With the release of Jerry Gordon’s Breaking the World, someone online asked me in private if I was ever given shit for publishing my friends.
tl;dr — Rarely.
I’ve been rather fortunate when it came to people I met when I entered the publishing business. Often, those early friends turn into your good friends for better or for worse. Your crew. Your gang. Your Charlie Kelly, Dee & Dennis Reynolds, Mac, and Frank. For me, this was people like Maurice Broaddus, Alethea Kontis, Geoffrey Girard, and Jerry Gordon.
All three have been published by Apex Book Company.
As an editor and publisher, it can be challenging to read the work of many of my friends. A great number of them are pro-level writers. Practically everything I read by any of them is something I would consider for our book line.
Yet, I have to force myself to refrain. Most of the time.
I have a professional and personal responsibility to make sure my friends are making the best decision for their work. I’ll use Jerry Gordon’s Breaking the World as an example.
Breaking the World started as a short novella a few years back. Jerry pitched it to me, I read it and decided it wasn’t for me. Jerry works on it over time, hones his craft, and the book comes to life as a powerful examination of the Waco, TX standoff between the Branch Davidians and the US federal government.
Based on a sample I read, I would have happily made an offer to Jerry. But an editor at Tor.com was seriously considering it, so I cheered him along as it moved up the Tor decision chain. It looked like it was going to be chosen for publication until a last-second corporate decision turned the submission into a rejection.
Jerry and I talked about other options for the book. He wanted it out by April 19th, the 25th anniversary of the end of the Waco standoff. He wanted to know if Apex was interested.
We were. I was.
Publishing your friends opens you to criticism by the subset of naysayers who decry favoritism and theorized about grand cabals intent on only allowing certain people through the gate. This is another area where I, as editor/publisher, have a responsibility to myself and my writer friends to honestly assess their work through a lens of impartiality.
If I publish something subpar from a friend, I feed the stereotype and will be held as an example of a non-existent problem. Maurice has a bibliography a mile long with a book from Tor.com and a series at Angry Robt. Girard has four major titles under his name. Alethea has been a USA Today bestseller and is the queen of a burgeoning publishing empire. I don’t think they’re capable of writing poorly at this stage of their career.
Jerry was more of an unknown. But when I read the new version of Breaking the World, I knew we had something great to publish. I can’t believe Tor passed on it.
Tor’s loss. My gain. Apex thanks you.
Friends Demand Perfection
An interesting dynamic I’ve noticed is that the publishing process with my friends is way more stressful than with writers I don’t know as well.
Maurice, Girard, Alethea, and Jerry were all sticklers when it comes to edits, cover art, jacket design, interior typography, and promotional material. (Well, truthfully, Maurice is okay with anything that looks good as long as the check clears.) That’s fine. Part of the small press experience is the ability to work closely with your editor and publisher. But compared to other writers, they’re quite demanding.
It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.
One final thought about publishing friends…
I want every book I publish to be perfect. This is near impossible. So I also want to avoid major screw-ups.
I forgot to include a small handful of galley edit notes from Jerry into the final Breaking the World build. I’ve since fixed the errors. However, everyone who preordered from Apex or one of our vendors received the version without the edits. As Jerry pointed out, I’ve created a collector’s item for far-future book lovers! 🙂
But since Jerry is a friend, this mix-up on my part was even more painful and mortifying than usual.
You want to do right by your friends. And you want your friends to think you’re awesome. So mistakes are magnified. But so are successes.
It’s a fun trade-off.