Phil Foglio Vs Tor Books Over Girl Genius (UPDATE: Patrick Nielsen Hayden Answers)

Today, 51819c8aJELPhil Foglio posted about Tor Books, the current publisher of his graphic novel series Girl Genius with Kaja Foglio, giving him the silent treatment,

So after a year of this (yes, an entire year. We are Slow to Take Offense, here at Studio Foglio), I write to Mr. Hayden, asking him if our editor is dead, or just fired? This question surprises him, as he saw her in the office that morning. He seems sympathetic. We even have a face-to-face meeting at worldcon the next week where he explains that TOR just really doesn't know how to sell graphic novels, and when someone takes on a job they don't know how to do, they tend to just stick their fingers in their ears and hope that eventually, it goes away. Fair enough, I am occasionally like this with The Experiments.

I mention that we've been selling graphic novels fairly well for quite awhile, and that we'd cheerfully give them pointers. However, if they just can't wrap their heads around it, which seems obvious since after three years they have yet to sell through the initial print run (We'd have done it in 16 months- and that's with no advertising, which is a fair comparison, as they did no advertising either), then we'll just sing a chorus of "So Long, It's Been Good To Know You", and then we'll publish them ourselves, because if there's one thing we know how to do, it's publish and sell Girl Genius graphic novels.

But we can't. Because our contract with TOR says we can't publish "a competing product" for five years. Okay, what can we do about this? But now, Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden has apparently decided that we're too much trouble.


No, seriously. You don't want the series. You can't sell it. We'll even buy the remainder sitting in your warehouse. Talk to me. Talk to my agent. Prove you're not dead or fired.


The only conclusion I can come to, is that Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden has decided that he can ignore us. Eventually, we, like many other confusing things that he cannot make money from, will go away. It may take five years, but really, who cares?

Personally, I think that the problem is that we're this little studio alllll the way out on the west coast, and thus, easy to ignore. If you have stayed with me all through this screed, then I would like your help. Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden has a Facebook page.

That would be here.

So does TOR Books.

That would be here. Also on Twitter.

We very rarely ask our readership to do anything other than enjoy the strip and purchase the occasional book (Hey, TOR, your first lesson in marketing. And it's Free!) But if some of you would write to let the folks at TOR know that we'd like to take our book and go home now, we'd appreciate it.

And his readers have begun to do as requested. On the TOR Facebook page we now read,

Alan Cooper Hey, I understand you're "sitting" on the Girl Genius omnibus, way to go at making money and gaining customers NOT!

Julie Sim Why haven't you responded to Girl Genius Webcomic? They deserve to have either their books published or the ability to publish themselves as they did before.
M. Alan Thomas II I generally like Tor. For example, I had a perfectly nice time visiting your booth at ALA Midwinter this past weekend. Furthermore, when you are nice to my friends, I like that. As a publisher, Tor has been reasonably nice to two of my friends who are authors. Good for you.On the other hand, when Tor is mean to other friends who are also authors, I dislike that. When I'm fairly sure that the difference between the first group and the second group is how much money you're making off of them, I'm not inclined to allow you to charge the meanness against goodwill from the niceness, because you don't earn any credit for only being nice to those who benefit you.As a librarian who doesn't want to feel bad about having the library purchase books by his friends just because they're published by Tor, I'd rather like to see the apparent mistreatment of Kaja & Phil Foglio come to a halt and a satisfactory conclusion to their problem arrived at. You cannot ignore this and make it go away.

Gary Montgomery I think Phil and Kaja deserve to be able to buy the remainder of the Girl Genius print run, if not gracefully exit their contract. If Phil's blog is to be believed (and I see no reason it shouldn't) the treatment Studio Foglio has gotten is silly verging on asinine with a dash of insulting sauce.
Alice Wel Hi I really enjoy reading Girl Genius graphic novels. Could you please open lines of communication again with the authors to make sure that they continue being sold in some shape or form? Thanks!

And we got one reply from Tor Books, to a post from several days ago…

Gemma Peri Please tell me that the next 3 omnibus editions for Girl Genius are coming Soon!

Tor Books Gemma, I'm sorry to say we don't have future Girl Genius omnibuses planned at this time.

Sounds like someone needs to get on the case…

UPDATE: Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Tor Books has responded, in equal verbosity. He writes,

To address one issue right away: Tor is not going to prevent further Girl Genius volumes from appearing over the next five years. Nothing like that is going to happen.

A while back, Tor published a hardcover omnibus of the first three (previously self-published) Girl Genius graphic-novel volumes. It wasn't my deal. Some stuff didn't go as well as it might have.

I got wind of this, and of Phil's unhappiness about it. Because Phil is a friend of lots of my friends, and because Teresa is a passionate fan of Girl Genius, I had a conversation with Phil about it at Worldcon.

I'm not going to comment much on Phil's characterization of that conversation, except to observe that it's remarkable how people, even intelligent people of good will, can come away from a conversation with such drastically different understandings of what was said. This is, of course, not news to anyone who's been a human being for any length of time. However, here are a couple of things that were said, and which are omitted from Phil's account:

(1) I told Phil that I would be travelling and/or teaching nearly nonstop from shortly after Worldcon until late November, so that it was surpassingly unlikely I could do anything to help him at Tor until that date at the earliest.

(2) I made it clear to Phil that the people he'd been having problems with don't report to me. I am not the editor-in-chief of Tor. We don't have one. Senior editors report to our publisher.

This latter point bears repeating, because Phil's blog post not only omits this fact, but promulgates a basic error. To repeat, contrary to what Phil says, I am not the editor-in-chief of Tor Books. I'm a colleague of the person who Phil was dealing with. Not that person's boss.

What happened next? Well, despite what I said to Phil about not being in a position to help him until late November, September wasn't even over before I began getting emails from Phil's agent demanding that I deal with this and/or instruct Phil's editor to deal with this—emails in which it was clear that, in Phil's agent's eyes, I was now Part Of Phil's Problem At Tor.

I responded by pointing out that I was traveling and that I'd told Phil I wouldn't be in a position to help him with this until I returned in late November. The agent replied, saying that evidently Phil had forgotten that part of the conversation.

This was really where I should have disengaged. In fact, I'll say this right now: If I ever, ever volunteer again to help a writer who's having problems with some other editor at Tor, I will tell them with great emphasis that the moment I get an email from their agent treating me as part of the problem will be the moment I cease trying to deal with the problem.

(Make no mistake: I'm not against agents. I'm all for agents. Agents usually make publishing work better than it would otherwise. But anyone who volunteers to try to fix something and then gets treated as if they broke it is going to feel pretty unhappy about the whole thing, and I'm no exception.)

Here's the other place I'm at fault. Once I got back into the office regularly in late November, I didn't instantly jump on the Foglio problem, and I didn't respond to two or three emails from Phil wanting to know what's going on. I fully acknowledge that this was rude and probably baffling to Phil. Some of it was probably residual annoyance about feeling like I'd been jumped by Phil's agent in September. Some of it was definitely annoyance over continuing to get communications from Phil's agent addressing me as if I was the guy in charge of Phil Foglio's business dealings with Tor. And some of it was certainly the fact that this period of several weeks included the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year's holiday periods, during which, like lots of other people, I tend to pay extra attention to family and friends and get behind on the details of my job. But I shouldn't have left Phil wondering, all the same.

Then, in mid-January, about seven weeks after I got back, I was copied on a further email from Phil's agent, this time to Phil's actual editor, saying (this is a paraphrase) "Look, this is our position, we give up on you guys and here's what we're going to do. And here's our one remaining question." Shortly after that, I was also copied on a response from Phil's actual editor, saying (in effect) "Okay, sorry, I'm working on this."

At this point I figured, I'm done here. I felt bad for not having been able to sort out Phil's and Tor's problems in a timely fashion, and I felt I owed Phil an apology for not having answered his emails.

What I don't owe anybody an apology for is not dealing with the problem between Worldcon and late November, because I told Phil very clearly I wouldn't be able to do that. And I don't owe anyone an apology for Phil's problems with Tor before I got wind of them.

Here's the thing. The only Tor person Phil's blog post mentions by name is me. He describes me as Tor's "editor in chief," which, again, is wrong. He basically ascribes the entire history of his relationship with Tor to me, even though I've only had anything remotely to do with it for a few weeks. He portrays me as the boss of the people he's been dealing with and therefore ultimately responsible for all his problems. He speculates that the reason I didn't get back to him is that I think he's small fry who doesn't matter. And most unhappily, he directs his fans to shower me—not his actual editor, but me—with angry tweets and emails about it.

I don't completely blame Phil for failing to keep track of the details of who's in charge of what inside Tor. Mostly we don't make a big deal of this. The reason I spoke to Phil in the first place is that generally we're pretty collegial and we try to help one another out. Phil's actual editor is a good person and I do have some insight into how snarled situations can sometimes get, if you will, "frozen in place" inside a publishing organization. (Some of my comments to Phil about this are the…distant…basis for some of the weirder things he quasi-quotes me as saying.)

Bottom line: As far as I can see, Phil's problems with Tor are being dealt with now. Sending me dozens of angry emails isn't going to get them dealt with any faster or better. If you want to send me email telling me I'm a craphead for not having answered Phil Foglio's emails from late November to mid-January, okay, guilty as charged. But I'm not the guy on a golden throne proposing and disposing the actions of all the other senior editors at Tor. I'm someone who had the bad judgement to offer to try to help with a problem, and then got sufficiently overwhelmed by other urgent matters that I wasn't actually able to help in the timely fashion I said I would. This was reprehensible of me. My other mistake: Not clearly extricating myself the moment it became clear that Phil's agent was going to persist in the impression that I'm Phil's editor's boss.

If you think these errors are a good enough reason for the stream of crap Phil is now directing in my direction—and exclusively in my direction—then I suggest you might want to reconsider.






About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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