Have you seen my new book? Neither have I! The pub date on Amazon was February 1, but I’ve still barely heard a word back about the manuscript I sent off a year ago!
I’m not taking it personally, mind you. The publisher, Alyson Books,is part of Regent Media, which also includes here! TV, Out magazine, and the Advocate. Those outlets have long been a vital force in LGBT reporting, but as media—particularly gay media—keep getting hit with the one-two punch of the Internet and the economy, they’ve gotten patchy about paying people and apparently are only selectively publishing whatever they can.
I’m also a contributing writer for Out, and though that’s still coming out (with editor Aaron Hicklin doing a quality job under pressure), last year the checks for that gig screeched to a gay halt. Around that time, Queerty.com wrote that things were shaky at Regent, reporting that the corporation was shrinking and that one of its magazines was going to become an insert into the other. The CEO of the company promptly bristled into spin-control mode, writing on Advocate.com that the claims were off-base (though it all pretty much turned out to be as on-target as a cock ring in a porn film). He even bragged that, though it was a challenging time, the company had made a profit that year—a hilarious assertion considering they hadn’t paid so many of their writers! It’s like skipping your rent bills every month, then boasting, “Great year! I came out ahead!”
I didn’t believe it anyway, but regardless, I emailed the guy to point out the bizarreness of his statement, and he nicely enough paid me what was due (including for the book), saying the lapse had been because ownership had changed and there was some temporary accounting disorganization. That was a sexy moment, but as the complaints of other writers rose to a pained crescendo, I realized that Regent was breaking almost as many contracts as Lindsay Lohan.
For me, the most horrid situation has been the creative frustration involved with the book (a collection of columns with some original essays). I’d delivered the entire package in the summer of ’09, but I never received any communication about it in terms of editing or marketing except when I anxiously pushed for info. Occasionally, I’d email my editor, “Is the book still happening?” “Oh, yes,” he swore, maybe hoping against hope. “But will there be galleys as promised?” I wondered. “Oh, sure,” he’d say, optimistically. “Probably in two days. It shouldn’t take longer than that.” How was I to know that two days would morph into two weeks, two months, and eventually into the 12th of never?
I was still drinking the pink Kool-Aid in January, when the company’s in-house party promoter contacted me with ideas for a book party, saying he’d just been assured by my editor that the release was on schedule. I dutifully started working on the party and also kept drumming up publicity with blinders on, just in case things were really OK.
What a disaster. Picture the Spider-Man musical, but less organized. After the promoter and I booked a gigantic club party for March 2, I arranged a host, entertainment, and friends flying in from around the country, all on good faith. Days after that meeting, I went to an Out party hoping to run into some other Alyson staffers to get a second opinion. Sure enough, I came across one slap-happy employee who looked ready to spill. “So my book’s on schedule?” I fished, desperate for validation. “Yes,” he chirped, then eerily added, “That’s the company line.”
After that, the promoter never contacted me again, leaving me in the LGBT lurch without a word! Not even vague stuff like, “I’ve got to bail, for personal reasons” or, “It’s probably best if you rethink this event.” Like everyone else there, he was more interested in radiating false pride than in being the least bit honest or humane. He’d pulled the plug without even telling me! (Or maybe he was just laid off.)
As I frantically booked a new promoter and switched the party to a celebration for my 25th anniversary at the Voice, I got a rare communication from my editor (who, under better circumstances, is way more professional). He cryptically said that things were settling down over there, and he’d surely tell me all about what had happened in person. I’m still waiting! He also assured me that he’d let me know exactly when production was moving forward. That was more than six months ago.
Meanwhile, my friends were all reading about the book and asking me, “When’s it coming out?” “Um, pretty soon,” I’d respond blankly. I had become one of the shifty people from Alyson, but my motivation wasn’t saving face, it was that I was simply clinging to whatever assurances they’d given me despite all the odds. But I could smell the enveloping gloom, especially when someone told me I was scheduled for a reading at Barnes & Noble the next week. I rushed to the store’s site and was relieved to see that the event had been canceled before I’d even been told it was scheduled in the first place. Thank God—it would have been awful to have to read from a nonexistent book.
Even more amusingly, the Advocate wanted to do a story about me, and the assigned writer asked, “Could you send me a review copy?” They’re part of the same company as Alyson and even they didn’t know things had stalled worse than John McCain‘s career? Wow, the saving-face thing was really working.
By now, I had risen above it all by putting all my energy into my anniversary bash and making it a smash event filled with solvent entrepreneurs. A month later, I noticed that Amazon was now listing June 1 as the pub date for my silently rotting book. Could it be? Nah—that came and went without a peep, and anyone who’d ordered the thing, thanks to my lavish Times profile way back in February, had surely canceled it by now anyway. Talk about lost momentum. By the time Amazon listed the pub date as August 4, I was ready to slash my wrists because, in some ways, I didn’t even want this to come out anymore! And it didn’t! It’s now slated for October 1!
Over at Out and Advocate, some workers don’t mind enabling the screwing—”I just like writing the articles”—but just as often, the battle cry has been “I want my money!,” said with a ferocity that’s turned freelancers into collection agencies.
But the good news is that the gay-on-gay shrieking seems to be working more often than before. I’ve just heard about some aggrieved writers who’ve been paid in full and one paid in semi-, so either things are getting a little bit brighter or there’s an emergency fund somewhere under the rainbow. Gay publishing might be able to keep limping along after all, as long as it doesn’t add to its own oppression with more bullshit and evasion.
Meanwhile, the word in Chelsea is that the head of Alyson is trying to buy Regent from the inside, in hopes of finally releasing all those titles from the gay hostage crisis. I’m planning a gala book party as we speak. That’s the company line.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 18, 2010