And you’re the only one sitting in the stalls, watching?
Welcome to the author’s life. It’s only downhill from here. Serously, authors are by nature, observers — at least the good ones are. The ones who if they ain’t talking, they’re not listening, obviously aren’t, because we get tired of reading a monologue. However the stage seems to filling up. The question lurking at the back of all writers minds – particularly about e-books – is ‘is prose about to follow poetry?’, with more poets, it seems, than readers.
Certainly, I think, the e-book will see the un-naturally asymmetrical sales distribution flatten out. Yes, there will still be the outliers – the Pratchett, the Rowling, the Meyer, but the gap between newbie-midlist and ‘bestseller’ – which was largely an artifact created by publishers and distribution, will flatten out. So-called ‘best-sellers’– indistinguishable from noob or midlist work, barring having found favor, will sell much the same as the books they’re indistinguishable from. Which will be a lot less than they’re used to. At the bottom… well the sales may be hard to find too. It’s likely that almost ALL authors will sell a little less, although firstly they should earn quite a bit more, and secondly, some authors hitherto ignored will do very well.
Why do I say this?: on an author’s list I follow this article about Hunger Games vs Sparkly Vampires was posted and elicited a range of we hate sparkly-vampire-it’s-so-sexist-and-gets-her-bishop-to-read-it-first reactions.
As usual, I saw things playing slightly differently on my stage. I tried reading the sparkly vamps, as homework. Didn’t like it much. But I was not reading to like it. I was reading to see why a zillion readers did like it, AGAINST the support and buy-in of the publishing establishment. And THAT is truly relevant thing about the Twilight books. Not that you hate them, or that that they have a passive heroine who is therefore a bad female role model etc etc etc etc… The important thing is that this was a book that is surprising, principally because it elicited that response from the writing establishment, and the critics (all of whom tend to parrot what their publishers and editors believe) and STILL succeeded. Now I assume it had a captive audience in Meyer’s community, eager to support it, and this gave it that initial boost that made it impossible for NY publishing and the distributors and book chains to give it the ‘support’ they normally give things they don’t like. That, however, cannot have been more than seed capital. It was something (despite the virulence poured out onto it) that found a large audience, principally female and young.
Have they joined the LDS, rejected the principles that first wave feminists fought for? Well, um. No. And the ones who read Hunger Games haven’t become archers either. Nor, oddly, do the millions of 35+ year old women reading Romances abandon their partners to go and look for the dark handsome troubled Doctor…
This is one of those insane control-freak fears that has lead to nothing but the diminishing of the influence of publishing industry. It’s escapism. Not role modelling! Not ‘educating the reader’. It usually has a character that the reader can identify with in some respect, either in their daydreams (ergo the beautiful young woman who is hyper-capable) or the person who is just like them (nothing very special).
And actually, the point is Twilight appealed not only as romantic (take it whatever way you like) wish-fulfillment escapism but also as a character many readers felt they could identify with.
And here lies my point: the authors who reflected NY worldview are probably going to see their market share shrink. It’s why for example most genre sales have shrunk, but the ‘Christian and inspirational’ has grown. I’ve read some of these as homework too. Actually, quite a lot of it is fiction, and would pass for 1950’s romance, with a bit of religion. It’s comfortable, escapist, easy for a large audience of non NY publishing people to identify with. It’s more or less what that audience wanted to read (with or without the religion) and couldn’t find elsewhere. (I see NY publishing has just bought into one of the big ‘Christian’ publishers – expect a rash of the same ‘educating the readership’ to come out and fail.)
But for those offering something that readers with different worldviews (and there are a number of them) can identify with, who have been badly UNDER-SERVED, may now find their audiences grow. If there is a message in this for writers (and indeed publishers and editors), it’s that you need to get off the stage and find who IS in the audience and what they want to read. There are gaps for everyone from Neo-Pagan Communists to Neo-Nazi Fascists, and everything between (although I suspect the former niche has been quite well served and may have to lose some writers).
But escapism is no longer a dirty word.