidy presses have a valid place in the book business. They serve very well for the following sorts of projects:
  • Specialized training books
  • Textbooks
  • Reference books with a very narrow market
  • Genealogies, family histories and other books where the market is likely to be very small
  • Books intended as gifts
  • Books used as part of a lecture or speaking tour
  • Books meant to be sold exclusively by the author, either directly or by mail/Internet
  • Where the author's main goal is to have the book published to use for some esoteric purpose other than selling through bookstores
My company, Wolfmont Publishing, and its secondary imprint, Honey Locust Press, occasionally do subsidy publishing for selected authors. I'm not ashamed of that. I have turned down many more manuscripts than I have accepted; the manuscript may have been "unsavory" or pornographic, it may have been racist or full of hate, it may have been litigation-inspiring (you'd be amazed what some people think you can get away with printing!!) or it may simply have been so badly written I didn't want to wrangle with the author about all the editing that needed to be done.

As I stated above, I think subsidy publishing has a very valid and legitimate place in the book business. I've published a book of poetry that was intended as a gift for the poet's relatives, in memory of the poet's late son. I've published a book of radio plays (definitely a niche market!), where the author planned to be the primary seller from his website. I've published a book written by a minister that is a history of the translation of the King James Bible, used as a reference and for a course taught at a seminary. Again, this is a pretty narrow market. (Although, it was released less than a month ago and has sold almost 250 copies thus far--he did a signing today and sold over 25 at that signing.)

All of these were situations where the authors would have been hard-pressed to find a traditional, commercial publisher to take on the venture. (I would say it would be impossible, but you NEVER KNOW.) In all these situations, the authors were pleased with the results. Where is the harm in such a thing?

Oh. I did cooperatively-publish an anthology, where the seven authors each kicked in $50 (along with me), and in the fifteen months since the book's release the authors have each received almost $500 in royalties, with more to come. That's not a bad return on the $50 investment and the 4,200 words maximum they wrote for the anthology.

Commercially, I have published:
UNDER A RAGING MOON, a novel by Frank Zafiro
BY THE CHIMNEY WITH CARE, an anthology which raised $1,365 for Toys for Tots
FOOLS RUSH IN, a novel by Sunny Frazier
BLINDED BY DARKNESS, a novel by Tony Burton
A WICKED GOOD PLAY, a novel by Tony Burton

"Ummmm... Tony, we STILL don't know how this is tied to the One-Drop Rule!!"

OK, OK... I'm getting to it! Recently, a friend of mine was looking at a site known for making sweeping pronouncements about the advisability of using certain publishers. (I won't name them here because I don't want to give them any more press than they already get.) Personally, I've always taken their recommendations with a grain of salt because of the arrogance with which these judgments are posted, and because all it takes is one sour customer for the axe to fall.

She told me that Wolfmont Publishing is listed there as "a subsidy publisher." Now, while I don't find that subsidy publishers are bad people inherently or that subsidy publishing is an Evil Thing, I do know that many authors are looking for a commercial publisher. So, I wrote the people in charge of this web site. I gave them the same information I just posted above, and suggested that, since the majority of my work is commercial/traditional publishing, that I simply be listed as "a book publisher."

Here is the response:
"Writers have a right to know that you also subsidy publish. While a subsidy publisher can also publish commercially, ************** is of the opinion that the subsidy description must take precedence."

Hence, my reference to the One-Drop Rule.

I have written to the person who administers the site and asked them to consider listing the fact that I publish both commercially and via subsidy. We'll see what the response is. Until then, I suppose as long as I have one drop of subsidy, I'm a subsidy press.

"We shall overcome..."
(come on, sing with me!)

No comments: