Thursday, April 21, 2016

An Open Letter to Clean Reads and Its CEO Stephanie Taylor

UPDATE: I wrote this post yesterday for posting today. Since that time, a significant change to Clean Reads submissions policy has come to light. As of this evening, April 20, there is no longer any prohibition against LGBTQ+ characters on Clean Reads submissions page. I'm very happy to hear this, but the letter to Stephanie Taylor below still applies. I want to stress that my urging her to remove the prohibition against LGBTQ+ characters was written before I knew she would remove it. I just wanted to make it clear that she came to the conclusion before I urged her to do so. And for that, I'm so, so grateful.

Dear Stephanie,

We don't know each other. Would it surprise you to hear that I would like to know you? That I would love nothing more than to sit down face-to-face and have a chat with you? I really would.

I want to apologize to you.

I wrote a blog post the other day about your company, Clean Reads. The post was far more widely read than I ever imagined it would be. And that hurt you. And it outraged some of your supporters, some of whom commented on the blog and some of whom wrote to me personally. Some were diplomatic and some were downright frightening, causing great worry for myself and my family.

So I'm sorry if I've caused you pain. I'm sorry if my words caused you any hardship personally or professionally. I believe we are part of the same fabric. All part of the same human race. I would never deliberately set out to hurt you, your business, or anyone.

My post was not an attack, but voicing my opinion on a policy you have that I feel--and still feel--is discriminatory. We can go around and around about this and I doubt we'll ever change each other's minds. Still, I hope that maybe something I say might cause you to think just a little bit about inclusiveness and love and how the stories of all people can be eye-opening and a joy for us all.

I'm not writing to preach at you though. Your feelings are yours as mine are mine and I don't seek to invalidate your feelings, which is why I offer you my sincere apology.

There was a comment left yesterday from an anonymous poster that may or may not have been you. I deleted the comment because that day was reserved for a blog post from a fellow author, touting her new book, along with a personal love story. I offer up my blog space at least once a week to my peers to promote their work because I think when we raise each other up, we raise ourselves up. I thought it was inappropriate to hijack my fellow author's day with this discussion. If the comment was from you, feel free to post it again below. I hope, though, what I say in this letter will put our minds at least in a little more accord.

The anonymous poster tried to get me to understand that Clean Reads means no harm, no homophobia by disallowing LGBT characters in their books. "Anonymous" said that the publisher simply doesn't have the contacts or expertise to properly promote a book with LGBT characters. And that seems noble, at first glance. "We don't hate you; we just can't do your stories justice," is what "Anonymous" seemed to be saying. And I believe that's the heartfelt belief (or at least I hope it is). What I don't think you realize is the message sent by excluding a single group of people from your submissions. The message could be taken to mean, quite reasonably, that gay people are not welcome. That our stories are somehow different so would require different promotional tactics. I urge you to consider that gay characters represent human characters. And their stories are not so very different from the stories of straight people. Gay people, like straight people, love, fight, experience disappointment, revel in joy and, in short, have the same wants and desires as everyone else.

Would it be so terrible to allow submissions that have LGBT main characters, provided they met your other criteria for "clean reads?" You may not even get any submissions of this sort. You may get submissions that aren't up to your editorial standards, which is fine. The bottom line is: you could allow submissions with LGBT characters and still choose not to publish them. But what do you lose by denying simple access to the submissions process? It seems to me you have something to gain and that you could send a message of inclusivity and openness, whether you ever publish a story with LGBT main characters.

Would you please consider maybe removing this prohibition from your submissions policy? Again, not having it there doesn't mean you are going to be flooded with LGBT submissions or that you even have to publish a book with LGBT characters. It just means your heart and mind are open to the possibility of there being a book that might be "clean" by your definition and that could contain people who love the same sex (a quite large and diverse part of the population). That way, you wouldn't send the message that I and other founds hurtful...and it doesn't seem as though it would cost you anything.

Yes, you have the right to publish whatever what you want. You have the right to limit what kind of material and even what kind of people appear in the books you put out. I accept that and accept our differences. I only ask that you respect my viewpoint in return and not try to invalidate my feelings. At the end of the day, it's your business, your choices, and we're all free to make those choices.

Stephanie, I wish you the best, I really do. This is the last I want to say on this matter. If we never see eye-to-eye, I sincerely hope for you joy and happiness.


Best,
Rick R. Reed



21 comments:

  1. As a CleanReads author, I say thank you. I'm happy to hear that the situation getting out of hand saddens you, as it does us. CR is a great publisher and treats its authors well. It would be a great loss if this niche was empty again.

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    1. Thanks so much for commenting, Nancy. I'm glad that things were resolved in a spirit of inclusiveness. Good luck to you in your work and with Clean Reads.

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  2. I stood with you on the first post, and I stand with you today. While I don't wish the publisher and its author any ill, I am not interested in the specific niche in which they publish. I'm glad they treat their authors well, and I'm sure that there are many readers to whom these books will appeal. I'm not one of them.

    I am however happy to see that the exclusive language has been removed from their submission guidelines, and that the hurtful exclusion of LGBT people appears to be gone. I suppose we'll have to see if they get submissions with LGBT main characters, and will then choose to publish those books.

    Thanks for this post, Rick.

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    1. Thanks so much, Sandra. Whether they do or not, I suppose will depend on the quality of the submission, just like at any other publishing house.

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  3. Hi Rick,

    Apologies are all well and good. And I'm sure Stephanie is glad to see you're sorry things got out of hand, but I feel like maybe you're missing just how much harm you've caused. By posting that initial post, you've forever labeled a publisher as a den of homophobic bigotry. And yes, you called them bigots, among other things. You edited in an anti-LGBT image right in the middle of their submission guidelines for crying out loud. How could you NOT know that would cause an uproar? Wouldn't it have been easier, to maybe talk to the owner of Clean Reads before reacting to a policy you didn't agree with in such a public way? Wouldn't it have been more respectful to everyone involved? Because it's not just the publisher that's been labeled here, it's everyone who had a book with with them. It's every author, like yourself, who now has a big flag on their career, something that will always be attached to a post that is a call to arms against a poor wording choice and a few angry assumptions.

    I respect you're feelings of wanting inclusion, I get it more that you know. But to say that's all you initial post was about when it's title is "Clean Reads, A Publishing House that Deems #LGBT 'Dirty'", I find it hard to believe.

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  4. I'm so glad you and Stephanie could talk and work out something that was causing much mental anguish on both sides. My main concern as an author was the inference that CR's name was geared to be anti-LGBT, which was completely not the case from what I've seen. I remember when Stephanie wanted to change Astraea's name to something that better reflected the core theme of her press. Not once did anything LGBT come up as a reason to rename Astraea Press Clean Reads. Everyone was focused on the clean part--no cussing, no sex outside marriage (and even then behind closed doors), etc. The LGBT community never came up in renaming AP, so there was definitely never an agenda there against the LGBT community and implying it was dirty. I'll admit the submission page could have been worded more diplomatically right from the beginning, but that was nothing an simple email couldn't have solved--and did in the long run :)

    And as for some people ridiculing CR for not showing sex on the page, well, I say there are plenty of other publishers who do. It's a personal preference. As for me, I love to read anything from chaste romances to steamy ones--and I write them all :) Yep, I go from writing sweet romances to ones that feature sex right on the page, lol, so there's no one type of author at CR. There is truly a publisher out there for everyone. There are even some small publishers who only publish spanking romances. It's great there's such a niche market for everything.

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    1. Exactly. There's so much room for diversity. Thanks so much for your thoughts.

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    2. Thank you for the post, Rick. I am so happy this has all been worked out on both sides. I'm am glad the communication channels have been opened between you and am thankful that everyone has a happy resolution. Peace and love to you both.

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  5. To some of anonymous's points, I question why the press felt it necessary to single out LGBT submissions. By doing so, it seems, there was an agenda of exclusion specific to LGBT titles and shows it was not an unfortunate choice of words. To anyone who happened to read that bullet point, the author of the policy left the impression that they indeed felt LGBT titles were somehow inherently unclean. That certainly says more about the press than the authors who publish with them. What your stance says about you and your career is that you are willing to call those out who blatantly discriminate. A red flag of courage, maybe, but certainly no taint on you or your work. Bravo, Rick.

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    1. Thank you for the support, Brita. I was merely calling out a policy that I didn't make in my original post. That policy has since been changed to be more inclusive, which is cause for celebration. Kudos to Clean Reads for changing their policies and opening their doors to characters of all stripes.

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    2. By that logic, then Dreamspinner should be inclusive too. Not trying to stir up a fight, but if we're going to be inclusive, it's got to be on both side--all sides. Otherwise, one side is fighting for rights that aren't granted to the other side(s). See what a slippery slope it is?

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    3. Actually, I don't. Dreamspinner (and other LGBT publishers) were created to fill a niche where none or few existed--fiction by, for, and/or about LGBT people. There were hundreds of publishers that catered to straight audiences and characters and still are, but LGBT needed to find a niche. Much like there's a need for Black History Month or a day for Gay Pride. It's filling a void for a minority culture.

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    4. I guess my point is if so many publishers now accept LGBT stories now, and especially will in the future, it's not that much of a niche market anymore or at least won't be. If there can't be any hetero publishers over the coming years, why can there be pure LGBT ones? And that's the trend I think we'll see. More publishers are accepting LGBT and the ones who aren't are called out. I'm not saying that's right or wrong. But when it gets to the point that nearly every publisher accepts it, will it still be okay to have non-exclusive LGBT publishers? I'm truly curious--not trying to be a pain.

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    5. To Anon...

      You think many publishers accept LGBT stories and more to the point M/M romance? I wish that were the case. We need publishers like Dreamspinner because we are still a minority genre. Our presses are closing down and our choices get more limited. Who knows what will happen in the future? Maybe we won't need specialised presses, but as mainstream ignore us we still do. We cannot get our thrillers, crime and scifi into bookstores, let alone the romance.

      The one thing we do need are people to realise LGBT read and write all kinds of romance from sweet to inspirational to Harlequin style romance to erotica. That's all we want. The chance to write these books without being told to go away and stop invading our space - I saw that on Twitter following Rick's post.

      I'm pleased Clean Reads changed the wording of their submission guidelines. That was a big thing to do.

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  6. Look. I didn't write this post to argue with people. I wrote it as an olive branch, as a hand reaching out in unity, and to apologize. That's it.

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    1. I don't think anyone is here to argue either. They're just asking that you, in your own words, not invalidate their feelings on the impact your harsh words have had on an entire group of people. It goes beyond calling out a policy when you start labeling people with the term "bigot" and putting words in their mouths.

      I'm sorry anyone is in the position, truly. As an author of LGBT romance as well, I believe every story deserves to be told, but like it's been said, maybe a simple email first and all of this could've been avoided.

      Best wishes, and I LOVED Hungry for Love.

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    2. Thank you for the kind words about HUNGRY FOR LOVE. I'm glad you liked it. And for the record, I never called anyone a "bigot" or said they were "bigoted." I don't know how that particular word got put in my mouth. And I honestly don't see how I'm invalidating anyone's feelings by apologizing and expressing a wish for success, joy, and happiness. Those are things I did say.

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    3. No. The annonymous poster yesterday who hijacked your site (not hijacking but there was no other place to contact you on your blog but in a comments section and you had closed the other one) was not the publisher. In fact I have no idea what the train of thought was when choosing their name or their submissions policy. I was merely trying convey that your connection between their name and insinuating everything else was dirty, and then tying that directly to homosexuals being dirty wasn't the only logic to choosing a name or submissions. There could have been a million other reasons. Many of them quite innocent. Or even, business oriented! You don't know, and I don't know. Probably the only way to know would be to ask instead of publicly posting. You simply can't know someone else's intentions from their logo, tagline, and submission policy. I saw there was no room for anything but male/male for your own publishing imprint, but your post made it seem other publishers weren't free to choose without drawing negative conclusions and that simply wasn't a fair assumption so I spoke out. There's a huge market of readers who enjoy a vastly diverse reading experience. There's room for everyone. Every kind of story. Especially in the age where there aren't any more gatekeepers (or at least they don't hold the power of rejection over the types of stories to be told that they used to since the advent of indie publishing). Thank you for inviting me to repost, but I didn't save what I posted yesterday. And it doesn't matter any more as I see that there has been a resolution between you and the company and that is what matters most. Now let's all get back to telling the stories that really sing in our hearts (as diverse and individual as they may be). Here's to expressing a wish for success, joy, and happiness to all as a ditto from you.

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    4. Clarification - I didn't mean that I spoke out because of your policy - that's something I just discovered when another poster mentioned it today. In any case, whatever. Let's all focus on the happy.

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  7. I would like to know if you're intentionally deleting my comments, or if they're in spam. Because they're showing up and then they're gone.

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    1. I never deleted any of your comments.

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