Tor Books: A Perspective

Tor Books: A Perspective

That bit of RaceFail I pointed to the other day in my open letter to Bujold has led to some good things (discussion, increased visibility, less foolishness) but has also re-animated the notion of just boycotting Tor Books and having done with it. This latest thing got started on by a Tor author after all.  Just another in a long line of disappointment coming from that particular corner of the world.

But I’d like to point something out.

Before I do, I’m going to mention the following things which may have some bearing on how you feel about what I’m going to say.  First, my blogging gig for starts this week (tomorrow, maybe, still need to polish that post). Second, Patrick Nielsen Hayden was one of my Clarion instructors. Third, I’ve been friends or acquaintances with various Tor editors (current and former) for many years now, including some involved with RaceFail. Fourth, a lot of my good friends are Tor authors.

That all said, I also have a lot of friends who are published by Tor’s competition and I have plenty of friends who work for Tor’s competition. Other than my blogging gig, I have no personal stake in Tor — no book of my own coming out, no book deal on the horizon. So that’s out of the way.

Here’s my thing about boycotting Tor: I don’t think it’s  good idea. I understand and fully respect the reasons why people want to do it.  That anger you feel about this shit going on? I feel it, too. You know I do.  However, refusing to buy all Tor books all the time doesn’t take a few key things into account.

Mainly that the editors involved in RaceFail are not all of the editors at Tor. Many of them are senior, have been at the company a long time, etc. but are not the ultimate and final gatekeepers of anything. The reason you don’t know about or hear from a lot of the others is that they either don’t have huge online presences (or any) or they are online but wisely do not perpetrate fail on a massive scale.

Some of these editors you don’t hear about or from are long-time employees or senior editors. Many of them are around my age, some younger, and there are always assistant editors around, too. Their ideas and ideals are probably in line with yours — I know for a fact some of them are. These are the editors at Tor that I care about. Whether they stay on at Tor forever and eventually become the senior editors in charge of everything or move on to other publishing companies, they are the future (if you’ll pardon the corny sentiment).

And, like I said, they have more sense than to engage in RaceFail activities. They’re off looking for good books to publish, instead.

The Tor editors and authors whose names keep cropping up in RaceFail are already associated with each other in my mind since they all seem to be part of a similar grouping. (Most of them.)  A lot are old school, a lot are fen. Also, a lot of these folks have known each other a long time. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things.  It’s just a marker that may indicate some similarities of thought, experience, and behavior. It’s not a good idea to assume that all or even most of the editors at Tor are old school fen who only publish old school fen.

On the author side of things, boycotting Tor books means not buying a lot of great fiction by POC or by authors who not only stood on our side during RaceFail but try to and succeed in creating fiction that reflects what they feel about race and culture and the importance of not erasing us from SFnal or fantasy worlds. These books and authors may not be in the majority. There aren’t any major publishers where they are, I think. And what do we do in the wider world where that’s true? We support those authors we can get behind and tell other people to as well.

A little while ago I talked bout making lists and why it’s important to do so. I still think so. Make a list, if you need to, of authors and editors who’ve disappointed or angered you. But also make a list of authors you want to support and support so hard those editors–regardless of their shortcomings–cannot ignore.

So that’s my perspective. I won’t say do not boycott Tor because the reasons for doing so are valid. The reasons for not doing so are valid, too. I am going to continue to support the Tor authors I feel are worth supporting, I’m going to continue in my friendships with Tor editors I think are awesome. All while recognizing that there is a lot some people need to answer for. But that’s everywhere. At least in this instance I feel there is enough good to counterbalance and eventually erase the bad.

18 thoughts on “Tor Books: A Perspective

  1. I’m working up a bibliography of black SFF authors and Tor has published black authors for a long time. Not just Buckell, but also Samuel Delany, and Steven Barnes among others.

    I still make a ace when seeing the name of the Tor on books, but you know. Stuff.

  2. I’m not understanding this: ” … I need to go get published in YA since the wankery there is much less.”

    Wankery is endemic to publishing, always has been. YA is now a profit center that it wasn’t pre-Harry, with more attention paid to it from all quarters of the house and the industry– including writers — the ground for wankery has become more fertile.

    The ALA annually publishes a list of book titles most often subject to ban-calls. A very large number of those titles are YAs and juveniles. Some of them are perennials on the list. The choices that a librarian and school media specialist has to make, the consideration of the client base and community, matters tremendously. This begins with the acquisition process at the publisher’s imprint.

    But maybe, as I said, I’m not understanding what is intended by ‘wankery’ here, and have missed the point entirely.

    Love, C.

  3. i know that boycotting tor makes little sense, and while i have no friends among the editors, i have friends among the authors, and i want them to thrive. i also think tor itself is no more racist than most other publishers.

    i’m planning to write to patricia wrede and scholastic about the wrede book. i would like any possible reprint to have a foreword acknowledging how very, very problematic the premise and its execution is. normally i wouldn’t bother, i’d just write it off, but this is directed at the YA market, and i would like all young NDN who pick this up accidentally to at least see that their people were considered in some way, even if belatedly. i expect nothing will happen, but i just think i should try.

    but i don’t really feel i have an equivalent in how to deal with tor. it chafes me something fierce that people such as KC and TNH are basically getting away with their extreme misbehaviour without any consequences. i want to do something about that, i want to make it crystal clear that neither of their actions were ok, and i don’t really see anything but what tablesaw calls a “fuzzy boycott”, with me possibly only buying books by PoC and personal friends. because all the writing about racefail has apparently not moved the guilty parties to as much as an apology. and writing to tor explicitly to complain would feel heavy-handed, because tor itself really has no part in it.

    what would you suggest?

  4. I don’t intend to buy any Tor books for the foreseeable future.

    That’s not a boycott.

    Vague boycotts are bad and pointless. A boycott is a way of wielding distributed power for a particular end. For it to have any effect, there has to be something that the boycotted can do to stop it. For example, a company can negotiate with a union. Or they can fire an employee. Or they can drop an artist from their roster.

    When it comes to Tor, I don’t think that any of those are particularly applicable. Maybe if people are specifically trying to get Tor to distance itself from the NHs, it could work. But how do you boycott a company until it buys a clue?

    I don’t think this is an issue of leveraging power so much as it is an issue of branding. Tor’s brand has been severely diminished by the actions of people closely associated with that brand. The NHs were very closely associated with the Tor brand.

    In business, a brand’s value is often described as “goodwill.” It’s not a logo, a history, or a reputation, it’s simply the good feelings that a person has when thinking about the brand or the company. Because those good feelings turn into sales and dollars.

    When people are calling for the kind of fuzzy boycott I’ve seen suggested regarding Tor, it seems to me that they are mostly asking people to acknowledge the damage that’s been done to the brand. And they’re making sure that the negative feelings are not washed away simply by falling into the memory hole.

    I once put an author on my “list” because of some incredibly racist stuff. But time kind of washed those bad feelings away. He wasn’t continuously saying racist things, so I forgot about the time I saw his name attached to hate speech, washed away by all the times his name was attached to “best of” lists and recommendations. So when I was at the used bookstore, I bought one of his books on the recommendation of the owner.

    Then a month later, I remembered again and went “Aw SHIT!” That author hadn’t earned back his goodwill; he was still on my list, and yet I had a book of his, which made me angry any time I saw it.

    These fuzzy boycotts say, “Don’t forget. Act according to your feelings. Don’t let them off easy.”

    Earning back goodwill is something that gets done slowly and will be different for each customer. Seal Press sends its employees to Diversity Training. Is that enough? For some people yes, for some people no, for some people it’s a step in the right direction, for some people it’s a mere facade. So Seal Press works harder, does more, and builds up goodwill, and people start feeling the way about it that they used to.

    So that’s why I’m not boycotting Tor books, why I’m not buying Tor books, and why Tor needs to step up its game before I consider buying books from them again (or rather, before any consideration of buying their books ends with something other than “Eeeagh! No!”).

    1. Fuzzycott isn’t a very good term. Brandcott maybe? Something, that accentuates your words, because you’re right. That’s how I feel and that’s how I’ve observed (via their written words) other people feel.

      Boycott still means, an organized repudation of an organization/institution. But it’s also begun to mean ‘Don’t Forget Bad Associations With The Brand’.

      Hmm. I may write about this when I’m more awake.

  5. I do not advocate boycotting any publisher (unless they are white supremacy, xtian warrior taking over the world for the rapture, etc. — but then, I wouldn’t buy or reade such workoks anyway, period, no matter who or what or how whatever).

    This latest eruption isn’t even from Tor. Alas, it’s from Scholastic, which, you know, really, really, really, should have been smarter.

    But, we all know who Harry’s publisher is, and maybe, oh, who knows?

    It’s just a fail, a really big fail, in the concept of alternate history by people who didn’t do their work when it comes to history. Nope, Fukiyama wasn’t right about that cute little marketing plan of his (which did, of course, earn him tons of moola) that we have come to the end of history.

    Love, C.

  6. Tor is just on my list. I can’t look at the label in the library self without rolling my eyes and half whispering ‘Those racist bastards’. And I know that Buckell has things going on via Tor and I want to read them.

    So I’ll be cross referencing.

    Meanwhile I have to deal with my decreasing want to be published, because I look at the people talking and enough of them ARE gatekeepers in one way or another (you included) and I just don’t feel excited anymore.

    Writing is hard enough without having that excitement of ‘But when I’m finished…’

    1. And I can’t blame you for that. It’s like that Seal Press thing a few years back — they may put out some books I will really want, but if I see their logo I will go ARGHATE.

      Though I am sad that I’m one of the people making you not excited about being published :(

      I know what you mean, though. I think about it sometimes — why would even want to deal with people like this? I have a particular benefit in knowing a lot of really fabulous editors, so I can always aspire to sell to one of them someday. But that’s just one part of it.

      I guess I just really love writing and really love having people read what i write and am willing to put up with stuff. But then I am almost convinced I need to go get published in YA since the wankery there is much less.

      1. You’re not making me less excited personally. But you are a type of gatekeeper. There are few enough of us writing and being published that you’re not just a role model.

        I’ve a friend who keeps telling me YA. YA. YA. And it’s what I mostly read anyway because of the compelling stories. I’m just not sure I can write YA.

        I know it’s all not my friend’s experience. But I have seen how the editing process on her book went and what was needed to make it ‘more YA’ for that publishing house. It’s still a good book, but I miss some of the scenes that were cut. I miss the dimension they were part of, which was more adult and to me, made the story less a coming of age and more ‘this is how becoming a grown up happens’ – grown up as compared to legal age; experience, good and bitter.

        1. But you are a type of gatekeeper. There are few enough of us writing and being published that you’re not just a role model.

          Hmm. I am not quite grokking you. Can you explain more? I think I get what you mean but not fully.

          1. I’m not sure how else to put it. But to me being a link on the chain, or higher up the ladder able to gift a pull up *is* being a kind of gatekeeper.

            You’re in a position to encourage and support, even if it’s indirectly just by example. And while indirectly might be via your blog, that’s a new kind of indirect that’s more intimate than how someone might have communicated with you, once upon a time, via letter.

            Responding to hundreds of letters is a big deal. Writing one post that hundreds of people see, is easier.

          2. ah, okay, I grok you now. I have a hard time admitting that I am in this position without having a big head about it all, but then that sometimes results in me not making myself of use to folks when I can be.

  7. If I was going to boycott Tor because of things a Tor author said that pissed me off, I’d’ve been boycotting them for the last few years over Orson Scott Card. Instead, I mostly choose not to buy new OSC works.

    That said, Kate already pointed out that the Thirteenth Child isn’t a Tor book, just reviewed on the site.

    1. I don’t know that there are that many people thinking it’s a Tor book (I could be wrong). Mainly it’s that Jo Walton did her own bit of failing on that post and she’s a Tor author which made a lot of people go: UNSURPRISED am I.

  8. Also, I’ve seen at least a few people thinking that (1) _The Thirteenth Child_ was published by Tor and (2) the review reflects the views of Tor Books. Neither of which are true–it was published by Scholastic, and a post like that review would be skimmed for formatting and to make sure it’s not, you know, legally actionable, but certainly not reviewed for approval of the substance.

    (I also blog at, doing a _Lord of the Rings_ re-read, and the only editorial content discussion I’ve ever had was when I did a draft post on a scholarly article I’d just read, and one of the community managers came back and said, “This is really interesting, but doesn’t it make more sense to talk about it later when it’s actually relevant?” And I said, “oh, yeah, duh. Later, then.”)

  9. If I boycotted every publisher where I knew someone working there to have made a boneheaded move, race, gender, orientation, etc… wise, I’d have to stop reading. There’s a few in almost every company, or group of authors.

    And those publishing houses keep many of my close friends who’re writing important stuff about race, gender, sexuality, etc… in business. I can’t turn that part of my brain off, any more than the people who’re pissed at Tor can turn that part off.

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