The Lemonhead defense: a plea to Warren Lapine

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It started with an announcement by Realms of Fantasy (RoF) magazine. A special themed issue. “Girl writers only.” A slight faux pas that was eventually correctly revised and apologized for. In the interim, some people were vocal about their discern that RoF would again make such a slip given the last gender-related fail. Catherine Valente, a well-respected writer, commented on the issue. She noted her take on the problem, and why she would rather see the issue of gender balance addressed in a smart way, not an appease-the-greasy-wheel way. She also comments that she probably won’t submit, due to previous commitments and the lack of email submissions.

Then Warren Lapine, the new publisher of Realms of Fantasy, invoked the lemonhead defense.

My head is a lemon  Your argument is invalid

Warren starts the discussion by saying how Google has shown him “an amazing amount of sour grapes” and compares the people raising complaint of sexism with those arguments for the acceptance of email submissions, two distinct and separate issues. One poster, Jay O’Connell, attacks the genre as a whole; he’s also the webmaster of Realms of Fantasy. Douglas Cohen, Editor, reaffirms his poor word choice in the original apology. As the discussion devolves, supporters of electronic submissions are classified as writers who don’t read and are “marginally committed to the notion of writing and submitting.” In the end, with a wave of his hand, dismisses all argument because none of the people “attacking us” have published a top four magazine.

Let me set some facts straight.

Warren Lapine, once publisher of the ill-fated DNA Publications, which ended its existence on less than stellar terms. Despite this sorted history, the community, that according to Jay O’Connell deserves to be slapped in the face, welcomed Warren back with open arms. When Sovereign Media announced that they were closing the iconic Realms of Fantasy, Warren stepped up and saved the magazine.

Realms of Fantasy, in their return, has had some missteps. See Fishboob Fail ’09 via Fan History’s Realms of Fantasy wiki. When they launched their now-inactive Twitter account, run by advertising director Jeff Kight, among it’s first tweets were spam.

Catherine Valente, who’s LiveJournal post is clearly being referenced in the above discussion, posted some follow-up comments.

Warren: Yes, the purchase of a top four magazine allows you to claim that you publish a top four magazine, but using it as a magic want to invalidate the argument those who can’t doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

There are two arguments being made: sexism and email submissions.

As far as sexism goes, I’m not a fan of segregation. Making an all-inclusive issue is bound to upset people, it has the implication that you need to provide separate attention to that demographic because they can’t compete on their own merits. I think Catherine’s suggestions for how to deal with the gender issue are worth repeating:

I guess I prefer Weird Tales’ approach, which is to do an issue dealing with gaze and gender, inviting writers specifically to contribute, and welcoming both genders as long as they engage with the subject matter.

As far as electronic submissions go, there are plenty of business and process reasons that could be sited for or against. Gordon Van Gelder, editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction, tackles this question all the time.

But seriously, there are several reasons and the biggest one is that there are *many* people submitting manuscripts and few of us here reading them. I remain unconvinced that we could install an electronic system that would let us handle our volume of submissions effectively.

At least once a year I speak with an editor who does take e-subs and ask them about their system, what they like about it, what they don’t. Most of them don’t accept submissions that are longer than 5,000 words. None of them say the volume of submissions they receive matches ours. None of them have convinced me that we could make e-subs work for us.

See what he did there? He addressed the question directly and firmly. He further cuts off the “but it works for so and so” rebuttals by staying informed on changes to the electronic process. He doesn’t attack the critics; he responds calmly, with reason.

Warren, criticism of Realms of Fantasy aren’t personal attacks against you and invoking the lemonhead defense against them is eroding the respect equity that the magazine has earned itself over the years. Look at it as an opportunity to interact with the community. Listen to what’s being said. If you choose to respond, do so thoughtfully, even if in disagreement. Stand firm in your beliefs but be open to hearing other points of view.

People aren’t asking for special favors, they’re asking for equal treatment, equal representation. Instead of a “Women-only” issue, focus on the “Women in Fantasy” theme and accept submissions from all. Solicit stories from a number of profile authors of all genders. Publish the stories that work.

I’ve heard the argument “We can only consider what’s submitted” a number of times. While valid on the surface, there are steps you can take to increase the diversity of your pool. Publish your submission guidelines on your website, even if you don’t accept electronic submissions. Join organizations like Broad Universe and the Outer Alliance and make your support for diversity known. Join with the community, contribute to the discussion at conventions like WisCon, where diversity and equality is the focus, instead of alienating it.

Small things, in the grand scheme of things, that can really make a difference.

Posted on 9 Jan 2010 #soapbox